A month and a half ago, I wrote a piece on the 10 signs you might be called to be a Catholic blogger. Among those signs, I mentioned passion, humor, knowledge, dynamism, and facial hair (h/t to Mark Shea for linking to the post after having a good laugh). Since then, I suspect some of you have moved forward with your plans to be bloggers. Therefore, in addition to the aforementioned personal qualities, I’ve compiled a list of things that may help you form your blog.
- Pick an awesome name. If the blog name is up to you, I suggest making a Venn Diagram between your personality, your audience, and your topic area. Anything that relates to all three is an automatic win. Then again, many blog titles are just so odd that they’re hits. Either way, there are awesome possibilities to explore. Need to feel inspired? Here are a few great blog names being used right now: Southern Fried Catholicism, Standing on My Head, I Have to Sit Down, Bad Catholic. I wish someone in my neck of the woods would start one and call it Redneck Catholic.
- Marketing. 90% of blogging is in the marketing. You have thoughts and opinions. You want them to be known. You want to get them out there. Unfortunately, we suffer from – to use a term coined by the late American philosopher Neil Postman – information glut. Your idea is competing with a million other ideas. If you want to get it out there – and I assume you do, or you wouldn’t be blogging – you need to deal with the fact that you’ve got to publicize yourself a little. Now, I know the moral dilemma springing up inside of you: “If I advertise my blog, doesn’t that mean I’m self-centered and distrust God’s providence by taking it into my own hands?” I’ve got a more fundamental question for you:Do you want readers? You’re trying to spread the Gospel! Do you just go to anyone and everyone out there and start sharing Bible verses, without any care for who they are and what they need to hear? Now, there is a concern that you’ll become a center of attention – though much less than that prideful part of you secretly wishes you were – but that’s where you need humility. You’re just a human person, a weak sinner in need of God’s grace, given the extraordinary and undeserved opportunity to participate in His work. So go out there and do it, but do it prudently. Market your blog and reach your chosen audience. Make a FB group. Make a Twitter account. Pick a pet cause and start a movement. Contact Catholic merchants and publishers to sponsor giveaways (we’ll have another awesome one next week, by the way).
- Branding. Along with marketing, you need to brand your blog with features unique to you. Here are a few recommendations:
- Pay the small upfront and monthly fees to get your own domain and hosting. There are some great blogs out there that are registered with free services like Blogger and WordPress, but they add a cookie-cutter feel to the blog and they also impede your ability to style it as you wish.
- Use custom logos and images you made yourself. Truth & Charity’s crucifix is from the altar at the Cathedral of St. John Berchmans in Shreveport, Louisiana, where we are based. We know it’s pretty unlikely anyone else is going to use that same image, unless they rip it off from us.
- Find a decent color scheme. We spent several hours trying a variety of different background colors before landing on this one. The red, reminiscent of blood, is the color of charity. The hexadecimal code is #330000. I haven’t seen this color on any other Catholic website. It’s our thing. It looks like one of the colors BMW uses on luxury sedans. Along with the black accents, it makes me think of black cherry ice cream. I can never forget that red color and I will always associate it with this blog.
- Cover original or copyrighted images with a transparent png file. While there are ways to get around this, it will protect your image from simple theft by those visiting your site, and most anyone who wants to share the image will have to send their visitors your way, increasing your stats. Case in point: Matt Sciba’s photo post, The New Chivalry, went semi-viral on Facebook and Pinterest, and is now topping 10,500 hits.
- Speaking of stats, make sure you download a stat plug-in for your blog. Ours (Counterize) has been operating since January 4th and has caught tons of helpful information from readers, their topic interests, their operating systems, their browsers, and their approximate locations. I can tell you, for instance, that there are at least 5 computers in the Vatican which have accessed Truth & Charity a total of 36 times, 1 running on Windows XP, 1 on Windows Vista, 1 on Windows 7, 1 on Mac OS, and 1 on Apple iOS 5 (hi guys!). Almost all of those times, we’ve been accessed through New Advent.
- Speaking of New Advent, it can be a great help to your blog’s traffic, along with ThePulp.it. Did you ever notice that New Advent has a contact link near the top and at the very bottom of the index page? Oddly, the same thing can be found on ThePulp.it. It’s almost like they want people to bombard their email inboxes with great Catholic blog articles.
- Lists. Lots of lists. People like lists. They streamline posts, make information easier to read, and highlight main points. Here’s a tip: find all the main points you want to make. Make those points the first sentence or statement of each list item. Bold the first sentence. Elaborate. Move on to the next point. Do this and you’ve just made it much more likely that people will read your post.
- High-tension word and idea juxtaposition. The other day, I was writing to another blogger and found myself commenting on what a crazy personality she has. I thought of writing about how her mind was kind of like an asylum. Then I thought to myself, “self, what could possibly make this thought stand out more?” I rephrased my comment: “going on a field trip through your brain would be like taking a stroll through an asylum.” She found it amusing, which pleased me because I got the idea from her own writing style. How could it not be amusing? Consider the thought of people taking a field trip through a brain. Now consider someone strolling through an asylum. No one does either of those things! The juxtaposition of leisure implied by the word stroll directly contradicts the impression asylum places on the mind. Together, these create a sort of comic tension.
- Find the flavor of the post and write like a person who fits that flavor. For most of my snarky pieces, I imagine the entire post being written by Shawn Spencer from Psych. My favorite post of all time was done in the style of your typical old man story-teller at a campfire. I imagine myself to be an orator when I write political things, a teacher (which I am) when I write catechetical things, and a father (which, again, I am) when I write family-related things. Find the person inside that you need to be in order to give your post the feel it needs.
- Dialogue. Open your combox and get the conversation going. People want to feel like they’re a part of the discussion. They should be! Don’t forget to create polls, either!
- Place a picture in every post. It tells the reader this won’t be a dry, boring excursion back into the mind of a droning college professor. The image doesn’t even have to be directly relevant. Tip: if it appears classical, most people won’t notice its irrelevance, even if you put Where’s Waldo right in the middle of it. You didn’t notice Waldo after all, did you?
If you just checked the image at the top of this post, you’re a real winner! ;-)