I examine Blog Return Difficulties in this article because I believe it is a universal problem all bloggers face. “Time away” is a dangerous couple of words for blogging. A lot of the activities you engage with whilst blogging are only any good if you keep them up. As soon as you lose the impetus, of your ever evolving community management techniques and all those methods to broadcast your efforts, life on the blog can become difficult. I look at how to return to a neglected blog and what methods you can use to get started.
Everyone Suffers “Time Away”
It is inevitable despite best efforts that at some point you have to leave the helm of the ship to take some cabin rest. Staying fresh is important to keep the quality of your content warm and salient. It is important how you manage running up to this time away and how you prepare your return. We all maintain an equilibrium when blogging, a happy medium where we are not producing too much or too little in line with the time we have available. Too much and you burn out, too little and you lose interest.
Taking a break is the reset button. This equilibrium or happy medium may not be the same tolerance as before. You may have to build yourself up to a routine again so expect to be posting less.
Being consistent is important when blogging. If you can get things out in a scheduled fashion it takes away the worry that you haven’t done enough but it is also restrictive especially when you have to cater your spare time to changing dynamics in the week.
Have you asked yourself this question “I’ve had a long time out and have found it difficult to find new topic areas to research and get back with the community!”
I am in this current dilemma and am sure that many other bloggers have faced this. In order to break the cycle I decided to revisit two of my older articles on the subject on how to operate when taking a break and what to do when returning from some substantial time away.
Blogging requires a lot of thought and upkeep so it is okay to relax occasionally. Preparation on both the point of leaving and returning are incredibly important.
Keeping Up Appearances
Is important even if you aren’t writing anything. Showing that you empathise with another writer is both low on time commitment and should be a way to stay current. It doesn’t matter if you are getting commentLuv to an old post. The fact is that you keep your interest up and it will be easier to assimilate data when you return.
Sometimes I admit that it will be impossible to keep up appearances because you want a full reset from the activity and in that case you must expect to potentially reset to a time when you received much less interest. Whether you like it or not this reality is something you have to accept.
There may be those cynical people who feel that you linger on bloggers to gain their audience but a lot of the time that can’t be further from the truth. A lot of the time you follow people to keep up with trends, gain ideas for your own use (which you can rephrase in your own style) and feel connected.
- Keep your oar in the water by making some noise on social media.
- Keep following others and contributing where you can.
- It’s okay to like other people’s styles and messages whilst maintaining your own wants.
Is best coupled with a posting schedule but if you play fast and loose then you need some basic plan of the amount of content you need to generate to fill the period you are away. You can apply basic Math. Away two weeks? Post once weekly, 2 posts. So as well as meeting your current blogging requirements, you need 2 posts that are not time dependent to set up for automatic posting. You will also have to think about how you are automatically going to promote those articles as well.
The limitations of fire and forget are that you will not be able to afford live interaction with your commentators unless you have hired someone to do that for you. In the full reset scenario you will not be able to approve comments unless you set this to automatic on your blog. I would not recommend automatically approving comments due to spammers and haters. This is worth bearing in mind.
- Be wary of fire and forget.
- Remember to schedule your publicity as well as the publishing of your post.
Something I wanted to strike from the records is checking your stats. I don’t think that if you are away and want to stay on the “down low” you should be engaging in this activity because stat watching can be time-consuming in itself and can also put you in a negative mood. The obvious correlation between lack of writing and engagement is a tanking in the stats and if you are to be away this is something you have to accept without question.
Taking Alexa.com as one example of statistics, this system monitors daily activity based on frequency of posting amongst other things, you can be severely marked down for low-frequency even though those things you post infrequently do well. It is best to take your gaze of dwindling numbers and think positive about your return. One exception to this is to make sure that errors are kept to a minimum so checking stats on code 404s and the like is time well spent.
Shorten Lengths of Articles
Going shorter can be a way of staying in the game. You may be able to accomplish your goals in less, more efficacious ways, and often the simplest answers to a solution are the best. To make the best use of being concise you have to lay down an article, if you don’t want to get into that CMS then this is not going to be helpful.
- Take your articles down from epics to something you can write in an hour (between 600 – 1000 words)
- Don’t write anything if you can’t guarantee some use from the end product.
- Nothing isn’t the same as a little something.
Keep some Draft Articles Back for Rainy Days
I actually ran contra to this advice when I returned because I had some critically outdated drafts that were there simply because I couldn’t bring myself to complete them. They were good ideas at the time but just have fallen foul of my new-found standards. In other words these canned articles might have been something I’d have published in the past but they now don’t pass muster.
