Ask Me a Question:Getting Started Blogging

 By Shamus Dec 27, 2010 119 comments

A question from a reader:

I have given it some time and this “blog” thing seems to be more than just a passing fad, so I’m thinking I would like to try my hand at it. I like your site layout a great deal; categories are nice. But, I know nothing about it, and find it intimidating to learn. So, lets say you were starting a brand new blog, “No, I’m Shamus!” or something; taking what you know after running a successful blog, what steps would you go through?

If I were going to launch a blog this very moment, and if my intention was to start from zero and re-create the success I’ve enjoyed on this blog… hm.

I guess my first move would be to get a domain name.

True story: I missed getting “shamus.net” by just a couple of weeks. I checked the domain in 1999, and it was available. Cool. But I was in the middle of moving from Pittsburgh to Boston, and decided that was too much stuff to worry about at once. Once the move was over, I went to purchase it and found it was taken. Sigh. So, I went with ShamusYoung.com. Ah well. Of course, things are much, much worse now. Basically anything pronounceable has a 99% chance of being in use, and of the remaining 1%, half are claimed by domain squatters. Still, it’s like picking a name in an online game: compound words are your friend. flowers.com was snatched up years ago. prettyflowers.com is a domain squatter. But littlepinkflowers.com is still available, and good luck to the domain squatters who want to buy up all the usable flower adjectives.

The downside is that domain names cost money. It’ll be a few bucks up front for the name, and then a few more bucks a month for hosting.

If you don’t want to get a domain name, then you can go with a free blog host like WordPress.com or Blogger. This will make setup very, very easy. (Disclaimer: My wife does themes and blog setups for people, and she hates blogger.com with a passion and begs you not to use it. Never have tried it, myself, but there you go.)

The downside is that your blog will be under this other domain:

www.blogger.com/bobsblog

(Or something like this, I can’t remember and I’m too lazy to check.)

That’s a bit harder to remember. I like being able to tell people “Shamus Young dot Com” and know that they can find my blog. It would be more difficult if I had to tell them “Dub dub dub dot Word Press – yes word, not world – dot com, forward-slash Shamus Young”. It’s harder to pass on, harder for people to remember. If your blog is later successful you might decide you want to make your own theme, or put ads on your site, or blog about certain controversial or risque topics, but you won’t be able to do so while in the WordPress.com or Blogger.com stable.

If you find yourself successful and decide to move to your own domain name:

www.bobsblog.com

You’ll lose all of your page rank. Right now, if you search for “Twenty Sided Dice”, my blog will appear near the top of the first page of results. There are a lot of searches like that where I rank well. Part of this is being popular, part of this is simply being around for a long time. Those search results contribute to my readership somewhat, and improving your page rank takes time. Moving your blog means starting over, even if you take all of your posts with you.

Regardless of whether you decide to join a stable or buy your own domain, I very, very strongly recommend using WordPress as your blogging platform. I realize this might be confusing, but there’s WordPress.com, the blog host, and WordPress.org, where you get the blogging software. If you use WordPress.com (the host) you will automatically be using WordPress (the software) but you’ll be using a slightly gimped version that will prevent you from adding your own themes and such.

WordPress handles all of the housekeeping stuff for you. Making a post in WordPress is not very different from making a post on the average internet forum. Give it a title. Write the text. Hit publish. Have strangers point out all of your typographical errors. Rinse. Repeat. WordPress generates all of the archive and category pages for you, as well as the comment system, RSS feed, and the search functionality. All automated. Pretty nice.

Now, the basic tenets of blogging, which were taught long before I ever began this little show I’m running now:

1. Post regularly

Creativity comes in bursts for most people, but most of us consume entertainment at a steady pace. If you make ten posts on Monday and nothing for the rest of the week, visitors will ignore a lot of your Monday content (they will get full and leave before they’ve read everything) and will then get frustrated with the lack of content for the next four days. (Slight aside: Cyber-slacking is a major source of traffic. I think over half of my visitors read this site from work.) They may even get out of the habit of visiting your site. If they follow you via RSS, your Monday dump will feel “spammy” and they might stop following your site. If you write ten things on Monday, put two of them up on Monday and then one or two a day for the rest of the week.

2. Moderate your comments

Your comment threads will reflect your moderation policy, or lack of one. If you allow jerks to run free and abuse people, they will set the tone. Newcomers will show up and figure, “Ah! So that’s how things work around here.” Remember that the default, natural state of all comment threads is YouTube or 4chan. If you want something better than that, then you need to weed out the idiots, trolls, crazy people, and jerks. This is particularly hard when you’re getting started and you don’t get much in the way of feedback. If you only get three comments, it hurts to kill one of them, even if it’s just “lol u suck”. But being poor does not mean you should treasure the bricks thrown through your window.

