Should You Blog on LinkedIn?

LinkedInWhile many people think of LinkedIn as social media, it is also possible to use LinkedIn as a blogging platform. People blogging on subjects related to technology and business have had some success with LinkedIn. But should you use this as your main blogging platform.

The problem with LinkedIn is that your content is under the control of someone other than yourself. You are building on rented space. Just as you wouldn’t want to invest all your money into renovating a rented apartment, you shouldn’t put all your blogging energy into LinkedIn. You need to build your own platform and that means having your own website.

But that doesn’t mean that LinkedIn doesn’t have a role to play in your blogging strategy. There are a couple of things that you can do. One thing I have done is to copy and paste some of my existing blog posts onto LinkedIn. I then include a link to my website to send readers to more content. Another option is to write the occasional original post for LinkedIn and then include that link to my website.

Posting on LinkedIn will get your content to people who wouldn’t normally see it. But the ultimate goal should be to drive traffic to your website.

You can connect with me on LinkedIn here.


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The ABCs of Building a Better Blog

Many bloggers wish that their blog was doing much better than it is. Well, I want to tell you that having a successful blog is as easy as ABC. Here are the ABCs of building a better blog.

A. Author

You can’t have a successful blog without content. And you can’t have content unless someone writes it. And that’s where you come in. You are the author and you need to consistently write good and relevant blog posts. The worst thing you could do is to let six months go between blog posts. You don’t have to blog every day but you need to blog regularly. Try and write something at least once a week. You will find that the more often you write, the easier it will become.

B. Beauty

I visit a lot of blogs and I’m amazed at how ugly some blogs are. You do not have to be a professional graphic designer to have a nice looking blog. Try to avoid clutter and consider using some nice images. You may need someone from the outside to take a fresh look at your blog. Be open to making some small changes that will make your blog look good.

C. Care

One of the most important things and yet so often neglected is the idea of caring about what you are doing. If you don’t care about your topic, you will never have a successful blog. People will notice that you are just going through the motions and won’t come back. When you blog about your passions, it shows and your audience will catch the excitement. This might mean that you have to change your topic but better now than later.


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What to Include in an Email Newsletter

NewsletterI have previously blogged on why bloggers should start compiling an email list right away. But an email list should be gathered for a reason and not just to have another task to complete. One of the things that you can do with an email list is to start an email newsletter.

The frequency of the newsletter is up to you. My Blog Coaching newsletter is monthly while my Hope’s Reason newsletter is weekly. The Hope’s Reason newsletter started monthly but was moved to weekly when I decided to include more content.

It is great that people to subscribe to your newsletter but you need to make the newsletter worth receiving. Some people will always unsubscribe but you can do certain things to keep people on your list.

There are a variety of things that you can include in your newsletter. Here are some ideas:

  • Some original content such as an article that is not found on your blog.
  • Cut and paste one of your popular blog posts.
  • A list of recent blog posts or podcast episodes.
  • Announcements about upcoming projects or events.
  • Links to products you are selling or affiliates you are promoting.
  • A roundup of other people’s content related to your blog.
  • Personal information about what is happening in your life.
  • Since this is specifically about Christian blogging, I will add prayer requests to what you can include.

The key is to find out what people are interested in. Think about what you would want if you were receiving this from someone else. Experiment by trying different formats and types of content. Keep track of links that are clicked and subscribers who unsubscribe. But when you experiment, change only one thing at a time so you have some idea of what is or is not working.

What do you use in your newsletter?


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One of the Most Important Things For Christian Bloggers to Know

There are many things that Christian bloggers need to know but there is one thing that I have learned that has really made the difference. Ironically, what I learned is not about what to do, but what not to do.

One of the most important things that Christian bloggers need to know is that you do not have to respond to everyone who comments on your posts, whether directly on your blog or on social media.

If you go back into the archives of my blog, you will see that my older posts have much more back and forth than my more recent posts. At first, I felt obligated to answer every comment. Those days are long gone.

I need to clarify that there are two types of people who comment.

There are trolls who comment just to make noise. They enjoy giving people a hard time and there is no changing their minds. These definitely need to be avoided. I have often just deleted their comments.

There are others who genuinely are interested in conversation. They have real questions and may disagree with you but want to debate in a respectful way.

You don’t have to spend a lot of time even with the second group. My policy is that I will clarify something from my post that was confusing but I let it go at that. I will thank people for their comments but I feel NO obligation to debate them.

This is something that is appropriate for all bloggers but is especially important for Christian bloggers. Religion is one of the most controversial topics and certain people love to argue about it.

If you have the time and the motivation to argue with people online, go for it. But if you are like me and are busy, it may be time to prioritize activities. Don’t get pulled in.


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How to Pick a Niche For Your Blog

While you are free to blog on any and every topic that comes to mind, you may want to reconsider if your are seeking to be a successful blogger. Those who thrive at blogging usually have a specific niche in which they blog.

But how do you choose a niche?

First, you need to choose a niche that is not too wide and not too narrow. For example, a blog looking at religion may be too general. In the same way, a blog focused on the biblical book of 3 John may be too narrow. You need to choose something that is narrow enough to give you some focus but wide enough that you have enough material to keep on blogging.

Secondly, you need to pick a niche that you are passionate about. If you pick a topic that you are only mildly interested in, you will quickly lose motivation. Choose something that you can see yourself still writing about five years from now.

Finally, choose a niche that other people are interested in as well. The point of blogging is to share your thoughts with others. If you are writing on a topic that only you are interested in, what is the point of blogging? Just write in your private diary.

It is likely that there is a good topic that interests you and interests others. Choose your niche and share your passion with the world.

