Truth be told, I’m still on sort of a semi-hiatus ❤ My energy is so low today that it literally took me about 45 minutes to come up with a title and type this far. But we’ve got a weekend coming up 🙂
And because of this upcoming weekend, I thought I’d go ahead and get this post published. (I cheated; I pre-wrote a lot of the main ideas a few months back, which is how/why I’m able to publish this post today.) Please forgive me if this post sounds a little scattered. 😉
Disclaimer: please forgive me if any of this sounds like humble-bragging. Those of you who know me well will know that a fat ego boost is not my intention. Every word I write here is 100% genuine and with complete humility and gratitude.
I have to disclose components of where I’m coming from and where I stand in order to help.
And that’s what this post is all about: helping others.
It’s been sort of an informal tradition on this blog to take every 100th post and devote it back to the Asperger’s/autistic community (and all allies!) in some way. In some form, I like to step aside and find a way to hand the microphone over to my fellow spectrum peeps (and again, allies), especially here on WordPress.
I’ve set the same goals set for this post.
This blog is not yet 2 years old; its birthday is 28 April. It’s one of several blogs I have, and it’s the first one for which I made a genuine effort to gain visibility. In the first 10 or so months, I made a lot of mistakes. In the past year or so, I’ve corrected those mistakes, with some excellent results. I just took a few steps, tried a few things, and they worked.
(The logical plan of action, of course, would have been to run a simple Googler for “blogging tips”; heavens knows there’s no shortage of articles. However, my logic process runs a little divergent from the norm, so it didn’t even cross my mind to do that.)
I know that some of y’all are looking to gain a wider audience on your own blogs. This post is for you.
I also completely (!) understand the desire to contain the audience size to smaller dimensions and the benefits of doing so. (I do a certain amount of that on my other blogs.) For those of you who wish to remain closer-knit, this post is also for you.
Another disclaimer is warranted here: I’ve never blogged as an occupation, nor have I ever made any money with my blog; I wouldn’t know how to give that type of advice. Also, my blog isn’t the biggest of its kind, nor have I been asked to do endorsements or anything like that. So I’d be wet-behind-the-ears in that realm, too. I’m not any kind of power-blogger, nor do I consider myself an “influencer” (hell, I’m not even entirely sure what that means, but I’ve seen the term thrown around a lot).
Rather, in this post, I’m just talking about personal, non-commercial blogging, blogging from the heart and growing your visibility–and, more importantly (at least for me), connecting with other kindred spirits and building circles of friends and community–while doing it.
So, over the past year or so, I’ve collected a few “do”s and “don’t”s and miscellaneous notes to self in terms of blogging. (And later on, sometime this fall, I actually did research blogging tips, although I didn’t make a conscious effort to follow all of the tips.) If you’re someone who’s looking to gain more visibility, try the “do”s on for size and try to avoid the “don’t”s. If you’re aiming to keep your audience smaller, do the opposite. ❤
OK, so here goes…
Blogging Advice I’ve Gleaned From Professional Articles:
Apparently, the average length of blog posts has increased, click-bait titles with stubby articles are falling out of favor, and longer, more fleshed-out articles are taking their place. At least, according to some of the experts out there. Search engines are following suit (or perhaps setting the trend?); ImpactBND mentions that blog posts with word counts of 1140-1285 tend to rank the highest.
So, natch, a writer who would like to rank more highly might use that word count range as a goal. (I’ve never done this; I just thought it was interesting information.)
On the subject of ranking, Google (by far the most-used search engine) has taken to indexing more of its content from social media (link to Content Marketing Institute article), citing social media as a newer “authority”-type source. Their reasoning: “if people are sharing this stuff on social media, it must be relevant or engaging enough for them to have made the effort”. Or something like that. So, to boost your ranking and visibility, it would be ideal to have one’s blog connected (via WordPress’s Publicize feature) to the author’s accounts on social media. Don’t forget LinkedIn and Quora! They’re included as “social media” in Google’s newish indexing strategy.
Personally, I’ve had this blog connected to my Twitter account since I created said Twitter account in July 2016, which granted me a little visibility, but not too much. Twitter has never been my number one referral source. It might’ve boosted my Google ranking, although it’s hard to tell.
