How To Build A Better Blog

I just celebrated my third year of book blogging.  Who knew that in June of 2009 when I put together a few random thoughts on books that three years later I would still be doing this… and loving it. 

Throughout the years I have made many blogging blunders… shoot, I still do.  I do for the most part really like what I am doing now and how I am doing it.  I thought, if I may, I would share with you some of the trials and errors I have learned from through the years for anyone who would like to know how I pulled together Book Journey.  Take from this what you can, leave what you don’t want or need.

Please note – above all else, I am no expert.  I am sharing my thoughts on how I built up my own blog and that may not be the way you would do it, want to do it, or even agree that I know what I am talking about. 😛  I am sure in some cases, this has been said before, in other ways, on other blogs.  What I am talking about here may not even apply to the way you host your blog, and I respect that.  I encourage you to add your own thoughts on this topic in the comments, things that you can add that I did not, and yes, even things you may now agree with.

1.  The Blog Name

For those of you who have followed me since the early years you may remember this blog was originally called One Persons Journey Through A World Of Books.  Mmmmm hmmmm… say that baby three times fast.  😛  It remained that from June 2009 – April 2010.  It wasn’t until I was considering making business cards for my first book expo that I really took into consideration what a mouthful that was.  My blog address already was bookjourney, my twitter name was bookjourney, it seamed logical to trim up that title, and after a little chat survey on Twitter, found that it was not only acceptable, many agreed with me. 

The point?  Long blog names are hard to remember,  a mouthful, and if you are planning to partake in bookish events where you are meeting authors, publishers, etc…its a lot easier to have a shorter blog name. 

2.  Side Bar Loving!

My original blog had two sidebars… if I could put it in the sidebar, I did.  Meme’s, pictures of authors I had chatted with, links and pictures to challenges I was participating in, links to other bloggers, contests, pictures, An about me that ran down the right side a good 10-12 inches…..

You can see that some of that remains to this day.  I do think sidebars can serve a wonderful purpose.  Have a post that drove lots of traffic to the blog that you hate to see get buried?  This is a great place to link it.  Blogs you frequent, I actually like this on blogs as if I enjoy reading someones blog and they link blogs they enjoy on their sidebar, I know chances are I will enjoy those blogs too.  However – you will also notice I now have one sidebar instead of two and I love it.  Why?  Many reasons…. it is a cleaner looking blog for one, I think my blog today looks more professional than my blog of past years.  For another reason, it makes the main space, your posting space – BIGGER.  I like that to, after all, that is what draws in your readers, not what you have on your side bars.. but what YOU are writing about.  The post should be what captures the eye. 

Oh and one more thing on sidebars, try to keep them current.  This is one I still have to watch… take down links to old contests and to blogs that are no longer active. 

3.  I wrote this incredible post… and no one is reading it…

Ugh.  I remember those early days.  I felt (IMO) that I had written something very read worthy.  I wanted people to read it and comment.  I didn’t know how to make that happen so here is what I did…. we have to remember as much as we want people to comment on our posts, other bloggers want that too.  We all write and want to talk books, I have not ever heard a blogger say… “I really don’t want people to comment”.  I will tell you right now… I do.  I want to know if you loved the same book I did or hated it, I want to chat with you about like reading tastes, or books that are suggested to me.  I smile when I open my email and see I have comments to read on my posts.  I do!

So – here (now that I get back on subject) is how I grew readers.  I commented.  A LOT.  I would go and read blogs and comment on what they were talking about.  I would click on the blogs on their sidebar that they read and comment there as well (See?  That does work on sidebars, I still do that occasionally!)  I would set a goal of trying to comment on twenty blogs a day – don’t be scared, I find I do not have time to do that consistently anymore…LOL.  My point is, that many of those whose blogs I commented on would come and visit me as well.  It’s true… I grew a readership, by being a good commenter.  My hope was if they would visit me, they would read something they enjoyed enough to want to come back again….

and that what I just said is important, and leads me to my next point.  😀

4.  What ever do I post about…

Ok…. its go time.  You are working on your readership, but when they arrive, you want to have something good front and center for them to ponder.  It’s like… you are inviting company over.  Most of us do a few things to our home before we do that.  I, for instance, usually do a few extras before I invite people over to my home.  I might dust the furniture.  I for sure straighten up my piles of books and notes that are usually all over the place.  I most likely will put out some refreshments.  I want my guests to feel at home.  Welcome. 

