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Thursday, January 01, 2009

Building a blog

This article originally appeared as a series of blog posts in November and December 2008. Here are all the posts collected together.

Building a blog

These days, blogging is a great way to express yourself and/or to market a product you might have. Blogging is cheap, easy, and can be a lot of fun.

But while anyone can blog, how do you create an effective blog? Here are a few tips, broken down into Blogging Logistics and Blog Content.

(Before I begin, I also want to mention that blogging isn’t for everyone. Not everyone likes to blog, and that’s perfectly fine. I think that no one should feel forced to blog—if you don’t like blogging, then don’t blog. But if you do enjoy blogging, this is a series of articles to help you make a better blog.)

Blogging Logistics:

Blog consistently.

Good blogs have bloggers who post consistently and often. Most of these bloggers post five days a week, taking Saturday and Sunday off since blogs usually have lower traffic on weekends.

Ideally, a blogger who wants to improve their blog traffic and effectiveness should post five days a week.

If that gives you a heart attack, try to commit to posting three days a week (Monday, Wednesday, Friday), and you can build to five days a week in a few months.

Some statistics show that bloggers who post two or more posts a day collect more traffic than bloggers who only post once a day, but don’t panic—once a day is fine, too.

If it helps, set an alarm on your computer to remind you to blog. But there’s also a trick for blogging that I’ll talk about later.

Utilize lots of white space.

Studies have shown that because words on a computer screen are harder to read than words on a printed page, people tend to skim when they read blogs.

Also, because it’s harder to read a computer screen, people tend to skim even more when a paragraph is long.

Therefore, keep your paragraphs short. No more than two or three sentences. Ideally, the paragraph shouldn’t be longer than an inch or an inch and a quarter long on your computer screen.

Also, make sure you separate your paragraphs with a double carriage return (enter key). Blogs that don’t have that extra blank line between paragraphs don’t have enough white space and are harder to read.

Also, try to have a blog template (or alter your blog template) to have the paragraphs be narrow rather than long. This enables your reader to read your posts more easily than with paragraphs running the length of their entire browser screen.



Keep your blog posts short.

Blog readers tend to skim when the blog posts are very long.

The ideal length for a blog post is 250-400 words.

Yes, you read that right.

The longest a blog post should be is 750 words, although if a blog post is a short fiction story, they can be as long as 1000 words.

Short blog posts also enable you to blog more—a long blog post can instead be broken up into several parts, making two or three days’ posts out of one long post.

Utilize boldface to draw the readers’ eyes down the page.

This is a technique from business writers who want to make sure the reader hits the pertinent points. Boldface also helps the reader keep track of the main points as they read the blog post.

However, italics are harder to read than boldface or regular font, so use italics lightly.

Choose eye-friendly colors.

In general, white typeface on a black background is hard for a person to read on a computer screen. It messes with the eye and blog readers will not often return to a blog with this inverted color scheme.

Go for simple: black text on white background.

Also, make sure the colors you choose for links or other text on your blog are pleasant, easy to read colors. No pastels that can be difficult to pick up from a white background. Other than being easy to read, any color is fine.

As for the design of the rest of your blog, feel free to choose your favorite colors.

Make any pictures low resolution.

Pictures or clip art are good since blogs are very visual, but make sure they’re low resolution pictures.

Any readers still on dialup will be able to read your blog easily if you have low resolution pictures, and the blog will load faster for those of us on high speed internet connections.

If you don’t know how to make a picture low resolution, ask a teen or twenty-something you know who is computer savvy.

An easy way for me is to use the free Kodak Easyshare software. It lets you save a copy of your picture as “web” quality, which is lower resolution.

Once you save a picture copy in lower resolution, upload that copy to your blog. People will be able to view your page faster and easier.



Give your blog a unique design.

Make your blog design uniquely “you.” It will serve as a visual cue to readers to know they are entering your happy place and can expect a fun read.

A cheap way to alter your blog template is to ask a computer savvy teen or twentysomething to help you “pimp” your blog. Many teens know html b/c of their experience personalizing their myspace pages.

An expensive way is to hire a blog designer. Check out several of your favorite blog designs and figure out who the designer was. Then email them to ask for prices.

Keep the visual distractions to a minimum.

A blog with too many little ads or too many widgets on both sidebars can be distracting to a reader.

Aim for clean lines and good visual cohesiveness. Incorporate lots of white space.

Overall, make sure your nice unique blog design isn’t overshadowed by ads or widgets or flashing bling.

Turn off the music.

Blogs with music playing tend to be distracting. Turn the music off.

This will keep the reader focused on your blog post, not the music.

Also, any readers on dialup will have a hard time visiting your blog if it has music streaming. You want to make sure your blog is easily accessible to all readers.

Save time—blog for the entire week at once.

