Friday, December 21, 2012

Tips on Starting an Outdoor Blog

Recently, I had a young man ask me some questions in his pursuit of writing an outdoor blog. While answering his questions and offering a few tips, I realized that they might be helpful to other aspiring outdoor bloggers. Plus, I had added to this list since our email exchange. If you have any suggestions or tips to add, please leave a comment. I am no writing/blogging expert, but I will offer any help I can and I encourage you to add your points as well.

The SoCal Bowhunter blog has grown over time. I started it as a means to share my hunting knowledge, adventures and news worthy articles. That blossomed into gear reviews, a great network of outdoor bloggers, giving seminars and Pro Staff positions with reputable companies. All in all, I still do it because I enjoy writing. If you don't enjoy it, don't do it. 

Tips on starting your own outdoor blog:
  1. Be sure the blog format is easily readable to the end user. Don't make it all glitzy and fancy just to do it. Have a purpose behind the design of it.  Take a look at some of the template that the free blog sites have to offer and test some out and see what works for you.
  2. Add relevant navigation topics such as an About me section, the gear you use, links to other sites, etc. Share as much as you'd like, but be honest in your About Me section. Share who you are and what you believe in. Share where you are from and what you like to hunt and fish.
  3. Go read other outdoor blogs and start leaving comments. Don't just lurk. If something catches your eye and you want to comment, do it! If someone writes something you agree with, comment and let them know. One of the best ways to meet people while blogging is to comment on posts and even the ones you do NOT agree with. Start a good debate by commenting, but do it tastefully. By commenting you will have more people coming to check out your blog. Your opinion matters to someone, but if you don't share it no one will ever know but you.
  4. Photos!! You must incorporate photos to catch the readers eye. Copy just won't do it these days. We like visual stimulation and adding photos will do that. Take your time and capture some great photos. The more you take the better you'll become.
  5. Do you like doing gear reviews? Do some gear reviews on your own. Share some thoughts on gear you like and why. Do you like to keep it simple? Be sure to share that!
  6. Add a header to your page with a photo or graphic with the name in it. Don't just leave it as text. It's way too cookie-cutter and boring. Make it pop!
  7. Add a photo of you on the blog someplace. On the homepage or in the About me is a good place to start. People want to visualize who they are reading about.
  8. Write often or at least consistently. Writing once a month or twice a month will not get you anywhere. You have to engage people over and over to keep them coming back. Engage them with interesting articles, reports on your adventures, or just something in the news related to you blog.Mix it up, too. Don't just write about the same old thing.
  9. You must engage people on social media sites like Facebook and Twitter! Get an account set up on both. I know a few bloggers who were dead set against it and now they are thanking me for recommending the interaction. Social Media is THE way to get in touch with people these days. Plus, you can have it work for you and you don't have to spend a penny.
Like I mentioned, I am no blogging expert nor am I a professional writer. This is by no means a complete list and I am sure I will continue to add to it. I just write my blog the way I always wanted it to be written and I share my thoughts, stories and ideas. I stay true to myself and stick to my ideals. You can agree with me, disagree with me or no have an opinion. I welcome it all. I wish you all the best of luck in your writing and I hope this helps to some degree! Cheers.

27 comments:

  1. Thanks for the write up. I have been recently thinking about getting into the blogging arena, but still am unsure. I am the furthest thing from a writer, just love the outdoors and sharing experiences with other people from across the country. These points give others something to think about.

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  2. Great tips, Al! This is a question that I have fielded a few times, and one that I wish I would have asked before I got started. I definitely could have used help when I got started (I still could use it, actually), but learning from experience is part of the adventure.

    Here are a few of the things that I always share when I am answering this question...

    EXPECTATIONS - Don't expect to get a ton of traffic, readers, comments, followers, interactions, etc., overnight. It is going to take time for people to find you, and even more time for them to begin following along and interacting. Don't expect too much, too soon.

    MOTIVATION - Honestly, don't start an outdoor blog for the sole purpose of scoring some gear, getting on a Pro Staff, etc. Most people will see right through that; and it isn't even the most effective way to get such opportunities anyway. As you said - do it because you enjoy it!

    CONTENT IS KING - Yes, social media is important. Yes, the look and feel is important. But the most important thing that is going to make someone want to read your site AND return for more in the future, is content. Write good content. Cover relevant topics. Show passion in your writing. Which leads me to my last point...

    BE YOU - There are a lot of outdoor blogs out there these days, but there isn't another YOU out there. Take a stand...share your opinion and perspective...write with your own voice. Don't copy someone else. Put yourself out there.

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    1. Thanks, Mark! Great points on the expectations and motivation. Along those lines, if you ARE motivated and want to get on a Pro Staff you will have to earn it and it isn't easy. It's going to be work getting to that point.

      The 'content is king' point is so very true. Excellent point, Mark. I feel the other items are also relevant. If you throw any old garbage up there people may not respect you or your blog. There needs to be a balance, too. What I mean is that you can have the best content, but if you throw giant ads up there that are as wide as your screen it's cumbersome to read. If you take care and put up some visual content you have take care with it will help.