But it’s possible to go too far with the encouragement of readers to “Like and Share!” on social media. Asking for these is apparently falling out of favor (link to another Content Marketing Institute article).
Personally, I can’t recall ever asking people to like and share, unless it was a time-sensitive matter and I wanted to spread the word about an urgent situation as far and wide as possible. But those are rare instances. I figure that if people like the content and it speaks to them significantly enough, they’ll share it on their own. I’ve seen a few bloggers do this and it’s never influenced me one way or another. Some people look down on bloggers for doing this; I can’t say I look down on them for it myself, but I don’t necessarily look up to them for doing it, either. I’m neutral on this.
Blogging Advice From My SEO Platform (For Another Website I Help Administer):
(Background: I co-administer another website that uses the WordPress-dot-org engine as its backbone. With our package come a lot of background goodies, like an SEO checklist, which I violate egregiously (lol). I haven’t personally implemented very much of what I’ve learned there on this blog, so maybe there’s room for more growth on this blog if I do. But, whatever. I just write this blog for fun, so I’m not all stickler about it. I’m more concerned with the personal aspect, writing content that appeals to people personally, and creating a visual layout that A) makes sense, and B) looks pretty.) 😉
- Blog Length: at least 900 words is recommended, which detracts from the word count mentioned above, so I thought I’d mention it here.
- Other SEO recommendations include specifying a key word or phrase (although I’m not sure one can do that on WordPress-dot-com) and making sure that key word or phrase appears in the title and in the first sentence, and a lot of suggestions involving writing mechanics.
- For example…
- One should limit passive voice to a certain percentage (I genuinely forget what the percentage is – I think it’s 30%?) of sentences.
- A certain percentage of sentences should not contain more than 20 words (yikes! I’m in trouble lol).
- Articles should contain internal links (to other posts on your site/blog) and external links (links to sites outside your own).
- Do include images, and ensure that those images have readable “alt-text” (whatever that is; I think it has something to do with devices that translate text to audio, for blind people. I need to give Google kudo points for being inclusive here).
- A quick intro or summary is recommended; this you can do in WordPress-dot-com; just scroll to the bottom of the posting area (in the old WP dashboard, which is what I use) or on the right-hand side in the “new editor” (the blue-themed WP thing) and you can write a snippet/excerpt. Apparently, Google likes that a lot, although I’ve very rarely done this.
- Readability is a big deal in SEO; the standard metric for this is a Flescher-Reading Score, which “grades” you based on how young a reader you can reach. The more basic your writing, the higher a “score” you get. Personally, I don’t adhere to this at all. My scores are usually in the 40-50% range, which limits my writing to high school graduate or college/university level. It hasn’t seemed to hurt me, although it might benefit me if I actually paid attention to that (lol).
- They recommend no more than 300 words in each “section” of a blog post (you can create sections by simply designating some text as a “Header” instead of the default “Paragraph”). Google doesn’t like walls-o’-text; they’d rather see the post broken up into smaller chunks under easy-to-read “Headers”.
Obviously, this blog pretty much “fails” in all of these areas. I wasn’t aware of them, so I never implemented them. And I’ve done OK anyway. Because again, I’m more concerned about appealing to and connecting with people, on a personal level. I ain’t trying to sell anything here. What you see is what you get, and it’s all from the heart.
Personal Experiences of Blog Growth:
I started this blog at the end of April 2016. Its first several months of growth were slooooow, but that’s OK. That kept things manageable until I got used to being more involved on WP and interacting with people. I had to work that into my daily routine, right? And that took a little time.
In July 2016, as I mentioned above, I joined Twitter, which brought me in contact with a lot of really cool people, and it gave this blog a little bump in visibility. Although I have since created Facebook, LinkedIn, and Google Plus pages for this blog, I didn’t notice any real bump in “traffic”.
In February 2017, that all changed. The blog started to grow exponentially. What had I done? I had read something about ranking higher if your posts were organized into Categories, so I had spent the first weekend in February going through all of my posts (at the time, 283) and categorizing them.
