Blogging As Conversation

Link

Recently someone asked me, “What keeps you blogging? Especially after the initial novelty of setting up a blog has worn off?” and I was able to respond with one word: conversation.

Speak Of Me? Or Speak Of Thee?

What do I mean by that?  For me, and I think this applies to most genealogy bloggers, blogging is not about getting up on a soap box and spouting off about certain aspects of genealogy or my family history.  To me that is not just self-centered but it also seems like shouting out into a universe that may or may not be receptive to the message.

Blogging is about the conversation for many of us and for me it is the conversation that keeps me going and buoys my spirits each day.

Components of a Blog As A Conversation

So how can you carry on a conversation with others through your blog?  There are three main areas:

  • Comments: most blogs have comments enabled and for many this is the main area of conversation between the blogger and the reader.  Not only is the comments section good for leaving feedback or your opinion, but it helps to see what others think about a particular post or idea.
  • Linkbacks and attribution:  even when a conversation is rolling along with great ideas being tossed about, we need recognition and validation.  In blogs this is done by linking back to blogs and posts you find helpful and attributing ideas and concepts back to the originator.
  • Yielding the floor: this means having the ability to post open-ended questions as well as hosting guest posts from other bloggers in your area of expertise.  Not only does it demonstrate that the blog is more about the conversation than you, it allows readers to feel a sense of participation in the conversation.

Ways To Be A Good Conversationalist

There are various ways you can keep the conversation rolling and build a reputation as a blogger of someone who engages their readers instead of merely speaking to them.

  • Enable comments.  The easiest way to foster conversation is to allow your readers to leave comments.  This is not an easy feat for many of us – the Internet can be a wide open frontier with some not-so-nice people.  This is why you should always moderate your comments (meaning you review them before letting them appear on your blog) and most blogging platforms allow you to do this.  Also, make sure you have a comment moderation policy so commenters are aware of what is and isn’t permitted in the conversation.
  • Link back to good content and good bloggers.  When discussing a concept in a post, don’t forget to link back to content that can support your argument.  Seek out those blogging colleagues who you respect – even if you don’t always agree with them.  Not only will you help recognize their contribution (and send traffic their way), but you’ll also build your reputation as a blogger who can see an issue from various angles and perspectives.
  • Give proper attribution.  If you are participating in a carnival or a meme, don’t just mention the original post and the blogger who created the concept, link back to it and let your readers know how the idea started.  Colleagues who create online events often put quite a bit of work into them and even a simple “thank you” and a link back will let them know the value of their contribution to the community.
  • Encourage guest posts.  Not only do guest posts give you a “break” in not having to come up with a post, but it also shows your readers that you are part of a larger community.  Seek out those blogging colleagues that have specific areas of expertise and drop them an email asking if they’d like to guest post on a certain topic.  And remember to link back to the guest blogger’s site when their post goes up!
  • Respect an exclusive story.  Face it, the genealogy world is not often “rocked” with “breaking news.”  But if a fellow blogger appears to have an exclusive on a story (and they may have worked hard to get that exclusive), make sure you link back to their original post.  This is different than being the first one to post about a press release that was sent to all genealogy bloggers – this does not constitute an “exclusive story.”  But an “exclusive”  does not mean you can’t post about the story – you can discuss how you feel about the story, what it means to the community etc.  Just respect and recognize the blogger who broke the story.

Do you have any tips especially for those new to the world of blogging in terms of holding a conversation with readers?

© 2010, copyright Thomas MacEntee

#FHExpos Mesa Welcome Mat

wwwelcome

[Note: this content was previously published on 6 October 2009 but the information also applies to this weekend's Family History Expo Mesa]

How welcoming is your blog? What impression does it make on new visitors?

I ask this because starting on Friday, 22 January 2010, as many genealogy bloggers begin attending the 2nd Annual Arizona Family History Expo in Mesa, Arizona, you may see new viewers to your genealogy blog.

In addition, at 8:00 am on Saturday, 23 January 2010, I will be presenting Become a Genealogy Blog User and during class will list links to over 100 genealogy blogs.  Attendees also will have these same links in their syllabus materials to use later when they arrive home and begin exploring genealogy blogs.

And if that isn’t incentive enough to think about shaking out your blog’s welcome mat, consider that many web surfers make very quick decisions as to whether or not a blog or website are useful. As Mother said, first impressions are important!

