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Saturday, 29 December 2007

On 12:49 by Rizwan Tayabali in    No comments
You'd think blogging is easy. Just sign up to some free host, start writing and away you go. If all you want to do is put your thoughts into a vast nothingness where no one will ever read any of it, then it really is just that simple.

However if you want to actually achieve something with your blog, build readership, community and momentum, then blogging is harder than it looks.

1) Figuring out features

Firstly and most painfully, you have to figure out what you want on your blog. Here are some of the things I wanted:
  • Comment threads (discussion capability)
  • Customisability
  • Polls
  • Multiple author capability
  • Multiple non-blog pages - like a website
  • Export/Import capability to/from other blogs
  • Visitor and hits tracking
  • Advertising
  • Podcasting & Videocasting
Blogs can be hosted by dedicated blog hosting services, or they can be run using blog software. If you want it to look cool and do lots of interesting things you have to figure out how to download and customise at least one of the myriad blogging softwares out there. I never stood a chance.

Having accepted that your tech skills are limited or non-existent, you're suddenly faced with a plethora of preset blogging platforms such as
...or on regular web hosting services that you pay monthly subscriptions for. Of course they all offer different features and templates and customisability. The biggest names in the game seem to be Wordpress, TypePad, and Blogger.

Having spent days wading through features and options and complexity, my recommendation is Blogger for the ambitious novice, because it has all of Google behind it, and lots of cool features you can add like polls and slideshows and photos and feeds and video with no effort. In my opinion Wordpress felt more basic when I played with it.

But the default templates in Blogger only have two columns and I'm struggling to customise them, there's no inbuilt statistics, podcasts aren't easy to set up and there doesn't seem to be any easy to create multiple pages for a website feel. Sadly there also isn't a free blog anywhere that allows people to comment on comments and thus use blog posts as discussion starters. Ah well!

But for those that persevere, as always help is at hand over the web. There's a great post on the asymptomatic blog on choosing blog software and a really useful blog comparison chart that covers every blog platform out there in a simple grid.

2) Creating an audience

The next problem you face is how to create an audience and what to say to keep them interested. More on this once I've experimented a little longer. My initial thoughts were to keep content focused on the point of the blog, but maybe I should be looking to expand the scope to sharing knowledge that is tangentially relevant to the core theme in order to give readers a little more variety.

Some initial notes based on experience and recent reading:
  • Audience creation for blogs tends to be driven by content originality and relevance.
  • Have a clear focal point.
  • Blog regularly as people lose interest pretty fast.
  • Write something useful, interesting and clearly individual and people start to listen.
  • Focus on subjects people are likely to search for and you've got a winner.
  • Publish often and Google starts to rank your posts higher and higher in its search results.
Finally there's basic marketing and publicity techniques.
  • Add your blog to blog aggregators so that new posts show up to the vast audiences that visit them.
  • Create groups in your social networks like Facebook :)
  • Try and get other (ideally relevant) websites and bloggers to link back to your blog
3) Feedburner is hot!

Finally I think I should mention Feedburner. Ever heard of it? If you aren't a hardcore blogger you probably haven't. I've been blogging for a while and had no idea what it was or how to work it. To be honest, I still don't fully know what it's about, but it seems to act as a sort of middleman between blogs and blog readers. It's free and you get:
  • A unique and universal feed address so if you change your blog you don't lose your readers.
  • Really nice overviews of how many visitors your blog has had, what countries they've visited from and what type of browsers they've used
  • Details of how many subscribers you've got and which pages people are looking at
  • Various little gadgets and widgets to help publicise and monetise your posts
  • Ability for readers to subscribe to your blog via email, which is great because most people still have no idea what a blog reader is!
  • Podcasting capability for blogs that don't yet support it
All in all, Feedburner seems initially a bit complicated but isn't really, and is well worth the effort!

So this blog is now Powered by FeedBurner :)
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