Beginners Beware: Five Basic Blogging Blunders

ScreamThese Blogging Blunders Can Strike Us All

When it comes to websites and blogging, I’m a novice: I only set up my website in June of this year, and began blogging on this site shortly thereafter. From a position of total ignorance, I’ve had to learn by tedious and often catastrophic trial and error. Technical stuff befuddles and bemuses me, and I don’t possess a terribly logical mind (maths was my bête noire at school), so I am eternally grateful to the organizations and individuals who have done all the hard work for us beginners, and given of their time and talents unstintingly. It has been a pleasure to discover that there are so many great and generous people online.

These past couple of months have been replete with triumph and tragedy, laughter and tears, as I’ve edged my way forward to some kind of basic familiarity and facility with the technology. I have voyaged around the Internet and visited some truly awesome websites and discovered some amazing blogs. The standard, in my opinion, is very high and immensely inspiring.

As well as marvellous designs and great writing, however, I have also stumbled across plenty of sites that attracted my attention for all the wrong reasons. You have  probably had a similar experience: you spot a blog on one of your great passions, perhaps about an author whose books you enjoy, and you decide to take a look. But – oh dear! – instead of the useful, interesting, well-written post you expected, you are confronted by an avalanche of badly written prose which no one appears to have copyedited or designed.

It’s stunning how often the same few errors occur time and again, turning what should have been a fascinating blog into a mess people want to avoid. Writers and bloggers who should (indeed, do) know better can suddenly lose sight of their objectives and their audience, and appear satisfied to provide material that is less than their best.

The errors listed below might seem pretty basic, but they infest many corners of the Internet. Let’s not add to this infestation or our blogs will fail to attract even our most ardent admirers. Fortunately, once we become aware of these mistakes, they are not hard to correct. So here we go.

Eye

Number 1: I! I! I!

I shall illustrate the first mistake by way of example. I may do so repeatedly. I am sure you will notice it immediately. I certainly hope so. I can do it again if you like. I can. I really can. I can keep this up for ages and ages …

I once read an entire post where every sentence began with the word ‘I’. In desperation, I clicked on the writer’s Twitter page and found that her fifteen latest tweets all began with the same word. Naturally, I did not become one of her followers and I have not since dared look at her blog. Now, I can’t even remember her name.

It can be useful to imagine your blog as a conversation. What makes a good conversation? Lots of things spring to mind, chief among which is reciprocity. Good conversationalists are not afraid to talk about themselves, of course, but they also listen to others and what they have to say. Persons whose sentences invariably begin with the word ‘I’ are not interested in reciprocity: they are delivering a monologue. They don’t need anyone else. And if they continue in that vein, they won’t have anyone else.

A similar reaction sets in when we read sentences that all commence with ‘I’. We soon begin to make negative judgements about the character of the writer and quickly feel alienated. It’s just plain boring to read the same sentence structure over and over again. Remember, too, that blogging is like conversation because there is space for comment and feedback. You want people to comment, to be engaged with what you have written, but they won’t stay around for long enough to get to the end of your post if it is all ‘I, I, I’.

This error can crop up when we least expect it, so keep an eye out (ha!) and do your best to tackle it. It’s usually very easy to turn a sentence around so that it avoids beginning with a particular word. For example, the first line of this post was originally ‘I’m a novice when it comes to websites and blogging.’ This didn’t seem the ideal sentence with which to open a post on how to avoid sentences that begin with ‘I”, so I turned it around to ‘When it comes to websites and blogging, I’m a novice.’ Simple!

gunNumber 2: Deadly Detail

Hot on the heels of error number one is the presumption that readers will love to hear every last detail about our lives, including mundane activities such as washing the dishes, taking our children to school and visiting the lavatory. Unless our blog is specifically about such activities (now there’s a thought), we should strive to bear in mind that our readers are also human beings who live and work and breathe just like us. Most of them will not need – and neither will they wish – to have a comprehensive breakdown of every minute of every day of our life. Whatever we blog about, whatever the reasons we blog, and whatever attracts readers to our blog in the first place, are likely to have little or no connection with the minutiae of our existence.

Again, think of a conversation. Inappropriate detail is tedious and – well – inappropriate. We wonder what’s the matter with someone who cannot cut to the chase. We start looking around for more interesting people who know how to behave in social situations. We switch off. The result? No comment, no feedback and no more visitors to our website

Short posts that are to the point and don’t mess around with a lot of waffle are deeply satisfying for interested readers. So stick to your subject(s) and use detail appropriately – it will be all the more effective when used sparingly.

