Mar 31 2009

How to grow a small blog

Published by at 7:48 pm under Blogging

Hi.  If you’ve followed some of my articles on blogging, you know that building an audience is a gradual (read: slow) process.  It takes time for people to discover your content, to link to it, to mention it to other people, etc.

As a result, you will probably have very few readers during the first few months.  But that’s not a problem.  Focus on these issues and the readers will come in time.

1.  Figure out a niche, ideally one that’s not too crowded. For example, we started out as a superhero comedy site and gradually evolved into a superhero writing site.  There are tons of superhero comedy sites, but I’m not aware of any other superhero writing sites.

2.  Experiment with site-design features. For the first few months, your website will probably look and feel hackish.  It will probably be hard to navigate.  Everything about it will scream “amateur.”  But every few weeks you’ll have an idea.  For example, “wouldn’t it be a good idea to put all of my similar content in one place so that readers can find it more easily?”  “Isn’t there some way to make my header look more inviting and professional?”  Individually, these ideas won’t make a huge impact, but collectively they will.  We used to bounce over 90% of our readers; now we bounce about 40%.

3.  Decide what sort of personal tangents are relevant to your readers. Blogging requires a lot of self-control.  For example, the average reader interested in superhero writing advice doesn’t share my interests in college football, political betting or Italian food.  Try to stick to topics that are relevant to your niche and audience.

4.  Figure out what your prospective readers are searching for. For example, our traffic pretty much doubled after we posted a list of superpowers.  It’s a very useful resource for people that want to write a superhero story.  What are some resources that will draw in your target audience?

5.  Look into search engine optimization. What terms do your prospective readers type into search engines?  Make sure you include such terms (whenever appropriate) in your article titles.  If possible, include them in your site title and/or URL.  If do you do a search for something like how to write superhero novels or comic books, chances are that our site is fairly high on the list of results. (For example, if you do a Google search for “how to write superhero novels,” we’re results #1, #2, #3 and #6).

6.  Be a member of your online community. Link to a few websites that share your niche.  Post comments on those sites.  If you left a comment here that made one of our readers think “wow, this guy has intelligent advice about superhero writing,” you can probably convince him to give your site a look.  The trick is that you have to contribute. If you just post something like “Hi, Superhero Nation readers.  Come to my superhero writing advice site!” then our readers will ignore you and we will probably delete your message.  You need to impress people.  Give us a taste of your superhero insights!  In a word, contribute.

61 responses so far

61 Responses to “How to grow a small blog”

  1. scribblaron 01 Apr 2009 at 1:52 am

    Is 40% a good bounce rate?

    My current bounce is 58%, which I had thought was very high, but since yours was 90% I’m feeling better about that.

  2. B. Macon 01 Apr 2009 at 4:10 am

    It really depends on what your niche is. According to Analytics’ Benchmarks, the average small website has a bounce-rate of 47%. But the average small comics site has a bounce-rate of 60%. Books and Literature averages 55%.

    My impression is that 40% is a pretty good bounce-rate for a website aimed at young readers that mostly aren’t searching for us specifically. In contrast, if you go to J.K. Rowling’s website, you probably are looking for her specifically. So her audience will be much more patient with her than ours is with us– we have to prove in the first two seconds that we are worth reading.

    Another important thing about the bounce-rate number… maybe the most important thing… is that it lumps the data for newcomers with the data for returning users. We bounced 49% of all users in January, 47% in February, and 45% in March. It looks like our site became less likely to bounce newcomers, right? Well, not really. In January, we bounced 54% of our newcomers and 35% of our returnees. In February, we bounced 54% and 34%. In March, we bounced 53% and 31%. So there was hardly any improvement among newcomers. Our bounce-rate dropped because 1) we improved slightly among returning visitors and 2) returning visitors made up a larger proportion of site traffic as time progressed. When you evaluate whether a site-design change improves the bounce-rate, I’d recommend controlling for the proportion of new vs. returning by looking at the bounce rates for new and returning visitors separately.

