Online Publishing: Becoming a Blogger
Ali Luke states that there are 7 types of bloggers: the “Niche Expert”, the “Business Owner”, the “Professional Blogger”, the “Journal Writer”, the “Platform Builder”, the “Product Promotor”, and the “Freelancer” (2013). Among these categories, every potential publisher, be him or her a blogger or a social media participant or a commenter, can find a place in cyberspace to share information and opinions and interact with other users. A blogger, specifically, either starts out rooted in one of these categories or eventually gets there through the quality and type of content he or she is producing, the creation of an audience, and tracking and analytics.
Creating Readable Content
“Blogging is publishing, it is content” (Bullas, 2010). Like with any sort of publishable writing, the first thing a blogger must do is decide on the type of content to publish. There are hundreds of genres of writing from mainstream popular veins like health and fitness to more cult-like and lesser known subjects like conspiracy theories and living off the grid. With a purpose for blogging (like one of the seven mentioned above), the first step for any blogger or online publisher is to elect where he or she fits into that spectrum. Factors which influence this decision include the writer’s knowledge of the content and ability to communicate that knowledge, and the planned audience.
Really, it would seem to most people that a blogger/publisher’s knowledge of the category in which he or she is writing would be the most important aspect of blogging. The writer can be free to share knowledge and understanding of a given topic regardless of his or her non-cyber self’s position in life:
Everyone – regardless of status, wealth, race, gender, etc. – starts off on a level playing field [on the internet]. Although one’s status in the outside world ultimately may have some impact on one’s powers in cyberspace, what mostly determines your influence on others is your skill in communicating (including writing skills), your persistence, the quality of your ideas, and your technical know-how. (Suler, 2002)
In the above quotation, John Suler states that everyone online is equal regardless of his or her non-cyber background. It is the aptitude for communicating one’s knowledge for which one is judged. While different bloggers may have diverse opinions on their subject areas, it is their writing that ultimately keeps or rejects their readers. Scrolling down the “Home” page of Classy and True, for example, a visitor can probably decide within minutes whether or not he or she agrees with the author’s prescriptive views of etiquette and sees any quality in the writing. The traffic for this site, then, may rise through many views, but if the writing is uninteresting or pedantic, then the audience (like the 27 followers of Classy and True) does not grow.
Finding an Audience
The audience, though, is the goal in much of internet publishing. While many sites encourage comments and discussions to improve the audience’s experience, there are many which fall into publishing outrageous or offensive material to drive traffic. This is another decision a blogger/publisher needs to make: is the goal to inspire readers to stay and become an audience, or to draw in new readers daily without caring if they stay? There are sites which choose the latter and do so through well-used Search Engine Optimization techniques (S.E.O.s), but which do not worry about the quality or consistency of posts and writing. These sites use the right tags, “[o]ptimize images–use keywords in the title and the alt tag of the images [they’re] including”, and focus on producing material which ties in with current events and trends (Cognito Media, 2013). While these techniques certainly drive traffic to the site and give it a higher ranking in its community, they do not create any kind of a stable, loyal audience. A blogger must make the decision: high traffic or an acknowledged reader base. There are many sites that have both, but this may not be initially attainable for the new blogger.
All of these introductory decisions for bloggers come down to understanding the aim of the blog. Blogs, for some, are internet diaries where they can share the ups and downs of their lives and ask for support or help. For others, blogs are all about self-promotion: the fashion designer can display his creations; the musician can expose her new E.P.; and the fantasy writer can practice her trade through Harry Potter fan fiction. Knowing for which one is writing allows one to choose how to present one’s self and what steps to take to invite readers to stay and join the audience. Understanding audience and what the blogger wants to tell the audience helps the blogger to frame posts, schedules for posting, selection of content, and so on.
