Exactly 5 years ago today I published the first post on Privilege. It was about High WASP Valentines. And yes, it was a day late. I’ve tried to be punctual ever since, as Five Minutes Early Is On Time.
A week or so ago I received, and then misplaced, an email from a reader. She is starting a blog herself, and wondered how to gain readership. Since I can’t reply in email, I thought I’d merge my answer to her with a Privilege Report To The Board.
Let’s start with where we are today.
Privilege Right Now (February 15, 2009 – February 15, 2014)
- Page views/month: ~93,000
- Unique visitors/month: 26,000
- 60% repeat visitors
- Subscribers (including email, Blogger, Feedly, Bloglovin’.): ~2750
- Total posts: ~1100
- In the media (defined as online content providers who make a living from their sites, vs. community bloggers like me): Colleen Wainwright, Already Pretty, A Practical Wedding, Penelope Trunk, Gala Darling, Styledigger (she’s Polish, go figure!), ifb Fashion Bloggers Over 40, All Women’s Talk, Huffington Post via Wendy Brandes., 40+ Style, Not Dressed As Lamb, You Look Fab, Corporette, Babble, Inside Out Style, and, the first ever, Mary Jo Matsumoto’s Trust Your Style. (Let me know if I’ve forgotten anyone or anywhere – I’ve appreciated every single mention.)
- Monetization: Already described, in this January 2014 post.
The Longish, Pretty Slow Way To Get Here
If I consider the past 5 years, here’s what mattered.
- Figure out why you are blogging. You can prioritize only one thing at a time, so know what that is. For me it’s always been the writing, with the readers a close and intertwined second. Every time I had to trade off between, for example, monetization, rapidly expanding readership, or writing how and what I want to write, I had to put the writing first. Sometimes, of course, one can manage all 3 together. Hat trick! You can choose a different priority, but you have to be honest with yourself about what it is.
- Get your blog set up with a basic, clean design. I was on Blogger, with an incredibly simple design, for almost 2 years. It was a start that allowed me to focus mostly on finding my subjects, rhythm, and voice. Also I managed to figure out Photoshop Elements, which is both fun and a great way to develop your Scold-A-Computer skills.
- By the way, I advise that you keep your header narrow enough that at least some of your home page post is visible without scrolling.
- People do want an About page, and they hope to see a photograph of your face.
- You can start anonymous, but if you want wider readership, eventually someone will insist on knowing your name. You don’t have to comply, but that’s likely to limit your access to public media.
- Become part of 15-25 other bloggers’ communities. Engage. This group may change, over time, but that’s OK. I started out in the preppy blogging world, discovered smart young women getting married, and then moved into the over-40 style crew. A more natural fit, but I’ve kept in touch with the friends I made elsewhere.
- Start commenting regularly, in an authentic way, on other people’s blogs. They will come visit you, they may become your regulars, they may not. Persist.
- Choose a niche, i.e. a primary topic. You might have done this before you started writing, but it’s OK to find your way iteratively, with guidance from your community. My topics expanded, from High WASP culture and the raptures of living, to style for the 0ver-50. Hey, made sense at the time. It really is easiest to write about what you know. And I don’t just pretend to like style – I’ve been hooked ever since Mom took us to Saks to shop with Miss Bailey.
- Find your way into some kind of a posting structure. People like a little predictability. Think about sonnets. Sure, the form is constraining, but it also fosters creativity. I came round to two posts a week on style, one post each Saturday on Whatever-I-Can-Write-In-The-Hours-Between-Sunrise-And-Noon, as a way to mix some lighthearted entertainment into the poetic deconstruction.
- Do your best work. There are so many ways to interpret those words and all of them are true.
- Plaster billboards on the information highway. No one’s going to read you if they can’t find you. Do we still call it a highway? I digress.
- Look for suitable blogs that might accept guest posting. Pitch this carefully, as they will be doing you a favor. Make sure you are working with their topics and audience. You can also try group blog postings, like Visible Monday, or By Invitation Only, but I have found those are better suited to making relationships with other participating bloggers than increasing readership. See that list of media I included in the Right Now section? You might start there.
- Alternatively, if you want to invest financially, I highly recommend a service like Outbrain. You pay them on a per click basis to syndicate your posts – you choose which ones, and how much you are willing to pay. Those new readers stick around.
- Let your other networks know that you are blogging. Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Tumblr, Flickr, Reddit, the school message board. Don’t forget your aunts. Think carefully, however, about self-promotion. Make sure you reflect the tone of your blog.
- Answer your email as best you can. Realize that you can’t answer every comment.
- Be prepared for mean. There’s no one way to respond to hatred and cruelty. Some bloggers moderate the heck out of comments, Penelope Trunk told me to ignore them, I choose instead to be as polite as humanly possible. I fail, although not so often that I want to quit trying.
- Be unprepared for nice. That way you will be surprised by every supportive comment, and the good bits of blogging will feel new each time.
- Let your best work get better. A side benefit will be how much you learn about yourself. Take some chances.
- Don’t give up. One of the primary reasons you’re reading is that I’m still here. Sturdy Gals know that just showing up is half the battle. Better writers, more informed experts, and better artists may disappear over time. On the flip side, bloggers you don’t really like may get more, faster, higher, shinier everything and it’s hard to resist comparing. But since you were really clear, in the beginning, about your priorities, it turns out you will want to keep going anyway.
Here Is Not Enormous, But It’s Pretty Nifty
As you know, the route to becoming a huge blog isn’t something I can advise on. Other bloggers take other routes to broader sustained readership, and they are the right source for that kind of guidance. Do drop into the usual suspects, i.e. Problogger (.net, not .com), Copyblogger, etc.
However, I can tell you, this kind of blogging is a great path to gratitude. You will find yourself wanting to thank your readers all the time.
So, in closing, let’s revisit another of our favorite bumper stickers. A Simple Thank You Should Suffice.
Have a wonderful weekend.