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Blogger Interview: Lenny Esposito

As I evaluate and rank a variety of apologetics blogs, Lenny Esposito’s Come Reason is always near the top of the list. Lenny dos a great job of presenting Christianity in a reasonable way, both on his blog and his podcast. I appreciate that Lenny took the time to answer my questions. We can all learn from his experience.


Lenny EspositoHow did you first get interested in blogging?

I first began ministry online in 1995, launching one of the first apologetics web sites. The format was to be a kind of “Bible answer man online” where people would submit questions and I would answer one each month.  As the questions became more nuanced or complex, I found my answers were getting longer and longer. I also found there were things I wanted to comment on that weren’t being asked. So, I launched a blog entitled Come Reason’s Apologetics Notes in April of 2004. I attended it sporadically at first as I saw it as an adjunct to the web site, but with some regular attention, it quickly became the central draw for audiences.

Do you see any specific challenges or opportunities that are unique to Christian blogging?

Time is always a factor. Blogging can be very successful if you stay timely and relevant. That means discussing items people are talking about right now, which means writing quickly. However, as Christians we are called to excellence in that we’re ambassadors for Christ. As His representative, I must make certain my facts are right, I’ve fairly stated the position of the other side, and that I’m neither caricaturing nor overgeneralizing a position I may be criticizing. That’s tough! Proper research isn’t conducive to posting speedily, but it’s necessary.

Along those same lines, we must always be charitable in our posts and in our follow up conversations. The “gotcha” post is easy, with inflammatory rhetoric designed to have those on “our side” cheer while calling the other side idiots. We see a lot of this in political posts—think Ann Coulter. But ultimately, blogging for an apologist is not only about building up the community of believers, but it is also an act of evangelism. So, our tone and our ability to not demonize those with whom we disagree is vital.

I’m reminded of the passage in 1 Corinthians 14 where Paul warns the church about wishing to speak in tongues too much:

For if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays but my mind is unfruitful. What am I to do? I will pray with my spirit, but I will pray with my mind also; I will sing praise with my spirit, but I will sing with my mind also. Otherwise, if you give thanks with your spirit, how can anyone in the position of an outsider say “Amen” to your thanksgiving when he does not know what you are saying? (1 Cor 14:14-16, ESV)

I don’t merely want to assuage the spirits of those who are already hold the position of which I’m writing, but I want the outsider to come away and say “I never thought of that” or “that’s a good point.”

Lastly, I think Christian bloggers need to be self-critical.  Can we criticize our own positions? Do we dare take up contrary positions from those pundits or personalities popular even with our readership when they are wrong? All these things play into my approach to blogging in a way that honors God and ministers to my readership.

You have a podcast as well as a blog. How do those two parts fit together?

The podcast is very helpful in that I can draw content from it.  My podcast launched in 2006 and has been pretty consistent every week. When I finish a podcast series, (usually a single  teaching is broken up into four weekly episodes)I can post the entire series on my blog as a single page, giving people who aren’t subscribed an easier way to listen to the entire thing in context.

But I have also summarized portions of those podcasts into articles. It’s been helpful to take a bullet-pointed outline and write out an intelligible article which forces me to carefully think through the implications of those points.  And the flip side is true as well. I’ve seen articles become very popular and said, “This would make a good topic for teaching and a podcast.” So it helps content both ways.

What advice would you give to someone interested in starting a podcast?

Podcasts are easy to start since they really don’t require a lot of equipment up front.  I would say that you want to be prepared before recording. Editing can be a drag and the more well-prepared you are, the less editing you will have to do. If you are already generating other content, such as teaching a class or writing on a topic for your blog, use that to feed your podcast. 

One big thing is to be consistent in your publishing schedule. My podcast comes out every Sunday like clockwork. Because that regularity is so consistent, my listenership keeps growing and the podcast gains followers.

What is the most important lesson you have learned in your years of blogging?

Frequency is key. If you really want to develop an audience, you will have to publish at least three times a week.  That’s just a fact. There is so much that pulls on a person’s attention these days and so many competing channels that in order to be noticed, you need that level of frequency.

The algorithms that all social media platforms use favor those persons and destinations that prove to be more popular.  That means just because you broadcast you have a new post on Facebook doesn’t mean a whole lot of people are seeing the link to your article! The same is true for Twitter, Instagram and the other platforms. But the more content you have, the more likely you will get clicks, which boosts interest and grows you exposure.

I’m not saying you can’t blog if you plan on blogging once a week or so. I think those blogs are fine, but they won’t see their level of readership rise to the same level as someone who posts multiple times in a week. The weekly or monthly content becomes more like any other article on a web site; it’s there but people may not see it.

What piece of advice would you give to an existing blogger to help set them up for success?

Set a schedule. Find out the best time to write and then stick to it. You have to learn to write even when you don’t feel like it. Sometimes that means shorter posts or simple ideas. But you will find the more you write the better your writing will become.

Also, learn ways to mine new ideas. If I’m reading a book or listening to a podcast and disagree with an answer given, I will turn that into a blog post.  Many times as I read articles online, I will simply copy the link and a sentence or two about what I’m thinking and paste them into a Word document.  I have a long list of these which I use for blogs on days where I have no idea what I‘m going to write about.

Lastly, if you do have a good idea and you feel animated about it, try to write it out that day. Sometimes striking when the iron is hot helps to get the blog out of my mind and onto the screen. I’ve found that it’s harder to get that excitement about and idea back to the same level I initially had which makes the writing process longer.  So if you can put it down when you’re really working through it, you make it easier on yourself.

Thanks Lenny!

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Why Bloggers Should Start Their Email List Right Away

Email ListIf you are intending to take your blogging activity seriously, I recommend that begin building your email list now. I mean, right now. The sooner the better.