3. Have a topic in mind

All too often I’ve visited blogs to find their last few posts are something along the lines of:

1. An esoteric rant on an obscure subject with no handles for the uninitiated

2. An angry political tirade

3. What I had for dinner last night

4. My girlfriend / boyfriend / parent / roommate is such a jerk

I’m not saying these blogs shouldn’t exist. It’s a big internet and all. But these blogs are usually intended for friends. If you’re thinking about reaching out into the great big mass of strangers, then they will not care about your roommate until they care about you, and they won’t care about you until you say something interesting.

Having said that, I think a lot of people undervalue their job knowledge. I always love reading about different jobs. (Restaurant server anecdotes are always funny to me.) Write about something you know or care about, and you’ll probably attract like-minded people. No matter how mundane your job is, there are probably people who wonder what your job is all about. Same goes for hobbies.

4. Be careful with your theme

Blogs are strange beasts. We naturally want to decorate them as a way of expressing ourselves. “This is what I like.” Your colors, your style, your taste. At the same time, the purpose of the thing is to be read. A floral pattern might reflect your personal taste and personality, it’s it’s a pretty rotten background for text. This led to the bad old days when people had midi music on their webpage. You like the song, it speaks for you, and everyone else shuts it off the instant they find the controls, assuming they don’t simply flee with the back button.

Today, this advice might be summed up with “pick three or less colors, and don’t go font crazy”.

5. Take care of your archives

It might seem funny to give a post a title like:

“This morning…”

And then the post itself begins with, “…some dude hit my car and tried to blame me, even though I was parked.”

That’s amusing, but it will be murder when you try to find it three years from now. Categories and post titles seem like trivialities when you’ve been blogging a month. They are basic tools for survival when you’ve been blogging for a year.

I am struggling with this myself. My categories are in shambles. My “postcard” posts are filed in different places, Spoiler Warning needs its own category, a lot of old posts talk about programming but are filed under “projects”, etc etc etc. It’s very hard to file and sort posts when you have thousands of them. And I curse my past self whenever I see some non-descriptive title and have to read the post to know where to file it.

But doing this will make it easier to…

6. LINK!

You know why TvTropes is so impossible to leave? Because their site is an endless procession of promising links. Once you have a good bit of content, fill in details by linking to your old stuff and steer people towards your best work.

7. Use images

…and RE-SIZE them!

I won’t single anyone out for this, but some blogs I’ve read have this thing where the author will upload some 2048×1536 monster image, and then use image tags to re-size it down to your typical 800 wide blog format.

You want images, because images are fun. But you want them to load fast, because slow-loading pages are not fun.

8. Don’t expect a mega-launch

Lots of people email me: I’ve just launched a blog and I have big, HUGE plans for this and I think your readers will love it! Please link me!

I only rarely look at these and never link them. There’s no reason for me to send people to somebody’s “HELLO WORLD!” blog-launch, and statistically, odds are very, very good that the blog will be abandoned before that introduction post even leaves the front page.

But this is good. It’s better to grow slowly. Make your mistakes in front of a small crowd before you face a big one. This blog rolled along in relative obscurity for a year or so before it really took off. It’s simply a lot more likely that you will build a readership than be granted one by good fortune. And if you don’t want to write unless you’ve got 10,000 readers, then day-to-day blogging is going to be a tough gig for you. No matter how mega-big you make it, you will always be looking at the next order of magnitude and wishing you could get there.

For growing an audience slowly, link to more popular blogs in the hopes of starting a conversation and getting a link back. (Usefully, obviously. Don’t just put links in at random.) Leave comments on other related sites. If people like what you have to say, they might click on your name and discover your site.)

That’s my advice. Good luck.

EDIT: Apparently you CAN have your own domain but still use WordPress as a host. I did not know this. Read the comments below for more details.

A Hundred!19119 comments. Quick! Add another to see if this message changes!


  1. Nathon says:

    Regarding strangers pointing out your typographical errors: tenants should be tenets in “Now, the basic tenants of blogging.”

    Also: section 3′s “it’s it’s a pretty rotten background” has an extraneous “it’s” and “pick three or less colors” should be “pick three or fewer colors.”

    On the plus side, the edits from random strangers make it look like you proofread even more often than you do.

  2. Gandaug says:

    lol u suck

    In reality this is very informative. Very basic and a lot of common sense. It’s amazing how easy it is to skip over the easy without laying it all out first though. Good luck to anybody wanting to forge a blog of their own.

  3. mewse says:

    Just based on my own experience, I’d like to point at Shamus’s point #3 as being the most important. (the first #3, not the second one. Incidentally, Shamus, you have two #3s in that list)

    The first real requirement to gaining and retaining readers is to have something interesting and meaningful to say, and to be able to say it well. I often fall into the trap of just writing a “here’s what I did today” blog entry; it can be very difficult to notice and stop yourself from writing these, sometimes! But it’s always the more thoughtful essays which get repeat views and which really draw in readers.

    Everything else (themes, links, etc) are all window dressing. They help, yes, but you really need to have something to say before the method of delivery will make much of a difference.

