Lessons Learned Blogging

by Mr. Cheap

This is a post with ideas about blogging that I’ve thought over the last (almost) year-and-a-half in the personal finance blogosphere. I don’t make any claims that these are the *best* ways to blog, and certainly don’t claim this is the *only* way to blog. Its what’s worked for me though (I won’t speak for Mike this time).

  • Post consistently: I really think there’s value in regular posts, ideally every weekday. Our justification for not posting on weekends is that traffic goes way down, so why write a post for days when most of our readers don’t visit? From the readers’ perspective, I think (hope) there’s a point in their day where they say “I wonder what’s up on Four Pillars today?”, I want to make sure there’s something there every time they think that and come to the site. I know from personal experience that it doesn’t take many times with no new content before you just forget to come back.
  • Be sincere: A few bloggers adopt personalities that clearly aren’t themselves. While Mr. Cheap is an exaggeration of some of my less endearing qualities (I annoyed a friend suggesting reusing coffee grinds recently), I think Mike & Mrs. Pillars can attest that I’m pretty similar on and off-line (I think I’m probably a bit nicer in person though). I think it would be EXHAUSTING to always write in a way that isn’t yourself, and I think readers pick up on it when you’re faking it. As Kurt Vonnegut suggests, sound like yourself.
  • Be humble: As bloggers we often can’t really claim we know what we’re talking about. A few of us are blogging about subjects we actually ARE experts in. The rest of us yammer on about things we’re still learning about ourselves. Its striking to me how few of us actually blog about what we were trained to do, or what we do for a living. This should probably be a blog about computer programming (since that’s what Mike and I have both done for most of our working lives). When someone doesn’t know what they’re talking about, then arrogantly condescends to their readers, it doesn’t come across as knowledgeable, it just comes across as arrogant. Luckily these types seem to burn out and disappear from the blog world. I think there’s real value in clearly expressing when you know you’re out past the point of what you really know. Feeding people misinformation is one of the greatest disservices you can do, so I think its really best to let people know when to take what you’re saying with a grain of salt.
  • Have a thick skin: I’m pretty thin-skinned, to the point one of my real-life friends worried about me when I started blogging. Luckily people have been nicer than I could have hoped for. There’s still the odd person who posts a nasty comment here or there, and blogging would stop being fun in a hurry if you let it get you down. I’m lucky that Mike is able to diplomatically tell the trolls to buzz off.
  • Say “Thank you” and make friends: Posting a quick “thanks for the link” (or linking to something you think is interesting) is one of the easiest things in the blogging world, and its also one of the most appreciated. Its always disappointing when a post doesn’t generate many comments, and its good to always show some love to frequent commentors too (I haven’t been as good at this recently as I should be – I love you guys! *kiss* *kiss*). Most blogging software lets you see when people link to you, and even if its a new blog with just a couple of posts, I’m tickled pink when people link to us (and try to always leave them a comment on their blog thanking them for doing so). Carnivals, commenting on other people’s blogs and taking part in networks are all very important activities that I’m horribly negligent at. Luckily Mike covers up my boorish behaviour.
  • Take opportunities: Sometimes great opportunities are offered to us, and it pays to say “yes”. I’ve asked people out for lunch who I’ve interacted with on-line, and had a number say “no thanks” (and seemed offended at the idea). Mike said “sure”, we met up in real life and shot the shit for a couple of hours. In turn, he suggested we merge the blogs, I said “sure”, and that’s turned out better than I could have ever hoped.
  • Make opportunities: Things are often not as hard as we think they are. Mike and I each suggested something to the other, it was accepted, and good things happened. I recently setup a book review & interview that I’m really pumped about. All it took was an e-mail to the author saying “want to do this?” and he did!
  • Humour can be a tough line to walk: I’m ironic more often then I should be . A number of commenters clearly don’t get it, which definitely implies a number of readers are misunderstanding me who never comment. I think its important to write such that you’re clearly understood, but I know Mike, a number of regular commenters and hopefully most regular readers clearly can pick out when I’m writing “tongue in cheek”. Some blogs go overboard trying to be funny and end up just being annoying (I probably do this too often myself). Blogs are less formal than traditional media: we don’t have to suck up to advertisers the same way a TV station would. This leads to less restraints on language, taboo subjects and humour, but things can become unappealing in a hurry when any of these things go overboard.
  • Consider consequences: Mike and I luckily get on the same page with most things, and both of us are realistic of what may result from our choices. We’ve discussed context links and both thought they’d just annoy readers (which is the last thing we want to do). We discussed the casino ads we run, and figured none of our readers would look twice at them, so that was an unintrusive way to make a bit of revenue (the people who buy those links from us aren’t interested in our readers, they just want to bump themselves higher in Google’s rankings). We’re also aware that we’re hurting out PageRank by helping them game Google’s system, but what the heck, a buck is a buck. We talked about putting a “buy us a beer / coffee” link in, but both felt it would be too much like begging (and again we worried about the effect that would have on our readership). We like the idea of TV / Radio / Newspapers where the audience can consume the content for pretty close to nothing, and the advertisers foot the bill. I’ve had conversations with people where they refuse to acknowledge the consequences of what might happen and will say “well, lets just try it”. It drives me nuts when you can see (and avoid) a problem, but someone refuses to do so.
  • Don’t worry too much about spelling and grammar: Occasionally someone will point out a typo or a bigger error you’ve made and you’ll feel bad. I think its good to try to get the right usage of there/their/they’re and its/it’s, but books, magazines and newspapers have people who’s full time job is catching and correcting errors. Don’t beat yourself up if you make the odd mistake, the most important thing is that people understand what you have to say.
  • Be modest: Closely related to “Be humble”, the primary idea behind this is don’t ever do something like a list of ideas telling other people how they should blog! How lame and arrogant would *THAT* be?
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{ 16 comments… read them below or add one }

