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Blogging has become a medium in which many people share their thoughts, opinions, ideas, and information about their interests. I started blogging in January 2008, and have learned a thing or two. Here are some suggestions that I sent to a friend who said that he wanted to start to write a blog. Take it for what you will -- my thoughts and ideas, not official direction.
Consider these things if you wish to write a blog (or if you have one already...)
1. Choose a stable blogging platform and stick with it.
Blogger, Wordpress, and LiveJournal are the big three. Of those 3, LJ is about the worst when it comes to forcing readers to see some advertising before reading a blog post. Many readers (myself included) abandon or move on and don't read posts on LJ if forced to deal with advertisements. I know it's a free service, but there are some things that I won't tolerate -- waste of time.
Wordpress is highly rated by users. It is reliable and once you get it set up the way you want it to be, is steady. The only downfall with WP is that once it gets established, the comments section gets bombed with spam. Users must import plugins (available for free download and install) and pay for Askimet anti-spam protection to protect your blog from posting spam that frequently contains links to malware.
Blogger has been around the longest, and is very stable (Blogger is the name of the domain you visit to develop a blog, and blogspot is the name of the domain that posts appear on by default). To me, one of the best things about Blogger is that its storage is unlimited, and further, because it is owned by Google, all blog entries are automatically indexed by Google once a post appears. Unfortunately, the programmers of Blogger changed the platform in 2011 to make it much more difficult and less intuitive to use. When that happened, I gave up on Blogger and migrated my blog to WordPress. WP has import tools so that all of your old posts will move over to the new platform, including images that you posted.
2. Know that once a blog is around a while, most visitors will find it via an internet search engine.
The vast majority of visitors to a blog find it as a result of an internet search. Few people bookmark a blog and even fewer "friend" it, or connect with it in some way on a permanent basis. If your intent is that people searching for issues, concepts, or ideas about which you write to find your blog, then having a blog on Blogger takes advantage of almost-immediate indexing done by Google. However, if you wish to restrict your blog (by age or only to allowed "friends"), then those posts will not show up in (most) search engine results.
3. Limit the length of what you write to what can be read in 30 seconds or so, and if you have more content to write, divide it into parts and publish over several posts.
Most viewers of my blog spend very little time reading blog posts. My average is 34 seconds per reader (which is higher than industry average of 23 seconds/reader). Therefore, I think it is important to limit the length of each post to what can be read in a half of a minute or less. That's hard for me to do sometimes, as there are times when I just pour my heart out and the post gets long. I have found, though, that very very few people read long posts, no matter how good you think it is. A blog is like a diary, not a published article in a professional journal. (I have to keep reminding myself of that.) If you have a really long post ==> divide it into "Part 1, Part 2, Part 3..." and so forth. Not only does that develop readership by enticing readers to come back for the next post, it also makes what you DO post more readable, because it is shorter.
4. Make it readable.
Choose a font size that is fairly large and sans-serif. 12pt minimum and sans-serif typeface is much easier to read. I don't know how many blogs that I have stopped reading or abandoned because the font size is 10pt or smaller, and uses Times Roman font, which is much harder for older eyes to read.
5. Use images on a blog post where possible.
Being web-based, a blog is a visual medium. Pictures add a lot to a blog -- again, because it is on a visual platform. So do as much as you can to include select, appropriate images with blog posts. I don't do that as often as I could, but I notice that my posts that have at least one image are read by about twice as many people as posts without images.
6. Use visual contrast.
At first, my blog had yellow type on black background. Then several people complained that they just couldn't read it. I switched it after about six months to the way it is now -- black type over white background. Many have said that they can read that, but couldn't read the other, or the yellow-over-black gave them a headache.
7. Don't get crazy with changing font size, use bold face, or italics too much.
That kind of stuff drives readers nuts.
8. Avoid using an underline in a blog post.
People assume that an underline in a web-based post is a link, and get perturbed when it is not a link.
9. Use links in blog posts to provide background, references, citations, or to give readers a link to find more detailed information if they want it.
Readers love links in blogs. Learn how to write the linking code and include them where appropriate. For example, if I write an opinion about an article that I read, then I include the link as a reference for "the whole thing." I notice that many, many people actually follow links within blogs. To keep them from leaving your blog through a link, learn to add "target=_blank" within the link code so it causes a new window to open in a browser to read what it links to, while keeping your blog open from its original browser window. (The key here is that you don't want to throw people off your blog intentionally.)
10. Set commenting to be moderated, not automatic.
If you choose to allow comments, particularly using the "anonymous" option, make sure you set the settings on your blogging platform so you can moderate comments before they appear on your blog. You will be shocked at the number of nut-cases out there who will comment on blogs with really nasty, rude stuff. So you have to set it up that you review comments and judge whether to post them, or delete them.
11: Allow anonymous commenters within your blog comment policy (see below).
I deliberately allow comments using the anonymous option, but require some form of identification -- even a screen name -- I found that restricting comments to people who were on a "friends list," had a Google account, or Open ID but not allowing anonymous comments severely reduced the number of comments that I got. Once I opened it to the anonymous option, more people participated. A gay-themed blog receives many visitors who are careful about their identity, so they won't comment unless they can ensure they can remain anonymous.
12. From the get-go, establish a blog commenting policy.
I've learned the hard way about that. Here is mine.
