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Maximizing blog appeal. October 28, 2013

Posted by ourfriendben in wit and wisdom.
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Here at Poor Richard’s Almanac, we love our blog host, WordPress, because it’s so easy to use, even if you’re Luddites like us. (A Luddite, by the way, is a technophobe whose idea of human-friendly technology is a laptop with Windows XP and a landline with voicemail.) WordPress also has a great spam filter, Akismet, that’s caught pretty much every piece of spam we ever get here so nothing embarrassing pops up in our comments section. Thank you, WordPress and Akismet!

However, occasionally Akismet gets over-zealous and puts a legitimate comment in our spam folder, like the one our friend Ben found there this morning. It reads (in part):

“Have you ever thought about including a little bit more than just your articles? I mean, what you say is valuable and all. However imagine if you added some great photos or video clips to give your posts more ‘pop’!”

This isn’t spam, it’s legitimate criticism; the person wasn’t trying to sell us anything or link us to a porn site or something (at least, as far as I know). And they’re right. What we say might be “valuable and all,” but in today’s split-second world, where a tweet is probably considered way too long if it runs to the full 150 letters and spaces, and visuals have made constellations of superstars from YouTube to Instagram, our posts definitely fall short on ‘pop’. Waaaay short.

Every now and then, the three of us who write Poor Richard’s Almanac—our friend Ben, Silence Dogood, and Richard Saunders—get together to talk about this. And every time, we come to the same conclusion. We realize that our posts get hundreds rather than hundreds of thousands of views because there’s nothing here but writing. Our dreams of publishers beating down our doors and MacArthur “genius awards” raining down on us are just not going to happen in a text-only format.

But we’re writers, plain and simple, all three of us. That’s what we do, and what we do well. And we’re Luddites. What we don’t do well is use technology and take decent photos, and we wouldn’t have a clue how to make a video or embed a photo or video or soundtrack or you name it into one of our posts. Nor do we wish to learn how to do any of these things, much to the horror and incomprehension of many of our friends.

I guess the three of us are well matched in terms of blogging because we share this perspective: We want to do what we do well and effortlessly and only what we do well and effortlessly. Blogs don’t write themselves, after all. Unless somebody’s paying you to write and/or produce blog posts, it’s a pure labor of love on your part.

I could be heading down the road for a pizza or paying bills or watching a DVD instead of writing this post, but I’m putting in the time because I really, really do enjoy writing, and I hope at least a few of you out there still enjoy reading and thinking. (Maybe those folks who prefer the plain black-and-white Kindle e-reader to the Kindle Fire. But we’d rather have real books, none of us has ever used an e-reader or even audiobooks. We can’t help it, we’re Luddites, we love holding real books with real paper pages and real ink and drawing the scenes portrayed with words in our imaginations.)

This is the joy and challenge of writing: Helping readers see and experience what you see and experience through the medium of words. We paint, we sing, we sculpt, we cook with words. If we can’t draw you in—if you can’t smell and taste Silence’s black bean soup and hot cornbread and succulent, savory endive boats after reading her recipes, or know the Founding Fathers or famous pirates better after reading one of Richard’s posts about them, or connect to one of my rants—then we’ve failed you, and we’ve failed ourselves as writers.

Sure, we could throw in some photos. But we don’t think Silence’s black bean soup or Richard’s post about the greatest pirate of them all (not Blackbeard, not Captain Morgan, but the Great Pirate Roberts) would be improved. And while I wish I could show you a photo of my black German shepherd, Shiloh, or a video of Athena the Dancing Cat, I doubt that you’ll be grieving over their absence. After all, your time is as valuable as ours.

Ultimately, this is why blogs are so great. You can do what you want on your blog, and people can visit the blogs that resonate with them. If you want lots of visitors, you’d better have lots of photos and videos. It’s a smart way to maximize blog appeal in a visual age. Our advice is: Do what you enjoy. Enjoy your blog, whether you load it up with visuals and soundtracks and links or just say something you feel needs to be said. It’s all good.

