January 10, 2013

Blogging: What I Learned the First Year

I don’t want this to come off all contrived and pretentious  like I know more than everyone else about blogging.  I don’t.  Not even close.  I haven’t even begun to tackle Word Press and I kind of know what SEO is, but I have no idea how to optimize it.  

This is just me talking from the heart and trying to give you some insight as to what has an hasn’t worked for me.  How I’ve gotten to this point in the blogging journey.  And hopefully it will help you and/or me.  I’d love to hear what you have to say about all this stuff and what has/hasn’t worked for you too.


Numbers and Google Analytics


You may ask, what’s the point?  I don’t know many bloggers who started out saying I’m going to write so that I can get 1,000 followers ASAP.  It doesn’t happen that way, well not to my knowledge.  However, numbers matter in the end if you want to get paid, you need to get some sort of tracking in place immediately.  Higher numbers = more payoff from ads and better paid post offers and more attention from brands.


I’m on Blogger currently and I use Google Analytics (GA).  It’s what I know, even thought I don’t know how it works.  Anyone on Blogger with GA can tell you the numbers don’t match.  I don’t know why that is.  I’ve heard Blogger will count your page views along with your readers, and the GA only tracks actual (non-you) views.  The powers at be are still out on this one. Check it:


Blogger Stats

 

 

Google Analytics Stats
 


That’s about a 1,000 view difference on December 23rd.  Does anyone know the reason for this?  Don’t forget, this is not a keeping up with the Jones situation.  Everyone does their own traffic and numbers.  I’m just showing this for reference sake as I talk about things.  Here’s the real low down for the year of 2012.  {I started blogging Sept. 2011}


As you can see, I started at nothing.
I remember the first day I had 30 page views.  I was so excited.
And then 100?!?  It all wasn’t that long ago from today.
Things take off when you’re not paying attention.  For reals.

Also, a question I’ve seen a lot of is how to install GA to your blog.  I used to add the tracking code to each individual post.  Then Carrie from My Favorite Finds helped me see the light.  I added the HTML code to my blog layout so it about tracks every page and my home page views.  Way less effort, all the same payoff.

 

Giveaways
 
How the heck do you get a giveaway started?  Do you buy stuff yourself?  Do people give you stuff to giveaway?  I saw giveaways when I first started blogging and I had no idea how the magic happened.  Here’s what I did and it’s worked for me.
  • My first giveaway I paid for the prize and shipping.  
  • I started asking other bloggers to donate prizes for publicity and promotion.  They donated and it was a win-win.
  • I started doing paid blog posts (more on this next Thursday), and some of the brands made giveaways part of the post requirements.
  • I emailed companies directly, Etsy shops, and Facebook pages for companies asking them to donate to whatever event was going on.  The Unique Sweets challenge was the first time I did this and it was scary to ask.  Then again the worst that could happen was a no…I got A LOT of yeses! 
Moral of the story, never be afraid to ask.  Even as a new blogger, there is an awesome community of us out there.  If you follow someone and want them to join your giveaway, tell them why you want them and that you read them.  It’s okay to ask bloggers with bigger followings so they can drive traffic to you too.  We’re all really good about helping each other.  OH!  Buttons are a good thing.  I love buttons.

Rafflecopter makes giveaways SUPER easy.  You don’t have to count comments (I don’t have mine numbered, I think that’s a WP option).  You can verify entries really easily and announce the winners on the widget.  You don’t need to pay for the advanced options if you don’t want to.  Just “create your own entry” instead and use links.  I heart Rafflecopter.  {and they didn’t pay me to say so}


I’m a giveaway slut by the way.  I enter them all the time, and I win kind of frequently too.  All different sized giveaways.  It can happen for you too!  Get in there!!


Networking
 
Don’t be a fly on the wall.  Comment. Say hi. Explore.  Make friends!  I had a group of bloggers I kind of came up with – Serendipity & Spice, My Favorite Finds, and Four Marrs and One Venus.  I bonded with each of these ladies and they have been a continuing source of support and love from the beginning.  

You will have groups of bloggers you click with for different reasons.  It’s okay to have niches you rotate through and invite to certain events you are hosting/co-hosting for the right kinds of exposure.  Grow.  Don’t be shy.  You could find your new bloggy bestie.  :)  

I’ve found a lot more local girls than I ever thought possible by checking out “About” pages.  They are a great place to learn more if you were intrigued by a post.  And and and…apply for everything that strikes your fancy.  You never know when you’ll get picked and what those relationships will turn into.

