How to Build a Killer Language Blog

 
English: Monkeys Blogging Español: Simios blog...

A couple weeks ago we established that building a language blog to follow your own language learning experiences or to help others with theirs is a great way to stimulate motivation and keep yourself on the straight and narrow with language learning.

But how do we actually go about doing this? What steps do we need to make and how far are we willing to take this project?

Here I’ll offer a step by step guide to creating your own language blog and offer tips and tricks that will hopefully set you up for success no matter how far you decide to go.

The reason I’m writing this at all is because language – and other similar topics – are not often represented in these articles that populate Google. If you’ve tried creating a language blog in the past, or are already writing for one with limited success, you may have attempted to do your own research only to come up short when every bit of advice you find tells you about paid services and advertising, continually refers to you as a “business” and uses customer and marketing terminology – meaningless to most of us in this niche.

Obviously, language learners, non-profits, those of us trying to promote causes or who are just giving away information for free and not selling a product aren’t going to find much use for the sort of advice they give.

  

I haven’t been doing this for an exceptionally long time, but the LATG blog is enormously successful for its age and I wanted to share some of the tips and tricks that I’m using to bring in between 1,000 and 2,000 pageviews per day on average with good days spiking above 6,000.

Sure – if you’re Benny Lewis or another huge name in the language niche these numbers are nothing special, but those are numbers I wouldn’t have dreamed of just six months ago, and they’re only getting higher each week.

Figuring out how to get started is always the hardest part but hopefully after this you’ll have a basic idea and can start working on improving not just your own language projects through your blog, but the projects of your readers and friends as well.

Some things to remember about language blogging and blogging in general:

  • You need to establish your goals. Why are you blogging? Is it personal work you just want to jot down but don’t want to share? Is it professional blogging for a company? Are you trying to make money while you do it? Just a casual project for the heck of it? Your reasons are your own but you need to be able to identify them. Keep in mind how far you’re willing to take this project, how often you want to update and how much you want to invest in aesthetics and detail.
  • Depending on your answer to the above question – blogging can be a lot of work. Often akin to a full time job that you don’t necessarily get paid – or at least paid well – to do. It can also be a much more relaxed, casual experience in which case a lot of the points in this guide will be less imperative.
  • Do it for love – not for money. Even if making a little cash is your goal it’s going to take either lottery-winning luck or a long, long time to build the necessary name and rapport. If you don’t love it you’ll lose interest and never make it to your goal. Similarly, write about something you know something about and want to continue writing about. You don’t see me writing about basket weaving or low calorie cooking because I do anthropology and linguistics, not wicker and chicken.
  • Your content is probably going to suck at first. Don’t sweat it – it will get better – and the great thing about blogging is that you can usually go back and edit out the stupid things you did earlier in your project.

Bearing these things in mind, lets get started. You can probably do many of these in any order – the more essential steps are mentioned early on.

blogging makes you a better marketer

Choose a platform.


WordPress seems to be the most popular blogging platform currently available. It offers a ton of customization from aesthetics to plugins. It’s free to use the basic, hosted platform but if you’re planning to be more hardcore about your blog you can opt for wordpress.org, the self hosted option. I won’t get into that here though – if that’s where your interests lie there are plenty of more thorough articles better equipped to help walk you through that.

Another popular choice is Blogspot – Google’s blogging platform. It has less functionality but does come with its own perks, including a much more simple interface and easy syncing with G+ accounts.

Ultimately it may not matter what you decide to go with in the end and boils down to your own preferences and the goals you set for yourself. If I could do it again – I’d choose WordPress. It is possible to switch your blogging platform later should you decide the one you’re using no longer suits your needs. Currently it doesn’t make sense for LATG to make the switch and Blogger is sufficient for the time being.

English: The logo of the blogging software Wor...
English: The logo of the blogging software WordPress. Deutsch: WordPress Logo 中文: WordPress Logo (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Make a Google+ account!

I know, nobody seems to like Google+ but it’s more popular than you might think. Google+ can boast over 500 million users. It will be a great way to communicate your blog to the world – but not yet.

For now, what’s more important is that Google+ gives you authorship. A complete, well written profile will give you a leg up when it comes to credibility and as Google+ is owned by Google; claiming authorship via a Google+ account can give your blog a boost with the search engine rankings.

I recommend it early on because it’s better, in my opinion, to set these things up in advance rather than to worry about adding features to your blog later on down the road.

