Friday, April 24, 2009

Some thoughts about WoW blog improvement

There has been a lot of talk about self improvement in the Blogosphere this spring. Quite a few of the blogs on my roll have been participating in an improve-your-blog-in-31-days event. Or at least they did to begin with, most of them seem to have dropped off by now.

The task that for some reason filled them with enthusiasm was the first assignment: to create an elevator pitch – some catchy way of expressing what their blog was meant to be about. Suddenly bloggers who usually write about whatever crosses their minds, thus offering an interesting mixture and flow of ideas started to violate themselves, desperately fumbling for a unique selling point. I guess they hoped it would make them attract more readers.

Now, there’s nothing bad about formulating marketing ideas and I’m into the area myself in RL, but to be honest, the idea to apply this on amateur blogs left me dead cold. I couldn’t help asking: for what reason? What are you aiming at? Are you hoping to one day go professional and make a living out of your blogging? I bet most of you don’t. And if not, why not enjoy the freedom of the casual blogging?

Of course, by all means, it’s your blog and if making a pitch somehow helps you to find your own blogging voice or gives you inspiration, go ahead and do it! As a long time reader of your blogs I must point out though that I haven’t noticed any difference before and after you formulated your offer to the market.

And even if there was a difference I’m not sure it would be to the better. I actually love blogs that offer variation, blogs that are like wild growing gardens, where you’re sometimes caught by surprise. Don’t you too find gardens with perfectly raked paths and bushes cut by the means of a pair of nail scissors pretty boring?

Two great tutorial posts
But OK, even a wild style garden needs some care and maybe some of you DO feel that you need some fuel. Especially new, inexperienced bloggers may feel a bit lost, wondering where to focus. If you’re one of them I suggest that you turn your back to the 31-day-thing, which I think is too general and commercial in its style to be really interesting to a WoW blogger. Instead I suggest that you look at two great tutorial posts written by two of the biggest icons ever in the WoW blogosphere.

The first one is So you want to be a WoW blogger? written by Pike. She gives an unforgettable example of what she means by good blogging, referring to the movie Mrs Doubtfire. And her short version advice is probably the best formulated piece of advice about blogging I’ve ever read:
Write what you love.
Love what you write.
Comment often.

I /sign on that!

The other post I’m thinking about is of course the one written by Daniel Howell, ex BRK. His post The Do’s and Don’ts of Being a WoW blogger is like a testament to the Blogosphere and a wonderful companion to Pike. Read them both and you’re pretty much covered.

Some suggestions from Larisa
Do you really need to improve your blog? I asked it initially and I ask it again. As Daniel puts it so well in his post: blogging shouldn’t become a work. Most of all it should be fun.

Because of this I hesitated a bit if I should offer any blog improving suggestions myself. Finally I decided to do it, out of selfish reasons. I’ve seen quite a few of my favourite blogs disappear lately and others have decreased their activity drastically. If I want the new upcoming bloggers to take their place I’d better give them a few hints. Maybe I can influence them a little to go in a direction I like?

1. Keep writing
First of all, I want you to keep writing! You don’t have to publish posts every day, but if there are weeks and months between the posts you’ll lose me. When I start to follow a blog I’m entering a relationship. There have been examples of bloggers who become stars overnight, but to most of us, establishing ourselves in the Blogosphere, finding our own voice and our regular readers is a process that will take months. It makes me sad when I see new bloggers, like Quiet Kjun at I quest alone, who writes a handful of posts, goes silent for two months, and then wonders where all the readers are and if he should give up blogging. Have some faith, Kjun! As long as you enjoy your writing you shouldn’t bother that much about the audience. They will come!

2. Focus on content
Secondly: I want you to focus on your writing! Yeah I repeat what I just said. Content is far more important than the looks of your site. Look at Gevlon. Look at Tobold's. They have thousands of subscribers, they’re cited everywhere, they have more comments than they can take care of and they don’t give a damned about fancy screenshot, movies and such things, which by the way are a waste of time and effort on many readers who will read your blog through a feed reader anyway. They focus on regular posting, providing me entertainment or food for thought. That’s why I love them. If you want some further ideas about how to write, I suggest that you check out my old ethos-pathos-logos-post. It’s still valid.