  3. B. Macon 01 Apr 2009 at 4:19 am

    Also, it kind of depends who links to you. If someone shoots tens of thousands of poorly-aimed viewers at you (cough cough Fark), you’re probably going to bounce almost all of them. We got Farked once and we bounced 9000+ out of the 10,000 hits they gave us that day.

    In contrast, we bounce only 35% of referrals from NaNoWriMo, usually because the writers are exceedingly well-targeted to our niche. Someone writes a superhero story and asks some question on a forum. Then someone else says “when I need superhero advice, I recommend SN. It’s pretty good.” It helps that we don’t have any competitors.

  4. scribblaron 01 Apr 2009 at 5:30 am

    Right. Like I said, I’m about 58%, but I’d be happy enough being under 50%, and keeping half my visitors.

  5. Holliequon 01 Apr 2009 at 9:26 am

    Hmm. Do you think there could be a niche for a blog about creating interesting characters? I think writing a blog would be good practise, but I can’t think of anything else I could potentially give useful advice about.

    Or would you suggest I just stick as a contributor instead? 😛

  6. B. Macon 01 Apr 2009 at 11:01 am

    My impression is that you’d be competing against many, many writing blogs. Because characterization is something that affects literally every book and comic book, there’s already a lot of advice about it. It might be easier to try a writing blog centered around a particular genre, subgenre, style of writing, audience (how to write for young adults, e.g.) or medium (how to write comic books, for example).

    Also, I’m not sure whether your niche would help you compete. For example, I suspect that a superhero writer would rather get his character advice from a site like ours rather than a site devoted specifically to characters. When it comes to the particulars of superhero characters, a superhero site is hard to beat. Likewise, I suspect that writers in other genres (particularly romance, comedy and horror) would mostly stick with genre-specific advice.

    However, I agree that your advice about characters is definitely solid. If you’d like to submit a 250-500 word article about some aspect of characterization (ideally one we haven’t covered yet), I’d be more than happy to publish it here along with a link to your website.

  7. Holliequon 01 Apr 2009 at 12:05 pm

    Hmm. What you say makes sense. I’ll think about it and get back to you.

  8. scribblaron 01 Apr 2009 at 1:16 pm

    B. Mac beat me to it. I would add that there is a limit to how many character entries you can make. My blog is about 6 days old. I have 19 posts. How many character posts could you reasonably expect to make?

    _____________

    This is a great link if you do want to start a blog.

    http://www.photoshopsupport.com/tutorials/jennifer/blog-templates.html

  9. Holliequon 01 Apr 2009 at 2:17 pm

    That’s very helpful, Scribblar. Thanks. 🙂 I decided to go for YA Fantasy. I think that’s probably reasonably niche. Also, as this is mainly for my own benefit, I’m not majorly concerned about making it very successful. I’m still tweaking the blog right now.

  10. B. Macon 01 Apr 2009 at 10:02 pm

    YA fantasy sounds very doable. (My sister writes YA fantasy. She’s a much better author than I am, but I think I do nonfiction better than her.)

    However, if your readers are really young (10-15, say), one thing that you might have trouble with is that your audience is not even remotely professional. So they might get huffy if you offer advice. They may have convinced themselves that there’s no such thing as quality and that their opinion is just as valid as any other opinion. (Unfortunately, when the vast majority of publishers agree about something, that opinion has substantial economic weight).

  11. B. Macon 01 Apr 2009 at 10:15 pm

    That’s a good point, Scribblar. A good niche will produce lots of content that’s generally applicable to your audience. That’s one reason that YA fantasy would be much easier to do than characters. For example, let’s say that you’re doing YA fantasy. Almost all of your articles will be of at least some interest to YA fantasy authors.

    In contrast, if you do a character blog, most of your articles will be of marginal interest to most of your readers. If you do genre-specific articles (like How to Do Romantic Relationships or How to Write Terrified Characters), then writers outside of those genres just won’t care. If you do generic articles, writers probably won’t feel that it applies to their story nearly as well as genre-specific advice does.

  12. Lunajamniaon 03 Apr 2009 at 5:01 am

    This doesn’t have too much to do with the topic, but seeing as we get off topic a lot–B.Mac, how did you find me? I mean, it was cool, I was like “ooh sweet! B.Mac commented on my blog!” and then slightly freaked out.

