Three bloggers and three editors discuss Freshly Pressed from both sides — and offer insights on blog exposure, engagement, and growth.
A roundtable of bloggers and editors:
Since the publication of this post, we’ve launched Discover, a new showcase of editors’ picks and recommended sites that has replaced Freshly Pressed. All links in this post have been changed accordingly.
The editorial team behind The Daily Post works on other projects such as Longreads and Freshly Pressed. On Freshly Pressed, which you’ll find in your Reader, we share top picks, community recommendations, and our favorite reads. Freshly Pressed has evolved over the years: it began as a developer’s Hack Day project to showcase user-made content on the WordPress.com homepage, and has become a favorite space to discover standout posts and new bloggers.
The So You Want To Be Freshly Pressed support page explains what we look for, although these are merely guidelines — there’s no magic formula to be featured. We, too, are people who love to read. We look for posts that are thought-provoking, inspiring, unexpected, unique, relevant, and resonant. We’re drawn to topics and elements that move you as well, from a compelling story to a strong voice to a new perspective.
In this roundtable, we ask three multi-Freshly Pressed bloggers about the highs and lows of their experiences. We want to shed light on a process that might feel mysterious, but also to share insights on how to deal with sudden exposure, blog growth, and writing for a larger audience as you put yourself out there.
What’s been the most surprising outcome of having a post shared on Freshly Pressed?
Paula Reed Nancarrow writes and performs personal and historical narratives, as well as folk tales and myths, that reflect the texture and complexity of family and community life and the blessings and betrayals to be found therein.
Paula: My first Freshly Pressed post, “Puzzles,” was a story I was getting ready to tell on stage at a story slam. The traffic boost was incredible, as was the increase in comments — I had trouble keeping up with them. I was surprised at the number of people I didn’t know who used these comments to nominate me for a blog award. I’d been previously nominated for one or two, by regular readers I knew. These nominations, on the other hand, seemed to be driven by chain letter desperation.
The most surprising outcome from my second post, “Forgotten Is Forgiven,” was not the post’s high traffic on the first day — which I expected — but a two-hour period over dinner when page views to my blog more than doubled. (The actual views of that particular post represented less than a third of this number.) At first I thought new visitors were reading other posts, and that is partly true.
But I discovered that every other post over the last year had been accessed precisely five times. I suspect that I had a case of the bots; that is, the blog was being indexed. I’ve had more traffic from search engines ever since, which is nice, because social media promotion is a lot of work.
Krista: Selecting and featuring a post on Freshly Pressed can be somewhat daunting. I never know how an author will feel about the exposure. There are more comments to moderate and sometimes authors feel put upon having to deal with an influx of people reading their work. It’s like a bunch of enthusiastic folks crashing your party, so to speak, where with organic growth, you get to know your regular readers over time.
Peg Schulte at Peg-o-Leg’s Ramblings is a humor columnist for a newspaper and lifestyle magazine, and a small-town insurance agent in her spare time. She’s been Freshly Pressed nine times since 2010.
Peg: The whole thing was a surprise the first time. I’d been blogging a couple of months, and my three regular readers had commented on “My Sister-In-Law is Ruining the US Economy” one morning when strangers started weighing in. This was the first time I dared to think that people who weren’t related to me might want to read my writing. I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that realization was life-changing, and I was hooked.
This was the first time I dared to think that people who weren’t related to me might want to read my writing.
In recent years, the most surprising thing is that you can appear on Freshly Pressed with not much impact on your stats or readers. From what I can tell, it depends on the category under which you are featured. For instance, “We Need More Taxes” was tagged under taxes. This attracted a mere handful of earnest CPAs who had to be told that I was kidding. “Mortal Kombat: Battle For The Monkey Bars” was under nostalgia, which apparently only appeals to your Great Aunt Millie. Unfortunately, Great Aunt Millie doesn’t own a computer.
I, too, have noticed the overall decreased effect of Freshly Pressed since I was first featured five years ago (when I was not yet an editor at WordPress.com). The first few times, the visits and comments to my blog were instant, constant, and overwhelming for several days.
Each Freshly Pressed post is distinct and performs differently, and oftentimes you don’t know what will go crazy on the internet, what external factors might push a post to go viral, and which posts will hit that magical sweet spot.
Stephanie Summar at Listful Thinking is a writer obsessed with lists: numbered lists, bullet lists, outlines…
Stephanie: In that first day of being Freshly Pressed, you check your stats like crazy because every time you refresh the page they’ve gone up by approximately one trillion. You also do a lot of humble-bragging to people who don’t know what you’re talking about when you say you’ve been Freshly Pressed. (“My dumb blog was featured by WordPress, but I’m not even sure I’m literate.” That kind of thing.) That goes on for several days until your post moves down the page. It’s hard to see it go, but it’s the circle of life. And once it’s over, you have a bunch of new followers who expect you to write something good and who you will inevitably let down.