Consider some of these tips and tricks:

  • Where Are You? Not knowing where a blogger is based or the geographical area of their genealogy research can cause confusion for new visitors or force them to disregard your site as unimportant to their own research. Create a simple text widget or add a map for your side bar.
  • Add a Search Engine. Many blog visitors won’t take the time to go through your entire blog to look for information. Add a search engine widget similar to the one here on GeneaBloggers. For instructions on setting up Google Search and using the link on your blog, see this post on Bootcamp for GeneaBloggers.
  • What Are Your Surnames? Sure Google and other search engines will pick up your blog posts with the surname in them, but having them on the front page of your blog gives them greater page ranking abilities for your site. Again, a small sidebar widget perhaps linking to the tab or label for that surname would be useful for visitors.
  • A Simple Welcome. Here’s a great example of a welcome mat at Everything’s Relative – Researching Your Family History: Cindy has created a graphic for her sidebar which reads “Did you land on my blog because you searched for a name that’s here? If so please contact me at CindysOffice@aol.com. I’m always looking for cousins and exploring possible family connections!”
    contact me large 2

Welcome mat photo used under Creative Commons 3.0 License courtesy of King Dumb at Flickr.

© 2010, copyright Thomas MacEntee

10 Ways To Get More Readers For Your Genealogy Blog (Part 2)

10 Ways To Increase Readers To Your Genealogy Blog

This the second part of a series on 10 Ways to Get More Readers for Your Genealogy Blog. The first part covered planning and designing your site. This part covers how to make people aware of your site and get them to visit it.

#6: Hand-Delivered Content

You want to provide a way for your lazy readers to keep up to date on the site. For most blogs this means getting an RSS feed, and possibly sending out automated emails whenever you post. A quick Twitter and/or Facebook update is a good idea too, although tweaking your tweets and status updates is a more in-depth topic that I won’t cover here. (Googling “social media marketing” will provide more information than you could possibly use, if you’re interested.)

Basically, assume your reader wants to follow your site but doesn’t have the time to check back every however many days. Give them an easy way to remember you exist and read your new stuff in the format they like.

Action Steps

  1. How to Write Tweets that Get Clicks and How to Build Your Facebook Profile and Drive Traffic to Your Blog are good guides for the two largest social media sites. Feedburner has an awesome set of help files to help you get started with it.
  2. Go to Feedburner and get your feed burnt!

#7: Spread the Word

Tell everyone you know that you have or are redoing your blog: your family, your friends, your co-workers, your hairdresser, your mechanic. You interact with a very large network of people daily; make use of it. Many of them, even if they aren’t passionate about genealogy, will at least look at the site and tell you what they thought.

Stick your blog’s URL in your signature file for posting on mailing lists and message boards, and in your profile on LinkedIn or Facebook or GenealogyWise. Put it in your business cards, invoices, and bios for speaking engagements. Make sure that everyone knows you have a website.

Action Steps

  1. Not much to do except go out and do it!

#8: Search Engine Optimization

No longer the sole purview of slimy internet marketers peddling over-priced e-books, SEO is important because you want people to be able to find your website when they go to Google. To do that, you have to understand how search engines rank your site and the pages within it:

  • URLs. If hosting on a service like Blogspot, choose your username wisely, as it will show up in every URL. If hosting on your own, choose your domain name wisely. Also, pay attention to how your individual posts’ URLs look. This will let Google and other search engines index your pages better.
  • Page titles. You will have varying levels of customizability based on your blogging platform and hosting. You might have to learn a bit of CSS and HTML but it’s pretty straightforward and very rewarding. Remember that Google cuts off anything after the 65-70 character mark, so make sure they’re succinct.
  • Headers. Anything written using an <h1>, <h2>, or <h3> tag is prioritized in that order. This is why your headings and post titles should be descriptive, instead of cutesy.
  • Keyword density. Don’t be stupid with this and try to stuff your page full of keywords. It looks forced and silly. If you have a moderate command of the language your page is written in, you don’t have to worry abut keyword density.
  • Backlinks. Authoritative sites linking back to you really helps with this, but don’t be tempted by offers of link exchanges. Search engines are smart enough to recognize these and they will invariably hurt your ranking. For a better way to get others to link to you, see “Community involvement”, below.

