Rosemary Mac Cabe

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How to succeed in blogging: 25 tips from co-founder Kirstie McDermott

I was recently at the very excellent DotConf, organised by the lovely folks over at the National College of Ireland, where I was lucky enough to attend a talk by one of Ireland’s grands dames of blogging, Kirstie McDermott, co-founder of …

Mon, Jun 25, 2012, 10:30


I was recently at the very excellent DotConf, organised by the lovely folks over at the National College of Ireland, where I was lucky enough to attend a talk by one of Ireland’s grands dames of blogging, Kirstie McDermott, co-founder of the powerhouse that is, beauty editor of the . I was so inspired by her tips that I asked her to send ‘em to me so I could share ‘em with you! So, without further ado:

Blogging. Brilliant fun, incredibly rewarding – but it can be bewildering. Here’s (some of) what I’ve learned after five-and-a-half years bashing a keyboard, Photoshopping things to bits and mangling CSS. Not everything will apply, especially if you blog for a hobby or do it for fun, but as a pick and mix of tips there should be something for everyone in the audience. Enjoy!

Find your Unique Selling Point
Love your subject. Passion shows, and it attracts readers. You don’t have to know everything from the off though: stick with it – readers will be happy to grow along with you. Be quirky and offer a twist on a standard format. In a sea of baking/music/book blogs, how can you make yours shine?

Resist the temptation to diversify
A few months – or weeks – in, bloggers can get derailed and it’s often a “just cos” thing.You get a bit bored or blocked with what you’re bogging about, so you start writing about new, unrelated subjects. Watch out, as this can be PR-led – suddenly your baking blog starts getting drillbit press releases and you bang them up, but they’re apropos of nothing. Remember this: why were your readers logging on in the first place?

Practice makes perfect
Yes, boring and you know it already, but you’ve got to practise all the time to get good at blogging. So do it and stick to it because if you don’t write and blog regularly you just won’t keep it up. You know, a bit like that gym membership.

Watch your tone
The “I” voice is important. Be friendly and funny, be colloquial – Irish people love Irish content. Engage readers with stories and use anecdotes in reviews and posts to draw your followers in and encourage social shares. Most importantly, never lose sight of quality.

Be consistent, topical and timely
Set yourself some achievable goals. Yeah, you’ve got a job too so there’s only so much time you can give your blog. Decide to post one, two or three times a week and stick to that. Give readers a reason to come back. Be on time with news and trends. In general, if something happened a week ago, leave it.

Schedule and plan
Your blog will suck up every second of every minute of every day of every month of every year if you let it. Organise yourself! Use tools like WordPress Editorial Calendar if you’re a WordPress blogger, for example. This allows you to schedule content ahead of time and look at your mix critically.

Be your own editor
I don’t advise taking an Anna Wintour approach but what I mean is learning basic copy-editing and proofing skills, fact checking, spell checking, making sure your are error-free before you send them live, critically analysing your content mix and curating your content so that you’re delivering up a really good offering. You know, the stuff an actual editor does.

Cultivate your source material
Is your blog self-directed – do the ideas come from your magical brain or is it a personal blog? If it’s topic-based, can you use PR firms? Other ways to cultivate good source material are to follow influencers in your area (geographically and genre) on Twitter; add relevant feeds to Google reader; use Google Alerts; immerse yourself in your subject; subscribe to ezines and relevant directory and industry sources.

Respect those sources
D’oh. Think no one noticed you just appropriated that bit of content from the most important influencer in your field? They did. If you’ve seen something elsewhere and use it, credit the originator. Don’t think its important? It is! Swiping content – text and images – created by someone else is stealing, pure and simple. The blogging vs print debate is reductive and silly if you’re posting all of Vogue‘s fashion shoot images on your fashion blog, SANS CREDIT and then claiming blogs will take down magazines. You might want to think on that one a little more.

Listen to your readers
This is a big part of curating your content: what do your readers want? What are they asking for? Keep an eye on comments and feedback and do more of what gets lots of engagement Keep an eye on social shares to Facebook, Pinterest, Google+ and Twitter from your blog: what’s a hit? What fails? Know your reader.

Listen to Google
Learn to love Google Analytics and take measurements and delve into the statistics it offers. Sometimes you might be surprised that comment-free posts are strong search returners or shared frequently. But try not to turn into weird woodland fetish site. Just because someone is hitting your site with the search term “sex badger” doesn’t necessarily mean you need to start doing posts about sexy badgers. And don’t Google image search this, for the love of Jaysis.

Yep, you can make money
Google AdSense is designed for blogs and self-publishers. I hear a lot of whining about it from people who don’t really understand it and the thing is you do need a good bit of traffic to make a good bit of money, because – and here’s the eureka moment: work is work. No one gets richly rewarded for doing a half hour of work a week. Want to make lots of cash? Work your ass off, just like you do at, er, work. So build your traffic, get smart about ad placements, learn about custom channels and filtering out the ads you don’t want. Don’t expect to get rich quick. Or, er, ever, is all I’m sayin’.

