Once again Lexiophiles have released their list of top language blogs! Thanks so much for your votes!
Fluent in 3 months made it as the 5th most popular “language lover” site, and the 2nd most popular language blog. The most popular language blog was Talk to me in Korean. The other top language 5 language bloggers were Quero Aprender Alemão, the Everyday Language Learner and Angela Maiers. Otherwise, the other top 5 language lovers (overall) were the twitter accounts language news, Aaron G Myers (who has guest posted here before) and dictionary.
Ever since I started Fluent in 3 months, almost exactly four years ago, this blog has made it to the top slots of this competition. If you have your own blog about language learning, then maybe a few of the suggestions below could help you to give your own blog a chance at the top 10 slot for next year's competition!
I see a lot of blogs on language learning making many mistakes, so hopefully these thoughts will help you make sure that your own language (or other) blog gets shared and read much more!
Set it up with the right tools
I've already written a guide for setting up a blog and the favourite plugins that I use here. That guide also discusses various ways to earn from your site, and mentions the importance of expanding beyond your blog into other social media and email lists.
One thing you will notice about nearly all the top blogs is that they are hosted on their own domain (yoursitename.com). You have a lot more flexibility on how you present your site, and extra features you can add to it (such as my site's forum and LTW tool, and full customizability of the theme), when you have paid a few dollars for your own domain name.
You can of course host your own site completely free on wordpress.com, and it's a great place to start from if you are on a budget. Just keep in mind that the much fewer ways you can personalize it will be limiting in the long run.
You will also notice that many of the sites have gone the extra mile to either pay for a premium theme or to hire someone to design it from scratch (like I did). This can be quite expensive, but luckily there are so many free or very cheap WordPress themes around nowadays that you can make it look as if it was custom made for you!
One thing that you will see consistently is that the top blogs tend to have very frequent new posts; as in at least once a week (I generally aim for two posts a week, and have kept that up nearly every single week for the last couple of years). I've seen people complain that they aren't on these top-blogs list, when they barely have a new post every month or two, which is a lot less interesting.
You don't have to write huge posts like I do (mine are at least 2-3k words each time). Even a 500 word post a couple of times a week will do if you have a specific thing to say that works with that number of words. You can also focus on video or podcast format if you are more skilled at that.
A major reason that many people follow my blog is of course my language mission; this makes it also easier to keep the blog active as I have something specific to say with updates on how it's going. If I were to just blog my general advice at people the entire time, I would run out of ideas too quickly, but in having a project, the project itself fills many blog posts, and the things I learn while doing it also fill new posts.
Even if you don't have a specific project with a timeline that invites people to follow along (one with a definite end for instance), you can come up with new ideas like a series of posts related to a very specific topic.
It's not about you or the method!!
One thing I don't want to do on my blog at all is make it all about promoting me and my “method”. There are many wonderful alternatives, depending on your priorities (people know my priorities well by now!) My focus has always been and always will be to inspire new learners in the best way I can.
Because of this, make sure that you invite others to guest post on your site! I've had some wonderful guest contributions from many different people. They agree with me on many things, but obviously have their own strengths over me and do things quite differently to how I would. And of course you can offer to guest post on my site and on the other sites you see in the top language blogs list if they allow guest posts.
I'm also careful to phrase things when I can to never suggest that it's my way or the highway. I'm not preaching a religion here, but offering one suggestion for people to consider as they create their own language learning path to help them with their own goals best.
A recent blog post from my friend Khatzumoto discusses this excellently; Don't debate; experiment. His approach is vastly different to mine, and many people have tried to have us go mano-a-mano to fight out “which method is better” on regular occasions, but “winning” with the “best” method is not what either of us is about. I've found that true passionate polyglots and language learners are more interested in inspiring people than positioning themselves as the go-to language guru.
One huge mistake that I see on way too many language blogs and in forums is making it all negative and arguing really petty differences between methods, or criticising other learners. While they may think that it's great that they can fill an echo chamber, they will never make a difference in this world by constantly focusing on what doesn't (in their opinion) work.
If you don't like a particular language learner or approach then the best “revenge” is to show how great your ideas are and how well they stand on their own (rather than constantly comparing yourself).
What's unique that you can discuss?
While I try to focus on trying to inspire language learners, the fact of the matter is that the most popular posts by far on this blog (with millions of reads) are those about cultural differences and what I've learned as a long-term traveller. I've been on the road for a decade and I've learned languages, so this leads to unique possible posts that I could write.
As such, I will write several posts about the long-term aspect over the next month, because it's a good way to get new readers (my Friday post about the strange habits I've picked up while travelling has already been read over 100,000 times!!) but then I hope to keep these readers with interest in my new language projects, and with inspirational posts to give these new readers some proverbial kicks up the ass to learn a language themselves. Even if my site had a million readers a day, what use would this be if I were not really making a difference for any of them?
My posts to encourage struggling language learners rarely ever go viral or and may never get hundreds of thousands of reads, but they are the posts that make the biggest difference.
As such, it's important to get a good balance of catering to what's popular (as long as you are passionate about it), and sticking to your guns on what you can truly do with your blog. I try to write a few “interesting” posts that are very sharable to reach new people, but make the majority of the blog about encouraging language learning so that most articles they find when clicking around can give them something actionable.
