For Aspiring and Beginning Bloggers: Six Tips on How to Have a Successful Blog Site on WordPress (My First 200,000 Hits)

Today as my WordPress site reached 200,000 hits, I received another email from a fellow blogger asking me advice on how to improve their site.  I am now briefly sharing the secrets of my success which I have learned through trial and error since September 2009 when I started Scenic Route Snapshots.

Use WordPress, not BlogSpot: I have never used BlogSpot, but I’ve noticed the more successful bloggers use WordPress, like Stuff White People Like and 1,000 Awesome Things; the authors of both of those sites received book deals based on their blogs and the books have gone on to be top sellers.  I believe that WordPress offers the best layouts and the best tools.  I love how I can easily see my top posts each day along with my top searched items through Google; that way I can capitalize on the things I write about the best.

Write nearly daily: Now that I have written just under 500 posts here on my site and have covered so many different subjects, the chances of anyone typing in any noun into Google and stumbling upon my site are pretty good.  Right now if you type in “banana” or “red panda”, you’ll find me easily.  Not only does writing daily increase the quality of my own writing, but it also increases readership, in the likeness of paying to have your name in the drawing 20 times as opposed to all the others who just paid for one time.

Use too many pictures: Yes, I meant to say that. Use too many pictures.  At first I wanted the satisfaction of knowing that readers who stumbled upon my site were doing so simply because of the quality of my writing.  But I was really being unfair to myself, because who would buy a magazine if it didn’t have an attention grabbing picture on the cover and constant pictures throughout its content? Pictures are the #1 way to market your blog.  Even more so than facebook and Twitter, I have found.  Out of my 800 facebook friends, when I publish a new post and it shows up on my facebook wall (I have linked WordPress to facebook and Twitter), at best I may get 40 hits just from facebook.   However, a good picture in a post can easily bring me 100 hits daily for months.  My rule for pictures is roughly “one large picture per every 12 lines of typing”.

Use too many words in your titles: For the most part, my more popular posts contain more than six words and consist of at least two nouns. In 2010, my most popular post was What Wile E. Coyote, Red Pandas, and U2 All Have in Common: They Still Haven’t Found What They’re Looking For.  While the content of that post was a bit abstract and even spiritual, the title was as cut and dry as I could make it.  Interestingly, that post was published in July 2010 (halfway through the year) and still managed to garner over 10,000 views by January 1, 2011 when I posted my Best of 2010 blog featuring it as my #1 most popular post of the year.

Write different series: As you find yourself writing about the same topics, turn them into a collection, then into their own page where readers can easily access them at the top of your page.  Take my dad from day one series, for example.  I literally have dozens of different posts in that one series.  Typically, if a person is going to read one of those posts, they are likely to read at least several more. That way, I’m turning one hit into seven.

Write about interesting stuff from an interesting perspective: Easier said than done, right?  Either you have the talent or you don’t. However, the fact that you are aspiring or beginning to write a blog says this about you: Like me, you find enough time in the day to write; meaning you probably have enough going through your head to write about; meaning you probably have writing talent.  To help you further, I’ve been documenting my viewership milestones into a series. I recommend you take the time to read it, as it includes other details to help you have a popular blog:

Nick Shell’s “10,000 Hits” series:

Being Down to Earth, Yet Never Really Touching the Ground: My First 10,000 Hits on WordPress

Being Original, Yet Never Really Breaking New Ground: My First 20,000 Hits on WordPress

Being Engaging, Yet Never Really Standing on Dangerous Ground: My First 30,000 Hits on WordPress

Being Excessive and Eventually Finding Coming Ground: My First 40,000 Hits on WordPress

Being Active in the Blogging World Yet Hanging Out in the Background: My First 50,000 Hits on WordPress

Being Offbeat Enough to Gain Steady Ground: My First 100,000 Hits on WordPress

If you have any other questions or want my advice on writing a WordPress blog, feel free to ask and I will be glad to help you.


