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18 September 2015

6 Mistakes I Made Starting A Sailing Blog


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. 

When Scott and I talked about starting this blog, it was all about sailing for us. We were in the midst of transitioning from being full-time worker bees to full-time cruisers. Everything we read, everything we talked about and everything we dreamed about was related to sailing and cruising. So, naturally, what we named our blog reflected that - The Cynical Sailor & His Salty Sidekick.

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?

Thanks for stopping by our blog - we love it when people come visit! We're also on Facebook - pop by and say hi!

48 comments:

  1. Great post and agree with all.... especially wanting to migrate to WordPress but not wanting to shell out money ! I've found that having the blogspot.com extension doesn't hurt. If people put "sailing mareda" into a browser, they'll find the link. (Who types URLs in by hand anymore ?). But the most important thing, as you mention, is to remember why you started blogging (to keep a personal record of adventures) and to have fun ! You do such a great job with both... please keep doing it !

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    1. Thanks for your sweet words :-) Someday, maybe, I'll migrate to WP. Right now, the cost and the hassle just don't seem worth it.

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  2. Great post! As always!
    I too love reading other people's blogs like you and think that I've made some amazing connections and friends through mine as well as a wee bit of $ through some sponsored posts. The connections are far more valuable though. I'm on Wordpress and quite happy with it too although not sure if I use it to its best advantage.
    Happy sailing Tickety Boo!

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    1. I'd be interested in hearing more about how you've monetized your blog. I can't remember if you've done a blog post on the topic. If not, could you? I bet there are lots of other folks who would like to learn more about how to make some money from their blogging.

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  3. 100% agree about the name. I really really wish we hadn't named our blog with sailing in it, bc we too have so many kinds of adventures. We're toying with the idea of a renaming, but we'll see. I don't even mind that our blog has our first boat name in it because it means something to b us. Chance plays a huge role in who we are. Thr real lesson learned, don't listen to your husband ;)

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    1. I think "Chance" is a great thing to have in your blog name. It works on so many levels - your boat name, taking a chance on cruising, being given great chances etc.

      I agree with you about listening to your hubby, but let's just keep that between us in case Scott reads this ;-)

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  4. I'm glad it's not just me who checks their blog stats so regularly, looks like there is hope for me in that I'll soon be able to wean myself off them :-) I moved this year from Sailblogs to Wordpress, I've left the Sailblogs site live to keep all our old posts visible as the thought of copying them over to Wordpress doesn't appeal, but the Wordpress plugins and customisations are great.
    I try to think of our blog as being our diary, I enjoy writing it and if no one else read it, then at least we have a record of where we've been, I love looking back through our past adventures.
    I totally agree with you about connecting with amazing people through the blog being such a high. We have maybe a couple of dozen followers, but the help we have had from random people around the world who had stumbled across us is humbling. My best example is when we needed a gas part which we could only get in America (we're from the UK). I was having a moan on the blog about how it was proving impossible to find a store in the US that would sell to us and post the part. A great guy got in touch who we'd never had any contact with before, offered to go to a store and buy it for us. He posted it out to us before we'd even paid him too.
    Keep on blogging! Nichola www.yachtemerald.com

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    1. What a great story about having someone help you with the gas part! Such a great example of how wonderful the cruising community is!

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  5. Great post but have you been reading my mind? These are all things I've pondered over regarding our blog too. We are on blogspot. Like you it looked like the easiest and we didn't want to pay for a domain name which is a lot more expensive here in Australia. Anyone who Googles Dreamtime Sail seems to find us OK so I don't think the blogspot extension is a real problem. I've since looked at Wordpress but don't like the idea of having to transfer everything across. We started our blog for our family and close friends to know where we were and what we were up to. But it did slowly grow beyond that and, like you we have made a number of good friends through our blog. The best thing though is the blog has become our diary, a great place to find the name we can't remember of that place we visited, or people we met and when it was.

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    1. Oh, I'm so glad those telepathy classes I've been taking are paying off :-)

      I think you're right about blogspot not being a huge deal, our blog does come up in Google searches. Totally agree about the diary aspect of blogs - I love looking back on our blog to job my memory of the adventures we have.

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  6. Brilliant article, definitely identify with several of the points! What, it's not just me who obsessed over site stats at the beginning??
    Lessons learned so far: don't try to understand all of the social media sites unless you want to become clinically insane (go ahead if you're clever and/or have endless patience..) Write about what you love in your own personal way, some people will like it - others may not but that's fine. An obvious one, if someone is kind enough to leave a comment then reply - there's not enough thank you's in the world. Ultimately have fun.

