Blogging for and about nature
This article aims to beginner bloggers, but there are also some tips to more experienced nature bloggers who are still struggling with less than 50 page views per day. Finally, this blogpost coincides well in time to take part in Problogger’s 31 day e-course on blogging (more on that at the bottom).
In my previous post about how to get kids and adults interested in birds, I recommended they get a 10-24x zoom point and shoot camera first instead of binoculars. Blogging is the next step.
In a blog you can publically document what you have seen on your nature walk. It is a difference compared to sharing your photos on Facebook and having your own blog. The latter is public and therefore it can attract a larger number of readers. Potentially, this also means that the citizens are participating as watchmen for the sake of nature. The more nature-bloggers there are and the better organized they are, the larger influence they will have as a community, against violations of nature’s space in the modern world. It may sound a bit Utopian, but considering the networks that are currently building on today’s online applications, it should not be frowned upon. For example Facebook has 200 million users! Nature bloggers, it is time to emancipate yourself for the sake of nature in the future!
To start blogging
There are two main free services for bloggers. WordPress and Blogger (provided by google). WordPress is preferred by businesses because it has large numbers of great plugins such as SEO optimization tools and both free and pay-for themes. I am using WordPress myself for my blog, which is housed on the same URL as my business web-page. It should help getting better page rank eventually, and it also helps people finding my page through searches (even if they don’t necessarily come to the page to buy a tour). If you are a birder you may even put your blog on one of the popular birding pages such as surfbirds.com. It guarantees a lot of visibility to other birders and you may find many readers this way, especially if you post a lot of quality bird pictures, which the readers of Surfbird love.
In spite that WordPress has more businesses using it, the majority of the naturebloggers are using Blogger. Therefore, as a community Blogger works very well and is very easy to use. You can upload your photos direct to your blog from the free Google Photo editing program Picasa.
There are a lot of resources out there you can use to learn about blogging. I am not going to enter in detail about these here, but you may check out a previous blog of mine how to read books on social media for free on Amazon. com. You will probably not be able to read all the stuff in every book in Amazon reader without purchasing the book, but since the there are so many books on these topics, you shall be able to pick up all you need to know by this method. I have listed two books on blogging and two books about WordPress in the Amazon carousel widget at the bottom of that blogpost.
WordPress has a built in statistics in the dashboard, that gives you the basic information how many visitors each blog post gets, what page visitors were visiting when clicking to the link to your page, and what the daily score of page views is. In either case, Google Analytics is a very good resource to install on either blog, as it gives a more detailed analysis of visitor data.
Fill you blog with content that the readers want to read.
I admit I also started as many other people seeing the blog as a mere diary. Sort of: Dear diary, today I did this, and then that, and finally I went to bed. So, while certainly the blog is a place where people talk about what they are doing, there are limits to what the readers will find interesting. One resource you should check out straight away if you are new to blogging is Nature Blog Network. Check what the top bloggers write about. What style do they use, how do they use captions and finally look at the titles. A catchy title is very important to get readers. More on that later. As a rule, every post becomes more interesting if you provide a picture with your blog post.
How to get readers to your blog.
You need to spread the word around that your blog exists. This is where your social network comes in. If you are on for example Facebook or Twitter (again see my manuals for birders with the provided links), none of your friends will mind, if you tell them that you have posted a new blog. Now is time to use that catchy title of the blog. You will not get many friends clicking if you only say –New blog – and provide the link. If you find more than one catchy title, you may use the other ones to re-send a message on Facebook/Twitter about your blog. With the way the new Facebook works, it is probably best to first send a status update with your catchy title together with the link in the same field. Next time you update your status (several hours later) with something trivial, you may additionally send your link as an attachment in a wall posting. Use your secondary catchy title for this – as the primary title will already be as name of your blog-post attachment.
Befriend other bloggers
You need nevertheless to stretch out outside your own sphere in Facebook and Twitter to find more readers. The best way is to read what other bloggers on Nature Blog Network write about and chip in and comment on their blog post, and make sure your blog also get registered with Nature Blog Network. Also, refer to other blog posts that you have found interesting in your own posts. Most bloggers automatically monitor the net if their blogposts get mention elsewhere (monitor application available as plug-in to your blog). If you are consistent you will see that you will get visits to your blog from the same people you admire.
A word of warning regarding comments: Be careful so that your comments on other blogs does not become spam. You must take your time to treat every comment as a real comment to the blog not something automatic like “Awesome post, man!”. It is not very constructive – and it sounds like a typical spam phrase where your next word is Viagra!
