Sunday, March 24, 2013

Tips for Sports Blogging, Part II

Blogging is not something that reaps immediate returns—it takes weeks, months, and often longer. Like I discussed in Part I of this series, perhaps there is nothing more important that I can share with you than it takes a lot of time, hard work, and dedication. You can diffuse that workload through friends, family, or online businesses—all of which are important to have in mind already long before you delve into the depths of writing and online promotion and advertising.

Regardless of how you decide to allocate the responsibilities of your website/blog, here are some more specific places that I have found to be great resources for my blog. (Note again that this post is relevant to all bloggers, not just those interested in sports.)

The most important social media site

At the conclusion of Part I, I mentioned that I would share the most reliable social media website for blogging. No, it’s not Facebook, Google+, or even Twitter. While those sites are incredible pools of viewers, it takes a long time to build up an audience that interacts frequently on those posts. Facebook advertising is hard to work with unless you have a lot of money to begin with but the real great social media source is the popular user-generated news site, Reddit.

Reddit is an excellent place because it personifies the meritocracy of online interactions perfectly. Upvotes and downvotes from users can skyrocket a post into valuable visibility or they can bury it down into the depths of nothingness. You will get a good idea of how your writing fits in simply by submitting links to articles of your blog in relevant popular subreddits.

Before you crazily submit all of your posts, let me give you a word of warning: redditors (people who use reddit) are not shy from checking your submission history. If they see that you post only your content and do not interact otherwise, your site can quickly become a permanent member of their spam filter and your account can be shadow banned. Interact on other posts because that is an expectation in that community. But if you utilize it properly and are aware of “reddiquette,” Reddit can easily be your most reliable source of traffic in the beginning.

Also, realize that Reddit is a temporary boost. It will get your articles started, but like any news website, one story is only on the front page for so long. This segways nicely into the consistent source of traffic: Google.

The musts of growth

If you can write a timeless article—something that people will be interested in for weeks or months to come—a high ranking in Google can earn you some solid daily traffic. While that is a great way to get regular hits, everybody dreams of that one article or post that goes viral. You can’t gameplan for that for one simple reason: if you do that, you’ll fail. Not everything that you write and hope to reach a large audience will, and if you gear yourself to win the lottery, well…the odds are against you. This goes back to Part I where I talked about figuring out precisely what you want to get out of a blogging experience.


Previews, predictions, and discussions of legends are some examples of topics that can gain traction for more than a game recap. Just look at the most popular articles on Bases and Baskets…all fall into that category of topics that are popular on a near-daily basis (greatest NBA players of all time, Kobe vs. LeBron, and Kobe vs. Jordan).

Google will not recognize your website in the beginning. Through the tens of millions of websites out there, the No. 1 search engine in the world needs to see something before it starts ranking your articles on the first few search results for relevant queries. So how are you going to get there?

Forums and (blogging) friends

Forums are a great place to interact with other like-minded sports fans. Reddit can certainly serve this purpose in that you can submit links and comment on posts. ESPN, Bleacher Report, and other team-specific websites are great places to interact and gain visitors or loyal followers if you are lucky.

You have to give some to get some, and that’s why this commenting is important. But in reality, commenting on other people’s websites is beneficial to you, too! If somebody has a Wordpress commenting system, you can literally get hits directly off of clicks on your username. Similarly, you can do so with Disqus. Most importantly, your own opinion will be challenged which will force you to become a more eloquent writer and persuasive thinker. And the more places you put your (user)name out, the more opportunity that you have for somebody to find your blog.

Some of the very first bloggers that I found were great people to interact with because not only did we debate and talk about sports-related topics, but we could also exchange ideas about website design and general blogging questions. Making blogging friends is invaluable, especially if you plan or hope to guest post.

Guest posting

Guest-posting may seem un-appealing in the beginning (why would I want to give away my work for free?) but it can really help get your site on the radar of readers. If you are a huge Bulls fan and you write an article featured on a more established Bulls blog, then you have gained credibility, viewership, and a backlink or two…assuming you snuck one in to your post in a creatively relevant way. Backlinks will get Google to crawl your blog (so if you include this domain or article in a post on your own domain, please do!).

Search engine optimization (SEO)

This is the button that hits red flags for every blog writer. The simple question is: how do I get search engines to recognize me? Aside from the areas already mentioned, be sure to create relevant and creative titles. Google search results have 70-character maximums, so don’t try to sneak in every high-profile NFL player that you can think of just because you want that extra traffic…it won’t help, and if anything it will hurt. Who wants to see a title that is a paragraph long? In terms of customizing your URL, there is some more flexibility there and you can definitely make that one longer. For example, my recent article on why Jarrett Jack should win the Sixth Man of the Year award also includes Jamal Crawford in the URL. My comparison discusses why Jack should win it over the favorite, Jamal Crawford, so if somebody searches for Jack and the 2013 6MOY, my article will show up. Ideally, because I included Crawford multiple times throughout the article and in the URL, if somebody searches for Crawford and the 2013 6MOY award, my article will appear there, too.