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    1. Thanks Samantha!

      You raise a wonderful point about comments. I always try to reply whenever someone takes the time to comment as I know how much I enjoy it when it happens to me. I know some of the bigger bloggers simply can't reply to all comments as they get so many, but if you can, I think it is a really nice way to say thank you to your followers.

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  7. Very nice article and some very valid points! We opted for wordpress because someday we'll make millions from it! bwah ha hahaha... *tapers off into silence* Ok, LORD, it aint easy setting a blog up. We had just returned from a month long adventure and were amazed at how many people were following it on facebook so the blog seemed like a natural progression. Unfortunately, we also opted to upgrade our laptop and were in the midst of other changes as well, makes for a complicated mess! TAKEAWAY- Little changes, a little at a time. Getting over whelmed takes the fun right out of things and sharing the fun is whats its all about, right?

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    1. I just checked out your blog - you've got a great sense of humor! Which doesn't surprise me as your comment made me laugh (the *tapers off into silence* bit).

      You're right about little changes. I'm very tech unsavvy and didn't know anything about social media two years ago, so I'm glad I took my time figuring it all out.

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  8. I think its important to define who you are writing for, and why are you writing? Are you making a record for yourself, trying to educate the public, entertain? Are you writing for landlocked Aunt Molly, or to other sailors (who would be interested in different kinds of details)? When I first started Life Afloat, it was carried in several local newspapers and was pitched specifically to non-sailors in Annapolis/Baltimore MD. My blog now that I am writing for myself, in Florida. is quite different in tone. Another beginner mistake, I was hyper-aware of this because I was writing for a newspaper with a large circulation of total strangers. Safety and security: If your blog is public, be discreet about giving details. (Common sense: Don’t post, “We are leaving our lovely boat sitting at anchor unattended while we go ashore to explore for a few days; sure hope she’s okay.” Save that story for after you get back.)

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    1. Good point about reflecting on whey you're writing. It probably also makes sense to stop and take stock every now and then and see if your reason for writing has changed and if so, make changes accordingly.

      I figure no one will ever try to mess with our boat while we're in Indiantown because there's alligators swimming nearby :-)

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  9. Thanks for this post! I just started my blog very recently and there are a few things you've mentioned which I did do off the bat, it's nice to hear that at least I'm doing something right! Still I don't think anyone reads it... That doesn't stop me, I have fun with it anyway. I got a ton of advice from the blog savingtosail.com

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    1. I'm sure you're doing tons of things right! It takes time for people to find and read your blog - don't worry it will happen. I think the fact that you guys work on cargo chips gives you a really interesting perspective. Folks - if you haven't seen Ayla's blog, go check it out - http://www.lifeofasailor.ca/

      I'm familiar with the Saving to Sail site - I love her posts on side hustles. I just checked out her blogging posts and added in a link to her article on how to set up a WordPress site. She's got some great tips about how to go about doing it.

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  10. Ah,' mistakes, I've made a few, but then again, too few to mention.' Ahem. Right. We've been blogging on Wordpress for about 4 (?) years and have made a number of mistakes, but none of them are the kind that change our lives very much. We still like our blog name, we bought our own domain name and are glad we did, and Wordpress has been fairly reliable. One of the biggest mistakes we made early on was not having enough security on the site. We had security, just not tight enough. A hacker got through and inserted code in our RSS feed, making an ad for Payday check cashing show up in our RSS feed. Our blog is on the Guest Dock at Three Sheets NW and this pissed me off so royally! Everytime they ran one of our posts, this annoying ad popped up. NOT OK! It took Mike days to figure out how that was happening and fix it. Our security is very tight now. (And he's a programmer. If he wasn't we would have likely had to start over.) The other thing I did that was a massive mistake is to try to write a post as a guest 'character'. I thought it was amusing, but some people took it seriously. I guess sometimes humor doesn't come across that way when people are reading. I got a really mean comment from a regular reader threatening to stop subscribing to our blog i we were going to allow it to be used as a platform for 'people like that'. She totally didn't get the tongue in cheek part. I was pretty devastated by that. Since then my skin has become a lot thicker. Still, I spend a lot of time reading and re-reading everything I write to make sure it's as clear as possible what my intentions are. Mostly I struggle with making posts short enough to hold people's attention. Like this comment. It's already too long.