      The social media follows once you have written your article and you want to reach more readers. If you don't care about who it reaches then ignore this response, but if you DO want to reach the masses then social media is one of the best avenues.

      Great stuff and I appreciate the comment!

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    2. How much time should it take before a blog starts getting an audience? I've been blogging for three years and still don't have much of an audience. Its not a huge deal because I just like to share my stories whether there is an audience or not, but I'm just wondering if there is something I can do to increase that audience.

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  3. Great tips, Al.

    I can't say my blog is currently all that successful, but that's because of something you sort of get at in your post here, but it bears repeating... you get out of a blog what you put into it.

    I can use my own experience as an example. I'd consider my blog a couple of years ago to be fairly successful. People in the industry knew who I was. Winchester, Nikon, and several other companies were happy to work with me on gear reviews. My readership was pretty high. Then, with my move to Texas, an accelerated project schedule at my day job, and maybe a little blog burn-out tossed in, I haven't kept it as active as I should and it shows... both in a reduced readership and in the fact that I'm seldom approached about gear reviews lately. There are a lot of bloggers out there, and it doesn't take but a moment to become lost in the crowd.

    Be realistic about what you expect out of your blog, and about what it will take to get there. If it's just a hobby, then relax and enjoy it.

    But if you really want to use the blog as a launching point for something else, then you need to treat it like a job, working hard, not only at the blog but at promotion. Be willing to do a lot of stuff for free (or even out of your own pocket) until folks know who you are. Al's blog is an excellent example.

    It will happen, but temper your expectations. You're not likely to be inundated by free guns, high-end optics, or exotic hunting trips. Some folks get there, but not many... and keep in mind that those who do are usually connected to the industry BEFORE they start blogging.

    Likewise, very few bloggers are able to turn their work into a full-time job (unless you're writing corporate blogs...which is a whole 'nuther thing).

    Personally, all of the best blogs I've read have been created and maintained by people who are obviously passionate about their topic, who have their own voice (not shilling for industry/corporate sponsorship), and who are honestly interested in the personal interactions with their readers.

    So that's the only other point I'll belabor... blogs are social vehicles. Interaction with the readers is absolutely critical. If they take a few minutes to comment, take a few minutes to respond. If you want to keep readers coming back, pay attention to them.

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  4. Great comments guys! Phillip, you reminded me of a point you mentioned a couple years ago, too. The point was this (I am paraphrasing here); Don't write just to write. If there are gaps in your postings, and they are good, people will want to come back for more.

    That's one of the things that draws me to certain blogs. They are posted every few days or once a week. Gives me time to read other blogs, too. If someone posts every single day it gets old and doesn't seem quite so genuine. It seems forced.

    I appreciate the excellent tips here gentlemen.

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  5. For me taking pictures of things I want on my outings really helps me remember the details when I am sitting on my couch writing at the end of the day.

    I am going to disagree with Al on writing frequency. While writing a story just to write it without having a lot of thought or passion is not a good way to stay genuine, not writing because it does not seem "Perfect" is a bigger mistake and even less genuine. I have suprised myself several times when I thought I was writing a dud, and people really responded to it, or it inspires something I didn't know I had in me.

    I am also going to add this; Be you. People are going to read what you write because you are passionate about it. If you are honest in your writing it will show. Post about your failures as well as your sucesses, people can tell when you are editing.

    Don't be afraid to change things up, ask for feedback and have fun. Thanks for the tips fellas, I am going to have to watch this post for a while adn see what else ends up in the comments.

    Dan The Impractable Fishermen

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    1. Thanks for the info, Daniel. I appreciate your thought provoking comments. You got me thinking, well done! I value your opinion and thank you for writing.

      I am a bit confused by your comment on writing frequency though. Writing frequently has nothing to do with being genuine. In my opinion, you should always be genuine. In my response to Phillip I mentioned it doesn't 'seem quite so genuine' when someone writes everyday. From my experience, people that write an outdoor blog every single day have a difficult time coming up with interesting content over time. I am not lumping everyone in that category, but many have fallen into that. I mean no insult to anyone, but if you write about the same thing over, and over, and over... it loses value in my opinion. If you change it up, take your time to gather your thoughts and put together something interesting people will appreciate it more. I feel that if people are anything like me, they read plenty of blog entries during the week. Having a gap in between posts allows me to appreciate the different writing styles of each blogger. For me personally, I am far more inclined to read a blog that has new posts every few days or even every other day vs. one every single day. I appreciate it more when a blogger takes the time to condense their thoughts. (I am also not immune to all of these things, but I do try.)

      You mention 'Perfect' in your comment. 99% of my posts aren't perfect by any means. While they may not be perfect, I do review them and read them out loud to be sure they sound good. Much is changed and rewritten before I post my final version. Even then, they are not perfect. On the flip side, ramblings will get you nowhere, unless that is your intention on your blog. Even if you ramble, good grammar, punctuation and spelling will help immensely. By all means, you should be true to yourself when writing a personal blog.

