You're about to head off into the world to study abroad, and you want to start a blog. But not just any blog, one that people will actually read.
Writing a blog can feel like shouting into the wind, and you start to wonder what the point is. Yes, it’s true that there are thousands of blogs out there that focus on travel and study abroad, perhaps even some started by other students on your trip -- but don’t let that stop you from starting one of your own! Or, for that matter, writing a study abroad blog so awesome, that folks you don't even KNOW (yet) will be hanging on your every last word.
Now, how can you express that voice so that people will actually read what you’ve got to say?
Instead, think of these other bloggers as a community, not a competition. No matter how many people are out there, you’ve got an edge, and that’s your personal voice. Remember what Dr. Seuss said: “There is no one alive who is Youer than You.” Now, how can you express that voice so that people will actually read what you’ve got to say?
Narrow Your Scope
Think back to English class, when the thesis of a paper was king. It was the central idea that held everything together, the key point of the whole piece. Your blog needs something similar. It needs a thesis, a niche, a focus point so readers know what they’re in for.
In blogging, this is what you call a “mission statement.” Try to strike a balance between general and uber-specific. While starting a ‘study abroad blog’ might be too broad, making it a ‘study abroad blog in Malta for Brits born on July 1st’ is probably going to limit your readership.
Identify what’s unique about your perspective. Are you interested in studying in Germany as an English speaker? Run with that. Or maybe you want a more worldwide focus on ecologically focused study abroad programs? You could run with that too.
That’s not to say that you can’t branch out into other topics, but the main theme should remain clear. People aren’t likely to read a blog if they think it’s about traveling on a budget and it turns out to be more about your thoughts on foreign politics; it’s false advertising.
Choose Blog Platform
A quick Google search on choosing how to host your blog will present you with more options than you could have imagined. But for the sake of simplicity, let’s narrow it down to the two biggest players: Wordpress and Blogspot.
Play with each blog platform and go with the one that works best for you.
Both are free platforms; play with each and go with the one that works best for you. (I personally use Wordpress.) You can also buy your own domain name and self-host your blog; this will incur a fee (usually yearly), but appears more professional. Again, Wordpress makes this super easy and charges a reasonable $18/year to get your own domain name. They also have some more advanced options to take your blog to the next level, but this isn't necessary.
Other platforms to consider include Squarespace, which isn't free but definitely beautiful, and Tumblr, which is more suited for image-focused blogs and less focused on writing (but hey, maybe that's what you're going for!).
Have a Beautiful, Navigable Layout
Build it, and they will come -- make your blog pretty and people will be more likely to stick around. You don’t have to hire a graphic designer or professional web designer, but don't ignore this detail either.
Fortunately for you, ever-budget-conscious-student, you, there are so many tutorials and easy-to-use blog themes out there, many of them free. So take the time to have a look at your blog, and ask yourself some important layout questions:
- Is it easy to read?
- Are you consistent with your formatting?
- Are you breaking up long paragraphs? Adding headers, bullet points, etc.?
- Does it make your eyes hurt?
- Are there too many flashing pictures, unnecessary widgets, or distractions?
- Is it easy to find old posts and pages?
- Are you including images?
- Is it clutter free?
- Have you avoided making your blog look like something out of the Angelfire era?
A good rule of thumb is to avoid white text on a black background and keep your font style simple. You might really like the way Curlz looks, but please believe me when I say your readers will not. Try to break up long paragraphs, which makes reading for the web much easier. Use headers and bullet points to make the reading experience better; this isn’t quite the same as writing for print.
Discovering and digesting content on your blog shouldn't be a challenge or chore.
Oh, and don’t forget to display your social media buttons prominently on each page. That way people can follow you and keep coming back to read more!
In the end, you should look at your blog from a reader’s perspective -- specifically, a reader who may not know what exists on your blog and what your blog is all about (yet). Aim for intuitive navigation, clean, and visually appealing designs. Discovering and digesting content on your blog shouldn’t be a challenge or chore. After all, your readers are there to enjoy what you have to say, right?
Write Great Content
You can have the most aesthetically pleasing blog out there, but if your content doesn’t back it up, you’ve got nothing. Your posts, like your blog’s scope, should provide a different angle on the same old story. Don’t just tell your readers what you did while studying abroad in Turkey; focus on a specific aspect of the trip.