You might think there is no point yet. You don’t have an eBook to promote. You don’t have an online course to offer. You just don’t have any content, other than your regular blog posts, to offer your email subscribers.

Start your email list anyway.

The reason for this is that it takes time to build an email list and you don’t want to wait until you have something to promote before you begin trying to build that list. Starting the list now doesn’t mean that you need to begin a weekly email newsletter. You could do something monthly, quarterly, or even just when a certain event or opportunity comes up.

But start it right away.

There are plenty of email services out there, but I use mailchimp. They are the only one I have used so I have nothing to compare them with but I have been happy with them. I use them both for my own newsletters, as well as my church’s weekly email newsletter.

I will address different things that you can do with your email list in a future post, but for now, start building that email list. My one warning is that you NEVER add people to your list without their permission. Ideally, get them to opt in on their own. On rare occasions, you can add them manually when they give you explicit permission.

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Interview with Parker J. Cole

I’m so thankful for the opportunity to talk to Parker J. Cole. Parker is a writer and podcaster. While many people limit their online activity to blogging, there are plenty of other area to stretch out into. In this interview, Parker gives some great advice on a number of topics, especially on how to do an interview. This is an area I’m trying to grown in myself. Ironically, I had to interview Parker in order to learn how to do interviews!

I would encourage you to check out Parker online at her website


Parker J ColePlease tell us a little about yourself and how your radio program began.

The fun bio of me is this: I’m a lover of the Lord and a former Mountain Dew and marshmallow addict who writes to fill the void the sugar left behind. It’s all about the sugar for me Steve..

The official one is that I am an author, speaker, and executive of the podcast network PJC Media. PJC Media focus on real talk about all areas of our lives from the arts to relationships, politics, current events, and more.

I write Christian romances and speculative fiction. I speak on topics related to diversity in Christian publishing, encouraging aspiring authors to write, discussing hard and sensitive topics in Christian fiction, and generally gabbing until people’s eyes glaze over.

The program began two and a half years before I even knew I would be doing this. I had met a man at an open house for a networking function. At the time, I had a virtual assistant business. He had a podcast show and wanted my help with some administrative assistance. That was all there was to the conversation. About a year later, my husband came home with a microphone. Just so you’ll know, my hubby is a techie and likes his gizmos and gadgets. So when he came home with this $150.00 microphone, I couldn’t believe it. “Why did you buy a microphone?”

“It was on sale.”

“No one in here is going to be on radio!”

“I got a rebate for $20.00.”

Steve, I can’t tell you how upset I was when I saw that thing. I kept staring at it like, “Why is it here?”

About eight months later, the Lord blessed me with the best agent on planet Earth. Her name is Vanessa and she has been with me through thick and thin. As we were discussing platform building, she suddenly reached out to me and say, “I think you should start a radio podcast.”

The only person I knew who had a podcast…was the guy I met a nearly two years ago. I reached out to him and the rest is history. In 2016, I started my own network and we now have five shows under the belt and looking to expand and add more.

Whoever says my God has a sense of humor was dead on the money.

Hmm…what does ‘dead on the money’ mean, Steve? Did like a lot people in the past fall dead on a lot of money so that it became a social idiom?

How has podcasting changed the way people produce and consume content?

Podcasting a great tool to get your content out to listeners. With a podcast, no matter where you are in the world, someone can listen to your content on a mobile device while they’re working out, walking, staring off into space, etc. We often talk about the drawback of handheld devices and how they help to cocoon and isolate people from each other. The other side of the coin is that podcasting helps to cement your listeners as well. If you want to listen to Steve’s apologetic broadcasts and similar content, you can do that. Podcasts put the listeners in control of what they want to hear. Dedicated listeners keep the podcast going.

How do you find people to interview on your show?

I drive a bulldozer through their houses and ask if they want to take a survey! Hahaha! No, honestly, because my audience is the Christian audience and people who like to read, I reach out to authors to interview. My own palate for reading is pretty wide (except books about taxes—I’d rather watch paint dry) so my show is open to Christian authors all over the world who write.

A steady refrain I have on my show is this question: Are we Christian authors or authors who are Christians? I don’t believe there is a right or wrong answer. I have had Christians on my show who don’t write Christian books. They write for the general market. I’ve had those who write specifically for the Christian audience.

Also, as an advocate of Christian books of all genres, I host authors who write in less accepted genres such as steampunk, horror, dystopian, AI, etc. Others have more spicier scenes, language, themes, and other elements. All of them have a place on my show. I’ve had different denominations on the show, ethnicities, fringe crowd, conservatives, liberals. Some of the guests I’ve had on my show I’ve disagreed with on non-essentials of the faith.

My statement of faith which I use for the show is the same statement of faith for the Christian Apologetics Alliance which I am an unofficial member.

What is the key to doing a good interview?

As a host, the key to doing a good interview is going with the flow. Let things happen naturally. You prepare for your topic or guest but let it flow. Don’t worry if your voice cracks, or you cough, sniff, chew bubble gum the first time you do. Over time, you’ll find your own way of doing things.

As a guest, the key to doing a good interview is to be prepared but also be open to the unexpected. Some people don’t think quick on the feet like others, that’s fine. If you’re thrown off during the interview, you can still salvage it by saying, “Not sure how to answer that but let me think on it and we can come back to it.” Or, if there’s a topic you don’t want to discuss, let the host know BEFORE the show unless it’s something thrown in during the course of the discussion. You can ask for a list of questions or topics before you do the interview or you can send what you want the host to ask or question you on.

Have your friends and family support you whether you’re the host or the guest. Nothing like having your own cheerleaders.

