Pet Blogger Challenge 2014

So keeping with the introspective nature as of late, with Meet the Blogger day and all the talk of resolutions you hear this time of year, I’ve decided to take the Pet Blogger Challenge.

I started blogging in the fall of 2010 and first participated in the Pet Blogger Challenge just a few months later in 2011.

What was Moses up to in 2010? He was playing with his new friend, Juniper!

What was Moses up to in 2010? He was playing with his new friend, Juniper!

Actually, the first Challenge in 2011 was the only time I’ve participated.

In January 2012 I was on a no-computer-screens doctor’s order, due to surgery to repair a detached retina. I have no excuse for not participating in 2013; January just happened to fall during a long period of non-blogging that occurred for no good reason I can recall.

But I’ve been marginally more diligent since then, so why not accept the challenge once more?

It’s kind of hilarious to go back and read my first response to the challenge. So much naiveté and optimism. Though, truthfully I don’t expect a lot of difference in my responses as I go through questions.

We shall see.

1. How long have you been blogging? Please tell us why you started blogging, and, for anyone stopping by for the first time, give us a quick description of what your blog is about.

I’ve been blogging since September 2010, so for almost 3½ years.

The Soapbox is primarily about Moses and Alma, Newfoundland dogs living in Calgary, Canada with yours truly, the Husband, and a couple of cats. I take pictures of our local adventures, our travels, and write about the minutiae of life as a dog owner. Kind of like Seinfeld (I wish), with more drool and no studio audience.

Alma & Moses

Alma & Moses

Every once in a while I’ll take a break from the dog stuff and share some scuba diving photos, or write about local current events, politics, or other random things like different kinds of restaurant patrons and a list of annoying things about weddings.

2. Name one thing about your blog, or one blogging goal that you accomplished during 2013, that made you most proud.

I think I’ve finally grasped and acknowledged that 75% of the work of producing a blog is to follow, read, and comment on the blogs of others who you admire and enjoy. It definitely takes more time and a regular commitment to give back to those who read and comment here, but it’s important. And I’ve discovered lots of good blogs lately – both established and I’ve just been out of the loop, and new bloggers.

That doesn’t necessarily make me proud, but I think it’s a necessary and inevitable realization of most bloggers. A milestone, if you will.

Besides, there’s a whole community-wide conversation going on in the Blogville, and if you read regularly, you’ll never get writer’s block.

I don’t think I’ve answered the question.

I suppose I have managed to churn out some decent content and page views myself, which does make me proud. My post on being an introvert with very visible dogs seemed to speak to a lot of people, and my post on whether or not to shave your dog (including awesome decision tree!) got a lot of shares and hopefully spared some Newfs from the clippers!

This photo got shared by the online magazine She Knows, which also made me happy (even if the caption is a bit silly - I didn't write it).

This photo I took of Moses got shared by the online magazine SheKnows (link in right side-bar), which also made me happy… even if the caption is a bit silly – I didn’t write it.

3. When you look at the post you wrote for last year’s the 2011 Pet Blogger Challenge, or just think back over the past year, what about blogging has changed the most for you?

The Soapbox started as a one-way dialogue. It was meant to be rant-filled and instructive (hence the title).

But, even though I still like my blog title, and it’s established if only in a very tiny way to my small population of regular readers, I acknowledge it doesn’t necessarily accurately reflect the content of the blog.

Oh well. It’s mine and I’m not changing it.

The Soapbox has become a much more personal chronicle where I write about things I didn’t necessarily think I would. It’s easy to write hastily and flippantly, but as an introvert, sometimes it’s difficult to be candid.

The Soapbox has definitely gone from a more sterile, careful voice to something more frank and conversational.

4(a) What lessons have you learned this year – from other blogs, or through your own experience – that could help us all with our own sites?

I’m certainly not in a position to provide any valuable advice, but I always learn things from other bloggers – whether they’re the ‘big names’ with thousands of followers or bloggers newer than I.

I would recommend just reading as many other blogs as possible, as I mentioned above. And comment on them in thoughtful ways – which is good for both you and the writer.

ACTUALLY… on that note: I would recommond bloggers quickly re-evaluate your comment platform. This comes from a reader’s perspective, not another blogger’s. Elaborate CAPTCHA codes are a pain in the ass, and sometimes I’m sure my comment is discarded because I miss having to enter a code after typing my comment and hitting submit. This happens on some Blogger/Blogspot sites, but not all. Or those terrible Google-only comment forums. The. Worst.

The easy commenting and following functions of WordPress are a key feature that keeps me loyal to this site. I’m not saying everyone needs to switch to WordPress, but I bet there would be more comments if commenting was easier for non-bloggers and bloggers on other platforms.

That’s really the only general improvment recommendation I can give.

Alma

Alma

(b) If you could ask the pet blogging community for help with one challenge you’re having with your blog, what would it be?

Not a challenge, but I do have a general question: I’d be curious to know when everyone (who has done so) decided to make the move to a privately-owned domain. I’ve been considering dropping the ‘wordpress’ from my URL for some time now, but remain undecided.

5. What have you found to be the best ways to bring more traffic to your blog, other than by writing great content?

If I obsessed over stats and page views, I probably would’ve stopped blogging a long time ago.

This post I wrote about Jake Gyllenhaal carrying his dog around way back in 2010 continues to be a top traffic-getter for me, so I’m sure there’s a lesson in there somewhere.

