Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Being a Better Blogger Pt. 1

Blogging was a lot more difficult back then.
Blogging can be hard work. Blogging can be frustrating. And growth can be slow. But you know what? I love it.

Before the advent of the internet, there weren't a lot of practical ways to make yourself heard on a large scale unless you it was your job (i.e. you were a journalist, politician, etc). Nowadays, with tools like Twitter, Facebook, and all manner of blogging services, all you really need is a computer, internet access, time and patience.

But that said, those are just the minimum. If you want to grow and get your stuff out there, you need to consider some other things, too.

In this post, I want to talk a little bit about why I'm writing this and about my experience with this blog. In part 2, I'm going to offer my advice for building up your blog. Careful, though - it will be qualified advice. But more about that later.

So first off, what prompted this reflection? Well, honestly I've been kind of angry lately. Not so much "punch someone in the face" angry as "what am I doing wrong?!" angry. Why? Because as I mentioned, growing a blog takes time.

Now I don't want to tear anyone down, especially those who have worked hard to be successful, but sometimes the appeal of the bigger and more popular blogs in my niche eludes me. But that is a good realization to have - I don't always know what kind of content people enjoy. Something for me to work on.

Then there are the big "A-List" blogs - those guys who have made it to the top of Google search and make part of their living off of ad revenue. Yet so many of them link or reference fellow bloggers about as often as Scrooge allowed Cratchit to throw another piece of coal into the furnace. Don't go looking for crumbs there! 

Perhaps equally frustrating, however, is finding new yet popular blogs, which have only been started in recent months (or less than a year ago) that have more readers or subscribers than I do. It's not that I begrudge their success - it's that I begrudge the speed of their success. 

So I did the mature thing. I complained about it to my friends. And I lamented the unfairness of life. Why, God?! Why don't you send more readers to my blog?

Then I decided to shrug it off and turn that energy towards more productive outlets. 

Earlier I was reading some articles over at Coppyblogger and came across one that struck a chord. It's called "Why No One Links to Your Best Posts (And What to Do About It)". I tweeted the link and got a couple thoughts from Anna and Ashley, and afterwards decided to write this. 

For those of you who are new to the world of blogging and/or don't have the inclination to read the article, it basically says that the fundamental cannon of blogging, "Content is king," is flawed. Yes, you need to post interesting content if you want to attract and keep an audience. But that's not all there is to it. You can have some amazing stuff, but if no one's aware of your site, it may as well be trash. You need to attract readers from somewhere.

According to Cb, the trick is networking. That's something I've been working at for months (at least), but not because I wanted more traffic. Well, at least not mainly for that reason, though I'd be lying if I didn't say that's not added motivation. The real reason is because there is a community of bloggers, no matter what you're writing about. I guarantee you that there is some group of dedicated people writing about whatever niche you're blogging about. 

Whether or not you realize it, you're a part of that community. Sure, there may be some minor competition here or there to attract readers or cover a certain story, but these people are your colleagues and could be your friends. They often have similar experiences and interests and would be happy to talk to you. Often the insights and ideas that you share can benefit both of you.

Most bloggers are number people, even if they won't admit it. It's especially the case when you're starting up, but not significantly less so later on - the numbers can lift you up or break your spirit. Gaining subscribers, seeing your views go up over time, getting comments - these are gold to bloggers. I know those things still make me feel really good, so it's my policy to try to pay it forward where I can.

In my case, it's been almost two years now since I started up this blog. We have almost 50 subscribers and, though there are good days and bad, receive about 100 unique views a day. Although it's hard to measure, I'd say we're in the lower middle section of the totem pole that is the Japan blog-o-sphere. Growth is slow, but definitely observable. And I'm doing my best to refine our content and provide interesting reading/viewing material.

It may not look like it, but I've spent a lot of time on this site. Hours and hours and hours. Not only writing, but playing around with formatting and themes, researching and trying to implement widgets to make the blog more attractive and accessible, and doing my best not to only be a good member of the J-blogging community, but to make this blog somewhat respectable within that community. As you can probably tell, on all counts I've met with mixed success. But I'm still trying, and I'm not going to stop any time soon. 

So while I'm by no means a leading authority on blogging success, there are definitely some important lessons I've learned in these two years that might be of interest to some of my fellow bloggers. 

If you'd like to know what I think makes for a successful blog, come on back for part 2!


  1. I comment on every single blog on my roll except one.
    He plays games. I supported him. I get none. It's outta respect that he stays there. I got no interest in his stuff.

    ALL the other sites get a comment on every post. I try to be first. I deleted 2 blogs last week that stopped sharing the love because of a anti-Japan wasn't that at all. I CAN do those but the looting was just a pushback against worldwide media driven fallacys

    Anyway. they stopped responding and commenting so they are gone.

    Caroline josephine was one who got cut.

    I want comments because it's like Pt 2 for every post. A commenters view on what I said. A healthy blog had an active comment section that is actively joined by the blog author too.


    Looking forward to more on this. It gets on my nerves too.

  2. Thanks for your thoughts, Chris.

    Yeah, I noticed that's your style and I really respect and appreciate that. I also do my best to frequently comment on the websites I follow.

    A good readership with good comments can really enhance a post, as you say.

    While I was writing this and tomorrow's post, I was thinking of all the bloggers who I really appreciate and really resent, and it was somewhat educational.

