Have you ever seen Midnight in Paris? The Ernest Hemingway character in that film would surely disagree with my approach to the blogging mistakes I made when first starting out and how to help others avoid these blogging mistakes.
In a late-night scene at a bar, Hemingway is sipping a drink while he talks with Owen Wilson’s character. Wilson asks Hemingway to evaluate his manuscript, to which Hemingway responds, “You don’t want the opinion of another writer,” and then, “Writers are competitive.”
This is where I disagree with this Hemingway character. Good writing can be a sea that lifts other good writing. In a time when people are consuming fewer books and reading headlines without diving into the entire article, the good writing that is still being produced needs to be spotlighted. Good writing causes people to want to read more, and reading more helps all of the other writers out there who wish to have their words read.
This is why I want to share the blogging mistakes I made when first starting my blog. I want to help other new or potential writers avoid these blogging mistakes so that their writing can be discovered. That’s good for all of us.
Blogging Mistake #1: Not Having a Mission Statement (to Establish Branding and Voice)
When I first launched my current website back in 2014, I didn’t know it was going to be a blog. I had recently published my first novel and thought it would be appropriate to have an author site for readers to reference.
I had been blogging for several years at that point on different websites, but I did not have the foresight to recognize that I would soon create a personal blog on my author site. That changed a couple years later when I decided, in an effort to further develop my writing skills and connect with the online writing community, I would begin blogging.
So what should I write about? My books? Personal interests? Various things related to my writing experience?
At the time, I had no clear direction for my blog. That was a mistake.
What You Should Do:
If you have made the decision to start a blog, it is important that you develop a clear mission statement. What are you going to write about? This is the foundational step to any blog, which should come before even a domain name is chosen. On which topics do you have expertise? What are you passionate about? What could you write about consistently for an extended period of time?
Blogging Mistake #2: Not Doing Domain Research (Before Launching My Website)
Many bloggers use their name (or pen name) as a domain — that’s what I am doing, and that’s what others, such as Jane Friedman, have done successfully. However, many also use a branded name — take The Creative Penn, for example, or Kindlepreneur.
Now, calling it a blogging mistake that I did not do more domain research before I launched my site is not to say that I made the wrong choice to use my name as a domain. In the end, I am happy with how it worked out. But it very well could have caused a problem if my blog had gone in a different direction.
For example, if I wanted to transform my blog into a writing collaborative where other writers could all publish new articles, then calling it edamurray.com would not have been the best name.
What You Should Do:
Have some vision before you start your blog. Think about what it will be initially, but also what you want it to look like years in the future. Will it just be you blogging? Will you invite other writers to contribute? Will you blog about your books or your life, or will you offer writing advice or discuss popular trends?
Of course, you won’t have the answers to all of your questions when you are just starting out. But do plenty of domain research before you begin. Go to Google Domains and start typing in names. See what’s taken and what is still available. Go to Alexa and search for a site that you want to emulate and see which sites Alexa flags as being similar.
One of the most difficult things to do, once you have already put in a ton of work to build up your domain authority, is to change it. Be sure you are getting this right from the start.
Blogging Mistake #3: Not Committing to a Content Calendar (for Posting Consistently)
You have probably heard the term “content is king.” It’s overused. But the reason it gets repeated over and over is because it is true. Occasionally bloggers or digital marketers who think they are being clever or innovative try to argue that times are changing, but they are not. Content is king.
But in the blogging world, I would add a caveat: Consistent content is king. When I started blogging, I brainstormed a list of posts that I could write, and then as I wrote them I published them. I was probably publishing about two per week. There wasn’t a ton of rhyme or reason to what I was writing, other than the fact that it was generally about my writing experience or books.
What happened? After a month or so, it became about one post per week. And then I skipped a week. And then I skipped several months.
What You Should Do:
My best advice for first starting a blog is to have at minimum 10 high-quality posts ready pre-publish at launch. From there, you should have another five or 10 scheduled to post in the near future.
The most important thing to remember when creating a content schedule is to make sure it is consistent and manageable. Do not commit to posting every day if you cannot sustain it. Heck, don’t commit to posting even once per week if you cannot sustain it. This is a problem many bloggers run into and it eventually leads to fewer and fewer posts until they stop altogether (this is what happened to me for a while).
The initial lot of posts should be used to help you get out in front of the schedule so that you can try to avoid putting yourself against hard deadlines. Deadlines cause stress. We all have enough of that already in our lives. It’s much more relaxing to complete a new post and schedule it for three weeks down the road. There is peace of mind knowing if life gets in the way (which it often does), your posting schedule will not be impacted.
The last advice I will offer when creating a content schedule is to ensure what you are writing is consistent with your brand and your mission. If you have a blog about outdoor recreation, don’t randomly post about tax preparation software (I wanted to use an extreme example). Know your voice, your audience and your site — and then create content accordingly.