It can be the food, the people you met, the architecture, or something else, but whatever it is, it should interest you. If it interests you, that will come out in your writing and draw in your readers.
You can have the most aesthetically pleasing blog out there, but if your content doesn't back it up, you've got nothing.
It’s okay to get personal, too. You choose what goes in your blog and what doesn’t, but your readers will get to know who you are through your posts. If you hold back too much of yourself, they’re likely to drift away. Stories need a personality, let yours shine!
Also, we said this before but images, particularly in blogs that focus on travel, are vital. Include a relevant picture or two in each post to break up the text and bring a little something extra to your blog.
Don’t worry if you’re not a professional photographer or count your iPhone as your main camera (hey, they're pretty darn good); just choose the ones you’re most proud of. Users tend to interact with visuals, so if you have great images and video on your blog, you’re likely to see a higher number of shares than you would otherwise!
Keep a Posting Schedule
Posting regularly is especially helpful when you’re first starting out. I’d suggest trying to post 2-3 times a week, at least while you’re trying to build a readership. Your posts don't have to be long; somewhere between 700-900 words is fine.
You could even write a stockpile of posts when you’re feeling inspired and schedule them into the future (Wordpress has a built in feature for this).
Most importantly though, be consistent. Even if you don't have the time or creative energy to create a great blog post multiple times a week, you should at least be posting a predictable and expected times each week/month (and we really suggest that you post at least once a month!). You want people to expect and anticipate your posts!
Pay Attention to Grammar and Spelling
This is my own particular soapbox, but please pay attention to your grammar and spelling! Consistently sloppy sentences and writing give the impression that you don’t care, and if you don’t care, why should your readers?
Of course we all make mistakes, but when you’re making the same ones, like always putting apostrophes in where they don’t belong or using the wrong version of your/you're, it’s clear that you’re not paying attention to your work.
Interact with Your Readers
One of the biggest mistakes I made when I first started blogging was not interacting with readers. I enjoyed every comment, but it never occurred to me to respond.
Interacting with readers is fun and encourages them to actually read your blog.
Remember that shouting into the wind thing? That’s how your readers feel if they reach out to you and you don’t acknowledge them. Blogging isn’t just about writing, but about building a virtual relationship with your readers.
This is particularly true in the travel and study abroad sphere, as you’re likely to field a number of questions from people who are hungry for information that can help them plan their own trips abroad. Not only that, but interacting with readers is fun and encourages them to actually read your blog.
Strut Your Stuff on Social Media
Possibly the number one piece of advice to get people to read your blog is to let them know you’re writing it! Raise your virtual hand and share your posts with your friends on social media.
Tell people that you’re writing a blog and let them know what its URL is. Create a Facebook page for your blog, start submitting your posts to StumbleUpon or Reddit, and Tweet your heart out! In the end, if you want readers, you need to market yourself as well.
This can be a scary exercise, and feel a bit self absorbed, but if you want people to read what you have to say, self-promotion is a step in the right direction. Don’t be afraid to tell people that you write a blog, but don’t feel like you have to go door-to-door with the news, either.
Also, use social media to interact; Tweet your blog posts several times and share them on your personal Facebook feed and your blog's Facebook page (you created one of those, right?). You can even schedule your posts (I suggest HootSuite for Twitter and Facebook) so they are shared at different times of the day to reach international readers. Especially considering that the average life span of a Tweet is 18 minutes, seriously, don't be afraid to promote that article multiple times!
It can be challenging at the start to cross the line between over-sharing and not reaching out enough, but with practice (and maybe a bit of help from Google) you can find your sweet spot.
The more you blog, the more you’ll be able to carve out your own piece of the Internet. Your writing will improve with practice, and you’ll start to learn what works and what doesn’t.
Throughout this process, think about what blogs you like to read. What keeps you coming back? Try to emulate some of those characteristics in your own way. Readers love authenticity, honesty, insights, and humor. There’s no magic formula for writing a killer blog, but stay true to yourself and produce content that you’re proud of. It might not be long before you realize that people are actually listening to what you’re saying!