Google and morality. May 27, 2013

Posted by ourfriendben in wit and wisdom.
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This morning, our friend Ben read an article on Yahoo! News about how Google was planning to manipulate its search function. I have to admit, I don’t know how Google ordered its search function before: I’d type in a subject, and scan Google’s links, then choose the most relevant, usually ending up at Wikipedia. I’d also check my own blogs every month or so to see where we came up. I’d always assumed that the links were based on the closest matches to my search.

Well, no more, no longer, according to this article. Google now plans to prioritize its listings based on what it calls “Authorship.” And what that means, as I discovered when I followed a link in the article, is people who sign up for Google+ and put mugshots of themselves and profiles, including their e-mail address and every link to every other website and social media site they participate in, on their Google+ account.

Hmmm. I don’t know about you, but our friend Ben doesn’t like to be forced to participate in anything. I’d been an enthusiastic marble collector on eBay until eBay insisted that everyone use PayPal. I refused to sign on to Facebook to swell its revenue numbers and was outraged when you had to be a member in order to access a Facebook page. I know that Google+ has been doing everything in its power to force people to sign up so it can take on Faceboook.

But really, to dangle this bribe in front of everyone, join Google+ in order to get your websites, blogs, etc. listed first when someone searches for a topic?! Of course, Google isn’t the only search engine out there, but it still controls 70% of search-engine traffic. It’s certainly the one I turn to many times a day when I try to look up something. I guess that now I’ll have to remind myself that the top search links have all been bought, that I really need to dig deeper to find something that isn’t a cheap piece of trash, a glorified ad. Ouch!!!

I spoke to a longtime journalist and journalism professor to see if he thought this was immoral and illegal on Google’s part. He said no: It’s their search engine, they can do what they want with it. Well, alrighty then. But damned if I’m signing up for Google+ or falling into their trap. Filthy, greedy bastards! And you, my fellow bloggers, if you wonder why you’ve suddenly vanished from your Google searches, there you have it. Sign up for “Authorship” or die.

Burning blog questions. January 23, 2013

Posted by ourfriendben in wit and wisdom.
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What bothers bloggers most (besides spam)? Today, our friend Ben discovered two questions filtered out as spam by Poor Richard’s Almanac’s excellent spam filter, Akismet, lurking among this morning’s 21 spam comments, that I thought were legitimate. (I force myself to spin down the filtered spam comments every day just in case one happens not to be spam. This has only happened about five times, but still.)

The two comments were probably rote responses like most of the other spam. But they both bring up valid points, points that actually relate to the blogging experience and are worth answering.

The first comment asked about how we protected our content. The person asking said that he blogged and had been discovering his content copied (without his permission) all over the internet. I’m sure he’s not the only person who’s had this experience!

Here at Poor Richard’s Almanac, we make minimal effort to protect our content because it’s so quirky, diverse and personal that we can’t imagine anybody bothering to steal it. The one thing we do is to make sure that if some other blog or website wants to use our content on their site via a pingback, that the blog or website really does link back to us. Otherwise, we delete them.

However, Silence Dogood maintains a separate blog with very serious, original content that she feels passionately about. On this blog, she ends every post with a copyright notice: “Copyright [copyright symbol] [name of blog owner]. All rights reserved.”

By saying this, Silence isn’t implying that nobody can use her content on their own blogs or websites; she’s simply saying that they must ask her permission first, give her full credit, and link to her blog. And of course simply posting a copyright notice won’t keep unscrupulous people from stealing your content anyway. But it does give you legal grounds for redress.

The second question was different but equally valid: How did we get ourselves into the appropriate mental state to write our blog? The questioner was having trouble motivating himself to write and asked how we managed it. It’s a simple question with a world of complex answers.

The answer that springs first to mind for me and Silence is that we’re not morning people, yet we’re often up by 5 a.m. Writing our blog posts gives us a quiet, peaceful way to activate our brains and transition into our day. It’s a great discpline for two professional writers and editors, to compose an essay first thing every morning. We love it.

Another answer is that, in this out-of-control, crazy, hectic, overburdened life we all seem to lead, blogging is something that’s completely under our control. We decide when and what to post. We decide what we want to say, and how we want to say it. What a refreshing escape from having the boss or some pathetic committee or a bunch of lawyers or marketers telling you what to write or do and how to write or do it! Not to mention how long you’re going to be doing it. A blog has no deadlines, unlike most of life. You set your own deadlines, and if you don’t stick to them, no worries: This is YOUR blog, and you’re the master of it.

