Welcome to the Fourth Annual Pet Blogger Challenge! Each year I anticipate this community event like a kid waiting for Santa. And I’m especially Pet Blogger Challengeexited this year because my co-host, Edie Jarolim from Will My Dog Hate Me? is back after a hiatus from pet blogging.

It’s the start of a new year, with all the promise and expectations that holds – a time to reflect on where we’ve come from and plot a course for our blogs in 2014. I’m anxious to see where my blog will take me … and where yours will take you … in the coming year. This is where the rubber meets the road, so fasten your seat belts and enjoy Pet Blogger Challenge 2014!

If this is the first you’ve heard of the Pet Blogger Challenge and you’d like to participate, you can find all the details and the questions in this post.

This Year’s Questions

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.

We started Take Paws four and a half years ago (oh my gosh, has it been that long??) to share our adventures we had as we traveled with our dogs, Ty and Buster. The idea was to show other people how easy it can be to travel with your pets, in the hope that they’d jump in and give it a try, too. Over the years, the blog has developed into a sort of encyclopedia where readers can find pet friendly destination advice, travel tips, and lessons we’ve learned along the way.

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

More than anything else this year I’m proud of the improvements I see in the quality of my writing. My goal has always been to write in a way that helps you feel what the places we visit are like. Rod, my husband and ever-patient proof reader, has complemented my posts … but we all know husbands are biased. So, when one of the best writers in the blogosphere, Edie Jarolim, called me a “naturally gifted writer,” in a recent posts, tears sprung to my eyes. I don’t really think I’m naturally gifted – writing continues to be a laborious affair that feels more like a tug-of-war to me – but the acknowledgment from Edie means a lot.

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

The thing that has changed the most for me this year is the amount of time I spend promoting my posts and building the community on social media. Facebook and Twitter have become major sources of traffic for my blog, and I’m having fun engaging with the pet travel community on those platforms.

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

To show up. A couple months back I was explaining my blog to a new acquaintance and he asked why I wasn’t in any of the pictures. I quipped back that I take the photos and, besides, people are a lot more interested in seeing the dogs than me anyway. His response rocked me. He said, “People want to be able to imagine themselves in the spots you visit. If you put yourself in the pictures, it will be easier for them to do that.” It’s something that never occurred to me before and I think we can all learn from his insight.

We’re all trying to connect with our audiences. To do that, we need to provide them with something more substantial to connect to – whether that comes in the form of pictures or just revealing a little more about who we are in our posts. That’s why the response to the Meet the Bloggers hop was so exciting for me, because the message seemed to resonate with so many of you. Coming out from behind the camera and the keyboard is something I’ll continue to work at though 2014. 

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

We’re not traveling to as many places as we used to, and that’s a trend that’s likely to continue. While we’re doing a more thorough job exploring each destination, there are some “down times” on the blog between locations. I’d love to have guest posts from other people who are out there traveling with their pets – or folks who just want to share their favorite places in their own back yard – to help people visiting the area have more fun! More perspectives are always better, and there’s nothing better than having some furry new faces on the blog.

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

My #1 source of traffic to the blog in 2013 was Facebook. The mobile version of Facebook was #3, Twitter was #4, and Pinterest was #6. Combined, it’s very clear that social media is the most effective way I’ve found to bring more readers to my blog, and that’s why I spend a significant amount of time developing and interacting with those communities.

One of the things I’ve learned – especially about Facebook – is that people love photos. If you have a Facebook page where every update is a link to your latest blog post, you’re not going to get a lot of interaction. To build a community on Facebook, you have to show up, talk to the people, ask questions, share your photos, share their photos, and post links to interesting articles not on your blog. It takes a bit of effort, but I don’t think of it as “work” because I enjoy the time I spend doing it.

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 think I spend about an hour a day interacting with the community on the GoPetFriendly.com Facebook page and I spend about 15 minutes or so a day on Twitter. I’m also pretty active on Instagram, but the photos I post where get shared automatically to Facebook and Twitter, so it covers all the bases at once. 

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

Last year I decided to stop trying to imagine what my readers wanted and just write about things that I found interesting. That’s turned out pretty well – either because people find the same things interesting, or because my writing is better when I’m enthusiastic about the topic. My blog traffic didn’t grow as much last year as it did the year before, but it still grew and I’m satisfied with that.

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?

When it starts to feel like work to me, it’s time to let it go. Blogging is meant to be fun – not drudgery! Also, if I can tell that it’s not resonating with my audience anymore, it gets the axe to free up space and time for something we all find more interesting.

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

Most of the comments I write are to offer encouragement, connect over a similar experience, or share a bit of advice. Most of the blogs I read are about pets, so we already have something in common. It’s easy for me to connect over funny stories, training challenges, or endearing moments and that connection motivates me to leave a comment.

9. Do you do product reviews and/or giveaways?

I made a decision a while ago not to do product reviews and giveaways on the blog without being compensated for my time. It takes a lot of effort to take the pictures, collect my thoughts and write the story in a way that will keep the readers’ attention, and then promote the post. Plus, I have to give up my blog to talk about something that probably wouldn’t otherwise be on my agenda that day. The prices I charge are high enough that if someone takes me up on the opportunity, I don’t mind spending the time to do a really good job for them.

If so, what do you find works best, and what doesn’t work at all?

For product reviews, I find that being selective and only writing about products I enjoy using works best for me. I think my audience appreciates some occasional advice on gadgets and gear that are making life easier for us, but it’s not the primary reason they visit my blog. Finding a balance that doesn’t take advantage of my readers’ attention is one of the things that’s really important to me.

Writing negative reviews is something that absolutely doesn’t work at all for me. I don’t feel good about it, the company who makes the product doesn’t appreciate it and, with all the negativity on the Internet, my readers don’t need me adding more.

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

It sounds so simple, but I just take a break. When I’m feeling burned out, I make myself stop blogging and go for a walk, read a book, take a nap, do yoga, make a big meal … anything that doesn’t have to do with the blog. I find that if I try to stop thinking about the blog, that’s when the juices really get flowing. You have to be strict with yourself though – no cheating by jotting down a few ideas or taking a few pictures – a complete break for a day or two usually does the trick for me.

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

Last year I had to take a break from blogging while I recovered from a back injury. I was out of commission for about a month and it was a great opportunity to recharge my batteries and get me excited to blog again. This year I’m planning to blog pretty infrequently in January and February – we’re parked for the winter, so there’s not much to write about anyway – and it will give me a chance to catch up on some other big projects I’ve been avoiding.

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

Yeah, I’ve thought about quitting. Sometimes you start to wonder if your idea is ever going to take off. It’s taken a long time to build and grow GoPetFriendly.com, but I feel like 2014 might be our year. 

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

I feel like I’m finding my way to a blogging rhythm and purpose that’s comfortable for me. My goal for 2014 would be to continue writing from my heart in a way that allows my readers to travel along with me and to see how many more pins we can get on this map:

Destinations 2013

And, that’s a wrap on the 2014 Pet Blogger Challenge! Many thanks to all of you for making 2013 a success for Take Paws, to Edie for co-hosting the hop, and to all the bloggers participating today! I hope you’ll enjoy hopping through the rest of these posts as much as I will!

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