Blogging is NOT Dead! Actually it is more alive than ever. Blogs are quickly becoming the aggregators of all of our online activity. Without being too pretentious, I am going to break this into two sections. First we are going to cover some tips and hints for blogging, followed by some technical advice for those who want to set-up their own blog.
Before you decide to start a Blog, you need to ask yourself one very important question. Do I love writing or am I at least ready to write regularly? If you can answer this question with at least a semi-confident yes, then add the word Blogger to your resume and dive in. If you simply want to create a website that you can manage yourself, blogging software may be the right backend solution for you and you can skip to the technical section.
Top 10 Best Practices for Bloggers
- Write Posts or Update your Site at least weekly. You set the standard here, give yourself a schedule so you do not have to think about when you should post. Eventually you will just post without a schedule because it will be part of your routine.
- Find the Balance of Long Posts Vs. Short Posts. Not every post should be an essay or novel, sometimes just posting a picture says 1,000 words.
- Keep it real. This can be stated as always write from the heart. Meaning if you are writing about something you believe in the writing will come naturally and you will enjoy posting and maybe even look forward to it.
- Write in your own voice. This can be difficult, but as you let your guard down your voice will shine thru.
- Focus on your area of expertise. This is where you have the most knowledge and information to share with the world. That said, this should be an area of creative freedom, so break this rule as required.
- Cite your sources. The more links you can build into your posts establishes your credibility and the value of reading your posts.
- Add pictures when possible, cite the source and include the meta data (I am bad with this but it is an excellent habit to develop from the start).
- Links, Links Links. Put them in your posts, include a blog roll and add sites there. Posting a link to someone’s site gives them credit and builds social capital.Chris Brogan, took this up a notch by letting you post links to your page on a “reference page.” This is great for Search Engine Optimization (SEO) and builds Social Capital for him. Just Do It!
- Bank It. This is a shot in basketball and a process in Blogging. You do not have to post every Blog when you write it, sometimes you ant to keep a few posts in your “bank,” for days or weeks when you are not in the mood to write but want to get a post up. This also gives you time to go back and add or revise a post.
- Promote Your Blog. This may feel like selling your soul, but it is not. You are contributing to our universal knowledge. Put links out on Twitter, FriendFeed,FaceBook, MySpace. Put a Link in the Signature line of your email. Tell your friends you blog and send them a link to the site. Make business cards and include your blog address on them (I write the address on the back of my cards because I started this site after I had my cards made). The point is, use social media andtraditional media to promote your blog. Your information is only useful if other people find it.
Free & Easy vs. Hosted
The free and easy way to get started with Blogging is to register for a site on either Blogger or WordPress. You can pay for a service like Typepad, but somebody needs to give me a good reason to pay for what is done so well for free. I started on Blogger and eventually bought my own domain name and currently host my own blog. The main reason for switching over to hosting myself was control over my destiny and more options. I looked at the simple install options for WordPress and decided I wanted an easy to use solution, I signed up with MediaTemple, ordered a domain name thru them and proceeded to do the famous one step install. This was easier and faster than installing most software on my computer. Importing my blog took another minute and I was up and running with my hosted blog! Customizing took a little more time.
The main reason to move away from using a free site with Blogger or WordPress is you want to customize the look and feel of your site. I have experimented with a few Themes on WordPress and am partial to Canvas by Woo Themes. Primarily because it is completely customizable. I encourage you to stick with one as customizing them is a pain and takes more time than you plan for. Getting a Theme is a pain. When you have a hosted Blog you must download the Theme and copy it into the Themes Directory within WordPress using FTP. If you are not very technical, this may be your biggest challenge. The good news is that there is plenty of easy to follow directions on hosts like MediaTemple. It is easier than you imagine, ask for help if you get stuck.
Once you have Theme installed you have to select the Theme under Appearance and start looking thru the Theme Settings so you can configure you site to your liking. The good news here is that both themes are very customizable and are packed full of features. My adoption of Canvas has had me spending time reading thru the comments on in the forums to fine tune the theme and get everything working properly. You can run with the basic theme, but as soon as you want to change specifics, get ready to do some homework!