  4. Ian says:

    If you don’t want to get a domain name, then you can go with a free blog host like WordPress.com or Blogger. [...] The downside is that your blog will be under this other domain:

    You can actually get domain names for WordPress.com and Blogger blogs. I think they manage all of the nitty gritty for you. This option does cost some money, and I doubt that you can do anything else with their hosting service.

    Blogger also has an FTP publishing feature that will allow you to use another hosting account for no additional cost.

    6. Don’t expect a mega-launch

    Don’t underestimate the power of Google, though. On my blog (since retired and taken down, then “resurrected” with no content…I’m a fickle bastard, I am) I wound up doing a small series dealing with creating a Doom map in a few hours. To my surprise, Fraggle, of Chocolate Doom and MBF fame, chimed in on one of the posts. On the blog that I updated in 2004-ish, I wrote a short review of a book that I’d recently read, only to have the author comment on the review and recommend one of his later books.

    Meh, I should get back into blogging again. It’s a lot of fun.

  5. Nathon says:

    On the subject of moving URLs from a blog farm to your own domain, I’ve had to do something similar. I host my web site on a computer sitting at home, and have since around 2003. I’ve also moved quite a bit since then, and my most recent move took me out of range of my favorite ISP (Speakeasy, before they were acquired by Best Buy…I don’t know what they’re like now) and I’m stuck working around blocked ports.

    Anyway, the point is that I had to get my DNS provider to stick a 301 (moved permanently) on my old domain and have it redirect to the link attached to my name. Fortunately, search engines took it to heart and my rankings didn’t suffer at all. You still get to me if you enter “hangman solver” and tell Google you’re feeling lucky. I don’t know if you can get blogger or livejournal or wordpress (the host) to serve 301s for you, but it’s worth considering.

  6. The stuff about custom domain names not being usable with Blogger is totally untrue (Not totally sure about wordpress, but I think it’s untrue there as well). I have a blog with a custom domain and blogger deals with it entirely, and the Blogger service is still completely free. I do, of course, still have to pay for the domain name itself. This is separate from the FTP solution, too. I don’t have to do any of my own web hosting, just set up the domain.

  7. asterismW says:

    Loved this post, even though I don’t have any plans to start my own blog (see? last paragraph under #3 really works!). An obvious addition, which nevertheless seems to baffle some people: use proper English (or German or French or whatever). As a few people have commented above, it’s annoying to read entries, be they blog posts or comments, written in Internet. You WILL lose readership and you will NOT make it to the big leagues if you can’t keep your writing mostly correct. But nobody’s going to leave a comment saying ur enlish is 2 gud im nevar reding this AGIAN!!!11

    • Jarenth says:

      Though you can be sure people will be at least be thínking it. This is the Internet, after all.

    • Sumanai - a grouchy ball of cynical pessimism says:

      On The Escapist forums there was once a conversation about grammar and a poll how important people think it is. Some actually accused people who commented on bad grammar of always being grammar nazis. Even if the comment was respectful and only pointed out typos or similiar. You know, stuff people would want to fix for improved readability.

      Though what boiled my blood was a post by someone who said that he had been to 4chan, and that he thinks everyone who complaints about the use of language online, and/or people that claim that a post is unreadable, are just being lazy.

      I don’t even know where to start. But I will mention this:
      If someone doesn’t think their post is important enough to go through the trouble of checking typos and grammatical errors, at the very least with a spell-checker, why should anyone else think it’s important enough to go through the trouble to parse that mess?

      Edit note: I had just before finding that conversation ran into another which was started by someone with horrible writing. I had to analyze each sentence slowly, word for word, because only a few were written correctly and some were written with barely any resemblance to the correct spelling.

      • AnZsDad says:

        Gotta ask, Sumanai:

        Was your use of “he thinks everyone who complaints” intentionally ironic, or did you actually use the noun “complaints” instead of the verb “complains” thinking it was correct? :D

        My favourite thing – well, one of my favourite things – about Shamus’s amazing blog is that I can read the comments, and enjoy them, without the overwhelming desire to find each of the commentators in order to forcefeed them a copy of “Eats, Shoots & Leaves”. And I don’t use “forcefeed” to mean “make them read”, either.

  8. Moridin says:

    I’m tempted to start working on my own blog again. Despite it never being meant to be a “serious” blog (more a place where to put all my stuff, organized, independent of my own hardware and where I can link it to people) and having last posted about six months ago.

    Nice post, by the way.

  9. X2-Eliah says:

    #3 is quite important, yeah.. If you don’t have good material for your posts, better not do a blog at all..

    However, another thing is keeping the updates frequent (not the same as regular, mind). If you only have one post / week, that is just not sufficient. At least if you want consistent viewer base. Sure, it’s going to be a regular weekly or bi-weekly post, but unless it is the second coming of Buddha, you’re just going to have to do more.

    Mostly #1, #3 and what I wrote are the reasons I’m not even contemplating a blog for myself, I know I couldn’t be bothered – at this stage – to come up with frequent interesting content..