Now think of that in blog terms.  Before I would go out commenting and seeking readership, I made sure that whatever was the current post on my blog was one I wanted people to read and partake in discussing.  I would have up a discussion post I was particularly proud of, or a review that I felt was timely and could create a buzz.  I wanted people who came, perhaps for the first time to my blog, to make a note to come again.  It’s not an exact science, but that is how I did it.

5.  To meme or not to meme… that really is a good question. 

Meme’s.  Some people love them.  Others do not.  Are they a great way to drive traffic?  You bet.  Are they all you should blog about?  Absolutely not. 

Meme’s serve a great purpose and can be a lot of fun.  I host the Monday, What Are You Reading? meme and love the people I have met through it who, as I had hoped, many have become regular readers.  That meme has brought many people to Book Journey through the years and for that I am grateful.  In fact in the early months I participated in many memes, which is fine – I would just encourage you to make sure you are not more memes that content.

What do I mean?  If you are only doing memes or the majority meme’s, what draws in readers beyond the meme?  As I mentioned above, memes are wonderful for bringing in new readers, and yes, some of those readers will only connect to you through that meme… but some, SOME will like your blog and want to come back to see what else you offer.  My suggestion is a sprinkle of meme’s is a wonderful additive to your blog, but also be sure to have posts on what your blog is about …. is it book reviews?  Then have book reviews, is it cooking?  Then be posting those great recipes!

I like to mix meme’s with posts I am writing anyway.  Alyce from At Home With Books hosts Saturday Snapshot which is posting pictures you have taken, and I tie that in with my Morning Meandering post which was going up anyway.  On Fridays, Jen at Devourer of Books hosts Sound Bytes where you can link your audio reviews.  I listen to so much audio I usually have an audio post going up anyway, and linking to her meme only helps drive more traffic to my review.  Candice at Beth Fish Reads hosts Weekend Cooking which is a great way to link up and reviews on cook books, or books that have inspired you to try to make something.  Again, for me this is not an additional post, but a post of a review and food that was going to go up anyway. 

6.  Pages.  A blogger’s best friend

Remember above I talked about cleaning up those sidebars?  A lot of that sidebar stuff is good stuff.. things you do want to keep to the forefront without it looking sloppy.  I mentioned I used to have a picture of each author I had interviewed on my sidebar.  I still want my readers to have easy access to those posts, so I created a page for them.  You will see under my header a bar that has titles like Home, About Me…. this is where I neatly can store information my readers may want access to.  Want to know more about me?  Click About me.  Curious about my review policy (and seriously, if you do not have one… get one!  Truly a lifesaver!), you can find my review policy easy enough.  And those Author interviews?  There they all are under author chats.  I also have a page to keep track of my challenges in a neat space that does not add clutter to the blog. 

I work with wordpress and do not know a lot about blogger but I believe Blogger must have pages that work similar to wordpress.  Pages are wonderful for storing information you don’t necessarily need right on the post space unless someone clicks to get to it.  I use pages for spoilers too.

7.  I want to start my own read a longs, memes, weekly discussions….

Here is where I discuss my biggest epic fail when I was a new blogger.  I loved that people were doing on their blogs… I loved the memes the regular scheduled discussions and I wanted to be a part of that.  I wanted to be original yet find ways to draw interest to the blog.  (Seriously as you are reading this you are probably thinking, “dang Sheila, take a chill pill… RELAX!”)  As in many of the projects I undertake, I wanted to really make my blog stand out…. and the things that came out of all that were things such as:  I featured a book club of the week which involved people in books clubs getting a hold of me and answering a series of questions I would send them.  Actually as I write this, I really loved that idea and still do, but what happened was I ran out of interested book clubs within about 5 weeks and so that died away.  I created Wordshakers On-line book club which I also loved the idea of, but with my work life, active life, my own book club as well… I struggled to keep up with it and eventually it too fell to the way side and now I just try to do bi-monthly read a longs.  Another, and a few of you will remember this one (Ryan, Laurel, Hannah, Alison…) I had a weekly meme called Word Balderdash where we would take the word verification from our comments and make up new meanings for them (ok that one was fun, it just never caught on…)

