Part 2 – The Website, writing and your postings
Yesterday I wrote about getting the mental philosophy of what you’re doing straight, sort of like getting your battle preparations right. In this part, I speak to your website, your writing and the attitude towards interacting with the world.
In no particular order of importance, then:
1. Hardly needs to be said, but design your website for the long term, and organize your space neatly. This is one of those elementary things that is often and surprisingly overlooked. Maximize useful space at the left and right with widgets, links, categories or what have you. Trust me, it’s hard to do this when you have a hundred posts or pages that need to be reorganized. And think about it – as a reader, don’t you want to easily locate the information you’re after?
2. Modern media influences content: I write for large screens, not ipods. If you think your target audience is the latter, shorter, crisper reviews are more likely your thing. My friend Henrik remarked to me “Consider using a platform that supplies smartphone or tablet apps for better mobile experiences. That is the sole reason I chose Blogspot, which has an app that reformats the writing for mobile screens.”
3. Font should be large enough to be readable immediately, and pleasing to the eye (at the very least your own, since it’s yours). The same goes for color schemes, graphics overlays, backgrounds, and so on. Try not to put yourself in a situation where your site layout becomes a nuisance. That will just piss off or scare off readers, or, worse, makes your site seem unserious. On the other hand, be reasonable about it too, since you cannot possibly please everyone (this site was once impatiently accused of being “too busy”, for example).
4. If you must have ads on your site, keep them low-key and discreet. Speaking purely for myself, I don’t often visit “noisy” sites that have pop ups, graphics, gifs all over the place. They dilute my focus and detract from what I want to know, which is the rum itself..
5. Have more than just two or three reviews to start with. A site populated with many reviews will be more interesting than just a few. I had twenty to start, and added three a week for the first few months through a blizzard of writing. Even this, in my rearview-mirror opinion, was too little. However, if you are just doing this to chronicle a personal journey and add notes and reviews and remarks as you experience them, then of course a more meandering path with less quantity is perfectly okay. Alternatively, go live with what you have but don’t advertise it, and get feedback from trusted sources, correct your inconsistencies and adjust as required.
6. Take decent pictures of the products you review. Seriously, poor photography palls my overall enjoyment of a review (though crap writing irritates me more). Take pride in what you do. No, you do not come off as One of the Lads by taking low-res, poorly composed, off-kilter, badly-lit photographs. Because you’re not one of the lads: you’re holding yourself out to be something of an expert, someone whose opinion is worth reading – a poor picture does you no favours. It’s all about perception. Happily, it’s not really difficult to do.
7. Copyright everything. You might think this is trivial, it’s free publicity when someone cribs your stuff — it’s really not. Without such protection, anyone can use the product of your mind and pass it off as his own without you being able to say or do anything about it. If you don’t care, then this is a moot point.
8. Do not let naysayers get you down. There are always people who utterly disagree, pretend their opinions are the Lord’s Own Gospel, want to take you down a peg, leave a negative comment, or show off how much more than you they know. They exist, they like doing it, so you must accept that and move on. You’re in the public domain, and therefore fair game. Myself, I moderate comments on my site (my friend Curt on ATW does not). My attitude is, if you don’t like, or disagree with, something that’s been written, comment courteously, without condescension and snarkiness, and don’t be patronizing…or don’t comment at all. Alternatively, you can use your own site to rebut and insult me (as one person already does, but in his defense, he despises everyone who doesn’t see the world his way, equally).
9. So, keep it civil, and refrain from constant negativity – in your responses, but also in your actual writing. There are some bloggers in other liquor spheres that relish taking the low road, are big, brutish, oafish and in your face (one whisky blogger used so much profanity and was so abusive, it utterly appalled me, and I never went there again). I don’t see much percentage in this myself. It’s shock therapy, it’s off-putting, and it alienates more thoughtful readers. And it’s those readers that engage with you, comment articulately and keep your interest from flagging.
10. Know your field. Write about everything on the subject that catches your fancy. Distilleries, wish lists, yuck-lists, thoughts on controversial topics, how-tos, tips&tricks…have a sense of the larger world around your passion. I have no particular interest in amarii, but Josh Miller’s excellent four-part series on the subject was fascinating and I was glad that he, a rum reviewer, took the time to take a left turn. The same goes for Steve James’s series on St. Lucia Rums and the ur-text of Marco’s work on Guyanese distilleries.
11. If you take a picture from the web, or a quote, attribute it properly. Ask first if you can, it’s a simple courtesy – I’ve gotten caught out with this a few times, which is why I take my own photos, and put website links to quotes used.
12. Take the long view. Do not get upset by a lack of site visits. It takes time to build an audience, even more for rums, which have nowhere near the extensive and rabid fanbase of whiskies (though it does have one self-annointed, self-appointed High Priest). Again, this goes to commercialism inherent or absent from your site, and your constant, occasional or indifferent promotion through social media. (See also Part 5, keeping things going)