Photo credit: Brandon Morgan at unsplash.com
A year ago we had the joy of launching this website with the warmth and kindness of a few dozen friends gathering round, many of whom became early WritingRedux readers. A first year of learning and above all the thrill of seeing treasures I cherish presented to the world via this thing called a website.
Being still a ‘blogophyte’ let me share a few lessons learned, albeit some more in the theory than the practice. It goes without saying that it wouldn’t be wise to view any of this as advice, which I’m not qualified to give. Just sharing a neophyte’s experience, so do consult a capable entity if you want guidance.
And if you are just starting out, don’t struggle. Go straight to the blogophyte bibles: Alannah Moore’s visually engaging and beautifully presented books, which saved me from despair and dread and allowed me to start with a sense of discovery and potential, together with Robin Houghton’s Blogging for Creatives. One day all guides and manuals will be written like this, they walk you through everything I sum up below, and more, and in a style that works for people who are web-tech-limited or even webophobic.
– the need to feed – you have to keep pouring delights into the pipeline of posts – but quality and something like regularity seem more important than quantity and frequency.
– pacing not racing – had to pare back some ambitions in terms of how much how soon. Book reviews in particular, at least in the celebratory-mosaic way I want to write them, take more time than I thought, so I’ve backed away from one-a-week to one, occasionally two, a month. For the blog, a loosely alliterative formula helps me keep track of what I should post when, namely, Monday metaphors, Tuesday triologisms, Wednesday words, Thursday (alliteration aside) quotes, Friday and weekends for the main blog and reviews. And there is a numeric rhythm too: six, four, six, four, six – keeps it manageable and vaguely structured.
– love the reader – this is easy, but I do appreciate every individual who signs up to the mailing list, and those who turn up on the site through some random search, and stick around for a page or two. ‘Pacing’ includes considering their bandwidth – trying to gauge how much time they have for discretionary reading in often unrelentingly busy lives – most helpful in this is the mailing list which gives a sense of how many people are opening emails, clicking on links and so on. For efficient, secure management of the mailing list, I use Mailchimp.
– picture this – after a few months, I got into a rhythm of illustrating many posts with photos from some wonderful free photo sites. It takes more time, but I do this pretty systematically for quotations and metaphors, as well as the general blog posts. Far the best sources are Unsplash.com for sheer quality of photos, followed by Pixabay and Stocksnap which have a greater choice, if the overall average quality and originality is slightly lower. These sites don’t generally oblige you to give credit for the photos you use as they have been shared freely by their makers. However, I’ve made it a policy to feature them by name wherever possible: if someone has let you use their creativity for free, it seems the least you can do. The paying stock photo sites I avoid not because of the cost but because I find the photos often formulaic, anodyne and clichéd, like corporate brochures. For fonts, graphic and other non-photo images, I use CreativeMarket.com which has a great array of designers and products, many at very affordable prices. I use Canva.com to mix text with pictures, and am looking at Snappa which seems to be developing fast, though for now I prefer Canva because you can also create images – postcards and greetings cards – for print.
– colour me beautiful – I feel colour is undervalued and am on a mission to raise its status. I use Colourlovers.com to choose hues, and I go by a mixture of colour range (e.g. ‘pale blues’) combined with the names people give to the colours they create, giving another level of meaning. So, when I was looking for some kind of ‘inky blue’ for this website dedicated to writing, I leapt for joy when I found a deep blue called ‘Ink Which Just Sings’. The counterpoint grey I use as a background on the site is called ‘Quotes’. I also feature the colour name and maker in the footer of the website, the same way I give credit for images.
– deploy the joy – the trick to prevent blog posting becoming a treadmill is to build a buffer – the magic of scheduling and the productivity gains of concentrated bursts mean you can do four weeks’ worth of metaphors, then feel fat with the luxury of having a whole month already in the pipeline, so that posting new metaphors only adds to that sense of plenitude and latency. When I have let it get to the point of ‘need four more metaphors up by tomorrow’, my innate distaste for deadlines kicks in.
