Blogging can be something one does for personal reasons, and if that’s you, feel free disregard all that I’m about to share with you. If, however, you’re hoping to make your blog’s message have impact to the community that matters to you, here are some ideas on tuning up your blog.
Some of this information is technical in nature. Don’t tune it out right away for that. Take notes on the parts you want to pursue, and then if you can’t do it directly yourself, put up a quick ad on Craigslist for someone to tweak your blog. It would probably cost no more than $100 US to do this stuff.
With millions and millions of blogs to read, our attention is at an all time low. As a blogger, you want to capture your audience early, give them value, give them extras, and send them on their way with a means to refer back to you, should they wish. Here are some tips and ideas for that:
- Write really good titles- ( Copyblogger always has good ideas on this). A title that catches someone’s attention, or that is google-friendly, or that describes things clearly will probably go a long way towards drawing people to your work. (By the way, this is technical, but set your titles in your blog posts to show the words of the post, not a page number or other weird random data. It helps Google, and that helps you.)
- Chunk your paragraphs up- If someone sees a big field of text, she will be less likely to dig in and read it. Try breaking things up visually, using subheaders, images, and other visual cues.
- Have a good “About” page- Make sure people know who writes the blog. Blogging is a medium that helps build relationships and can be a very personal relationship between writer(s) and readers.
- Brevity is your friend- Cut unnecessary words and sentences from your piece. The more concise and useful your posts, the more return traffic you should expect.
- Answer comments often- As often as you can, dig into your comments section and answer back. I got this advice from Bryan Person, and when I heed it, my blog flourishes. When I don’t get a chance to respond to comments, posts fade away faster.
- Use FeedBurner for RSS- Actually, use lots of tools to extend the reach of your blog. But FeedBurner adds all kinds of valuable things to a standard RSS feed. You can add a ‘subscribe by mail’ box to your blog. You can republish your feed in other formats. You can extend it out in LOTS of good ways.
Some Nitpicky Parts
The following can be considered my own personal gripes and opinions, and of all the parts of my advice on blogging, consider this to be mostly my own personal view and that you don’t have to go along with it if you don’t want.
I don’t like too many widgets, buttons, or add-ons on the sidebar of a blog.
Why? Because they’re often messy. Some folks do it right. For example, even though there’s lots there, I really love Social Media Explorer by Jason Falls, who has a really clean sidebar presentation. Here’s a snip of it:
The rest is at his site.
My sidebar has, in this order:
- Subscription / RSS
- A paragraph about me
- Contact Info
- My LinkedIN profile
- Recent Posts
- An email subscription box
- A community widget from MyBlogLog
- A social network aggregation tool from Lijit
- My event calendar
- Shared Items from Google Reader
- Two buttons for products (one that I use, and another that’s a blog catalog)
- A Category listing
- Site Admin stuff
Even that sounds like a lot, listed out, but most of that takes up very little real estate. And, if you look it over, my sidebar does one thing over all else. It connects my audience with what they’re looking for, how to reach me, and how to participate more fully in the media I create.
I might reconsider that list in an upcoming blog redesign, and I encourage you to consider YOUR list of sidebar items closely. How are they being used? How do they impact the look and feel of your blog? Do they help or hinder your audience? Are there too many?
And as I said, your mileage may vary.
Some Things to Consider
Here’s a quick list of things to consider about the overall ecosystem of blogging. These are also personal opinions, but I’ll say that I’ve seen lots of good return in my life from these efforts.
- Read lots of good things (listen and watch lots of good podcasts and videoblogs). Great stuff in makes good thoughts out.
- Link to great blog posts elsewhere, but try to add something to the conversation. People respond better to your riffing on someone’s original idea than they do when you just point out a pile of links. (Back in my griping section, I should mention that I don’t like “links for today” posts – and yes, I know feedburner shares my del.icio.us links with you, so maybe I should kill that?).
- Whenever you can, share resources that you discover, be those great people or great pieces of information. Consider using a social bookmarking tool like del.icio.us or Clipmarks or a Tumble blog.
- Comment frequently on other people’s blogs. Be part of the conversation, not just someone throwing posts out into the world.
- Consider building a blogroll of blogs you like (I use my Rockstars page for this. Or at least consider a widget for your Shared Items from Google Reader.
- Don’t feel like you have to blog daily. Instead, blog when you’ve got a good idea worth sharing.
Some Analysis Tools
How will you know what you want to fix if you don’t know how your blog is being used and seen? The shiny graphic you see up top comes from a service called CrazyEgg. ( Hat tip to Cory at Strike 3 Designs for sharing it with me). By adding just a simple snip of code to your blog, they can tell you who’s clicking where on your site. It’s a really interesting tool with lots of visualization methods built in. You can use a free version, and then their subscription model isn’t that expensive if you’ve got more serious needs in mind.
If you look at the heatmap I took of my site, there are some things I’ve noticed. One, my community clicks on links I put in posts. Two, they use the left-side navigation, so I’m glad it’s high up on the page. Three, it’s interesting that people click the Rockstars link at the top nav a lot. They must like the word?
If you want to go a little deeper with who’s doing what with your site, I also recommend using Google Analytics. These will tell you granular details about who’s coming from where, what people are doing, and tons more. Other good stats information comes from places like FeedBurner, if you use them for your RSS subscriptions, and from using tools like Website Grader, which gave me TONS of information on how to improve my blog technically.
Some Hope That You Blog From Your Heart
Even if you’re a professional blogger looking to make a living from your blog, consider blogging from the point of view of your passionate observations. Lots of people can report the facts, and plenty of people have covered lots of different areas of interest with factual blogs. But finding people who are creating interesting original content is a little more rare.
For every ten pundits, we should have an original thinker.
If you can, contribute new thoughts, different takes, and mash-up ideas to the mix. Take something you’ve read or heard or seen from two different perspectives and mash them into a new thought. Share something from your life. Share what matters most to you, mixed with how it might be helpful and of interest to others. Put out crazy ideas. Put out heart-felt ideas. Deliver from your heart and soul, and it will show through. (A great example of this is Jon Swanson’s Levite blog).
Some Things I Missed
What else should we consider when fine-tuning our blogs? What are you doing that I should consider doing? Who else is out there that you look to for blogging advice, and should we take it?
And what’s working best for you right now? Let’s talk about it.
The Social Media 100 is a project by Chris Brogan dedicated to writing 100 useful blog posts in a row about the tools, techniques, and strategies behind using social media for your business, your organization, or your own personal interests. Swing by [chrisbrogan.com] for more posts in the series, and if you have topic ideas, feel free to share them, as this is a group project, and your opinion matters.
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