When I started this blog a little over two years ago, I had no idea what I was doing. It's probably fair to say that I still don't. But, I do know that there are a few mistakes I made along the way. Few is probably an understatement - I've made a lot of mistakes. I know some of you out there might be thinking about starting your own blog, so I thought I would share the six mistakes I made. I'm not a blogging expert by any stretch of the imagination, but it might give you a little food for thought.
1 - Make sure your blog name stands the test of time.
Many folks who have sailing blogs name it after their boat. We knew we didn't want to do that as our boat at the time was our "for now" boat, not our "forever" boat (not that there's probably any such thing as a "forever" boat). Plus, we really didn't like the name that our boat came with - Rainbow's End. We do, however, love the name of our new boat - Tickety Boo. And, in fact, that would have been a great name for our blog, not because it's our boat name, but because it's fun to say and it means "everything's all good" which can apply to a whole range of topics one could possibly blog about. (You can read more about our boat name here.)
Our blog name is fine and people have commented that it catches their attention, but it doesn't really fit with what this blog has morphed into. Turns out, our blog is about more than just sailing and cruising, it's about much more. Life takes you on all sorts of twists and turns and we ended up being a year between boats, in part due to family matters. That meant that our blog branched out into other things that we were doing at the time - like a 6-month road trip around the States in our tent and tiny camper.
With the benefit of hindsight, would we have named our blog The Cynical Sailor & His Salty Sidekick? Maybe not. We might have picked a more generic and flexible name that could span a whole range of blogging topics and niches. You can read more about my musings on our blog's niche here.
Key Takeaway - Consider making sure your blog name is flexible enough to reflect your diverse passions and interests as your blog naturally grows and evolves over time.
2 - Choose your blogging platform carefully.
There were two main free blogging platforms available when I started this blog - WordPress and Blogger - and they're still pretty much the two more popular options. (Some other blogging type platforms include Tumblr, Google+, Typepad and Squarespace.) I had done a little research on the difference between WordPress and Blogger and decided to go with Blogger because it had a reputation for being simpler to use. Simple appealed to me.
Now, with the benefit of that pesky hindsight, I might have opted for WordPress. Two reasons why - customization and plug-ins. The word on the street is that you can do so much more with WordPress than you can with Blogger. I dream of having a plug-in that will automatically scale down my image size (large image size makes for really slow downloading of blogs for some folks). What I wouldn't give for an easier way for people to comment on our blog. You can do a lot of neat things in Blogger, but you can do so much more in Wordpress.
Sure, you can migrate from Bloggger to Wordpress - tons of people do it. But there's two reasons why I'm not going to (at least not now): (1) it sounds like a pain and I'd be afraid something would go horribly wrong and I'd lose everything and (2) I'd want to make a decision first on whether we should get our own domain name...which brings us to mistake #3.
(If you want to know more about the differences between the two platforms, there are tons of folks who have articulated the Blogger vs Wordpress debate much better than I could ever hope to - like here, here and here. If you do decide to go ahead with Wordpress, check out Saving to Sail for tips on how to do it in nine steps.)
Key Takeaway - Think carefully before you leap. Blogger might be simpler to use than WordPress at the outset, but it might not be the best long-term solution.
3 - Consider whether you should get your own custom domain name.
You may have noticed that the URL for our blog is thecynicalsailor.blogspot.com. Notice that blogspot in there? That means that we're being hosted by Google, along with gazillions of other people, on the blogspot domain. What's so great about a blogspot domain? It's free! We like free. What's bad about a blogspot domain? It makes for a long name. It would be so much easier to be something like cynicalsailor.com. Search engines prefer custom domains - they're more likely to index your blog posts and pull them up in searches people do. And it just sounds that wee bit more serious to have a custom domain name, rather than a blogspot one.
What's the downside of a custom domain name? It costs money. Right now, I can buy cynicalsailor.com on Go Daddy for $2.99 for the first year and $14.99 a year after that. While I'm intrigued, reality is that I'm not going to shell out the money. I think I'd much rather spend that on chocolate. At this point, it would be a hassle to change over and we're more of a casual blog, rather than a slick operation. But, you might want to buy your own domain name, especially if you're thinking about monetizing your blog at some point.