    • tfernando says:

      I think if your content is sufficiently good, you don’t really have to post multiple times a week… off the top of my head, Andrew Doull (Unangband developer), Jeff Voghel (Spiderweb Software), and Ron Gilbert (Monkey Island/Deathspank) don’t hew to an update schedule but their posts are usually interesting. If your readers don’t want to visit the site daily in hopes of an update they’ll add you to their RSS readers.

      Not that I’m suggesting infrequency is a good thing, mind, but it’s not a reason not to blog if you want to. :)

  10. andy_k says:

    To suggest I am “cyber slacking” whilst reading your blog is slander. Working as a software developer it is imperative I keep abrest of technology trends and this blog has been assessed as a relevant software development resource for research and development purposes.

    Cyber slacking indeed!

    Now I have to finish reading this article. For legitmate work purposes of course.

  11. Dante says:

    Maybe I’ll start blogging once I get my first production setup.

    So you’re feeling better now Shamus?

  12. Lanthanide says:

    ““pick three or less colors, and don’t go font crazy”.”

    You mean “pick three or fewer colors”, right?

  13. Jarenth says:

    Ok, this has been bugging me all day, because I can’t figure it out:

    In #7, you talk about certain blogs that upload large images and then resize them using image tags. Is that a good thing to do or a bad thing? I honestly can’t tell from the way you’ve phrased it.

    • krellen says:

      Bad. Resized with image tags still means the viewer has to download the whole image, unresized. Since a 640×800 image is one quarter the size of a 1280×1600 image (and one eighth the size of the 2560×3200 image Shamus was alluding to), this is a major issue.

      Incidentally, if you can do with 8-bit colour just was well as 32-bit colour, that’s another saving you should look into.

      • Jarenth says:

        Ah, it works like that. Merci.

      • Sumanai - a grouchy ball of cynical pessimism says:

        Yeah, image optimization can really make a difference.

        Amusing story: Some year back in one Finnish magazine (MikroBitti) they tested various image formats. According to it, PNG took more space than a GIF with the same image on. I tried it myself, and noticed it wasn’t so. Apparently they had saved the PNG as a 32-bit image, despite the original only used 256-colors. Great job guys.

    • X2-Eliah says:

      Seeing as Shamus hid a link to Rutskarn’s blog there, it’s most definitely a bad thing.

  14. PedroFebruar says:

    @Jarenth Resizing through tags will still make the reader load the whole picture. It will just be shown in a smaller size. That’s one of the first things i learned when I started making web sites back in the day. It still applies. Allways resize before you upload.

  15. eri says:

    I have maybe a dozen readers at any given time on my blog (see link in my name), and rather than fill it up with personal musings, I dedicate it to lengthy discussions on game design, critique and commentary, usually at a level far beyond what your “average user” is going to want. Because these articles are in depth and can’t just be about anything, it also means I only update about once a week. I also post my articles on several forums, and most of the time they go totally ignored because it simply isn’t high-demand content. If you’re going to write, be prepared for a following based not just on the quality of your content, but on the nature of that content as well. The day I get a comment is a joyous thing – I think I have maybe fifteen total over the last several months, despite my relatively heavy advertising for what is a personal/portfolio site.

    To be fair, I’ve also started posting on Gamasutra and have had almost every post since then listed as featured, which is nice to have, and the extra traffic the site gets absolutely helps in getting discussions going.

  16. Aldowyn says:

    “Hey, hey, Shamus, could you link to my blog? It’s http://aldowynsmusings.tk!”

    Yeah, it’s a .tk. Well, it was free and I don’t need that annoying .blogspot. The problem, I’ve found, is that you can’t link to a particular article that way…

    Anyway, #3 was never a problem for me, the entire purpose for it being a place where I can spout all my pearls of gaming wisdom, and consistency wasn’t that much of a problem till recently, though I only had maybe half a dozen a month. (I kind of just stopped a couple months ago – things got busy. Planning on starting it back up though)

    My biggest problem has always been publicity – I’m not exactly the only one talking about games on the internet! (Even if I am, possibly, one of the deeper ones) I just don’t know how to get people visiting the site – never had more than a couple comments on a post. (*cough* Check it out! *cough*)

    • MogTM says:

      In the spirit of this post, I followed you link and read through some of your posts. I generally enjoyed what I read, but had some thoughts, if you care to hear them:

      First, you don’t obey #6, above. I guess you can’t given the constraints of your host, but it would really help. For example, your most recent post mentions your Dragon Age review, which took me several minutes of archive-digging to find.

      Second, many of your posts seem quite long. Part of this is the fixed-width of your main body. Without exaggeration, less than 1/3 of my screen is filled with your column of text; the rest is blank. This is less than half of the screen real estate Shamus devotes to content.

      Even beyond the superficial, some of your posts might benefit from being split. For example, in your Dragon Age review, I felt both that it was a bit long and that it did not have tremendous dept in any area. If you had, for example, split gameplay off into its own post and discussed what facets of gameplay felt particularly challenging/strategic, you may have solved both issues.

      More content is always good — ad good job keeping it coming without tremendous positive reinforcement. But, at times, breaking things up could help, I feel.

