Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Tips for the Cruising Blogger

The blogging world is incredibly vast with the "cruising blog" genre representing only the teeny-tiniest sliver of what is out there.  As niche-y as our subject is,  however, it has literally exploded in the past couple of years.  When we started blogging in 2008 there were no where near the number of cruising blogs there are now.  I can't be sure, but I would venture to guess that there are at least five times as many cruising bloggers today than there were then.  I don't know if there are more people cruising or just more people blogging about cruising - but there is definitely some exponential growth happening.  Pretty cool.

Currently, our blog gets about 700-1,000 visitors a day, about 100K page views a month and about 1,200 people get our posts delivered directly to their inboxes.  I don't write these stats to boast (though I am proud of these accomplishments) I point them out to illustrate we have found a modest level of success in this arena and, as such, we have learned a thing or two over the past few years.  While these numbers are not very impressive in the blog world as a whole, they aren't too shabby in the sailing blog world.

We get a lot of questions about how to set up a blog and requests for advice on how to do it well so instead of re-writing this over and over in emails to folks, I've decided to share what has worked for us in one fell swoop in the name of efficiency.  I am by no means a blogging expert (I am completely self taught and learning more all the time) but here are some tips that have worked for us, and perhaps fellow bloggers or bloggers-to-be might benefit from them.  Or not.  Take it or leave it, but here it is:
  1. Be yourself.  This is, bar none, the most important rule of blogging.  BE YOU.  If you try to mimic someone else it will show and it will not work.  Not to mention the fact that no one blazed a new trail by simply following in the footsteps of another.  Do your own thing and dare to be different.  Find your OWN voice and say what you want to say, not what you think people want to hear and for the love, do not just regurgitate what other bloggers are writing if you can help it.  Write for YOU first, then you can think about writing for others.
  2. Keep it short and sweet.  For some reason, most people do not have the time or patience to read long diatribes in blog form.  While there will, inevitably, be times when you need more time to say what you want to say, it's a good rule of thumb to avoid writing posts that take longer than 1-3 minutes to read.  I cannot tell you how many times I have gone to a blog, seen the absurd length of a post (by scrolling down and down and down the screen), only to hit the back button and move on.  Whether or not it's a good thing, the internet is about instant gratification.  Short and sweet is what resonates most with people online (generally speaking).  Long-winded articles are for magazines.  Again, I know I don't always subscribe to this advice myself - but I am always aware of this and try my best to "trim the fat" where I can (and, yes, I realize this particular post violates this rule...but, hey, this is special).
  3. Don't knock other bloggers.  As vast as it is, the blogging world is actually pretty small and the cruising world is even smaller.  I have run into many fellow bloggers that I never thought I would and when it comes to cruising, you are never more than six degrees of separation from another boater (no Kevin Bacon needed).  Publicly or privately knocking other bloggers for one reason or another is not only tacky and immature, but makes you look bad, desperate and jealous.  Never-mind the fact that many of us bloggers talk to and know each other (whether personally or virtually) so it's likely that your words will come back to haunt you.  Put your best foot forward and don't do it.  If you don't have anything nice to say, don't say it.  If you dislike what someone else is doing with their blog, don't read it.  It's really that simple.
  4. Give credit where credit is due.  This is a big one for me as I have seen my posts, ideas, and sometimes even pictures used or blatantly copied/plagiarized without any credit or permission (usually brought to my attention by one of our followers).  I've also seen fellow bloggers take quotes right out of our blog and pass them off as their own or even reference our blog without linking back to us.  This is bad practice and can be a little annoying, especially considering I work very hard to keep our blog original and different.  If you get an idea, a picture, a quote or inspiration from another blogger - give them a little love, and credit, in the form of a link. 
  5. Use pictures.  People seem to love our pictures and photography has become a sort of hobby of mine as a direct result of this blog.  I am by no means a "photographer" and my "skills" are completely self taught.  I do not have a fancy DSLR camera (my "good" camera is a Canon G12) and many of my more recent shots are taken with my iPhone or my Olympus Tough Camera.  But being an amateur does not mean you have to have amateur photos!  Having at least one pretty picture per post should be your goal.  I spend a lot of time editing our photos and making them look as nice as possible.  There are tons of ways to create interesting images using software like Photoshop (I used Pixlemator and Photoshop Elements) and there are even more online photo editors (just Google "online photo editor") that are super fun and easy to use.  NOTE:  Be very careful about using photos on your blog that you have not taken, as you are likely violating a law.  A fellow cruiser friend shared this great article on how NOT to violate copyright law in a sailing forum and I found it very useful.  I am currently in the process of replacing all images that I have lifted from the internet with images I have either taken myself or purchased for a buck from Vectorstock.
  6. Make your landing page look nice.  Spend a little time to make your landing page look interesting and dynamic.  Both Blogger and Wordpress (currently the two most popular free blogging platforms that I know of) offer a bunch of convenient plug-ins that make this kind of customization very easy.  The landing page of your blog/website is a first impression and it will definitely impact whether people stay or go.  You have about .2 seconds to capture someone's attention online before they hit the dreaded "back" button, so use that nanosecond wisely and make your page pop.
