Wow, I’ve been blogging for 10 years now! It’s time to step back and review what I’ve accomplished and what I’m planning for next year.
By the Numbers
I am less obsessed with my statistics than I was in the early years, but the numbers seem like a good place to start.
- Total number of posts (including this one): 1008
- Total all-time views: over 1.2 million
- Total visitors since 2012: around 350,000 (WordPress has only been tracking visitor count for 4 years)
- Total comments: 2847
My total views are down a bit over 2015 and 2014, although I still average about 500 views per day and 15,000 views per month. Although I had 20K fewer views this year than my high point of 2014, I received more comments in 2016 (202) than I did in 2014 (152). I’ve seen an increase in sharing over LinkedIn this year as that platform has become more focused on content.
I estimate I have around 5000 subscribers now. I have around 3400 blog subscribers plus 2100 Twitter followers. While WordPress adds Twitter subscribers to my follower count, I’m sure there’s overlap between the two groups. It’s hard to get an exact number of subscribers with RSS. Feedly shows I have 1000 subscribers, but I know that number is rounded. I also have around 200 followers on LinkedIn, plus 500+ connections. About half of my subscribers read my posts via email.
Most Popular Posts
I published 40 posts this year. As in 2015, I set a schedule and published a new post about every 2 weeks, plus ID links posts about once a month. I have been focusing on writing more about storytelling and scenarios, but some of my most viewed posts are on more general instructional design topics. The broader topics like my blog list and portfolio ideas were shared by many people, while scenario-based learning is more specialized.
- 35+ ID & eLearning Blogs
- 30+ Ideas for eLearning Portfolio Samples
- A Range of Options for Scenarios and Storytelling
- Broad and Deep Instructional Design Skills
- Scenario-Based Learning: Why & How
As in past years, several of my older posts on instructional design careers continue to be very popular. In fact, these 5 posts were the most popular posts last year as well.
- What does an instructional designer do?
- Instructional Design Hourly Rates and Salary
- Time Estimates for E-Learning Development
- Instructional Design Skills
- Getting Into Instructional Design
What’s Next in 2017?
I’m looking for ways to reuse and expand my existing content to do more and reach wider audiences.
More Scenario-Based Learning and a Possible Book
I keep a running document with blog post ideas, including another 20 ideas for posts related to scenario-based learning. That has become the focus for my consulting, so that’s also the focus for my writing. Eventually, I’d like to gather all these posts for scenario-based learning into a book and self-publish it. I don’t think that book will happen in 2017, but every blog post I write on this topic gets me a little closer.
Voice Over Scripts Presentation and Course
In March, I’m presenting at the eLearning Guild’s Learning Solutions Conference. I’m reworking material from my blog post series on voice over script pitfalls into a presentation with new sample script sections. I’m also planning to turn some of this content into a course I can sell for an additional income stream.
When I started this blog 10 years ago, I had no real intention of leaving my job and becoming a consultant. However, it’s one of the primary ways new prospective clients find me. This blog has allowed me to become independent. One common piece of advice to consultants looking to grow their businesses is to become recognized as an expert in a specific niche, and this blog is how I earned that recognition. I’ve never really had to hunt for clients; they have always found me. That lets me spend more of my time creating and less time marketing.
For those of you who have been with me since the beginning and those who just discovered my blog, thank you! Writing a blog would be much less rewarding without all the great readers who leave comments and send emails with great questions and thoughtful responses.
I recently gave a presentation to the Online Network of Independent Learning Professionals about blogging to build your business. This is specifically about what I have learned about blogging to build your reputation as a learning consultant over my 9+ years of blogging.
The recording of the presentation and discussion is available on YouTube. Thanks to Patti Bryant for organizing the group and sharing the recordings each week. If you’re a freelancer or consultant, you should join our weekly calls.
Mistakes I Made
I started blogging in December 2006 as a tool for my own professional development. At the time, starting a business wasn’t even on my radar. If I was going back and starting a blog now as a tool to build my brand and my business, I would do several things differently.
Domain: Get your own URL from the start, even if you’re doing a free WordPress account. I didn’t, and I’m so established at my current address that I am afraid I’d lose a lot by moving to a new domain. Now I have my business in one place and my blog in another, which splits my online identity.