      The good news is that your writing and thought are strong. Thanks for the read.

  17. Wonderduck says:

    The big thing you need to have for a successful blog is to write about something you care about. If you can do that, people will read about it. If it’s something that other people care about, so much the better.

    I’m a few months from my six-year anniversary over at The Pond, writing about anime, rubber ducks and Formula 1, with a side-order of WWII history. One wouldn’t think that those topics would go well together, and to be honest, they don’t. But if you write passionately about one topic, a reader will casually look at the other things you’ve written… and come back.

    Usually.

    Most importantly however, is to write about things you want to write about. The blog is yours; if you’re not enjoying the writing then you shouldn’t be doing it… you’re just wasting your time. If you DO enjoy it, then things like readers shouldn’t be important. Two or three readers who come back every day are better than 50, 500 or 5000 who come once and never re-appear.

    The Pond will never be within an order of magnitude or four of Twenty Sided, but I’m willing to bet that I enjoy writing it at least as much as Shamus.

    • unconvention says:

      I agree with Wonderduck wholeheartedly.

      And if you enjoy writing the blog you’ll continue writing it. If you’re just writing for internet fame, each post will end up being a chore.

  18. Joe Cool says:

    Regarding #5, “Take care of your archives”: This is what I call “Penny Arcade Syndrome.” Ever try to find a comic in the PA archives when you know the content but not the title?

  19. deiseach says:

    Shamus, when you started the blog were you doing it in the hope that it would evolve into a living? I remember when I first started mine back in the Geocities days before the concept of a ‘blog’ even existed. It was eleven years ago and I really hoped it would be my portfolio for a career in journalism. No surprises that it hasn’t worked out that way, which is why Wonderduck’s point above is so important – caring about the topic will sustain the blog long you have ceased dreaming of being paid for it.

  20. ccesarano says:

    Two things I’d like to mention:

    1) Aside from being around a while, Shamus, you also have DM of the Rings to bring people around here. Before I was much of a blog reader, back in High School or when I was starting College, and was a fiend for online comics I was introduced to your work. I liked the comic and kept it bookmarked, but it wasn’t until a few years later I checked out the blog proper. Voila, it got me hooked, as well as gave me a hankering for more blogs of a similar nature. Ever since I’ve actually looked to you as a sort of blogging role model, in fact.

    Aside from groveling, point is sometimes other forms of media than just the blogging can draw in an unexpected crowd. So can having a column on another website such as The Escapist, naturally, but I think the first thing is having a quality blog (which reminds me, I’ve always been curious if The Escapist approached you first or you approached them for Stolen Pixels).

    2) Be careful with how one adds site features. My original intent for my own website was to start up a sort of big community game site, but it fell flat on its face since I had a severe lack of interested writers. Nonetheless, instead of having comments on the articles I chose to go with a forum system instead. It wasn’t until a year later that I added front page comments, but no one seemed to notice or care. I can average around 100+ to 200+ unique hits a day, but I have less than ten regular people that occasionally post on my forums and no one posted on the comments.

    If you want to get people involved, I think front-page comments are a better way of doing it. Of course, most people setting up a blog are using a template like WordPress or Blogger, whereas I went over to Expression Engine and used their framework to build my site from scratch. I’m proud of what I’ve done (and my current redesign), but I skipped over adding a comment section again since I’m not sure it would be worth it (and if it is, then will anyone notice or did I miss the opportunity to add it once more?). Most people won’t have to worry, but if you have bloggers like me that pride themselves on having more technical web development prowess then you can easily run into such issues as a lack of necessary features.

    3) I also want to make this clear since it’s something I’ve had to learn. You can’t rely on the numbers in your webstats (I’m pondering using Google Analytics just so I can get more detailed reports myself). However, just because no one is on your forum or commenting on your articles doesn’t mean no one is reading them. When I was younger this used to frustrate me to no end since I might have had five people adding comments, but then I’d have classmates, friends or random Internet folks saying “By the way, I read your article on blah…” and it took me by surprise. Just respect the rule of thumb that most people coming to your site will enjoy what you have to say, but will rarely have something to say in return.

    …I meant for this to be shorter, but as is always the case, it became a blog entry of its own.

    • Shamus says:

      1)
      The Escapist approached me about Stolen Pixels.

      Then they came and asked for a weekly column.

      Then I went and pitched the Shamus Plays.

      3) My rule of thumb is that for a small blog, no more than 10% of your readers will comment. As you get larger, that shrinks to about 1%. We get about 100 comments here (give or take) and that lines up with my 10k unique daily readers.

      • X2-Eliah says:

        Out of interest, is there a distinguishment between “unique daily readers”, google-bots, random clicks and automated procedures? Or are they all pooled into that pot?

        • ccesarano says:

          One of the reasons I’m thinking of signing up for Google Analytics is because the more common trackers, such as AWStats and Webalizer, don’t seem to get into that level of specifics. I can ID the percentage of Google Bots rolling through versus other types of unique “visitors”, but how many of them are human and how many are checking in on a regular basis as opposed to stop in and leave to never return is unknown to me.