Key Takeaway - If you think you want a custom domain name, you might want to get it at the outset. Otherwise, you might find your name isn't available or it's a pain to changeover.
4 - Make sure it's you talking and not who you think everyone else wants to hear.
I don't know about you, but I love reading blogs. I love that people want to share a part of their life with me. Real people, doing real things - some things which I hope to do one day and others which are just fun to experience through someone else's words.
There are certain bloggers who really resonate with me. I'll go back to their blogs time and time again to see what they're up to. Some of them have modest followings, others are superstars of the blogging world. When I first started blogging, I found I would try to emulate my favorites. I would think to myself, "So, that's what people want to hear about. No wonder so-and-so has so many Facebook followers!" or "Wow, so-and-so has such a wonderful way with words. Why can't I assemble nouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs etc. into interesting and unique ways like so-and-so does?"
It took me a while to go back to the core reason why this blog was started - fundamentally, it was a way for us to capture our experiences, and have fun doing so. If it's about us, why was I trying to write in a voice that wasn't mine? I kind of cringe when I go back and look at some of our earlier blog posts. Who wrote that crap? Oops...turns out it was me. Nowadays, I reread some of our posts and think to myself, that's definitely me talking. Might be crazy talk, but it's my voice nonetheless.
Key Takeaway - People are visiting your blog to get to know you. So, be you. You're great, by the way.
5 - Stop obsessing over your blog stats.
Goodness, I used to love to look at our blog stats. Not just once, but several times a day. This was probably helped by the fact that I was no longer a worker-bee when I started our blog and had plenty of time on my hands. But still, checking our our blog stats got to be a little obsessive.
Sure, I still look at them, but I place a whole lot less stock in them. In part because blog stats aren't always accurate (there's huge discrepancies between the various counters I use), but also because they don't always measure how engaged your blog followers are. Ours isn't a very popular blog, but I'll tell you, there are some amazing people who I've connected with as a result of blogging. I love when people comment here or on our Facebook page and I'm over the moon when I get an email. There are such neat people out there, who, for some reason, want to share in a little bit of our life. And that counts so much more than any cold, hard number.
Key Takeaway - Genuinely connecting with people is far more important than how many followers you have.
6 - Make sure your images are legit.
It turns out I was unwittingly doing some very dodgy stuff on our blog in the early days when it came to images. I would write a blog post and think to myself that a picture would liven everything up. So, I'd do a search on Google, come up with all sorts of great images, pick one and slap it into a blog post.
Turns out this was a major faux-pas, not to mention extremely dodgy. It never even occurred to me that there were copyright issues involved. In my mind, Google was "offering" me all of those wonderful images. Why would they do that if they weren't legit, if they weren't free for everyone to use? Then I read this post which describes how someone got sued for using a copyrighted image. I immediately removed all the images that didn't belong to us from our blog.
Now that we've had a blog for awhile, I think about how pissed off I would be is someone "borrowed" some of the wonderful pictures Scott takes that you see on our blog. These days, when we use other people's images, I make sure they're copyright free (like these vintage ones from the Graphics Fairy) or that I have written permission to use them and I give credit (like this picture of the donkeys on Ponui Island by Peter & Marion van Djik and this picture of the shipwreck Rewa from Peter Tasker). Often people will be happy for you to use their images if you just ask.
Key Takeaway - Make sure you own any images you use, they're copyright free or you have permission from the person they belong to.
Despite all those mistakes, we have done one or two things right.
Probably the biggest thing we've done right (and continue to do) is have fun with the blog. There really wouldn't be any point if it wasn't fun, yet I think some people blog because they think they should to keep up with the Jonses in some sort of weird, online way, or because they think they're going to make mega-bucks (sorry, but you probably aren't gonna get rich). So as long as it keeps being fun, you'll still find us here at The Cynical Sailor & His Salty Sidekick!
For those of you bloggers out there, what mistakes have you made? What tips do you have for wanna-be bloggers? For all of you wanna-be bloggers, what's holding you back from starting your own blog?
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