 

 
Twitter, Facebook and Pinterest
 
You kind of need these accounts, well at least one.  I started my Twitter to enter giveaways.  I never did anything with it.  I’ve slowly but surely started tweeting more.  I kind of get it, but Twitter is not my all the time go to network.  Facebook was easy for me, I was already a Facebook user.  Now a days, I post more to my blog FB page than my personal page.  I love that I can share big pictures of my blog post to get people more interested, and FB groups.
 
Pinterest – we have to go there.  How can you not love Pinterest?  It’s one of the biggest traffic sources you can have.  Not that it’s #1 for everyone, but it’s definitely tops.  It’s my top referral – BY A LOT!!
 
 
{half of my top traffics sources of all time come from Pinterest}
 
I converted my Pinterest page to a business account two weeks ago.  I didn’t see a drastic change, but my followers have increased significantly since the change – like a couple hundred every few days.  On the same note, a lot of other bloggers I know have seen traffic spikes since the change to business, and they can’t sing the conversion praises enough.  I have seen my top 10 posts of all time shift, a lot.  

I had a couple posts go viral starting at the beginning of November and they in turn drove my numbers in GA through the roof, compared to before.  

October
Unique Visitors: 6,389
Page Views: 26,575

 

November
Unique Visitors: 22,803
Page Views: 62,179
December
Unique Visitors: 69,768
Page Views: 178,563
 
CRAZINESS!


Pin it, love it, make boards.  I do recommend keeping your boards organized so what you blog about most is towards the top.  You readers click over to get ideas based on your blog.  Give them a taste and show them more.



A lot of bloggers will talk about pinning from the source to give credit where credit is due.  I’m down with that.  However, I didn’t redo every pin I had just for this reason.  I rarely repin anymore, and instead I go to to page and use my Pin It button.  

A big thing I don’t do that lots of other pinners do – I don’t leave any extra info about the recipe other than the name.  I don’t want anyone being swayed by where a recipe came from.  A good picture is wonderful, and a delicious sounding recipe name should get a chance…no matter who it was made by.  One blog shouldn’t be treated better than the other based on pictures alone.  It’s food, and we all had to start somewhere.  Use your taste bud’s imagination based on the ingredient list!  {Taste buds have an imagination  didn’t you know?  How do you think food cravings happen?}  Hence no source names on the pin title itself.

Guest Posting
 
I love guest posting and having guest posters.  I haven’t ever really asked someone to let me post for them, usually it’s more of a ” would you post for me?” conversation  which frequently turns into want to swap for a day or at some point in the future.  Guest posting is a great way to reach a new audience too.  While a lot of bloggers I follow run in the same circles, not everyone does and each blog has its own readers.  If a blogger thinks trading/guest posting would be a good fit – that means their readers will probably like you too and get you some new followers hopefully.
 
I’ve heard people say that too much guest posting looses your voice and readers may stray.  I don’t have guest posters often enough to know this impact.  However, if you know you’re going to be out of town or need to take a week or two off from blogging.  Just let people know so they don’t think you are playing hooky and don’t love them anymore.  Everyone needs a break some times.

 

Blog for Yourself
 
I know this should sound easy, but it’s also easy to forget what motivated you in the first place or to feel trapped in writing about a certain topic.  It’s okay to take time to regroup, and rethink what you’re writing about or get inspiration.  Just don’t fall off the face of the Earth without a little note to your audience.  If you can give an ETA they will be back for you.  I would be.  :)  Need to re-establish who you are as a blogger?  Do it.  Your real followers will stay with you and embrace the changes you make.  Lena is a perfect example of this.  She started a second blog for her other passion – photography, and then re-branded her first blog after a couple years and some major thinking about what she wanted to express as a blogger.  You should read Lena, she’s the bee’s knees!

You were your very first reader, and if you try to write too much for other people you can forget why blogging makes you happy.  At the same time, readers expect content on a regular basis.  Whatever schedule works for you is great.  You don’t have to post everyday of the week.  Most bloggers I know post 3 to 5 days per week, and for some one of those posts is their link party.  


If you’re starting out, shoot for 1 or 2 posts per week.  That’s really plenty in the beginning if you’re consistent.  Don’t worry about comparing yourself to everyone else.  Do what works for you.  It’s easy to get overwhelmed and feel like you just can’t do this blogging thing if you’re not realistic.  Start small and consistent and expand when you’re ready.