3. Interact with the Blogosphere.
Comment on other blogs, link to others, and throw yourself into the ongoing discussions that you find interesting. Don’t market yourself openly in the “please come and visit my blog”-style, it’s just as annoying as any gold beggar in Stormwind. But be present. Let your voice be heard so we get to know you. I gave some advice to Gevlon when he started out and it seems as if he succeeded pretty well, even though I won’t take the whole credit for it. :)

4. Keep your blogroll alive.
This is a detail and maybe a smallish piece of advice, but it really annoys me to see apparently outdated blogrolls on blogs. It gives me the impression that the blogger doesn’t read other blogs, doesn’t care and is generally a bit sloppy. Believe it or not, but your blogroll tells me a bit about yourself, where in the blogosphere you have your home. And it’s like a living creature. You don’t have to look it over daily, but give it a glance at least every month. Do those blogs you’re linking to still exist or did they die six months ago? Personally I’ll take away blogs that haven’t been updated for more than two months from my roll. It’s with regret, but nobody gets happy by being reminded of their absence. So when Zupa disappeared he also eventually vanished from my blogroll. Now he’s back again, and I'm very happy about it. But if he’ll take a two month break – he’s out.

And of course you shouldn’t just take away outdated blogs. Keep looking out for new, promising bloggers who yet have to find their audience and make sure to add them. Share your knowledge about hidden gems. You can link to the “big names” (I do it too), but don’t let it stay there.

5. Don’t let Gold ads invade your blog.
Finally: a humble request: try to keep the gold ads away from your blog. I know some readers don’t mind, but it really puts me off. I can’t stop thinking about everything bad that is connected to them, for instance hacked accounts. Don’t support those people. I generally dislike ads on blogs, but I can accept and understand that self-hosted bloggers need some coverage for their expenses. But if you need to have ads, make sure that they’re marketing things that don’t go against your inner moral compass. I don’t buy arguments as “they come automatically”. Follow the example of Matticus and work with selected partners.

6. Have fun!
This blogpost has now reached a length where it’s probably breaking any kind of thumb rule for blog post writing. And I don’t care. I had fun writing it. That’s really the most important thing of all. Enjoy what you do and the readers will love you. Just as Pike said.

But don’t forget: You don’t necessarily have to improve your blog. It may be absolutely fine as it is. Consider this option and let go of any stress you may feel. And for God’s sake, stay away from that 31-day program!

30 comments:

Aurik said...

I thoroughly agree with you here Larísa - it seems that a good chunk of the wow blogosphere has suddenly decided that wow blogging is srs bsnss and things must be done to 'maximise output' and get more readers via particular methods which, if anything, have put me off some blogs.

This is a hobby (in fact it's a hobby *about* a hobby) - it's one which requires some upkeep and a little dedication but it's not your second job, you shouldn't cry over 'only having x page views' and you should use it to get what's on your mind out there - not worry about using a specific formulae and set of criteria which some person, somewhere, thinks is the 'best' way to do something.

As you say, Larísa, many people's work doesn't need 'improved' by such things and in some cases it might actually take something away :<

/muchhugs

Daniel said...

It's interesting to me because I have started and stopped blogging on a number of subjects in my life and have given ruminating thought on doing a WoW blog. But the number one issue that I've faced as an aspiring blogger is not mentioned anywhere in your post, so perhaps it is simply unique to me. And that issue is: commitment.

When I read about you and your life I frankly don't know how you do it. You raid. You a have a family. A job. A career. Yet somehow in all that mismash of competing demands you find time to blog, and do a good job at it too. In all honesty it scares me a little bit. It's not the multi-faceted, multi-relational life I don't get; it's the sheer amount of energy that you must have.

I just don't know that I can commit any part of my life to a blog. I guess that's why I like to comment. I can do it at my own speed and in my own time. If I go away, plenty of people to take my place; just another drifter on the internet. Yeah, that's me: the internet hobo. Call me Boxcar Daniel!

Zekta Chan said...

I had read BRK's post (Okay, he's now Daniel Howell, I never get used to it) . I actucally get started from BRK post (his departure really makes me think a lot.)

I never read Pike's one though, and yours. Since a good place for me to start.