There are three places search engines look: your title, your URL, and your blog post. Use them all carefully and appropriately. Keep in mind that just because you include the words “Kobe Bryant” 27 times in your post and include it in the title and URL does not guarantee you a top spot with Google. Not only that, but it can turn away readers if every sentence starts with “Kobe Bryant.”

Comment, comment, comment

Commenting on your own site is an absolute must. If somebody takes the time to write something about your post, the least that we can do as writers is take the time to respond. This has its limits—you don’t have to thank somebody for every nice thing that they say or respond to somebody who just says “this article is terrible”—but you must actively read the comments on your blog. (I have read every single comment on Bases and Baskets.) For one, it’s a great way to get feedback on how well or how poorly you are writing.

A three paragraph monologue one why you are completely out of your mind is the best kind of comment. If somebody feels that you have made a significant number of points that need to be addressed, then you know that you have written persuasively…they just don’t agree with where you are coming from. Look no further than the three articles that I referenced earlier in this section for that example. I am a LeBron fan and the people that I most enjoy conversing with are Kobe fans. It creates great, passionate dialogue which is one of the reasons that I love to write. It is nice to get the accolades from like-minded people, but debate with those who think differently is even better. And agreement with those people is impossible the best of all.

In terms of post content, my philosophy is that ESPN and Yahoo can cover the game recaps, I want to dive into the heart of the heated current and all time debates and controversies. This is where I can inject statistical and sports-related knowledge. This is where I can use my writing and persuasive skills to create a dialogue with sports fans, sharing with them what I know and learning something if they comment.

What do you want your blog to be known for?

Inherently, unless you have some crazily brilliant and novel idea, you will model your blog after somebody or something. I skimmed multiple blogs before beginning Bases and Baskets, some with very little traffic and others with a ton (how did I know the general traffic of a website? Check out the next section on monitoring success for that). I got ideas for layouts, commenting systems—which I devoted an entire section to, as well, and general writing styles.

I realized that I wanted to model my blog more to Grantland or Chasing 23 as opposed to MLB.com or NBA.com. After all, if somebody is looking for recaps, why would they go to a small blog when they can read a full-box score or post-game analysis with interviews and highlights from the primary source (MLB, NBA, or NFL) themselves? Not to mention it would be a tiring process covering every game of a team(s)—never mind a sport(s).

Technical aspects of your posts

While different people may argue differently, your post length should really be a minimum of 250 words. Anything shorter and you really cannot delve into a topic (or even get favorable SEO). The skimmers will only read a minimal amount of your posts anyway, so why not gear it toward the more dedicated readers? Even though the power of the click may tempt you to write a quick post to “get something out there” realize that it is quality over quantity. I know that I personally prefer to read and write a weekly post that is well-thought out and organized as opposed to a daily post that more superficial. Plus let’s be honest here, people can’t read all of your articles so if they know that you post once a week, they might be more likely to follow you more regularly. But to each his own—find out what works best for you and run with it.

Promoting your posts

Reddit, Facebook, Twitter, StumbleUpon, Google+, and Digg. It is definitely easy to submit posts or links, you just have to take the time to do it. If you find that you have more success with Facebook or Google+, for example, stick with those. A lot of promoting your posts involves being aware of where you are getting the greatest appeal. Interact with new bloggers, friends, and if possible, more established bloggers. What works for one blogger may not work for another, but those six options are a great place to start.

How should I monitor my success?

If you’re anything like me, you monitor your traffic and links to your site very carefully. For one, it’s a great way to see what type of people are following (or not following) your blog and it is a great way to check on the growth of your blog popularity.

  • Alexa: This is a great site to check out your ranking among all other sites in the world. Create a profile and see where you fall. In the beginning you will not be ranked but with progression you may find yourself in the top 10 or 20 million and then crawl up from there. From my experience, the rankings are updated every couple days or so, so this does not change in real time.
  • Google Analytics: In the beginning, I only used Blogger’s built-in statistics to measure traffic and see what websites were linking into this one. While that can give you a rough idea of where your traffic is at, it is not even really close to the actual truth. Blogger does not filter out bots. For example, if you have Disqus implemented or use an SEO software that scans your site periodically or even once, those visits will count as traffic which is not an accurate representation of real visitors.
  • Bit.ly: Shortlinks are great for Twitter and Facebook posts when minimal characters are coveted. A benefit of this site is that you can also monitor where people click on those links from. For example, if you post these short links on both of those social media sites and only 20 percent comes from Facebook, you know that your time may be better spent on Twitter (or you need to work on expanding your Facebook audience). This website is a tool that you may find unnecessary, but it is something that I use.
  • Google Apps: I have not used the full potential of Google Apps but it is useful for making email addresses with your own domain (for example, support@basesandbaskets.com). It is a completely free service so there’s no downside. Using your domain instead of @gmail.com or @yahoo.com makes your blog appear more legitimate and shows that you took the time to make the more official email address.
  • Web Stats Domain: I debated about including this website because it is often extremely outdated, but like Alexa, it gives you an idea of where your site ranks among the 30 million websites. I place a strong emphasis on the fact that it is not very accurate but if you’re looking for another way to monitor your success, this can help. It also places a monetary value on your domain which you may be interested in.
How can I make money with my blog?