As an added bonus – Google+ is a great way to connect with other language learners and pages, including our own!

Write high quality content.

This one seems obvious, I know, but if you aren’t selling anything your content is your product and you want your product to be top of the line. It might be the only thing your readers are coming to your site to find and you need to make sure that they leave your little corner of the Web feeling as though their lives have been enriched in some way.

If you want to make any money using advertisement services or affiliate deals you’re going to need these readers to tell their friends and associates and to come back time and time again.

High quality content means that it should be not only well written and researched, but also helpful to the reader and related to what they’re looking for. Edit, edit again, and then after you’ve posted continue to scan through, making necessary changes as you find them. One of the nice things about blogs is that they are living articles and can be updated if information should change or you decide to add more to a post later.

Set up an email subscription service.

Sounds like a pain – I know – but it isn’t. It’s so incredibly simple that you’ll wonder why you ever found it daunting. There are plenty of free or paid mailing list programs you can use but I like Mailchimp. It’s free, (unless you have a gazillion subscribers in which case your advertising profits should easily cover the upgrade costs) super easy to use and kind of fun.

Email is still important, whether you’re a business or someone just looking to write for the hell of it, because it reels your readers back for more time and time again. In fact with Facebook strangling organic sharing like something out of a horror flick you can’t even rely on a large, formerly loyal fan base to see your content anymore. Email is reliable.

Sure they won’t all open the emails, in fact the industry averages are pretty low, but any regular, dedicated readership you can get is only going to help and these are the people you want to connect with the most.

Leverage social media as hard as you can.

Speaking of Facebook, you should still be using it, Twitter, Stumbleupon, Linkedin and if you’re feeling super confident or reckless, Reddit. There’re tons of other social media sites you can use to get your stuff out there in front of eyeballs, but these are the biggest ones and none of them should be ignored.

I would not advocate paying for advertising though.

This blog and community was built on Facebook. In fact LATG was a Facebook page and nothing more for almost two years prior to the inception of this blog, and the largest driving force behind our success is that we had a fandom of around 10,000 individuals before I ever started writing.

If you’re just starting out, you won’t have this advantage, and while Facebook’s recent money grubbing alterations to page viewership are exceedingly damaging, we still can’t afford not to use it.

Social Media Landscape
Social Media Landscape (Photo credit: fredcavazza)

Building a Facebook page or Twitter following takes time – a lot of time and a lot of work. I actually spend the majority of my time tending to Facebook, creating new content, sharing others’ content and generally trying to whip up language enthusiasm within that community. In many ways LATG is still more about the Facebook page than it is about this blog.

Twitter is another big one but its dynamic is very different. It’s also much quicker, easier to update and you’d be foolish not to use it – even if you’ve never used Twitter before. In fact I don’t have my own Twitter account – just one for LATG. The LATG account is only a couple months old, but the traffic that it has driven to this blog has been worth the effort.

Install Google Analytics.

Even if you’re not doing this for the money, closely monitoring your site statistics and viewership is important for knowing who your readers are. Google Analytics will help you create targeted, high quality content and make sure you are able to get your stuff seen.

Setting up GA is kind of a pain at first, but there are dozens of guides that can explain the process far better than I ever could. It’s worth the pain, and once it’s done it’s done.

Just don’t lose yourself watching the real-time window, it’ll make you crazy. GA comes with this super cool, super addictive feature wherein you can actually watch little bubbles appear on a world map as people visit and leave your blog. You’ll probably find yourself staring at it for hours, your heart leaping a little every time someone checks you out.

Don’t forget to eat or sleep. It’s hard to write when you’re dead.

Get a custom URL. 

You only really have to do this if you want to look cool or you’re super serious about your blog being successful and along those same lines – if you’re trying to make some money. It will impact your search engine rankings and it will impact the interest that you can generate among new readers.

I know, the idea of spending money on a blog that probably isn’t making you anything in return is seriously uncool – and I resisted for months before caving. Some of you may have remembered our former URL www.languages-around-the-globe.blogspot.com.

Seriously, who would want to search for that?

Not only is it ludicrously long and obnoxious to type, the .blogspot tag can be equated to living in your parents’ basement at 35. Both .Blogspot and .Wordpress will adorn your URL if you don’t do anything about it.