The Blogger’s Ego: The Necessary Narcissism of Writers, Actors, Musicians, and “Performers”

Is the stereotype true that bloggers are a bit narcissistic?  Well, not always.  It’s just true about the ones who are good at what they do.

If you go to Google right now and type in “bloggers are”, the first four phrases that pop up are “…not journalists”, “losers”, “annoying”, and “narcissists”.  Add to that, recently my arch nemesis/frenemy Ben Wilder (who within the past few months declined an invite to publicly wrestle me on YouTube) posted on my facebook wall, “Do you ever post status updates that aren’t blog posts? Seems like your ‘friends’ probably would like to be considered more than a number.”  (Actually, the links show up on my wall, but are not my status updates.)

That’s ironic for two obvious reasons: 1) He also has his own blog named Out of the Wildnerness which feeds into his facebook wall as well, and 2) The reason I don’t often post status updates other than links to my newest posts here on Scenic Route Snapshots is because these posts are my status updates.  To additionally regularly write status updates would, in my mind, truly put me in danger of being narcissistic.

According to Wikipedia, “Narcissism is the personality trait of egotismvanityconceit, or simple selfishness.”  Why do some see that word as an accurate way to describe bloggers?  Like actors and musicians (which unsurprisingly I’ve had my fair share of experience being both), a person who blogs, by the very nature of their hobby/career, must be wired to be “overaware” of their own life and their surroundings.  Socrates is one of the Greek philosophers credited for saying, “Know thyself”.  As for bloggers (along with actors and musicians), perhaps our motto is “Really, really, really know thyself and make sure everyone else does too”.  We have to; in order to be good at what we do so that our audience will find us intriguing, entertaining, believable, and simply relatable.  I can joke about myself being a tad narcissistic, but ultimately, contrasted against mainstream society, am I truly any more self-involved than the millions of other people on Twitter and facebook?

Would I make such an effort to write if I didn’t know that 600 to 1,000 people would be reading it everyday?  Yes, because I started with zero. Would I still write if I knew for a fact that no one at all would be reading it?  Of course not. Otherwise I would just write in a journal and hide it under my bed.  I’m the kind of person that has to have an audience in order to continue doing what I do.

And that is the reason why, that if we bloggers are perceived to be narcissistic, we are still encouraged to continue blogging.  Because despite some cartoonish criticism about our egos, we have an audience whose very presence tells us they appreciate and relate to our writing.  Our writing is based on our lives and essentially, our writing is our lives; though that sounds grammatically incorrect. Actually, bloggers are very similar to stand-up comics, only we are more like sit-down comics.

We assess the quirky situations and patterns around us and share those observations with an audience who hopefully will relate.  Good stand-up comics are funny and humorous in more of a “laugh out loud” kind of way.  Good bloggers are interesting and intriguing; but when they are funny, it’s more of a subtle “laugh quietly to self” kind of way.  Either way, the material that we sit-down comics and stand-up comics write is based on our actual lives.

Stand Up Comic

By blog readers clicking on our websites, they are essentially saying, “Here we are now, entertain us.” Who are we as blog writers to say no?   Even at the risk of being perceived as arrogant and self-centered; at least we have an excuse.

Do I personally think that I am narcissistic as a writer?  Compared to an Amish writer, sure.  But I do believe in the importance of balance in life.  I am very aware of my faults and shortcomings and I’m easily willing to admit them (especially as it makes great writing material); therefore, it’s okay to be very aware of what I am good at.  It doesn’t help that in virtually every post I embed it with several links to things I previously wrote.  Or that I have a “Featured In” page which lets everyone know where I am received the slightest amount of credibility.

We’re obviously living in the age of reality TV as we find much entertainment value in the lives of seemingly normal and “nonfamous” people. Sure, I specialize in writing about the department of “self”.  But the way I look at it, that means that readers are inclined to want to read about “self”.  They find enough of “themselves” in “myself” to relate.  It doesn’t have to be a “selfish” thing to “know thyself”.