For both hosts and guests, this the last thing: be yourself. Everyone will appreciate you being who God created you to be.

What do you see as a common mistake by people doing interviews?

Steve, you ever been to a party but the host already ate up the food before you got there? Rude, right? I mean, I was looking forward to the buffalo chicken wings and I’m left with the celery from vegetable tray!

The same thing can be said when a host takes over the show with an invited guest. The guest is the star – let them talk.  Else, why did you ask them onto your show in the first place?

Another thing I’ve seen, and this is a mistake I’ve done myself, is having a lot of guests on the show. Once and for all time, I interviewed four people on my show. It was difficult keeping track of them as well as making sure everyone had a chance to speak. As I am doing a podcast where all of my guests are on the phone, then I limit it to one, max two people. 

Now, in my experience, this scenario of having a lot of people on the show works better if the host and the guests are face to face like you see in brick and mortar radio stations with all the equipment dangling in front of their faces. You can get a good vibe going, people can bounce back and forth on it, etc. However, in my opinion, if your guests are mainly audio and long distance, no more than two.

I was part of an interview once where the host, and I kid you not, had 20 people on the phone. I literally only said ONE THING.  I felt it was a disservice to everyone. Had I known that, I would have declined the invitation.

A mistake I’ve seen is when the guest’s answers are too short.

“Parker, how do you feel about the situation in X?”

“Not good.”

Where’s the dialogue? This is your chance to let YOUR voice be heard. YOUR opinions stated. Don’t get whispery now! For those that don’t do well with thinking quick on their feet, be proactive about the questions. Send a nice healthy list to the host. Even if you don’t get to them all, you can get through some. I’ve had guests write out all their answers to the questions they send me or I send them, and we just go off the list. We just make sure we talk naturally.

As mom always says, make sure you’re a good guest, too. Give the host ample time to dialogue with you as well. Be respectful of time constraints. Don’t just take over. I was on a podcast recently and the host invited me to read a selection from one of my books for 5- 8 minutes so I just read for about 2 minutes. I could have gone the entire time allotment but I was also aware of time constraints and the other guest who would be reading from her book.

Think about it: the host is allowing you to share your ideas on their platform. If you hog all that time, it’s being a bit overbearing. That’s like going to the party and eating up all the food, belching, and then heading out the door. 

Question: if someone did that to you, would invite them to your house again?

Also, call in or arrive early for your interview. Don’t push the time envelope too much.

What do you do when the interview is not going well? How do you get back on track?

As a host, I’ve had to cut in on long winded guests, deal with the phone hanging up, a testy caller calling into to debate, prank calls, and technical difficulties.

You simply go with the flow. For long-winded guests, you interrupt them politely. “Parker, let me cut in right here because we have to go to a break but hold that thought.”

Mute.

With technical difficulties, you apologize for them and do the best you can. If you can’t, it’s not the end of the world. You’ll be able to do another show at another date.

Kids in the background, dogs barking, ambulance, hey—life’s meant to be a surprise! Don’t let the small things that won’t matter tomorrow take up too much of your time. Most people I know do try to prepare ahead of time so this doesn’t happen all that often but I try to prepare for it by being attentive.

On the technical side, what kind of equipment or software should person starting a podcast get at the beginning?

Invest in a good microphone and headset. You don’t have to go overboard in pricing but you always want to make sure your sound is top notch. The brand I have is a Yeti microphone but there other studio mikes you can choose from. After all, you’re competing for listeners. Don’t try to do the show in your bathroom where we can hear the echo.

Steve, that may sound weird but I’ve been in shows where I can tell!

Also get a pop filter. It helps to minimize the sound of popping. I have full lips so my ‘p’s always sounds ‘puhs’! Not ‘Parker’ but “Puharker!” hahaha! I always laugh at myself.

If you’ve only got link in your pockets, you can make your own. My hubby made a pop filter for me with just a wire, nylon stocking, and a hoop ring.

Thanks Parker!


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5 Steps to Starting Your Christian Blog

So you have decided that it’s time to create a Christian blog (Is a Christian Blogging Even a Thing?) But where do you start? What steps do you take to set yourself up for success?

That is what this blog post is all about. Here are the five steps that you need to take to start a Christian blog.

Choose Your Niche

My very first blog was just a general blog. It was about anything and everything. It was about family and faith and church and everything else that is important to me. You can do that but it would really be wise to choose one niche (that doesn’t mean you can’t cheat by writing on occasion on a different topic).

Some people create a personal blog that simply shares and reflects upon the daily events of life. That is fine. But others might look at parenting or theology or fashion or cooking or anything else. The more you can focus, the better. The name of your blog should reflect your niche in some way. But be careful when choosing a domain, in case your niche shifts over time. A domain name based around knitting might seem strange if you transition into Christian apologetics.

There may be some shifts in your niche over time. You might discover that you want to go broader or narrower based on new experiences. The important thing is that you identify the niche you want to focus on.

Choose Your Blogging Platform

Now that you have identified your niche, it is time to choose your blogging platform. I talked about different blogging platforms here and so I will not go into it here. Just be aware that you can change your blogging platform later on if you choose. Still, it is more work to change it later than it is to pick a good platform at the beginning.

Design Your Blog

As I audit other blogs in my role as a Blog Coach or as I rank different blogs for top ten lists, I have noticed something about appearances. The blogs that look nice, generally do better than those who are rather shabby looking. We want readers to focus on our content but the truth is that people will judge our blog by how it looks before they have a chance to read our content.

