Thursday, April 12, 2018

Thoughts: 5 Things I Have Learnt as a Blogger

Looking back, I released recently that I have been blogging and writing book reviews for near on ten years. A part of me feels a little disappointed that I have not attained more success and popularity, but another part of me recognizes that I am not the most perfect or consistent blogger and that it can be tough as a South African blogger to attain the sort of stats American and UK bloggers enjoy.

And that's ok. I am here doing my thing and will definitely take what I have learnt the past decade and try more consciously to apply it.

I also didn't start blogging because I was concerned about popularity. It was an outlet for my bookish passions and it serves that purpose well, no matter how many people read my posts.

If you are looking to start a blog or make yours better, here are some of the key things that stand out for me that I have learnt:

An earlier header while I was still figuring out brand identity.

1. Review What You Like

I admit that I fell into the trap of chasing popular titles so that I could have reviews that I perceived as "current" and what people were interested in buying right then. It seemed to be the best way to get page views and growing my audience.

What I didn't realize at the time was that a review of a popular title gets lost in a whole sea of similar reviews being posted at around the same time. If someone is searching for reviews of, say The Hate U Give, a book that has been on the NYT Bestseller list for over a year now, they will find hundreds of them.

Also taking this approach not only makes reading a chore ( I don't know about you, but I am not that keen to read some of these new, hyped books), it is also bloody hard to think of anything unique to say about the book that other bloggers have not covered already.

I can use all the rant reviews for Zenith as an example. They all say pretty much the exact same things about the book and few Booktubers actually have something new to bring to the discussion. But, it's cool to hate so the views rake up anyway.

This year, I am going to be focusing on books that I want to read, not books I feel like I have to read. I will be able to write more reviews and will hopefully also introduce new books to readers they might not have considered reading before. I also want to keep things positive because I need that kind of energy and the Internet doesn't need more mean, petty people.

2. Numbers Don't Matter

I used to get really bummed out that my stats were not that great compared to other bloggers. I felt like I was incompetent and not doing the right thing. It was so easy to let posts that were "poor performers" get me down, that I forgot the whole purpose of the blog.

If you are blogging for popularity, it affects your approach to the posts you write. Also, just because something is popular today doesn't mean it will be popular tomorrow. I mean, look at fidget spinners.

We live in a fast paced world where it is easy to lose your relevance. People have such short attention spans, jumping from one viral thing to the next like bees to flowers. And everything, particularly blog content is so subjective. It's impossible to stay on trend and still write authentically.

Rather than writing content that I assume will appeal to readers, I am just going to write what I feel like writing about. And if it only resonates with one other soul out there, then that's ok.

Write for yourself first. If you can do this, you will be surprised at the results and what posts readers will enjoy.

Blogging became a great networking tool for me. This was the first ever bloggers' event I attended at Skoobs.

3. Be Yourself

I see so many people in the book community trying to emulate those who are perceived as more successful than them. It is so obvious, it make me cringe. The sad part is, I used to do this too. The fact is, bloggers and influencers who gain success and large amount of followers do so because readers and viewers like who they are as people and have trust in what they say.

It takes time to develop your own voice and every writer is influenced by other writers. But, the more you write, the easier it will be to develop your own style. I find if I read my post a few times before hitting the Publish button, I pick up parts that don't sound like something I would actually say if I was in a conversation with someone. I strive to keep my blog in my own voice and it can be quite humbling to realize how often I subconsciously copy someone else.

Being yourself also creates a level of authenticity that will help readers trust in what you have to say. This is why I am so wary of big influencers these days who do paid promotions. Like, are they really that excited about that book or is it just because they are getting paid to talk about it?

Paid promotions are tempting and often how bloggers and vloggers turn this thing into a career. But I will not go that route with this blog. Getting review copies is one thing, but being paid to promote those books completely wipe away the honesty factor.

Also, don't be afraid to use your blog as a networking tool. I have met so many awesome people through blogging and events. 

4. Domains Make a Difference

For the longest time, I thought I could make it work with just my address. I also thought it was a lot more costly than it actually is to maintain a personalized domain. 

Not having a proper URL unfortunately hurts a lot of bloggers because it shows a level of complacency when it comes to setting the blog and brand identity up properly. Your URL is the first thing potential visitors see and it looks really unprofessional if they have not set up a personalized domain. 

Since moving to, there has been a marked increase in traffic and hits from search engines. It was the best move I could have made not just for the blog, but in my overall online brand. There is the added benefit of having an e-mail address that reflects your blog instead of  using a gmail or other generic account.

Set this up sooner rather than later. There are plenty of hosting companies to select from and lots of tutorials that will enable your to link your Blogger / Wordpress site to the domain.

5. Don't Give Up

Many blogs get started up with the best of intentions and then, because life or the realization that it can be hard work comes up like this massive stumbling block, bloggers stop posting.

Like loom bands, there are so many abandoned and neglected blogs out there, cluttering the universe. Don't do this to your blog. You breathed life into it and to just abandoned it is not fair to both the blog and yourself.

There were many times when I had to deal with work and life issues and felt like kicking this whole thing to the curb. I am glad I didn't and stuck with it. Like I said, I started this whole thing for a reason and it still remains a huge passion project for me. The blog is my way of reconnecting with my love of word and reading and it feels so good when someone comments or shares my posts.

People say blogging is dead. That is like saying writing is dead. Passion is dead. If this is something you want to to try, just do it. And don't worry about what you write or keeping on theme. It is your space so own it.

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