  7. Have something to say.  When you write, try to offer something to your readers; an insight, a story, a lesson you learned, inspiration, a tip, a laugh...something.  Simply rattling off what you did on a particular day doesn't always make for gripping reading.  Keep it varied and interesting and have something to offer.
  8. Be consistent.  This is a big one.  You must be consistent about posting but do not fall into the trap where you feel you must post every single day.  I fell into that trap for a while and I believe my blog and writing suffered because of it.  Do not post for the sake of posting because it becomes a huge yawnfest (again, learn from my mistake) and the authenticity of your posts will go down.  Aim for quality, not quantity - but do be consistent.  You do not need to post something each and every day, but you should try to post with some regularity if you can because nothing will turn off readers more quickly than a blogger who posts once and then not again for another few months.
  9. Write from the heart.  It always amazes me which posts seem to resonate with our readers.  Almost always it's the posts that I found difficult to write or possibly even considered not writing because I felt they exposed too much of me or I felt weren't "relevant" (for example,  I was so hesitant to write about family life and babies on this blog but this has only begun to expand our readership - who knew??).  Turns out human beings really like other humans, particularly if they are fallible and real.  Be honest and true in your writing - I am always working on this and still have a long way to go (it's not easy!) - but it is something I am always striving for.  One thing people always tell me when they meet us or email me is that they feel like I'm their best friend and I believe this is a side effect of writing honestly from the heart.
  10. Get ideas from your audience.  I have said it many times before, I am often inspired by our readers and I love hearing from you all.  If you ever find yourself in a writing slump, turn to your audience - they will most certainly have questions about your life that can inspire a blog post.  You guys have inspired me with your comments, questions and emails more times than I can count!
  11. Do not start a blog to make money.  People ask me all the time how to make money with a blog and I really don't know the answer.  All I know is that if you start a blog with financial gain as the sole purpose, you are more than likely going to fail.  First of all, to make any significant money from a blog you need a TON of traffic (and by TON of traffic, I'm talking like ten times the amount of traffic we currently get) and, being that sailing and cruising blogs are such a niche market, that kind of traffic is not likely.  We make a couple hundred bucks a month from our blog through affiliate links and the occasional donation.  Granted, I don't pursue and push it as a reliable income source so perhaps I could make more if I really tried, but I also believe doing so would turn off a lot of our readers and I don't want to do that.  It's a fine line to walk but it is my belief that if your goal in blogging is to make a buck, it will be obvious - and readers won't like it.  Kind of a catch 22.
  12. Know that you will not please everyone.  We have haters.  It's sad, but true (wah, wah).  It goes with the territory and the bigger your audience, the more vocal the haters (aka "trolls") become.  Granted, for every negative email or comment I get I have one hundred positive ones, so our love to hate ratio is pretty good.   But no matter what, it still doesn't feel nice to be told (usually by a big, bold "anonymous" a-hole) that you suck.  Blogging is putting yourself out there for all to see and the sooner you understand that not everyone is going to 'smell what you're steppin' in', the better off you will be.  Don't try to please everyone because you will fail miserably.  Brush it off and move on.  Focus on the positive.  This can be hard to do (believe me, I know because I struggle with taking my own advice here) but it's par for the course.
  13. Practice makes perfect.  The blogging world is fluid and always changing.  I am learning new things every day and, like I said earlier, I am by no means an expert.  What I am is someone who loves to learn and try new things, so I am constantly striving to keep things original and new.  The more you blog, the better you'll get.  Keep working at it and be innovative to keep it fresh.  I often find myself inspired by blogs that are not cruising blogs (in fact, the blogs I read most are actually not related to sailing at all) and while my time to actually follow blogs is nill, I like to see what others are doing to make their blogs stand out.  It's a big, bloggy world out there!
  14. Utilize social media.  There are about a gazillion ways to use social media to promote your blog and gain readership and it can be very effective.  I suggest just sticking to one or two of platforms at first or else you will find yourself on your computer far more than you want to be (I mean, you're supposed to be out there living your life, right?)  I personally like Facebook and Twitter, and have dabbled in Pinterest and Tumblr as well.  Navigating the world of social media can be overwhelming, daunting and incredibly time consuming so do yourself a favor and start with just one or two.  Link your posts, connect with other bloggers, join relevant groups and start sharing!
  15. Know that you will not make it big overnight.  Or possibly ever.  Blogging is a very competitive thing, and there are a LOT of blogs out there vying for readers attention.  This is why the #1 rule of thumb is to do it for YOU and for no one else because if you are blogging for you, you will be satisfied.  Notoriety might be a nice side effect, but shouldn't be the goal.  Our success came as a result of a solid amount of luck, good timing, decent writing and a ton of hard work.
  16. Love it.  I love writing and blogging.  Like, LOOOOOOOVE it.  It is a huge passion of mine and something that brings me a ton of joy.  It is not torture, but fun.  It's a creative outlet and a way for me to use my brain and think.  It's also a way for me to share with, connect with and learn from others which has brought me more satisfaction than I ever anticipated.  If you don't enjoy writing, you probably won't enjoy blogging - but you can use your blog to showcase art, photos, or any other thing you want to share.  Whatever you decide, make sure you love it.  If you love what you do, it will show and it will resonate more with your audience.
  17. Love your readers.  Be good to them:  Respect them.  Hear them.  Talk to them.  Thank them.
Thanks guys, we love you :)