Post URLs: If you’re on a platform that gives you a choice, use a simple scheme for post URLs that doesn’t include the date. This gives you shorter URLs than what I have, which includes /year/month/date. If you stop updating later, you can call your blog posts “articles” and hide the dates so it doesn’t look like an abandoned blog.
Lack of Focus: I started with a lack of focus because I was just writing about whatever I was learning or working on at the time. If you’re trying to build a niche for your business or build your personal brand, be more focused. My audience is mostly other people in the L&D field, from new to old. I’m not specifically writing to an audience of clients. However, since mostly the people hiring me have are involved in L&D to some extent, they understand what I’m saying. Right now I’m trying to build my brand around storytelling and scenario-based learning, so I’m posting about that more regularly.
Every business needs a website. If you already have a website that offers a blogging option, use that. If not, these are the three options I recommend, from least to most technical. These aren’t the only options, of course. If you disagree with my recommendations, please leave a comment and explain why.
LinkedIn is the quickest option if you are not technical and don’t want to deal with setting anything up. If you have a profile, you already have the ability to post. It’s a good way to figure out if you enjoy blogging and to get into the routine of posting regularly, and you could move your posts later. If you already have a decent sized network, you have built-in followers. There are several drawbacks. First, it’s not on your business site, so you’re splitting your identity between your business website and your LinkedIn profile. Second, you have no control over the URL beyond your post title. Third, there’s no guarantee LinkedIn will keep hosting that content, and there’s no easy way to export it. If they shut down posting next week, you could lose everything. If you do use LinkedIn, keep copies of all your content as a backup.
WordPress.com is free, but there’s a small charge for your own domain (which you should pay). The hosting is already done, and you can do premium themes. If you are somewhat technical but don’t want to deal with loading things to a server, this is a good option. This could be your whole business website and portfolio with an integrated blog, all at one URL. You can’t load additional plugins on WordPress.com though, so you can’t extend it with something like LifterLMS. You can export everything to host it yourself later if you want. There are also limitations to the types of files you can share, so you may have to host portfolio samples elsewhere and link to them.
WordPress.org is a good choice if you’re more technical and you want the most control over what features are available on your website. If you have enough technical knowledge to self host a WordPress site, this is by far the best of the three options.
What Works For Me
- Plan to post regularly and consistently. Whether you post 3 times a week or once a month, be consistent about it. This helps your readers know what to expect and helps your SEO.
- Schedule time to write. If you don’t schedule time, it’s too easy for other work to come first and to never make time to write. I have a weekly recurring task on my to-do list to work on a blog post each week. You might find it best to blog one morning a month to write multiple posts. You have to make the time for blogging for it to be successful.
- Schedule your posts. About a year ago, I started a rough plan for my blog and what topics I’ll write. It’s much easier to have a plan for my topic so I’m not sitting down to a blank screen and no ideas. I also schedule my posts to publish on Tuesday, Wednesday, or Thursday mornings since those times seem to get me the most traffic.
- Collect and track ideas for posts. I get ideas for blog posts from multiple sources. I collect them all in a simple (albeit messy) Google Doc as the ideas come to me. That means I always have something to write about.
- Plan to write a series of related posts. This makes it easier to plan ahead and allows you to cross link to your own past posts for more traffic. Some of my most popular posts have been my series, like Instructional Design Careers and Voice Over Scripts.
- Write for online with short paragraphs, lists, and headings to break up blocks of text. Keep the F-shaped reading pattern in mind.
- Reuse content you write for other sources on your blog to save time. Where else are you writing now? Email, eLearning Heroes, LinkedIn groups? If I write a two paragraph answer to a question in one of those places, I already have half a blog post written. I always expand or update the answer on my blog, but I don’t always start from scratch. This post has started with the slide notes from my presentation.
- You can also use content from your blog for other uses like presentations, workshops, and courses. I submitted a conference presentation based on my Voice Over Scripts series. I would also like to turn that series into a paid course at some point. I’m also planning to write a book about scenario-based learning, and I’m currently effectively writing that book one blog post at a time.
- Include an image or multimedia in every post. I break this recommendation myself with my automated link posts, but all of my regular posts include images. Your post is much more likely to stand out when it’s shared in other social media if you include an image.
