So you have a blog! You’ve been bitten by the self-publishing bug and you have a place to call your own on the Internet. In my forthcoming posts, I’ll talk in detail about some of the features and tricks that are relevant to any blogger but first let’s run your blog through the checklist. Does your blog have the necessary essentials?
1. URL: Your blog’s address is its first and most important tool. Is it easy to remember and type out? Is it memorable? Does it say something about the content? Does it hook the reader into wanting to click on it? A few ground rules here: Avoid hyphens and numbers; they’re difficult to remember. Vague words like ‘ruminations’, ‘ramblings’, ‘thoughts’ are absolute no-nos; they’re strewn across the Internet like debris. And finally nothing longer than a single line of a notebook. If it needs to spill over into the next line, you can bet the reader will lose patience and go visit some other site.
2. Name and Tagline: The second thing that a reader will notice is the name of your blog. How does it stand out from the thousands of other sites on the Internet? Does it intrigue the reader or does it confuse him? Does it interest her into reading further? Again the vague words mentioned above are avoidable. This should be a short description, with a focus on short. A tagline is one line, not a paragraph. Keep the long descriptions for your profile.
3.Blogger Profile: I sometimes come across blogs that don’t have any details about the people writing them. While this may not have mattered a few years back, when people were still discovering what blogs were, things are different now. Readers like to know that there’s a real person out there thinking and expressing things. You may value your privacy but that doesn’t mean your identity has to be a complete black box. Include a little note about yourself, what made you want to set up the blog, why you pick the topics you do. It’s good manners and it helps your readers relate to your blog better.
4. Template: One of the most fun things to do when you create a blog is setting up the template. You have a mind-boggling array of choices to pick from – colour, font, sidebars, widget-friendly, changeable headers etc.
In the initial days, you might want to try out a few different options to see what suits your blog the best. After that however, try and hold off from too many wardrobe changes for your blog. Readers like a sense of familiarity when they visit a page and seeing a different looking page each time can be confusing. It’s content that wows readers, not templates.
Try and pick something that goes with the theme or mood of your content. Remember a template is a background, the frame of your blog and not the blog itself. It should assist it, not compete with it.
5. Topic/ Focus: Personally I’ve shied away from the constraints of a single topic for my blog. But I’ve also maintained blogs centering around specific topics. Topical blogs are definitely a more efficient way to capture reader interest since searches will lead to your blog, you’ll be attracting an interested target audience and your blog will have a defined identity. However, you face the dangers of running out of things to say and of the topic itself becoming redundant.
If you pick a topic, make sure you keep abreast with what is current in that field and a close watch on how reader tastes are changing. That way, your blog can evolve alongside.
If however, you don’t have a specific topic, try and standardize at least one aspect of your content. It could be a particular style of writing or a way of seeing things – a funny voice, the underdog point of view, analysis rather than restating of facts. Giving your readers something different and distinct gives your blog a sense of identity.
6. Comments: How many times have you wanted to tell a blogger that you enjoyed a post but found yourself unable to comment? You can’t find the comments section, the box isn’t accepting comments, the ‘Submit’ button turns up page errors or you just keep getting redirected back to the main page. If you’re worried about your comments drying up suddenly, check your settings and see whether the comments mechanism is working. Your server might be down, a template change may have affected this feature, you may have been virused. Downtime here is like being stranded in mid-air with the radios down.
While on this, you should consider the question of comments moderation carefully. Spam filters are necessary for every blog, just as for every email inbox. A lot of blogs ask readers to type out a particular word to weed out bots. Moderation means only approved comments come through. Personally I don’t employ the last since it means that the comment will only come through after I sign in and approve them. Also, it feels a little less democratic. But that’s my personal experience and if you find yourself the victim of trolling, moderation is definitely a good way to go.
7. Archives: If you’ve been blogging for awhile, you’ll probably have put away a number of posts. Your loyal readers may remember some of the good ones from the past but your new readers will be missing out on those unless you give them pointers to find them. List 4-5 of your top posts (by comments or readership or just because you like them). While on this, do you have your archives accessible by month, date, category and tag? Assume readers will be interested in more and make it as easy as possible for them to get to other areas of your blog.
8. Blogroll: Blogging is a community activity. Read other blogs, comment on them and link to them. You’ll get the same dues back. A blogroll is a good way to show readers who is part of your community. Keep your link list fresh and updated, weed out defunct links and keep adding new ones. A new reader will sometimes look at your blogroll to see what other blogs you like. It’s the online equivalent of comparing taste in books or movies.
9. Feeds: A feed allows your content to be delivered to other websites, email addresses, aggregators and feed readers, all of which let your readers know when your blog has been updated. Make it possible for a reader to access your content in a format that suits them best. Most free blogging sites already provide a feed for each blog. Feedburner will allow you to ‘burn’ a feed for any site that you want.
10. Contact details: A magazine may be interested in buying a photograph that you posted on your blog. Something you wrote about may pique the interest of someone who wants to find out more. A publisher may want to take your writing to print. Or a reader may just want to get in touch with you to tell you what a great job you’re doing. Anything is possible! Why miss out on that interaction? If you’re worried about privacy, set up an independent email address, like I did, to interact with readers and bloggers. To avoid spam, don’t enter a hyperlinked address that will attract bots like flies to honey. But do have an email address available for readers to contact you if they want.
All the very best to your blog. Keep posting and I’ll see you around on the blogosphere!
“IdeaSmith is the online avatar of Ramya, an ex-business analyst on sabbatical. She loves stationery but she bid a fond goodbye to office spaces a year ago. Now she alternates between sampling panipuris, winning Monopoly games and airing her grievances on the Twitterverse.