For more great tips on how to start a successful blog, check out THIS POST by the Minimalists.  I love their site and completely, 100% agree with all the advice they list.  Worth the read if you blog or are considering blogging.

What tips would you offer bloggers?  What keeps you coming back to your favorite blog(s)?  What has turned you off of a blog before?  Share in the comments!

12 comments:

Fred Channell said...

I LOVE your new banner! Great advice, by the way.

SailFarLiveFree said...

Great advice, Brittany! Probably the one I find most important is your #1: Be yourself!

One of the biggest pieces of advice that has worked for me with blogging (and other endeavors!) is to TAKE ACTION! You'll never have all the answers, all the confidence, etc., but you've got to start somewhere. Action begets results, no matter whether your goals are monetary or more personal.

Steph said...

Great advice, even for bloggers who aren't cruisers!

In the past, what's turned me off to blogs is when every post is an ad for a different product- that gets really old, really fast!

tightlittletribe said...

Yikes! I think I've made many of the mistakes you've mentioned! Recently, too :( Hope we haven't offended!
We're learning so much right now about sailing, raising a baby girl, blogging, budgeting, etc etc. We have some things to go back and change too! Would love to hear if you had legal help with your disclaimer at the beginning of your blog or if it is a generic, copy n paste, then 'personalize' kind of thing.
Oh, and haters just be jealous! It can make you second guess your decision to share though, eh? Wishing you and your family well this week! Or next? :)
-JD-

M. at Making Sense of Cents said...

I love your new design, looks awesome!

I agree, a blogger should be themselves, and use personality in their posts!

Darwin Grenwich said...

Well thought out piece. Thanks for the advice!

Brittany (A Healthy Slice of Life) said...

As a fellow blogger, I think these are great tips! I'm more in the healthy living/mommyhood arena right now, but hope to come over to the cruising blog niche in a few years. Fingers crossed!

Dennis said...

Brittany
I one of the things I like best to do when I get to my desk in the morning is to check in with the Windtravler Blog.
Your Blog is certainly interesting for a wanabe cruiser & Blogger.
I've been following you since you emerged out of the Erie Canal.
Please dont stop & keep us updated out here THANK YOU!!

btw I enjoy reading some of the same books you do can you please let us in on some of the books
you are reading now and some of the ones you have on your bookshelf?
I Greatly Enjoyed Fatty Goodlanders "Chasing the Horizon"
Anyway the Interviews on your Blog are particularly interesting!

Oops I'm violating one of your rules - Getting to long winded BYE

Lynn and Keith s/v Otter said...

ditto on the great advice. Being new to sailing and new to blogging, I am always looking for advice. and what better way to get it, then from a fellow blogger. I, also, would love to hear more about the books you read or have read. best wishes you you and your little fishes.

Lou said...

Hi Brittany,

Long time reader, first time commenter! Great post, thanks for pointing these out. My partner and I are about to start a year long road trip through Europe (in an RV) and I often think there are similarities between RVing and sailing. We've started a blog too so it's great timing and I need to keep a few of these tips in mind!

All the very best to you and your family in the coming weeks!

ds said...

Another suggestion (i.e. pet peeve of mine) is to make sure that your landing page is organized in a manner such that the most recent post is visible without having to scroll down upon landing on the page. Your page does this ... barely. Too many blogs have too large graphics at the top of the page. If I can't determine if there's something new to read at a glance, I stop visiting.

My 2 cents.

Joris said...

Dear Brittany,

To me the most important fact about your blog is the insight you give the reader in the developpement of the wonderful family you and Scott are bilding. So far the American dream, I believe.

Joris, The Netherlands.

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