How to Blog More (And you should!)

My blog started 7 years ago when I first started developing for Windows Phone 7 as a hobby.  At that time, I was also co-authoring a small cookbook-style technical book on the same subject so a blog seemed like a natural place to augment my book writing and get user feedback.  I was one of the few blogs writing about Windows Phone at the time so I got a decent amount of search traffic for an unknown blogger.  I blogged multiple times a week for about three months  and then fell off the wagon.  I kept the blog around and would post a couple times a year but traffic had all but stopped.

Early this year I wrote a blog post to share something cool I had done and realized it was the first week of the year.  I had probably just read about someone’s new years resolution on Twitter and decided lets keep this going by writing one post every week this year.  For the past 4 years each time I sparsely  blogged I would think this feels good and I should do this more.  I think everyone with a blog does.  This time I was going to do it!

Now at the end of the year I can say I have succeeded in my goal.  Technically this is only my 51st blog post for the year and I didn’t actually write a blog post every week but I’m really proud of what I have accomplished.  In the remainder of this post I will share some of my struggles and learnings from this year.

What went well?

For a majority of the weeks in the year, I simply identified something cool I had worked on or discussed with a colleague and blogged about it.  On average, I typically spent 1-2 hours on each blog post.  This produced a nice rhythm of blogging for me and kept my mind thinking about it throughout the year which made it easier to identify topics to blog about.

My blog traffic shot up to a record high this year which was what I was hoping for but not convinced would happen.  30K views and almost 20K visitors this year makes all of this work worth it knowing people are reading my content and getting value from it.  I have received 47 great comments on the blog with questions and encouragement from users which has been overwhelming.  Its great to see a community starting to form around my blog.

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What went poorly?

Not much.

Truthfully, there were several weeks this year where I almost called it quits either because I didn’t think anyone was listening, thought I was a phony or just didn’t feel like I had time to keep doing it.  But I pressed through and recommitted myself to my goal.  I missed a few weeks because of holiday festivities, family vacations or travel weeks but doubled up posts in later weeks to try to catch up.  Looking back I was a bit behind, so this week alone I have posted 5 times to try to catch up.

Tools

WordPress

My blog started on WordPress.com which served me well for many years.  Its a mature platform with many features and is easy to get started but you don’t have full control of your content.  Scott Hanseman thinks this is important and I agree.  There are two flavors of WordPress: the SaaS offering (.com) and the open source blog engine (.org). 

Around April of this year, after paying WordPress.com for a premium account and a custom domain but still not having the control I wanted, I decided to pay for a hosting account, install the WordPress.org blog engine and migrate my blog over.   Thankfully WordPress.com gave me a refund on all the extras I had purchased weeks prior.  The migration went fairly smoothly with only a few bumps.  Overall it was absolutely worth it.  If your just getting started I would say its worth the effort/expense to host WordPress yourself.  But if that effort/expense prevents you from starting, just go with WordPress.com and then you can migrate later.  Its more important to get started!

Open Live Writer

I love this little blog editor!  Microsoft first released Live Writer several years ago and then abandoned it.  Thankfully some Microsoft employees convinced the company to open source it and now it has new life.

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Buffer.com

Buffer is s social media management service that makes it easy to share on social media.  I primarily use it to share my blog posts on Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook.

Blog Content

Inspiration for blog posts can come from anywhere.  For example,

  • Long emails explaining architecture, theory or opinion that as a blog post will be read by hundreds/thousands instead of tens.  Why waste good content on only a few?
  • Peer review discussions.  Again share these discussions with a broader audience.  If you found one developer that needed help there are surely many more online that need it as well.
  • Troubleshooting issues at work.  Not only can you learn from your failures but you can teach many others through your blog.
  • Generic work projects that can be open sourced or need documentation can also be a source of content.  I’ve blogged/documented nearly all of our DevOps components/systems for work now and its much easier for others to become SMEs on the subject.
  • Spikes or proof of concept work
  • Questions on social media or forums: Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, StackOverflow, etc.  Many of my posts were spawned from trying to answer questions on StackOverflow. 

When I first started blogging about Windows Phone it was much tougher because  I was blogging about hobby work which wasn’t consistent after I finished the book.  I had to work harder to make time amongst a job and family to find/write content .  This year has been much easier because most of my content comes from experiences or topics related to my day job.  Plus my employer is benefiting from my blog too!

These are just a few examples, but the key is to keep an eye out for content ideas.  I keep a OneNote notebook for listing future blog post ideas so when I have a slow week there is a backlog of ideas to pull from.

More Tips

  • Be realistic – I think the key to my success this year was setting a challenging but achievable goal.
  • Gamification – Traffic metrics aren’t everything but they are a great way to turn blogging into a game.  Almost daily I check my stats to see if I’m doing better than yesterday, last week or last month.  I know a portion of these hits are not real people but some are and that pushes me to try harder, make the content better and bring value to my readers.
  • Share – Not only do we want to write content, we want others to read it.  The best way I’ve found to build an audience is through social media.  Get active on Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, StackOverflow, Reddit and anywhere you can find others with similar interested and share your content.

Summary

I didn’t really cover the benefits of blogging but others have covered that better than I could (see Scott’s post).  So assuming it beneficial and we want to, the keys to blogging more are to set a realistic (but challenging) blogging goal, blog about work or a topic you won’t have a hard time finding content about and then push yourself.  You will have highs and lows throughout the year but keep pressing.  You can do it!

What do you think?  These are just my opinions.  What have you found to be helpful?  Share your thoughts in the comments below and lets have some community.

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