Saturday, December 17, 2005

How to Start Your Basic Blog



My friend Abby, the Executive Director of the school gardening nonprofit, Urban Sprouts, has taken the plunge and started an Urban Sprouts blog. Hooray!

If there are any readers out there who want to start a blog for themselves, here are my basic, "accidental techie" guidelines.

1. Decide what you want to write about. The best blogs are ones with a particular focus. Obviously, you can stray from that focus once in a while, but your readers want to know what kind of stuff they can expect when they take the time to read your posts. There are so many kinds of blogs out there. Here are some examples:

food http://chockylit.blogspot.com/
gossip http://socialitelife.com/
how to make stuff http://www.notmartha.org/
intriguing projects http://postsecret.blogspot.com/
journalism http://www.motherjones.com/mojoblog/
marketing http://www.buzzmarketingwithblogs.com/
nonprofit http://urbansprouts.blogspot.com
parenting http://www.themommyblog.com/
political http://www.ericumansky.com/
shared interests http://cupcakestakethecake.blogspot.com
social justice http://www.pambazuka.org/
technology http://marshallk.com/
travel http://www.vagabonding.com/
and just plain old great writing http://www.jorydesjardins.com/

2. Commit to writing in your blog once a week, minimum. The more you post, the more often people will read your blog.

3. Set up a blog hosting account. I use Blogger, because it is free! If I had known I would like blogging so much, I would have set up a Typepad account, because it has more features, but Blogger is just fine and it's a bargain!

4. Allow comments and make your pages findable by search engines. If you use Blogger, there are a couple settings you'll want use:

In Archive Settings: click "Yes" in answer to "Enable Page Posts?" That will allow each of your posts to be archived as a separate page making it easier for people to find your posts when they search for information on a particular topic.

In the Comments Settings: click "Anyone" in answer to "Who Can Comment?". You want to encourage people to comment on your posts. To prevent spammers or other non-humans from posting a comment click, "Yes" in answer to "Show Word Verification in Comments." That's those weird wavy letters you have to type in sometimes when you are submitting a form to make sure that you are a person and not a computer spammer.

In Site Feed: click "Yes" in answer to "Publish Site Feed" so that other people can publish your posts elsewhere.

5. Allow people to subscribe to your blog (see the box in the right hand corner of my blog that says "Enter your email to subscribe"? Feel free to enter your email by the way). I use Feedblitz (it's free), but there are a lot of other services out there you can use as well. You set up an account (are you keeping an Excel sheet of all of these passwords?) and I think it will give you a piece of code (don't get scared) to put in your blog (its been a while since I set this up). Do not be afraid of working with HTML code for something like this. Just think of it as a fancy cut and paste job.

If Feedblitz gives you a piece of code to put in your blog, don't panic, copy it and click on the "Template" tab in your Blogger account. You will see a page with lots of scary words and symbols on it. Scroll down until you see where it says:

End main column

Sidebar

Paste you Feedblitz code below this.

Now click on Preview to make sure nothing is totally out of whack. If it is, you can hit "clear edits" and start again. If it looks normal hit, "save template changes." As long as you always preview and clear edits if things look funky, you can't really hurt your blog. You don't have to put your Feedblitz box there, I just like it there because it easy to see.

6. List other blogs that you like (like my list in the right hand column). Part of writing a blog is connecting your readers with other blogs that might interest them and hoping that other bloggers connect their readers to your blog.

Click on the Template tab in your Blogger account again. Now you're not afraid of all of those symbols 'cause you already put your Feedblitz code in there. Scroll down to where Blogger has already inserted some URL's for sites. I can't remember if they call it Sites or Blogs on the template. Just replace the URL of the site's they have started with the URL of the sites you like. If you want more sites, just copy and paste the code they've already created as a new line and change the URL to your favorite site's address.

7. Set up a statcounter. You'll want to see how many folks read your blog and where they are referred from so that you can thank the site that is referring them. There are a lot of free counter sites:

http://www.statcounter.com/
http://www.sitemeter.com
http://www.google.com/analytics/


Similar to the Feedblitz, you'll set up an account. It will give you a piece of code which you'll copy and paste into your site. Click on the Template tab in your Blogger account again. Scroll down the page until you see the phrases:

End sidebar
End content

Paste the code here. Again, you can put it in other places in the sidebar, just make sure you Preview where you have pasted it to make sure the page isn't all messed up.

