Starting a blog from scratch: One blogger’s tale

How do I make my blog popular?

It’s a question many bloggers who are just starting out ask themselves. To gain some insight on the process, I talked with Charli Penn-Watkins, author of the five-month old blog Man Wife and Dog, a daily account of her new journey into married life, about the successes and pitfalls she has encountered and how she’s working to expand her brand.

MSL: Why did you decide to start blogging?

CPW: I love to write. I love my husband [Gibran]. And I love our marriage. This blog felt like the way to join all three passions. I also personally believe that chronicling something from the beginning is the perfect way to look back and reflect over time. So when I got engaged I vowed to write about my marriage from the very start. Now I’m all about keeping a daily record of my thoughts, experiences, and highs and lows involving my marriage.

MSL: What is your blog about?

CPW: Ultimately, my marriage. I recently married the man of my dream — my soul mate if you will — and after dating for seven years, we’ve got the whole love thing down solid, but it’s the marriage thing we’re working on perfecting — together, of course. So I’ve chosen to chronicle that journey online and to be as transparent as possible as so as to create a dialogue for other women who can somehow see some piece of a reflection of their own life or story within mine.

MSL: How often do you blog?

CPW: Blogging is a much bigger commitment than most people realize, I think, even for a writer. So, in the beginning it took some getting used to so I only blogged two or three times a week. Then I got hooked and now I blog almost daily, and I’ve learned my readers really appreciate that. They say they like coming back every morning to find something new up for discussion.

MSL: What kind of strategies have you used to promote your blog? Do they work?

CPW: I’m finding that promoting my blog is the tricky part because the key is to target the right audience, and that’s not always easy to find. For now I’m all about utilizing social media; something I know and understand well. I created a Facebook fan page for my blog and rebranded my personal Twitter account to match as well.

I also joined a lot of online blog communities that offer support and multiple opportunities for partnerships and link shares. Right now my favorites are BlogFrog which even lets you set up your own blogger communities and share widgets for it on your site and 20 Something Bloggers. I feel that they’re most inclusive of new bloggers who aren’t “famous” or “top listed”.

I’m able to meet lots of other new and amateur bloggers like me who are blogging about similar topics, visit their blogs and then include links back to my site using my custom Gravatar to comment on their sites and within the community forums. I also make a point of fully optimizing my posts and images for search engine terms.

So far I’ve found the most success through promoting my blog on my personal Facebook page and through my Facebook fan page, as well as through search engine referrals for relevant keyword searches. Adding a Facebook “Like” button plug-in to my WordPress blog really helps because a lot of people give when people give my posts a “thumbs up” it pops up in their personal feeds for their network and friends to see.

MSL: What are some of the obstacles you have had to overcome?

CPW: Before I started blogging personally, I spent years as an online editor for large professional brands. This meant I had a lot of experience working with content management systems and writing for the web but there was always a team of developers and tech support to help with all the back end stuff we never had to see or do.

Now that my blog is privately hosted it’s up to me to understand how to edit each individual element without the use of a dashboard or simple CMS. It’s really forced me to teach myself each step of the blogging process and to take my knowledge past basic HTML and to focus on CSS and stuff.

MSL: What obstacles do you still face?

CPW: I’m still lost on a lot of the CSS and the tweaking of all the behind the scenes stuff, but it’s a lot of fun learning as I go. I can spend hours trying to find and install a plug-in I need and make it look the way I want it to. I don’t mind the learning curve, but I am constantly afraid I’ll break my blog and there will be on one in the next cube for me to beg to fix it.

I think what’s probably most frustrating also is knowing what I want to do, but not having the skill/knowledge to do it myself and having to seek out someone to teach me how or do it for me whose services I can actually afford.

MSL: What keeps you motivated?

CPW: Although I’ve only been blogging for a short time, I already get a lot of feedback from readers saying that they appreciate my honesty and that they got something useful or therapeutic from one of my posts. I have a 9 to 5 so that gets me through the late nights I stay up planning posts and tweets and Facebook status updates for the next day.

MSL: How do you define success for your blog?

CPW: In two ways: 1. Whenever I put a post that I’m proud of I feel successful because I’m doing what I set out to do. 2. When someone I don’t know randomly shouts me out on Twitter or leaves a comment saying “I love your blog and I visit every day” that makes me feel like something’s working out.

You can follow Charli and her blog at Man Wife and Dog Blog.