Blogger Boot Camp: Seven Criteria for Creating and Maintaining a Popular Blog

So help me blog!

(The picture above is not “shooting a bird.”  Don’t be dirty minded.)

Are you considering starting a blog?  You’ve come to the right place, even if by accident or random chance.  Today I will share with you the basic ingredients of what it will take for you to be successful.  It’s not as easy as it may look, but if you have what it takes, it won’t be as hard it as looks either.  Below are the Top 7 criteria you must have (or obtain) to grow a blog that more than just a few dozen people a week will read.

1.  Content- Do you have enough writing material floating around in your head to write at least three posts a week?  If not, give up now.  Because just writing once a week will not get you enough traffic to grow your blog.  There are literally millions of blogs out there.  How will you stand out?  The most important way is to be seen day after day in the Internet world.  Just like in advertising, the more you see an ad, the more convinced you are that you need the product.

Another reason you have to write at least three times is a week is because each time you publish a post, it’s yet once more opportunity for potential readers to find you; therefore creating a snowball effect in your favor.

2.  Angle- What’s your angle?  Without putting a unique spin on the same old story, people are less likely to bother reading.  For example, when I wrote about Osama bin Laden’s execution, I didn’t simply just state the obvious facts and predictable thoughts that mainstream readers might expect.  Instead, I compared his death to a case of capital punishment.  And it ended up being my most read post in its first day, since I’ve had my blog.  If you can’t find a way to make your story different from the rest, maybe blogging isn’t for you.

3.  Relatability-  Obviously, link your blog to Facebook and Twitter.  Make sure your writing material is relevant and/or timeless.  While it’s important to try to find your own forte, what it’s more important is that you are able to convert seemingly irrelevant material to your forte.  For example, my forte is writing about parenting.  So I find ways to take abstract ideas that seemingly don’t apply to parenting, and apply them to parenting; therefore, I relate to my readers through the relatability of parenting.  My once abstract idea that related to nothing is now nearly universally relatable.

4.  Eye for Design-  You have to know what looks good.  Find a header (the rectangular picture at the top of your blog) that is relevant to your blog and is unique.  How many headers have you seen of oceanic landscapes?  Too many.  It’s also important to overload your blog with pictures, which are yet another way for random readers to find your blog.  The layout of your blog must be inviting and cool.  If not, you’re just wallpaper.

5.  Confidence-  You have to take yourself seriously!  Your blog isn’t “just another blog.”  Avoid using the words “musings”, “ramblings,”, “rants”, and “venting” to describe your blog.  People don’t widely care to read what they could hear a semi-annoying coworker talk about all day at work.  Readers come to you for enlightenment.  Of course, you don’t want to be obnoxious by being overconfident, either.

6.  Time-  How will you find time to write a minimum of three posts a week, making sure they are unique and relatable?  You tell me.  If you can’t find the time, then don’t bother with starting a blog.  If you are a true blogger, if you really have blogger blood running through your veins, then you will make time to write.  Try giving up sleep- it’s what I do.

7.  Spunk-  You have to be edgy, but not controversial.  You have to be cool, but not a fool.  You have to imagine yourself as that upperclassman you admired in high school.  You have to be both Casey Abrams and Steven Tyler at the same time.  Without spunk, you’re just a punk.  Or wallpaper.

This, my friends, has been Blogger Boot Camp.  Either you have what it takes to capture an audience, or you don’t.  If you have any questions as you start your blogging journey, I will be glad to help.  I am approachable.  In the meantime, I also invite you to read “For Aspiring and Beginning Bloggers: Six Tips on How to Have a Successful Blog Site on WordPress (My First 200,000 Hits)“.  It really breaks down the details and includes a table of contents from every “blogging advice post” I’ve ever written.  Good luck.


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My 500th Post: A Road is a Place (AKA “Kayak to Japan Then Jet Ski to China, Via Google Maps”)

Some of the best advice you can get from anyone is to kayak to Hawaii, then Japan, and finally, jet ski to China.

I have found that for the most part, if you live in America and use Google Maps, it will only help you for traveling within the U.S.  But evidently one of the workers for Google Maps got bored on a slow Wednesday afternoon and “planted some Easter eggs” for fun people like you and me.  No matter where you are leaving from, if you type in “China” as the destination, you will be instructed to kayak from the coast of Washington state to Hawaii, drive a car to the other side of the state, then kayak to Japan, drive a care to the to other side of Japan, then jet ski to China.  I’ll save you the trouble.  Here’s a link to Google Maps to try it out.

During the summer before 7th grade (1993) on church bus ride back from Six Flags Over Georgia, I heard a song on the cassette tape playing through the stereo speakers by Steven Curtis Chapman called  No Better Place.  The main part of the chorus says, “There’s no better place on Earth than the road that leads to Heaven.”  That’s when I realized that a road is actually a place itself- not just a means to get to other places.  I had never thought about it before.  A road is a location, despite its abstract shape and the fact it overlaps countless other places- other cities, other states, even other countries.

As the title proclaims, this is indeed my 500th post. That’s a lot of material from my brain. I spend an average of at least one hour on each one (I’ve spent up to 5 hours on a few of them), and considering that that my average post is 666 words long (strange but true), that adds up to an estimated bare minimum of 21 whole days of writing and 333,000 words used to do it.  I would actually predict that in reality I’ve used at least 500,000 words and 30 whole days simply in writing the content of Scenic Route Snapshots.

Sometimes I go back to the earliest posts back in 2009 and dress them up with better pictures and titles.  Interestingly, these older writings of mine are not only less physically attractive and appealing, but their content alone shows me that I’ve grown up not only as a writer but also a person.  This website, my main hobby, is like a metaphorical road of my life.  It shows me the similarities and differences of me now, compared and contrasted to me then.

A road is a place.  By looking down it we can see where we’ve come from and we’re were headed.  If we should find the road we are on is not leading to where we need to be, there are always intersections.  And u-turns.

Content as of February 21, 2011

500 Posts
5 Pages
8 Categories
6,277 Tags

Discussion and Viewership as of February 21, 2011

992 Comments
218,967 views all-time

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.

Humble and Embarrassing Beginnings: Five Years of the Writings of Nick Shell

An autobiographic look at the Scenic Route Snapshots franchise.

Scenic Route Snapshots: Est. August 2005.

When people show you a picture of themselves from five or more years ago, the tendency is often to laugh at their longer/froey hair and outdated clothing and say, “That was you?” Because ultimately that younger, less experienced version of a person was more naïve and goofier than the version of that person we know today.  Of course, it’s no different for each of us.  We too have many laughable aspects about ourselves when we look back on them, five or more years later.

This month makes exactly five years that I’ve been writing online.  In August 2005 I was in the process of moving from Fort Payne, AL (having just graduated from Liberty University a few months before) to Nashville, TN to start my career in music (which I decided wasn’t what I really wanted to do, after a year of being here).  I starting writing MySpace blogs as a way to document new life pursuing a career in music.  It’s not that my writings were all horrible those first couple of years; looking back, I can actually see some jewels in the gravels.  But for the most part, they were pretty cheesy, not to mention they were all about me and “making my dreams a reality”.

Obviously it was those early years in particular that helped me realize ways to improve my writing, eventually giving birth to The Code.  That means my older writings consistently violated The Code and I’m sure that’s part of the main reason it’s so difficult for me to go back and read them.  But anyone who has ever been successful in any kind of enterprise surely endured the same sort of sloppy early years as well.

Yes, that generic version of what we know as good and relevant was probably not always good and relevant.  Like the episodes of Saved by the Bell with Miss Bliss or the Tracey Ullman version of The Simpsons or the British version of The Office.  Sure, hardcore fans will always approve, but the rest of us know to stay away, lest we become disappointed and somehow allow our idea of a pure thing to become tainted.

And the still, the irony of this whole concept will surely prove itself that much more five years from now, when I use this post as a point of reference to show the place in time where Scenic Route Snapshots really started taking off.  The point where 1,934 were my highest views in one day (happened this week) instead of that being a slow day.  The point where I could admit that humble beginnings were over for Scenic Route Snapshots, yet the big break had not happened yet.

What started in August of 2005 as a goofy blog that just a handful of my friends read has evolved into an actual website that currently receives around 1,000 hits per day.  I sure don’t know where the future of Scenic Route Snapshots is going, but as long as I can still claim to be a writer who never experiences writer’s block, the posts will keep being born.

Bonus!

Read my very first “blog” from August 16, 2005, entitled “I Choose to Be a Fatalist” at the bottom of the page at this link:

http://www.myspace.com/nickshell1983/blog?page=13

It was this 2005 version of me that laid the ground work to get me where I am today.