7. Start posting! When you write a post, make sure to include links to other sites that people can click on. To create a link in Blogger, highlight the word that you want the link underneath with your cursor, click on the icon at the top of the page that looks like a globe and a chainlink. Write in the URL of the site you want to link to and hit OK.

If you want to add a picture, hit the icon at the top of the page that looks like a blue photograph. Hit Browse to find the image you want in your computer, select it, decide what size you want the image to be and where you want it placed on the page and upload it.

8. Tag your posts. At the end of you your post, you want to add some tags to make it easier for people to find your posts and for blog search engines like, Technorati, to find your posts. See all of the little words at the end of this post? They are tags and if you click on them, you'll see other posts in Technorati with the same tag. Technorati has a good guide for how to add tags to your post here.

9. Let blog search engines know when you update your blog. Again, there are a lot of services that do this. One of the ones I use is Ping-O-Matic, although although, as I am writing this, this the site didn't seem to be up and running. Again, you register your blog with the site and then after you write a post you go to the Ping-O-Matic site and tell it to "ping" blog search engines (i.e. tell them that you've written a new post). For good measure, I also set up an account on Technorati, "claimed" my blog and ping them separately when I write a new post. I have used Pingoat as well.

10. Read other blogs. Set up a Bloglines account so that you can see what other folks are talking about in the "blogosphere."

11. Have Fun! I hope that this guide is helpful and not confusing.

If you are feeling overwhelmed here is the short short guide:

1. set up your blog hosting account
2. write posts
3. tell your friends!


7 comments:

  1. Thanks for including me in your list of examples Britt! This is a great introductory post, just the kind of thing there needs to be more of available.

    Here's a couple of other things that could be helpful to brand new bloggers.

    First, if folks want to add tags to the ends of their posts without the hassle of remembering or typing all the code each time, I've written about a button you can add to your browser that pops up a window for you to type your tags into in plain language, and then it provides you the code to copy and paste into your blog post. That's at http://marshallk.com/tagging-bookmarklet-and-how-to-screencast

    Second, if folks sign up for Feedburner.com services, that includes FeedBlitz email subscription and makes pinging automatic (using their Pingshot service). Feedburner is primarily, though, for managing your RSS feeds so people can subscribe to your blog in MyYahoo, Bloglines, etc. Blogger blogs all have RSS feeds published at your blog's adress with /atom.xml added at the end (like yours is http://havefundogood.blogspot.com/atom.xml)

    Just like Statcounter will tell you how many people visit your site, Feedburner will tell you how many people are subscribed to your RSS feed, if you add the code it gives you for the Subscribe buttons just like you showed people how to add the FeedBlitz code. RSS can do about a million different things (it was an RSS feed for inbound links to my site that told me you linked to me here - hope you don't regret that after this long comment!) I've got an explanation of RSS at http://marshallk.com/introduction-to-rss-syndication/

    Finally, Blogsome.com is the same kind of free, hosted system that Blogger is, but it uses Word Press software. That's a notch less easy to use, but offers a lot of awesome features. Possibly the most useful to new bloggers is the ability to give your posts categories. Blogger doesn't do that. Oh and so much more.

    Ok, hope you don't mind the long comment. Best wishes!

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  2. Thanks for all the info. Marshall! This is great. For readers who don't know Marshall, he help folks optimize their blogs and we work together at www.netsquared.org.

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  3. Wow, thanks for the mention! I love your use of the phrase "accidental techie." It's so perfect. I certainly didn't set out to do anything like this!

    And now, I'm off to bookmark you and investigate some of your and Marshall's tips...

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  4. This is a real good introduction! I agree with the focus. I'd add build a habit of blogging from the beginning (in other words, start when you will have some time) and also add things as you go along. (I will use some of your tips, like I never started tagging, I get lazy about those things...

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  5. I strongly agree that you must leave options for visitors to interact with you on your blog. It increases the popularity as well as build core audience of your blog.

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  6. Nice blog and very good tips. Its especially nice to see you can manage a normal career and still have time to blog. I hope to get to that point soon.

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  7. Thanks! This info really helps anyone who is new to blogging.
    Also, I learned a lot from you. :)

    http://blogforge.com/

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