John has asked me to write about my blog WellUrban, and I thought I’d take the opportunity to discuss some of the aspects that have made it modestly successful.
Have something to say. To many people, the blogosphere is full of people writing about their cats or their personal problems… and that’s at least 90% true. If you want to start a blog, you’re presumably already confident that people will want to read what you’re writing, but it’s worth stopping and thinking: if I came across this blog myself, would I subscribe to it? Is there some information here that I can’t find anywhere else? Some people manage to be funny, charming or enlightening while writing about nothing at all, but unless you’re Jerry Seinfeld, it helps to have some content.
Fill a gap. This is a related point. One of the reasons that I started WellUrban was that I was frustrated about the lack of information available online about such things as Wellington architecture, so I new there was a gap to be filled.
Appeal to overlapping audiences. WellUrban’s tagline is “Personal reflections on urbanism, urban life and sustainable urban design in Wellington, New Zealand”, and if you think about that, that’s quite a broad selection. Urbanism and sustainable design between them cover things such as architecture, public spaces, urban form and transport, and these make up the more serious side of WellUrban. But I think that it’s the “urban life” dimension that has made it really popular, since it can cover pretty much anything from parades and protests to shopping and drinking. I’ve found that architects enjoy Martinis, and people-about-town care about what’s being built in their city, so I’ve managed to build up a wider and more diverse audience than if I’d written purely about one aspect.
I’m switching many of the more purely “what’s on”-type posts to Texture or The Wellingtonista, but I’ll keep writing on WellUrban about eating, drinking and shopping: I’ll just make sure that the posts have an urbanism angle. For instance, my recent post on new cafés doesn’t just list them, but talks about their relevance to globalisation, gentrification and the bypass.
Link like crazy. I’ve been accused of putting so many links in my posts that they become hard to read, and perhaps I should tone down the styling a bit, but I think it’s an essential part of the service I offer. It’s called hypertext for a reason.
I make sure I link back to previous posts that I’ve written, so that I can keep the train of thought going. I like to find “definitive” resources that I can link to on particular subjects, which is why I’ve always found ZoomIn helpful: whenever I mention a bar, shop or building, there’s a ZoomIn URL to link to. And if there’s not, I can always create one!
Link discovery can be the most time-consuming aspects of writing a post, but in the process of looking for resources to link to, I often come across facts that I hadn’t realised before, thus ensuring that my research is more thorough than it might otherwise have been.
Engage in dialogue. If you’re passionate about what you’re writing, you’ll no doubt already be writing comments on other blogs. Some people frown on the idea of seeding your comments with links back to your own posts, but sometimes it’s more appropriate to write a thorough post on your own blog and link back to it when you write a comment, rather than writing a dissertation in someone else’s comment stream. There’s nothing wrong with being a little bit shameless in promoting your blog: after all, you’re not spamming if you’ve got something real to say and it’s relevant to the readers that you’re targeting.
Find out what your audience is after. I’m always amazed, and sometimes amused, by what my visitors have been searching for. Sometimes, a steady stream of search terms can be a good reminder to write about something you’ve had on the back burner for a while. It can even tip you off to events before they hit the media: I first found out about Remiro Bresolin‘s death and Terry Serepisos‘ purchase of the Wellington football team by a burst of searches on their names. You should always write about what matters to you, but it’s good to know what’s newsworthy to your readers.
Images don’t have to be photos. They can be drawings, diagrams, graphs or maps. I come from a data visualisation background, so I know the power of images to convey complex information. They can be serious or flippant, but they add a dimension beyond plain old text.
I’ve been lucky to have access to GIS data and applications, so my demographic maps have been a popular feature. But anyone can use Excel charts or (of course) ZoomIn groups to create useful and informative graphs and maps.