So You Want to Be a pro Blogger?
The owner of the Dallas Mavericks, has a full plate. Besides his basketball team, the busy billionaire also owns part of a media company, and serves as chairman of the TV channel HDNet. He recently competed for five weeks on “Dancing With the Stars” on ABC. How on earth does he find time to blog?
Yet his site is one of the top 1,000 Weblogs, according to the search engine Technorati. Thousands read Mr. Cuban’s posts every single day. If he can do it, why can’t you?
“Don’t go into blogging to make a living,” Mr. Cuban warned in an e-mail message. Still, he and other top bloggers with day jobs agree most people could attract a following on the Web. And whether a person blogs to make a little money, to influence opinion or just for sheer ego gratification, amassing a large audience is the goal.
Here’s what a number of successful bloggers with successful nonblogging careers say are the ways to think about getting into the business of blogging.
Don’t expect to get rich. You can easily place automatically served ad banners from Google or AdBrite onto your blog. It is as simple as signing up with an ad service and placing a snippet of HTML code into your blog. Many of the ads will be specific to the topic of your posts and the service will credit your account whenever a reader clicks on one of the ads. You get a check only if the account builds to a set amount, $100 in the case of Google.
But Philip Kaplan, president for products at AdBrite, cautions that only one in six blogs draws even 500 page views a day. At that pace, you would make at most $45 a month, even if the site were decked out with full-page ads. Mr. Kaplan estimates only 3 percent of active sites make more than $1,000 a month from advertising.
“In 3.5 months we made $9.47,” complained one blogger, Ted Dziuba, who yanked the automatic ads off of his site, Uncov.com.
Write about what you want to write about, in your own voice. Mr. Dziuba, a software engineer at Persai, a Web news filtering service, began blogging out of sheer frustration with buggy, overhyped Web 2.0 applications. Uncov.com became a magnet for techies with similar complaints, and unintentionally raised awareness of Persai. Thousands of Uncov readers signed up for a test of Persai’s service. Eventually, even advertisers took notice. “Once I started getting 2,000 to 3,000 page-views per day,” he says, “advertisers started coming to me.” He says advertisers have contacted him directly with offers of $750 for a month of display ads.
Mr. Cuban said: “Blog about your passions. Don’t blog about what you think your audience wants. Post because you have something you are dying to write about.”
Fit blogging into the holes in your schedule. “Deal with the rest of your life first,” advises Glenn Reynolds, a law professor at the University of Tennessee who posts constantly throughout the day on his site, Instapundit.com. The volume and regularity has helped make his political opinion site one of the most popular on the Internet. “The blog is best handled by inserting it into the small bits of free time that rest among the bigger chunks of your work.” Mr. Reynolds slips in posts between classes, as a break from writing law review articles and during slow time at home.
Just post it already! The hurdle that stops many would-be bloggers is fear of clicking the “Publish” button. Xeni Jardin, who juggles blogging at the quirky alternative-news site BoingBoing.net with a career as a freelance journalist for NPR, Wired magazine and others, resists the urge to polish her blog prose the way she would a radio script. “Don’t bottle up your ideas forever believing you have to hit the same kind of mature, complete, perfect point as you would with a magazine or newspaper article,” she says. “Blogs are always in progress.” Boing Boing’s bloggers are known for going back to posts to update them, adding new information and striking out factual errors.
Keep a regular rhythm. Bloggers disagree on how often they should post. Mr. Reynolds and Ms. Jardin post several times a day. Mr. Cuban and Mr. Dziuba will go a week without a post. What matters, they agree, is that you establish a reliable rhythm for readers, so they know they can rely on you to have new material for them every so often.
Likewise, there’s no one right length for blog posts, but the most successful sites seem to have their own reliable formats, just like most professional publications. Mr. Reynolds rarely goes beyond two or three lines per post. Boing Boing entries run one to three paragraphs each, always with a photo. Mr. Cuban’s Blog Maverick entries can take up the entire browser window — when the guy’s on a roll, he’s on a roll.
Join the community, such as it is. There’s an unwritten rule — actually, it’s written about a lot on blogs — that you should always link back to bloggers whose ideas you repeat, or from whom you get a cool link to another site. Don’t use other bloggers’ photos or excerpt their writing without a prominent link back to the original. When in doubt, give credit.
More to the point, linking to other bloggers is the best way to get them to link to you. Links from other bloggers increase your readership two ways: they send readers directly from other sites, and they raise your ranking in search engine results. A blogger who posts about a hot topic like Eliot Spitzer’s secret life, but has no inbound links, will lose out to one who already has dozens of inbound links from other sites.
Plug yourself. That’s what all the name-brand bloggers do. It’s not bad form to send a short note to a prominent blogger drawing his or her attention to a really good blog you wrote. Some bloggers place links to their sites in comments they write on more established blogs. (And some bloggers are on to the trick and refuse to allow it.)
A more direct way to draw a crowd is to submit your blog posts to news aggregation sites like Digg, Fark and Boing Boing. Readers vote on how much they like the posts and new readers are drawn to the list of most popular posts. Granted, it helps if your blog post includes a home video of someone being attacked by a cat or really arrogant e-mail messages from a hedge-fund manager. Those get passed around virally in an instant.
Allowing readers to post comments on your blog not only increases readership, it provides a sense of live interaction with the rest of the world. But beware: the insulting comment is an Internet art form. “There’s a big difference between being flamed on someone else’s blog, and having them come do it in your own home,” Ms. Jardin said.
In the end, the biggest threat isn’t that you’ll fail to learn to blog. It’s that if you blog regularly for long enough, and begin to get comments and links from other bloggers, you’ll have trouble doing your day job.
“I can’t stop reloading,” confessed a colleague over IM after a post of hers began to attract dozens of comments. “I should be working, I know,” she added a few seconds later. “I have an unhealthy obsession.” Isn’t that the whole idea?
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Charles has been working as a webmaster since 1998. Since then, he has had his hands in thousands of websites and has helped millions get online through a company he partially owns called Web Host Pro.