      I do believe each blogger should have a purpose. Mine was to document my adventures, but also share what is going on in my own way. I wanted to reach out to the masses of hunters and share experiences and give back to the hunting community. It was a personal goal and still is, so that is why I answered the way I did. Some people just want to keep a blog as a diary. That is also great, if that is your goal. I am not knocking it and I encourage each blogger to write and write often, but take care in what you post.

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    2. I am by no means saying quality is better than quality; however, I have found short term writing goals help feed my creativity and improve content. By looking for things to write about I force myself to try new things and have a great time doing it. I try to spread out posts a bit, I know a few guys who back log a few and tweak them for a while until they are ready to release them, but that is not my style.

      As for being genuine, I was referring to only posting successful outings (the good hunts,catching a big fish) and not mentioning setbacks is phony. I share my setbacks because it helps me learn what I did wrong, get constructive feedback, and learn form the mistakes. People can relate to the failures, some are comic gold honestly.

      Post too rarely and people might forget about you, and post too often and annoy folks. It just depends on the writer. Does that make my point a little clearer?

      Force your self to try new things, challenge yourself to write, but never force yourself to write.

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    3. Thanks, Daniel. That does help as it seemed ambiguous in the original. I totally agree with the genuine statement. That's exactly what I mean by being genuine; don't be fake. You hit the nail on the head. Post about the setbacks and unsuccessful outings as well. Nobody is perfect and no one has a perfect hunt every time.

      Thank you for your input and clarification. Cheers!

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  6. I would echo Phillip's sentiments. I never did get a large readership, but six years ago when I first started (6 years, holy cow!) I watched readership grow steadily till it was a nice stroke to my ego. Then some technical issues put the site down, and after I spent all the energy to get it going again, I found I didn't have the drive to put out frequent content anymore. My readership plummeted - and now I am satisfied to write my weekly column for our local paper, and when something from there seems worth posting to my blog, I'll do it. Outside of that, I will usually take the one lengthy, thought-out, feature article to post about 3 or 4 times a year. Hardly a recipe for success, but it is what I'm content with at the moment.

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    1. Thanks, Tom. If you are content with it then that is what matters. I remember when your blog went down. It was a bummer, but I am glad you are back at it!

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  7. Good tips! I will have to make sure I use them. I am still fairly new at the whole outdoor blog thing, but my only advice to anyone wanting to start is to do it because you want to... If you are starting an outdoor blog for any other reason besides the desire to write and share your experiences/opinions, then you are setting yourself up for disappointment. Yes there are perks that may come your way from having a good blog, but if that is your only desire then your blog will not be the caliber it needs to be.

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  8. I think keeping a clean site is important- people see enough gimmicky things everywhere else.

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    1. I agree, Peter. I think that if it is cluttered you lose focus.

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  9. One key thing is to be yourself. If you are not an expert, don't pretend to be for the readers. If you are an expert, don't be afraid to show it. I don't mind reading about something from someone that has the credentials.

    If you are looking to bring in some readers, invite other bloggers to write a guest post as well. They will often steer traffic your way, and as their readers look over your blog, if they like your material, they'll continue to come back for more.

    As far as posts, I believe some consistency is needed. Not daily, but even once a week is fine. Like Tom, I write a weekly outdoors column for a couple of newspapers, and my blog reflects those columns. I'll pepper some other material and of course, more photos than the paper will run, in the blog.

    Great post Al. And great comments from everyone!

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    1. Thanks for the comments, Bill. I agree. It doesn't have to be daily, but even a weekly post to stay consistent is great. If writing once a monthly make you happy, then great, but to be a 'successful' blog I think it needs to have some consistency. I appreciate the input!

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  10. Great advice guys, thanks Al and Merry Christmas to all

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  11. Wow! What a lot of great advice. I've been blogging along with my brothers and dad for about three years now. It is basically stories of our hunting and fishing adventures with some product reviews. I am having trouble getting followers even though I keep the blog updated quite regularly. Check it out and give me some suggestions if you have them. www.krakeroutdoors.blogspot.com Thanks

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    1. Thank you, Bryan. I will check out the site and give you some feedback. I am looking forward to checking it out!

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  12. Al, this is a great article. I'd like to echo the sentiment that you should only start an outdoor/hunting/fishing blog if you're passionate about it. Otherwise it ends up feeling like work and just keeps you out of the field!

    If you want an outlet for your obsession, though, a blog could be it. Writing lets you share things you've learned over the years and meet other outdoorsmen with similar interests. It helps fill the void when you can't be out doing what you love.

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    1. Exactly, Dan. If it starts to feel like work, take a step back from it. I have had to do it from time to time. Right now I just love to share!

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  13. GREAT POST!!!! Having just started a blog not to long ago I really took this info to heart! Appreciate all the advice I can get!!

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  14. Great post and thanks for the great tips.

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