The use of images is important, both in the blog in general and in the individual blog posts. This may be the most important information you get as you start blogging: YOU CAN’T JUST TAKE IMAGES FROM  A GOOGLE SEARCH. I know that people do it but you can get in big trouble doing this. You need copyright and royalty-free images or your own pictures. The website I use is Pixabay. I have been more than happy with them and it is completely free. When using images, make sure to also fill in the alt tag for that image with what that image is. This helps with SEO (search engine optimization).

Depending on the blogging platform you use, there will be plugins/widgets/apps with different features such as recent or most popular posts, newsletter sign up links, etc. There is a temptation to want to add tons of these feature. But each feature slows down the loading time of your site and it can make things look busy. Investigate what is available and add a few which actually help you achieve your blogging objectives.

Write Your Content

A blog is not a blog without some actual blog posts. You may want to write and publish a few posts before going public. Decide how often you will blog. You don’t need to blog every day but I wouldn’t go less than once a week. Brainstorm some topics and try to plan out what you are going to blog about.Content is king so work at getting a nice archive of good blog posts. Ultimately, you want people finding your old content through searches rather than just your new posts shared on social media.

Try to write both timely and evergreen blog posts. Timely posts are based on something that has happened recently and the usefulness of the post will last only a matter of months. Evergreen posts are timeless. They will last years as long as there is not a major change in the topic you are writing on. A mixture of both is good.

Share Your Content

Just because you publish a blog post doesn’t mean that anyone is going to read it. You need to share your posts so that other people will discover you. Right now the easiest way to do that is through social media. You can use any social media you want, but it would be good to limit your active involvement to a few. I happen to focus on Facebook and Twitter (See How to Make the Most of Twitter). Your niche may be more effective on Pinterest or Instagram. The point is pick something and do it well.

Be intentional in your sharing. Be aware of how often sharing is considered appropriate for that particular social media. Decide how often you want to share and what kinds of content you can share. Set some goals and determine a strategy by which you will achieve those goals.

Congratulations! You have chosen to start a blog and have begun the journey. May God bless you as you start your Christian blog.

If you are looking for more resources for starting your blog, I recommend Problogger. I learn from them all the time.


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What Blogging Platform Should You Use?

Blogging PlatformI have recently begun to offer blog coaching services to fellow Christian bloggers. I put together an audit offering an evaluation and practical suggestions.

Since different people use different blogging platforms, I have set up a few new blogs on other platforms. This allows me to play around inside those platforms and give more specific advice on what changes need to happen. These blogs are set up, not because I have an abundance of time and what to do unlimited blogging. They were created to help me learn and therefore to help me teach.

I was recently asked by a former student about what blogging platform they should use as they start blogging for the first time. That is a great question and it was good timing as I had just went through the process of starting new blogs and had some thoughts on the issue.

I will note that one of the main platforms I have not tried is Squarespace. The reason for this is that there is no free version and I’m not willing to pay for the purposes of evaluating platforms. If you use (or have used) Squarespace, I would love to hear your thoughts.

WordPress.org

There is a difference between WordPress.org and WordPress.com as I will explain below. WordPress.org is the gold standard when it comes to blogging. I’m a part of a Facebook group called the ProBlogger Community. I asked about what people use as a platform and I would say 95% responded with WordPress.org.

Although WordPress.org is free to use, you do need to pay for hosting and a domain name. But that is not a huge cost and it is definitely worth it. The number of blog templates and plugins is beyond imagination. It is extremely user-friendly and one can make a professional looking website without the need of a professional web-designer.

If you are really serious about blogging, this is definitely the way to go. However, if you are only at the consideration stage, you may want to try some of the other options below that require no financial commitment. It is very easy to import your content from another blog into a WordPress blog if you decide that you love blogging and know that you want to invest in this activity.

The blog on which you are reading this is done on WordPress.org and so is my History of Christianity Podcast.

If you are interested in this, I have my domain and hosting through HostPapa. I have been happy with them, especially their technical support. Please note that I’m an affiliate with HostPapa. If you order through the link below, I will receive a referral fee.

WordPress.com

WordPress.com is very similar to WordPress. The differences include a much smaller choice of themes and plugins. It is also more difficult to monetize a WordPress.com and they don’t allow certain kinds of links. One the positive side, it is completely free, with no requirement for hosting or domain. This is a good place to start if you just want to experiment with blogging. My original apologetics blog was on a WordPress.com site and I migrated all of that content here.

What is good about WordPress.com is that it is very easy to use. In fact, I offer affordable church websites to congregations made at WordPress.com because I can created them quickly and it will not cost the church any monthly or annual fees for hosting or domains.

Blogger

The first blog I ever had was made at Blogger. Blogger (which is owned by Google) used to be much more popular. Many people who were on Blogger have moved over to WordPress. Unfortunately Blogger has not kept up with WordPress with options and templates. Generally a Blogger blog won’t look as nice a WordPress blog.

Having said that, Blogger is very easy to use. It is very intuitive, especially in terms of setting up the gadgets on your page. It is a very good place to experiment with blogging.

The blog I recently created on Blogger is called The Comic Book Geek. Getting back into Blogger, I was reminded of how easy it is to use. I was also pleasantly surprised with how the blog ended up looking and some of the other options. I definitely would keep Blogger as a live option.

Weebly

Although I had experimented with Weebly previously, I recently set up a new blog called The Ancient World. I would say that Weebly is relatively easy to use but not quite so intuitive as Blogger or WordPress. It probably easier to make a good looking site on Weebly than Blogger, but it will take longer to figure out how to do it. I didn’t mind at all creating a blog on Weebly. I had to search a few “how to” sites to figure out some details but it was not a frustrating experience.

