This is the title for my talk at the June, 2011 Wordpress Ann Arbor meeting, and the details follow.
0. You have to decide at the outset whether you are trying to make money or you are trying to make sense. Sensemaking leads to open inquiry, small wins, and constructive engagement with the world; moneymaking leads to key performance indicators, conversion rates, and return on investment. (Image: Boris Artzybasheff painting on a USPS 37c stamp, released in 2004.)
1. Tools matter. Your decision on what software platform to build your weblog sets off a chain reaction of dependencies that lead to characteristic design, structure, and people. Pick carefully, because you will end up working with or against the environment you have built. (Cover from the Whole Earth Catalog.)
2. Keep the project in scope. Is it limited in time or perpetual? Is it limited to one narrow topic, or broad to whatever comes along? Are comments open to the world, or closed off to a small targeted set of contributors? Come to terms with where the weblog starts and where it ends, and stay within whatever bounds you might need to put to make that work. (Photo: Single Serving Levees, via Jason Kottke, from Popular Science; photo credit is Scott Olson/Getty Images)
3. Repetition is the soul of the net. If you are going to cover a topic thoroughly, you will need to repeat some themes over and over again. If you are going to chronicle the world, you need to do it frequently enough to capture it at a reasonable pace. Don't be afraid to say the same thing over and over again if it bears repeating. (Image: Pytessel for tesselation for the Palm Pilot)
4. Work from a calendar. Every narrowly focused weblog revolves around a world that has seasons, whether it be the changes in nature, the events in an industry, or the cycles of growth. Understand that your timing matters, and that there's a one best day each year to write every single article. (Image: the Chrono-Shredder, Susan Hertrich).
5. Writing is hard work. Make it easier by writing headlines first - draft a whole series of titles for stories and posts you wish you had written. Don't launch until you can see far enough out to be able to refill any category you want to credibly provide strong coverage of. Make the first version coherent and accurate and don't be afraid to fix an error. (Photo: Dewey Defeats Truman, AP via Wikipedia)
6. Write for a reader, and make sure that reader sees what you write. This means not just constructing entries in the hopes that Google or someone random will find it, but really having a person in mind for each of your efforts who can review it when it goes out. Engage friends and colleagues to copy edit, review, and proofread your work, and respond promptly to improvements. (Cover art: Anne Lamott's Bird By Bird).
7. Set long term and short term goals, and be prepared to measure success on each of those goals. Traffic is one goal; conversion goals like "make a comment" or "sign up for a newsletter" are other goals; at some point, if you are writing with a direct commercial interest, there's a money value with each. Understand where you are looking for people to fit on some gradient of engagement or spectrum of common interest.
8. Measure success where you have succeeded, and build upon that success. Collect evidence that reinforces your best sense of where you are heading with this project, and be quick to claim credit for having achieved major milestones. No one has to know what the goal of your weblog is until you have succeeded.
9. Leave room, if your style allows it, for questions. When you write, you don't have to know everything, and asking good questions can be at least as good as giving all of the answers.
10. Know when to bring a project to a close. Not every weblog needs to be updated perpetually; sometimes you just have to create a body of work, assess how it turned out, and take it offline when it has outlived its purpose. (Photo: Edward Vielmetti, "Road Ends")