Buy NowNumber 3: The Hard Sell

Many bloggers make the mistake of selling themselves all the time. They treat every post as an opportunity to flog their latest book, promote their website, and generally bully readers into doing something NOW!

The hard sell can be a very tempting trap for anxious bloggers. After all, you don’t know who will read your post, how long they’ll stay with you or whether they will return. All the more reason to slip them the hard sell now, before it’s too late. Right?

Wrong. If all we wanted was to be sold something, we’d go elsewhere, where they have what we want and they know how to sell it. We certainly do not want to be knocked on the head all the time or be treated as a chump. What we do want is to be stimulated and entertained by your blog. We want to find it interesting. If it is interesting, then we will come back and look at what else you do. If we really like your posts, we’ll be more inclined to buy whatever it is you may have to sell.

This error has been on my mind a lot recently, as I hope to publish an ebook fairly soon and will need to bring it to people’s attention. I’ve noticed how quickly I switch off when I encounter the hard sell immediately I land on someone’s home page. The same is true for those innumerable tweets I receive each and every day that tell me what I must buy now, right away, immediately. Marketing does not have to be like that. It should not be done like that.

Thriller writer Robert Bidinotto has some excellent advice on this subject. Visit his website here.

TrumpetNumber 4: The Non-Stop Trumpet

Many bloggers devote acres of text to their achievements. One can read page after page of awards received, prizes won and contests entered (yes, even just entered, leave alone wins or honourable mentions). This can be profoundly alienating for readers. Long glory lists are really a bad idea because they rapidly become uninteresting – after the first few items, readers start to wonder about making a cup of coffee. Can you recall a time that you ever read such a list and thought ‘How wonderful! This person is so talented! I must sign up to their blog immediately and buy all their books!’ I don’t think you can. I can’t either.

Of course you should mention honours in passing or when they occur – after all, you have to blow your own trumpet once in a while. But anything other than once in a while smacks of insecurity and boastfulness. In any case, those of us who have not won anything will only be made to feel bad.

Few of us would enter a crowded room and bellow a list of our achievements to complete strangers. Yet that is what many of us do as soon as we sit down to blog. Think of each post as something that will be read by a community of people deserving your respect, who wish to hear your thoughts on subjects of mutual interest. Then do your best to satisfy their expectations, remembering that as soon as you lose their interest, they will leave by the nearest exit.

PrintNumber 5: Yards of Print

Bloggers who repeatedly commit the first four of these dreadful errors also routinely commit the fifth, which adds insult to injury. I have in mind those poorly designed or completely undesigned blogs covered in nothing but fine print. They look as if they have been badly photocopied onto toilet paper. And like a roll of toilet paper, they scroll on and on and on … and we don’t really want to look at them once they’ve been sampled.

We live under the tyranny of the image. It is a tyranny for one very good reason: it works. For example, look back at this post. See how it is broken up by headings, colours and pictures. You could probably go away and produce something much better. Few of us will be graphic designers, yet we all know that our eyes get tired easily and our minds begin to wander when reasonably uncomplicated posts such as this one have all the visual appeal of a bus timetable in an unknown language.

It’s not a good idea to use the full width of the page, for instance, so that long lines of minuscule print converge at the right-hand margin like railway tracks on the horizon. Nor is it likely to charm your readers if you choose a typeface more suited to Gothic tombstone epitaphs than to scanning text on a computer. Use a clear, legible typeface in a good size. Make it easy for people to ready your blog.

And so by way of conclusion …

You’ll have noticed by now that all of these mistakes are closely related. They are to do with tone and personality. Bloggers should try to become good conversationalists and good listeners, open to others’ opinions. In the process, they will become better bloggers whom people will wish to follow. Look at other blogs and see which of them you prefer. Emulate the best, and learn from the worst.

Above all, treat your readers with respect. Give them the best of which you are capable. Consider their eyes, their minds, their aesthetic sense. Remember that they have many demands on their time. Think of them as interesting and thoughtful individuals and you will find that they will think of you in similar ways. You will have made the world a better place. And you may well have made some sales in the process.

11 Comments

  1. Words of wisdom indeed, and should prove invaluable to anyone setting up their own website, for instance, as well as bloggers. I’ve forwarded this post to just such a person…

  2. Great advice and common sense, of which one can easily lose sight. Good to be reminded and makes me want to revisit some of my posts. BTW, I state clearly on my “about” that mine is a blog about an ordinary (mundane :)) life….

  3. Excellent…I love a good post about blogging with helpful tips like these. We all need these reminders….

  4. This post felt like a gentle lesson in humility from a wise and loving uncle. Thank you, Jack!

  5. Good advice I will think about as I press on. Thanks for sharing.

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