I love getting emails. Most concern art projects and classroom management, but every now and then I get a question about my blog. People want to know who designs everything, how I get traffic, how I make money and where I get my ideas. I’ve always shied away from responding to these questions because I feel I’m not an expert in web design or blog development. But I have learn a few things in the four years I have had Deep Space Sparkle and today I’m going to share all my secrets with you!
What does a successful blog look like?
That’s the question, isn’t it? It’s hard to define why some blogs are successful while others are not. It all comes down to how you feel about the blog you are reading. I have a list of over fifty blogs that I adore. I visit these women weekly in their creative online spaces and for the ten minutes I’m absorbed in their blogs, I feel inspired. That inspiration fuels my day. It’s not so much what they say, but how they present their visions. Design and asthetics are essential components for me if I am to linger at a site. Here are a few things to consider in the design department:
- Take time to make your photos beautiful. Try not to use a photo that hasn’t been cropped or edited. You don’t have to have an expensive camera or use Photoshop. You can use a “point and shoot” camera very effectively and edit on a free photo-editing site like iPiccy. Taking the time to consider the visual elements in your blog is what readers love and appreciate. It’s like inviting someone over to your house and serving dinner on real plates, rather than paper. It shows that you are willing to put in a little extra effort for your readers.
- Be consistent with your design choices. Pick a couple of fonts and colors for your blog and use them repeatedly. I never knew this when I first started. I would use any old color and font that appealed to me at the moment. Now I understand that a certain font used consistently throughout your blog is a reinforcement of your brand or design aesthetic.
- Keep post text black on white. I still see many blogs using colored or white text. It’s very, very hard to read. Stick with the very basics of black text on a white background. Everyone over the age of 40 will thank you.
- Know how much space is allocated for your photos. The maximum width for my photos is 600px. That’s the width of the post body (where my text for posts go). Use up the entire space instead of making your photos small.
Be yourself and not anyone else.
You are the reason why people are reading your blog. Yes, you! I still have to remind myself of this when I’m wondering what to say in my blog posts. Sometimes I feel the need to get all art-educator-serious when talking about things like assessment and standards and all that stuff. But the truth is, I feel best when I can say what I really feel. Of course, this doesn’t mean getting nasty or being confrontational, it just means that people visit your blog because they like what you are saying and doing.
- Perhaps you don’t want to say anything at all. That’s okay. Geninne Zlatkis started out by using her art to speak for her. She is one of my all time favorites and I have adored her art since the (almost) very beginning.
- It’s very easy to adopt the voice of your favorite blogger, but please don’t. I urge you to keep your voice uniquely yours. I remember when I first discovered The Pioneer Woman. Her blog inspired me to do a total design rehaul of my blog, add a menu and get a moving slideshow (the official name is Dynamic Content Gallery). I loved her voice…how she said y’all and seemed to talk directly to me. Then, without being totally aware, I started to mimic her voice in my own posts. About a year later, I came across one of these posts and I had to stop and ask myself, “who in the heck wrote this?” Scary.
Why do you blog?
This might be the biggest question of all because how you answer will determine everything. Do you want to blog because it’s a way to show parents what is going on in the art room? Do you blog to share your work with other art teachers? Do you blog because everyone else is? Do you blog with the intent to make money?
I ask this because I get a few emails from readers who ask me how I protect my work from other art teachers in my district, how I keep people from stealing my ideas, etc. I think one of the first things you need to understand about the blogging world is that it is a place for sharing. If you put anything out there, you need to know that it will get shared. That’s what blogging is. And it’s a good thing. So if you don’t want to share anything, but still want to blog, make your blog private (all blogs have privacy settings). It’s very easy and it will help control what you want public.
If you blog, you should be aware of the few guidelines that bloggers try to enforce but don’t want to shout out. Things like asking permission to post one of your photos or linking back to a Post URL (not the website). If you don’t know how to do this, you can find out easily by using Google. I created this post on how to link back to help people understand the how’s and why’s.
If you blog for the soul purpose of sharing art lessons and projects, consider making your site as unique as possible. What makes your blog different from all the other art ed blog out there? Jessica from The Art of Education blogs about the management side of teaching art. If you want to know the logistics behind a well organized and managed art class, visit her site. Laura from Painted Paper is the queen of paint inspiration. Her photos are colorful and inspiring and are always kid-friendly. Kathy from Art Project for Kids keeps her posts consistent and simple. Her posts always have one picture, a brief description and a small tutorial. It’s her signature. What’s yours?
Monetizing your Blog
Monetizing your blog can be very rewarding. If you have some pretty good traffic (0ver 2000 visits a day) you may want to consider joining a blog network like Blogher. There are other companies like Blogher that provide advertisements on your site. The drawback is that the ads can take up prime real estate on your blog (usually above the fold). You can offer ads for sale on your own site. Depending on your traffic again, you can charge a flat monthly rate for ads of different sizes and placements. There are many blogs on the web that can tell you what is standard, so try googling monetizing your blog to see what you can find out. I don’t sell ads or belong to an advertising network because I make money by selling my own product. I love doing this as my ebook lesson plans help other art teachers and supports my efforts on this blog.
There are also Google ads, but I wouldn’t recommend them. They don’t really pay much and you might be better of selling your blog space for what you think your space is really worth. Affiliate links can be successful if used properly. I use affiliate links through Amazon and Dick Blick as I feel that these two companies offer products that are directly related to my reader’s needs. You can browse through Affiliate link companies like Share a Sale and Commission Junction for more information.
Basic Blog Tips
- You don’t have to understand Key Words and SEO (Search Engine Optimization) right now, but there are a few things you should be aware of if you want to grow your blog. First off, know that the title post of your blog is where Google looks for key words to direct traffic. If an art teachers googles “Van Gogh Art lesson” and the title of your Van Gogh art lesson post is “Little kinders get messy”, do you think the art teacher will land on your site? No. Try changing the title of your post to “Van Gogh art lesson for Kinders”. You can get descriptive in the body of your post. Of course, SEO is far more detailed than this, but if you can make one change, make sure your titles are searchable.
- Don’t make it hard for someone to comment on your blog. Please, for the love of all things good, remove word verification from your blog. Moderate if you feel it’s necessary, but the word verification thwarts an honest attempt to add a comment to your blog. It’s commonly understood in the blogging world that commenting is becoming less and less frequent. So if you want comments, make it easy for your reader. Go to your blog settings to change word verification. If you have Word Press, make sure it has Akismet to filter spam.
- When commenting, don’t add your own URL in the comment section. It’s considered bad form to plug your own blog when reading someone else’s. Many bloggers are opting to reward commenters by using Comment Luv on their blogs. This way, the commenter’s last post on her blog will show up under her name. It’s a win-win!
- Make sure to have an About Me page, or a picture of you and a brief description on the front page of your blog. People who visit your blog really want to know whose blog it is. Make sure it’s easy for them to find out a little bit more about you. I get sad when I find a blog I love but can’t find the blog owner’s name anywhere. Sad, sad, sad.
- RSS is a strange name but all it means is that a reader can subscribe to your blog by selecting their choice of feeds: email, readers, etc. Every blog has the capability to add an RSS feed. You first need to register with FeedBurner, then add the information to your site. If you don’t have an RSS feed, there is no way for someone to follow your blog (unless you have Google Friend Connect but that is being used less and less, if at all). Don’t depend on someone bookmarking your site. Most people don’t do that anymore but if they do, they still have to click on your site to find out if there is anything new posted.
Your Blog is an extension of you….
Helpful Blogging Sites: