Today is Shoestrings & Fancy Things’ first birthday and even though I’ve been writing and managing content for other websites, this has been a completely new experience. Having to analyze, strategize, create an editorial calendar, write and do everything in between, all for myself has been quite a challenge and a fun one, at that. There are many, many blogs out there and most bloggers are project managers, service providers and clients, all at the same time, it’s just that most don’t realize it. Here’s what I’ve learned from filling these very colourful shoes for a year.
Everything has a point
Just start writing. That’s one of the most frequent blogging-related pieces of advice I’ve read and one of the most useless. Jotting stuff down with no end-goal in mind will do little more than fill notebooks. To be clear, I don’t mean the writing process in itself; where you’d just put all your ideas down as well as you can and then edit it ’till you’re happy with it. I’m talking about blogs that run 3 articles on the latest winter trends, then turn into a photography blog chock-full of food photography only to start writing about politics cause it’s election week.
It sounds boring and simplistic but choosing what a blog is truly about is one of the most serious decisions you’ll make regarding it, a decision which you won’t be able to make unless you’re completely honest. If you’re interested in a bunch of topics but aren’t really knowledgeable in most of them, don’t try to pretend like you’re on a quest to find like-minded people. You want to talk. Full-stop. And there’s nothing wrong with that, just own up to it and wrap it up in a format people will enjoy reading.
If you want to write about political issues, then pick the topics you can contribute to and do it. If you want to raise awareness about a specific cause, sit down and think about what approach is most likely to achieve that goal. As long as you can comfortably talk about a set of topics in a sustained and coherent manner, go for it, just be honest about why you’re doing it.
Your friends won’t be your biggest fans
And they shouldn’t be. One thing I knew for certain when I started doing this was that I didn’t want to turn my friends into SSFT evangelists. Experience has taught me that in this industry, when you turn to friends and family to improve your online standing, you’re much more likely to damage your brand than give it a proverbial kick in the pants.
One reason is because they might simply not get it. If you’re into molecular gastronomy and your friends have the same refined pallet as Scooby and Shaggy, you’re probably barking up the wrong audience tree. Being friends shouldn’t equal having the same interests, so don’t be too insistent about your friends reading your pieces and sharing them. Besides, if that were enough, you’d be boring them over dinner rather than blogging.
Writing is not enough
One thing that’s crucial with blogging is actually keeping at it long enough to learn, adapt and start building an audience. This, of course, means you’ve got to stick to some sort of self-imposed schedule. What they don’t tell you is what to do when you’ve got to write but don’t really have something worth-wile to write about.
My advice is to shut up. That’s write, if you’ve got nothing meaningful to say, simply skip that date. This is not a volume-centered enterprise, no matter who’s told you otherwise. While putting out massive amounts of content might help you gain traffic fast, its low quality will quickly drive people away. Not to mention that, since it’s a blog and not a news outlet, you’ll invest a huge number of hours into writing this superficial content that’s going to drive people away.
Instead, spend some time and plan ahead, thinking about what topics you’re comfortable with debating and how to add your own, personal touch to them. Unless you’re a celebrity, people really aren’t going to notice, much less mind, that you haven’t published a piece this week. They will, however, notice if your next piece is valuable for them.
No Analytics, No dice
I’ve always been a metrics-oriented gal and won’t even consider changing a sorting option without checking Google Analytics to see if user-behavior warrants it. In this context and seeing as I work with these tools every day, analyzing and testing with GA was a no-brainer.
Having an elementary understanding of Analytics is extremely important, as it’ll offer valuable information on who and when is reading which articles, for how long, where’d they come from and what they’re doing next, allowing you not just to write about and in a style that people enjoy reading, but also ensure that you can adapt your website to suit their browsing needs. I know, I know, your site – your rules but if you’re the kid who doesn’t play well with other, you’ll end up playing alone.
I’ll get into how to generate Analytics reports for your blog in a later post, in the meanwhile, you can learn all about GA right here.
Learn to be flexible
You, your content and your website have to adapt. As you publish new pieces and see how your audience is digesting them, you’ll pick up on things that work for you; like how to phrase your intros or titles, which features are useful and which are disruptive, and if there are any redundancies on your website.
One such redundancy was the comment feature on SSFT. Initially, it seemed like a good idea but within a few months I realized that people weren’t really using it, instead they’d go for the Contact form or my social media accounts. To me, that showed they were looking for a personal connection on one side, and a very open discussion on the other.
When something similar happened with other accounts I was working on, the team I was a part of was simply asked to make the feature more attractive, something I didn’t agree with. If there’s another way to get a job done and the users consistently choose door number 2, blinging up door number 1 isn’t going to make them more likely to go for it, it will however turn it into a disruptive feature in their browsing experience.
Keep social buttons on the down-low
Most blogs I’ve browsed and some that I read on a regular basis have a full-blown social media button fetish. From the Facebook Like button to the Pin button and quite a few you’ve probably never heard of, you’d be hard-pressed to find a web article that’s using some type of reasoning behind the social button it slams on its website.
Aside from the fact that they’re too many and most of the time expanded in a huge and fugly container, at times, they’re hilariously irrelevant. While there’s always at least one way to get creative, odds are your enema supplies won’t be top performers on Pinterest, making the Pin button on your product page completely useless.
Make sure the buttons you do use are actually useful for your readers and it’s quite easy to tell if they are. If they’re using them – perfect, if not, remove them.
Don’t take social media platforms at face-value
Almost every business owner or manager I’ve spoken with wanted to do Facebook. Not because it’s somewhere they’ve been successful in the past or know that’s where their audience is, but rather because it’s a platform they’re familiar and relatively comfortable with. Some will want Twitter and most will turn their nose up at Google+. That’s if they don’t want all of them, but that’s an entirely different story.
First of all, don’t automatically go for a platform just ’cause. In one of his many talks, Guy Kawasaki breaks down the purpose of each social network into Facebook for people, Twitter for perceptions, Google+ for passions, Pinterest for pictures, LinkedIn for pimping (specifically yourself).
From the get-go, I didn’t really care about Facebook, I wanted to reserve the name and that’s about it. Involving my friends, colleagues and family and convincing them to share, like and comment on SSFT posts was out of the question. Not to mention the fact that I didn’t want to invest any money in increasing my number of page likes only to have Facebook hold them hostage and display my content to only a fraction of them.
Instead, I went for Twitter and Google+ and it worked out better than I had anticipated. The biggest surprise was Google+, specifically its communities. They didn’t just yield valuable traffic but great insight and feedback from actual users who I really can’t thank enough for their insights.
The Bottom Line
Shoestrings & Fancy Things has become much more than a creative space for myself, it has grown into a great way to connect with peers and consumers in general and, more importantly, my blog is an invaluable tool for my own self-assessment and improvement. If I had to cherry-pick, the most important thing I’ve learned is to love the freedom of self-expression that SSFT allows me to have.