Keeping drafts back is ill-advised. You should be killing it all the time and holding onto any draft is actually counter-productive. The longer it gathers dust on the shelf, the less time it has to rock out. What you are better advised to do is generate a template that you can hold onto for an easy to craft post that will generate some positive results instead. You will need to go through past articles and identify the formats that do best. You will then need to determine a lower than standard word count and limit your time to make the content punchy.
- Generate an easy to complete template.
- Identify past articles that do well and use their format.
- Reduce your word count and limit time spent working.
Returning from time away will often mean that the first couple of posts you write are likely to be sacrificial lambs. You need time to pick up the enthusiasm of your audience and possibly a new direction in your writing to tap fresh interest.
As an aside, keeping drafts until later is possible when you have a writing team or when you devote your whole business time to your blog but my advice is not to sit on posts because their currency may drop if you don’t release them within the “interest window”.
I have found that some posts held back for later really rock out. I wrote one article over a period of 4 months and released it in January 2014. It performed incredibly well in comparison to other articles written in half the time but it went into a great deal of depth. It was the equivalent of 4 average posts compressed into one. Sometimes you can hold a big article back as long as the content doesn’t become too stale over time.
Hire a Caretaker
This is only advisable where you are generating some kind of profit. I wouldn’t advise this for these newbie bloggers who are earning less than a button. There are numerous creative pitfalls to stand-ins. I’ve noticed quality drops on sites where “community managers” have been let loose to steer the ship while the Captain is away. Loss is a factor at this stage and trust can be an issue so you have to weigh up the pros of keeping the train moving versus a number of negatives that come with letting someone else manage your property for you.
- Not advised for newbies
- Monitoring required for quality
- Trust required
- Accept some loss
Using your Time Away as a Case in Point For a Story Can Provide Plenty of Ammunition for Your Return
You normally need to have reached a stage where you can be open about who you are with your audience, in other words, they have to give a crap about you. If you have no hardcore followers then this could fall as flat as a pancake and I can tell you that it normally does. You have to concentrate more on giving quality advice rather than swaying people to who you are. When you are known for how awesome your advice is then you can concentrate a little bit more on being the celebrity.
- People are more interested in solutions than you.
- Wait until you have an “engaged” following before you start writing a lot of personal information about you.
I end the article well by questioning what you do when pause for longer than a week and in that way I am trying answer this question now which leads me to relighting the blogging fire after substantial time away.
You Can’t Brush Time Away Under the Carpet
“So don’t try to. If you were away and it was personal, don’t leap to share. Most of the time if your audience aren’t your best friend or next door neighbour they don’t care as much as you hope they might.” – Me in 2014.
Truer words have never been spoken and I still consider this an important concept. I suggest you move on in a sustainable way. If you can share practical elements that have been positive then this is a good share, otherwise if you intend to drag people down with you, think twice.
- Your audience aren’t necessarily your best friends.
- Moaning and negativity isn’t attractive.
- Prioritise sustainable moves forward.
Out with the old and in with the new
The Internet is a transient changing landscape. If you are lucky to have loyal followers then you know that you worked hard to maintain that loyal band. Leaving for lengthy periods may ultimately lose you some of those followers and your resurgence may be met with ambivalence from your following clan. There is no easy way to do it but you’ve got to get stuck in.
This return to power is a reset, unless you are stratospheric in your career as a blogger, in such a way that you will never be unforgotten. There aren’t many people on that list and I can guarantee you are not one of them (but you could be in the future). Even those guys and gals are busy whilst they are away and have caretakers watching their property because in the internet land you can never take your foot off the pedal and coast for long.
In the scheme of things we gain and lose all the time, sometimes lose more than gain and vice versa. Eventually we should be able to find more strategies for gaining, retaining and recovering from loss but in the mean time we shouldn’t sweat the small stuff.
- We will often return to a “reset” of all the past momentum attained.
- Don’t sweat the small stuff because if we became upset by every small change we’d be admitted to the asylum.
Assessing the Environment
Having been out you most likely lost some of your followers to other voices and it is useful when returning to assess your field of competition. Unfortunately due to lower barriers to entry, you are likely to face more competition, which in turn dilutes your audience numbers.
You are going to have to strap the work boots back on and get your head around strategies now that you have lost ground. It is alright whilst the cement mixer of blogging is turning because you get a constant pour but as soon as you stop that process you will be spending time mixing up the vital ingredients to kickstart the process again.
