Why We Write
We all have different reasons why we write, but ultimately, a Christian blog supposes the desire to impact some section of the world for Christ.
A greater number of monthly views or visitors does not necessarily translate into better meeting that goal. Writing that loses its Christ-centered purpose will not glorify God, help Christians grown, or witness to the lost. Depending on the frequency of your posts and the frequency of your godly inspiration, you are likely to have a few posts that forget that purpose. Your blog can survive that. But if the general direction of the writing has moved away from Christ, then it wise to stop and reassess your direction.
Stay focused on Christ.
What We Write
Assuming that the majority of your writing is Christ-centered, then the next concern is the quality of the writing and the quality of the theology.
Our doctrines may differ. That is fine, but it behooves us to know what we believe and why. If you are blogging and only now discovering for yourself what you believe and why, that does not disqualify you. In fact, there is a great opportunity there. As a new Christian, you likely have a great fire to share what you know. The only problem is that you don’t know very much. Study. Read your Bible. Listen to sermons. Read commentaries. Then write about your experience growing as a Christian. Stay positive. Avoid the temptation to write negatively about other theologies. This is a particularly strong temptation for new Christians (and new pastors). As we grow, we begin to define ourselves according to what we believe in opposition to the beliefs of others. Maybe for the first time, a systematic theology is helping us to make sense of the Bible. Other theologies seem illogical. Never mind the fact that we don’t understand the other theological viewpoints. Never mind that we’ve only understood our own for about five minutes. Once it clicks for us, it can be hard to imagine any other theological approach clicking for anyone else. Stick to what you believe about the Bible and leave everyone else alone.
Eventually, there will be room for comparative theology, but that should only come once you’ve been humbled enough to recognize that the other church may be right in areas where it disagrees with you. Even then, make sure that you can define your calling and purpose outside of the beliefs and teachings of others. Your work should not exist purely to disapprove of another Christian’s theological stance.
Focus on scripture. Know the truth. Teach the truth. Too many Christian bloggers today go the other way around. They study the error. They know the error, and they try to teach against the error. That does not work. The result is foolishness that covers over and obfuscates true apostasy. There are a few reasons for this. One, the bloggers have no reason to discern what is actually being said. Their existence and popularity hinges on discovering new “false” teaching. Known heresy is boring. There is no fame in that. No-name teachers and known false teachers are also boring. Fame comes in “exposing” someone new for some teaching no one has ever questioned before… or by trumpeting some new “proof” for the latest conspiracy to be secretly poisoning the church. Two, error imitates truth, and bloggers rooting for error, end up attacking the truth. Three, the bloggers tend to feed off of one another’s gossip, repeating one another’s mistakes.
The best way to protect the sheep from wolves is to teach the truth. Prepare the sheep to protect themselves.
The truth is the best defense.
If you write purely for satisfaction of knowing you are widely read, you will be discouraged. With my previous blog, I would compare my statistics with the stats from my daughter’s blog, and I would get frustrated. Now, she compares her stats with mine and gets jealous. I read the history of an anonymous atheist blogger and the traffic he was getting monthly made me feel like giving up. Quit it. The Bible tells us it is foolishness to compare ourselves amongst ourselves. Now, that may lead you to forsake concerning yourself over traffic at all. If so, you’ve reached a place I have not yet reached. I don’t want to compare myself to others, but I do want to reach more people than I have in the past. To that end, you will also notice that articles about traffic do not give you target numbers. There is no right amount of traffic.
Now, let’s assume that you do want to increase the traffic to your site. Since you are reading this article, that’s a safe assumption.
There are two archetypes when it comes to sites and how they draw traffic.
One is news-driven,
and the other is self-driven.
Your site will either be one of these archetypes or a hybrid between the two. In a news-driven site, traffic peaks during times of breaking news and drops of dramatically at other times. In self-driven sites, traffic is driven by the reader’s attachment to the site. Traffic is more consistent. It will not have the steep valleys of the news-driven site, but it won’t have the peaks, either.
Some of the advice I am going to give you here are things I have implemented myself. Some are tips I am working to put into practice now. Thus far, Calvary Training is more of a news-driven site. I am associated with Calvary Chapel. When news breaks relevant to Calvary Chapel, I try to report on it. There is a need for this because otherwise the news is left purely to secular media and attack sites. I can attempt to present news and Calvary Chapel history, in a sensitive, godly manner, and provide balance against these other sources. I see that as part of the calling for the site, and I plan on continuing accordingly.