For giggles… here are a few of those from when this was active in 2009:

Revent: When one becomes so upset about something they have to just get it out so they vent about it.  Then…. hours later, something triggers  this anger  again and causes one to revent.

Gaspr: Casper the Ghost’s annoying cousin.  Due to Gaspr’s asma…. he is always trying to get in more air and creating breathy noises that really can ruin a good night of haunting.  Since Casper is the friendly ghost, he often is the one chosen to hang out with Gaspr.

Cercula:  Dracula’s half brother who has an inner ear infection which causes him to run in circles…. thus taking the fear factor away from potential victims as they can just…. well…… walk away.

AND my point is in talking about all of this is when you choose to start a meme or weekly discussion topic, whatever, try to be sure you are in it for the long haul. I don’t think it is bad to try new things and then they fall away, I just think I did it A LOT.

On a better note, there is one I tried that sticks to this day and that is the Morning Meanderings.  In the early days, I only talked about books and never strayed from that topic.  Then one day, I wanted to talk about crazy life happenings and I wrote a post called Morning Meanderings.  I know I told people that this was me “unplugged”.  I received email about that post from readers saying how much they liked reading about my life happenings.  When I talked about my fitness triumphs and fails in the Meanderings, they liked that too, some saying I inspired them to get out and walk in the mornings.  Mainly the meanderings were me picking on me… but readers like it.  Many tell me they love to open up their email in the morning and see what I have going on next.  The Morning Meanderings, stick to this day.

8.  Social Media – yes?  no?  Maybe?

*sigh*  I have a love hate relationship with social media.  Mainly because to me, it is ONE MORE THING.  And honestly, you don’ have to use social media, although I have to say I know it adds to my blogging relationships with other readers, and it adds to my blog.  SO that said, here is what I use that works the best for me and my limited time.  Twitter (can I get a “YEAH!”) While Twitter does take effort on my part, I can not deny that it it does build on my blogging experience.  I use Twitter to link my posts… the good ones I will tweet about several times throughout the day to capture people on-line at different times.  I only use Twitter for bookish friends… I have no other twitter account nor do I need one.  Many people have a Facebook page that connects to their blog.  I do not.  There may be value to that, I just do not see it.  One thing I can say I learned is that Pinterest is a great blog asset and thank you to Joy from Joy’s book blog sharing that information during the last Bloggiesta.  By linking your reviews on Pinterest back to your blog, Joy shared that she has seen significant traffic coming from that direction.  I actually created a Pinterest account off of that advice.

Bottom line for me on social media- if traffic driving, blog relationship building is important to you, Twitter and Pinterest are the two I suggest. 

9.  It’s Me!  Sheila!  Remember????

Blog identity.  In 2009 Natasha from Maw Books drew my attention to this.  Your blog should be identifiable to your readers.  Its funny how that works.  For me, I will be clicking over to read someones review and know where I am as I read the post due to the layout, the look, the feel of the blog.  It is funny how that throws me off when someone changes up their blog look.  I will know who’s blog I am going to and I will be reading a post when suddenly… I don’t know where I am.  Seriously.  I will quickly scroll to the top and identify the blog by the name, but the new layout will throw me off.

