Alice Elliott, founder of Fairy Blog Mother, is an award-winning blogging teacher who has helped thousands of beginning bloggers for over a decade.
We recently asked for Alice's advice on launching and marketing a successful blog. Here's what she shared:
Can you tell us about your background and interest in blogging? What inspired you to start Fairy Blog Mother?
Many years ago I proudly finished designing my first website, and someone suggested I should promote it via a blog. When I started to investigate blogging, I found out that my mother already had a blog! So not to be outdone, I started using WordPress, and realized it was a wonderful way to create a website as well.
But when I started telling my friends about this, I was met with glazed stares. I realized that blogging was something that needed to be explained in an easy to understand way using ordinary, everyday language. Thus the Fairy Blog Mother® was born, specializing in explaining to totally non-technical, would-be bloggers the basic concepts of blogging using highly visual, step-by-step methods.
Since then, many blogging teachers use a similar method, but none of them show absolutely every tiny step, or never assume any technological knowledge beforehand. Focusing on the minutiae of teaching technical stuff to real beginners is something my past students have been very grateful for, and many have gone on to create fantastic blogs!
How has the world of blogging evolved since you started blogging?
WordPress and other blogging platforms have tried to focus on simplicity. Other blogging platforms such as Medium, Pulse, Tumblr etc. have all managed this to an extent. But as many bloggers start to learn about what else a blog can do (SEO, promotion, engagement, etc.) they soon realize the limits these simplistic platforms can offer.
WordPress.com has been transformed to make it "more simple," but actually I don't think this has totally succeeded. Certainly, the new function is easier to use via hand held devices, and that is vital in today's fast-moving world. But this means certain elements are superseded and others take on a higher priority.
And another huge area about blogging that really concerns me is the decline in commenting on blogs. This finds it difficult to compete with social media's real-time responses, even with the lack of moderation for spam and trolls.
Commenting techniques have evolved into quick-fire, bitty conversations with little substance or proper discussion. So commenting on blogs, which requires quality writing with structure and purposeful meaning or motive, has fallen out of favor due to the higher popularity status social networking can conveniently supply to readers.
What does it take to succeed as a blogger today? What are best practices for creating, maintaining and growing interest in a blog?
If you want to succeed as a blogger, you really need to think how you are going to stand out above the crowd. There are literally hundreds of thousands of blogs, some good and many bad, so you will need a niche that resonates with your readers and that you have a continuous passion to keep on writing for.
Embrace technology to make it easier for your readers to read what you write. Every blog should be adapted for the small screen by now, and how you construct your posts should benefit the time-poor reader, those that scan for information and be visually compelling for easier reading.
Images and other media are vital to not only maintain the interest factor of your blog, but to get your message out in different capacities to capture a more varied audience. Good pictures are more sharable, can say more than words, and attract attention. Video, podcasts, slideshares and infographics are just some examples of other ways of communicating with your readers.
Every post should have a purpose, and therefore a call to action. However, this doesn't mean your blog should be a selling machine. Conversing and engaging with your readers is your main function, as you write purely for their benefit. Without readers your blog doesn't exist, so always write what they want and expect to read if you want to keep your readers sweet.
I mentioned above conversing with your readers. Your writing style needs to be like a conversation, with short, concise sentences. Similarly the paragraphs need to be short, to give the blog more white space to make it easier to read. And focus on using the kind of words your readers would use, so they can relate more to what you have written.
How should bloggers approach designing their sites?
Every blog needs to be responsive, so it can be read easily from a small screen. Therefore the sidebar is slowly becoming more defunct, as its contents are confined to the bottom of the screen (and need to be scrolled down to see it).
Modern design incorporates important elements within the main content of the blog and its posts. Sign up forms for email capture are now presented as triggers within the text. Other call to actions or items that need to noticed like testimonials are now big, bold and colorful.
Short sentences and paragraphs are easier to read on responsive blogs. Social sharing buttons need to be more prominent to encourage engagement. Commenting facilities should be easy to use without logging in procedures and not hidden by other digital marketing functions.
And simplicity will help your reader find what they want. A clear navigation system that guides the reader to their purpose for visiting your blog, and there is a trend to avoid cluttered and over-elaborate designs that diverts the attention of the reader away from your posts.
What are the most common mistakes or oversights you see bloggers making when attempting to grow their sites?
- Not understanding their ideal reader. You can't write or converse properly with your readers if you don't know who they are. The sole purpose of your blog is to write for them, to form a relationship with them, to gain their loyalty, and eventually to get them to respond to your call to actions.