And there’s another answer, one that we love: Writing a blog puts you in touch with people you’d never otherwise meet. We love getting comments and queries from readers. We love the interaction. We love that the comments come from all over the world. This is the ultimate benefit of blogging, far beyond simply having a forum to express yourself: connection. It’s a gift, beyond anything the world has known before. To turn on your laptop and see that someone worlds away has not just read your post but taken the time to react to it is beyond awesome: It is humbling. It is wonderful. It should give us all hope.

Why bother to blog? July 21, 2012

Posted by ourfriendben in wit and wisdom.
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Our friend Ben was blindsided this morning to receive my weekly e-mail newsletter from a normally rational source and discover that he was recommending that everyone create their own blog on WordPress, whether they actually had anything to say for themselves or not. Mind you, Poor Richard’s Almanac is hosted by WordPress, and we love WordPress. My reaction wasn’t triggered by WordPress, but by the concept of filling cyberspace with yet more pointless verbiage. He suggested that, if you couldn’t think of anything else to say, you should write book reviews. 

What the bleep?!! Those of us, like myself and Silence Dogood, who are actual authors would prefer to think that people are reviewing our books because they find them interesting, engrossing or relevant, not because they’ve been told they must have a blog and come up with some kind of content to post on it. Why should anybody bother to blog in the age of YouTube, Facebook, Pinterest and Instagram, anyway? You can just slap up some photos or a video and get thousands of likes within seconds. Book reviews? Please.

Of course, wordsmiths like us were born to blog. Blogging may have begun as a way for people to reach out to their families and friends, a function that Facebook now fills. But for folks who actually have something to say for themselves, blogging remains a vital, relevant means of communication. You put it out there, and people react, and you learn and grow as a result. And for professional writers like me and Silence, the discipline of daily blogging is invaluable. It’s a wonderful way to start the day, warming us up for the bread-and-butter writing we do for a living the way a warmup session preps professional athletes for the field or court.

We love blogging, we love hearing from our readers and interacting with them, and we love WordPress. We think blogging has made us stronger writers, more creative, more able to rise to the challenge of our profession. Having to come up with something to say every day that you hope someone else will want to read is an ongoing challenge to us to keep on top of our game. Every morning, we try to rise to that challenge. We try to give Poor Richard’s Almanac readers something thought-provoking or practical to take away in thanks for their taking the time to read our posts, though sometimes we just can’t resist posting about something we think is fun or funny.

Our friend Ben just doesn’t get blogging because you “ought” to be blogging, not because you have something to say. Why? What’s the point? Fellow bloggers, why do you blog?

Spam, spam, spam, spam. July 19, 2012

Posted by ourfriendben in wit and wisdom.
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Poor Richard’s Almanac has been absolutely inundated with spam lately. Fortunately, our blog host, WordPress, has an excellent spam filter, Akismet, which catches the spammers’ comments. But they still have to be checked and deleted. Just yesterday, our friend Ben inadvertently deleted a legitimate comment that had found its way into the spam register, so we really do have to read every !@$#$%!! spam comment to make sure. Between last night and this morning, we’d managed to accumulate 35 spam comments; heaven knows how many more will pile up during the course of the day. This really isn’t the best use of my time.

These latter-day spammers all have the same agenda: self-promotion. They come up with a plausible comment that would be appropriate for most situations, such as “I love the depth of information in your posts. I’ve become a regular follower” or “My brother turned me on to your excellent blog and I can’t wait to read more.” Then they add a link to their website, which in every case appears to sell something. (Not that I’d know, I’d be afraid to open the link in case it was a porn site or virus or some other foul thing.) This is a pretty clever evolution of spam from just general worthlessness to a marketing tool. I guess it was inevitable that someone would think of it, and then it would spread like, well, spam.

Thank God for WordPress. Not only does it filter out spam, it doesn’t automatically put cheap, disgusting ads on people’s blogs that have nothing to do with the content and would cause any self-respecting blogger to die of shame. We can still hold our heads up here at PRA, even if it’s taking us more and more time to remove the spam deluge from its file.

Have you been getting much more spam recently on your blogs?