But not the same as Aurik, I really like to know how many people found interested on my topic. Since for me, the point of posting is for sharing in the first place, right? Or find someone that'll share the same thoughts with you.

In some sense, the "improvement" site will help you on presenting yourself. But anything go deeper than "How we present it" to something "what should we talk" is a little bit too much IMO. I guess it's what you mean Larísa?

Thanks for the direction again :)

Shy said...

Thank you. I had forgotten why I wanted to blog, and had gone lost in the 'more readers, more readers' thing. Back to being me =)

krizzlybear said...

I used to care about numbers and readership. But those are only secondary now to the most import person I need to please: myself.

As long as I have these random ideas in my head, I will always need an outlet to put them into a readable, archivable form. As such, I am here to stay in the blogosphere, whether it be WoW-related or otherwise.

Shawndra said...

I was one who started the 31days project. I very soon afterward broke out in hives that lasted a week and developed walking pneumonia. I am not entirely sure that the program was to blame, but why tempt fate? Off I go to read all three of the posts you mentioned, right after I roleplay a post where my bank alt gets hospitalized. Thanks, Larisa!

spinksville said...

I don't know the answer to this one.

There's this danger that if you try too hard to be a really slick blog (the word monetized may be thrown around also) that it loses too much ... personality. I know I die a bit inside every time I see a list (10 things to do in dalaran before you die of boredom, etc), but sometimes it just is a good way to organise your thoughts.

I know that this week I wrote up a long starters guide to protwarriors because I had a couple of emails asking for one. And I had to think a bit about that, on the one hand I knew it'd be dead popular and I like helping people. On the other, it's maybe a bit sellout? Its not something I'd write for myself.

I am torn, in a particularly daft way, because it reminds me that I'm a bit all over the place. I always think 'yeah, focus would be good' and then I lose focus ;)

I'm not sure where I'm going with this, except that I do worry that my writing gets a bit too ... polished and impersonal. And I really admire writers like you and Gevlon who keep such a strong voice.

We should all totally work on a 31 day blog improvement project! I bet we could brainstorm some amusing activities (at least, they'd amuse readers which is more than rewriting elevator pitches would). Also, if you haven't seen it, you have to read this.

Ithilir said...

If only my English was half as good as yours, and my posts half as clever as yours then I would be blogging all day long. You are a true inspiration to anyone who doesn't have English as first language.

Cassini said...

I don't even know if I have any readers (except you of course (I think)!) but that's ok. I think I'd be overwhelmed trying to keep as many comments in check as someone like Tobold has! I like blogging as a way to just throw out whatever random thoughts I have in my head that day. I don't blog everyday - heck I don't even blog at regular intervals, just whenever I have something to say.

If that draws people in to comment and continue reading more then great! And if it doesn't? Well I'll just have continue my one sided discussion with the internet which suits me just fine.

Think of blogging as counselling. You don't need the counsellor to say anything back to you - if she does (why she? maybe I've watched Soprano's too much but I just see her as a she!) then great but mostly you're just getting things off your chest. :)

Larísa said...

@Aurik: thank you for support and hugs! Actually I think what confuses people a bit is that you by blogging get access to a media that CAN be used professionally. But that doesn't necessarily mean that everyone has to have a professional approach. Sometime, as you say, you may lose something valuable in your efforts to improve.

@Daniel: Adrenaline rush ftw!
Honestly I don't know if I'm especially good at the balancing issue. I think my family DO have opinions about my general commitment to WoW. And my obsession with this hobby has meant that others have been hold back. I don't read as much as I used to, I've cut down on excercising... :(

But yeah, to last in the long run as a blogger I think you have to have passion for it. You must enjoy the writing process in itself. Otherwise it will just turn into a stressful obligation.

Actually there is a third way to go for you if you feel like writing but can't commit yourself to a blog. You don't have to stick to commenting. You could become a guest poster! And why not at a certain inn? I'm still waiting...

@Zektha Chan: Well, I wouldn't go as far as to say that it doesn't matter to you at all if you have readers or not. I doubt that I still would be blogging if I wouldn't have got any response at all, if absolutely no one read what I wrote or commented on it. But you don't have to aim for the big scale. It's not so bad to keep it small and cosy. And right when you start out blogging, gaining a huge audience shouldn't be your first priority. Focus on the content and interact with the community. The readers will come eventually, trust me on this.