    Thanks for following it, by the way. 🙂
    I’ll try to post more and make it more interesting. So far I’ve just gone on a couple of rants.

  13. The ReTARDISed Whovianon 03 Apr 2009 at 5:16 am

    “However, if your readers are really young (10-15, say), one thing that you might have trouble with is that your audience is not even remotely professional.”

    Except in rare cases. I like to think I’m relatively professional, even though I can’t drive yet.

  14. B. Macon 03 Apr 2009 at 5:33 am

    Of course, Whovian. I was only speaking of the general case. Pleasantly, there are exceptions. And it’s pretty obvious that you’re one of them.

  15. B. Macon 03 Apr 2009 at 5:44 am

    Everyone starts somewhere, Luna. So if you ever feel that your rants are inadequate, feel free to check out our first few posts here. Our first posts were disastrously bad and have nothing to do with how to write superhero stories. (How not to write superhero stories, yes). I think it’s safe to say that your content is way better than ours was 3 years ago.

    Also, Luna. I think that I found your website because you linked to SN in your sidebar (thanks!). Google Analytics keeps track of who has linked me. Incidentally, that’s one reason why linking to similar sites is a good way to get your writing out there.

  16. Lunajamniaon 03 Apr 2009 at 5:51 am

    Ooh. That’s right. I did, didn’t I? ^_^

  17. Asayaon 21 Apr 2009 at 11:13 am

    Hmm. I have a question. I’ve had a blog for a really long while and I (finally)found something to do with it.
    I am going to use it to gather an audience for my works(one at a time) but I’m also thinking of using it as a kinda resource center for teenagers/young adults who want to learn more about certain careers.

    for example-

    Writing
    Art
    Photography, etc.

    Will this make it a little over-crowded in terms of genre?

    Oh, and can I put a link about your website on my blog?

  18. B. Macon 21 Apr 2009 at 11:19 am

    Please link to us; I’d appreciate that.

    As for your site, I think writing and art and photography are kind of broad. It might help to make it more specific. Is there any particular style or genre or subgenre you’re fond of?

    For example, we focused on superhero writing. There aren’t many (any?) competing sites. In contrast, there are at least tens of thousands of sites about writing in general.

  19. Lunajamniaon 21 Apr 2009 at 11:47 am

    Very true, B. Mac. I do a lot of random and specific searches for writing stuff sometimes and I haven’t come across many sites focused on writing superhero stories and comics.

  20. Davidon 21 Apr 2009 at 2:51 pm

    This is my blog.

    http://bansheebooksandcomics.blogspot.com/

  21. Wingson 21 Apr 2009 at 5:14 pm

    I’m thinking of starting a relatively small-scale fiction writing site. Only thing is, I have no clue how to create a website (something like this).

    Anyone here able to help me?

    -Wings

  22. Dforceon 21 Apr 2009 at 5:16 pm

    I, too, am curious about the techno-savvy know-how of making a site. Do you need to buy software (and if so, can you find some free software around for this)?

  23. Wingson 21 Apr 2009 at 5:17 pm

    I think it’s something to do with blogging…

    However, this site isn’t a blog. At least, it doesn’t look like one.

    – Wings

  24. B. Macon 21 Apr 2009 at 5:20 pm

    Hmm. I have not purchased any software. The only software I would recommend for a new blogger is Adobe Photoshop, and that’s only indirectly useful for making images (like the header).

    You can get started for free at WordPress by clicking here.

  25. Wingson 21 Apr 2009 at 5:22 pm

    I think that David was using Blogger or Frogger or something like that….

    I’ll try out WordPress. Is it hard to use?

    – Wings

  26. B. Macon 21 Apr 2009 at 5:24 pm

    “Is it hard to use?” A bit harder than Blogger/Blogspot, but I think it’s pretty easy to learn. Also, I get the impression that Blogger is kind of rigid and unprofessional.

  27. Wingson 21 Apr 2009 at 5:25 pm

    Okay. I’ll try it out. If it works, there will be a link in my username from now on. If not…Well, everything will be the same.

