You can't throw a coconut in a marina these days without hitting a boat with a blog. Just insert the boat name in between www. and .com and you'll find the website. Everyone has a blog. World cruisers, every single damn one of them blogs. Unfortunately they do not blog very well. And I'll tell you why in just a minute.
Over the years we've received thousands of links to sailing blogs. Literally thousands. You know how many I follow regularly? Zero. Sure there are a handful I've got bookmarked that I check in on now and then, but I do it more out of a sense of loyalty, as they are friends, then I do out of genuine interest. Why is that? Well I'll tell you that in just a minute too.
So a couple of the most regurgitated How To Write a Successful Blog tips out there are to know your audience, and to write what you know. Fair enough. I think we've all got that covered. We're cruisers. We write about cruising in one form or another. We are writing to other cruisers and wanna-be cruisers. Okay? So cruisers are who this post is for. It's specific to that audience.
Why then don't I follow cruising blogs? For all of the reasons listed below. Cruising blogs often fail at one or more of these. And let's face it, there are so many blogs out there these days that if you don't like the first post you read you just aren't coming back.
Here we go. How to write a blog that people may actually follow.
#1 Stop Pandering! I would say Stop F***ing Pandering, but this is a family site. See, I know my audience.
Seriously though, this is the number one problem with sailing blogs. I have read way too many blogs that are obviously pandering to a particular cruising crowd. It really makes me want to reach through the interwebs and strangle the writer. Stop it! It is so transparent. It's not real writing, it is writing what you think the “audience” wants to hear. It's not you, it's you being a suck-up. People see through that kind of writing very easily and they will quickly grow tired of it and stop returning.
Ali and I didn't like the Marquesas Islands. It rained constantly, the water was muddy, the food the most expensive we encountered in the world, stuff was stolen from our dinghy, and the list goes on. No big deal to us, it was just one stop out of hundreds. But by saying that we didn't like it we unleashed a barrage of attacks. The cruising chat rooms were in an uproar over the fact that we wouldn't like “paradise” because we couldn't have a Big Mac there. I knew that would be their reaction, but I still said it. And just about every cruiser we met while there felt the same way. But search out the Marquesas in cruising blogs and you won't find a negative word anywhere. Nada. Instead all they ever say is, “Oooh it's so beautiful. And the pamplemousse is amazing.” Bull. Tell us what you really think.
At least we enjoyed the beer in the Marqeusas. Oh wait, no we didn't. Six bucks a can!
#2 Pictures. OMG! There are still people with cruising blogs that don't appear to own a camera. The saying that a picture is worth a thousand words could not be more true than it is for a cruising blogger. Unless you are Thoreau or Hemingway, you will not do whatever you are describing justice. Even the worst photos are worth at least a hundred words. Include pictures at every opportunity.
An important point that needs to be made here is that the pictures need to be included in the actual blog post. DO NOT post a link that says, “Click here to see our Flickr page.” I can't stress this enough. Nobody wants to go to a separate site to view your family travel photos. If they aren't included in the post nobody will see them. Even worse are the people who send you to their Flickr page where you discover that they didn't even bother to pare down the photos. They've just uploaded directly from their camera and left every single photo on there. The ones with the thumb in them, the thirteen in a row that they took of their self sitting in the cockpit, the fifty they took trying to get a good picture of how big the waves were. Uggghhhh!
#3 Write About Daily Life. Realize that your life is interesting. While you may think that going to town to find a belt for your alternator is mundane, others won't. You live on a boat for crying out loud. That is interesting. Talk about it. Your life is so different than the wanna-be's life is.
You need an alternator belt, so you make sure your anchor is secure and there are no storms on the horizon, then you climb into your dinghy and time the waves to make a dry beach landing. You walk half a mile to the main road and then flag down a passing motorist who happily takes you to town. Once there you walk from small shop to small shop with a broken belt in your hand and mime to the owner that you need a new one. He takes a look then points you down the road to the next shop. Eventually somebody speaks English and tells you that you won't find one of those in this town, but if you take the bus outside to the next town there will be a small white shop with no sign where they will have it. Eight hours later you make it back to the boat with your belt in hand.
The guy reading your website needed a new belt so he got in his wife's car, drove three minutes down the street to the auto parts store, returned home, installed it, and was back on the couch inside of thirty minutes. Or more likely he called AAA.
#4 Post Regularly. There is nothing worse than finding a blog that you like, then returning to that site every day for three weeks in a row only to find not one damn thing. Blogging is hard work. If you know from the start that you won't be able to post regularly then do everyone a big favor and don't bother beginning. Send out a newsletter to family and friends if you must, but don't clog up the internet with a page last updated during the Bush administration.
#5 Write for Yourself. There are roughly one billion cruising websites as of this writing. Therefore the chances that yours will get any sort of significant following is next to zero. The odds that you will ever earn a living from your blog, or that you'll even partially fund (as in 10% plus) your sail around the world, are so slim that you may as well play the lottery as your way of funding the trip.
So why write a blog then? For you! This is your diary. If others want to read it great, if not, who cares? This is how you will remember this portion of your life, this adventure. So blog away, just do so knowing that in the end it is nothing more than a way to document your memories.