Besides the occasional snarky, rude, racist or homophobic comment, you will be surprised by the people who try to cause a comment on your blog to link to a commercial enterprise that, by allowing that to happen, implies your personal consent or endorsement. You should rigorously enforce your commenting policy. If you like a comment but don't like a link, then cut-and-paste the comment and re-insert it under your own identity without the link that was embedded within it.
13. Follow a reliable and regular posting schedule.
Readers will begin to follow you if they know to expect a post on a schedule of some sort. I post daily (most of the time), but others post weekly or monthly. The point is, posting-at-random doesn't develop a following readership as posting on a routine schedule does.
14. Write when you think of it.
Bloggetory comes to mind at the most obscure times. Have a notepad with you, and jot down ideas. Then when you get to a computer, compose your piece and schedule it (Blogger and all other blog platforms allow you to schedule a post to appear at a date certain in the future.)
15. Have some friends on whom you can rely read certain potential blog pieces for you in advance.
It is always better to ask someone you trust to share opinions of something you wrote before posting it, particularly if the piece may be controversial or expresses deep thought. A trusted friend's opinions will improve the ultimate product by incorporating their thoughts through editing your work. (Thanks, Kevin, T, and J!)
16. Use good grammar, spelling, punctuation, and choose the right words for what you wish to say.
It saddens me deeply when I read other blogs that are riddled with grammatical and spelling errors, misuse punctuation, and have many words used incorrectly (such as "their," "they're," and "there." I am astonished that many people cannot use those simple words correctly, do not know the difference between a subject and a verb, or make dumb mistakes like placing an apostrophe - s ('s) to make a word plural. Just remember, more than one boot is not boot's.)
If these matters are not your strong suit, have a friend proofread your post for you and make corrections to fix those errors before the post appears.
17. Give up on feeling you have ownership.
Sure, you can have a copyright statement if you want, but it won't be followed. Expect that your words and your content will be directly copied by someone somewhere and he/she will post it as his/her own somewhere else. It happens -- a lot! Because of that, be judicious in your decisions about content and photos. You wouldn't want your words twisted against you, or photos that include images of yourself or friends to be duplicated and used elsewhere. And that WILL happen. Blog photos are the most often "swiped" and re-posted elsewhere.
18. Post images you own or are clearly in the public domain.
As tempting as it is, try to avoid using "google images" or other image search engines to find an image to post with your own blog.
When you use images you find on the internet, what you are doing is stealing someone else's work. I admit, I have done that a few times, but I always give an attribution, and make sure the work wasn't copyrighted (such as from a newspaper's site).
19. Remember that once it's out there, it's out there.
No matter how you try to restrict it, once it gets posted on the internet, someone else can find it. Therefore, think about what you write and ask, "is this something that my mother, father, brother, sister, spouse, or boss might read and question my integrity, values, or cause them to loose respect for me?" I tell 'ya, knowing that at least five of my siblings read my blog every day has caused a bit of adjustment about the content of my blog pieces. And knowing that at least ten of the members of my motorcycle riding club read my blog regularly also keeps me honest (Believe me, I won't overrate my abilities to handle a motorcycle or lead a ride without getting lost! LOL!)
20. Create a free account on statcounter.com and embed the code in your blog.
All blogging platforms allows you to do that, and its help feature explains where to insert it. I'm sure other platforms allow for it, too. Statcounter is important, because it provides data to you on how many people visit your blog, where they come from (both location of the world as well as whether they arrived via search engine or directly or from a link somewhere). It's a great, free tool, and I love it. Extremely useful to know what blog content resonates with people and what doesn't, as well as who may be "stealing" content (and you can find links to find your work elsewhere and deal with it if you need to.)
21. Create an interesting, personal image header image, not just words.
Use Photoshop or another image processor and create your header. A unique header will drive many more readers to read your blog than just plain old words. But make it simple, not jumbled or too crammed with images that make it appear to be "too busy". Make sure your blog title is included in it, and is readable (dark type on light background works best.)
22. Remember that some readers are color-blind or color-ignorant.
People with these visual disabilities cannot see distinctions among certain colors like blue, green, and yellow. If your blog title is light green on a blue background (or over photo images), there will be some people who simply cannot see it. Contrast is best -- dark over light.
23. A positive attitude is important.
Nobody likes a snarky, rude, obnoxious person in person, and they don't like blogs that come across that way, either. The old adage applies very well to blogging: you catch more bees with honey than with vinegar. If you want to develop loyal readership, you will remain civil, friendly, humorous (if you can), and express a positive attitude instead of rants. I admit, there are rare occasions when I rant on my blog, but I try to keep the rants funny or light-hearted. (How often do I rant about idiots riding a Harley in shorts and sandals????)
24. Don't be a quitter.
Goodness gracious, how many blogs have I seen appear and there is a flurry of activity, then after about a year, they're gone or no more posts appear. It is so disappointing, and reflects poorly on the blogger -- that he's a quitter.
25: Finally: Have fun as a writer!
If you do not consider writing to be fun, then don't blog. Seriously, blogging is a major exercise in writing. If you can't write or don't like to write, then don't bother with blogging.
Life is short: have fun blogging!
I'm sure that there's a lot more than can be written about blogging. If you have something to suggest, if I got something wrong, if this was interesting or helpful, or if you have a comment (and have read this far down the page!), write to me!
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