          From what I’ve seen, however, Google Analytics gets pretty hardcore specific about a lot of that stuff, which I imagine is one of the reasons I’ve seen job postings for web developers to be familiar with it.

        • Shamus says:

          To be honest, I don’t know.

  21. Hal says:

    Hm, I’m curious why your wife hates Blogger so much. I’ll admit, the themes are not particularly attractive, but as a free service, I can’t complain too much.

    And they will let you use customized templates, but they’re not exactly friendly about it.

    Hm . . . all this talk about blogging makes me want to go back to my sad little blog. It’s been fallow for a few months now. How does one get their audience back after so long? *shrug*

    Perhaps I can find something interesting to talk about.

  22. Gary says:

    I know what you mean about starting a new site after having a following at an old one…. I’m still trying to get the new anywhere near the pageviews of the original free-hosted page…
    Though, again part of that is due to the amount of content. Like you mention above. Traffic and content quantity (and of course quality) are linked. You are not very likely to get high traffic if there isn’t much to see. So As I just bought my dedicated webspace recently and haven’t moved all of the comics over yet, the traffic is going to suffer for a while as a result.

    I could have avoided that (and gotten that .com three years ago) by buying my domain when I had just started. But then I would have been paying money for a hobby that was completely unknown to the rest of the internet. Now its the challenge of moving my readership to the new site.

    Either way there is definitely a period where you work hard for little gain. The new folks just have to push through that.

    Your remarks on the different aspects of this are spot on. So much goes in to getting readership. Mine (even on my old site) is a small fraction of what you get, but it has grown significantly from the early days, mostly due to slow steady work and being consistent :)

  23. Gary says:

    hmm….somehow my previous comment was flagged as spam….That is unfortunate. Especially seeing as I cannot find a way to contact Shamus like the error message said to do…

  24. Sitemeter (e.g. http://www.sitemeter.com/?a=stats&s=sm9ethesis ) is pretty useful as well.

    Different types of blogs get different amounts of comments. I had 353 page views so far this week, about 3 comments. But I am definitely running a small blog.

    For comparison, http://www.24fightingchickens.com/2010/12/23/2010-in-review/ has had 379,455 page views this year (it is a blog I like), but comments are probably in the hundreds, not thousands, or .1%ish.

    Runs about two posts a month.

    • Matt K says:

      I would imagine for most blogs (i.e. where the comments are typically on topic-ish) the coments tend to asymptote around 100-200 comments. At least for me, anythign over that it isn’t really worth commenting since most people aren’t going the read it (or in some cases see it) and also anything more and I’m not likely to read all of those comments so I’m less likely comment.

      • I wasn’t clear enough.

        There have been 1,522 comments made during 2010. That count is +/- 50 since there could be that many spams in the queue or not on a daily basis that I review and remove.

        There have been 62 articles published this year (more than one per week on average).’

        An average of 25 comments per article

        That is 1,522 comments, total on 379,455 page views. Only about 25 comments per entry. Some of which were good enough to result in invitations to guest post. (24 Fighting Chickens is a blog/essay collection on karate, not chicken fighting, fyi. I don’t see it as having cross-over with this blog, but since it has a nice collection of statistics posted, it is useful).

        My blog runs about 1500 page views a month, about 1-2 comments a post.

        http://www.sitemeter.com/?a=stats&s=sm9ethesis&r=33 Usually 1-2 posts a week.

  25. Oleyo says:

    All I can think of is “Bob Loblaw’s Law Blog” from Arrested Development…I love that show.

  26. Z-Ri says:

    I’ve really been curious about starting a blog, and this post seems to have given me the perfect opportunity to ask about how hosts work.

    Is it any more complicated than picking a host site/domain name and giving them your billing information?

    I figure if I can handle gimp and blender the technical bit with wordpress should be no problem. Its just figuring out how to actually get the thing on the interwebs that always cools me to the idea of making a blog.

    • MrWhales says:

      Well, it’s pretty easy actually. I just checked on WordPress, when you are naming a new blog it will give you the option to register that domain(through them of course, Shamus touches on this in the post) After that it is your basic form, such as with any subscription.

      But inn case you are unaware of how that works, you just give it your card(whatever kinda of card really, but they don’t take snail mail or that sort) information and some others about you, just to verify that you are YOU and that you aren’t some ID-thief or bot.

      Then, I’d assume(never went through with purchasing one, just checked it out), you just run it as a regular blog or what-not. Maybe if we are lucky, Shamus will spread a little more of his expertise with WordPress if applicable. Good luck to you

      Speaking of blogging, this whole post has made me want to recreate a blog, but favoring simplicity, I have gone with Tumblr. Link is through my name on this comment

  27. Volatar says:

    “some blogs I’ve read have this thing where the author will upload some 2048×1536 monster image, and then use image tags to re-size it down to your typical 800 wide blog format.”

