It’s that time of year again when we answer questions during the Pet Blogger Challenge. This is my third year participating, and I think it’s safe to say that I’ve grown since each of those posts was written. You can read the 2012 and 2013 editions by clicking on the link of you really want to. So, here goes this year’s questions and answers.
I’ve been blogging since March of 2009. The blog has changed a lot since then, although some things have stayed the same. In 2009, I never dreamed that anyone besides three of my writing friends and maybe my husband would read it. We have, um, a few more readers since then. My husband thoroughly surprised me by becoming my number one fan and supporter of the blog, too. It’s not that I didn’t think he’d read it, but I didn’t think he’d be the one who’d be supporting it on Facebook, Google+ and Twitter the way he has.
This isn’t my first time participating in this challenge, but I will tell you the reason I started the blog anyway. I started the blog nine months after we adopted Bunny and ten months after we lost our first Greyhound, Treat. There were hundreds of funny Treat stories, and I’d shared them on various forums, in e-mails and with friends and family. After she died, though, they were never saved in one place. I wanted to have a place to keep all the memories I had of Bunny, who was still practically a puppy at that time and our three other Greyhounds. I also had been doing a lot of creative writing and I wanted to try a different style of writing. Now, it’s almost the only thing that I write since I’ve discovered a few new creative outlets.
2. Name one thing about your blog, or one blogging goal that you accomplished during 2013, that made you the most proud.
We won an award for a photograph I took at BlogPaws in 2013. I am not a professional photographer by any means. It’s simply a hobby that I really enjoy. To have a picture that I took judged as the best from hundreds of entries is an honor that meant a lot to me. I still have NO idea who nominated the photo, so if you’re reading, thank you!
3. When you look at the post you wrote for last year’s Pet Blogger Challenge, or just think back over the past year, what about blogging has changed the most for you?
Well, I’ve made a little money, which is nice. It’s not enough to quit my day job over, by any means, but it has allowed me to do a few nice things for the dogs and us at times. Making money is not the reason I started the blog, but it is a nice benefit.
I also have become a lot more aware of my voice. Everybody who writes a blog has one, but it’s how you choose to use it that really matters. I think it’s one area that a lot of bloggers don’t give themselves enough credit for. This summer I wrote a post about the power of social media and did an experiment to see if we could get some crates donated for the search and rescue team that my husband and Küster work with. They had a trailer for the dogs, but only enough money to either buy crates or put in air conditioning. I am happy to say that the post led us to some people with good leads and info, and the crates did get donated. It was a great lesson for me.
4. What lessons have you learned this year — from other blogs, or through your own experience — that could help us all with our own sites?
Well, aside from the lesson about the power of my own voice, I learned that you have to be your own advocate. I always knew that being upfront with people was the best way to handle things, but I also learned that sometimes you just have to be blunt with some people. I’m also getting a lot more wary of giving my space away for free. As a blogger, I get asked to review a lot of things. It’s hard to say no to free stuff, but the truth is, this space is worth a lot more than just a bag of treats. Unless someone wants to sponsor us for a year and feed my dogs for that amount of time, I’m not doing a dog food review, either. I can’t tell my readers anything that they can’t read for themselves on a website or the side of a dog food bag by just feeding my four large dogs a bag of dog food. Aside from that, viewer engagement feels very low for me when we do reviews. That’s not to say that sometimes I don’t want to do reviews, but it has to be something that’s worth it to me. I’m still working on saying no, though. Sometimes, I say yes and then kick myself for it.
Alternatively, if you could ask the pet blogging community for help with one challenge you’re still having with your blog, what would it be?
Disqus, I love it and hate it! Installing it was a royal pain and it never did import all my old blog comments like they promised it would. I installed it not long before Blueberry passed away, and I don’t want to uninstall it and lose all those comments, either. I like that it lets me have more of a discussion and interaction with our commentors. However, I also get a lot of complaints that it doesn’t work for some people, or that they don’t like it or that someone somewhere is going to steal their information from it.
The bottom line is that nothing is going to make everyone happy. I like comments, and I want to make it as easy for people as possible, and I want them to be able to see my reply if I say something back. If anybody out there can import the old comments or has a better suggestion, I’m all ears!
5. What have you found to be the best ways to bring more traffic to your blog, other than by writing great content?
I think using Triberr has helped a lot. I’m also active in other social media areas. I’m on Flickr and some people have come from there to read it. I’ve also noticed that since I started posting pictures on our Facebook fan page we’ve gotten more people reading the blog from there. I think the main thing, though, is to interact with people who read your blog. If people leave comments, I try to reply, whether it’s on Twitter, Facebook, Google+, Pinterest or Flickr. I also try to get around to other blogs and read and comment there. Offering people different ways to follow you and engage with you makes them feel involved and makes you seem approachable.