When an environment is volatile you learn to role with the punches. When you stop getting in the ring you don’t know what punches your competitors are throwing and you don’t know how to work the crowd.
You should always reassess your environment because it can change at the drop of the hat. You should try to involve some form of monthly or bi-monthly review of what’s going on and how you need to either keep up or stay ahead of the curve.
- Keep things moving.
- Change things up.
- Reassess the environment in a routine schedule.
What you can rely on
“It is most likely that if you set your SEO up well and that your content had some afterglow quality to it that people still find your content useful. You may have a guide or an eBook that is keeping your visitors arriving.” – Me in 2014
This traffic stream can help rejuvenate you if you know how to tweak things in your favour but it is not an exact science and you may find that some of these traffic streams are traditionally high bouncing (satisfy the need but don’t motivate to look around).
What you can rely on are those dare I say “Evergreen” posts, albeit I have issue with the term, to make part of your visitor funnel. If you strike a great balance on an article where Google (or one of the big search engines) ranks you on your merit, you are likely to get a disproportionate entry from an article such as this. You may be able, with research, to generate further entry into your blog.
- Almost timeless performers will keep you sweet
You may wish to look at this article on “The Evergreen Myth – Articles with that special something” because I have an alternative view on Evergreen content that you might find interesting.
Getting back in the grill of people who will in part help promote you and people who need your solutions is important. In my previous article I advised that using email was a good way to go but if you haven’t got that sizeable email audience, what do you do?
Basically you have to pick up the axe (like the incensed Ulrik above) and get back on with social media although some professionals have advised that social media can be time badly spent in your early days. I would disagree but would say that it really depends on how organised and disciplined you are. Social media can become a rabbit hole by its nature due to how it bombards you with a cornucopia of information. If you learn to become disciplined in how you interact and engage you will perform better.
You may have to locate other communities to share your content but many can be overly critical about self-promotion. Unfortunately self-promotion is essential and people who bar you from this activity are jerks. However, because people abuse this type of promotion it is understandable why a zero tolerance approach has been levied by some as it opens the floodgates to poor quality which is not something you get rewarded for.
You may want to read the following for more on self promotion on this topic “Being Rapped over the Knuckles for Self Promotion.” because you have to be careful on how you present your own information whilst being a welcome contributor.
Generating relationships and partnerships is probably the best use of your time because reciprocal activity is rewarding for both parties. These activities you will have to re-engage when you return and you may have to start with new people where you have lost others in the wash.
- Consider your marketing mix and what may best provide you a boost in the short term, it may not be email marketing.
- Be disciplined and develop a formula to exploit social media.
- Make sure you work on your friends again. Some may not be so receptive if you’ve not reciprocated in a long time. You may have worked your way off the “list”.
Watch Out for the Learning Gap
The learning gap is a passive skill which you override as long as you keep level with how the environment changes over time. Small corrections over time may lead to big changes but when you are out of that learning loop, you may have to return to big changes. It is the equivalent of cleaning your bathroom at home which is easy if you clean regularly but filthy and off-putting if you come back to it after 7 months.
You don’t roll with the punches if you are away a long time. You don’t modify and improve your delivery.
A key component that seems to change far greater than anything else is the speed at which your publicity channels can go off the boil. This is the area you are probably going to be spending the most time trying to repair when you return. Most other changes will be fairly minor compared to this. It is one of the reasons why it is better to stay with blogging as long as you can rather than getting distant from it.
You will have natural attrition to those interested and those who are not but as long as you keep supplying solutions and keep the fire stoked, people will come to warm their hands.
- Prepare for some choppier water when returning because you’ve missed out on incremental changes over a longer time span.
- Your social path often will have changed the most.
- Expect natural attrition to your viewing audience.
The How to Eat the Elephant Analogy
As mentioned in my previous post, deciding on how to eat an elephant has one simple answer; one bite at a time. This is how you should tackle returning to your blog when it is covered in cobwebs. You can’t move mountains straight away you have to chip at them. And for all those cliches there are some key tips you should take away.
- It is quite easy to get caught up in what you should repair and change altogether. I would always start with repairs first because they are an easier win even if the solution isn’t obvious.
- You should update all of your plugins when you are finally tackling your CMS. Why? Because it ensures that your plugins remain valid, functional and free from exploits.
- If you’ve been away from Social media for a long period, you should see what your numbers are looking like and who’s stayed loyal. Whilst there may not be much you can do, you might be able to stir things up again and let those truly interested parties know you are back for business. You should expect that some individuals have moved on and that you may never be able to welcome them back.