Having said that, I don’t particularly enjoy that side of blogging. There is no joy or pride in writing about death, illness, and scandal, no matter how sensitive I try to be. Also, I am not excessively thick-skinned. There will always be people who take vocal, angry exception with how I approach these matters. It bothers me that these stories are the source of most of my traffic. Many of these readers will come for that one story and never darken the site again. Still, that traffic plays an important role in getting everything else read. These stories are shared on social sites, which improves the site’s standing with search engines. My other stories are read more often because of that.
1) Facebook as a Promotional Platform
Social sites are important for promoting news-based stories, and different sites have different rules and different tactics for success. Facebook wants you to limit your friends to people you know in real life. As you request friendships from people you don’t know, you will quickly learn this. Some of them will refuse your friendship. They are then asked if they know you in real life. They will click no. Get enough of these and you will receive a warning from Facebook. If you are determined to work around this, join groups like “I want Christian friends” and allow other members to add you to their friends list.
Facebook will also allow you to create groups of your own as well as creating an official page for your site. The bonus of the page is that the number of people who like your site’s Facebook page is relevant to search engine results. Your number of friends or the number of people in your group(s) is not. Calvary Training has an official page. I have WordPress set to automatically publish there as well as on Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+, Tumblr, and a few other places. The site also has two groups. I manually publish all normal article to the Calvary Training group and all devotions to the Calvary Devo group. Recently, I started posting a week’s worth of devotions in one post, but before that, devotionals were published daily. That tended to swamp out everything else, and the separate groups were a way of dealing with that.
You can post in other groups as well, but be careful. Read that rules for the groups you join. Some groups are okay with your web posts. Others are not. Respect that. There are also groups that are strictly for that purpose, but these have never proved to be good sources of traffic for me. You want to post in a group that is closely relevant to your article’s material.
When you are new to a social site, it can make little sense and seem of no purpose. It only becomes relevant once you cross that unknown threshold of relevant social connections. Once you have enough “friends”, once you are “following” and being “followed” by enough of the right people, then it begins to click.
2) Twitter and a Tumblr Warning
Unlike Facebook, Twitter does not care if you know the people you follow or who follow you. You are looking to build a social community that will translate into more people reading your blog. This is what I meant by “the right people”. Seemingly relevant, official accounts do little to build up the community you need. You are looking for active people that you can engage with. To then better encourage the transition to readers and promoters of your posts, you can do what Chris Linzey does. He begins a conversation on Twitter to elicit responses that he will then post on his blog. The adds to the readability of his post for everyone, as it draws in interesting and humorous points from outside sources. It also helps encourage the move from Twitter to his blog as everyone wants to see themselves quoted.
I have little to say about the other social sites right now, except for a warning about Tumblr. Calvary Training is my second attempt at a WordPress site. Before that, I briefly used Tumblr. I reclaimed my old Tumblr site to automatically publish teaser posts for my main site.
I do not recommend Tumblr for Christian consumption.
3) Guest Posts
One of the most highly touted tactics for increasing traffic is writing guest posts. For this, it is important that you are writing for relevant blogs with significantly more traffic. For generating traffic for self-driven sites this is particularly important. The traffic you draw this way is different from social traffic. For the most part, social traffic remains social traffic. They are Facebook readers, not blog readers. They will click over when something interests them and perhaps comment, like, or share the post on Facebook. All that is good, but they are not likely to become subscribers to your blog.
People who check out your blog because they liked your guest article, however, are blog readers. They are more likely to subscribe, more likely to come back, and more likely to comment on the blog, itself. This is generally the second-highest rated piece of advice, just below the hopefully obvious point: write good content. It can be difficult to find relevant blogs, and then it can be difficult to get published on them, but the effort is worth it. It can seem counterproductive when that time could be spent writing for your own blog, but it’s not, if you’re publishing to the right blogs.
Don’t Forget the Basics
4) Submit your blog to search engines.
There are sites that will do that in bulk, for free. Submit your blog to site directories. DMOZ is the most important. Google and Yahoo have site directories as well. Your blog software should take care of most of the search-engine-optimization (SEO) for you, but remember to use categories and tags. Including alternate descriptions to your images can also be important and is something of which I don’t do enough.
Speaking of images, remember to give credit.
Wikimedia commons is a good source for public domain images. If your post is largely taken from another blog or heavily inspired by it, give it an H/T link, at least. H/T stands for hat-tip. I’ve had posts largely or entirely copied from my site, and that little “H/T” link back can soothe a bit of ire.
5) Keep in mind the readability of the piece.
