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.


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

Thanks for 30,000 hits.

I think it should be a sin to bore people.  But it’s an insult to art when an artist has to resort to shock value to get a person’s attention.  Somewhere in between Stale Familiarity and Offensive Toxicity is a place called Spunky Creativity.  Off-beat and optimistic.  That’s the place I try to write from.

Writers, by nature, put themselves in a vulnerable position.  Anytime I publish a post that I know has potential to be popular, I usually am suppressing at least a little bit of anxiousness for it.  Because I am implementing (yet testing the limits of) #6 of The Code:  “Be edgy but not controversial.”

Will it be controversial instead of just edgy?  Will I somehow offend a reader unknowingly?  Will I expose too much of myself in the writing, seeming like a know-it-all, a jerk, or douche?

My favorite author, Michael Chabon, referenced this thought process in his newest nonfiction book, Manhood for Amateurs: “Anything good that I have written has, at some point during its composition, left me feeling uneasy and afraid.  It has seemed, for a moment, to put me at risk.”

As it tends to be the case, the edgiest posts I write end up becoming my personal favorites and the ones I am proudest of.  Because they have the most substance.  The most creativity.  And are hopefully the most engaging.

Here are several examples: The Cannabis Conspiracy, Introduction; Modern Day Scarlet Letters: R&B; Free Marriage Advice; Singleness; The Gift No One Really Wants; The Funny Thing about Jews; Emotionally Charged Words; Why Do Bad Things Happen to Good People ; Water into Wine; BS Detector; What is a Christian Nation, Anyway?; Religious Views on Facebook Profiles

Grabbing a reader’s attention is one thing.  But having what I wrote stay in their head for a day or two, having them ponder about it, having them share that same idea to others either through conversation or by my forwarding my link, having them save my website in their favorites, well, that’s another thing.

It’s important to me that my website is not a gimmick, a trend, or anything that can be described as “cute”.  But I also have to make sure I’m not sparking a political or religious debate.  Because if what I write is in deed controversial (as opposed to just being edgy), I could wind up in a situation where my post gets attention just because of the long trail of comments of people arguing with each other, themselves, and me over the open-ended content I wrote about.

That’s not for me.  Let other people argue. (Often, controversial topics aren’t new and fresh anyway.)

That’s one of the reasons that my current #2 post of all time, Capital Punishment, In Theory, remains popular.  In it, I don’t question whether or not capital punishment is wrong or right.  I question those who support capital punishment with “could you be the one to pull the trigger if it was up to you?”  That’s not controversial, that’s deep.  And edgy.

If nothing else, when I write, I am simply trying to entertain myself.  So if I’m not intrigued by the material I write about, I figure no one else will be either.

Other posts of this “10,000 Hits” series:

Being Down to Earth, Yet Never Really Touching the Ground (posted April 11, 2010)

Being Original, Yet Never Really Breaking New Ground (posted May 18, 2010)

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

Thanks for 20,000 hits.

It seems like only six weeks ago that I was thanking my readers for this site getting its 10,000th hit in Being Down to Earth, Yet Never Really Touching the GroundWait, wait a minute… It was.

That was on April 11th.    How did that happen?  Why did it take seven months to get the first 10,000 hits (September 2009 to April 2010) but only five and a half weeks to get 10,000 more (April 2010 to May 2010)?

Here is a reflection/tutorial for anyone wanting to know more about how to obtain and build a readership and following by using a WordPress website, based on what it took for me to get my first 20,000 hits.

Just like the first million dollars are the most difficult for a multimillionaire to make, so is the case with getting any new form of art off the ground and flying.  It’s the snowball effect.  I have now posted over 250 of my writings on this site alone.

Each month that passes, that’s another 20 to 40 new posts to add to the library to be recycled.  On any given day during any given hour, there are more people reading my older stuff than my new stuff.  Then the new stuff becomes the old stuff and is read by newcomers.

