When I first started writing this weblog just a couple of years ago, I didn’t have any foresight to think about where it would take me. I started writing, for what I believe were the right reasons, to share my own unique voice on intensely nerdy subjects relating to but not exclusive to Mac and iOS.
One mistake I hear a lot of people make is that they start writing for the wrong reasons, which is to say they are purely concerned about making money online. The words monetizing and SEO& are two words that come to mind. If you’re an expert in a particular field of interest, it seems that you would be perfectly well suited to start a weblog. That being said, it annoys me to no end when people come to me asking what’s the best way to monetize their site.
Allow me to make this explain this in the most perspicuous way I can. If you want to litter your site with advertisements and break up your posts into many pages as to increase your page-views, you should pack up and go home. What you are doing is causing your readers to embark on a very painful journey of just being on your site. Want a great way to get people to abandon your site? Do all of those things that I listed and you will be patting yourself on the back.
If you’re not used to writing on a regular basis, you have to start somewhere. Along the way you will question your abilities, and yes you will certainly make mistakes. In fact, you will probably make a ton of mistakes. This shouldn’t deter you from continuing though. A good writer friend of mine who has always had a goal of writing science fiction novels, runs into constant roadblocks. My friend’s main problem is that he does something that’s incredibly self destructive; something we should never do to ourselves. Staring at a blank screen for hours and then finally getting those ideas out of your head is always a great feeling, however if you’re constantly deleting the progress you’re making, which is what a friend of mine does, then you’re just sabotaging yourself. I’m sure we’ve all been guilty of participating in this kind of self-destructive behaviour, but it’s imperative that we catch ourselves in the act. Stop and think for a moment and be cognizant of the problem.
Focus on readability and usability
As a writer, your number two goal, other than writing the best stuff you can, should be to create the best reading environment possible on your site. This means not doing pagination on posts if possible, or going crazy on advertisements. Things that you should closely pay attention to are the design and usability aspects of your site. Focus highly on your typography and choose carefully. I can’t tell you how annoying it is to read sites with terrible typography and page layouts. Many big name sites are notoriously bad at this, and I’m sure you’ve come across one of the many.
Using this weblog as an example, I utilize two different fonts which service different purposes. All items in the navigation bar and as well as H3 tags use Lucida Grande, which I think looks great. For post titles and body content I use Georgia, which is a favourite among many for reading.
Over the course of time I’ve been running this site, I’ve spent a colossal amount of time testing different fonts and page layouts; switching from horizontal and vertical navigation bars for example. All of this in the name of finding what works for me and what doesn’t. I encourage you to endeavour to reach your own design goals as well.
What’s your angle?
It’s been an interesting journey over the last couple years. I’ve been trying to figure out what my own angle and voice is when it comes to the things I write about. My goal from the beginning has always been a no-hold-barred approach when it comes to what I write about. Initially I had some trepidations about speaking my mind, but I discovered the hard way that this is just counter intuitive to the writing process itself. This is my own personal site, so why wouldn’t I share my thoughts and feelings without self-censoring myself?
To quote a great piece by Shawn Blanc on this subject:
And so when you consider your design, consider also your voice. When you consider the structure of your links and articles, consider also your voice. When you consider your topics, consider also your voice. Let the design and the structure and the dynamics of your website underpin the words and style of your writing. Because all of it adds up to form the voice of you and your weblog.
Exceptionally well said Shawn.
Stop imitating others
This should be self-explanatory, but I feel as if I should elucidate on the matter. Some of the best creative people out there at some point have borrowed heavily from other people they looked up to. It doesn’t matter what field of interest you’re in, so it’s going to happen. What I have come to know from experience is that there is sometimes a fine line between being inspired by, or just flat out stealing someone else’s gig. When you embark on that wonderful journey of putting words into ink, or words into zeros and ones, please keep this in mind. When it comes to your style of writing and design of your weblog, try to do something you feel is great, but not a direct rip-off of someone else.
Some of you reading this may just be readers and others writers. For those amateur or professional, you understand first hand that you probably never got into that field because you wanted to get rich (or believed you could easily). You write because you enjoy getting those creative ideas out of your head and transforming them into words. The majority of us who write and either self-publish or even have been fortunate enough to get published by a well known publisher, will never get rich. It is however possible to make a living. Sadly though, there will be a much larger percentage of us who will never be able to sustain a living through the works we produce.
While I’m happy continuing to do what I do best, there’s no reason I or anyone else can’t try to make a modest living. Here are some ideas which I have implemented on my own weblog, and which many other popular writers have done to varying degrees of success.
- Start a membership
- Sell t-shirts
- Give people an option to donate
- Create a sponsorship option
Memberships are a great way to get loyal readers who enjoy, appreciate and want to support what you do every day. Since you can’t purely rely on advertisement revenues or affiliate links (nor should you), giving your readers an option to commit and pay you on a yearly basis for a nominal fee is great.
Selling t-shirts are also a great way to supplement your income, while knowing that some of your biggest fans are walking around town promoting your site for free.
Donations are always appreciated and it’s definitely something you shouldn’t miss out on. A simple donation option opened up to any amount the reader wants to contribute is fair.
Sponsorships are a fantastic way of supporting your work. The gist of it is that you charge a fee to a individual or company in exchange for promoting their product on your website.
A note about ads
I should probably discuss advertisements, since that’s the primary route a lot of sites go down to generate revenue. This is entirely my own personal opinion, and by no means am I suggesting what you should do with your own weblog. My experience is that littering your site with advertisements only annoys readers and drives them away. Many traditional banner-style advertisements are not specifically targeted, so they have very low click-through rates. So in this case, why do it? I’m not saying you can’t have any advertisements, but I would be careful to pick and choose wisely on what you put on your site. You don’t want to look bad to your readers if you are advertising shitty products.
Over the years I have tested various advertisements, the number of them and placement on the site. I haven’t had much success with them in the past, since they weren’t targeted enough, so I pulled them down. As of the time I published this piece, my weblog has no advertisements. This of course may, and even likely will change in the future.
I’m not against advertisements in general, but my general rule-of-thumb is this:
- Choose targeted and tasteful well designed ads.
- Limit it to perhaps just one ad to start with (again be frugal).
There are some companies that have delved into the advertising space to try and create much better experiences, both for readers and publishers. Great examples of this are companies like Fusion Ad Network and The Deck Their ad networks are invite-only though, so not just anyone can signup. One day I’d love to get invited on, as I know their ads are highly targeted and tasteful.
I actually recall Tweetie 1.x having ads from either of those networks in it (can’t remember which one) before Loren Britchter sold it to Twitter. I’ve seen these ads in other great Mac apps as well, and they’ve never bothered me. In fact, I’ve discovered some great software through those ads. I know it sounds crazy, but I have and it’s a testament to the quality of their design and relevancy.
Get started now
Just be patient with things. Keep writing every day if possible. Always focus on high quality content. Remember to not piss off your readers.
My point is, if you feel like you need to share your thoughts publicly, then starting a weblog is a great idea. It’s also never too late to do this, so if you’ve been thinking about it for a while, stop thinking about it and just-do-it.