So is the stereotype true that bloggers are a bit narcissistic? It took me 832 words to answer that question, so you tell me.

dad from day one: Influence and Individuality

Thirty-one weeks.

Parenting is one of the few institutions where brainwashing is not only allowed, and a given, but it’s also sort of the whole point.  Like a duo-dictatorship, two people (the parents) have so much influence over another human being (the child) on so many levels.  Freedom of religion?  Nope.  Freedom of speech?  Not so much.  The rules that matter are enforced by the parents and accordingly, the child learns his or her moral code and adopts his human culture largely from how the parents choose to raise him or her.

Will I be a strict parent?  “Strict” has such a negative connotation these days.  It evokes thoughts of having rules for the sake of having rules, yielding a teenage kid that is either so nerdy that he thinks getting to stay up until 11:00 at night to watch Battlestar Gallactica is an idea of a good time, or he’s so rebellious he gets a DUI and a huge tattoo by the time he graduates high school.  So I’d rather not use the word “strict”, but instead “consistent and practical”.  Like my parents were to me.

I have always been very close to my parents; I knew I could talk to them about anything and they would listen, without being judgmental or condescending, yet still guiding me in the right direction.  They gave me a little responsibility at a time, and when I proved I could handle it, they gave me more.  I never had a curfew, nor did I need one.  But had I responded differently to the responsibility I was given, I know for a fact the rules would have been stricter, as they would have needed to be.

I think it’s funny when I hear parents of young kids say, “Well my Brayden won’t eat what I cook him.  He only eats chicken nuggets and pizza, and he only drinks Coke from his sippy cup.”  I smile and laugh with them, shaking my head like I know how it is, when really I’m thinking, “It’s not up to your kid!  It’s up to YOU!  YOU’RE the parent!”

Just like I’ve heard other parents say, “I’m not going to force any religious beliefs on my kids.  They need to figure out what they believe on their own.”  (Which is always a clear indication that parent has no solid religious beliefs, otherwise they would pass them on to their children.) It will not be the case for my kid.  He will know who Noah and Abraham and Moses and Jesus and Peter and the Apostle Paul are.  He will know the importance and relevance of John 3:16.  Just like my dad read to me from my kid’s Bible every night, so will I do for my son.

And when he grows up, I will have influenced who he is.  Yet still, he will have his own personality and make his own decisions.  Truly though, that’s how it was for all of us.  Even if one or both of our parents were out of the picture, they still influenced us- negatively or positively.  So I am choosing to make a conscious, solid, positive influence in his life.  And I will be very deliberate in doing so.

Here’s what The Bump says about Baby Jack this week:

Baby’s energy is surging, thanks to the formation of white fat deposits beneath the skin. (Have those kicks and jabs to the ribs tipped you off yet?) Baby is also settling into sleep and waking cycles, though — as you’ve also probably noticed — they don’t necessarily coincide with your own. Also this month, all five senses are finally functional, and the brain and nervous system are going through major developments.

http://pregnant.thebump.com/pregnancy/pregnancy-tools/slideshow/how-big-is-baby.aspx?page=21

All pictures with the “JHP” logo were taken by Joe Hendricks Photography:

Blog- www.photojoeblog.com

Website- www.joehendricks.com


Why Tap Dancing is Officially Masculine (And Most Other Kinds of Dancing are Feminine)

Le tap dance; la clog.

Unlike the French and Spanish languages, English doesn’t have masculine and feminine nouns.  Yet still, there are subtle gender clues and accents if we look closely enough for them.  Like the way that Coldplay is masculine, while The Fray is feminine (because they got famous by having their songs featured on Grey’s Anatomy). And the way a Dodge Dakota is masculine; while a Nissan X-Terra is feminine (this was referenced in an episode of The Office).