    – Wings

  28. Dforceon 21 Apr 2009 at 5:28 pm

    Is everything packaged ready, whereas you only need to move things around to articles you submit– or do you have to write any html into it?

  29. B. Macon 21 Apr 2009 at 5:44 pm

    You can handle 95% of the coding in the visual editor– bolding, italics, underlines, blockquotes, etc. However, the extra space between each line has to be placed manually in the HTML editor. I can’t type out what you need to put in there because the website mistakenly assumes that I’m trying to just add a line. So, umm, let’s do this by hand.

    The first character is a less-than sign (it’s right next to the M). Then you type in p style=”margin-bottom: .2in”

    Then you type in a greater-than sign (which is just to the right of the less-than sign).

    Then you type in a less-than sign.

    Then you type in /p

    Then you type in a greater-than sign.

    I recommend doing that combination between each set of paragraphs in an article.

    If you’re not sure how to carry out this string of instructions, e-mail me at superheronation-at-gmail-dot-com ; it will be easier for me to explain this through e-mail.

  30. Dforceon 21 Apr 2009 at 5:46 pm

    As in linebreaks? (They mock me yet again!).

  31. B. Macon 21 Apr 2009 at 5:50 pm

    Line-breaks are typically handled by [less-than-sign]br[greater-than-sign] without the brackets. That works for comments. For whatever reason, those don’t seem to work in articles (as opposed to comments).

  32. Dforceon 21 Apr 2009 at 5:53 pm

    Huh. That’s odd. But other than that it’s not terribly difficult to write comments there then? And how does one link around one’s site?

  33. B. Macon 21 Apr 2009 at 6:00 pm

    “And how does one link around one’s site?”

    You mean like a sidebar? Go to your dashboard, click widgets and add a text widget. Text widgets can handle links.

  34. Dforceon 21 Apr 2009 at 6:06 pm

    I meant, you upload an article– or write it, etc, then how do you make it accessible? (I suppose I could figure that out should I ever try WordPress). On another note, are there monthly/annual fees whilst running one’s site?

  35. B. Macon 21 Apr 2009 at 6:10 pm

    “Are there monthly/annual fees whilst running one’s site?”
    If WordPress is the host, no. WordPress used to host ours, and so the URL was http://www.superheronation.wordpress.com. Then we got our own host, which allowed us to move to http://www.superheronation.com , which is easier to remember. Hosting fees cost us around $10 a year, but making the move requires more technical savvy than I have. (My brother handled it for me).

    As for writing articles. Umm, you go to New Post in your dashboard, write up your post, and then hit PUBLISH on the right side.

  36. Davidon 21 Apr 2009 at 6:47 pm

    I’m not sure what I’m using. I got it from my artist. She said you need it to get published. Is that true?

  37. Dforceon 21 Apr 2009 at 7:18 pm

    What’s it called (whatever your artist gave you)?

  38. B. Macon 21 Apr 2009 at 7:28 pm

    I’m not sure I understand, David. Your artist said you need a Blogspot website to get published?

    I don’t want to put words in her mouth, but I think that Blogspot and WordPress are fairly comparable*. Either one could– emphasize could— be used to make a favorable impression upon a publisher. It all depends on what you do with it, and how many readers you can get on-board. I’ve seen some awful BS and WP websites, and I’ve even seen some awful WP sites that use the same theme we do.

    The deciding factor, I think, is execution.
    –A clear concept for the website.
    –Quality content that is relevant and interesting.
    –Intelligent organization.
    –99%+ grammatical and spelling perfection. I consider myself a very skilled proofreader and I have still gotten around 4 or 5 e-mails and comments in the last few months alerting me to a typo I’ve made. People notice.

    *I’m personally a fan of WP, but I think it’s close… just don’t use Xanga or Geocities, alright?

  39. Dforceon 21 Apr 2009 at 7:32 pm

    Xanga? LOL! I haven’t heard that name since 9th grade! XD

  40. B. Macon 21 Apr 2009 at 7:38 pm

    I used to use Xanga. Incidentally, when I was in ninth grade. The first rule about my ninth grade Xanga is that we don’t talk about my ninth grade Xanga… except for the lime-green text on a navy background. That’s a horror story that is all too applicable to today’s would-be bloggers.