    In defense of Rutskarn, that only happened once. :P

  28. MrWhales says:

    When i first thought about it, the section of linking out made no sense to me. But then i thought more of it, and hopefully someone decides toe read the entire stream of comments which will lead them to mine so that they too will have a grasp of this concept.:
    from what I may gather, you link out so that maybe the few visitors you somehow get, be it Google or some other form, will go to them, and like it(i think specific scenario, not really over-all) and post a link of gratitude of both you and them, and thus a bridge is formed. Thoughts?

  29. Abnaxis says:

    So if someone sends you a mail that says “check out my blog, I think you and your readers would be interested,” do you at least look at it to see if you want to RSS link it or do communications of this sort go from the inbox to the trash bin?

    Honestly, I would understand handling it either way, but it’s nice to know in case I ever get a handle on doing my own thing with the interwebs…

    • Shamus says:

      Well, that EXACT quote feels very spammy. To link-beg:

      1) Explain what your site is. Don’t just say “check this out”.
      2) Maybe mention the age, if it’s matured past the common point of abandonment and is still going.
      3) Express some sort of knowledge of the site you’re talking to. “This will interest your readers” feels generic. “This site is about tabletop games, just like yours” feels personal.
      4) Be familiar. If I recognize someone from the comments and have come to think of them as a “regular”, I’m much more likely to entertain the request than some stranger who has never taken part in a discussion or left a comment.
      5) Have a reasonable url. bobsite.com/blog feels like an individual. http://www.ojmeuvnaixmd.com feels like a gone-in-three-days phishing portal.

      • Back when I was still doing a lot of table top gaming, the following page was the result: http://adrr.com/hero/norns/index.htm — but, I can’t see it as useful to anyone here, given how out of date it is now.

        What would be useful is a way to deprive domain name squatters of their domain names. /Sigh. Or to kill spam. With adrr . com as my personal domain, I get about 100k spams a day — “hope” spams, sent to names that the spammers hope exist. All it does is function as a DNS attack.

      • Abnaxis says:

        Of course the actual request would have more information. I just figured after seeing plugging going on in the response thread, you might be getting 20 requests like that a day, and sifting through all of them could be a chore.

        Hmm…you know, I’m never really sure if I am ever considered a “regular” or not. I generally lurk and I never show up for extra-curriculars like Minecraft or TF2…

      • ccesarano says:

        You’ve let loose the gates of Hell, Shamus. After the new year begins, prepare for me to spam myself based on the directions giving here!

        I shall make sure to imitate your point-by-point ordered list best I can.

        Suffer! Suffer in your fandom desperate to imitate your own successes but in far less time and much less hard work! Mwa ha ha!

        Anywho, @Krellen: I imagine you’d have to do a pretty good job at grabbing Shamus’ attention for him to try reading ones own linked blog, though. I mean, I occasionally think that I would like more blogs to read, but once I come to this comment section I feel overwhelmed, and the comments make it difficult to parse whose content would be worth reading.

        Also, as I stated earlier, sometimes people just can’t think of something to say. I think I’ve been most active in the comments when the topic of Halo comes up, and primarily because I am one of its most avid defenders (well, most avid defender that tries to think and debate logically while simultaneously acknowledging that, no, it isn’t gaming’s Christ Messiah Muhammad). I think we can infer from all of his projects that Shamus is as busy as any of us (or perhaps more busy!), and thus unless you make a LOT of really good points on a LOT of his posts, then he’s not going to bother with your blog.

        Or maybe that’s just how I am because I’m a jerk.

        Or maybe my posts are a lot less well thought-out than I believe they are.

        Personally, if I were to link Shamus for real, it would more be “do my arguments seem sound, is my writing entertaining, and does this seem like something you find worth reading?” Not “I think my stuff is good, can you please share?”

        • krellen says:

          While Shamus has never admitted it, I’ve caught at least four references to my comments in things he has later posted or said in Spoiler Warning. I think I influence Shamus a little bit, and that would probably lead to his curiosity if I did, in fact, start a blog. It might be a bit of ego, but I like to think I’m erudite and articulate enough to at least warrant initial interest.

          I’m more interested in politics than the culture of Shamus’s blog comments allows me to express, however, and there’s already a surfeit of political blogs on the ‘net.

  30. [...] Ask Me a Question:Getting Started Blogging – Twenty Sided If I were going to launch a blog this very moment, and if my intention was to start from zero and re-create the success I’ve enjoyed on this blog… hm. [...]

    • X2-Eliah says:

      On this note.. what the xxx is a ‘trackback’? I’ve seen these time to time, and they are almost always just a random quote from the text + a link to somewhere.. Isn’t that spam?

      • ccesarano says:

        Sort of. I’m not sure if WordPress does it or if it’s something through the person that links it, but basically it is informing you that someone has linked your article.