Wix

That is not the case when it came to Wix. I found creating a Wix blog to be a very difficult experience. I didn’t enjoy it all. The blog I created was The WWII Blog. It was not intuitive and it took me weeks to figure out things that took me only hours on the other platforms. I can see how someone could invest their time into Wix and could create a nice site. But it would not be my first choice for a beginner.

What about you? What platform do you use and what is your favourite?

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5 Day Christian Blogging Challenge: Day 5

This is the final part of our Christian blogging challenge. I hope that you have found the suggestions helpful. I would love to hear your feedback.

Our final challenge is to reach out to another blogger. This can happen in a number of ways. One way is to invite someone to do a guest post on your blog. You may even consider doing a blog exchange, where you post on their blog and they on yours. Make sure to include links back to their blog and tag them when you share the post on social media.

Another easy way is to go to another person’s blog and share a thoughtful comment. Don’t just say, “Nice post.” Interact with their post and perhaps ask them a question. Then go and share that post on social media.

This seems like such a simple thing but it is a good routine to get into. We want other people to engage with our content and the best thing to do is to take the first step and engage with their content.

Finally, since this post is about Christian blogging, why not say a prayer for another blogger? Wouldn’t it be great if strangers were praying for you?


If you have found these ideas helpful, I want you to consider something. I have begun offering my services as a Blog Coach. As a Blog Coach, I write up an audit of your blog and give you practical suggestions of how to improve your blog. This is something very affordable, in fact at the present, I allow you to pay what you think it’s worth. So if you are interested, find out more about Blog Coaching here.

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5 Day Christian Blogging Challenge: Day 4

The ultimate situation for your blog should be to receive the majority of its traffic from search engines. One of the most rewarding experiences is when you have come back from a vacation and have not been actively sharing your content and you see that search engines have been driving readers to your blog without you sharing on social media. It was this shift that really made a difference in my blog.

But until that happens, social media is still one of your best friends. I see the search engine traffic but I try to supplement that with social media sharing as much as I can. Even with all the change in algorithms, social media is still a tremendous tool.

What social media should you use? There are many out there and part of it depends on the nature of your blog. In this post I’m going to focus on Facebook and Twitter.

Facebook

Even if you don’t like Facebook personally, not using Facebook to promote your blog is a lost opportunity. I would like to share the following ideas for using Facebook:

  • Use your personal Facebook account for sharing your blog posts.
  • Start a Facebook page for your blog. Work at getting people to like your page. One method I found helpful was inviting everyone who sent me a a Facebook friend request like to my page.
  • Don’t just share your own content on your page. A good rule of thumb is to post four times a day, three of other people’s content related to your topic and one of your own.
  • Consider cutting and pasting a blurb from the content when you post the link, to help motivate people to read the post.
  • Join Facebook groups related to your topic. Check their rules for posting links as some are more open than others. Add some value to your link by asking a question or starting a discussion. Consider starting your own group.
  • Record videos and post them directly to Facebook. Facebook loves videos right now, but post directly to Facebook rather than (or in addition to) posting to YouTube. Facebook will make sure a Facebook video is seen much more than a YouTube link.

Twitter

It takes some time to get into Twitter but once you get used to it, it is a great way to share content.

  • As with Facebook, don’t just share your own content. Share other people’s content and they will likely share your content.
  • Tag people who you talk about in your content and they will likely share what you post.
  • Be aggressive in following people with similar interests.
  • Follow both thought leaders in your area of interest but also follow other people who are likely to follow you back.
  • Twitter has more patience than Facebook for frequent posts but don’t go overboard. Try to space out your posts.
  • Read my post How to Make the Most of Twitter.

Your challenge is to develop a social media strategy for sharing your content. One tool that I use and recommend is Buffer. You can schedule interesting posts (your own and others) to appear at appropriate time.

Interested in a Blogging Coach?



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5 Day Christian Blogging Challenge: Day 3

If you are like me, you have an idea of how often you want to post on your blog and then hope some idea will pop in your head for a topic. You might think today is a good day to post something and you look around the room for some inspiration.

But it doesn’t have to be that way.

That’s not to say that spontaneous ideas for blog posts are wrong. Some of my most enjoyable posts to write have come that way. Plus there are things that happen in the news that just scream for some sort of response. We should be open to this.

But these should be the exceptions and not the rule.

My challenge for you is to pick a month and plan out your month’s blogging. That may sound like a lot of work but it is not that bad.

Here are the steps I want you to take:

  1. Take a pen and paper and start writing down every blog post idea that comes to mind. Don’t worry if it sounds crazy and don’t try to come up with a title or other details. Try to get at least twenty-five ideas. Then put it aside for a couple of days.
  2. Choose how many blog posts that you would like to publish during that month. Everyone has a different rhythm. I end up blogging (at least) once a day but that is too much for many people. I don’t think once a month is often enough. Once a week should be the least you do and I would recommend two or three posts per week.
  3. Go back to your list of blog topics. See if some of your ideas are similar enough to be just one topic and if others are so broad that they may be a series of posts. Knowing how many posts you want to publish, pick that many from your list and come up with schedule of when you want to write them.
  4. Keep that list handy and when you come across content relevant to those posts, make some kind of record or even begin the post and include the links in a draft post.
  5. Stick to your schedule and get those posts written!

There are all sorts of advantages to this. It keeps you accountable and you don’t look back and discover you haven’t blogged in six weeks. Knowing what you will be blogging on in the next few weeks means that your eyes are open for content that could be used in those posts. It also helps you to build on earlier blog posts as you can see the big picture.

So your challenge for today is to put together one month’s schedule of blog posts.

Interested in a Blogging Coach?



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5 Day Christian Blogging Challenge: Day 2

Yesterday we looked at the importance of determining your audience. Today we are going to look at another important step that is often overlooked. It is important to set goals for your blog.