  3. I have also learned that content truly is not king, but then again the numbers only matter if you want to earn a living from your blog. While I personally would like to make more money from blogging (I make about $50 a month so that's the "salary" I extract for doing 10 posts a week without fail on 2 blogs), but I will not play the networking game for the sake of building my numbers. It's just not my thing and I don't see it as worthwhile. Also, frankly, the Japan blogging community is largely a boy's club and an incestuous one at that.

    The bottom line though is that even if you network, you will only see some help from others if you have something they personally can use. If you don't give them something of value, they won't do squat for you. One of the people who has had more success than most is someone I know personally and have actually helped get a real life job in the past. But he couldn't even be bothered to link to my blogs even with the connection I had to him and the very real assistance I gave. I wouldn't network and hope for anything. Even real life friends won't help you when blogging unless you continue to be of use to them. Once I helped this person, he had no more use for me and wasn't going to send any traffic my way.

    For me, my readership (about 1000 independent IP addresses a day on average on the Snack Reviews) grew from my commenting on other blogs and from link love from one particular blogger who has a bigger blog than me (Marvo at the Impulsive Buy). You can grow a readership without the networking, but it takes more time.

    If it's any consolation to you, most of the fast-growing blogs growing on the coattails of the biggest guns peter out pretty fast. Few of them go the distance.

  4. Thanks for sharing your opinion and experiences, Orchid!

    While you're right that in one sense numbers only matter if you're trying to make money, I think there's also a certain intangible benefit that comes from knowing your content is being read by a lot of people. Call it a sense of accomplishment, I guess.

    Unfortunately you're right with your boy's club remark, but I would go a bit further and say there are small cliques of (for the most part male) bloggers who mainly just plug and communicate with each other.

    While you're right that I J-blogger women seem to be outnumbered, there are a number of really good female-bloggers out there of whom I'm a big fan. You, Anna of Budget Trouble, and Ali of Haikugirl's Japan, and Ashley of Surviving in Japan, to name a few. I don't really follow it, but it seems Muza-chan's blog is pretty big, too.

    I agree with you pretty strongly that networking isn't going to get you where you need to be on it's own. You have to deliver strong content - but I'll post more about that tomorrow.

    People are inherently self-interested. I don't know the guy you helped out so I wouldn't presume to defend him, but sometimes people who would be willing to help just aren't naturally very considerate. I try not to be one of those people, and I encourage others to be mindful of it as well. Of course you don't need friends or contacts to become successful, but I guess it depends on your definition of success. More on that tomorrow, too. ;)

    Thanks again, Orchid - I always appreciate your thoughtful comments.

  5. This is really great! It can be definitely frustrating trying to build an audience as well as build these connections mentioned in the original article. I'm definitely a number person, and I'll totally admit to a bit of jealousy over the super big stars & the shooting stars as well.

    It does all seem to harken back to the classic rule of business--network, network, network. But like you said, participating in the community can be one of the best parts about the whole experience, and building these relationships are both a goal and a nice side product as well.

    Anyway, I feel like I have a lot of thoughts on this topic, but none of them are particularly coherent currently, so I'll leave it for now :)

  6. Thanks for the thoughts, Alice (or sorry if this is Sean)!

    While I do think most of us really just want to share our passion and bring useful information to our readers, the numbers are always in the back of our minds. Hell, I'm not gonna pretend to be altruistic - I do this because I really enjoy it, and if I could make money off of it I would.

    Speaking of building relationships and networking, I only just came across your blog recently, but I'm liking it and will keep reading!

    If you have any more thoughts, please feel free to comment again here or in tomorrow's post.


  7. I just started my own Japan blog a little over a month ago so this post really hit home. I am really appreciative of the traffic my blog is already receiving but much of that was due to the personal Twitter account I already had and my amazing friends on there.

    My attitude with Tokyo Tako is to just have fun with it. I write because it's a passion and also because it helps me keep up with what's happening in Japan. Sure, my heart of course leaps for joy when I get a new subscriber or find a new friend linking to my site, but really my main goal is to communicate to people why I love Japan so much and hopefully spark an interest (or further their interest) in the culture too.

    My blog has already helped me make great friends (like Alice above!) and it can only go up from here :) Thanks again for the great article and I'm looking forward to part 2!

  8. Hey Allie, thanks for commenting!

    Those are great reasons for keeping a blog, and I hope you stick with it and prosper. =)

    I like your site's layout - very easy on the eyes. I'll be keeping an eye on it, so 頑張ってね!

    Heh, small world...I see you're from Long Island. I grew up in New Hyde Park - lived there for about 20 years. Nice to see someone "out here" in J-blog land from back home.

  9. How interesting this post!
    I want not to mind my blog's accesee because I can't write freely.
    On the other hand the access is "gold"
    What a dilemma!
    I'm looking forward to reading next post.

  10. Thanks, Cocomino!

    I think it depends on what your goals are. If you want to get lots of readers, it's something to think about. But if you just want to write and enjoy yourself, don't worry so much about it. =)

  11. Whoops--forgot to sign it! That was Alice, duh :) Anyway, finding new friends is one of the best rewards of this whole gambit, like Allie, who I wouldn't have known otherwise. I also just recently found your blog, and have been enjoying it, so I added it to our blog roll thingy :) Cheers!

  12. Thanks, Alice! I have my eye on your blog, too. Keep up the good work!