Subheadings and bullet points enable a reader to skim through the piece first. This can actually reduce the intimidation factor and make it more likely they will stop and read what you have to say. It is tempting to cut posts short for fear that no one will read long posts, but it has been said that 2,000 word posts are treated better by search engines. If you’re wondering how long 2,000 words is, this article reached that marker in the last paragraph.
6) Know what kind of material draws what kind of traffic.
Poetry is a heavily searched topic of WordPress. Poems are quickly read and responded to with a “like” from other bloggers. It has long been commented on that a quick image post can draw far more attention than an article that took hours to write. Including well-chosen images with your article can be important. If you are able to post animated gifs you can experiment with them as well. I’ve been playing with those the last several posts.
But don’t do this.
One of the tactics you see in the commercial blogs are the posts that require you to scroll through several pages. It may be 14 images of people saved by their pets, or whatever, and every image is another page. I don’t recommend copying that technique. It’s annoying, and, for most blogging platforms, it won’t work well. The purpose is increased ad impressions, and that brings up another issue.
What about advertising on your blog?
On WordPress.com, you can have a free account and they will show ads to people who are not signed in with a WordPress account, and maybe more often than that. For a few dollars a year, you can pay to not have ads or to participate in the ad program so that you earn a little when ads are shown. The best I’ve been able to determine, the amount you make per ad varies based on what you’re paying for. I pay the most possible for my account. It’s about $100 a year. I get more control, more space, the ability to post video, and my own domain name for that amount. Money is tight, so I am off-setting that expense with advertising. Once they account for last month’s views, I expect to finally beat that $100 amount and receive a check. Then, come June, I’ll have to pay another $100 for next year. For the year, I will have run around 70,000-75,000 views, and that will basically cover the cost of having the blog.
7) Holding nothing back
There are particular topics that draw constant attention. I’ve often thought that any honest article about increasing traffic needed to include this: write an article about increasing blog traffic. I don’t know yet how sound that piece of advice really is, but maybe, later, I’ll add another paragraph to let you know.
I also often wonder if these traffic posts are telling us everything they know. Certainly, they must be holding the juicy stuff back. Here, I’m trying to tell you what I do and want to do. Nothing held back. So, don’t let me forget the other usual stuff. Comments on blogs help you. Your comment includes a link back to your WordPress blog, and those links become important over time, especially when you are commenting on blogs with good traffic and on subjects that are relevant to your content.
There are sites that will let you check your page rank, an indicator of how important search engines see your site. Alexa.com is often discussed as being another way to judge your site, but not only is this getting us back to comparing ourselves amongst ourselves, unless you are already getting incredible traffic, the information from Alexa isn’t that helpful. Calvary Training has fluctuated in rank, worldwide, from 2.5 million to 4.5 million. The reason for this is there just really isn’t that much difference between all these millions of websites, and the slightest change can move you up and down drastically. Alexa will also tell you that their results really aren’t that reliable unless the site is in the top 100,000.
Paying for traffic
There is little I can say as it’s not something I can afford to do, but I have noticed that you can pay to have backlinks added to sites to improve your search engine ranking. Once you’ve done that, you can pay another company to remove those backlinks because your search engine rank has plummeted. The way I see it, it’s easier to keep your money in your pocket.
Remember seek God’s glory, not your own. Amen?
EDIT: 12 hours later
So, how does a traffic post do on a site not dedicated to these things? That depends on how you measure. Yesterday morning, I posted about loving one another. Last night, I posted about boosting your blog traffic. The traffic post received twice as many views. That being said, it’s still in the normal range for non-news material. A news-driven story can draw 200 times as much traffic. Not 200%. 200 times as much. What is that? 20,000%? Wah. Do you know how depressing that is? But here’s the truth. Christ had 12 apostles. At Pentecost there were 120 disciples gathered. There were others, certainly. He appeared to some 500 at one time after His resurrection. But He kept the number intentionally small and pure for those 3 1/2 years. The explosive reach to the rest of the world would come after. Every pastor has been told not to despise the days of small things. You don’t know what’s coming or how God will use you.
EDIT: 24 hours later
A few points I forgot or am just now picking up: as you’ve seen, I’ve gone back and sprinkled some “Click to Tweet” links throughout the post. You can set up these codes at clicktotweet.com. WordPress doesn’t allow the code, but you don’t need it. Write the same copy on the post as you write in clicktotweet.com. Then take the short link you’ve generated and hyperlink it through a call-to-action, like “Click to Tweet”.
Also, I meant to mention having a comments section. It will benefit the blog if you can eventually build up a healthy community of people leaving comments. That can’t happen if you don’t allow comments on your blog. When comments are left, respond. People need to know that you care that they left a comment. This is an area where I’m trying to improve.
Why We Write