During dinner a few weeks ago I happened to catch 20 minutes of So You Think You Can Dance.  It was a results episode so they were mainly filling the air time with professional tap dancers, all of which were male.  Mainly dancing solo, but there were a few duos.  Interestingly, after each of them danced, they were briefly interviewed.  I couldn’t help but notice that none of these male tap dancers were the least bit effeminate or sexually questionable in any way- they were ordinary, straight dudes.

I’m okay with being politically incorrect in stating this fact that we already know and recognize: It’s common for professional male dancers (especially on reality TV shows) to not be straight.  Which is ironic because as we watch these couples dance, the male is being represented by a man who in reality may not be sexually attracted to women.  Typically, straight men are not the ones representing the guy in the relationship in these dances.

Why are straight men typically inclined not to be good dancers?  Because group dancing and dancing in pairs, as a whole, are more of feminine acts.  Dancing as we know it today is free-spirited and emotionally expressive.  It often shows the ups and downs of relationships and/or life in general.  That doesn’t work for most men, because a man’s mind is wired to be formulaic and often emotionally repressive.  Most men have to “learn to dance”.  Tell me what to do so I can get this right. It’s more about straight memorization for a straight guy to learn to dance.  He’s learning to dance to make his girlfriend or wife happy- not to express himself in a new exciting way.

When I think of famous tap dancers throughout American history, I think of classy Italian, Jewish, and African-American men wearing black suits like Fred Astaire, Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis, Jr., Gregory Hines, and of course, the legendary Tony Danza.  Although, this isn’t to say that all or even most tap-dancing men are straight.  But what I do recognize is 1) that because tap dancing is simply based on rhythm and formula (which are masculine elements- famous female drummers are a rare thing), and 2) that tap dancing only really evokes one basic emotional feel, which is always positive and upbeat.  I never remember seeing a tap dancing routine which went from happy, to sad, to angry, back to happy, to a feeling of loss, to happy, to acceptance of grief, to contentment, the way a typical 2 minute dance song on Dancing with the Stars or So You Think You Can Dance typically does.

Clogging, on the other hand, though similar to tap-dancing, is not masculine.  It often involves groups, costumes, and festive music- therefore making it a feminine art form, since there is room for “artistic expression”.  But square dancing is masculine because, like in tap-dancing, the mood is always the same (upbeat) and there is no guesswork on how to do it, since the instructions are typically spoken to music.

So how could a man and a woman dance to music and it realistically represent them and their relationship?  I’m picturing a guy tap dancing in his own little world while the woman ballet dances around him, and the guy is seemingly oblivious to what is going on.

Being a Handsome Man Vs. Being a Hot Guy

And why it ultimately doesn’t matter anyway thanks to a little something called “charm”.

Recently I asked my facebook friends via my status update, this question:

Females, I need your input for something I’m writing: What is the difference between a guy who is “handsome” and a guy who is “hot, sexy, etc.”?

To summarize the similarities of the responses, with a man who is “hot” there is an attraction (mostly physical), whereas  with a man who is “handsome” is someone who simply is a good-looking guy, though there is not necessarily any kind of attraction there.  Of course the ironic thing about this can best be summed up by what my friend Holly Arnesen said:

“if i refer to a guy as handsome, it usually means that physically speaking he’s nicely put together, but doesn’t necessarily mean i’m attracted. hot and sexy usually has to do with more than what a guy looks like. like some women think intelligence is sexy so, they’ll go for a smart guy over one that they think is nicer to look at.  i once heard someone say, ‘men fall in love with women they are attracted to, and women are attracted to the men they fall in love with.’ i’m not a guy, but i’m pretty sure this tends to be way things go.”

On the right, Bronson Pinchot, who played "Balki" on Perfect Strangers.

What enticed me to walk up to my future wife on October 5, 2006 and talk to her the very first time I saw her from across a large crowded room was her appearance.  Though it wasn’t until four months later to the day, on our first date (I knew it was a date but she didn’t until it was over), that she actually thought of me in any kind of romantic way.  My physical looks were irrelevant to the equation up until the point I made it clear I was interested in her, given that I’d shared with her my personality and character prior to day that we crossed the line from being friends to dating.