And, obviously I’d get more hits if I wrote more and more regularly. I think Hyperbole and a Half is the only blog I know of that’s earned the credibility to post very infrequently and retain a huge reader base (and deservedly so).

6. How much time to do you spend publicizing your blog, and do you think you should spend more or less in the coming year?

I don’t spend much time publicizing at all. I’m very lazy. This is unlikely to change.

I may throw out the odd Tweet, but I don’t even share posts to my personal Facebook page. I am in a couple of Triberr groups, but I have mixed feelings about Triberr; I’m not sure it generates that much additional traffic and it does monopolize some Twitter feeds to the point they look robotic. Personally, I don’t like to approve Triberr posts if I haven’t read the blog entry myself. However, the benefit of Triberr has been discovering other new blogs written by tribe members.

Also, blog hops are always a fun way to generate traffic, expand visibility, participate in a common theme, and come across new and interesting blogs.

Sure, page views are nice – I don’t completely ignore them – but it’s not what drives my interest in producing content.

7(a) How do you gauge whether or not what you’re writing is appealing to your audience?

Definitely based on the comments. And not just the number – the quality. If someone takes some time to write a few sentences, share their own experience or perhaps a perspective I didn’t think of when writing, I consider it mission accomplished.

Tip: Puppy photos are ALWAYS appealing. This is Moses the day we picked him up from the breeder.

Tip: Puppy photos are ALWAYS appealing. This is Moses the day we picked him up from the breeder.

(b) 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?

Hold on just a second – people write in themes or features? I definitely don’t do this – if I abandoned my general dog theme, there’d be nothing here.

8. When you’re visiting other blogs, what inspires you to comment on a post rather than just reading and moving on?

If the post asks a question, I’m extremely tempted to answer it. (Light bulb moment: this probably means if I want more comments myself, I should ask more questions of my readers.)

Otherwise, if I’ve got a relevant story or experience to the post, I’ll share.

But, as I already complained about, I won’t comment at all if the commenting form is onerous.

9. Do you do product reviews and/or giveaways? If so, what do you find works best, and what doesn’t work at all? If not, is this something you’d like to do more of? What hurdle is getting in your way?

I don’t do either. I’m not certain I’d be interested in giveaways – seems like a big time investment. And I’m sure being Canadian takes me out of the running for some of these opportunities.

When I answered back in 2011 about sponsorship, I mentioned I was concerned that would come with censorship. That’s still a fair comment, I think. But I might be able to be coerced into product reviews in exchange for free stuff. Who doesn’t like free stuff?!

Alma will gladly destroy any toys you want to send her.

Alma will gladly destroy any toys you want to send her.

10. When writer’s block strikes and you’re feeling dog-tired, how do you recharge?

I was going to say “I’m notorious…”, but technically I think you have to be well-known to be considered notorious. In any case, I frequently take a step back from the Soapbox when I’m busy with the “real” world, when I don’t want to write anything, or if I don’t perceive myself as having anything to say.

I’ll be inspired again usually by something that happened in real life that I think would lead to a good post. Although, sometimes just one of the regular blog hops like Mischief Monday or Wordless Wednesday is a great prompt to get back at it.

And, as I already mentioned, I think being well-read is a good cure for writer’s block.

Walking Mo. As you'd expect, a lot of my posts are initall on dog walks.

Walking Mo. As you’d expect, a lot of my posts are spurned by or during dog walks.

11(a) Have you ever taken a break from your blog? How did that go?

You bet – several over the years. They’re generally unplanned and one lasted as long as 3 months, but it’s fine. This is just a hobby for me, and I worry to take it too seriously would kill some of the enjoyment.

Besides, the hardest part is catching up on your blog reading, not your blog writing! (Because when I step away from the blog, I tend to step away from WordPress altogether.)

(b) Have you ever thought about quitting your blog altogether? What makes you stay?

Nope. The thought never occurred to me. Despite taking the odd break, I do always assume I’ll get back to it eventually. I don’t expect to maintain the Soapbox forever, but I have no plans or inclination when it might end. And rather than a defined ending or up and quitting, a slow, painful, unplanned death is far more likely, anyway.

12. What goals do you have for your blog in 2014?

I’m not one for New Year’s resolutions. I think it’s silly to have to make changes just because December is over, and even sillier yet to hold off on changes you want to make until January 1st. I continually update the Soapbox as I see fit, and as a purely recreational pursuit, I have no specific goals for readship or income generation.

This hesitation to set specifics also comes from unknowing – I wouldn’t know where to begin, not being sure of what’s reasonable or possible.

A good goal, however, would probably be to try to post every month of 2014, but I’m hesitant to put even that in writing lest I fail. Maybe I’ll just try to keep up the momentum of the last few months. If I don’t, I’ll just have to answer to myself the next time I respond to this challenge (which, at this rate, won’t be until 2016 anyway!).

Actually, here’s a goal I can divulge: I want to continue to work on my photography skills. That’s more of a personal goal than a blog goal, but the blog serves as a good excuse to work on it. The Husband got me Lightroom for Christmas, so I definitely would like to master photo-editing with it. You all get to bear with me as I stumble through it.

Moses and Alma at a famous, fictional Canadian landmark

Moses and Alma at a famous, fictional Canadian landmark

Click here or here to visit everyone else who rose to the Pet Blogger Challenge this year.