Analytics and Tracking
With this discussion of audience, a question arises in the minds of potential bloggers: How does one know who is one’s audience? Prior to starting a blog or website, this is a seemingly very complex question. Those who are less tech-savvy struggle to comprehend how a blogger can target and gain the audience he or she wants. Two things a class like Publishing 101 may teach students about blogging are the helpfulness of an analytics application and the importance of personal tracking.
Analytics, be them Google Analytics or WordPress Statistics, offer site administrators (in this case, bloggers) the opportunity to track and understand where their traffic is coming from and how that traffic interacts with the blog. Classy and True, for example, is a WordPress.com blog and so uses the WordPress Statistics as analytics to learn more about visitors. The ability to see which posts are most popular tells the blogger to what her audience is more receptive.
The above chart leads the blogger to the realization that shorter, more humorous, posts, like “Remix Assignment” are more popular and that varied media help to drive more readers to visit. The most difficult part about WordPress Statistics, however, is that it does not show which posts were being read on the “Home page/ Archives” page of the blog. This skews the numbers because visits to the home page are in the upper 300s while the views of specific posts are still in double-digit numbers.
The blogger of Classy and True can also see which sites are the best for referring readers to the blog:
[T]he social sites that arrived in the 2000s did not create the social web, but they did structure it. This is really, really significant. In large part, they made sharing on the Internet an act of publishing (!), with all the attendant changes that come with that switch. Publishing social interactions makes them more visible, searchable, and adds a lot of metadata to your simple link or photo post. (Madrigal, 2012)
As Alex Madrigal states in the above quotation, sharing itself has become a form of publishing, just as permanent as the original blog post. For this reason, sharing fresh posts through Facebook and Twitter extend the synapses of the original post, much like the human brain forms new and lasting connections through learning and maturing. The links become part of the permanence of the publication and connect it to dozens of other places on the vast internet. Analytics tell the blogger about each referrer website (usually social media) and helps the blogger build a network of connections and pingbacks to draw a larger potential audience. If Facebook is the top referrer, then the blogger knows that Facebook is the best way to share new and important posts.
While North America is not considered the number one sharer of posts, it is clear that many countries are full of users who share most of what they come across online:
If an average of twenty-four percent of users across the world regularly share content they come across online, then it is clear why statistics about referrers are important to any blogger’s knowledge of his or her blog. If one reader enjoys a particular post and shares it with like-minded friends and networks, that is a simple way to help an audience expand.
The actions of the blog’s readers are not the only thing that can be tracked and analysed, however. Various websites and applications, such as MercuryApp, offer users the opportunity to track one or more aspects of their daily lives in order to learn about and change possibly negative behaviors. A simple example would be the quality of one’s day and how it is affected by the actions of others:
The above graph is an example of how the writer of Classy and True tracked the quality of her day, negative comments she heard or overheard, and unusually rude actions which took place. This graph fits into Classy and True‘s theme of etiquette and treating others well so it is an effective way for the blogger to track her own behavior and connect it to her blog. Essentially, this type of tracking gives the blogger substantial evidence to make his or her claims. It can also help the blogger to modify behaviors which make him or her less knowledgeable or genuine about the blog’s subject.
There is so much involved in creating and running a useful and successful blog. A good idea is not enough. Blogging is a multi-facetted process beginning with interesting content and an intended audience. The blogging process does not end with a beautifully-themed website full of witty observations and opinions. Bloggers, like publishers, must analyze audience/reader participation in the blog and adapt as needed to new demands and changes in audience interest. The blogger, especially one writing about personal or common experiences and ideas, must also track and analyze his or her own behavior in order to gain an understanding of who he or she is. A blogger may be lucky to find a secure position in the fast-changing environment of cyberspace, but the most important tool any online publisher can have is the ability to change and adapt already-strong content for the needs of the audience/readers as analyzed by analytics and tracking.
Wasstrom, K. A. (2013, November 24). “Top Posts for 90 days ending 2013-11-24 (Summarized)” [Web Graphic]. WordPress.