Make it more personal
To me, when a blog tries to be too professional it can alienate people a little. It's why I generally write in a very casual and conversational tone (I write my blog posts pretty much how I would speak). Formal language can be off-putting to new language learners, who find such jargon intimidating.
If your audience is linguists and professors, then that's quite fine of course, but a more popular blog (especially if you hope to inspire new language learners) has to feel more relatable to normal people. Use of specialized terminology should be avoided in this case! Of course the language lovers competition also included a language professionals list, which don't follow this suggestion as professionals tend to have a different readership.
Another thing I see missing on way too many blogs are faces. If you are an individual running a blog, then why not include an image of yourself in the side-bar, so that people can see you no matter what post they arrive at? You'll notice that I have included an image of myself in literally every single blog post I have ever written on this site. Even a rare post like this one including a screen shot… includes an image of me within that screenshot somewhere 😛
You have to remember that many people get into language learning for the ability to connect with people. So reading a blog or website that feels like it was written by a faceless corporation rather than a human being can be a little off-putting.
De-spamify your sites
One of the first impressions people get when they arrive on way too many sites is that they are getting sold something, rather than that someone wants to genuinely help them. I have found too many sites almost yelling irrelevant advertising at me on arrival.
Now, I get several dozens of emails a day with offers from scammy or unhelpful travel or language products, who want to offer me a few dollars to take up a slot in my sidebar, or to have a sponsored blog post. And this is despite the fact that on my contact-form I've made it clear that my “fee” is $17,000,000 (seventeen million dollars; an intentionally ridiculous figure).
I have also removed promotional banners to my own speak from day 1 product, because I found that when I ran a survey (a very long time ago when it used to be there) people's first impression of my site because of the advertisement was bad.
Now, I am still selling it, but links are hidden in the resources page, or as a clickaway from the page where I embed the TEDx talk. Ultimately the sales page that supports the work I do on this site (time involved for writing posts and website hosting etc., which is incredibly expensive to be able to handle the traffic that this site gets, as well as coding and video production costs) is still accessible, but it is not blatantly thrown in your face on arrival.
I still definitely need to earn money through this site, or it simply could not exist as it does, but links to anything you can buy are never the first things you see when you come to my site.
This may seem counterintuitive to people who know they need to cover the costs of running a big site, but I get next to no refund requests on sales I have made because people who buy it genuinely want to, and newcomers only really see that there is something they can buy from me after they have read a post or two and can see I'm genuine. If the first thing I yell at them on arrival is to buy something from me, this short-sighted approach would only hurt me, and would just scare too many people off.
Because of this, I get huge amounts of traffic, and even though less than 0.01% of readers pay me any money, this is enough to keep the site afloat! This is way more practical than trying to spam 20% of your readers to pay you something, and means I can focus on making sure that literally 99.99% of people visiting this site can get some useful help without making it about them buying something, but I can still afford to keep the site working.
Note that this idea of removing annoying advertising definitely includes google ads and other way too blatant “funnelling” of people. Too many blogs that I've come across are covered in totally irrelevant Google advertising, that I see if I'm ever on another website with Adblock not installed. (My site looks exactly the same with or without Adblock; so I'm not punishing those less technically experienced who wouldn't know about such plugins).
There are many ways to earn from your site, which I discuss here. Luca on The Polyglot Dream for instance, has received many people asking him for language coaching through his Youtube channel and blog. I also do very occasional Skype consultations myself, although that's mostly for business owners, app devs and professional bloggers who want the kind of ideas I give in this post
Share it subtly
To get more readers, you have to be very careful with self-promotion. For instance, too many comments I get on this blog drop a totally irrelevant link to their site in the comment. If it's relevant, definitely let us know about it, but you'll find many sites have a no-irrelevant-link policy.
“Interesting post! Check out my site: dumblanguageideas.com!” is a way too familiar comment I read in my approval stream (if the comment itself seems genuine, I'll approve it after removing the totally irrelevant spammy link).
It's better if you leave a genuinely interesting comment on other sites (people can click your name to see more about you and your blog to expand on those ideas you introduced so well), or see that a question genuinely needs answering, and then write a post about it and link to that post in your reply in a forum or comment. Ideally, you should only link to specific posts that answer questions, and not just say that your site in general is so great.
Another way is to get that traffic from Google. Search Engine Optimization involves writing posts that you see are getting lots of searches, but that nobody has answered well yet. To be honest, I have never done this on my site, apart from on 2 posts. I should probably look into it much more, because as annoying as I find the concept of writing for a search-bot, I find it equally annoying that people ask a question in Google and get terrible answers that I know myself or many other language bloggers could answer very well.
Google's results are terrible once you realize how it actually works (link buying, black hat techniques etc.) and that the best results are very often not on page one. While I do like to complain about this, it's better to change it, so I should definitely apply SEO to my own site so that it answers those questions people keep asking.
Writing something good is not good enough! We all think that what we come up with can be good; but is it useful, and does it answer a particular question or problem people have? If it does, then the traffic may indeed naturally come to your site.
At the end of the day, if time spent on your site gives someone a feeling of encouragement that they have learned something cool or helpful, then they are much more likely to come back.
Do you want to help people, or do you want to “educate” them? A purely factual site, or one filled with opinions that don't provide any results, are not so interesting. Share your stories, show your struggles that many of those reading can relate to, and I hope to see your top-blog soon enough!
If you have any thoughts on blogging, let me know in the comments below! And thanks again for all your votes this year 🙂