When I say goals, I don’t mean just any goals. I’m talking about SMART goals. SMART goals are:

Specific
Measurable
Attainable
Relevant
Timely

Before giving examples of SMART goals, here are some goals that miss the mark and why:

  • To improve my blog. This is not specific enough.
  • To increase traffic. This goal needs to set a number by which to be measured.
  • To start a blog that will erase world hunger. Not likely to happen.
  • To learn how to film documentaries. That may have nothing to do with your blog.
  • To double my blog subscriptions. What is the timeline?

Having seen what SMART goals are not, here are a few examples of what SMART goals can be:

  • To increase daily visits to my blog from an average of 100 to 150 visitors per day over the next six months.
  • To go back to twenty past posts in the next week and make sure they are all designed to maximize SEO (search engine optimization).
  • To transition from publishing two posts per week to three posts per week over the next four weeks.
  • To start a Facebook page for my blog this week and to invite one hundred people to like the page over the next three weeks.

Do you see the difference between the first set of goals and the second?

One more important tip about goal setting. Set only a small number of goals at one time. Don’t come up with a list of twelve goals to work at all at once. I would suggest no more that three goals at one time.

Your challenge is to come up with at least two SMART goals for your blog. Feel free to share your goals in the comment section of this post.

Interested in a Blogging Coach?



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5 Day Christian Blogging Challenge: Day 1

All this week, I’m going to be sharing one tip to help you improve your blogging. Although the focus is on Christian blogging, many of the principles will be relevant to blogging in general.

Define your audience

We are told not to label people or put people in boxes. That’s good for interpersonal relationships but not as helpful for blogging.

If you are like me, your original intended audience were human beings with internet access. That’s a bit broad. Perhaps you narrowed it down to a Christian audience. You write about faith and you hoped that people interested in church would read your content. That’s a bit better but not by much.

I will admit that it is sometimes difficult to define our target audience right away. It may take a few months or even a few years of blogging before we really discover our niche. We may have thought that we wanted to target church leaders and then discovered that writing about Christian parenting is what really excites us.

It is okay to shift our focus over time. We should never feel locked in if our original intent ends up leaving us dry. This is an argument for having a fairly general or personal name specific domain rather than niche-specific domain. It might be difficult to switch a blog with knitting and crocheting in the domain into an apologetics website.

When determining the audience, the experts talk about avatars. Don’t get all nervous about Hindu theology. An avatar is the imaginary person that you are seeking. These are some of the questions you might want to ask about your ideal audience:

  • Christian or non-Christian?
  • Male or female?
  • Approximate age?
  • Level of education?
  • Pastor or layperson?
  • Parent, married or single?
  • Interests?

Now none of this means that you fail if you reach other people. In fact you will draw interest from people outside your avatar, but this gives you something to target.

Once you have done that, try to determine who you are reaching right now. Hopefully you have already connected Google analytics and you can find some of this information there. You can also do a survey on your blog. If you have a Facebook page, check the insights information there as well.

None of this is meant to be a make-work project. We are all busy enough as it is. The point of this is to have this avatar in our mind as we write our blog posts. Imagine how that person would react to the things that you are writing. Writing for a specific type of person is so much better than just writing the blogosphere in general.

Your challenge is to define your audience by developing an avatar of your ideal reader.

Interested in a Blogging Coach?



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Why Should You Consider Using a Blog Coach?

Blog CoachingA blog coach is someone who helps and guides bloggers to be more effective in their blogging. But why bother with a blog coach? Isn’t enough to write an interesting post and just hit publish?

I can think of a number of reasons to use a blog coach:

  • The point of blogging is not just write posts but to connect our content with readers.
  • There are some small changes that can dramatically affect how many people read our posts.
  • If we are going to take the time to write, we should do it with excellence.
  • The blogosphere is a crowded place and bloggers need to work smarter (not just harder) to be noticed.
  • Social media and search engine optimization keep changing the rules and it is difficult to keep up.
  • Coaches look at many different blogs and can pull from the best of them.
  • Coaches are usually bloggers themselves who have learned by making mistakes.
  • Our time is worth enough that we should do what is required for our content to achieve the goals they were designed for.

Why do I share this? Well, I have started coaching Christian bloggers and I’m offering my services to people who are interested. But even if you choose not to take advantage of my services, I encourage you to work with a blog coach to make the best of your blogging activity.



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Blogger Interview: Greg West

Much of my blogging has been in the area of apologetics. That makes me very interested in the other apologetics resources that are available on the internet. One of the best resources that I have encountered is a website called The Poached Egg.

Greg WestThe Poached Egg is a blog that gathers the best apologetics content from around the web and brings it together to one place. It is run by Greg West and I have come to greatly appreciate the work that Greg does.

One of the things I respect about Greg is that he doesn’t just use other people’s content for his own purposes but makes sure to send his readers to the original websites. There have been a number of times that I have noticed a spike in my traffic and then tracked it down to something Greg has shared.

I recently had the opportunity to ask Greg some questions about blogging. Whether or not you are involved in apologetics, you will find Greg’s insights on Christian blogging to be very helpful.

You are the curator of one of the most popular apologetics websites: The Poached Egg. Where did that name come from?

That’s a great question, Steve! I get this one a lot and I always love answering it. It’s a hat tip to a quote from C.S. Lewis’ book, Mere Christianity. The quote is also known as Lewis’ famous “Trilemma Argument”. The full quote goes like this:

“I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept his claim to be God. That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic—on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg—or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God, but let us not come with any patronising nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to. . . . Now it seems to me obvious that He was neither a lunatic nor a fiend: and consequently, however strange or terrifying or unlikely it may seem, I have to accept the view that He was and is God.”