So go get your own place, and feel like your own person!

www.latg.org is so much cooler than our former behemoth name. It’s short, easy to remember, easy to type, easy on the eyes and it is proven that .orgs are more attractive to visitors in the education or non-profit niches than .com because the idea of being an organization seems far less commercialized and sleazy.

Also, it’s not expensive, so you can relax. If it were I probably wouldn’t recommend that you do it.

I pay about $10 per year for that URL – so it’s really, really not a big deal and worth every single penny. I used GoDaddy.com, and would recommend it due to its ease of use and high reputation but there are plenty of equally affordable options.

 

Post regularly

It’s ridiculous; the degree to which I cannot stress this enough. A few of these are advice that any blog about blogging tips is going to tell you, but it would still be wrong of me to omit this from this list.

Before you get too deep into your blog you need to come up with a posting schedule and stick to it like duct tape.

It doesn’t really matter what this schedule is. It could be once a week, once every two weeks, thrice a week; it just needs to be consistent.

I’d recommend writing more than once a month or you may risk your readers losing interest, and if you want to make money, the more frequently you post the better.

Unfortunately,  I couldn’t possibly tell you what the optimal schedule for your blog would be. Just choose something you’re comfortable with, that doesn’t stress you out unnecessarily and that you feel you can stick to.

When you’re first starting out, you may consider posting fairly frequently for the first couple weeks if for no other reason than to try to gauge (using Google Analytics or another stat program) the best times to post and which days your audience seems the most engaged. But don’t spend too long; you can always change your schedule later, but you need to get started on it ASAP!

Resist the urge to post off schedule. It’s hard. You come up with this great idea in the shower, you go write it up, it looks good, and you’re super excited to post, but your posting day is still two days away. Sometimes you can just feel it when a post is going to be well accepted. You need to hold back and wait for your regularly scheduled release date. Having content prepared in advance is a good thing – it releases you from the burden of having to crunch something of low quality out the night before you publish it.

Don’t let your itchy publish finger screw up your schedule.

Social Media Funnel
Social Media Funnel (Photo credit: Intersection Consulting)

Advertising (This is optional)

You may not be interested in this – and if you’re not it will save you a lot of anxiety over the performance of your material. But resisting the allure of making a few bucks can be pretty hard – and the Internet makes it possible to advertise with various affiliate programs that cost you nothing but some time and effort.

LATG uses Google’s Adsense, the most popular ad program on the Web, as well as Amazon Affiliates, a program wherein you click our Amazon ads and I make a (very tiny) commission on anything you buy.

If you’re not especially tech savvy or know nothing about HTML, I’d recommend you learn just a few basics. Installing these systems can be annoying, but isn’t what I would necessarily call difficult.

Also – you’ll probably need a few posts before you’ll be approved for any of these programs. Advertising agencies aren’t going to want to advertise in a site that drives no traffic.

There are also tons of affiliate deals with programs or items or organizations within the language niche. Some polyglots have books of their own and are willing to offer commissions on successful referrals, so make sure to research your options!

Focus on your niche.

Back to Languages – Stay on topic. This post is the most off-topic post I’ve ever written and I only do so because as a language blogger I’ve struggled to find reasonable resources to help guide my particular genre. Living in a for-profit, business oriented world means that all of the advice prospective bloggers find is geared towards people who aren’t like us.

You need to stick to your niche, whatever that may be. Most blogging experts seem to say that your niche should be well refined and fairly narrow. LATG does not operate in an especially tight space. Languages are a fairly broad topic and we cover everything from language learning tips to endangered languages.

Work together!

The great thing about being a language blogger is that it’s not a competition!

There are lots of other language bloggers out there – many of them far more well known than LATG (though not for long!). There will always be other big fish in the sea but we’re not businesses which means we’re not competing! 

Because of this fact we should be helping to promote one another, sharing one another’s content, liking, tweeting and linking to other blogs in our niche that we appreciate. It builds good rapport with other like-minded bloggers and helps drive more traffic to everyone’s sites.

Promote ruthlessly.

I just finished saying it’s not a competition, and it still isn’t, but you still need to push your content hard if you want it to get noticed – especially on social media sites. You’re not a business, so you’re probably not paying for advertising because that’s expensive and you’re not being paid (probably).

There’s a fine line between appropriate frequent posting and spam, and you need to be careful or you’ll risk alienating your readers who will become irritated and disillusioned with your shenanigans.