Now I like to change up the blog and have a history of doing this once a year, usually around Bloggiesta time when I am doing blog housekeeping and suddenly feel the need for change.  Knowing how I feel when other bloggers do that (LOST!) this time I made my header identifiable to me.  Yup… my pic is on it.  That was more strategic than anything, I don’t mean strategic like sneaky…. but I mean so when someone came to Book Journey and went “WHOA!!!  Where did I go?” When they looked at my header, they would know it was me.  I am a reviewer who posts my picture frequently due to events I am in, group pics with friends etc, that makes me identifiable (that works for me – I know that is not something everyone wants to do)…   Another cool side effect to that is, when I do things like go to BEA, people know me from my blog because they have seen what I look like.  I like striking up conversations with readers so that is a plus for me.  😀

Another thing on that blog identity… when I made my new business cards for BEA this year, I used my header on them.  My thought behind this is you can pick up a lot of business cards at BEA and other bookish events… I wanted people to be able to identify the card to the blog instantly by them all matching. 





10.  It looks like people are visiting my blog by the hits, but I am not getting a lot of comments!  (*this point was added on 6/18/12)

People are visiting.. your stats show that… but where are the comments?  This can be frustrating.  Here area few things I can think of that may help with that…

1.  Does the way you write your posts encourage comments/discussion?  On many of my posts, especially my non review ones, I ask a question at the end.  It could be if people have had a similar experience and I encourage them to share.  Try to think of ways to write your posts that encourage discussion. 

2.  Comment on the comments.  When I first started blogging an incredible blogger called J Kaye was the first blogger I seen do this.  She encouraged conversation, and when I would comment on her blog, she would respond.  This honestly, would keep me coming back to see what she had to say.  I always get excited now when I see other blogs doing that.  It created conversation.  It build up readers.  I know this isn’t for everyone, this is just something I do and enjoy doing it.  😀

3.  Take a good look at how comments work on your blog.  Is the comment area easy to see and use?  I have been on blogs where I want to comment and actually can not figure out how!  Depending on how much time I have, I will try to find the comment area, but sometimes I admit I have just given up in frustration and went away.   Bottom line:  you want to make sure commenting is easy to do if comments are something you value in your blog experience.  😀

That’s all I have.  This post was one I have wanted to write for a while, then thought nah… and then today when I thought I was sitting down to add links to posts I have put up the past few weeks, instead I started writing this.  So – use any of it if you can… this may not work for everyone, but if there is any take away from this that you can use, then I am happy to have done that much 😀 

Please feel free to add things in the comments that I did not, ask any questions, or even add a different opinion to something I did write here.  😀

69 thoughts on “How To Build A Better Blog

  1. You’ve got some great advice in there, Sheila!! I would tell people to choose their blog name carefully because they will be called by that name. I can introduce myself at BEA and get a blank look until I say, “I’m BermudaOnion.” People will know you by your blog name. Another thing I would add is I think Twitter is the best social media for really getting to know people.

    1. Thanks Kathy – both great points! I am working on my Twitter presence since I came back home 😀 I have been using my comment signature as Sheila/Bookjourney for a while now… I think that helps them know me as both.

  2. Thanks for your reflexions based on your experience. I was considering switching to a 2 column side bar, but I’m hearing you when you say 1 column gives more width to the actual posts. so i’ll stick to this

  3. Thank you for your candor. I am always looking for ways to improve my blog and draw in readers, and I have made quite a few of the rookie mistakes you have listed here. I am glad to know that I am not alone in making those mistakes.

    I love your Morning Meanderings for the exact reason your readers have mentioned, and I love the idea of having your picture on your header. I’ve thought about doing something similar.

    For me the hardest part is finding an identity in the sea of book blogging. My husband said, “Just be you. You can’t be anyone but, right?” Thanks for solidifying exactly what he said.

    1. LOL – I think I have made them all! 😀 I found the picture on the header helps to identify me… this may not be important to some bloggers, but for doing things like BEA, it really was cool to have people know me by name – and by blog.

      And your hubby is right. At first I stayed to a true form, never stepping outside my own strict guide lines for reviewing. When I started to relax, added the meanderings, and got real… not only did the blogging become more fun… but I gained readership. 😀

  4. These are all excellent suggestions! I only recently created a Pinterest account and haven’t really used it for my blog yet. Twitter still baffles me but I do use it and link my Goodreads reviews to Twitter.