  41. Dforceon 21 Apr 2009 at 7:46 pm

    XD. Oh, the mistakes of our past. I never got too interested into those things (I was coerced into getting a facebook).

    At least… the text stood out. lol.

  42. B. Macon 21 Apr 2009 at 7:52 pm

    I have never understood why teen bloggers (like myself, circa 2001) are attached to light or bright text on a dark background. There are so many better ways to work colors into web-design…

  43. Dforceon 21 Apr 2009 at 7:56 pm

    Bright things catch attention– I guess.

  44. Asayaon 22 Apr 2009 at 8:09 am

    How do you go about building an audience via blogging?

  45. Davidon 22 Apr 2009 at 8:12 am

    I’m not really convinced I need a blog to get published. I’m not even sure whether what I have is a blog. Oh well, never mind.

  46. B. Macon 22 Apr 2009 at 9:44 am

    Hi, Asaya. Thank you for your question about how to build an audience via blogging. I decided to write an article about that.

    Thanks again!

  47. Farraday O'Duffyon 22 Apr 2009 at 10:37 am

    “I’m not really convinced I need a blog to get published.”
    –David

    I just looked at your web-site ( http://bansheebooksandcomics.blogspot.com/ )… With all due respect, I don’t feel that getting published is a realistic goal, with or without a blog.

  48. B. Macon 22 Apr 2009 at 10:57 am

    Ack, Farraday. I think that professional-grade writing skills can be learned with a lot of time and effort.

    I would recommend against confusing a condition in the present (a lack of these skills) with an assessment about the future (whether getting published eventually is realistic). Without putting too optimistic a spin on this, a few writers make startling leaps from rather humble beginnings.

  49. Wingson 22 Apr 2009 at 12:05 pm

    Geez, Farraday…

    Go a little easy on the guy, will you? No author starts out as J. K Rowling or the The guy who wrote Lord of the Rings.

    After all, if David was a genius-level writer, why would he be on a writing advice site?

    – Wings

  50. Davidon 22 Apr 2009 at 12:07 pm

    thanks B.mac 🙂 i know my skills arent the best however i am putting as much effet as i can in to the writeing my only problem is i tend to forget what iv lernt about grammer and such but im working hard to get things right.

  51. Dforceon 22 Apr 2009 at 12:32 pm

    That’s the spirit David!

    Everydbody sucks– but they get better.

  52. Davidon 22 Apr 2009 at 12:41 pm

    ta lol like iv been told my plot is solid i think my chraters are solid the only thing holding me back is the grammer and spelling and maby even the detail thing i think

  53. Ragged Boyon 22 Apr 2009 at 1:04 pm

    If anyone know improvement is a factor, it’s me. 😛

    It just takes some time. Most of us are pretty young, so we’ve got plenty of time to improve.

    No dream-stomping!

  54. Asayaon 22 Apr 2009 at 1:30 pm

    Exactly, Ragged Boy! Besides, if somebody told me I wasn’t good enough to do something, I’d work twice as hard to prove them wrong.

    And by the way, thanks B. Mac for that article. Now I’ve got an idea for how to start off my blog.

  55. Davidon 22 Apr 2009 at 1:36 pm

    ok i have officaly got writers block im restating chapter two from Caras prospetive this time (last time i had it from Mist’s) anyways shes unconchies at the start then i need to get them out the forest past a goblin banit camp injure Ra so he can’t fly when they get out the forest (his wing span is to big to move freely inside it) then introduice michelle the angle show Cara’s hatred for angels and find away Michelle can join them. so i got to think

    any suggestens?

  56. Gurion Omegaon 22 Apr 2009 at 2:01 pm

    I personally don’t know about ‘developing’ audience via blogging it on a blog site. It DOES sound like it could help in understanding what a audience wants, but…

    Oh yeah, J.R.R Tolkien created LOTR. I’m in The Two Towers. I skip the songs.

  57. Gurion Omegaon 22 Apr 2009 at 2:14 pm

    If ya’ll seen the pattern, every great novel, music artist, whatever was rejected.