Because you’re worth it
Okay, so you’ve built your traffic, reputation and brand and your blog is doing quite well in traffic and awareness terms. Now it’s time to start getting some revenue back from the brands and PR firms who’ve probably done quite nicely out of you thus far. So value yourself. What can you charge for? Editorial content such as reviews should be sacrosanct if you want to have any sort of credibility but you can charge for extra work like reader surveys, speaking engagements, promotions and ad hoc things that arise that will take up lots and lots of your time and effort. And don’t fall for or encourage the “I’m working with Brand X” line just because you’re being sent product or press releases. It’s not work unless it’s being paid for.

The No-Budget bleat
“We want you to hang yourself off a balcony backwards while in the nip, whistling Dixie, live blogging it and giving away 56,000 products for our client you’ll have to pay to post out yourself.” Oh – I cannot count how many times I have heard this one. It usually ends with this: “PS We’ve no budget.” Well then, I have no time to give so that you can report back to your client about your massive success in order to collect your fat cheque. Because bloggers, no matter how well you or I (and I do) get on with the lovely people in PR firms, this is the reality. They are being paid, and you are not. Ask for some remuneration when they pitch ridiculous time consuming promotional tasks to you, or say no.

Think about titles and keywords
Clever puns work well in newspapers and magazines, but are shag all use for search return. Make sure to get the subject of the post into the title; if it’s a review use the product name. Make sure to mention the product in the first paragraph, too. This is super-basic – a tiny fraction of what is involved with SEO, but at the very least, do these two things as well as always, always alt tagging your images with meaningful explanations and giving your images meaningful names when you create them. And y’know, don’t steal them.

There’s no such thing as just a blog post any more
You need to think of the whole 360: your blog post is now also a Tweet and it’s a Facebook status update. Make sure your blog has good social share buttons. Are you using Google+? Have the G+ button on your site. Google’s search bots are looking for it and will penalise you in search if you don’t include it.

Twitter and Facebook work
You need search traffic and SEO is of course vital for visitor numbers, but these days a multi-pronged approach is best – have your eggs in lots of baskets. Make things easier by auto-sharing your posts to Facebook and Twitter using Twitterfeed or For better take up, use images as well as links on Facebook for more traction.

Pinterest is the new big referrer

Want to drive more traffic to your site? For lifestyle sites or anything that’s quite image heavy, Pinterest is yer only man. Or woman, as it turns out – this is the really big social site for ladies. To get the most out of it, link to images or posts, as opposed to uploading them. Add a link to your site in the description to encourage visits back to you.

Make friends
There’s a social aspect to blogging that cant be underestimated. It’s a hobby that can grow into a business, but it can bring you a whole new circle of friends and that enriches your life on another level too.

But don’t be a douche
The web offers you amazing opportunities to market your blog and social media tools are one of the best ways to do it. That seems to set a certain sort of self promoter absolutely wild though, so aim to not be that person who leaves asinine comments on posts they haven’t read, purely so they can leave the link to at the end. No one likes that person.

Make the most of the free resources out there
Blogging can be a total money pit and you can feel you need a DSLR camera, Photoshop, special lights, a studio, amazing high-end gadgetry, but you don’t. Online resources like Plixr for photo editing, Mailchimp for free lists up to 2,000 members, the Problogger and Copyblogger sites are all great for advice, and zero pee to use. Look at excellent content management systems like WordPress and Drupal too, both of which are powerful databases for bloggers.

Never stop learning
Good bloggers never sit on their laurels and stretch themselves constantly. Don’t know CSS? Go on – give it a go. Learn basic photo editing and find out what all those buttons do on your camera. Next up? Experiment with a video or two. Plan into the future for things you might do next year.

Give it a rest, trolls
Something many people struggle with is the issue of trolling. Do you allow people to come to your house and insult you? No, so you don’t have to take it on your blog. If someone is rude, obscene, racist, defamatory or otherwise out of order, you don’t have to beg, plead or reason with them. Delete their comment and move on.

Yes, give out your stats
They’re not precious pearls, and I have no idea why some bloggers hug them so close to their chests. No one will take you seriously and we will never have a level playing field unless you disclose. In case you didn’t know, magazine and newspapers are circulation audited – so why shouldn’t you be? The important metrics are page impressions and unique visitors. Hits are meaningless as a measure, by the way.

Learn how to say no
This is the biggest and best lesson to learn and it will make you a better blogger. You own your blog, not a PR firm, and you can say no to the things they’re offering you. Not everything can or will be a fit – the drill bit press release is indeed wrong for your baking blog and all you need to do is either ignore it, or politely say “thanks for thinking of me but this won’t be a fit this time.” Don’t live in fear that you’ll offend or insult them or that they’ll never be back. They’re paid to do this. They will always be back. Insert hollow laugh here.