After I was Freshly Pressed the first time, I tried to think of a follow-up topic, and the only thing I came up with was “Thinking of a New, Impressive Topic Now That Gaining So Many New Followers Has Broken My Brain.” I never wrote it, but I think it illustrates where I was in terms of total panic.
. . . there’s some pressure, but it’s motivating.
There’s a bit of pressure knowing that Freshly Pressed exists: knowing that someone might read what I write and share it with thousands of others makes me want to write better things. So yes, there’s some pressure, but it’s motivating.
Cheri: That’s nice — it’s something driving you as a blogger, in the same way that there are other goals people can shoot for, from literary prizes to music awards. This type of system naturally creates competition, even animosity, which we sense when we read posts about Freshly Pressed. Ultimately, we hope you all blog because you want to, because you’re passionate about something — not to be Freshly Pressed.
Do you write about friends and family on your site? Take a look at our guidelines and tips, and learn more about how to maintain good blogging boundaries.
Michelle: The traffic can be a double-edged sword, too. I once featured a very personal, powerful post by a blogger writing about her troubled childhood. Her family didn’t know she was blogging, and some of them found the post when the Freshly Pressed exposure led to it being more widely shared — and since the post contained some less-than-flattering stories, it caused a significant rift for them.
What downsides have you experienced from being featured on Freshly Pressed?
Curious about reblogging? Read Elizabeth Eurello’s post, “Reexamining the Reblog.”
Paula: The first time, the downsides were the aforementioned blog awards, which I politely declined, and the let down when my page views went back to normal. The second time, the issue of reblogging caught my attention. I hadn’t thought much about this practice; I tried it once myself, like menthol cigarettes, and didn’t like it. But many people reblogged my post — often with no comments or any explanation of why they shared it.
Don’t want others reblogging your posts? You can disable the feature.
I have different expectations relative to original content when I’m on a platform like WordPress, versus Tumblr. It’s possible that all those reblogging instances caused the SEO bots to mobilize — I don’t know. It bothered me, however, that my personal photographs were being uploaded automatically into other WordPress media galleries, without attribution.
We all have different practices and preferences. Some bloggers love receiving awards from other bloggers; some don’t. Check out Michelle’s primer on blog awards to learn more.
I dealt with these downsides the way I deal with most things I’m trying to make sense of: I wrote about it. I put a stop (mostly) to award nominations by writing a post called “Blogligations,” and a follow-up, “10 Ways to Just Say No to Blog Awards.” I also added an Awards Policy page to my blog. I then wrote a post about “The Dark Side of Having a Blog Post Freshly Pressed,” which discusses reblogging and why losing control of my photographs is an issue for me.
Stephanie: One downside is the guilt I feel over not being able to reply to all of my comments. I don’t often reply to comments anyway and I already feel guilty about that, but this compounds it.
Quick tip from Cheri: I have a note above the comment field at the bottom of my posts: “Please note: in most cases, I don’t approve self-promotional or off-topic comments, or those that don’t add to the discussion.”
You can update this section in your classic dashboard in Settings → Discussion; scroll down to the field under “Comment Form” next to “Prompt.” (If you’re not in the classic dashboard, head there via your My Sites tab by clicking on the WP Admin link.)
Krista: One thing I recommend for any blogger is a Comment Policy. I’ve encountered plenty of bloggers who struggle with what to allow and what to delete. Some feel it’s rude not to approve every “Great post!” when they’d prefer something more substantive. There are no hard and fast rules, and I suggest checking The Daily Post‘s Comment Guidelines as a place to start. Bloggers are free to copy, revise, or modify it to suit their commenting philosophies.
Peg: I hope I don’t sound unforgivably ungrateful when I admit there are a few downsides. First are the people who show up with the sole intention of pushing their blog. We all want to be appreciated, but c’mon people — there are ways and there are ways. I blogged about this and give advice in one of my favorite Should-Have-Been-Freshly-Pressed-But-Was-Criminally-Overlooked posts, Miss Peg-o-Leg’s Guide to Excruciatingly Correct Comment Etiquette.
Another downside is that Freshly Pressed is a drug. Once you’ve experienced it, you want more. As quickly as your stats go up, in two days they drop so fast that bloggers have been known to suffer a bad case of the Freshly Pressed bends. Afterwards, everything around the blog looks flat and dull and uninteresting and hey, where’d everybody go? Don’t you want to read this stuff? This stuff is good, too, right?
