My blog is coming up on its three month birthday. The year is drawing to a close. There is something about the end of the year that makes one susceptible to reflection. I found myself reflecting on my life with my new baby. What wisdom have I earned? What insights have I gained? I’ll tell you what.
I FUCKING HATE EVERYTHING ABOUT BLOGGING OTHER THAN ACTUALLY BLOGGING.
Well, that felt good. I should yell more often. In today’s post we are going to take a minute to peek under the skirt of the art of financial blogging. One guest pass to hang around your neck, dear Reader, and welcome to the backstage. Come see how the sausage is made. I hope you don’t lose your appetite.
What did I expect from my blog?
I started blogging because
- A small (ok, who am I kidding? Not so small) part of me has always believed that I would make the most excellent benevolent dictator. Unfortunately, my invitation to join the Cohort of Dictators appears to have been lost in the mail. Never mind, I thought, ever one to roll with the punches. I shall make do by being the dictator of my very own blog. And I shall rule with an iron fist. In a velvet glove.
- I’ve always loved to write. There are few highs quite like the one of crafting a sentence that is just perfect. Luckily for me this doesn’t happen often enough to make me into a total junkie.
- I am thrilled to be on the path to financial independence and early retirement. It became such a big part of my life that I had to share it somewhere. I had to evangelize. I had to. I would have burst, if not for the outlet of this blog.
I imagined that I would write and you, dear Reader, would read. We would interact amicably in the comments, and live symbiotically thus, happily ever after.
And yes, that did happen. But other things also came to pass. And most of them were quite ghastly.
Is blogging more than writing?
(Hollow laughter) Yes. Oh fuck yes.
You can find post upon post out there entitled “How to Start Your Own Blog” or “How to Start Your Own Blog in 3 Simple Steps” or even “How to Start Your Own Blog in Less Time Than It Would Take You to Sneeze”. All of these wondrous posts will walk you through the steps of picking your hosting company, registering your domain, installing wordpress and then voila, there you are, virgin blog before you, just waiting to be ravaged by your mighty pen.
And that is where they leave you, these helpful start-a-blog posts, poised to start posting, a world of Readers awaiting your word. You know what they neglect to mention? Plugins. SEO. Social Media Presence. Themes. Backups. Performance. Analytics. They walk you through conception, but neglect to mention labour.
If I rant about each one of these we would end up ringing in the New Year together. We love each other, but not quite that much, so I’ll focus on the few that I love to hate.
It turns out that being the benevolent dictator of a realm means more than issuing diktats and swaggering around your domain. You need to maintain it. You are responsible for its health and happiness. If your domain is a blog, to do this, you need plugins. Now don’t get me wrong, plugins are wondrous things. There are plugins for everything. To see your stats. To monitor your comments for spam. To monitor page performance. To optimize your images. One plugin to rule them all, one plugin to find them, one plugin to bring them all and in the darkness bind them.
No, really, I would be lost without plugins. But there are so many of them. So very many. And they each have settings by the dozen. And some of them don’t play well together in the sandbox. And if you take your eyes off them for a minute, I swear they multiply like rabbits. In less than 3 months I have twelve. Have you watched the Minions? That is what plugins remind me of the most. They are legion. They mean well. But things don’t always turn out well for the ones they supposedly serve.
Search Engine Optimization (SEO), is the art and witchcraft of teaching search engines like Google to fall in love with your blog, and once smitten, to offer up your blog to pilgrims on the internet searching for the eternal truths.
A fellow blogger, Millennial Money, who happens to be an SEO wizard, wrote up an excellent post for bloggers seeking to make Papa Google smile favourably upon them. There are over 60 tips. Over 60 things to do just so, virgins and lambs to sacrifice, spells to be chanted at midnight while you cackle evilly and warts grow upon your chin, all so that your page ranking might improve.
Not one of these has to do with the one thing I actually love, the content of the post.
In these three months I have come to view SEO as the Slimy creature conspiring to Erode the quality of my Output.
How so? If there is an art to pleasing both Google and staying true to my writing style, it eludes me.