Something almost magical happened back in February.  Suddenly, people started subscribing (getting all my new posts through e-mail); on top of that, the number of hits that month quadrupled from the month before and have been steadily increasing since then.  So really, after that fifth month of this site’s active existence, things exploded.

On December 30, 2009, I went to www.godaddy.com and paid 10 bucks for the domain name www.scenicroutesnapshots.com.  Yes, it’s too long of a name.  And when I tell people audibly, they often don’t understand what I’m saying.  But it’s a name I believe in because it best represents what I write about (Dr. Deja Vu: The Scenic Route).  And really, once a person goes to the site once, they can easily go back to it again.  Besides, people don’t end up on my site because I told someone about my site, they go to my site because of Google searches, facebook links, and cough-cough-Twitter-cough cough.

Another huge part of it is this- I accidently found a niche.  I half-heartedly decided to start doing a recap of The Bachelor when the Jake Pavelka season premiered in January, not realizing that people actually cared about it.  But they do.  Very much so!  Much of the quadruple increase from January to February has to do with my Bachelor recaps.

So aside from the snowball effect, and aside from finding an unlikely niche, what else has helped readership growth?  I want to know, not just for myself, but also to help other fellow writer friends.

I believe in something I call “learned talent.”  Which may be a phrase I just made up.  Basically, I learn from other people’s talent mixed with my own trial and error.  It’s the writer’s initiative to become better through regular practice and a willingness to cater to readers while still staying true to self.  And that concept is something that is often given as advice from the judges on American Idol to the contestants as they make it past the Top 10. Be you, but also stick with what you know works and what other people will like.

Particularly in writing, “learned talent” has a lot to do with the writer’s “voice”.  The tone, the choice of words, the subject matter, the level of professional distance.  I am not as talented as any legendary writer I could name in this sentence.  But just like an actor can change their accent or demeanor for a role, so can a writer “tweak” their own writer’s voice.

Because I believe, like a Rubik’s Cube, (The Truth and Irony about Solving a Rubik’s Cube) it’s all about figuring out the formula and acting on it, I am under the educated impression that what I lack in talent, I can make up for in simply learning how to write in a voice that leads with confidence and optimism and what I call “business-casual professionalism”.

A lot of this comes down to Rule #7 of my Writing Code:

“Write about weird stuff but make it seem normal. Or write about normal stuff and make it seem weird.”

My current literary role model is Michael Chabon, whom through his series in Details magazine, I learned better how to get in touch with my nostalgic side and hopefully make it seem interesting; not too technical or too abstract.  A happy medium that invites the reader to connect to the same train of thought.  In one of his newer books that I recently began reading, called Maps and Legends, he reiterates my #7 Rule:

“Let’s cultivate an unflagging reading as storytellers to retell the same stories with endless embellishment… The key, as in baroque music, is repetition with variation.”

Retell the same stories with endless embellishment:  Be original yet never really break new ground.  The familiar with the fresh.

Repetition with variation:  Take a subconsciously familiar thought and then put a new spin of originality on it.  So that readers feel a sense of comfort (the old familiar thought) along with newness (the author’s personality and his or her unique perspective).

And really, isn’t that really what’s for sale here anyway?  The writer’s personality?

Facts are only so important.  So is a plot.  But ultimately a story or an article is only as entertaining as the person telling it.  And a lot of the reasons we think a writer is “good” is because we relate to them, in some uncertain invisible ways.

Whether that writer reminds us of our own self and the way we naturally think, or they remind us of one of our friends, or ultimately our alter-ego, Tyler Durden (the man who the nameless protagonist of Fight Club imagines himself to be friends with), there is some reason we feel connected.

Of course, just like doctors and lawyers refer to their work as their practice, I too recognize that this site is and always will be a work in progress.  This is me paying my dues.  Learning as I go.  With an end in sight.  Or maybe I should say a new beginning in sight…

Below are the reader stats for this site.  This shows hits per month.  September 2009 is when I exclusively began writing for this site.

Months and Years

Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec Total
2009 5 21 2 76 550 552 465 532 2,203
2010 628 2,508 3,357 6,072