Google still hates us. February 25, 2011

Posted by ourfriendben in wit and wisdom.
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Way back in April 2010, our friend Ben and Silence Dogood wrote a post called “Why does Google hate us?” We had suddenly found it impossible to leave comments on blogs hosted by Google’s Blogger, and found this extremely demoralizing.

Well, now it’s heading toward April 2011, and we still can’t leave comments on many of our favorite blogs. Not that we don’t try, but let us tell you, it’s a trial by fire that often ends with crashing and burning.

We’ve finally learned to look and make sure the word verification is visible on the blogs that have it before writing our comment. (Please refrain from commenting about our collective IQs.) If the word verification word(s) are actually shown—which is all too seldom—we type our comment, type in the word(s), and are almost always told that we typed them incorrectly and to try again with another word or pair of words. Well, excuuuuse us. We’re both writers and editors by profession, and we do know how to spell, not to mention proffread—uh, proofread—what we’ve just written. We did not misspell those damned words. But we dutifully type in the new ones, and our comments sometimes get through.

When the word(s) aren’t visible—just a blank box with a little boxed X in the upper left corner—we’ll try to access the post and the comments section again… and again. We really want to leave a comment! But usually, after three strikes, we’re out. 

We have an even harder time with folks who use Blogger and don’t use word verification. We’ll type a comment, type in our identification, hit “publish comment,” and… nothing. There’s our comment and our ID, as though we’d never tried to post it. So we hit “publish comment” again, a bit more deliberately this time. Sometimes it works. Sometimes it doesn’t. If it doesn’t, we’ll try again a few more times. (We’re stubborn that way.) But then we give up.

Recently, Blogger has adopted an even more insidious trick to block our comments. When we click on “post a comment,” a screen comes up with a big X in a round circle and the legend “This content cannot be displayed in a frame.” It suggests that we click on a second link to “open this content in a new window,” and when we do, it informs us that we need to sign in to Blogger and they won’t let us because we need to “Please enable JavaScript and cookies in order to use Blogger.” Well, okay, we’ll be the first to admit we’re Luddites, but we do have JavaScript up and running. And we’re not trying to sign in to Blogger, we’re just trying to leave a comment, for mercy’s sakes! GRRRRRRRR.

There is only one thing more aggravating than spending time and thought writing what you hope is an insightful or appreciative comment and watching it simply disappear. And that’s fearing that other bloggers out in cyberspace—people whose thoughts, photos, humor, and writing style you really admire—will think you’re just ignoring them.

So to all our blogging friends who use Blogger as a blog host rather than our own beloved WordPress, we (to borrow a line from Jane Austen’s priceless Mr. Collins) humbly beg leave to apologize. We’re still reading and enjoying, promise. We vow to keep trying to comment. We don’t know why Google hates us.

As for you, Google, shame on you!!! We’ve been devotees of your research function since day one, faithfully heading over many times a day to check out this or that. How could you betray us like this, attempting to crush our outreach efforts like Goliath stomping on David? Please devote a few seconds of your valuable time to improving the WordPress/Blogger interface. Or we’re going to start slinging stones.

Buy this blog. February 10, 2011

Posted by ourfriendben in Ben Franklin, wit and wisdom.
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Our friend Ben is sure I’m not the only person in the blogosphere whose ears perked up to read that AOL had bought The Huffington Post this week for $315 million. But I just might have been the only person who asked, “Is that all?” When multi-billion-dollar acquisitions fill the business columns daily, $315 million seemed, frankly, rather paltry for one of the most popular blogs of all time.

Naturally, this made me fantasize about selling our blog, Poor Richard’s Almanac, to the highest bidder. But Silence Dogood quickly brought me back down to earth. “Ben, only three of us write this blog. We write about whatever interests or amuses us, and though sometimes the subject is topical, more often it’s about my battles with stinkbugs or your visits with Ben Franklin or Richard’s coin collection. Who’s going to pay to buy that?!” Oh.

