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10 Blogging Basics I Learned

Plan Your Next Move, June 2011, Ottawa

This blog evolved a lot since I wrote the first post in 2006. I don’t spend as much time tweak­ing it as I did because it’s time-consuming and, at this stage, I’d rather focus on con­tent. But I learned a lot dur­ing the past few years.

I started this blog from scratch and I think I made just about every sin­gle mis­take pos­si­ble because I didn’t know any­thing about blog­ging. Look­ing back at screen­shots of my first blog, I cringe. I know bet­ter now.

To close the All About Blog­ging series, I’d like to share these 10 blog­ging basics I learned.

Pick a good URL — I spent about one minute brain­storm­ing for my first URL on Blog­ger: zhu-canada.blogspot.com. I was briefly proud of it and then spent a year hat­ing it because it wasn’t mem­o­rable and didn’t say much about the con­tent of the blog. When I moved to Word­Press, I had to pick a domain name. This time, I took it seri­ously. I set­tled on correresmidestino.com because the phrase meant some­thing for me and there is a story behind it (see About This). Yes, I know, it’s Span­ish and some peo­ple may not under­stand it at first but it’s a good con­ver­sa­tion starter!

Tip: Pick­ing a URL is like pick­ing an email address—it may not feel like a major deci­sion but it sticks.

Remove these stu­pid wid­gets! — I get it: play­ing with HTML is fun and empow­er­ing at first. We’ve all been there, stack­ing cute and funny wid­gets in the side­bar or in the footer. But local time or tem­per­a­tures, awards received, map of vis­i­tors, count­down to what­ever, music player that starts auto­mat­i­cally etc. can be a real annoy­ance for vis­i­tors. It makes pages slow to load and most of these wid­gets are pretty useless.

Tip: Less is more: think hard and get rid of use­less wid­gets. Draw atten­tion on your con­tent instead.

Read­abil­ity mat­ters — If you want to be read, you have to make your blog read­able. On my first Blog­ger site, the con­tent box was light blue and the font was way too small. What was I think­ing? Well, I wanted the design to be cool. It’s always best to keep the con­tent area white and use black font (white font on black back­ground is a pet peeve of mine). Or, and para­graphs exist for a rea­son… please do hit “enter” but­ton once in a while!

Tip: Choose a leg­i­ble font and please, ditch these hand­writ­ing fonts!

SEO does too — I’m not a SEO expert but I learned a few basics. For instead, give your image a title instead of using the default one, such as “D-1234”. Use a sitemap on your site (there are sev­eral plu­g­ins to do that with Word­Press). Link your posts inter­nally. Use “pretty URLs” such as myblog/this-post-is-great rather than myblog/p_25658.

Tip: You can check your global SEO rank­ing for free on Web­site Grader.

Who and why or the two basics — When I visit a new blog, I want to know who writes it and why. The About Me page is the one I click on first and it gives me a gen­eral idea of what to expect. If the page is enter­tain­ing, clear and well-written, I’m drawn to the blog and want to explore more.

Tip: Exam­ples of great “About Me” pages can be found at Lati­naish, Gail at Large, 100 Miles High­way, Lovely Awk­ward and many others!

Tags and cat­e­gories, too much is too much — The point of tags and cat­e­gories is to help users nav­i­gate the web­site. I cringe when I see an end­less list of tags only used once: what’s the point? Make sure you always spell your tags the same way too, oth­er­wise you will end up with dupli­cates, such “Funny stuff” “funny stuff” “funny Stuff”.

Tip: A great plu­gin for tag man­age­ment is Sim­ple Tags.

Keep up with the updates — Plu­g­ins, themes and core plat­forms are usu­ally updated once in a while for a rea­son: bet­ter usabil­ity, improved secu­rity etc. Yes, upgrad­ing to the lat­est ver­sion of Word­Press is a chore because there is always the chance that some­thing will go wrong. But you still have to do it and trust me, you will enjoy the results.

Tip: Backup your data­base reg­u­larly, with plu­g­ins such as WP-DB-Backup.

Don’t annoy your read­ers — Be nice to your read­ers because they can make or break a blog. While there are no guar­an­tees that they will like your work, try at least to not annoy them. Don’t put too many intru­sive ads and ban pop-up win­dows alto­gether. Please, stop using these annoy­ing social media wid­gets that scream “share me on 20 000 web­sites!” If you write a spon­sor post, dis­close it. Basic cour­tesy towards your read­ers goes a long way.

Tip: More ads doesn’t mean more rev­enues. Ana­lyze your click-through rate and take it from there.

Keep it sim­ple — Not every­one is a fan of min­i­mal­is­tic look but less is often more. Ulti­mately, read­ers want to see your work and that’s what you need to focus on. Very few peo­ple care about the funky colour of your links, the com­ment redesign that took you two days of work or the lat­est wid­gets. Make your work the cen­ter­piece of your blog and keep the rest simple.

Tip: Ask read­ers for feed­back when adding or remov­ing major func­tions in your website.

Improve what you can and ask for help for the rest — I’m nei­ther a designer nor a coder. Yet I often found myself skim­ming through pages of php code try­ing to fix a bug or to install a new func­tion. I’m glad I didn’t pay some­one to build my blog because I learned a lot through trial and error. But now, I know when to ask for help (and pay for it) and it makes a huge dif­fer­ence. For instance, I bought the theme I’m cur­rently using and cus­tomized it myself. It is well built and it made a huge dif­fer­ence in terms of cus­tomiz­ing and tweak­ing. Plus I can use the great tech­ni­cal sup­port when I screw up something!

Tip: Forums such as Dig­i­tal Point are a great place to ask for help or find a qual­i­fied per­son to give you a hand.

18 comments

  1. Hi Zhu,

    I have cleaned my blog from “stu­pid wid­gets” in a search to speed up page-load (with the assis­tance of a friend, who also blogs, who gave me some use­ful tips): when the pages take long to load, it is a bit of a nui­sance.
    But what really annoys me, as a vis­i­tor, is the auto­matic music…such a turn off.

    please do hit ‘enter’ but­ton once in a while!”

    LOL you kill me.

    Excel­lent tips as always.

    Cheers

    • I absolutely hate when music starts play­ing as the page loads! This is one of the rea­sons why I always mute the sound on my lap­top. Pet peeve #1 with­out a doubt!

  2. good tips.. espe­cially about url.

  3. Well put. Very use­ful for new­bie blog­gers such as myself. =)

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