This is the “secret to my success,” in a sense. I take one day a week and write all the blog posts for the coming week all at once.

It usually takes only a couple hours at most, because each blog post is only 250-400 words. If your post is going long, break it up into two days’ posts.

This is much more time efficient than taking 20-30 minutes each day to blog. Take it from someone who writes for a living.

Don’t waste precious time you could spend on other things. Be efficient with your blogging time.


Blog Content

If your blog logistics are all correct (see above), it’s the content on your blog that keeps people coming back.

Return visitors are very good.

Here are some tips for creating great content for your blog.

Be personal.

Blog readers like to hear about personal stuff about you. Anything you’re comfortable sharing.

A blog that’s purely theme or product related can be boring. Successful blogs have both information and some personal touches.

For example, in Stephanie Quilao’s Back in Skinny Jeans blog, she blogs mostly about health issues, body image encouragement, and comments on health and fashion related news on the web.

However, Steph also blogs about her own personal struggles with weight loss and body image, making her posts personal as well as informative. Her writing style is also funny and entertaining.

Be safe.

The flip side of including personal information on your blog is to also be very careful about what you post. Do not post things that are too personal, and always be aware that there are some weird/dangerous people out there.

Don’t post personal financial information, obviously. Also don’t post your home address or anything that would enable a stalker to come visit you.

Some bloggers don’t post their children or spouse’s name, either. I think this is wise.

Some bloggers don’t post their children or spouse’s picture. I think you could go either way with this—whatever makes you most comfortable. I don’t post my husband’s name, but I do post his picture on my blog. It’s up to you what you decide to do.

So while it’s good to include some personal things about yourself in your blog posts, also be smart and safe. Don’t post information that you wouldn’t want a perfect stranger to have about you.



Post about your hobbies.

Most of us pursue hobbies that lots of other people around the world pursue also. So post about it on your blog.

This is a great way to add some personal touches to your blog posts, and it also draws people to your blog who have the same interests as you do.

Pull in all the things you’re interested in. Anything can make a blog post—your current knitting project, your garden’s first tomato, your spin class’s new instructor, etc.

This adds points of interest to your blog and also helps create a community between yourself and your blog readers.

Post about current events.

Blogs that post about talked-about items tend to get lots of traffic from people Googling those items. If you have something to say about some news or popular item, then blog about it.

It doesn’t have to be current news events—it can be anything people are talking about. World events or fashion, politics or cooking. Anything.

For example, when the seventh Harry Potter book was about to hit the shelves, people who blogged about it got a jump in hits because everyone wanted to read up on the new book.

Be aware that blogging about popular topics can also attract trolls—people who like to leave argumentative, denigrating, and/or downright nasty comments on blogs just for the fun of hurting someone or riling someone up.

However, blogging about popular topics can also boost your blog stats and might gain you some readers you otherwise wouldn’t have had.

And if you’re not comfortable blogging about certain events or news, don’t feel pressured to do so. Blog about what you’re comfortable blogging about.



Blog about personal themes.

Think about any personal themes you might have. They can be deep or shallow—but everyone has personal themes.

So blog about them.

For example, my personal themes are:

(a) Asiana because I grew up with a lot of things that are new and different to my blog readers
(b) humor because I’m naturally rather irreverent and like funny stuff
(c) Christian fiction because I’m an avid reader
(d) knitting because I’ve gone gaga over my new hobby
(e) my dog because I don’t have children

Cheryl Wyatt has themes of both military related things and also funny embarrassing moments for herself (her “Blush and Cringe” posts are hilarious!). Sharon Hinck has a theme of encouragement, so she blogs short encouraging devotionals rather frequently. ChristianFictionQueen blogs not only about Christian fiction but also on BBC movies and miniseries, and also on musicals and other CDs.

Look at your own personal themes and build on them. Go with them. Develop them.

Discover your personal themes.

Look at the kinds of blog posts you like to read on other people’s blogs—and write them.

Devotionals, funny stories, recipes, patterns, pictures, travel, poetry, etc. The sky’s the limit.

Visit lots of blogs and pay attention to the types of things people blog about. Pay attention to the blog posts you especially enjoy. What kinds of blog posts are they? Could you do something similar with your own spin to it?

Be observant. And then be creative.

Ask your friends and/or blog readers.

Often other people will notice trends and themes in your blogging that you might not even realize. So go ahead and ask people who regularly read your blog.

Feedback is always a good resource for someone trying to become more professional and more unique as a blogger. Feedback will help you refine your blog and make it more interesting and targeted.



Focus on your blog readers.

Your blog might be about you, but to build a blog readership, you have to think about what you can give to your blog readers.

People visit a blog because of what they get out of it. What do people get out of your blog?

Hopefully you’re entertaining. Get some feedback.

Figure out which are your most popular posts—and why they’re popular. Can you write more like them?