Plugins and Widgets are what makes using WordPress a great experience. They are easy to install directly from WordPress without leaving the back end of your site. As you install plugins you must activate them and occasional adjust settings. WordPress does a nice job of indicating when a Plug-in needs to be updated, when you update make sure you do a run thru on your site and make sure the layout still works and your core functionality is intact. Sometimes you have to place the plugin or widget on the site, this is done under Appearance, Widgets. Remember to save your changes as you go! Below is a list of the Top Ten Plug-ins I use on every site.
Top Ten Plug-ins
- Akismet or WP Spam Free – Spam checker. Reduces the Spam in Comments. You have to register a blog on wordpress and get your secret API, but it is worth the time and trouble.
- All in One SEO Pack or HeadSpace2 – Search Engine Optimization made easy. Do this as you write when you need a break. This keeps your site growing organically on the web.
- Google Analyticator – O.K. this requires you to register with Google Analytics and get a code, but it is shockingly easy as are most things with Google. I generally place the code in the Footer under the Settings for this plugin so the site loads faster. The reports are great and easy to read. You will find it interesting at some point to look at your charts and see where your traffic comes from and how long people are on your site. If you are not already using Google Analytics this will take you a little time to get used to. Hear me now, believe me later – This Plug-In is required!
- Share This and Sociable – You want your readers to be able to share your information easily. I use both of these services because I want you to share my information in whatever way works for you. This puts the neat icons at the bottom of posts so people can easily post links and excerpts almost anywhere on the social web.
- Word Twit – This is a full featured widget that I only use half of. When I publish a post, a Tweet is sent out automatically with the Title of the Post and a link to the Post. This is an easy tweet and if you do not know what to do with Twitter maybe your only Tweets. I also add this widget into my sidebar of my blog and let it show my last few tweets. This is a great example of how your blog can aggregate your social media.
- Social Media Plug in – Huh? Yeah, whatever social media site you are using, there is a plug-in for it. Flickr, You Tube, 12 Sec Video, My Space. Whatever sites you use, there are Plugins for them. Try to include your online presence in your Blog.
- Google XML Site-Maps – This is another plug-in to improve SEO. Just activate it and let it work. There will be more on XML Site Maps below.
- WP Post Columns - This let’s you easily place columns in your Pages for a more magazine like feel.
- Subscribe2 – This let’s people Subscribe to your blog and get an email of your latest posts. The settings are easy to configure, you can issue the email weekly, daily or whenever you post. I use Google Reader to manage the blogs I follow, but your readers may prefer to get an email.
- WordPress Database Back-up – I get a back-up of the database emailed weekly to me. Why not?
Promoting your XML Site Map
Now to finish off the technical side of promoting your Blog. Do you want to register your blog with Google? This file will be searched by search engines and improve your organic search standing. As you finish the process you will be directed to register your site with Google. You can do this athttps://www.google.com/webmasters/tools. It takes a few steps but is an important milestone in promoting your site. The next question is how many other search engines do you want to register your site on? For starters go thru the same process with Yahoo and MSN.
Now what? You have navigated the technical snafus and published your blog. You are writing regularly and contributing content. Are you sharing your content? You are your own marketing team. It is your obligation to promote your site, so we know you are out there and we can share your material. How do you do that?
When you post to your blog, share that on the various social and professional networks you participate in. Share your Posts at least once a week and more often as appropriate. You know your network and their tolerance for your self-promotion.
If your content of your blog is appropriate, add the LinkedIn Blog Application to your LinkedIn profile. This is a great way to drive traffic from your “professional” network to your Blog and enable your network to get to know you better. From a technical perspective, “Pages” like this will not hit your Blog Application on LinkedIn, only “Posts” will appear in that space. LinkedIn is a great place for 2-way communication with your Blog and a powerful tool.
Last but not least, ask for help. Talk to your people, tell them about your blog and ask them to promote your blog. As basic as this sounds, you will put too much time and effort into your blog not to tell everybody about it. Make sure you take the time to promote blogs you like and people will do the same for you. Watch your web traffic and take notes of what posts are well received and where your traffic comes from. Identify areas you can improve your traffic from and experiment with creative ideas to generate traffic and interest in your material.
You Can Do It!!!