10 Things I Wish I Knew Before I Started Blogging

Man face palmWhen I started blogging about my life as a mom back in 2003, the field was wide open and bloggers like me were few and far between.  You’d think I would be a lot farther along than I am now, but unfortunately, I made a lot of mistakes and errors along the way.  In hindsight, I had no clue that blogging would take off the way it did and make fortunes for more savvy early adapters. If I had, I might have done things differently.

Here are 10 other things I wish I knew before I started blogging:

1. That having a niche is a better way to blog.

My blog is “mom-blog,” and while there were some search engine benefits from my URL, my resulting audience was not the group I was looking for.  The fact is that I hadn’t even given my niche a thought. I was strictly blogging at the time about one topic – being the new mom of a child with Down syndrome – but I didn’t really consider that this could capture me a targeted audience, if I treated it properly.  I recommend that you find a niche first and blog for the audience interested in that topic.

2. That this would be the way to start my professional writing career.

It wasn’t until 2008 that I garnered my first writing contract and I was over the moon about it. For the five years prior, I had been crafting my voice and writing in a casual, irregular and thoughtless manner, hardly bothering with search engine optimization, grammar or detailed editing.  Honing my writing sooner with the idea of paying work in mind would have been a smarter move.  I suggest that if you have any desire at all to write or communicate professionally, treat your blog as your first platform for that career.

3. That privacy matters.

Obviously, all these years of blogging about my children means there is a wealth of data about them online, including photos. While I did have the foresight to set certain boundaries, bloggers have told me that they’ve googled their own child’s first name only to find photos with their kids posted everywhere. I haven’t come across this problem yet only because in the beginning I was too naïve to rename my photos from my first camera’s default, “IMG_2006780”!

Now I know better not to name photos of my children after my children and use far less photos than I planned.

In addition, I’ve become more vague in my blog. While I still want to help parents deal with children who have significant struggles, I’ve discovered I can still do that without listing the details of  issues my kids are personally struggling with. When you are blogging about topics like family, parenting or relationships, set up boundaries in advance of what you will and will not share, and make sure the people you write about agree.

4. That people will steal your photos.

watermark example

Original dish, original photo  – and original watermark in lower left hand corner.

In the advent of Pinterest, I’ve started to spend a lot more time on photos – and that means a little more time watermarking them with my blog’s name.

This is the only way to really ensure your images won’t get stolen – putting a faded watermark in a spot that makes your photo less usable, like over the face. That placement wouldn’t work for my blog, but if you are a photography blogger, this is a critical precaution because you can easily be victimized. It’s up to you how close you want the watermark and how private you want your photos those to be.

If you are worried about prior photos having been stolen, here is a neat, quick tutorial on how to search for your photo in other sites. The author claims this will work even if the photo has been renamed or had minor changes made.

5. That paid posts could bite me in the a**.

vsp

Proper notation of a sponsored post: #ad in title and disclosure near sponsor link.

When I first started writing posts for pay to help promote brands, I jumped right in – typical me. That could have gotten me into lots of trouble after the FTC made certain rules, and I’m fairly sure that it hurt my page rank with Google. In fact, it meant that I had to go back and hunt for all my old sponsored posts and re-edit to adhere to the new guidelines. My advice is if you are doing any posting on your blog that is compensated (with either money, credits or products),  make those posts easy to locate in case the rules change again, for example, create a special category.

And, in the meantime, make yourself very familiar with the latest FTC rules, Google guidelines and the regulations of any services you use such as WordPress.com or Blogger.

 

6. That Google would change their rules often.

Google has one wish: that you stop search engine optimization and let them handle it, thank you very much.

While that’s not completely realistic if you want search engines to find your posts, improper SEO can get you penalized –  and Google can punish you for other website errors you may have made. Two of the best things you can do early on to protect yourself from potential problems with Google is to sign up forGoogle’s Webmaster tools andfollow them on YouTube.  The tools will show you what errors or problems your site has and, according to Google, can help you “improve your visibility on Google.”  Their YouTube site features videos by Matt Cutts, the head of Google’s Webspam team, who answers questions, dispels myths and provide critical tips to help you improve your standings with Google.

7. That analytics always need to be measured properly.

In my early days of blogging, I was using the poor web stats program that my host provided. I did not install Google Analytics until January 2009.  My advice is to install it as soon as you start blogging.  Analytics is a trustworthy indicator of the success and reach of your blog, including successful keywords, user locations, exit pages, and too many other useful stats to list them all here. Google Analytics is considered the “industry standard” among bloggers and brands for measuring your stats. Combined with the right plugins, it can be very accurate.  For example, I use the plugin “Bounce Rate,” which fixes a Google calculation bug that does not count users who use the “back” button when visiting a single page on your site. It has significantly improved my bounce rate and demonstrated my engagement to be much closer to what I thought it was considering my page views and subscribers.

8. That a blog should be thought of as a potential business.

It’s true that your blog may not even blossom into a business, but that doesn’t mean you should not consider this in your future.

>After all, you want your blog to be visible, drive traffic and become popular, don’t you? Once that starts to happen, you may have access to opportunities that you’ve never considered – but you will have to rethink your blog. For example, a little profanity on a parenting blog may be fun, but lots of people and brands will avoid you like the plague, so you may want to set a “stay clean” guideline now. Politics is a non-starter for lots of people as well, unless you are looking to write a politically inclined blog (keep in mind it will narrow your audience and opportunities – which may be fine for you). Even if you are just sharing recipes, crafts and kid photos, you never know when someone will approach you because they like your style, your voice and your character.

Do you really want to eliminate that possibility before you even start?

Considering controversy, profanity and professionalism early on by thinking of your blog as a future business can help leave the door open for opportunity later on.

9. That there’s no such thing as “my blog.”

A lot of the mistakes I’ve made over the years came from not only not considering my blog as a business, but also from working around a “it’s my blog and I can do what I want” attitude.

This is true, yes, but it’s NOT just your blog if it’s public; it’s a place anyone can visit and respond as they like. Because it’s out there and visible, it’s more akin to a newspaper and magazine than your personal diary. Keeping this in mind will help you to be more thoughtful about what and how you share. If that’s not what you’re looking for, hide your blog from Google, password protect it and only share with your friends and family.

10. That engagement trumps everything.

Back in the day, as a new mom I had a lot of time on my hands. I understood, initially, the value of commenting on complementary blogs and worked with a group that got to know each other well. But in 2005, I had a 2nd child; in 2007, I got a full time job; in 2008, I got additional contract work – and before I knew it, I was still blogging but had little time on my hands to nurture and continue those early commenting relationships. Now I have to build that up again.  Fortunately, today we have great social media tools to help with this endeavor, since blog comments are more difficult to generate. However, if you can be a regular participant in conversations with blogs that are interesting to  your audience, you can create a dialogue that will drive traffic for you.

Those are the top 10 things I wish I knew or had thought when I started blogging 10 years ago. I hope you can learn from my mistakes. For those already blogging, what do you wish you knew before you started?

Photo credit: whatleydude via photopin