#6 Create a Clean Website. You need a clean easy to navigate website. This is easier than ever to do. Go to WordPress, go to Blogger, or go to Sailblogs, and pick a template. Try to pick one without a crapload of lists and junk down each side. Make it about the content. I've always designed my own site, but am in the process of giving that up. It's just too complicated and time consuming. Let the pros do the work for you and then take advantage of it for free.
#7 Secure a Good Domain Name. There are websites out there that I might have followed if I could just have remembered their name. WordPress and the like all give you a domain name for free but it includes their own name as well. What is easier to remember? Bumfuzzle.com or bumfuzzle.blogspot.com? It'll cost you about fifteen dollars a year! Cough it up tightwad.
Now for my list of pet peeves. The reason these things drive me nuts is because they always seem to be written by people who think their blog is somehow important. Tip: It's not. Bumfuzzle.com is not important. I know this. It's important to me, and some people might feel it is important to them, but it's not. If I quit blogging tomorrow nothing bad is going to happen to anyone. In fact good things might come of it. For instance, worker productivity might improve and GDP numbers might get a bump.
All right, all right, my pet peeves. The short list:
#1 Lists. Quit with the lists already. Cruising blogs are notorious for trying to give advice. Top Ten this and Top Ten that. I'm so smart and you are so dumb. Let me teach you (because you are an f-ing idiot). To my mind there is just nothing quite so annoying as a top ten list. Even worse is when the lists come from a cruiser with about ten seconds of actual experience. For those of you who know me, can you even imagine how ridiculous it would have been for me to give advice even remotely related to cruising at any point during my circumnavigation? Yeah. R-I-D-I-C-U-L-O-U-S.
Yes, I know this is a freaking list. I'm not blind, I see the numbers down the side. I'm a hypocrite. That doesn't change the fact that your blog su… Sorry, I get carried away with my pet peeves sometimes.
#2 Sponsors – Quit Being a Shill. Just because a company gives you a discount on their product, or even gives it to you for free, does not make them a sponsor, it makes them an advertiser. Conceivably your trip around the world will cost you anywhere from $50,000 to $100,000 and up. So that $200 worth of product equates to maybe two-tenths of one-percent of your overall trip budget. For that you are going to pimp that product for four or five years?
GoPro cameras are famous for this. Every other cruising blog out there these days is “sponsored” by GoPro. A GoPro camera probably costs the company $20 to produce. If your blog manages just a hundred hits a day for four years they'll have paid you .14 per one thousand page views. The ever lame Google ads will get you forty times that number. Hell, GoPro even gives away one of every item they make, every day! And on their website there is not one mention of a single cruiser. You are a shill.
#3 Recipes. All the pro bloggers (is there such a thing?) say to pick a niche market. So I guess websites that blab on and on about the chicken breast they made for lunch are doing that. I mean, I suppose there are fifty people out there with nothing but some beans, rice, and flour to make dinner out of (your niche market). They might give a crap. And I suppose it is possible you would actually refer back to that recipe a year later when you don't know what to do with that chicken in the freezer. Based on the fact that there are 7 billion foodie websites on the internet, one for every person on earth, there seems to be an interest in food. I do not share that one. My list, my peeve.
#4 Quit Writing to an Imagined Audience. Sometimes I read these blogs that obviously have a following of about ten people, counting their parents, but they are written as if there is an audience of millions hanging on every word. Don't write as if you are a famous somebody. You're not. I'm not. Nobody on earth who lives on a boat under fifty feet long is.
Related: Do not ever write this line: “For the four of you out there following this blog…” You know it, and we know it, so it doesn't need to be said. It's embarrassing enough already for both of us.
Anyway, I'm going to wrap this up with disclaimers. Do not e-mail me with examples from my own site that clearly show me contradicting myself. I hate that. I know I have. I'm not perfect, though very nearly so. I've just been doing this for a long damn time and have learned a few things along the way. As it is now I love my website. My wife and I go back through it all the time. We use it at least once a week to clear up some argument over where this or that happened, or when our daughter's birthday is. It's handy like that. And just think how useful it will be when my selective memory loss becomes actual memory loss.
I also want to point out that this article is intended for those writing a personal, or at least a semi-personal blog. There is a whole other subset out there these days I'll call the “Cruising for Dollars” gang. They are the ones who went cruising with barely enough dough in their pockets for a couple of months and figured they could write a blog, e-mail bomb “sponsors”, and maybe write a few articles along the way to keep them going. This group obviously has to write a certain way and I totally understand and respect that. It's not a diary for them, it's a way to try and earn a living and get themselves around the world on a boat. Cool. I respect that, I just can't read that. But somebody must or it wouldn't work for them.
So if you are contemplating, or have already begun writing, a cruising blog, please take some of these things into consideration. I promise these few tips will help greatly.
And if you really want to annoy me, leave a comment on this post that is really nothing more than an excuse for you to pimp your own blog by signing off with, Bob, www.s-v-morning-blue-waves-of-the-sea.blogspot.com. Biggest pet peeve of mine ever!