Some self promotion you may get away sometimes, but not every time. Just the fact that your name is linked to your blog in the comment field invites the reader to check out your blog if you have something interesting to say. But if you say something stupid or just “read my blog” you will get many bad vibes and very few visitors. The owner of the blog, can erase any comment he/she does not like – and believe me they will.
Another way is to participate in blog carnivals. Blog carnivals are like a Blogger’s Digest recommending blogs under a specific subject. Nature Blog Network mentions several you can participate in.
Social media bookmarking, such as Digg, Delicious and Stumble Upon, are other ways to get traffic to your site. Unfortunately, there are few birdwatchers that use these services. I am going to deal with these services in a future blog post. Meanwhile, play around with them and bookmark blog posts that you enjoy (including some of your best own posts – and naturally this article if you like it!)
On Facebook there is an application called NetworkedBlog, where you can register your blog, follow other blogs and ask others to read your blog among their friends. This application is great as long as you are logged on to Facebook, but it does not allow you to sort the blogs you follow in folders. For that you need a RSS feed-reader.
RSS reader such as Google Reader
The best RSS and most popular reader is Google Reader. As usual when it comes to Google the service is absolutely free. You need to sign up for a Google account, but chances are that you already have one if you use any of the other Google services such as Gmail, Picasa or Blogger. The reader makes it possible to handle a large number of blogs at the same time and sort them into folders. You add a page by clicking the RSS button found on the web-page you want to follow. Try clicking on this button to add my blog to your Google Reader.
If you use Mozilla Firefox as I do, you also find the RSS button next to the Url web-address box. In Internet Explorer there is a button in the toolbar.
Again you should resort to Nature Blog Network to find the blogs you want to follow. With Google Reader it is possible to follow several hundred blogs if you like. You can always sort them into folders, of priority for your obligatory reading.
By monitoring a number of blogs this way, you can very smartly look where you want to make a comment on another blog and maybe even with a link directly to a specific topic you cover in one of your blogs – especially if it is relevant to the particular blog post. Just make a search for the key word(s) in your latest blog in all the blogs you follow and maybe you find something relevant to comment.
RSS reader for your mobile phone
Repeating what I stated above, you must read and comment other bloggers to get more readers. By all means tell your friends to subscribe to your feed, but unless they are bloggers themselves it is unlikely they will and less have an RSS reader they check regularly. The people just reading the RSS feed will not register in the page view count in the statistics from Google Analytics or the WP dashboard statistics. With Feedburner Google app you can get an idea how many people read your RSS feed. Blogger has a specific widget that shows your friends that follow you automatically, which is very cool since it also includes the miniature photo or avatar of your friend.
The main problem remains: Who has time to read so many blogs? Getting a mobile reader for your phone will help you. There is a mobile version for Google Reader. This way I can read a blog when in the supermarket cue or waiting at my turn in the bank and even jam down a few blogs right before bed time in bed. Problem is that the text is so small on my Blackberry, so I need to always carry my reading glasses – and the lay-out is not very user-friendly.
In my blog Twitter for Birders, part 2, I talked about a great RSS reader for Blackberry and Smartphones – Free Range in the context that RSS feeds of Twitter hash-tags can be used as a rare bird alert system. (Really, read the article if interested in this). Free Range has its own web-browser converting text and pictures in a very user friendly format and readable for Blackberry (which I use). You can download the feeds to read them later even without phone connection. You can also bookmark with deli.cio.us or send the link to an email address with just a click. Check this FreeRange Feeder page for two tutorials that explain all possibilities of this mobile RSS reader. For Iphone there is a similar reader (that I have not tried) called Net Use Wire from Newsgator. Please, let me know if it works well in your comments below.
Become a better blogger in 31 days with Problogger
One of the top Blog Gurus Darren Rowse of Problogger, that I hailed in my post on Google Books, is starting an email course of 31 days to become a better blogger. You can not get better advice than this. The email was to start on April 1, but has just been postponed to April 6 (as I write this), so there is still time to sign up. You sign up to 31 days to build a better blog here. Don’t miss it. Problogger’s web-site is full of useful tips for you, in spite of being for learning how to make money making blogs (which is higly unlikely for a nature blogger in the first place except for a handful dollars per month with Adsense of Google and Amazon Associate). Daren’s success probably stems from that he seems to be a completely altruistic person in all the tips he gives away. He will probably have something to sell at the end of the course, but of the over 5000 following his free e-course he will only need to monetize on a couple of corporate companies that need a lecture series and sell a couple of 100 books to make it worth while.
See you on the Problogger’s course then. I am sure I will learn a lot.