As far as content goes, writing about food is easy for me.  There is an endless supply of recipes in the world, and I cook for my family almost everyday.  However, there’s The Funk too.  Coming up with fresh content is hard.  Pinterest is great, but it’s been done if it has been pinned and repinned.  It’s good to know where the pin source came from to see if it runs in your blogging circles.  My new challenge is recipe development and starting to have more original content rather just tweaks of stuff that’s out there now.


Buying a .com
 
This is really up to you.  I bought my own .com to make sure no one else tried to grab it.  It’s not the end of the world to have .blogspot.com or .wordpress.com after your blog name.  Heck Bridget still has .blogspot.com in her URL and she has a cookbook out and everything!
 
Food Blogging 
 
I want to talk about the biggest lesson I’ve learned food blogging.  Recipe copy-writes.  It comes down to this: ingredients don’t get a copy write, sorry they don’t apparently.  The method/directions whatever you want to call them does.  When you write up a recipe write what YOU did, any changes you made, etc.  It’s good etiquette to site your source!  My favorite resource about this kind of stuff is the FAQ Page for Smitten Kitchen.  It’s a lot to read (about many different topics), but there is SO MUCH good information!

And yes, pictures matter.  It’s a cold hard fact.  Use natural light whenever you can.  That’s a biggie to getting great shots.  But that’s a whole other post.  I do recommend this book to get your photography skills (food or otherwise) kicked up a notch.  It’s written for point-and-shoot (even camera phones) and DSLR.  I have Lindsay’s book and love it!  

All of my pictures until November 2012 were taken using the camera on my phone.  I save pictures for future posts, so you’ll still see a little difference in quality toward the beginning of this year.  But there was nothing special I was doing to make pictures happen.  I have noticed a major difference in the quality I get with the DSLR I have now.  

  
{DSLR on left.  Phone camera on right.}


Take the plunge if and when you’re ready.  Don’ feel pressured to do anything outside your means just to be “in.”  I waited over a year since starting the blog to buy one, and serendipity kind of happened to make the purchase possible.


I hope this helps you, and gives a little window into my blogging life behind the computer.  I’m always open to guest posters if I feel your content would be a good fit, just ask!  I’d love to hear what some big “ah-ha” moments for you were blogging.  I’m always learning and have a long way to go.  :)  

There will be lots more about blogging coming your way all month!

Comments

  1. says

    This is such a great post and I agree with everything. Do it because you love it not because you saw someone else do it. Just keep posting great content and eventually those readers will find you.

  2. says

    Oh- My Goodness is this a LOAD full of wonderful information! And I made the post?! Smitten over here- just smiling from ear to ear! you know I love ya Julie girl– and am beyond happy we crossed paths- you just “get me” – love it! Ok- WoW I need to pin this guy- like now! Doing it NOW ..because dang girl..great stuff! Great post! Love ya!
    Jen

  3. says

    Great post! I too am highly confused about the data differences between Blogger and GA and would love to know how to understand them better. I've been slowly tweaking and playing with my blog format and writing – I see a huge difference from where I started at the end of last February. I'm growing steadily and my followers and supporters seem to be folks who are similar to me so I feel like most of my posts are relevant to them. I've slowly been adding more other social media accounts as well but haven't ventured into FB yet because I do have a personal account & I've been careful about not exposing my kids ID on my blog. (yes, we are of the paranoid people, lol) I agree everyone here in BlogLand is so friendly and helpful and posts like yours are much appreciated!

  4. says

    Whew. A lot of good info. You and I have been blogging about the same amount of time, and you are killing it. So kudos! Thanks for all the tips! I think I need to dive in.

  5. says

    Great post, Julie! :) I just got a DSLR last month and I LOVE it! I've actually had some photos accepted on Foodgawker since I started shooting with the DSLR!

    Have a fabulous weekend.

  6. says

    This is so great, I am so proud of you for jumping in and sharing it all! I can't believe how your numbers have grown that is fantastic! Going over to get that photography ebook now!

  7. says

    Thanks you for all these awesome tips! I will need to refer back to it when I don't have a hungry child climbing up my leg! Love reading your blog!

  8. says

    I'm on WP (self hosted) and the numbers don't match up any better to GA. You mentioned something about a business Pinterest – hmm, I'm going to have to check that out. The part about remembering to blog for yourself really hits home. I started mine so that my 'friends & family' could see what I was creating (they asked me to!) yet I have found that they hardly bother to visit (though I pimp each post out on FB). It's frustrating when your own people snuff you. Sigh. Hopefully, someone out there is getting something from my content. Thanks again for this realistic look back over your first year. I'll keep an eye on you for Year 2. ~ Dee @deeconstructed.com

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