Writing for Readers (and Reading the Writings) of the Opposite Sex

Are most of my readers men or women?  Let’s take a look at the demographics of Scenic Route Snapshots…

I like to keep up with the demographics of my readers, as best I can, by checking to see which posts are consistently the most popular and also by seeing which keywords are the most commonly searched phrases.  Because while I do write creatively and freely, I also want to be able to cater to “revisitors” to give them something worth coming back for- hopefully ending up in that coveted “Favorites” tab on their computer screen.

Another good indicator of who I am attracting as readers is by looking at my “tag cluster cloud” on the right side of the screen, entitled “What I Write About the Most”.  These are the topics I label myself to help readers in the WordPress community (the website franchise this site is published through) find posts about a particular subject they want to read about.  The more times I publish a post with that “tag word”, the larger it appears in the cluster cloud.  Here’s a breakdown of the tag words currently in my cluster cloud with an according “gender predictor” with each one:

Masculine: manspeak, men, wife

Feminine: Ali Fedotowsky, baby, Chris Harrison, dad from day one, Jake Pavelka, The Bachelor, The Bachelorette

Neutral: 1983, ABC (the network featuring LOST and The Bachelor, which I’ve written countless recaps for), America, American, Bible, blog, blogging, blogs, cancer, Christian, Christianity, coffee, comedy, déjà vu, English, facebook, family, Fort Payne, friends, funny, God, Google, Italian, Jacob (from LOST), Jesus, Jewish, Jews, life, LOST, Nashville, Nick Shell (while I am masculine, I appeal to both genders, as this particular post will explain), people, Starbucks, Thailand

While it appears to me that most of the topics I mention in my writings are gender neutral, the ones that are specifically feminine do outweigh those which are specifically masculine.  And even then, through the Manspeak series (categorized as “masculine”) is written to explain the way men think and speak, I’m inclined to assume that more women read the series than men, to understand their boyfriends, husbands, sons, and fathers.  (Click the title to get to the main Manspeak page: Manspeak, Volume 0: Introduction).

My estimate is that is that at least 85% of my readers are women and no more than 15% are men.  Not only do my Bachelor/Bachelorette recaps increase my female readership, but also so does my dad from day one series, which chronicles my thoughts as an expecting father. And that’s a peculiar thing to me- that I can write so frequently to the appeal of the feminine mindset, which works so differently from my own.

It’s happened throughout the course of history; from the Bible being written by all men (though there are countless female protagonists like Ruth and Esther) to the Harry Potter series written by J. K. Rowling (whose real name is Joanne Murray, but who was strongly encouraged by her publisher to use a more masculine pen name that would better accommodate her targeted audience of young boys), men and women have been successfully writing for not only their own gender, but for the opposite as well.

But even though men and women think so differently, more important is the fact that People Who Write share a common trait with People Who Read: an artistic drive that supersedes gender differences.  I am completely bankrupt when it comes to sports trivia or fixing a garbage disposal, but I can come up with something new and creative to write about everyday that connects to the appropriate readers.

Thank you ladies and gentlemen for supporting my masculine-and-feminine-friendly writings.


dad from day one: Where the Wild Things are Tame

Twenty-four weeks.

As my wife and I have begun registering at Babies “R” Us and Target, a major theme I couldn’t help but notice, particular to boys’ clothing, is the fact that wild, vicious animals are strangely friendly and helpful.  Smiling crocodiles.  Laughing gorillas.  Silly snakes.  Chipper tigers.

In real life, there’s no way I would let Jack near any of those animals unless it’s at the zoo. (Nor would I want anywhere near those animals unless I was at the zoo). Crocodiles, gorillas, snakes, and tigers all represent wild and dangerous elements of life.  But to a baby boy, these creatures resemble how he himself is adventurous and “in to everything”.  Of course, in a world where the baby boy is loved by all and has no concept of enemies, these dangerous beings become neutered, tamed, and enchanted to the point that they all want to be his friend.

The irony- as his parents, my wife and I will be Jack’s supreme protectors and guardians.  We will become the smiling crocodiles, the laughing gorillas, the silly snakes, and the chipper tigers: the paradoxical mix of strength and safety with love and happiness.  Even more ironic- Baby Jack won’t understand all this stuff about friendly yet wild animals and how his parents represent them to him.  All these “cute outfits” are for the adults to enjoy.  But we like to pretend Jack is aware of the fact that his shirt has a picture of a goofy blue beast on it with the caption reading “Mommy’s Little Monster”.  My, what imaginations we adults have!

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

Blog- www.photojoeblog.com

Website- www.joehendricks.com