– just keep going – you do this for the long haul but it helped when I embarked on this venture to hear from a friend the reassurance that I was on the right track and all I needed to do was JKG.
TECH STUFF IN BLOGOPHYTE LINGO
– claim the name – if you haven’t already done so, securing a domain name that captures what you want to convey is the first step. I recently moved to Namecheap, partly due to reasonable costs but mostly because they have by far the most user-friendly and visually easy website of any I’ve looked at.
– stick with what you’re good at – I concluded early on that it was critical to seek technical help when I was out of my depth and am now learning to sense the magic line across which there are rapidly diminishing returns for blogophyte DIY. This has been a massive relief, freeing me up to focus on what I love and have something like an aptitude for, while also allowing me to work with one or two lovely human beings. Key, for the long run, is working with someone you know, like and trust, who knows what makes you tick and can more than compensate for your technical ignorance. And find and get to know them before your site crashes and it all feels rather desperate and urgent – the corollary of this is not to assume nothing can go wrong if you simply follow the rules, technology is often more temperamental than we allow. Worth mentioning that the two people who have given me the greatest direct help I met through human communities, in my case the Geneva WordPress Meetup and WordCamp. Where I tried to secure this kind of help through online agencies such as Upwork, I had a somewhat mixed experience.
– host with the most – a recent fairly big techy step has been the need to change hosting company – I would have struggled to do this on my own as I had five sites to move, but having had the support I needed, it has been an excellent decision. A big jump in loading speed for the website and a massive reduction (practically to zero) of productivity-and-spirit-draining glitches. While also reducing the potential data privacy issues of hosting the site in another jurisdiction (ie US vs EU). I followed guidance on this and now use Siteground.
– planning and tracking – I created a table to write and track all posts, so I can see in a single sweep what I’ve drafted, featured, scheduled, published, and can plan the weeks and months ahead. There are software tools for this, but I haven’t yet found one that makes it any easier than the table. I also created a way to track every quotation, metaphor and triologism – they each have a code (quotes are Q123, metaphors, M123, triologisms T123, obvious really). All I need now is a colourful, affordable, customisable, searchable database to store them all. I’ll let you know when I find or create one.
– of spam and security – from the outset, I got the message loud and clear about investing in plug-ins (mini software programmes) that seek and destroy spam or just back up back up back up your website. For these, the two I use are Akismet and Updraft+ (and have also used VaultPress, which seems just as reliable).
– silence the sirens – there is a helpful thing called Search Engine Optimization – it is useful and even vital to tag things with key words and search terms, but some would have you reduce everything to a formula, giving red-amber-green ‘scores’ for some arbitrary and bot-determined ‘readability’, and hey presto, you might just end up boring yourself to death, let alone your readers. I use the one ‘everyone’ seemed to recommend, Yoast SEO. It helps you do things you never knew you needed, such as connect your site to Google so they know you exist. It then tells Google, in so many words, every time you post something. And you can switch off the bot-readability-police.
– feed the speed – one thing I am still learning is image optimisation – how far you can reduce the size of an image and therefore the speed at your site loads, without its becoming a blur. I started out with just an image scruncher on the website (WP Smush), but then followed advice in first putting images through an external online scruncher called Optimizilla.
– let the invisible hand work for you – yes, there is an amazing ‘invisible hand’ at work on the internet – I find it near miraculous that someone, somewhere, searches a random word or phrase, and Google or similar manages to bring them to a particular post or page on my site. It is impressive, given the billions of web-pages and billions of searches out there.
So, a year of learning, of meeting new people who know a great deal more about the web world and who have proved astonishingly generous with their knowledge. Without them, and without you, the people who read what I write, none of it would have happened.
Look forward to bringing you another year of bright writing delights, and another website or two.
Photo credits: Brandon Morgan at unsplash.com; Skitterphoto at pixabay.com; Freestocks.org at stocksnap.io; congerdesign at pixabay.com
Note: none of the books, companies, people or websites mentioned here pay me anything at all for singing their praises – so I sing their praises simply because I have had a positive experience with them.