I write a post. I slave over it. I craft and rewrite entire paragraphs. Much cursing is involved. And then, when finally, finally, I have it just right, Yoast (one my faithful minions, an SEO plugin), helpfully looks it over and proclaims it to be shit.
Let me give you an example. I wrote a post entitled ‘Why I need to be a Dolphin’. This post, like the vast majority of my writing, made my SEO analyzer terribly unhappy. Yoast wrung its hands and said things like “The focus keyword ‘why do i want to retire early’ does not appear in the SEO title.” and “The focus keyword doesn’t appear in the first paragraph of the copy. Make sure the topic is clear immediately.” and “The keyword density is 0.1%, which is too low; the focus keyword was found 1 times.”
SEO wants me to be literal. If my post is about why I want to retire early, then why in the world do I blather on about dolphins? I should instead state my intention precisely in the title, then again in a sub-heading in the post, and then (to ensure that not even the most dimwitted person could possibly miss what the post was about) in the text itself, ideally more than once.
And the truth of the matter is, I do want to be on the front page of Google. I want readers to be able to find my posts, find my words. I write to be read. If no one reads what I write, I’ll just be the proverbial tree sadly falling over in a forest. I write to be read, but I cannot seem to write posts that Google would admire. I do not lay my sentences down in orderly fashion, like a Roman army ready to march into battle. My words are more like gamins, running wild through the city, their laughter and shouts echoing off the old buildings. And so SEO and I seem destined to be in a dysfunctional relationship, SEO the disapproving father, and I the wayward daughter who always disappoints.
Social Media Presence
As if dealing with your minions and battling slimy eroders of output wasn’t enough to suck the laughter and joy out of your soul, if you write a blog you must have Presence on social media. You must tweet and amass Twitter followers and have a Facebook page and be Pinteresting.
Now, I have nothing against Social Media. Where else could I watch, popcorn in hand, while the two guys I barely remember from high school thump their chests with macho abandon as they argue politics they barely understand? How would I know which aunt was feuding with which over that thing she said fifteen years ago about our Jeffrey?
Dabbling in social media as a guilty pleasure is not quite the same as being good at social media. Being good at Social Media is a game. I don’t want to play it. I just know I’m going to be the kid that nobody wants on their team. I don’t even want to be in the same ballpark.
I don’t like having to create Pinteresting graphics for every post. This may have to do with the fact that I’m not good at it. You see, not any picture will do. The dimensions have to be just right (and the dimensions are not the same for Twitter Cards, Pinterest and Facebook). The text has to make your audience thirst for more. The graphic should subtly advertise your brand. It is all a bit reminiscent of building a house of confectionary, so that you can lure Hansel and Gretel in.
I do have a Twitter account for my blog. Some parts of my blog’s Twitter presence I enjoy. I stumble across new blogs and good posts. I have interacted with authors of blogs that I admire (and squealed like a fangirl when this has occurred). But being good at social promotion entails much more than that. It entails regularly tweeting to all and sundry, about the same post, over and over “Come read this! You may have missed it! It was truly great! Your life would be incomplete without it!”. You have to have a queue of engaging tweets buffered up. Like a good gardener you have to tend your queue every day. You have to analyze hash tags and weigh them for popularity. You have to consider if using Twitter Cards is right for you. You have to have graphics to act as bait for your tweets.
I don’t yet have a Facebook page for my blog, so I can’t attest to what fresh hell that would entail.
I mock social media, but I do use it, albeit half heartedly. I have three barely populated Pinterest boards. I call out to the faithful, like an imam, about my fabulous posts at regular intervals on Twitter. I am that saddest of Social Media creatures – I don’t play the game well enough to reap any benefits that might be had, and I am not strong enough to just shun it in its entirety.
Writing this blog has been incredibly fun and rewarding. I’ve met interesting folks along the way. You, dear Readers, have proved to be a constant source of delight (except for those of you who end up in my spam folder. You know who you are). I’m enjoying the ride. Despite all the whining and ranting I have done in this post, I’m not going to stop anytime soon. I will forge ahead, minions and slimy monsters be damned. I will Tweet and be as Pinteresting as I know how. Why? Because the struggle is worth it.
And what doesn’t kill me, will only make me stronger.