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    1. I'd read that security with WordPress can be an issue. That sounds like an awful nightmare to have gone through.

      You raise an interesting point about the length of blog posts. People seem to have such differing opinions - some people thing they should be long and meaty, other folks think they should be short and sharp. Personally, I think the length of your blog posts has to do with your own particular style and voice. You have a magical way with words and I think I would read a 800 page blog post about joker valves if you wrote it, because you always inject a bit of whimsy into everything you write.

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  11. Very well said. The only thing I find that's most important is if someone visits your blog go visit their blog. I have some that write nice posts but never return a visit. They end up being dropped from my blog list at some point. You can't have a relationship if it's one sided.

    I love the image portion of your post. I always the image credit. It's a must.

    Have a fabulous day. ☺

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    1. You are such a good example of visiting people's blogs. I think I just oohed and awed at your Friday cat post this morning and look, you're already over here saying hi! Online relationships, like ones in real life, need to be both ways.

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    2. Exactly. It's great meeting people from around the world and around the corner. Bloggers rock. ☺

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  12. I've learned most of these same things (and made the same mistakes!) many times over the past decade or so of blogging. You summed it up nicely! Our only thing is that our blog name is "Oh Sail Yes", but it is specific to sailing because its getting me away from my far too general "family blog"... although I do wish that the time I made my recipe blog that I hadn't named it for a Clean Eating blog only!

    We're getting ready to take off on our first cruising adventure the day after Thanksgiving with three of our five kids and our daughter's boyfriend. The only one of us who has ever been sailing is my husband... but we're all terribly excited about trying on this new adventure!

    Great blog and safe travels!

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    1. How exciting that you're taking off at the end of November! You can eat turkey sandwiches as you make your way out of the anchorage.

      You guys do videos, don't you? That's one thing I haven't really explored. Lots to learn about how that works if we ever decide to integrate them into our blog.

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  13. Great info! I started off with Wordpress in 2008 when we started our cruising adventures. I've met so many interesting people through blogging, some are now best friends. Since we stopped cruising and sold the boat, my blog has morphed into a travelogue. I just changed the name without thinking twice! When recently visiting my brother (the Wordpress guru), he suggested changing my template to a more modern format that sizes better on different devices. I was amazed how easy it was to totally change the look without much adjustment to the content.
    The blogs I enjoy reading are the ones that give me the impression that the writer has a sense of humor. I don't bother with the really dry 'we did this and then we did that' story or detailed descriptions of the wind and weather. I like your suggestion that the blog writing should sound like you!
    One thing I wish I had paid more attention to was how I imported photos. In my first years, I made my photos smaller before uploading them to Wordpress to save bandwidth. At some point I got 'clever' and started uploading to Flickr and using Flickr links in my blog. That approach has not proved to be very stable. I find broken links all the time. Also, I recently decided to use Blog2book to make a book out sections of my blog. It's a way to preserve those memories in case I someday decide to ditch blogging. Those Flickr links don't work too well in exporting to a book. Oh well, live and learn!

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    1. I checked out the Bog2Book site - that looks like a really neat idea! Reading things online is great, but there's something to be said for holding a book in your hands and leafing through it, especially if it full of your travel memories, stories and photos.

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  14. Thanks for the tips! We are about to start or sailing adventure and a chronicle of it and this is good food for thought. Fair winds to you!

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    1. Yay! Let me know once you launch your blog so I can check it out :-)

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  15. I joke that in the first two years running FamiliesGo! I made a lot of amateur mistakes. Now that I'm more experienced I make smarter mistakes. It's all a journey!

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    1. It's good to know that all of my mistakes will be smart ones from this point forward :-)

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  16. The one thing you do have is your own voice which makes you human and the blogs you write interesting.

    Blogs, and the way you write them evolve over time and they do change. Look at the first post in any blog and then the last and you will see so much difference.

    There are different reasons for writing blogs from keeping a diary, letting friends and family know what you are up to or trying to make money. (forget the money side).

    I do it because I really love writing them and having a bit of fun. Even with difficult subjects I try to make them light hearted. I may upset a few people from time to time (which is never my intention) but I try to write about sailing in a different way. To show we have a sense of humour, that most of us are not super rich and that it is a wonderful way of life.

