Sunday, October 2, 2011

What I've Learned from 5,000 Blog Posts

Last weekend I wrote and published my 5,000th post in just under four years on Free Technology for Teachers. In the course of writing all of those posts I've learned a few things that I'd like to share. Hopefully, these lessons will help other aspiring bloggers.

Just ship it.
I do worry about spelling, grammar, and punctuation. However, I don't fret over the minutia of the grammar rules. If I fret over every detail I'd spend more time consulting Strunk & White's The Elements of Style than I would publishing blog posts. Now when I write for a publication like School Library Journal I do worry a little bit more about the rules of writing because I only get one chance per month for people to see my work (fortunately, I have an editor to catch my mistakes too). The beauty of blogging is that you can publish as often as you want thereby giving yourself more chances to have your work read by someone.

About growing your audience.
Publish often. There are two reasons for this. First, the more you publish the more chances you have to reach people. Second, your search engine ranking generally improves the more your publish. The more you publish, the more content you have for search engines to index. Think of it this way, why does TechCrunch appear at the top of so many search results? Because they have a team of writers pushing out tons of content every week.

Keep it short. You might have a lot to say about a particular topic, but people generally are not going to stop and read your 3,000 word essay on assertive discipline as they scroll through their RSS readers. If you have a lot to say on a topic, break up that long post into three or four parts. In doing so you've made each part more digestible for your readers and you've accomplished the goal of publishing often, at least for that week.

Dealing with criticism, backlash, and mistakes.
Whenever I get a really negative comment or some other blogger takes me to task for something I wrote, it hurts. However, I don't let it change what I'm doing. This is particularly true if the criticism comes from someone who appears to spend more time criticizing other people's efforts than they do actually sharing their original thoughts. Like I tell my students, it's easier to sit back and criticize than it is to share your new ideas. Criticism comes with the territory of blogging. Keep on blogging because in two weeks the blog-o-sphere critics will be on to a new topic.

Mistakes, I've made a few (dozen). Rather than cover it up, just acknowledge it and try to do better the next time. For example, I forgot to add my relationship with Common Craft to my disclosures page before writing a blog post recently. One reader was kind enough to call me out on it. I said thank you and fixed the error.

I'm occasionally asked by other teachers for advice on earning money from a blog. If making money is your goal in starting an education blog, I recommend going to Home Depot and filling out an application for a part-time job instead. I started Free Technology for Teachers as an exercise in thinking about and organizing the free web tools I was finding. I didn't have any goal for monetization until a year after I started the blog. Then I put up my Adsense ad units and it was six months before I had earned enough to cross Google's $100 threshold to receive a payment. Even now with more than 700,000 pageviews last month I still couldn't live off of advertising alone. I'm not trying to dissuade anyone from trying to "blog for bucks" just bear in mind that it is definitely not a get rich quick vehicle. If you do hope to make some extra cash from blogging, speaking and consulting is a much more viable option (if you can convince people to hire you).

I don't have anyone to take care of at home other than myself and my dog Morrison. That gives me more time than a lot of other adults have for blogging activities. That said, I still have to find balance with the other aspects of my life. I have a course load at school that includes teaching, assigning, and grading more than one hundred students every semester. I also like to get out to hike and fly fish whenever possible. If I don't step away from the keyboard, I get stagnant and everything suffers. My balance comes on the weekends when I generally don't spend more than an hour online until Sunday night (this weekend has been an exception because apparently autumn in Maine has been replaced by monsoon season). 

Technical skills
I'm still a hack (not hacker) when it comes to code. I know some rudimentary HTML and CSS. But the beauty of the 2011 web is that if you can follow directions, you can write more than enough code to make your blog hum.

Thank you all for following along my 5,000 blog post journey. Some of you have been with me since the very early days, thank you. Some of you just started following, thank you too. I continue to be amazed at how many people guy with a computer in western Maine can reach. I hope you all come along for the next 5,000 blog posts.

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