Until we started dating, I was just another average-looking dude.  A forgettable face.  Perhaps the most memorable physical trait would have been my dark hair.  Based on the celebrities that people have told me I look like in the last couple of years (“Cory Matthews” from Boy Meets World, “Balki” from Perfect Strangers, “Ross” from Friends, as well as David Arquette and Paul Rudd), I evidently have the looks of a Jewish-American comedian, which all of those Nick Shell look-alikes are.  Men that are remembered not for their looks, but for their personalities and talent.  Are those men handsome?  Sure, why not.  It’s irrelevant either way.

Ben Savage, who played "Corey Matthews" on Boy Meets World.

Speaking of David Schwimmer, I don’t believe anyone could have played the part of Ross better.  But to be part of one of the most popular romantic American TV couples ever, he was a very ordinary looking guy.  Fans of Friends always think of Ross and Rachel fondly, though never once have I ever heard anyone comment good or bad on David Schwimmer’s looks.  But regarding Jennifer Aniston, it’s not that way at all. Her looks were so relevant she actually started a hairstyle craze in 1995 called “The Rachel”.

When my wife and I reminisce on when we first started dating, she always says, “You always had interesting stuff to say so I knew we’d never run out of things to talk about.”  It’s possible that’s what won her over.  My quirkiness.  Some people would call it my ability to “think some crazy crap up”.  Others more reverently refer to it as “thinking deeply”.   My lifelong habit of daydreaming during math and science class definitely paid off.  I charmed her.

So if a guy is simply average-looking, how can he improve his situation?  The “Makeover Week” on the TV show The Biggest Loser would tell us he would need to slim down, get his hair cut shorter, shave off his beard, and wear nicer clothes.  But I know my wife always prefers me to wear jeans, t-shirt, and a ball cap, and she never notices or cares whether I have a beard or not.  There’s really no official way for a schlub or average Joe to gain “handsomeness” or “sexiness” since that’s up to the girl they’re trying to attract.

The more colorful and eye-catching cockatiel bird is on the right. The female is on the left.

And I think that’s why it’s a guy thing to not care as much about our appearance as females do.  Because unlike male birds (which are always more attractive and attention-grabbing than the females they attract), male humans know they can attract a woman who is out of their league looks-wise as long as they are funny enough, smart enough, rich enough, strong enough, sensitive enough, or whatever else it takes to charm their love interest.  From Doug Heffernan to Barney Rubble, charm certainly has its advantages.

dad from day one: He Who Dies Happy in Old Age, Still Dies

Thirty weeks.


Ironically, while waiting for my first child to be born I am accompanied by thoughts of the finality of my own life.  Having a baby is such a huge milestone, such a life-changing event, that my mind skips decades ahead to when my kid will graduate high school, to when I will be a grandparent, and ultimately, to my inevitable passing into eternity.  In my mind, all those big events are strung together like bubbly Christmas lights from 1988.

My wife and I have this agreement that concerning our own inevitable deaths, we will die healthy but of “natural causes” in our sleep, both at age 92, holding hands.  And I would assume that most happily married people would wish for the same thing- to be able to raise their children with their spouse, to grow old with their family, and to pass this life in our right minds – not lonely and suffering in a nursing home.  I don’t consider a sudden brain aneurism, a car accident, or being mauled by a bear while hiking through the woods.  No, you see, I have carefully planned out my own “natural causes” death in a romantic and perfect way.

And that’s the only way I can think about the end of my life- with optimism.  Assuming I will live a long, happy life, giving all I can to my family.   It’s the only way I can think, because even now, two months before Baby Jack is scheduled to arrive, I am responsible for another life.  I have to be here to take care of him.  And my wife.

