Things I don't teach about blogging anymore

12 Jun 2013


Image by Thomas Favre-Bulle, via Flickr

June's Thinky Theme

No question, the blogosphere has changed so much since we were all figuring it out in 2004/2005. The blogging classes I teach have changed a lot in that time, too. I thought it might be fun to share some ideas that used to be big ol' blogging rules, but really aren't anymore.

Let me be all disclaimery first, though: I think it's dangerous for anybody to go around saying that there's a "right" way or "wrong" way to do anything on the internet. So if you disagree with anything I'm about to say here, please – go right ahead!

Really, the only truism of this whole online thing is: Do what works for you, and be willing to change it up if it stops working.

Feb 06 fReaKfurZ gallery show and opening party

Image by freakfurz, via Flickr

Old Rule #1: Post every day

There was a time when quantity was important in blogging – more posts meant more reader engagement. Then social media came to town, and everyone ended up with more to read online than they could possibly manage. So nowadays, I think blogging is about quality over quantity.

Whether you blog for personal or business reasons, I think it makes sense to post only when you have something to say that's especially interesting – and that you're excited about saying. In other words, don't post filler in a world that is already groaning under the weight of too much filler.


Image by conespider, via Flickr

…Not only that, the advent of social media has significantly changed the role blogging plays in your online presence. Blogs used to be about day-to-day life and conversation, but nowadays, that stuff happens more on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc. Your blog, then, becomes the place people go to find deeper evidence of what you think about most and what you're good at. Which means that blog posts are now for bigger ideas and social media is for daily chatter.

If every blog post you make has something worthwhile to say, even if those posts are weeks apart, your readers will file your blog under "Always Worth My Attention." That's a big deal in an information-saturated world!

Mr Blue Sky

Image by rogiro, via Flickr

Old Rule #2: Fill up your sidebars

I used to recommend adding a lot of "goodies" to the sidebars of your blog, giving your readers many delightful things to look at and click. But as visually crowded as the web is getting, I'm rethinking that advice. I think our eyes have come to really appreciate white space as a respite from all that information. (A fact you can confirm by looking at the new Flickr. Ahem.)

The more options you give people to click on nowadays, the more options they'll tend to screen out. The impulse to ignore things operates on a hair-trigger now. It makes more sense to pare your sidebars down to a limited set of links, buttons, ads, etc – each of them critical to your blog's mission.

Now obviously, you're more complex than that, and so am I, and so is everybody. It's very tempting to want to pack more stuff in there, because we want people to see everything we think is cool. Except that, with too many choices, people tend to see nothing.

Look at me

Image by Blue Celt, via Flickr

So it comes down to your goals for blogging. What are the most important parts of your blog for people to see? If that ends up being a big list, ask yourself the question again: which sidebar elements are most critically important to your goals?

Remember, you can always change your sidebars from time to time and refresh those options. (Or, you could try a nested menu system, like my Mom uses, which presents just a few options at a time.)

Just the Grocery List

Image by Krissy.Venosdale, via Flickr

Old Rule #3: Use a Category List

Actually, I still recommend a category list on your blog (or Tags, Labels, or whatever your blogging platform calls them). I just don't recommend that you show people ALL your categories at once!

This here blog has amassed 48 topic categories over time. I used to display them all in my sidebar in a big, long pull-down menu. And nobody clicked on any of them - it was just far too much information! Then I pared that down to a list of ten, and now people click on them all the time.

Think of it this way: someone who's new to your blog only really needs to understand what your prevalent themes are, and what actions you'd like them to take as a reader. The people who want to know about everything you share are the ones who've decided to follow your blog regularly. And they'll get that information a little bit at a time, from your posts. Either way, it's small bites – the modus operandi in an info-saturated landscape.

Assignment: Circles

Image by MaryScheirer, via Flickr

Old Rule #4: Have a blogroll

This one makes me a little sad. But the thing is, the blogroll has kind of outlived its original purpose, which was to help blog readers find other cool blogs in the early days of search engines.

Nowadays, there just aren't that many people looking actively for more blogs. We'll eagerly adopt a new one when we stumble onto it, but we aren't constantly seeking to fatten our RSS readers. (For most of us, our RSS readers are already too overstuffed.)

A blogroll consumes precious sidebar real estate, and doesn't really do much to tell people what's important about you. Again, we're dealing with attention spans measured in microns here. Everything a new visitor sees should entice them to go deeper into your blog – not go elsewhere.

If you want to link to other blogs, maybe a more appropriate place these days is on a dedicated Links page. You can link to that from your Category list or your navigation bar.

School Time Apple

Image by Enokson, via Flickr

Old Rule #5: Leave comments everywhere

I used to advise new bloggers especially to leave lots of comments on other blogs as a means of building up their own readerships. But it's no secret that blog commenting has seriously waned in favor of assorted social-media commenting.

…So where does that leave us in terms of readership-building? Well, I don't think it's that common for bloggers to actively check out every commenter who stops by anymore. Any blogger who's also using social media tools is constantly juggling all those channels. It's hard to be deeply engaged everywhere at once.

If you really want to connect with a blogger, these days I'm recommending starting conversations with her on Twitter, Facebook, etc. But if you don't have that option, try leaving substantive comments on her blog regularly over time. She'll come to recognize your name, and eventually link over to your blog. But that "eventually" is the key. Online connection through blogging alone takes real patience now!

Now let's talk: how do my ideas here line up with how you've changed as a blogger over time?