So often, I see bloggers posting about “What I Wish I’d Known When I Started Blogging” or “What I Should’ve Done Differently When I Started Blogging.”
Most of these come from fairly (or very) successful bloggers, people who have been blogging for 4, 5, 9, 10 years even. And they always start by saying “When I first started… I didn’t follow a posting schedule/I posted about anything and everything/I didn’t have a niche/I stayed with wordpress.com with a free pre-made template/etc. etc.”
And then they go on to tell you that, even though that, in some way, wound up working pretty well for them, *you* shouldn’t do that, you need to decide on a niche and invest in a custom design and make sure you’re self-hosted and have a “blog business plan” (which, um, didn’t even exist 9 years ago) and put your “brand” all over everything and use professional-quality photos and pinnable images in every post (and again, Pinterest didn’t even exist when you started blogging, big successful blogger…) and be active on every social media channel and and and…
Look, great for them. I mean that — I’m not trying to throw shade on anyone here. Those bloggers put in a lot of time and effort to grow their blogs and get to where they are.
And depending on what you want to do with your blog, that advice might be great for you.
Or it could be total bullshit.
Look, if you don’t really know what your “niche” is, don’t worry about it. You know how you’re going to figure it out? BY BLOGGING. You’ll figure it out as you go. Learn by doing. You don’t *have* to post perfectly curated Instagram photos. You don’t *have* to promote your latest posts five times a day on Twitter. You don’t *have* to use Yoast to optimize your posts for search engines. You don’t *have* to have a Facebook page for your blog. If you want, you should totally *try* all those things and more, to see what fits and what doesn’t. But don’t force yourself to follow every single bit of advice out there. (And let’s face it, it’s really just the same 12 or so pieces of advice repeated ad nauseam).
(And for the record, Chris Guillebeau told me he prefers “niche-free” blogs most of the time, anyway.)
I think what bugs me about these posts is they promise — or they’re trying to promise — shortcuts. The blogger is, essentially, saying “If I’d started doing this sooner it wouldn’t have taken me so long to get to where I am today!”
But you couldn’t have started doing half that stuff sooner because — again, timelines, history — blogging was incredibly different when you started. You couldn’t have started Pinterest-optimizing your images before Pinterest-optimized images existed.
(Actually, I have a bone to pick with that particular piece of advice. I hate the look of huge vertical-orientation photos in blogs because, half the time, I can’t even see the entire photo all at once on my laptop screen and I have to scroll up and down to see the whole thing. And I’d love to get more traffic from Pinterest, but not at the expense of the content I want to write and the image styles I want to use. You know what would be cool? If I could have a landscape-orientation photo in the post, but when you click the “Pin it” button, there’s a plug-in or whatever that inserts the vertical-orientation version instead. I would totally do the extra work of formatting two versions of the photo to have that. Plug-in developers, can you get on that, please?)
I guess a lot of this is my inner Rebel surfacing and balking at doing something just because everyone else is telling me to do it. But also, let’s not all follow the same advice (that, let’s face it, half the time is just getting posted because people are looking for highly searchable and pinnable posts, anyway) and churn out the same types of blogs. I do want this little blog to grow, but I already know there’s some “proven techniques” to “grow my readership” and “monetize” that I absolutely won’t follow. (Read: you will never see a post here that starts with a disclaimer message and then says “So I was wandering through Wal-Mart and found this awesome product you all should try…” mainly because I hardly ever shop at Wal-Mart and when I do, I have something specific to get, and I go in, buy the thing, and get the hell out. There is no “wandering around Wal-Mart” looking for the aisle where they have the product that was already mailed to me for free. Ugh.)
If you have a niche, awesome. But do what works for you. Do what you like. Yes, write for your readers — but remember, you should be one of your readers. Write stuff that you want to write and trust that, if you’re honest and sincere and genuine and “authentic” (sorry, I know we’re all tired of that buzzword by now), others will want to read it.
Or, you know, I’m over here with my couple dozen (at best) readers, so ignore me and start working on that branding.