Blogging Mistake #4: Not Exploring Guest Posting (to Build Domain Authority)
If you haven’t heard of backlinks, these are links on other websites that send users to your site. These are valuable in building domain authority, because when search engines see other websites linking to yours, they assume that your content is particularly helpful or valuable.
If you haven’t heard of domain authority, this is the weight of influence that search engines assign to a website. The more domain authority, the higher your articles and pages will rank in Google searches.
A great way to build these backlinks and create more domain authority is by guest posting on other blogs. This practice will generate website traffic for you from other websites, build domain authority and give you more brand exposure. For too long I neglected guest posting, instead (foolishly) deciding that I should focus only on posting on my own blog.
What You Should Do:
Learn from this blogging mistake. Every chance you can, seek to guest post on other blogs. Now, not all guest posting is created equal. The higher domain authority the guest blog has, the more helpful that guest posting opportunity will be for your site. So look for other sites in your niche and inquire about guest posting availability.
As you will see with my next blogging mistake, this is a long-term strategy that you will be thankful you started early — if you can sustain it.
Blogging Mistake #5: Not Taking SEO Seriously (for Driving Traffic)
As I mentioned earlier in this article, when I first decided to transform my website from simply an author site to a blog, I was posting pretty frequently. Over time, that frequency declined. In August 2017, I was posting twice per week. I saw initial surges in traffic. Blogging was working!
In September I continued the same posting frequency. But my traffic slowed. It was discouraging. So I slowed my productivity. From October 2017 until September 2019, I only posted on my personal blog three times — instead focusing on other writing projects.
What happened during that time? All that posting I had done back in the fall of 2017 started to actually work. Google began picking up some of the better posts, and by the fall of 2018 I was ranking on the first page of Google for multiple articles.
My site traffic from June 2018 to January 2019 went from a few hundred visitors to thousands, with almost no posting. Thanks to strong SEO, it looked like this:
Not taking the time to understand SEO was one blogging mistake. But I compounded that mistake by also not having the patience to allow SEO to do its thing and not having the persistence to maintain my posting frequency. I often think about what my site would look like today had I not made this blogging mistake.
What You Should Do:
Good SEO will help your website traffic to work like a 401K. Make the right investments, make steady contributions. Over time, it will continue to rise. Sure, there will be hiccups here and there, like when Google changes its algorithms, or perhaps seasonally depending on your niche. But long-term it should always be pointed upward. That’s the power of compounding interest.
You should invest in learning about SEO and how to effectively optimize your website and articles. But it takes patience. SEO does not work overnight. It might not even work in a few months. It can take six months or more to really start to work, but once it does the results are worth it.
Read books. Read online articles. Perhaps take a course or two. There are plenty of tools out there to help with SEO. Moz is one of the most popular tools out there, along with SEMrush. If you have a self-hosted site, I would also recommend looking into the Yoast SEO plugin. I got started with Yoast and it significantly improved my website’s SEO and my digital marketing knowledge.
Blogging Mistake #6: Not Prioritizing Web Design (for Brand Consistency)
Over the years, I have probably redesigned my website layout six or seven times. Part of that development was the industry evolving (and wanting to look up-to-date). Part of that was my skill in design improving. Part of that was the functionality of my website changing — going from strictly an author site to a blog and freelance site.
Some change is natural — no website design remains the exact same over a number of years. But too many changes can be problematic. Firstly, it is detrimental to productivity. Nothing swallows my time more than deciding a feature or layout needs to be changed. Entire days or weeks evaporate with zero new words being written.
Secondly, these changes can negatively impact your brand consistency. Let’s say you overhaul your design. Your site was white and had a centered header with very few images. You changed it to be black with a left-aligned header, added some large homepage images and switched to new fonts. Someone who has been to your site in the past and enjoyed your content may not recognize it now and perhaps even dismiss it.
When I first launched, I picked the first theme I thought would suffice and didn’t put much more thought into it. Until later, of course, when I realized that running a website was not just about being a writer, but about being a web designer as well.
What You Should Do:
Invest some time (and maybe money) into picking out and customizing the right website theme for you. Don’t settle for the first one. Don’t launch the site and then decide to take web design seriously.
Look at some other sites that you enjoy visiting. Notice the features you like best. Notice the ones you do not like so much. How is their header situated? What does the color scheme look like? The use of images? The menu format? The post format? The fonts?
You want your design to be functional, aesthetically pleasing and easy-to-use. Spend time getting it exactly how you want it. Do you want the featured image to be above or below the headline? Do you want a sidebar next to your articles, or do you want your posts to be centered on the screen with plenty of white space on either side?
This list undoubtedly consists of blogging mistakes made by someone new on the scene. But luckily for me I was able to recognize and remedy them to find success. When it comes to your blog, I want to make sure you can either avoid these mistakes altogether or correct them early.
Don’t listen to Hemingway. Writers are not competitive. We’re all in this together.
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