Silence followed with a one-two punch: “Would you really want to sell off our blog and stop writing it, anyway?” She reminded me of the “Red Green Show” episode we watched this past weekend where Red’s nerdy nephew Harold tries to interest a mainstream network in picking up the show for national distribution. As the parody goes on, not only are Red’s usual subject matter and language censored and changed to appeal to a wider audience, but a hot babe is brought in to replace his frumpy wife Bernice and a cool hunk replaces Harold himself. We were waiting for Red to be the next to go, but fortunately the real Harold returned and said that he hadn’t been able to get any networks interested in the show before that happened. 

Hmmm, good point. We do love writing our blog! And I still haven’t given up hope for a book deal or, say (hint, hint) a MacArthur Fellowship coming out of it. I guess we don’t want to sell it, after all. But if somebody’s out there with $315 million in chump change, do let us know. Our friend Ben would be very happy to talk to you!

More blog search bloopers. June 2, 2010

Posted by ourfriendben in Ben Franklin, wit and wisdom.
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Once again, our virtual inbox here at Poor Richard’s Almanac is overflowing with (inadvertently) humorous search phrases that have somehow brought people to our blog. Here are some of the latest and greatest, with, as always, the search phrase in bold, our comments following. Enjoy!

books old ladies like: At a guess, 1,000 Ways to Torture Rude, Impertinent Whippersnappers Who Use Search Phrases Like This.

charm for a good garden: Don’t we all wish we had one of these! Four that spring to mind are the ever-popular four-leaf clover, especially appropriate in a garden setting; a gazing ball, originally designed to divert the Evil Eye from your garden; and a scarab beetle or ladybug (the scarab, aka dung beetle, because it assists in turning dung into garden fertilizer, and the ladybug because she eats garden pests like aphids and whiteflies). Not a charm per se but a harbinger of peace and garden prosperity would be a statue of St. Francis or St. Fiacre, the patron saint of gardeners.

grannies naked in their gardens: What grannies do in their gardens is no business of ours, or yours either, you little pervert. As long as we don’t see them, anyway. Otherwise, we’re going for the “good fences make good neighbors” approach.

clothes to wear for Benjamin Franklin: Where Ben is now, we understand that dazzling white robes are all the mode.

mediums of poor richard: Hey, get your own Ouija board.

growing manzano pepper jelly: And here we thought you had to cook it.

if elephant eats coconut: No doubt there’s a proverb (or at least a cliche) lurking here somewhere. “If elephant eats coconut, no pina coladas”?

what happened to ben and jerry when they: Frankly, we don’t want to know.

celebrate birthday in different face: Now, there’s a thought! This year, we’d like to celebrate our birthdays as Thulsa Doom or Darth Vader, or maybe Christopher Lee as Lord Summerisle (our friend Ben); Galadriel or Nefertiti or Mma Ramotswe (Silence Dogood); and George Washington, Teddy Roosevelt or Jim Chee (Richard Saunders). Just think, you’d never have to worry about anyone telling you how “great” you were looking this particular birthday again!

what to feed your dig: We’re really hoping that would be “dog.” 

There are plenty more where these came from, but that’s enough for now. Some of our most bizarre queries, such as “rhubarb pregnancy” and “where can i view pictures of antique see,” actually end up making sense, once we’ve worked through them and figured out what’s missing. Sure enough, they really are looking for one of our posts! But queries like the ones we’ve featured in this post are not just baffling, they make us wonder what’s happening to our collective IQ. First the dinosaurs, then us, then the cockroaches…

Baby please don’t go. May 31, 2010

Posted by ourfriendben in wit and wisdom.
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Silence Dogood (along with our friend Ben and Richard Saunders) here. Please forgive the Led Zeppelin ref, we just couldn’t resist. Sunday, a fellow blogger kindly linked to one of our posts here at Poor Richard’s Almanac because it was germane to her topic. We were thrilled, and will tell you all about it in our next post. But for now, we want to harp on one of the saddest things we know about blogging, which Entangled’s linked post brought to the forefront once again.

You see, Entangled linked not only to one of our recipe posts but to several relevant recipe posts. I wouldn’t be Silence Dogood if I could resist a good recipe, so I rushed to click on one of the links, which led me to a wonderful blog with really wonderful recipes called Salt and Pepper. (More on this in the next post, too.) I thought the recipe looked great, and was checking out the lineup of previous posts when I saw that the posts stopped abruptly in April.

