It’s been pretty exactly three years since this blog went online…Time flies indeed. But I will not open a special bottle for this occasion – all my bottles are already open anyway -, neither will I offer a celebratory giveaway or anything like that. No, in order to thank you for the ever-growing interest in the blog (the 10000 monthly unique visitors mark is being tackled as I type) I thought I’d share some of the experiences I made in three years of heavy blogging.
With new whisky blogs coming online on a weekly basis, I reckon some blogging newbies won’t mind a few tips and tricks. Some will be rather general and not necessarily restricted to whisky blogging, though.
1. Content, Content, Content
It is a no-brainer, actually. The basic law of blogging: Write good content and the rest will be a piece of cake. Of course the emphasis is on ‘good’. All understandable worries about getting noticed in the infinite depths of the blogosphere are secondary to the quality of what you write. A couple of basic and modest self-marketing tricks are sufficient to get noticed by your ‘target audience’. It is the content that separates the wheat from the chaff, not the layout or your ranking position in search engines. This does not mean you should ignore other aspects of blogging, but always keep in mind what blogging is really all about.
2. Find Your Niche
There are lots of whisky blogs, so it may be a good idea to find yourself a place in the blogosphere that both suits you and sets you apart from the others. ‘Niche’ in this respect does not necessarily mean a high level of specialization. The niche of this blog for example is almost as wide as you can get: Everything whisky (except regular coverage of new releases, extensive whisky reviews and general whisky news – there are enough other blogs who focus on this). But the way it is set up it is rather unique.
Maybe I should explain my ‘niche’ a bit more in depth to help you to find yours. Dramming.com is based on thee pillars. Islam has five, Macallan needs six, I get along with half of that: Information, education and opinion. Information is the strong point of many whisky blogs. You may notice a congruency with the stuff between brackets in the previous paragraph here. The information part of this blog largely consists of concise tasting notes with scores, no ‘proper’ reviews because that would not be possible for 200+ whiskies a year without neglecting the two other pillars.
Education and opinion are two areas that I think are still under-represented in whisky blogging, so for the articles I write on top of the tasting notes this is my main focus.
3. Don’t Be Afraid To Reconsider
In its first year, this blog was called ‘Whisky Rating’ because publishing scores and tasting notes for as many whiskies as possible was the thing that made me start a whisky blog in the first place. I soon began to write proper articles as well, but over time I felt uncomfortable that the blog name only reflected part of what I did. In addition to that I had originally included a crowd-sourced rating functionality for the drams I published, but this never really caught on. So in the summer of 2010 I decided to do a complete revamp along with renaming the blog to Dramming. Apart from getting rid of the crowd rating, I didn’t change anything content-wise, but from the visitor’s statistics it soon became obvious that this decision was right.
4. Engage, But Don’t Spam
You have just hit ‘Publish’ on your first blog post, and now you are waiting for readers. Of course you will only get noticed, if you attract attention. There are many possible ways to do so, some are better than others though. I strongly recommend to use Twitter, Facebook and/or Google+ as tools to connect with like-minded people before you actually start publishing. Then you will have a natural audience for your first ventures into blogging. Simply publish the links to your articles and they will show up in the feeds of your virtual friends.
What you should not do is to post links to each and every Facebook page or group dealing with whisky. Most people visit the same pages, and when they see the same link half a dozen times, chances are that you will be regarded as a spammer. But of course you are welcome to post links to your articles if they provide information that is useful for discussions going on. Also commenting on other blogs is a good way of making yourself known. But please only comment if you really have something to contribute. Most blogs allow you to link to your blog when posting a comment. Don’t abuse this generosity.
Needless to say it also helps your blog when you are communicating with your readers on social media sites. You can decide just to chat, but you can also engage your readers with random thoughts, pictures or by asking questions. The simplest way of doing so certainly is the classic “What are you dramming with today?” But because it is so simple and obvious it may become a bit boring for regular readers with time. Be creative!
5. Be Honest And Don’t Be Afraid Of It
When your blog has earned some exposure, you may be approached by whisky producers who would like you to try their products. A cynic may say that this prospect is the main incentive for novices to start a whisky blog at all. I will refrain from a judgement on that. But be aware that the whisky industry will not approach you out of pure pleasure of giving. They want their products to have exposure in the online world, and of course they prefer positive reviews over negative ones.
Here is a true story: After a good year into blogging, a brand ambassador of a major Scotch whisky producer approached me with the question if I needed “something for my bar”. I didn’t really refuse, but noticed a certain smell which in conjunction with some other incindents happening around that time prompted me to write an article about the ethics of whisky blogging. For some strange reason the brand ambassador has not called back.
If there is more to whisky blogging for you than to get freebies, don’t be afraid to voice your opinion. You are a blogger, not a journalist. You are free to say what you really think about something. Being subjective is an asset for us bloggers, not a flaw. But if you feel you have to rant about something, always make sure you can defend what you say. You don’t want your ‘victim’ to dissect your article because you haven’t got your facts right.
You may lose a few readers or industry contacts along the way. But those who stay you can rely upon.