@Shy: cheers for you! Yes, stay who you are. That's really what I was trying to say.

@Krizzlybear: yeah I know you stay true to yourself, without trying to flatter or smothen out things or marketing yourself to gain an audience. And that's why I love your blog so much.

@Shawndra: that project obviously is cursed! Maybe that's why most bloggers seem to have deserted it by now?

@Spinksvill: oh thank you for that link! It was awesome! I'm glad that there are more people out there who get a bit annoyed with the circus around the 31 day thing. Only that she critizised it in a much more witty way!

You shouldn't worry about not having a strong voice and integrity. You definitely have that. I haven't noticed any threatening polished tendencies at your blog at least.

@Ithilir: thank you so much. Don't be shy about writing in a foreign language. I was to begin with but then I thought "what the heck" and ignored my fear of not being perfect. I'm doing the best I can and it's good enough for me. If people have objections they don't have to read, period. If you just come around and start to produce more texts you'll see that it will come more easily to you. For the first month it was a pain for me to write in English, but after over a year of blogging it comes quite natural. It's still not perfect but it doesn't feel like I have to overcome the language barrier every time I try to convey one of my thoughts.
So have patience and keep writing! You'll get the hang of it.

Larísa said...

@Cassini: I thin your attitude is very sound. And you may have more readers than you think. Maybe you don't even check any counter?
Anyway: I use blogging much as you do, as therapy. I never ever try to learn anyone anything. I'm most of all talking to my self, ranting my heart out and trying to understand what's going on in the game. It helps me to clear my thought

Gevlon said...

+1 advice: don't hesitate to write controversial things. Thinking people prefer ideas - even ones they disagree - over a wall of politically correct text about absolutely nothing at all.

Larísa said...

@Gevlon: yeah, you for one surely knows how to provoce... :)

I think one of the problems with the slick, smoothened, polished blogs following the 31-day concept, pumping out lists of 10 ways to be a good guildie and so on is that they're too politically correct as you say. It becomes rather boring to read.

So generally I agree that you that you shouldn't hesitate to stick out your neck and say things aloud that you think, even though they're not "politically correct".

On the other hand, I don't approve of trying to be controversial, just for the sake of it. Don't go so far that you turn into a troll. Then you'll at least lose my respect. There's a difference between being a genuine, real, controversial free thinker and to be a faked one. I really prefer bloggers who are true to themselves.

Mister K said...

Great Post, Its blogs like these that remind me why I got into the blogging community in the first place. I may not have all the theorycrafting goodies or the amzing realm first boss kill stories but that doesn't matter. I get to put my thoughts out there and I enjoy being a part of the huge public forum that the WOW blogging community has become.

Clifdog said...

There's alot of truth in what you said. I may not write my blog from the most technical point regarding WoW but rather I write about what I see, know and feel. I write it for me. It's nice to know that I have a small group of readers. I don't expect to change the WoW world but rather just give a pause for the cause along the way.

thanks
Clifdog
http://wowclifdog.blogspot.com/

Copernicus said...

I'm not much of a blogger myself, I'm more of a problem solver. I can only really write when I see a recurring issue that isn't getting resolved. I have much respect for those of you that seem able to tap a bottomless well of interesting and relavent topics.

I got into reading blogs because every other form of WoW related information is blocked at my work. Even many blogs are blocked. I've taken to starting every day with a Google search for Shields Up, and jump from link to link navigating the WoW Blogosphere.

#4 on your list, "Keep your blogroll alive", is extremely important to me. Since you and your fellow bloggers are my guides on where to get quality reading material, it's very disappointing when I click on link after link just to find sites that haven't been updated in months.

I still go to the sites, because they are very good to read, but it does make it seem like the blogroll is more of an ornament rather than a vital part of a living, breathing organism.

Fitz said...

Of course, everybody has their own reasons for writing. I blogged my law school experiences mostly to have a place to vent and get things off my chest, a very therapuetic experience. I started sportswriting before law school to improve my writing skills and found a passion for that, hence my blogging time and committment over time has dropped. If I every start posting to my WOW blog, it will probably be more to memorialize the good and bad times in game as opposed to finding visitors.