    I used to do memes almost every day of the week. Now yours is the only one I participate in all the time. I also have reduced the amount of info on my sidebar and created pages though I still haven’t given up putting my reading challenges there. Baby steps 🙂

    1. I was not going to do Pinterest because to me.. it was just one more thing. Yet when Joy talked about how it worked with my blog… I was intrigued. I am still not the best at always linking to it… but I try 😀

  5. i just started blogging a few days ago with the encouragement of my two daughters, I appreciate your wisdom and ideas.

  6. Thanks for sharing the things your blogging tips – they’re so helpful!!! Mixing memes with posts I’m writing anyway is my favorite idea since it’s what I do – especially with your “It’s Monday” post – that’s my 2 weekly book reviews right there. And you have an “AMEN” from me on commenting. I’m not active on Twitter, so commenting is how I’ve been trying to grow my audience – and I genuinely love adding to discussions on book blogs 🙂

    1. Fantastic Tanya! I am glad you find that commenting works as well, I am always shocked when a new blogger seems upset they are not getting comments but are not out there commenting themselves. I know if I get an interesting/engaging comment, I definitely follow it back to the blogger to see what they write about.

  7. I have to remind myself sometimes to make a conscious effort to comment more. I’m always reading but don’t always remember to comment. I can tell the difference in the traffic to my blog whenever I’m not actively engaging with other bloggers.

  8. You summed up really well about how to build a great blog. I’ve been blogging for three years now too and I could relate to your suggestions. There were times when I wanted to change my blog look and then I thought, it’s my identity. I’ve also wanted to change my blog name and that too reflected my niche, so I kept it.

  9. Great post. I know that the appearance of my blog could be improved upon, but frankly I am not sure how to do it! I love reading and writing posts about books and I really love comments and hearing what others are reading. It is just plain fun!

    1. Its fun to work on our blogs and change things up… I have found that if I like what someone else had done on their blog, I email them and ask about it. For the most part bloggers are super friendly and helpful 🙂 A lot of people have helped me along the way.

  10. Love this post, it’s got lots of helpful info.
    I’ve been thinking about changing from 2 sidebars to 1, just haven’t made up my mind yet. I try to comment on every post I read, but sometimes I get caught up in reading one post after another and get sidetracked.

  11. Now I’m trying to decide if I think my blog looks cluttered because of having two sidebars. Gee thanks Sheila for making me think 🙂

    Great advice in general. I do need to work on my twitter activity again. I used to be on there all the time but have really fallen off of it.

    1. LOL – Ryan if you were to ask me how many sidebars you have I would have guessed one… I always think of your left one that has your blog roll – which I admit I click through those blogs frequently when I visit you 😀 Tow side bars work for some people – I know mine were cluttered and I think distracted from my posts.

  12. Thanks for the tips! I’ve only recently become serious about my blog and I really do need to come up with a better header. It will happen one day (sooner than later, I hope!) 🙂

    and I agree, on most blogs, 1 sidebar is all you need, otherwise, it’s way too distracting.

      1. Thanks for that, Sheila. Picmonkey looks fantastic! I haven’t done anything yet but it’s favorite-d for ease. It’s my to-do list for the coming month 🙂

  13. Tank you for the great advice. I will go back later and take notes (on paper) so that I can apply them to my blog. Blogger does have a pages feature, which I do use to link to book reviews so that people can read them at a later date, what reading challenges I am working on, etc.

  14. I like this a lot! I think each blogger has something to say about blogging that is important, whether or not a person can relate it back to themselves, it all comes together to form a long lists of recommendations that are sure to help. Your advice is important and a lot of it I don’t think I’ve seen it on a blog before. The issue for memes that I see, as someone who doesn’t do them and isn’t so keen, is that they are so samey. The advice you give matches how I see your blog, I can read your memes because you do include extras. It’s a happy medium that is sure to please both viewpoints.