How much did that help? I’ll give an example: before I had done that, in December 2016, the average number of “likes” on a post was about 5, and this blog got maybe 100 hits a day. By the end of February 2017, a blog post was getting an average of 12-15 “likes”, and the blog itself was averaging 100-300 hits a day. I was also blogging a lot in through there – between 30 and 50 posts a month between October 2016 and May 2017.
Then, in June 2017, I came across another blogging article that warned bloggers to limit their Categories + Tags to 15 or less; otherwise, WordPress would consider the post “spam” and they wouldn’t display it in the Reader. And yes, the WP Reader is a major “referral” source! But, if you’ve used more than 15 Categories and Tags, even the people who follow your blog wouldn’t see your posts in the Reader (!). So, I spent some time going through every post (again) (by that time, right around 500 posts) and pared down the numbers of Categories and Tags. Some posts had like 58 tags (!) (whoops!).
What did that do for this blog? A lot! April and May 2017 had already seen an increase in blog “traffic” due to Autism Awareness Month (ugh, what a struggle that month was!), and I managed to connect with a lot of really awesome people (which made the energy expenditure totally worth it!). And once I had pared down the Tags and Categories, especially with each newly-written blog post, people were actually seeing the posts! Posts were getting an average of 60-80 “likes” by then, and the blog was getting 300-400 daily hits on a pretty consistent basis.
In October 2017, I did a “second round” of blog-post review, where I went back through each and every post, and trimmed down the Categories and Tags some more. I’ve done a few “rounds” of this. During these rounds, I found I had made a huge mistake during the summer of 2016 that likely cost me a lot of missed opportunity for visibility: I had stopped tagging my posts with “autism”, “autistic”, and whatnot (!). My reasoning in mid-2016 was, “well of course this post is from an Aspergian/autistic bent; that’s what this blog is about! Since everybody knows that by now, and I don’t want to be totally repetitive, I’ll just tag the posts with their individual subject matter”. Yeah, I don’t recommend that train of thought; people looking for Asperger’s/autism info won’t be as likely to find those posts, if they’re not tagged as such. So, I recommend using those tags in every post you want fellow Aspergian/autistic people to find.
Another mistake I realized I’d made was using tags that were too long and complex. Seriously, my tags included stuff like “Asperger’s/adult female at work”. Great description, but who’s going to be adding that to their tag list in their WP Reader? People were much more likely to find this blog if I tagged the posts simply: “autism”, “aspergers”, etc. Tagging my posts like run-on-sentence hashtags on Twitter was not an effective WordPress strategy. So, I’ve gone through and simplified a lot of my post tags. And predictably, that helped with blog visibility. Tagging posts is like walking a fine line between specific/relevant and simple/find-able.
I’ve tried to write fairly consistently (except for the past couple weeks – d’oh! Sorry about that!), which Google likes, and more importantly, so do followers! 🙂 Search engines see fresh “content” as a site that is more relevant, since it hasn’t been allowed to rot and languish. And I’ve tried to walk the fine line between consistency and variability, in terms of subject matter. This blog is about Asperger’s/autism, from the vantage point of a 40-year-old female, recently discovered to be on the spectrum. That doesn’t change. But I try to explore a variety of situations, concepts, and aspects of life on here, and avoid a redundant rut in which I feel like a broken record.
I’ve ended up building a recognizable “brand”, in a way, even without realizing it. For me, it was a logical progression that the banner and avatar I use on WordPress would become the banner and profile pic I use for Twitter, Facebook, G+, LinkedIn, etc. But apparently, that’s “good branding”, which makes one more recognizable. The more consistent we are, the more people will remember us.
I’ve also tried to make this blog a fun and safe place to be, and also pretty to look at. I’ve tried to choose images that augment the written material and set the tone/mood in some way. It’s part of my nonverbal communication. I’m extremely visual, and I know that the population at large is, too; visuals count. There’s a lot of job security in a graphic arts position, given that the graphic artist is flexible and adaptable to trends (ugh, trends lol).