Action Steps

  1. Learn about SEO at Google.
  2. Determine which keywords are important to your site: “Manitoba genealogy”? “DAR application”? “Organizing genealogy files”? “John Queazer family tree”?
  3. Look at your URLs, page titles, and headers to ensure they reflect your focus. If using WordPress, Yoast’s Definitive Guide to Higher Rankings is a must-read. Blogspot bloggers will want to go through this checklist made specifically for them.

#9: Community Involvement

This is also known as “networking for people who hate the term networking”. It consists largely of commenting and guest posting on other blogs; participating in blog carnivals, mailing lists, and forums; signing up for genealogy-related websites; and contributing useful, unique, or interesting content that makes people want to click on your name and find out more about you. Don’t try to consciously self-promote or spam people. Restrict yourself to saying quality things on the web and people will come to you.

Guest posting in particular is an excellent opportunity, not to be underestimated. Some of you will find it ironic that I’m guest-posting about guest-posting, but there you have it. By guest-posting on other blogs, or having others guest-post on yours, you are “cross-pollinating” your reader list.

Action Steps

  1. Visit Ramit Sethi’s guidelines for guest posters on his blog. Although he targets a different market (personal finance), his tips hold true for you.
  2. This week, scour the genealogy-related web and leave at least one quality comment on another blog, or one good post on a message board or mailing list.
  3. Offer to write a guest post for one blog you follow.

Special note: If you would like a step by step guide to guest-posting and are okay with paying for the information, I highly recommend Guest Post Secrets by Erica Douglass. It’s a very affordable product (twenty-seven bucks) that takes you through the process step-by-step, complete with email templates to use. Please don’t think this product is the only way to go; there are tons of other great, free resources for guest posting (just Google “how to guest post”). I only mention it because it has been so helpful in my own blogging journey.

#10: Social Media

Facebook, Twitter, and GenealogyWise are common places for genealogists to hang out together virtually. You would be wise to go to these sites and create an account and interact with people. If you fear that you don’t have the time to keep up, there are a number of tools to help you manage the often voluminous output of these sites. Twitter streams can be syndicated as RSS feeds, and you can tweak your Facebook email notifications too. If you really don’t have time for it, though, your best bet is to create a dummy account and say something on your profile to the effect of “I don’t participate in [social web app]; the best way to contact me is through [preferred media].”

Each of these sites also has their own rules and cultural norms. You need to learn these, otherwise you risk alienating the very people you want to attract. Googling “[social media site] etiquette” usually gets you what you need to know. GeneaBloggers also has an extensive Twitter Cheat Sheet you should look at.

Action Steps

  1. Read The Ultimate Social Media Etiquette Handbook.
  2. Create an account on one social media site of your choice. Link your profile to your website and, if desired, redirect people to a better form of communication. If you will actually use the site, spend one hour getting it set up.

Conclusion

I hope the second half of this series gave you some ideas to increase your traffic. Despite the length of these two posts, we have still barely scratched the surface. There are a number of specialized resources that I just didn’t have the space to include, and a number of topics that, due to space restrictions, were glossed over entirely. Below are four more free resources to help you:

  • 279 Days to Overnight Success by Chris Guillebeau. Chris was the first person who showed me that being a digital entrepreneur was possible and viable. Plus he does other cool things, like aim to visit every single country in the world by the time he’s 35.
  • Blog Success Manifesto by Erica Douglass. Erica is great at breaking things down into easy-to-follow, step-by-step instructions. This guide is simultaneously one of the most comprehensive and most concrete I’ve encountered. It is stuck behind a “give me your email address” form, but you can always use a throwaway. (Though I stayed signed up afterwards, because Erica rocks my socks!)
  • Ramped Blogging by Robb Sutton is specifically aimed at people who want to make money from their blogging, but it’s still got lots of useful tips, because you can’t make money off a website if no one visits it. Robb wins points for doing automatic follow-up on the material in the book once per week for 7 weeks. This is useful if you’re like me and tend to forget about all the projects you’re in the midst of doing! (Also behind a “give me your email” form.)
  • Free Marketing Courses from Naomi Dunford. Choose the most appropriate one for you and go to town. This covers marketing yourself online, with a slant towards making money, but again, there’s no reason you can’t take the tips and apply them just to get greater exposure. (As above, stuck behind an email form an sent out at a rate of one per day for 7 days.)

About the Author: Katrina McQuarrie is a Gen Y genealogist who believes in making family history more accessible to non-nerds and young people. She runs a genealogy blog of her own called Kick-Ass Genealogy.

© 2010, copyright Katrina McQuarrie