Thursday, January 27, 2011

Tips for Starting a Blog :: Guest Post

Guest post by Stephanie from Stephanie's Mommy Brain.  

I recently shared with my readers about an opportunity to speak about blogging to a local MOPs group.  When that event was canceled Meredith asked me to share the information with her readers.

My Blogging Story

Summer 2006 brought two things to my home in New England - blazing heat and the 3rd trimester of my 3rd pregnancy.  In an effort to escape the heat, while  keeping down my electric bill, I sought refuge in my cool finished basement.  My two toddlers built block towers on one side of the room and I surfed the internet on the other side of the room.

While surfing, I occasionally read Lisa Whelchel's Coffee Talk. One week she linked to the blog of her friend, Sarah. I followed the link and was hooked. From Sarah I found all sorts of blogs. Mommy blogs. Decorating blogs. Organizing blogs. Even Beth Moore has a blog (which is how I met Meredith)!

That's how I discovered blogging. Why I started blogging a year later is a pretty common story.  All of my family, and the majority of my friends, live at least 1000 miles away.  I thought a blog might help me stay in touch. It did that and so much more!

In the last three and a half years, blogging has provided me with a creative outlet, friends I would have never met otherwise (like Meredith!), an online scrapbook of my growing family, free products and a part-time job, and lots of fun!

Blogging has been such a positive experience for me that I'd love to help everyone start a blog!  So here are a few things I've learned about blogging in the last three years.

Decide Why You Blog

There are several main reasons to begin a blog.  You might want to keep up with family and friends, practice your writing skills, share information on a topic you're passionate about, or earn an income.  Or it could be a combination of all of them.

Knowing the reason you are blogging helps you make decisions about your blog - from topics to write about to accepting offers from PR companies to how often you publish a post.

While it's good to know your purpose, it's also possible for your reasons to change over time.  Just be sure to let your readers know when your purpose changes and how that will affect your blog.

Set Up Your Blog

I recommend new bloggers sign up with Blogger.  It's free and the easiest format to learn to use.  Once you decide on a blog name, set up your account and purchase the domain through Blogger for $10 a year.

I also recommend setting up a new email account through gmail.  It's free and can be forwarded to any other email account.  I used my blog title (Stephanie's Mommy Brain) as the address so I can keep my blog life separate from my family life.

You'll also want a stat counter of some kind installed on your blog.  Google Analytics is a popular program.  I've used StatCounter since the beginning and have been satisfied.  You may not care how many 'unique visitors' or 'pageloads' you have but you DO want to keep tabs on the google searches that bring visitors to your blog.

In my first year I wrote a harmless post that inadvertently contained several key words for some icky searches.  I DON'T want those kind of readers coming to my blog so I went into the post and changed the words.  Without StatCounter I would have had no idea that those people were visiting!

Along those same lines, you need to decide how much personal information to give out.  I use our real first names and state (Rhode Island) but never tell the city or our last names.  I'm comfortable with that level of information.  You might decide to use pseudonyms for your family or never show their faces in a photo.  Just remember, once the info is out there you can't take it back.

Learn Blogging Etiquette

Every hobby and profession has it's own, largely unspoken, etiquette.  Blogging also has its own polite rules.  Here are a few:
  1. Don't copy and paste large passages from another blog without getting permission first!  (This is legally plagiarism and a no-no.)
  2. Link.  Link.  Link.  It's OK to have another blog spark an idea, inspire a post, or even quote a sentence or two;  when that happens, be sure to link to the specific post and tell your readers the name of the blog that you read.
  3. Appreciate your commenters.  You can do this by replying to the comment by email, responding in another comment on your post or both.  I like to do both.  The email ensures the commenter sees my response, while a comment by me helps other readers see the continuing conversation.  If you never respond to your readers, they will eventually stop commenting and reading your blog.
  4. Read other blogs and leave substantive comments.  "Great post" doesn't add a whole lot to the conversation and a link to an off topic post on your blog is more like spam than talking with a friend.  It's OK to do these occasionally on blogs where you regularly comment, but don't let it be a habit.
  5. Never blog a negative story about your husband, friends, family, distant relatives, neighbors, kids' teachers, etc.  Sure venting about a fight you had with your husband's aunt might feel good at the time, but you NEVER know who is reading!  Aunt Jo might be a long time reader and you just destroyed the relationship with her in one blog post.  Always remember:  once it's on the internet you can never take it back.
Those are just a few lessons I've learned in three years of blogging.  I hope you find the information useful!  I've enjoyed sharing with you and want to thank Meredith for the opportunity to guest post.  It's been fun!