- You should delete any old drafts that you know you cannot complete and can no longer fulfil in the time window (Closed subjects). It may be painful but so is pulling off a plaster/band aid.
- You should make sure that any comments that were pending are dealt with. (pros and questions kept, cons binned if you can’t make your response shine or they are a troll).
- You should make sure that any critical emails are replied to. Emails in themselves can be a time sink so you need to develop a method to cut out the superfluous and get to the nub of your key emails.
- You should make sure that your card details have been updated for any automatic billing. (Preferably you do this when your card comes up for change even though you are not using your services).
- You should launch a few posts to get you back in the saddle and start turning some interest. If you are struggling to think of a good place to start, look back on an older article(s) and try to elaborate more on the subject or report on how the situation has changed.
Then you can make changes
Something I didn’t speak about in depth in my relaunch articles were changes….
Life is change, it is the one true constant in life, everything moves with a tide, the ebb, the flow. Systems evolve or die. Changes can make you or break you. You may need some change to keep up with what your competitors are doing or you may need change to move away from what your competitors are doing.
The position school of strategy is an important one as it defines who you are in a dense marketplace and who needs you. You can re-position yourself numerous times to put your audience offerings out of the heat of competition.
Before making changes you have to make sure that your basic remit is being fulfilled.
- Satisfying audience needs.
- Providing timely solutions.
- Providing clarity.
If you don’t fulfill these key aims then changes don’t add up to much in the scheme of things.
Sometimes you don’t need to make any changes, what you have already is a good enough vehicle to keep you going. It is only when people start demanding more that you need to step up your game. As long as the basics are working, you don’t need to worry too much. Big changes can come later, when you’ve got a budget and/or a team for it and when you have reached an audience level where you need more commitment.
The beauty of time away is that you have a chance to look with some fresher eyes on what your production has become. You can critically assess if what you have produced stacks up against what you had hoped and how it compares to better performing competitors.
There are a number of ways you can go about deciding on changes. One way I suggest is being a visitor to your own blog and approaching the content like a visitor might.
Testing is important and on most occasions you should test features as you add them but sometimes you may miss certain wrinkles and creases which you may detect as a visitor to your own site.
Rolling out change
When systems administrators roll out changes (and I know because I’ve been one) they try an aim for a low usage time when the least viewers are affected by these changes. The beauty of most WordPress themes and plugins is that they can handle on the fly updates but there are the odd times when a simple refresh is not enough and where you may have to restart some elements.
- Don’t schedule change rollouts in peak times!
- If the change is significant and affects engaged users, inform them in due time that change is coming.
One area that can cause outcry is changing the theme or a critical layout in your blog. Repeat consumers of your content may lose affinity if your theme or layout changes dramatically. Why? The reason is that humans are creatures of habit and change brings fear. This shouldn’t stop you from changing if you simply can’t maintain the old layouts in the way you used to. You should just be mindful that changing for changing’s sake can be hazardous.
- You will always lose people in the wash.
- Some changes are inevitable.
Don’t change too often because it will detract from your core activity. Visitors will make do with some shortfall because they realise that what you have put together is DIY and therefore may have a few creaky floorboards and a wonky handle or too. Your writing is more important.
What happens if the change doesn’t work?
Don’t be afraid to rollback changes if the results of the change aren’t to your liking or don’t relate well statistically. The only time rollback is not easy to swallow is where you have invested money into the process and some of the mighty Big Wig bloggers have had costly failures.
- Allow a week of bedding in time at minimum and keep track of your statistics.
- You can only safely rollback within a month or two, any longer and you are committed. You can rollback later but you go through that horrible period of instability again whilst your audience are getting used to the changes.
- You learn a lot from failing, more than from winning but winning first time out of the gate is more preferable to your audience perception. Getting things right will impart kudos whilst getting things wrong can affect the audience’s faith in you.
And there you have it!
Returning to neglected blogs is difficult but not impossible. You can expect to feel apprehensive but you should power through this if you really want to get back in the driving seat again.
Your initial writing may suffer but you have to expect a slight downturn in interest since you were not able to generate enthusiasm in the process through your sharing. Such publicity normally requires linking up and appearing to be in many places simultaneously which you cannot cheat at when starting out cold.
What do I want you to do?
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If you are having some return difficulties, get in contact, I’d like to hear from you! headboy (at) blogprefect.com
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