1 quietrose

Nice insightful post, Mr. Cheap. I agree that posting daily really helps bloggers and readers to stay invested. I always look forward to reading the blog every day! Thanks to you and Mike for being so consistent and faithful to the blog!

Great list of things and advice on how to have a successful blog! Keep up the great work!

2 Emily in Ohio

I can’t tell you enough how much I appreciate advice from an OG’s to the newbies. Many people, self included, get into blogging without so much as a look forward, then find outselves suffering from blog-xiety. It’s nice to know that we small fry aren’t the only ones thinking about these things.

3 Kyle

I find humor works fairly well so long as you’re over-the-top enough for it to be obvious you’re joking. It’s when I’ve tried to be more subtle that I got a few bad reactions.

I try to post every day but alas, sometimes life gets too busy. Either that or your internet at home is down for 2 days at a time and you can’t write anything and customer support is anything but responsive.

4 Potato

“Its striking to me how few of us actually blog about what we were trained to do, or what we do for a living. “

I think we can blame the lawyers and the job market for that, plus the fact that blogging is often a bit of an escape for the writer. As much as I’d love to blog about what goes on behind the scenes in science, or do a really snarky non-professional review of someone’s paper… there are only so many Canadians in my field, so even pseudoanonymous blogging could come back to bite me in the ass. Not to mention the IP issues…

Plus like Penn Jillette says (to paraphrase from memory) “If you want to do something interesting in a field, it’s important to be in a field you don’t belong in.”

5 guinness416

Hmph, you’ve never asked ME out to lunch.

6 The RAT

Great post! I found this particularly useful as I have recently just began my own blog site, and I will definitely digest all the tips provided.

My goal was to get a minimum of 5 journal entries a week, regardless of days, but now I may try to focus on M-F route based on your tips re: traffic on weekends.

Good stuff. Thanks!

7 Canadian Dream

Damn, that is a good list. Actually overall I could have wrote it since I think you hit all of the major points.

A note on spelling and grammer. It can be critial if it causes confusion about the post. I know I’m guilty of that one.

Tim

8 Mr. Cheap

Quietrose, Emily and JB: Thanks! 🙂

Potato: Yeah, that’s the downside. I’d worry how accessible we’d be if we wrote about computer stuff. It definitely wouldn’t be entry level stuff (since neither of us is that interested in the entry level stuff anyone). I love P&T, I’ve never seen that quote before…

Guiness416: Feel like going for lunch next time I’m in T.O.? Tell the hubby the first pint is on me! We might be able to drag Mike and the clan out too if it was brunch (eggs and beer?)

The RAT: I think having a very regular pattern is useful (smart people have disagreed with me though).

Tim: Yes, you’re absolutely correct, when the spelling and grammar start changing your meaning its time to work on improving them (or getting a proof-reader).

9 MultifolDream$

Very good post! Especially helpfull for me as I blog for less than a month. Fixing the spelling and the grammar takes me good chunk of time.

10 guinness416

I would be honoured to join you for eggs and beer Mr C.

/furiously scribbles date and timestamp of “first pint” offer

11 Mr. Cheap

Kyle: I’m so sorry, our blog ALWAYS classifies you as spam (its the weirdest thing). You’re right, broad humour is a good way to convey to everyone that you really are joking :-). Emot-icons can work too, but some people find them quite annoying.

12 Kyle

It’s akismet. Somebody harvested my domain and used it to send out a bajillion spam emails and comment spams a few months ago and ever since, akismet always classifies me as spam. It does it on my own blog too, which is annoying.

13 Mr. Cheap

Kyle: Hmmm… I wonder if there’s some way we can over-ride it for you…

14 Four Pillars

Very interesting – I actually thought you were much nicer online than in person (especially after a few beers)… 🙂

Just kidding everyone – Mr. Cheap is an extremely nice guy!

Good point about being yourself as a blogger – you just can’t write a personal blog (personal finance is still personal) without that. I think if you are writing just straight info posts then the personality doesn’t matter but we do a mix of both.

I’ll add one lesson I’ve learned – while a duo blogging system isn’t for everyone, it has certainly worked out for me. Having two writers really makes a difference in the work load so we can crank out the posts with the best of them but we don’t have to work as hard as the single bloggers. I’m actually kind of surprised at how rare the multi-blog situation is.

15 Jerry

That first one is one of the biggest forms of insurance for a successful blog… adding content! It makes all the difference for regular readers and leads that traffic to keep coming in. This is a well-done blog, and I like reading it.
Jerry

16 legacy daily

I like the last one… but my blog is unique. I’m not in it to make money. Think of it as my gift….

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