    Frank Herbert’s Dune (the only novel I can finish in the series) was rejected from a certain publishing house, with them prophetically writing back about them making a mistake by returning it!

    They were rejected because:

    1) They were new, fresh. Outside of the current fads system.

    2) Publishers thought it wasn’t what people were looking for.

    Yada, yada.

    Spiderman, people!

    Back then, superheroes were defined as a bunch of overly emo, cape donning, muscleheads! Certain publishers thought the idea of teenagers being heroes was only good for sidekicks! Look at em’ now, lads!

    Heck, if my novel gets rejected, I’ll be excited (after crying) because it will be published! it will be popular!

    =0…this is the longest comment I’ve ever posted yet…

  58. B. Macon 22 Apr 2009 at 2:34 pm

    “I personally don’t know about ‘developing’ audience via blogging it on a blog site. It DOES sound like it could help in understanding what a audience wants, but…”

    I think it depends on what kind of book you’re trying to sell.

    If you’re trying to sell a how-to book, you can give away articles that aren’t quite good enough to make the book. If you thought my free writing advice was good, wait ’til you see what I was holding back!

    If you’re trying to build an audience for a novel, writing nonfiction could work. For example, if someone really impressed me with a website about how to write a mystery, I’d probably give his latest mystery a closer look. Moreover, if he has my attention because I frequent his site regularly, I will get exposed to his work. It’s free advertising for him.

    Writing fiction to sell a novel is trickier. You can’t give away too much of the story and it’s hard to do regular updates. I think the trick is writing about the characters or world WITHOUT quoting from the book. For example, The Taste of Freedom focuses on the main character of the book, NOT what he does in the book. If you like the character, presumably you’ll want to read his book. That sounds reasonable. Now, if only The Taste had better production values…

    There are many ways to build an audience in advance of a comic book release. On the nonfiction side, you can try superhero writing advice or genre writing advice. (If you like my horror advice, wouldn’t you like to read my zombie series?) On the fiction side, you can try doing a beta webcomic or releasing excerpts of the comic book. Alternately, you can try a variation on The Taste of Freedom. You could do a website written from the perspective of the main character (or perhaps the two main characters). If readers take well to him/them, presumably they will give your comic book a closer look.

    Finally, having an well-written and well-trafficked blog will demonstrate your talent and marketability. That will encourage a publisher to check out your proposal more carefully.

  59. Lunajamniaon 22 Apr 2009 at 2:36 pm

    Gurion … but the songs are so fantastic! So well rhymed and just-amazing. I would put a song or two (or a poem, really) in my books but it’d be so horrid, I wouldn’t be able to make it relevant to the time or to anything, really. But Tolkien manages to make it sound like the characters and it’s wonderful poetry and stuff.

    Unless you’re just skipping it all ’cause you don’t like poetry?

  60. B. Macon 22 Apr 2009 at 3:00 pm

    Gurion said…

    “Ya’ll have seen the pattern, every great novel, music artist, whatever was rejected…

    They were rejected because publishers thought it wasn’t what people were looking for.”

    This is one of the reason that blogging up an audience can be so useful, particularly if the concept is unusual or implausible. For example, no one would have published a comedic ninja guide unless Real Ultimate Power had earned millions of readers. No one would have published the LOL Cats book or maybe the Stuff White People Like book.

    And I think that they will certainly pass on something outlandish like a guidebook about how to write superhero stories from a college student that has never worked in the comic book industry. However, they may reconsider based on the small success of this site. It’s an unusual and seemingly implausible concept, but I think I have the numbers to show that I can sell five or ten thousand copies. That’s enough for the publisher to make a profit. (If I sold a copy to everyone that has been to this site 50+ times, that would be 10,000 copies right there).

  61. Asayaon 24 Apr 2009 at 7:51 am

    Yeah, I sorta think those songs in the LOTR where kinda boring, too.

    I think my use my blog to give advice to people writing books and comic-books on angels, demons, spiritual warfare, and other related themes,(I guess some people might call it religious fiction). Now I have to figure out what my first post will be(I deleted the first two)….

    But first I have to improve my advice-giving abilities.

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