Stay motivated, post-Freshly Pressed:
Cheri: Peg, you’ve been pressed nearly 10 times, so you know that traffic ebbs and flows, and that readers come and go. Post-Freshly Pressed, when you feel deflated, what do you do? Cease writing for a bit? Publish the next post soon after?
Peg: I tend to post fairly quickly after being Freshly Pressed, to give new readers another reason to stick around. Several times, the subsequent post has been about that Freshly Pressed experience. It’s a rollercoaster ride and a topic of interest to many.
How have you leveraged your Freshly Pressed “appearances” over the years?
I’m more committed to blogging, and I take it more seriously than I would if it felt like I was shouting into an abyss.
Stephanie: I probably wouldn’t have a blog right now without them. I’d have a disappointing bass fishing career. I’m more committed to blogging, and I take it more seriously than I would if it felt like I was shouting into an abyss. It’s also affected my writing overall. It’s one thing to write weird jokes by yourself for no one; it’s totally different to know there are people out there who like what you write and look forward to your work. I’m never going to get over that, and I wouldn’t know I had an audience at all if it weren’t for being Freshly Pressed. I sound like a huge suck-up right now, but I mean it.
Michelle: Personally, I’ll read anything you write, and that includes odes to bass fishing. A unique and compelling voice is always the first thing I look for in a Freshly Pressed post — if the voice is there, I’ll follow the author down any topical rabbit hole. And realizing that your readers will give you that leeway is huge for any writer.
Peg: I know I should be Tweeting and Facebooking and Redditing and all to really leverage success, build my brand, and push the numbers, but that’s all very exhausting and confusing. My modest success on WordPress did give me the courage to approach my local paper, knees knocking, and suggest they have me do a humor column. They fell for it, and I’m now being paid to write.
Crossing over from blogging to “real” life was terrifying, but exciting. Now I’m trying to figure out how to syndicate my column. If any newspaper editors are looking for a humor column, practically dirt cheap, contact my agent (who happens to have the same name and contact info as me).
Based on your experiences, what advice can you share with others who have been newly Freshly Pressed?
Paula: Enjoy it. Remember that anything you say on the internet can be shared, and that your work will have a larger audience than you may have originally conceived. If there are things in your post you would only say to your closest friends, edit them out. Finally, read other Freshly Pressed posts, and leave a comment or two. It’s a great opportunity to broaden your blogging horizons.
Cheri: I’ve received negative feedback from several bloggers over time, from a photographer not happy with the surge of random followers and less-thoughtful comments (“Congrats on FP!”) to a woman who published something controversial and closed her comments. When searching our Freshly Pressed archive, I’ve found that some bloggers have deleted these posts.
If one of your posts gets a ton of attention — whether via Freshly Pressed or another way — you open the door to, well, the entire internet. Expect all types of readers and prepare yourself for criticism. Remember that if you have a public blog, anyone can read it. If you aren’t sure whether to post something, think it through, as Paula said. (And, if we ever feature your post and you prefer that we don’t, we respect that and will remove it.)
Inspired by Peg’s comment etiquette guide, here are tips for newly pressed bloggers (and readers entering the commenting waters):
- You don’t have to respond to comments on your Freshly Pressed post, but if a reader responds thoughtfully, it’s good practice to reply.
- Don’t know the blogger? That’s OK! Introduce yourself.
- Reciprocation isn’t automatic: don’t be hurt if a person doesn’t visit or comment on your blog, too. Real connections take time.
- Avoid an empty, self-promotional linkdrop to your blog in a comment.
- Disagreeing with a blogger is fine — just be respectful.
- “Liking” a Freshly Pressed post is fine, but if you do it all the time and never engage, it might appear as if you don’t actually read the posts.
Finally, what does “blogging success” look like to you?
Peg: Success is writing well, having people read what I write, and having it impact them in some way. Although Peg-o-Leg’s Ramblings is a recommended humor blog, some of my more thoughtful posts, like “Why I Would Rather Try to Find The Funny Than The Meaning of Life,” generate responses that show I have truly touched someone, and that is a wonderful feeling.
Cheri: I second Peg’s reply. I’m always happy when a reader tells me that what I wrote inspired them or made them think. I also don’t have a clear focus on my blog and write about whatever I want, but that hasn’t seemed to affect my readership in the long term. Success, to me, is seeing readers come back to read me, not a topic.
Have you been Freshly Pressed, or dealt with sudden exposure and a influx of readers from a post that’s gone viral? Share your perspectives.