    The most important thing to me though is just enjoy your writing. I do this and as a result I have have amassed one follower (thanks mum).

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    1. Mums are the best! They'll follow you no matter how bad your blog is and tell you what a wonderful writer you are.

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  17. Sorry, one other thing. Blogging can become very addictive especially when people start to reply to the blogs or you see them mentioned elsewhere. Don't let it.

    Life is about what you are doing today, not what you did yesterday. Enjoy life first and then enjoy blogging about it when you get the time.

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    1. Very good advice about enjoying life first. I think when some folks are out there having adventures they're constantly thinking about what they're going to Instagram, taking pics for Facebook, planning their next blog post etc. and they forget to enjoy the experience.

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  18. What a lovely post. I love reading your blog and I think I was first attracted to it by your name - it is so unique. Keep doing what you are doing. You are so right that the point of blogging is to have fun - and feed the inner writer in us all. I must remember that when I get caught up in it.

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    1. Thanks Lynn! Glad the name got your attention :-)

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  19. Great post! I wonder about our blog name .. sometimes I think we'll be past "mid-life" by the time we start cruising .. LOL! We may also RV in a future chapter of our lives, so "cruising" may also become old.

    I use "blogger" and am really happy with it. You should be able to purchase a domain through it and it will link hour original name to the new name. I did this year's ago, eliminating the "blogspot".

    I'm guily of not quickly responding to comments on our blog. I seem to have too many projects but need to find the time, as those comments are so much appreciated.

    We definitely don't make much money, but hope to meet a lot of great folks!

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    1. Thanks so much Cheryl!

      I quite like your blog name - it's one of the things that attracted me to your blog in the first place as I can definitely relate to the "mid-life" aspect! You guys seem to be working so hard on your boat. Fingers crossed you get out there soon. And by the way, you look young and glam in your photos, so I can't imagine you being old at any point for a long, long time :-)

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  20. Blos are pretty easy to copy...from Blogger to Wp and vice versa, and from a blog of one name to a blog of another name (or both). You can leave your old blog right where it is and point to your new location/name, and most of your committed followers will move with you. You should also know how to back up your blog offline (wors for the text only). If you have been posting your pics the easy way using blogger (vs putting them in an accessible medium independent of your blog), the move should be pretty seamless.
    Blogger makes country specific URLSfor your blog...like thecynicalsail.blogspot.au for example. This is useful for better search results. And since everyone uses Google for searching, you don't thing Google discounts searches in the Blogspot domain, do you?

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    1. Hi Sherry - I would probably only transition to WP if I decided to get our own domain name. From what I understand, blogspot doesn't rate as highly in searches as individual domain names do. And good reminder about backing up our blog. It's been a while - need to do that :-)

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  21. This is some fantastic information. I have done a few things right, and I might find I've made a few mistakes I don't even know about, yet. It is fun.

    I really like your point about connecting with people and not worrying about the numbers. It can be tempting to fall into the "how many followers do I have?" game, but it's like socializing: do I want quality friends or just some people I can tolerate being around? I opt for the real deal. That was an important reminder you offered.

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    1. Thanks so much - I'm glad you found it useful!

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  22. Great post with some really good information!

    One comment I have is that you can still get a custom domain name whether you stay with blogger or move to WP. Get that GoDaddy deal and just 'point'the domain name to your existing blog. Easy peasy. :-)

    Mike
    www.FillingTheSails.com

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    1. Thanks Mike - glad you found some good info here!

      Thanks for letting me know about getting a custom domain name. I've decided to put that idea on hold for now. Maybe at some point, I'll want to shell out the money for our own domain name, but right now, I figure it's working okay without one.

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  23. This is all great information, concise and detailed. Thanks for posting. I've been blogging for 4 years now on Sailblogs and would like to switch my own space... was thinking of moving to Wordpress, but can't move my existing 4 years worth of stuff, and don't like the "wordpress" in the URL, but too cheap (wink wink) to pay for my own domain name. Le Sigh... all valid points you make. Will have to continue to ponder on this....

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    1. I've seen a number of people using Sailblogs and wondered what it was like. I with you on taking the frugal (which is a fancy way of saying cheap) approach to blogging. I don't think I'll be getting my own domain name anytime soon.

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We'd LOVE to hear from you! If we're out on the water cruising, our internet access will be limited and it may take a while before we're able to respond to your comments and pay a return visit to your blog, but please know that we will once we can get connected.