I’ve paid attention to the WordPress theme I’ve chosen (I forget what my first one is, but the current one, since July 2016, is the “Rebalance” theme. Early on, and periodically since, I like to delve into the WP dashboard and explore the customization capabilities provided by this blog’s theme. I try to make liberal use of relevant and useful “widgets” (at the bottom of each page), like Archives, a search box, and Categories, without going overboard. I try to personalize every aspect of the theme, to make it mine, so to speak.
I love the interactive aspect of WP. Therefore, I made sure to enable “likes” and “comments” on every post, and I have yet to close any comments, even on the earliest/oldest posts. I welcome likes, comments, reblogs, shares, etc, of any post, no matter how “old” it might be. You never know when someone’s going to stumble upon one of the earliest posts for the very first time.
Speaking of interaction, that is a huge component, of course. Aside from the past few weeks, during which my energy has been at not-even-baseline levels and I’ve been a little busier than usual at the office and a couple other projects, I try to respond to every single comment, and I try to dig into my Dashboard to check for comments from legitimate users that may have been marked by WP as spam in a moment of Spam Filter Over-Zeal. It might take me a while to notice a spam comment, or to reply to a longer comment, or to notice a comment left on an older post, but I do make every effort to reply as soon as I see it or as soon as I can. And I try to visit a lot of other blogs as well. The interactivity is the most fulfilling part of this whole blogging thing for me. To 1) know that my posts have helped others, and 2) to provide support for other bloggers is an amazing blessing to me.
One thing that stalled the growth of this blog for a while is the fact that, for a while, I had my “other” blog designated as my primary blog in terms of Gravatar. So when someone clicked on my Gravatar name after I’d left a comment or a like on someone’s blog post, Gravatar whisked them over to my “other” blog, and they never saw this one. Once I changed that, and made this blog my primary, this blog grew some more.
These mistakes–and their corrections–add up! In 2016, this blog had gotten just shy of 40,000 hits; in 2017, it got right around 167,000, a 400% growth despite only a 33% increase in total numbers of blog posts.
In the end, honestly, here’s what I think about “numbers”… The only reason that statistics even register on my radar of What Matters is because behind each “visitor”, sits a person. Behind each “hit”, is the potential for a changed life, a greater self-understanding, a(nother) “a-ha!” or “me too!” moment. Behind each “like”, is someone who cared enough to visit and at least let me know that they were here. Behind each comment is someone who took the time to write something. Numbers aren’t ghosts. Numbers mean people, and it is people who are significant to me. Numbers are merely signs of people having visited and interacted and hopefully, been fulfilled or felt supported in some way.
Like I mentioned at the beginning, I’m not a big-wig blogger. The only reason I ever cared about visibility is because I was bursting inside with information and personal insight and I wanted to share it. I wanted to make sure people could find it and see it. I wanted to make sure that I was indeed helping. I already have a miscellaneous, personal blog (one that I’m finding it handy to keep relatively small); I started this one because, as I mentioned within the first post or two ever, I wanted to add my voice to the chorus and help others the way other peoples’ blogs had helped me, when I was floundering and processing and mind-racing with my newfound spectrum discovery. Many of those blogs have now gone dormant, and some have disappeared altogether. I know that I can never pay back those authors who helped me so much in those early days.
What I can do, is pay it forward. This blog is my way of doing that.
And this post is my way of helping others help yet more others. Because so many of you have so much cool stuff to say! And I want to use my mistakes and their solutions to help others reach as many people as they can, without making the same mistakes I did. Y’all deserve to get seen.
And, as I mentioned early on in this post, there are some very good reasons for wanting to remain smaller. Growth–no matter what type, no matter what area of life–is always a double-edged sword, eh? If that’s the case, then essentially, do the opposite of what I outlined above – keep your subject matter varied, tag the posts obscurely (or don’t tag them), leave things Uncategorized. The people who find you will like you for you.
I’m not going to say that the tips I shared above are the “right” way to blog. Hell, I’ve violated every one of them, for long stretches of time (including this post, which is over 3400 words now (lol), with many sentence fragments, sentences over 20 words, a piss-poor Flescher-Reading Score, etc), and I still have fun, and you lovely peeps have fun with me, and that’s what truly counts. ❤
(Image Credit: Nika in Wonderland)