So as to Gevlon and Boxcar Daniel above, I completely agree with the sentiments. Obviously in the course of venting during law school I had a couple of posts that became public knowledge around the halls of the school and had a few people upset. However, my blog was not a place to be politically correct, and everyone who called me out for those entries were told just that.

If you write to "monetize" then care about visitors, but if not, just write about what you are passionate about and the quality will automatically follow. Blogging can be the equivalent of writing a memoir in my mind, as you are simply recording experiences and thoughts for later enjoyment by yourself and others.

Oh and my wife is doing the 31 day blogging thing, and I just sort of /facepalm at some of the days.

kyrilean said...

I have to admit I'm guilty of the outdated blogs thing. I have a couple in there that I really liked and I'm hoping they come back some day. I should probably make another category for Not Updated In Some Time.

Syrana said...

You are right, the 31 day project is more of a broader audience than WoW blogs. I did subscribe to it for resource info. I'm not actively doing the "homework" from the daily tasks/teachings. But, I did find some helpful tips for more in general...

Like searching for pics to use, auditing the ease of site use, brainstorming and building off previous posts... but all the stuff about search engine optimization and ads and gazillions of readers? That goes a bit beyond the scope of my blog.

Klepsacovic said...

Why improve? That leads me to wonder, why blog in the first place? Why you write at the start should be why you try to improve. Sometimes a blog post exists just because commenting on another blog doesn't give enough space.

Larísa said...

@MrK and Cliffdog: Yeah, I think most bloggers will be better off if they enjoy the blogging in itself, and not primarily see it as a way to get some sort of e-fame.

@Copernicus: I'm glad to hear that you appreciate the work I actually put into keeping my blogroll alive.I know that I care personally about those things but I wasn't sure if it was just me.

@Fitz: I'm actually wondering from time to time what will become of my blog if I desert it one day. Just drift away? Try to save it somehow as some sort of memoirs, just like any written diary? Imagine being 75 years old and looking back at your WoW diaries. The thought is... interesting.

@Kyrilean: that's not a bad idea. You could have a sort of "in dear memory/honored/lost in action/ departement if it feels to sad to delete the links altogether.

@Syrana: I gues that is what puts me off a bit - the vague focus of the project. They're trying to cover everything with the result that it's hard to identify with it.
I feel much more connected to advice from Pike and BRK.

@Klepsacovic: Hm... I may have put it a bit wrong. I think what I mind most is a sort of set standard quick fix way of improving blogs. I think it's in the human nature that we learn by doing and that we enjoy doing things better. But there are so many different ways to do it.
And even though I had some objections, mind you I did provide a few ideas in the end. Even though you didn't come around to read them if I understood you correctly at your own blog...

Kromus said...

I havent come accross any pitchy Blogs so far - so im unsure what you mean- do you mean like, for example, "If you want great heory crafting you won't find on anybody elses blog, click here?" - again im not sure what you mean.

And Blogging is about discussion with yourself and others- so if you dont get comments *im new, so i dont all the time, and if i do its 1-2* then you should read through your own posts. as its

an insight into how you felt that very day!

Kestrel said...

*sigh* Not only am I behind in my blogging, but in my reading of blogs as well.

I'm one of those who started the 31DBBB program. Less than a week into it, I chatted with Anna (of TooManyAnnas), and we both agreed we weren't getting much out of it.

The reason? For almost everything Darren had us doing, we'd practically just "been there and done that."

The Elevator Pitch was great: It made me look at myself and my blog. Since then, I've gotten quite far away from WoW blogging, in the few articles I've done. I'm afraid this probably reflects my increasingly blasé attitude towards WoW in general.

But for the rest of the 31DBBB program, as I said, it was dejá vu all over again.

But you're spot on, Larisa, and I can distill Pike's cogent advice into an even shorter aphorism, courtesy of Lorrelle Van Fossen: "Blog your passion."

And if you've more than one, blog them all!

Kestrel said...

bah...url is wrong in previous comment: Should be http://lorelle.wordpress.com

Sorry about that :(

Birdfall said...

I've been delinquent in keeping up. But that happens.