What are your more unpopular posts? Why were they unpopular?

Are your blog posts all about you, or do you have things that might be interesting or informative to your readers? Remember to post things that your readers would want to read.

Are your blog posts mostly information with very little about yourself? Add some personality to your blog posts.

Building a blog readership will take time.

Don’t be discouraged and don’t have expectations too high for your blog traffic. All blogs take time to build.

Just keep blogging consistently, and also do a few things to help yourself get noticed:

(a) Participate in Blog Carnivals and Memes (you can do a Google search to find some)
(b) Comment on other blogs.
(c) Comment on email loops and forum boards with your blog in the signature line
(d) Comment in groups and forums with people who might enjoy your blog themes

However, DON’T BE AN AD FOR YOUR BLOG. It’s discourteous and slimy.

Here’s examples of what NOT to do:

“That’s interesting you mentioned putting down your dog, Lois. By the way, I talk about the pink bow I put on my dog the other day on my blog: http://myboringblog.com/.”

“That sounds like a great online writing class. By the way, I talk about my latest poem, which I wrote during my last poetry writing online class, on my blog: http://myboringblog.com/.”

Post on blogs, email loops, and forum boards as yourself and people will find your blog because they like you.

Go forth and blog!

Just do it. Don’t wait for the planets to be aligned or for your web designer to free up or for your family to finally leave you alone. Just blog.

You’ll make mistakes—who cares? The world isn’t going to end if your blog isn’t perfect.

Just do it—and enjoy it.

14 comments:

  1. I think I caught most of this the first time around. Thanks for posting it again- Great reminders!

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  2. Thanks for the tips - they are always good for a blogging refesher!

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  3. In an online class through ACFW I was told that one of the colors to use on a website or blog for me would be black. This was said because I write suspense/thrillers. My blog has a back background, white text and blue links. Personally, I've never found it difficult to read, but then, I do know what it says since I write the posts. Do you think I should change it? Here's the url:

    http://anewnovelistsjourney.blogspot.com

    Thanks for the great info, not only in this post, but on the entire site.

    Type to you later,

    Todd

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  4. Todd, I'm sorry to say that it is quite hard to read. It makes my eyes wig out, and I'm only 36 years old. Granted, your readership is probably younger, but it's hard to read long posts with a black post background and white font.

    My suggestion is to keep your BLOG background black, but to make your POST background white with black font.

    Camy

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  5. I think my problem is inconsistency. I can't update my main blog as often as I'd like, for several reasons. Although I hadn't thought about that idea of writing everything for that week in a particular day. I'll try it when I get the time.

    My other problem is that my posts are lengthy. Some paragraphs are incredibly long. I will watch for that more carefully from now on.

    Thank you for the helpful tips. :)

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  6. You're welcome, Jessica!

    What I do myself is set my computer calendar to remind me to write my blog posts each week, because sometimes I get so busy that I forget. If you have a similar program on your computer, you can try that to see if it helps you be more consistent.

    Camy

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  7. Wow. Thank you, Camy! A boatload of precious information.

    I have a blog with my husband, and we both post, although we write in different styles. Do you think it best that we have our own blogs?

    Grace,
    Jen

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  8. Jen, it depends on the focus of your blog. If you both blog to the same focus, then the different writing styles are fine. If you both blog to different focuses for the blog, then it would be better to separate your blogs. If one of you wants a more professional purpose for your blog, it would definitely be better to have different blogs.
    Camy

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  9. Thanks for the advice, and your time!
    Jen

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  10. Hey there Camy,

    You gave an example of how to write a bad comment to advertize your blog.
    How would you leave a good advertizement to your blog through a comment?

    Victoria :)

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  11. Good question!

    My "bad" examples showed a comment that really only was marginally related to the topic being discussed--a woman put down her dog, so you comment on the pink bow you put on your dog? Um...no. Or someone mentions a writing class, so you mention your poem? How is that relevant? Even though it was written during your poetry online class, the poem itself doesn't forward the topic of writing classes, unless you add something specific about the class.

    However, if your comment is directly related to the comment, that's a good comment. For example:

    The topic is the funny stuff that kids say. You can post about how you posted some of your nephew's off the wall sayings in your blog, and list a couple of the sayings in your email post, and then link to the blog post for the rest.

    You have just casually mentioned your blog post without sounding like an ad for people to go visit your blog, because the post (a) had substance (some of your nephew's sayings) and (b) was directly related to the topic.

    A third thing to remember is not to link to your blog too often. If you link to one of your blog posts for every other post you make to a loop or on a forum board, people figure out pretty quick that you're only there to advertise for your blog. But if you link to your blog, say, once every 10 posts, then it's not so bad.

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  12. Thanks Camy! :D I was trying to think how to say it nicely but they didn't sound right. Thanks again!

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