Do you have any questions about blogging that I didn't cover?  I'll do my best to answer them in the comments or point you to someone who can answer.  For you blogging experts, do you have a tip that I didn't include?  Please share it in the comments!

Stephanie is a stay at home(schooling) mom of four under the age of 7.  Despite growing up in Northeast Arkansas (like Meredith), having relatives in Northwest Arkansas (like Meredith) and graduating from OBU (like Meredith's husband), she has not yet met Meredith in real life.  However, she holds out hope that one day they will meet and swap blogging stories face-to-face.


Katrina @ Pics, Pages & Purls said...

This is a great post! Thanks Meredith for introducing me to Stephanie. I'm hoping MORE blogs get made from this guest post.

Angie @ Flibbertigibberish said...
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Angie @ Flibbertigibberish said...

Great post! :)

This is so funny! I also used to read Lisa Whelchel's blog which led me to Sarah's blog which lead me to the LPM blog. Weird! I don't remember if that's how it led me to Meredith or not... all I do know is that I know Meredith in real life now. Neener neener neener! :)

I think it's important to remember that you control your blog - your blog does not control you! Once you feel bound to read or write a certain amount of times per week, the fun is gone. (I guess this doesn't apply if you're being paid to blog!) I have friends who won't blog because they feel trapped by having to post. Just do it because it's fun. I love it!

Angie @ Flibbertigibberish said...
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Angie @ Flibbertigibberish said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Angie @ Flibbertigibberish said...
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Angie @ Flibbertigibberish said...

Holy cow. I menat what I said, but not times five. Feel free to delete the duplicates! Crazy blogger.

mer@lifeat7000feet said...

Angie...thanks for the comment love. Ha ha ha!

mer@lifeat7000feet said...

Oh, and I never read Lisa Whelchel's blog but I LOVE Sarah. Hers was one of the first that I found and she is one of my favorite people on the planet!

Amy said...

Thanks, Stephanie! Very interesting and good points to think about!

Sorry your MOPS presentation got cancelled...I'm guessing snow? Any chance of it rescheduling? I know you were excited about it!

Deidre said...

I referred a friend to this post. Great information. Okay, weird thing is, I found out about blogs the exact same way ... Lisa and Sarah. That's how I started mine. I cannot remember how you and I 'met' Meredith. Just glad we did :)

Stephanie Kay said...

Meredith, thanks again for this opportunity!

Katrina, it would be fun to know that more women decided to blog because of this post! I hope they do.

Angie and Deidre, how funny that you followed the same blogging path I did!

Go ahead and rub it in that you've met Meredith. Maybe she and I will both be in AR one day and get to meet. You are so right about being in control of your blog. I have had to put my blog on hold for several months at a time as life becomes too busy and demanding to make time to blog. That's the great thing about blogging as a hobby - you can start and stop when you need to.

Wherever HE Leads We'll Go said...

Very helpful tips! I am definitely going to check out the searches that bring people to my blog - don't think I have ever done that before!

Westafricanrains said...

Great post Stephanie. You've been an inspiration to me in a lot of ways through your blog. I love hearing about your family, but also enjoy your organization tips and other things. i kind of feel like I know a celebrity. i need to get back to my own blog but since I write once a week for singles at church, it get's a little crazy. Anyway--thanks. You rock!!