Pushing your content means re-posting old articles on social media sites every so often. Posting new content on Twitter several times daily with different taglines or linkbaiting (the process of writing an alluring caption that makes it hard to resist your link) is less spammy because of the way that Twitter functions and how only the fans that are super dedicated or happen to be online when you post will ever see your stuff.

You need to post other content than just your own. This is how you build your community on sites like Facebook and elsewhere. This is what people come to see and why they join. They want to be entertained and enlightened regularly. LATG posts several times per day – some days more than others – but you need to keep your activity high. The more people that “like” your page, the more people you can reach, the more people that will have your blog post put in front of them.

Trolls will be trolls and haters gonna hate.

There’s not a whole lot you can do about hecklers,  ignoramuses or those with proverbial sticks shoved up their unmentionables.

You can disable comments for your blog – which will alleviate the problem, but adds the disadvantage of cutting out your community and the comments you do  want to see.

My advice is to keep comments on with no restrictions and let the negativity pass over you.

You should respond to all posts be they positive or negative, in a tactful way and without getting angry. Most of the comments you’ll see will be praise and make you feel good about yourself, but a negative comment can really ruin your entire day and damage your confidence.

You can’t let it get to you – it will happen and it will suck. But you’ll survive.

Use guest posts!

This is good advice for any blogger in any niche, but it’s especially good for language bloggers.

As stated previously – this isn’t a competition and the success of a friend’s blog could equal a boost for your own. Maintaining your schedule can be hard at times and having someone else post for you every so often can help add a new flavor to your repertoire.

It’s really awesome to incorporate someone else’s ideas and can be really interesting if they disagree with you and you write posts back to back countering one another (in a friendly way of course!)

Language learning – and linguistics for that matter – is an extremely large field and the many experiences of various learners, linguists and polyglots will require a wider view than you yourself can accurately portray.

Not only can you invite other bloggers to write for you, but they will often ask you to reciprocate by writing them a post of your own. These sorts of things are fantastic for linking back to your own work and show that you care about your place within the community.

Guest blogging is not something to forget about, ever. Just be sure not to invite guests over too often or you risk your blog becoming, well, not so much your blog.

Depending on the prominence of the blog you either guest post for or create yourself, it is also possible for you to attract the notice of potential employers or educational programs (i.e. grad schools) in your area of expertise.

Impress enough people with your language skills or interest and you might be surprised where blogging can take you.

Maintain realistic expectations.

It’s all too easy to let your imagination run wild – especially if you recently had a post go viral like I did a few weeks back. You suddenly see your name in neon lights and your Google Analytics real-time tracker lights up like New Years in Beijing.

Making money blogging is excruciatingly more difficult than it looks. In the three months that LATG has been advertising I’ve made a total of about $40. The sad thing is that that’s not even especially bad – particularly for a blog that is less than a year old.

It may seem like this is what I do for a living, but I’m actually a residential counselor at a drug addiction recovery center. I don’t even get to speak other languages to pretty much anyone.

Maybe someday I’ll find a job in my field but for now I’m happy with this community regardless of the cash or lack thereof.

My point here is that it may not be prudent to quit your day job to become a blogger just yet. You may find yourself extremely hungry, cold or dead.

Or worse – without Internet….

Blogging could be lucrative, but it’s probably going to take years for it to even equal out to a minimum wage job – if it ever does. The stories you hear about bloggers making tens of thousands of dollars a year are a lot rarer than they sound, and each and every one of those people treats their blog like a full time job, constantly churning out high quality material and following best search engine optimization processes to the letter. Many of them work 12+ hours a day on their sites, and have for the better part of a decade.

They also tend to be tech or finance bloggers.

The sad truth is that language seems to be a fairly low paying niche. That doesn’t mean you couldn’t make it work eventually, but don’t let your mind run free with images of you blogging from your yacht.

We don’t want your ship to sink before you ever get the chance to see it.

Conclusion.

I’m still new at this myself. I don’t consider myself to be a professional blogger, but I’ve had a lot of great luck and put in many, many hours of research. In some cases I should follow my own advice more closely than I often do.

If you follow the steps I’ve outlined you can only improve your language blog to a level that you’re happy with, be it money-making, working towards something to show grad school programs, or just something you do to keep yourself focused on your language learning goals.

There are many more advanced blogging techniques that we could discuss and many people have written novels about, but I’ll leave you here with these basics.

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What other tips and techniques do you use to keep your language – oriented blog on track?

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