Remember to be patient. I had fewer than 17,000 views in all of 2007; now I get around 15,000 views each month. Blogging is not a quick marketing strategy where you’ll write a few posts and have lots of new clients next week.
Build Your Community
Respond to and recognize your readers and the blog community.
- Reply to comments: When someone comments, reply and acknowledge it, preferably within 24 hours. You might also email people to thank them for commenting.
- Answer reader questions: I get many questions from blog readers via email, some of which later become more blog posts. If someone asks you a question, there’s a pretty good chance other people have the same question. That makes those questions good topics for posts.
- Promote comments to posts: I haven’t done this recently, but I did use this technique early in my blog to help build the community of readers. When someone leaves a really insightful comment, you can quote that comment in a follow up post along with your response. Make sure you give credit and link to the original author’s website.
- Link to other people: I pay attention to pingback notifications when someone links to my blog, and I have search alerts notifying me when my name appears online. Many other bloggers do too. Talk about what other people are saying and link to them. Share the love and send some traffic to them. It’s a great way to earn some goodwill and for other bloggers to notice you.
- Comment on other blogs: This is another way to be part of the broader community of bloggers rather than crafting your own blog in isolation. Read what other people are writing and comment on their posts. They might return the favor.
- Call to action: I usually end my posts with a “call to action” asking them to comment or answer questions.
Expand Your Reach
I don’t spend much time explicitly promoting my blog, but when you’re just starting out you may need to do more than this.
- Share links: Automatically share links to your posts on Twitter, LinkedIn, and Facebook. With WordPress this is easy; with other platforms you may need to use IFTTT or another tool.
- eLearning Learning: Submit your blog to eLearning Learning (submission instructions here). I get more referral traffic from eLearning Learning than from any of the social media channels, partly because eLearning Learning is focused on elearning and there’s so much less noise.
- SEO: I don’t particularly worry about SEO. If someone is trying to convince you to use tricks or shortcuts, ignore them. Focus on posting regularly and creating quality content, as those are most important. There are other things you can do, but if you’re just starting out the quality of content is more important than SEO.
Here’s that call to action I mentioned earlier. Do you use a blog as part of your consulting or freelance business? What lessons have you learned? What strategies are working for you? Please comment and share your experiences.
I’m updating my Top Ten Tools for Learning for Jane Hart’s Top 100 list. I decided this year that I wouldn’t look at my 2007 or 2008 lists first and would just start fresh. I’m also organizing my list into tools for personal learning and for developing courses.
Google Reader is my main tool for personal learning right now, as it’s the hub where everything I read comes in.
WordPress.com is my blog host, which is still a primary tool for my personal learning even when I’m not posting as regularly. When I’m actively working on new ideas, this is where I collect my thoughts.
Diigo is the tool I use to collect all the interesting sites I find through Google Reader and elsewhere. Being able to highlight, keep cached copies of the pages, and post to my blog automatically makes it much more valuable for me than just bookmarking.
Wikipedia is the first place I check for basic, “good enough” information on many topics. If I want to learn more about something when I have little or no background information, the reference lists for each are often a good place to start. I’ve also learned through editing and updating articles.
Google Docs is where I do most of my collaboration with SMEs. This is where the planning, drafting, and revision of content happens.
Dreamweaver is the tool I use to build the html content of my courses. It’s definitely a primary tool for developing learning in our process. The web pages house all the reading, interactive content, and activity directions that is eventually housed in our LMS.
Captivate is what I use for creating interactive content. I’m still on Captivate 3, but it’s a great tool. We would never have been able to create orientation tutorials for our LMS in such a short time if we didn’t have Captivate, and I’ve had good success using Captivate for simple branching activities.
As of January 2009, Sakai is our LMS, a great improvement over our previous system. It’s not perfect, but the process of building courses is much smoother and the tool options give us more opportunities to vary the type of activities.
Wikispaces is where we house all of our documentation of course development processes. Being sure that everyone always has access to the same information is critical. Wikispaces is also my preferred wiki for small group work in courses, unless the work is simple enough to use the internal Sakai wiki.
Skype is how our team talks every week for our team meeting, and it’s a great tool for quick questions of SMEs or other colleagues.