A few thoughts, from a RL writer. My blogging takes a lot from my RL professional attitude.

- A good chunk of people want to start blogs to get famous. They fail because their blog has no drive, no reason to exist other than to cultivate fans.

When I started Letters, I didn't care about being important or listened to or a force in the community. I was a new player, I didn't even realize there WAS a community! I just found something I wanted to write about, so I wrote about it.

A blog without a voice is just a WoW-themed MySpace page begging strangers to be friends -- an exercise in ego.

- I'm not sure I agree with your comments on activity or blogroll. I agree that if you're going to do these things, your advice is sound, but I don't think that these things are necessary. I said in a recent post, I don't really read other blogs (for various reasons). My comments here are pretty much the majority of my comments anywhere.

I also don't have a blogroll at all. And I've still done not-so-bad. I might not have relationships with other bloggers, but I didn't get into blogging for relationships. I got in it to write, and that's what I'm doing. (I don't think my way is for everyone, of course. But it still hasn't seemed to hurt me.)

- A piece of advice I would add, and this is something I do in my professional life too: don't keep track of fans. If you worry about how many fans you have or don't have, you'll end up concentrating more on the statistics than your work, and your work WILL suffer. I never pay attention to how many people read me because I want neither a letdown nor an inflated head. The only stats I really check are when WoW Insider mentions me (twice now!) and I want to giggle over the jump in page views.

My advice for every new blogger is to keep your head down and keep plugging away at the writing you enjoy and one day you'll look up and see people have commented -- and that will be a good day.

- Your other suggestions were, of course, lovely. Two of them were simple writing and website advice, the same things I heard from my writing teachers. Keep at it, have good content, etc. Bloggers should always try to improve their writing skill: grammar and personal style. No writer is good enough that improvement is impossible.

So while you don't think the program for blog improvement is helpful, and I'm inclined to agree that a marketing scheme seems a little off-the-wall, I do think everyone can benefit from improvement -- by striving every day to go beyond our own limits as writers, to improve upon the work we've already done.

We should always try to outdo ourselves.

<3

Larísa said...

@Kromus: I think you haven't been around long enough to see those pitches. Anyway: enjoy being a fresh and innocent blogger. Keep writing for yourself and don't worry about audiences. I think it will make you happier in the long run.

@Kestrel: "Blog your passion". That's wonderful! Yeah, I think that people who look to deep into search enginge optimizations will risk to lose the fun in amateur blogging. Real passion will shine through and it's very contagious.

@Birdfall: I don't agree about the blogroll. But maybe that's much because I read so many blogs on spot (not the feed.) In this point I speak just out of my preferences as a blog reader, not as a writer. I've seen SO many blogs mistreating their blogrolls (even very well established "big name blogs" and it annoys me. It needed to be said.

I defintely agree about the importance of finding your own voice. But it's kind of hard to teach out how you do it. It sort of... happens. I don't think trying to find an elevator pich is the miracle that will take you there. But it takes some courage and a lot of patience. Work to improve yourself if you want to put it that way.

Kimberly said...

I, too, started the 31DBBB project but although I'm still reading the tasks, I stopped implementing it.

The elevator pitch was good, the list post was good and made me think. I stopped at "email one of your readers" because I thought of all of these innocent readers being emailed by blog authors, getting excited about it, then learning that they only got emails because the authors were TOLD to email them.

It's the thought that counts. :)

wordywarrior said...

I couldn't agree with you more.

And really, this post couldn't have come at a better time for me. I'm a new blogger and I've been getting a lot of negative feedback regarding my blog, so I've really lost the motivation to post. Reading this has helped me again realize I write for myself and to be constructive, not to please everyone. Thanks for this!

Cerinne said...

Thank you so much for this! After long being a reader of WoW blogs, I launched my own in 3.1 and while I have a whole backlog of posts ready to go, I've held off on rolling them out due to low readership. You're absolutely right, though--keep writing is the way to go, and don't worry about the numbers. This was incredibly helpful, thanks. :)

thelyse said...

/agree!

i read a variety of blogs. it seems most wow blogs i read are about numbers, readerships and getting noticed.

for me, it's a hobby. it's enjoyment to see what i did in this game.

if people like it, yay! i have fans! if not, that's fine.