Oh, no. I clicked on the April posts and saw a couple, with the usual disclaimer that the blogger had tired of writing posts and pretty much struggled to keep the blog alive for another year or so, then given up. I clicked back through the previous months when the blogger had posted anything, and she was right: She hadn’t really been motivated to write much of anything for two years, after blogging faithfully and fabulously since 2006.

Our friend Ben, Richard Saunders, and I have encountered this tragedy before. We were going to name names in this post, lamenting some of our favorite blogs that seemed to be in demise, but decided in favor of generic comments, since sometimes blogs do in fact come back to life, and we don’t want to seem to be criticizing anyone by pointing a finger at them for falling off.

God knows, blogging is work, and the chances of it paying off in terms of income or fame are right up there with winning the lottery. Either you blog because you have something to say and you love the reader interaction or you stop blogging because a) you thought blogging made bazillion dollars and gee, you haven’t seen a cent come in yet or b) it’s too time-consuming and you have better things to do.

But we just hate it when our favorite blogs go dark, with no new posts for months or—worse—an announcement that this is the end for the blog. Or they shift focus and become commercial outlets rather than personal blogs. (This is quite another matter if the blog is an outreach for a commercial venture to begin with, but please, don’t stop being your wonderful selves and switch to “Buy this! Buy this!” all the time. Instead, set up a commercial blog for your stuff and keep your original blog for yourselves.)

We have seen blogs revive after dramatic announcements that they were quitting for good, or make strong comebacks after months of sporadic posting. But these are the exceptions. So often, once someone drifts away from the discipline of blogging, they find it too challenging to come back to it. It was fun when they started, but now they’ve found other things to do. They’ve moved on. If we’re lucky, they keep their blog and its archive of delightful posts up for us to continue to enjoy and learn from. But we miss them, the freshness, the sense of presence and interaction.

So, if you’re blogging, please don’t go. We know it’s not easy speaking into the void, putting yourself, your passions and projects, out into cyberspace and hoping that someone will hear you, find you, like you. But they do. They will. And, like us, they’d hate to see you go.

Getting folks to read your blog. March 3, 2010

Posted by ourfriendben in Ben Franklin, homesteading, wit and wisdom.
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Our friend Ben was heading over to our blog, Poor Richard’s Almanac, this morning when my attention was caught like a moth in a flame by a blog post on our blog host, WordPress’s, home page. WordPress has any number of great features, but one that always turns our friend Ben green with envy is its featured blogs section. Every day, the home page showcases a number of blog posts that the WordPress factotums think merit readership. Much like Oprah’s Book Club back in the day, doubtless being featured on this roster is a really, really good way to attract readers to your blog. (Sigh.) But I digress.

Today, two posts caught my eye: One was called something like “Weird uses for leather” and showed a photo of a pig who, under the circumstances, didn’t strike our friend Ben as looking sufficiently concerned. Wishing the pig well, but having no desire to actually read the post, I scanned the other featured posts and came upon something to the effect of “How to use WordPress to attract a zillion readers to your blog.” (Apparently, using the name “WordPress” in the title works pretty damn well.) Naturally, our friend Ben, modest soul that I am, would love to attract a zillion readers to our blog, Poor Richard’s Almanac. (And no, Silence, of course this has nothing to do with my unending attempts to attract the attention of the MacArthur Fellowship nominators.) So, like the hapless moth, our friend Ben found myself clicking on the post.

What did I read there? Bad news and good news. The blogger said that, in order to attract readership, you simply had to be on Twitter and Facebook ranting on (and on) about your blog. (Luddites that we are here at PRA, forget that.) You had to inundate all your friends, relatives, coworkers, and acquaintances with “news” about and links to your blog. (Mercifully, I only know one person who actually does this. And it’s so irritating.) And you absolutely, absolutely had to include photos in your posts, or your blog was doomed. You’d be lucky to attract 3, much less 30, readers a day.

We here at Poor Richard’s Almanac beg to differ. Not because we disagree with this advice as a basic template. It’s all pretty sound advice. But rather because it’s a template, not a mandate.