- Not having a method of capturing emails. This is usually done with offering an incentive, which needs to be relevant and worthy. These warm leads need to be communicated with via a newsletter, offering them exclusive information that other readers don't get, to eventually persuade them further down your marketing funnel.
- Not having social sharing buttons. How are your readers going to share your posts with their friends on social media if they like what they read? This is the ultimate sign of appreciation before moving onto comments and discussions, which enables you to get to know your readers better and gain their loyalty.
- No consistency in publishing. Remember, it's not just your readers you have to constantly supply with new content to read, but the search engines as well. If you schedule to publish at prescribed times, both your readers and the search engine spiders will be eagerly waiting for your next installment.
- Not promoting enough. The old adage "built it and they will come" is outdated, so you need to go out there and spread the word, make yourself visible, comment on other blogs, guest blog like fury in high-ranking, relevant blogs, converse on social media with influential people, and link your posts combined with introductions all over the web.
What are the dos and don'ts for marketing a blog?
Blogging is all about getting your posts read. Otherwise what is the point of blogging? Therefore you need to understand your readers, have a meaningful purpose or objective, develop an excellent writing style and post consistently.
Once this is established, you need to promote your content. But this isn't about getting out there and pushing your posts under everybody's noses. The best way of getting attention is by engaging first. Get yourself noticed for the right reasons. Spread your knowledge and show appreciation by extensive commenting (both on blogs and social media).
You need to increase your reputation and gain credibility by showcasing your expertise. This isn't only in your posts, but on other blogs as well. Set up a vibrant guest blogging regime to get yourself read by much wider audiences, and make sure your biography is tip top to encourage people to visit your blog to find out more about you.
And make sure you have plenty of quality posts on your blog for your existing and new readers to read. Learn how to write properly in the correct blogging style, and be prolific in the different styles of generating content. Make sure everything you produce is relevant, valuable and worthy.
How do you think marketing rules for blogging could be applied to text messaging marketing?
Text messaging marketing definitely needs to be permission based if it is going to succeed. It is not going to work if you constantly push it at people who aren't interested or don't use their phones enough for this particular kind of marketing.
This is the same for promoting your blog. Make sure you target the right kind of audience first and get to know them properly. Are the devices they use properly equipped to cope with receiving updates from your blog? Are they interested in the subject you blog about? How often could they cope with receiving updates before they get annoyed and unsubscribe?
Value and relevance are key areas here if both blogging and text messaging marketing are going to succeed in attracting their audience's attention and maintaining their interest over a reasonable period of time.
And a cautious approach to push marketing should be applied. Blogging isn't about selling, but about forming relationships, both on and off the blog. Text messaging marketing is about promoting a product or service via special offers or time-scarcity vouchers close to the point of retail or within a specific time frame.
How can SMS be incorporated into a blog's marketing strategy?
You need the right kind of audience, those who are wedded to their phones, and those who are willing to opt in to receive texts on a regular basis.
I'm quite happy to receive a text when someone has just published a new post, as part of the RSS feed system. If I have time I will read it there and then. But usually I would prefer to have it delivered by email so I can focus on it at my leisure at a later time.
However, text notifications are not conducive to gaining comments, particularly on the blog. This is so especially during the summer. People are out and about, and sometimes may have been interrupted by the text. They haven't time to read the post properly or have the inclination to leave a good comment on whatever social system of their choice.
Also, the keyboard on the phone is not designed for extensive commenting replies, but more for quick responses on social media including emojies, gifs, etc. If your audience is inclined like this, make it easier for them to help promote your blog post in this way.
What trends or innovations in blogging are you following right now? Why do they interest or excite you?
I'm intrigued by the redesign of responsive blog themes for hand held devices. We need to be able to promote what our blogs are about successfully within a small screen. This doesn't mean cramming everything into a small space, but whatever shows up needs to communicate your message correctly and succinctly and encourage your readers to want to find out more.
It is essential that blogging should become applicable for those on the move. In a sense this inhibits the complexities of blogging because this makes it more difficult to apply. But the process of taking out your tablet and quickly writing a post there and then is a concept that the modern blogger needs to get used to, and quickly.
Blogging will become a much more social animal in the 21st century. It needs to be a forerunner of engaging on social media. It should act as a resource archive for more extensive information that is hinted about in your conversations elsewhere: social media, other blogging platforms or whatever. In other words, driving new readers back to your blog to increase your traffic stats.
I would ignore the rumors going around that blogging is dying. It isn't. There will always be a need to write and express yourself online, to promote yourself or your business, or just to have somewhere to dump your ideas. But what really is dying is commenting on blogs, and for me that is a very sad indeed.
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