The quickest and easiest way to do this is with Google AdSense. While I cannot speak to how Wordpress integrates with AdSense, Blogger does so seamlessly and quickly. Just go into “layout” and add it as a widget and you are about done. In the beginning you will be lucky to make pennies a day because AdSense makes money for you in two ways: 1) clicks on advertisements and 2) impressions. Clicks will be the main way that you make money until you can get hundreds or thousands of hits per day. Once you’ve gotten to that threshold, then impressions will play a role.

Also, in the beginning AdSense will include on your site some extremely random advertisements that probably have little to do with what you are writing about. There is some tinkering that you can do here but like SEO, it takes time. I found out one day that AdSense put an advertisement for Warriors tickets above an article that I wrote about the Warriors and knew that I was getting better alignment of ads to content.

Another way to make money is directly with partners from other websites. If you can sell ad space to interested third parties, that is a way that you can earn some monthly cash. Just remember that people will want to see your traffic and the amount of money that you can make will correlate directly with those numbers. Guest posting for a small fee is a third way to make money with your blog.

While the latter options may appear down the line, in the beginning just stick with AdSense. It’s reliable, flexible, and you can add or remove ads depending on whether or not you want them to appear in certain places.

Comment systems

With so many comment systems out there, it can be difficult to decide which one to use. Facebook, Blogger, Wordpress, LiveFyre, and Disqus are some of the most popular and each have some perks and downsides. Through Bases and Baskets, I have experimented with Facebook, Blogger, LiveFyre, and Disqus and you can tell where I have settled.

Blogger commenting is of course easiest for people using that system because there is nothing involved in terms of adding on widgets. Users can comment using a variety of log-in IDs including Yahoo, Google, and an Anonymous profile. Facebook commenting systems can use Yahoo and other non-Facebook social media log-ins although Facebook is generally the preferred method. Facebook’s commenting system can be difficult to properly install and user comments are not transferrable to other comment systems if you do decide to change. Wordpress is very similar to Blogger but involves the ability for users to make it so that if user B clicks on user A’s username, it will link user B to user A’s blog/website. LiveFyre is not as well-known but Sports Illustrated is one high-profile website that uses this system. Similar to Facebook, you can comment using a variety of social media logins. This system also shows how many people are “listening” (aka viewing) the post/comment thread which can be good if you have a lot of viewers but not as impressive if there’s nobody there.

Far and away, however, I recommend that you install Disqus on your website. While I have installed LiveFyre, Blogger, and Facebook at various points, Disqus has had the best user interactions on comments—which is something that I highly value. It is really quick and easy to install and they allow you to migrate comments from some old systems like Blogger (not Facebook, however, as mentioned earlier). Users create a Disqus profile which is almost a social media profile in and of itself. When somebody responds to a comment that you wrote, it appears in your “notifications” and a link to their response and your original comment is provided. Email notifications are very handy for people monitoring their own website or comments on other websites. Disqus also integrates very well with the background of your site and does not appear as an artificial add-on like Facebook does.

I know that people are often hesitant to use their personal Facebook or other social media log-ins on some sites and Disqus provides a quick and easy way to log-in with an anonymous profile and receive email notifications or regular Disqus notifications. Moreover, there is an option to advertise with Disqus which is a separate way to add some more profit to your blog, if desired. Comments can also be up-voted and down-voted which is a nice social media touch.

The administrator page is also very clean and allows for quick moderation of comments and advertising and with a quick modification that is discussed in the manual installation, Disqus is mobile-friendly. What else is there to ask of a commenting system?

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With all of this in mind, give it time. It will start slow. If you’re in it for the right reasons, everything else will follow. You never know what will come your way. I certainly would have never guessed that Bases and Baskets would gain an international audience and I would interview Clyde Drexler or see my writing appear on two major news websites (SF Gate and LA Times). The viewership for this site has had remained steady for periods and had those times where rapid growth has occurred, too. Stick with your writing through the highs and lows and you’ll be surprised where you can go.

Hopefully some of these tips will hit home with you and give you a step up…or the inspiration to step into the internet blogosphere!

32 comments:

  1. Angelo PellegriniMarch 24, 2013 at 7:43 PM

    Thanks so much for this! Part 1 got me going and now Part 2 has really sent me on my way! Never new about reddit so I will definitely be checking that out and using it! I just have one question, on your blog, your link to your facebook page. I am assuming that is a 'gadget' and I was wondering what it was called cause I want too put something like that on my blog, and not have to use a tab for it. Thanks!

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  2. Great to hear. As for the gadget, it's called the Facebook like box and here's a link that should help you install it: https://developers.facebook.com/docs/reference/plugins/like-box/ Best of luck with your blog!

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