6. How much time to do you spend publicizing your blog — and do you think you should spend more or less time next year?
This is a hard question for me to answer. The truth is, not much in a block of time. I spend a few minutes each morning sharing it on Google+, Pinterest and Facebook. I also share posts through Triberr every morning. These things probably take me less than five minutes every day. However, I also spend time most days commenting on other people’s blogs, which is publicity in a way, although I don’t go out there and post my website into every comment I make. I don’t plan to change how much time I spend on publicity unless something unexpected and drastic happens. If I won the lottery, for example, and could quit my day job and hire myself to write the blog full time and have adventures with the dogs, then maybe it would change. I also don’t keep track of how much time I spend answering people’s questions and comments on our various social media outlets.
7. How do you gauge whether or not what you’re writing is appealing to your audience? And how do you know when it’s time to let go of a feature or theme that you’ve been writing about for a while?
Generally, I gauge it by reader interaction. If I get a lot of comments about something, then I feel like I’ve probably hit a good mark. I don’t study my statistics much at all, so that’s not how I base my assessment of things. I haven’t really had any features that I’ve had to let go of, so that’s a hard one to answer. I suppose if I felt that no one was reading a certain kind of post, I’d drop it, though, unless it was something that I was writing for myself.
8. When you’re visiting other blogs, what inspires you to comment on a post rather than just reading and moving on?
Well, if they comment on my blog, then I try to comment on theirs. If something really, REALLY offends me, I’ll speak up and say so, but that has happened very rarely. I can only think of four times when that’s occurred, actually. If someone has a really new blog, I try to be kind and comment, or if it’s a blog with small readership, I try to say something. I also admit that if it’s someone with a Greyhound blog, I try to always comment there, because the Greyhound community is really tight knit, even though some of those people don’t return the favor. Another thing that often inspires me to comment is beautiful pictures or writing. There are some blogs that just have a certain feel to them and I find them irresistible. If I feel engaged or inspired in some way by a post, I try to let the writer know that, though. It’s tough to pour your heart into a post, or beautiful pictures, and then just get two word comments from people, so I try really hard not to do that. If they make me feel something, I share that.
Of course, there are some days when I am just worn out and don’t have the energy to comment, too, and I’m trying to be kinder to myself about that.
9. Do you do product reviews and/or giveaways?
Yes, I do.
If so, what do you find works best, and what doesn’t work at all?
I find that doing a review with a giveaway works much better. If readers don’t feel that there’s something in it for them, I find them much less engaged. I also think you have to do it in moderation. When I do too many reviews and giveaways, I find readers a lot less engaged, because I don’t think that’s what people come to my blog for. They come to see pretty pictures, read funny stories and share a common love of dogs. And that reminds me of another thing that works better for me with reviews, which is taking good pictures to go with it. There’s a blog I read called My Untangled Life, and they do some of the best reviews I’ve ever read. Mine feel pale by comparison.
If not, is this something you’d like to do more of? What hurdle is getting in your way?
It’s not an area I feel comfortable with sometimes. There is always somebody who pipes up and mentions something they feel is wrong with the product, or who knows a lot more about the nutrition of it, or who is more review-savvy than I am. I have a love/hate relationship with reviews. If it’s a product I am really impressed with, then I feel I can do it more justice.
Another thing that is a struggle for me is companies that come back after a review is posted and want things altered. I feel like they ought to give me all that information up front. If they want something changed days or weeks after it was posted, it’s pretty much too late. Several times this year, I had things I worked on where someone wanted things added in, including discount codes specific to my blog, days after publication. That’s just making work for me.
10. When writer’s block strikes and you’re feeling dog-tired, how do you recharge?
I take a break and read other blogs, or go hang out on Flickr or Facebook, or take a walk if that’s possible. I just move away from it and think about something else. Of course, I also save ideas that come to me in a list on my phone, so if I’m having a day when I can’t come up with something, sometimes something on the list is still begging to be written.
11. Have you ever taken a break from your blog? How did that go?
Not since I started it. When I first started, I wasn’t posting every day, and for a long time, I didn’t post on weekends unless something special was happening. However, now I have content on every day. I have been thinking strongly about going back to a five day a week schedule, but my husband keeps talking me out of it. It may be time to make him start writing the Saturday post.
Have you ever thought about quitting your blog altogether? What makes you stay?
No, I really haven’t. I enjoy the interaction that comes from the blog, but more than that, it’s a creative outlet for me. I am a person who needs to create something, and this is my space for that. First and foremost, I write for me. Sometimes I write things because I have obligations to do so, but I still try to write those things to suit myself. And my original reason for writing the blog was save a chronicle of our lives with our dogs, and that’s still my main reason for writing it. The fact that other people enjoy reading about what we do is a wonderful bonus, but it’s the frosting on the cake, not the whole cake.
12. What goals do you have for your blog in 2014?
If I can make it keep earning its keep and providing some extras for us, then I’m happy with that. I’d love it if I were able to attend a trade show this year thanks to the blog. If I were able to attend a few more conferences, as well, that would be wonderful. Presenting at a conference at some point is something that I think might be fun, too, but that’s more of a long term goal. It’s not something I expect to happen this year.
I’ve learned a lot so far, and I know there’s still a lot more for me to learn. I want to get better about balancing my time on social media, I want to grow as a photographer and writer and I want to have fun doing it. If it stops being fun, then it’s just another job, and that has never been my intention for the blog, so I try to keep that in focus.