        If you are running a huge site like Escapist Magazine or, God forbid, IGN, then track backs are going to definitely be spam. In the case of a small blog, it’s nice to see that other people find your input that interesting. However, it’s starting to become a bit obsolete as you can add little widgets to not only share your article on Digg, Facebook, Twitter, etc., but it’ll count how many times it has been shared, thus becoming less intrusive to the comments section.

  31. Abnaxis says:

    Alright, new questoion: Just how much do you have to filter the comments? That’s one of those things we never see the work for, because, well, you do a good job :)

    Is this site constantly inundated with spam and vied for control by trolls, or is that really a more minor part of the management?

    • Shamus says:

      It’s like the weather. Some days we’ll be inundated with it. Other days I get very little. Most spam appears on old posts where readers don’t see it. Bots are just trying to leave links to themselves on my site where the googlebot will find it.

      The spammers hit often, but the filters have gotten better over the last year and I have to see less of it than I used to. I just emptied the spam trap an hour ago, and I have 12 new ones. Every day or so I jump in there, look for obvious false positives, and then delete the rest.

  32. Slothful says:

    I started up a blog a while back, had NO idea what I was doing, and now it’s hanging around gathering dust in some lonely corner of the internet. I should probably dig it up and delete it sometime so that the scale of that failure will never be revealed to the world at large.

  33. krellen says:

    One final thought on your list: you left out an important one, Shamus. I think part of your success is due to the interaction you have with your readers and commenters. While you don’t have to reply to every comment, the fact that I can pop into most of your posts’ comment threads and see at least a few yellow boxes with your own comments is a large part of why I think you generate so much traffic. You let those reading (and especially those commenting) know that they’re heard and that you’re interested in them as much as they are interested in you, and that makes the blog less a forum of ego and more a community. Communities last.

    • ccesarano says:

      In addition to that, he’ll write posts later saying “Someone brought up in the comments that blah blah, and so my point has now shifted to bleep bloop because I had never considered blarghety”. In other words, he’s not here just to shout his opinions at people, but for intelligent discussion. He will change his perspective if he has been proven to be wrong or given enough reason to believe his own preconceived notions may have been misguided. This makes him more than just a clever and entertaining blogger, but a flawed human being willing to grow and acknowledge his community as being important and not just there to hang onto his every word.

  34. Galad says:

    I don’t intend to start a blog anytime in the foreseeable future, hell I don’t even have or want a facebook account, which, if my impressions are correct is like blogging-lite, so I don’t have much to add. But in addition to all the wonderfully insightful comments about blogging, I’d like to add that those witty little “bull’s eye” bits “A thing about stuff” go a long way towards convincing readers to stick around.

  35. Mari says:

    You can have a blog about what was for dinner last night. If you run a food blog. I’m a food blogger. Almost every post you find at my blog will be a recipe, a menu plan for the week, musings from my kitchen stove, or something similar. It’s not a blog that appeals to people looking for entertainment but housewives looking for food inspiration appreciate it anyway. Which works well because, y’know, I’m a housewife always looking for food inspiration.

    Which leads me to one more suggestion for beginning bloggers: whatever your blog is about, visit similar blogs (and trust me, no matter how original you think your blog is, there are similar ones) and while there read and participate. One of the best ways I’ve found for building a blog audience is becoming part of a group of bloggers.

    I’ve gotten sucked into new blogs because a blogger at one site I frequent links to it. The next thing I know I’m suddenly reading 5 blogs a day about frugal/thrifty/cheap redecorating because I got entrapped in a blog circle. My own blog traffic went way up when I started participating in “Menu Plan Monday” at an organized home type blog and I’m not the only one because I actually hit all those other menu plans that go up every Monday.

  36. Jad says:

    Personally, I bought my own domain name and use Squarespace for my blogging software. Gorgeous themes, nice iPhone app, and it doesn’t get in my way.

    Tough to post often though. I’m terribad at that.

  37. [...] advice from another blogger is that one’s blog should stay generally on topic, I’ve been trying to do that, but [...]

  38. mephetti says:

    This post was very helpful indeed. :) I’ve been lurking on your blog for a while now (guided here by DM of the Rings, read it, loved it), and have toyed with the idea of setting up a blog myself, but never quite made it through the first steps. This inspired me to try my hand at blogging one final time. :)

  39. [...] I’ll try to make the blog as accessible as possible (I’m essentially following Shamus Young’s blogging advice verbatim [...]

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3 Trackbacks

  1. By links for 2010-12-28 | James A. Arconati on December 28, 2010 at 10:00 pm

    [...] Ask Me a Question:Getting Started Blogging – Twenty Sided If I were going to launch a blog this very moment, and if my intention was to start from zero and re-create the success I’ve enjoyed on this blog… hm. [...]

  2. By Very little to do with gaming. | Bearded Dork on January 2, 2011 at 5:54 am

    [...] advice from another blogger is that one’s blog should stay generally on topic, I’ve been trying to do that, but [...]

  3. By A Note On Content « The Agnost on November 19, 2011 at 11:03 pm

    [...] I’ll try to make the blog as accessible as possible (I’m essentially following Shamus Young’s blogging advice verbatim [...]

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