I truly am incapable of trying to fathom how so many people in the world don’t have a solid understanding (or at least some kind of basic perspective) of what happens after this life, and that they don’t think about it on a daily basis like I do.  How the afterlife is completely something to be considered, how beyond heaven and hell issues, this dream of life is the prequel to eternity.  And now, already, a new soul has been created, and I had something to do with that.  I have changed the course of eternity.

This baby is not just a body; he’s got a soul.  A soul that will need guidance for this life and the eternal one.  And I have to be here for that.  Even if these thoughts may seem dark and depressing to some, I refuse to ignore the reality that life and death are intertwined.  As much as I “try not to take life too seriously” like all those stupid bumper stickers and annoying e-mail forwards tell me, I still take life seriously enough to think about this stuff.

All pictures with the “JHP” logo were taken by Joe Hendricks Photography:

Blog- www.photojoeblog.com

Website- www.joehendricks.com

Vintage Family Portraits are Like Sitcoms with Laugh Tracks

The term “picture perfect” is becoming less relevant these days.

Last week I was in Dallas on a work trip and the week before that I was northern California on vacation spending a lot of time with my wife’s side of the family, which explains the extremely low number of posts for the last couple of weeks.  (I’m not the kind of guy who announces “I’m on vacation on the other side of the country!” as my facebook status- I don’t think it’s a good idea to announce to the world when I’m not at home.  Maybe that’s just me.) While in Sacramento, I saw a studio portrait of my wife’s family, circa 1985.  Everyone was dressed in their Sunday best, wearing big smiles (for the most part), all looking at the photographer (for the most part), and best of all, a fake forest backdrop was used as the background.

Granted, this was the mid ‘80’s, so anything that happened during that time was bound to be excessively cheesy compared to now.  But here’s the thing- even today, many professional family portraits are still, at best, hokey.  Because they represent a family at a perceived idea of their best, not what is normal or natural.  In the past decade as reality shows have begun dominated prime time, sitcoms have become more sophisticated and life-like; by being more satirical and less slapstick, and also by removing the laugh tracks.  Yet it can be a difficult thing to make studio family portraits less fake and more real.

And that’s why I’m a snapshot kind of guy.

Just as every family has a “family tree enthusiast”, every family also has a default photographer- and in some family circles, I’m it.  I always have my camera with me anywhere I go, ready to snap some shots of whatever unique, random, or funny situation I find family or friends in.  That means that a lot of times, not everyone is looking at the camera.  But a snapshot can often tell such an interesting story- even if the picture isn’t “picture perfect”.

I am so into snapshots, that it’s part of the name of this website.  Last week in Dallas, I met a person who after I told them the name of Scenic Route Snapshots, said to me, “I get it”.  I thought that was pretty cool, since a lot of people when they hear the name and try to repeat it, ask me, “Seen a cloudy slapshot?” But in case it needs explanation, the concept of my site is that I tend to write about things that most people wouldn’t think to question on their own.  I take an alternative, more laid-back approach to things (the scenic route) and take plenty of snapshots to remember them by (memoirs and journal entries).

But do professional photographers exist that take family portraits that don’t run the danger of being as corny as the opening theme song montage of Full House?  Is it possible for a family in the 2010’s to have a portrait made which represents them in a realistic and relevant way?  Yes, I’m seeing more and more begin to pop up- often following the “on locale and in character” formula of high school senior portraits and engagement photos, by placing the family in an environment which is familiar and natural for them.

When I think of a professional photographer who perfectly captures the realness and believability of snapshots in his professional work, I think of “Photo Joe” Hendricks who I’ve been friends with since I first moved to Nashville five years ago.  As I was trying to conjure an image of what the modern family portrait should look like, I immediately thought of his work, which I’ve included in this post as examples (minus the one at the very top of my wife’s family in 1985). These pictures are the equivalent of a sitcom without laugh tracks- more sophisticated, more natural, and more original.

Blog- www.photojoeblog.com

Website- www.joehendricks.com