Thursday, December 06, 2007

Hook, Line and Sinker: Blogging Basics

Well, at least I don't have to tell you what a blog is; you're reading one right now. But if you're thinking of starting a blog, or have just started and wonder where to go with it, this post's for you.

The first question you must ask yourself is why you want to maintain a blog, and the key word here is maintain. I don't have any statistics on the time it takes time to get a blog established but you're not the only one out there, so it won't happen the first time you write a line. In 2004, ClickZ Network reported that there were over 4 million blogs and that this number was doubling every two months. Technorati is now tracking 81.3 million blogs. Kind of a needle in a haystack, isn't it?

Here are a few tricks that may help you bring readers to your blog and, more importantly, get them to come back.

The Hook: Determine what your blog is going to be about. Is it a personal journal you want your friends to read, do you have political ideas you want to disseminate, or do you have a field of expertise you want to share with others? Or do you just want to communicate about a topic in particular such as books, cars, Elvis? As broad or as narrow your subject is, you must then stick to it. Some people maintain two or more blogs because the topics they want to discuss are incompatible with each other.

The Line: Now that you've decided what you want to write about, then you have to add content. Blogging can be a work-intensive, time-consuming endeavour. A blog is made of a series of entries or posts, to each of which visitors can comment. There are several important aspects about posting:

  • Frequent posts: You must post often, at least three times a week or on a regular schedule. The beauty of a blog is its dynamic nature. If you have little to say on a day-to-day or week-to-week basis, then a website, which has more static information, might be better suited to you. If you don't post often, if you have no new content for weeks or months, people will give up on you and go elsewhere.

  • Keep posting: It may take one or two years before you develop a faithful readership. That means posting without much feedback on whether people like what you say or not. It can be discouraging and disheartening (like a lone voice in the desert). If you have a very busy life, and barely have time to surf the net, then blogging may not be for you.

  • Use tags efficiently: Tags are a way to categorize what you write. Search engines such as Google use semantic algorithms that search on keywords for websites and tags and keywords for blogs. Carefully select the tags for each of your post so that people searching for your topic will be able to find you. You'll often see what are called "tag clouds" (see right beside this post). Those are all the tags used on a blog; the larger and darker the letters, the more posts pertaining to that tag. Try to find tags that are used by other people. For instance, I found that the tag SF was used by very few people, but that sci-fi is the most used tag. Although my books aren't exactly hard sci-fi, I use this tag because it will lead more people to my blog.

  • Use web syndication services: Web syndication is "A publishing format that lets people view headlines of the latest updates from their favorite blogs and Web sites all from within a single newsreader program. The major syndication formats are RSS and Atom, and most newsreaders support both formats. See RSS and Atom." (Answers.com) Most syndication services are free (bloglines.com is one). Bloglines will be able to show you what the RSS for your blog is, then you can add it to your blog so that people subscribe directly to your blog and are told when you updated it (still, you have to post often).


The Sinker: So you've done all that and you're ready, or you've improved what you were already doing. No doubt you've thought about starting a blog because you'd been on others and decided it was a neat thing to do. But there's one thing that no one talks about and may make the difference between seen as a nice, cooperative blogger or as an opportunist: netiquette. Netiquette is short for Net etiquette (in the same way blog is short for Weblog). Here are some important dos and don'ts:

  • Capitals and bold letters: On the web, typing your words all in capital letters or in huge, bold letters is the equivalent of shouting. Don't do it unless you mean it.

  • Hyperlinks: There's noting more annoying in a post than when someone gives a url (a website address) without the hyperlink or hot link. A hot link is an address you can click right away that leads you directly there instead of you having to cut-and-paste the address. A hot link requires either simple html code (we'll talk about that in another post) or you can use the smart editor that most free blog hosts, such as Wordpress , provide. To be live, the address requires http:// before the address. Make sure it's there.

  • Linking to sites, blogs or pictures: Give credit where credit is due. If you read something on another site or blog and you want to repeat that information on yours (even if it's only a link to another site), thank the person you borrowed it from in your post. As part of the Web2 social network, it's standard practice to spread news this way, but you must give that person the credit. As far as pictures, do not link to the address of the picture. This is considered very bad form. If you want to use a picture, copy it instead of linking to it (after making sure the picture isn't copyrighted). When you link to a picture, you're using someone else web resources (they're paying for those) so essentially you're stealing from them.

  • Double- or triple-dipping: So, you reason, I wan't to get my name out there so I'll have three, four, fifteen blogs with the same information. Ha! Someone's already ahead of you, especially the algorithm-writers of search engines, like Google. Since search engines use interpretive semantics and volume of visits to rank websites and blogs, you'd be doing two major things wrong by doing this. First, you'd be spreading your visitors over several blogs, reducing your volume ranking. Second, when Google and the other major search engines look at exactly similar content on several sites, they decide it's either advertising or spam and discard all the sites from their ranking. So you're worse off than before, and you'll never appear on a search. It's not enough to change a word here an there in each post; the posts have to be substantially different to be picked up separately. Google also does something interesting; one mention (such as the url of your blog) on a high-traffic blog is weighed more heavily than a hundred mentions on blogs with little traffic. Food for thought, and a future articles on strategies in blogging.


So, there it is: hook, line, and sinker. Now go catch'em.

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