I wanted the website’s title to be relevant to what it’s about, but I also wanted it to be a little unusual, and also hopefully, memorable. I had just recently read Mere Christianity, and ‘The Poached Egg’ just kind of jumped out at me.

How did you first get involved in blogging?

Well, I used to create some websites back in the day before blogging had really started to take off. I used to write my own code in Notepad, so I had a good working knowledge of HTML. In 2010 I had already been studying apologetics for several years, but I was just discovering that there were all these great apologetics resources online. I thought, why not create a website that is an aggregator for all this great information being put out there and bring it all in one place to make it easier for people to find, and also maybe discover a writer or resource that they hadn’t been aware of before? I do write an occasional post myself, but my talent really lies in processing through all this information that’s out there (with much of it being misinformation) and put it all together in a way that’s accessible.

You share the best of other people’s blog posts. What do you look for in a good blog post?

The primary thing I look for is, is it accessible for a general laymen audience. I do make occasional exceptions, but I don’t want my readers have to have a degree in philosophy or theology to understand what the author is trying to say. Secondary things I look for are length, grammar, presentation, etc.

How has Christian blogging changed since you first became involved in blogging?

I would say the main thing is that there is so much more of it out there now- both good and bad. One has to be discerning. When I started TPE in 2010 there were relatively few good apologetics websites and blogs out there, but today the available resources are nearly inexhaustible with more popping up everyday, and I think that’s great!

If you could give one piece of advice to a Christian blogger, what would it be?

Well, I find it very hard to narrow it down to one, but I’ll try to keep it to just a few. First I would say that bloggers need to take advantage of all the resources they can to get readers to their blog. At the very minimum you need to have a Facebook page and a Twitter page, and while I don’t think that social media is as effective in driving traffic to your site as it used to be, it’s still a necessary tool and I run across a lot of blogs that aren’t taking advantage of social media at all. 9 times out of 10 when I discover a new blog it’s via social media. I also run across quite a few where I can’t find the author’s name anywhere on the site. If you don’t want your real name to be public, then at least use a pen name. Finally, I would say to stick to topics you know well and be sure to check your spelling, punctuation, and grammar. We all have the occasional typo that slips by us, but I’ve passed on articles because of this that otherwise had good information.

Thanks Greg!

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Is Christian Blogging Even a Thing?

Christian BloggingI have a desire to help people in their Christian blogging. But before doing that, we better decide if such a thing exists.

I’m reminded of a conversation with a friend about “Christian music.” He hated that term, not because of the quality of the music, but because there was no such thing. People can be Christian but music cannot.

Having worked for a Christian music distributor for some years, I had reflected on this. What was Christian music? Was it music by Christians or music about Christian themes? What if the Christian musician did not write songs about faith topics? What if a non-Christian wrote songs about Christian themes or covered some gospel song? It’s all rather complicated.

Are we in the same boat when it comes to Christian blogging?

While there is some fuzziness, there does seem to be something called “Christian blogging” out there. So what is it?

I would define Christian blogging in this way:

Christian blogging is the creation of content by a Christian in such a way that their faith informs the nature and tone of their blogging activity.

This means that a Christian blogger doesn’t have to blog about the Bible or church. For example, some of my blogging is in the area of disabilities. Some of those posts deal with disabilities within the church but some are just about disabilities. Even then, my faith is informing my writing about disability, whether or not I mention God or the Bible.

I’m not ready to reject the concept of “Christian blogging.” There is much overlap with other types of blogging but I still believe that Christian blogging is a thing.

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So You Want to Be a Blogger?

I have been blogging for six or seven years now. I don’t do everything perfectly, but I have learned some things through trial and error. If you want to be an effective blogger, this advice may be of some help.

1. Blog. Really, try to blog as often as you can. Blog regularly, whether that is weekly or daily. Even if you don’t have something super profound to say, blog so that your audience knows it is worth coming back. Blogging regularly also gives you practice and you will become a better writer as a result.

2. Have variety in your blogging. Blog on a topic. Do book reviews (you can get free books to do this). Post videos. Post links to other blogs or news items. Post inspiring quotes. Variety is the spice of (blogging) life.

3. Post on trendy topics. Some bloggers don’t want to jump on the bandwagon of what is trendy. Swallow your pride and do it. You may end up with something viral and people will discover your blog and come across the things you are really passion about. I once posted on a Starbucks controversy and had over 39,000 hits on one day. It was not the most important topic for me but it did introduce people to my blog.

4. Use tags. It is easier to just hit ‘publish’ and not bother with tags. But tags are often how people come across your posts. Use every tag that is relevant to your post. It will help with the searches.

5. Connect with other bloggers. Post things from their blogs and they will likely post from your blog. Put them on your blog roll and ask them to add you to theirs.

6. Use social media. Post your blog posts to Facebook. Join relevant groups and post them there as well. Post them on Twitter, LinkedIn, Pinterest and wherever else you are active. The more exposure the better. You have good things to say, people just need to know about it.

7. Use images if you can. People like seeing images. Just be careful of copyright issues. Take your own pictures if you can.

8. Think about what you are going to blog. Blog on something meaningful and something that you love. Pass on what gets you excited and you will find others who get just as excited.

9. Include the ability for others to share your post by social media. If they like what you write, they will share it.

10. Share your opinions on the topics that matter to you. Be honest. But also be respectful. It does not help to be nasty. I have been turned off by blogs that come across as arrogant or cocky. You can express your opinion without being intentionally offensive. This includes how you respond to comments.

This is not an exhaustive list but hopefully will help you to get started at being an effective blogger.

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