    1. Thanks Charlie! 😀 These points were just things I struggled with and now occasionally see others struggle with too. Thank you for saying I had a unique perspective… I was hoping this wasn’t a whole lot of repeat…. 😀

  15. Looove this! My blog has grown so much since I’ve become good at commenting. I feel like I’m finally part of a community instead of some chick blogging into the ether. And you are so right about the cards. My business cards were designed to match my site design and there were several times when I handed out my card where people recognized the design and told me that they had been to my blog or read my blog regularly.

  16. As you know, Sheila, I have a LOT of blogs, so I experiment and have some with one sidebar and others with two. And yes, I’m guilty of changing up my look, but I try to have one thing that identifies me with my headers, like my Coca Cola coffee cup or my Potpourri button.

    I agree that visiting other blogs is a great way to draw traffic, and while mine is nowhere near what yours is, I’m having fun and relaxing.

    1. I like Laurel that you do have something you use to identify you to your blog. Our blogs can be as much or as little as we want them to be… I like that. I think the biggest thing is that we have fun like you said here 😀

  17. Great advice! I’m afraid I comment on other blogs to procrastinate on working on my own posts, but it is good to let others know who’s reading, so I’m really doing a good need not just avoiding writing. I need another Bloggiesta weekend to implement some of your advice!

  18. Great post! I agree with the commenting stuff–especially about having posts that people will want to read when they drop by to return the favor. It helps motivate me to stick to writing posts, which I need because I am often very lazy!

  19. So many fantastic points here Sheila, I don’t even know where to start! Except that umm.. yeah… that branding thing. I’m totally awesome at that eh? Remind me please to some day actually get a header? 😉 LOL

  20. Great post, Sheila! It’s funny that you brought up the change in the layout/look of blogs – I do so much reading in my reader that it sometimes takes me a long time to get used to new looks … like yours begin pink and not green!

  21. Wish I’d been around for Word Balderdash! It sounds like a lot of fun. One point that I particularly agree about (actually, I agree with all of them, but I haven’t even set up a Pinterest account yet, so agreeing doesn’t necessarily mean doing!) … commenting … seriously, a meaningful comment or two will bring a new visitor to your blog, but a generic “Gee! I love your blog! New follower! Follow back!” comment will NOT bring me to someone else’s blog, especially now that I’m working again and still have Bebe Boy James and, quite often, the grandbebes. I have very limited time, even for my own blogging, and I simply can’t see how YOU do it (when I grow up, I want to blog like you)! Great post!

    1. Excellent point Julie – those comments drive me nuts! Meaningful comments are important… I groan over the ones like you mentioned. There used to be a time when I could comment on every one who posted for the Monday meme. 😯
      As for commenting now, I can usually check out a few in the morning before work, a few after work – and then in the evenings after AL goes to bed. (He goes to bed around 8:30 pm… I am up until midnight. ) Oh and kids are grown – it is just him and me and he is gone a lot… thats where my time comes from 🙂

  22. Fantastic post!! Thanks for sharing all your great ideas. A few have me thinking since I am ready for a new blog look and was also thinking of shortening the name of my blog. I really like the idea of linking reviews to Pinterest, however, being social media challenged lol, will have to figure out how to do it. Still trying to navigate Twitter. Happy Blogiversary!!

    1. Hi Cheryl – the pinning to Pinterest is actually fairly easy. GO on their site and there will be a a place where you can put the “pin it” button on your tool bar. Then when you have written a review or post – make sure you are on that post and click the pin it button. Uber easy and you can do that from other sites to when you see something you would like to look at again – recipes, reviews, info… whatever 🙂

  23. Thanks so much for these blogging tips. I’ve already started adding questions and I also make sure I reply to those who stop by my blog. What I stopped doing so much is the blog hops and the follow me and I’ll follow you because I don’t get many real followers that way. I’d rather have two followers that “talk” to me than 500 and no comments!

    1. Well said Margaret! I doa few hops throughout the year – not many, but I like to give things away so occasionally I will participate. I never ask people to follow to enter but they do need to leave a comment 🙂 I admit I hate the comment “Just hopping through!”

  24. Your suggestion about “how to build a better blog” is very helpful. I am a bookaholic too. I will visit your blog as often as I can.

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