As noted, we use neither Facebook nor Twitter. We find that we have enough to do writing our blog, answering and sending e-mail, doing our work, and living our lives, without adding yet more time-eaters like tweeting and texting and posting to Facebook. But that doesn’t mean we discount their utility as tools. If our blog was commercial in nature, or if our jobs or businesses required it, you can bet we’d be tweeting away like mad and asking everyone on earth to “friend us on Facebook.” Thank God we don’t have to.

As for annoying our friends and relations with endless begging, screaming e-mails and the like about how great our blog is and how they should all be reading it, we’d say to go for the happy medium. Yes, tell everyone you’d want to read your blog that you’ve started it, what it’s about, and that you’d love to get their feedback. And please provide a link! Then sit back and wait for none of them to actually read it, at least for a very long time. Our friend Ben and Silence Dogood were dismayed that so few of our family and friends tuned in to Poor Richard’s Almanac when we and Richard Saunders launched it in 2008. OFB’s brother and one of our good friends were faithful readers, but of all our families and closest friends, that was pretty much it. Hundreds of readers checked in faithfully, but not the folks who were nearest and dearest to us in the face-to-face sense. Many of these announced very self-righteously that they didn’t read blogs. Well, fine, your loss. But over time, and without additional annoyance on our parts, we’ve found that more of our friends are joining the group of faithful readers that keeps Poor Richard’s Almanac afloat. We’re always surprised, thrilled, and humbled when another friend joins the flock. But no, we wouldn’t dream of badgering anyone about it. That takes more hubris than we can muster.

Now, about those photos. We have no, absolutely no, argument with this advice. Our observations of the world of blogging suggest that photos are key to transforming your blog into a commercial success, to getting noticed, to getting that book and maybe even that movie deal. We ourselves love seeing photos on other people’s blogs. So why don’t we have any here on Poor Richard’s Almanac? Well, first of all, we’re writers and thinkers, not photographers. Being Luddites, we can’t even take a decent photo, much less upload one to our blog. But second of all, when we started Poor Richard’s Almanac, we set ourselves a challenge. We wanted to see if, like our hero and blog mentor Benjamin Franklin, we could write such compelling posts that readers would come to see what we had to say without visual backup.

So how have we done? Without being celebrities or even recognized authorities in our various fields, being in fact complete unknowns, and without offering visuals or advertising ourselves in any way, Poor Richard’s Almanac attracts hundreds of visitors a day, over 160,000 so far (according to WordPress’s accounting). Not bad for just two years’ postings! 

What would we advise for blogging success? Again, we endorse the photographic approach even if we don’t practice it. We also approve of the original post author’s additional suggestions that you write the catchiest possible titles, that you write about things you love, and that you return the favor of visiting bloggers by becoming a regular visitor to (and commentor on) their blogs as well.

But that isn’t all, in our experience, by any means. We think that the greatest success comes from two very disparate approaches. One is to tackle a diverse series of topics that interest you and that, however tangential, will interest others. Whether it’s the age of Dr. Oz, the history of JABO marbles, the nature of Amish Friendship Bread, or if cats ever have brown eyes, this is the approach that has worked for us. People search for what interests them, be it a recipe for pumpkin chili or the best pirate movies or black German shepherd puppies or Pennsylvania Dutch Christmas traditions or the best places to stay in Asheville or how to grow potatoes in containers, and they find themselves on our blog. Our posts seem to be timeless in this respect: We write about what interests us, and when it interests someone else, they come to see what we’ve said about it, be it two minutes or two years after we’ve written it. We find this really awesome.

But there’s a different approach, and that’s tight specialization. When it works, it works far better than our scattershot approach. Look, for example, at Mr. Subjunctive’s blog Plants Are the Strangest People (http://plantsarethestrangestpeople.blogspot.com/). Mr. Subjunctive typically posts about tropicals and houseplants, usually giving their history and nomenclature and often focusing on favorite cultivars and growing techniques. Yes, his blog does digress from time to time, notably on Saturdays when he showcases a photo of his delightful anole, Nina, but he usually stays on-topic and has gained a faithful audience and over 500,000 views as a result.   

So yes, we’re here to tell you it can be done. If you want to blog, go for it. But we would like to remind you that “the total look,” text, photos, and illustrative touches, plus a real passion for your subject matter and a flair for great post titles, will get you further faster. Do as we say, not as we do. But thanks for stopping in!

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