Now that you've learned all about how to start up your own blog, it's time to take a look at what you can do with it, and what you MUST do with it, now that it's been successfully set up. In this posting, we'll be looking at the finer points of blogging such as content, structure, presentation and organisation. Let's begin!
Homepage or No Homepage
That is the question! And it's a question that some people choose to, or not, to answer. In setting up your blog, it's usually up to you to choose which 'theme' you pick for your blog. Themes or templates are the frameworks which make up the general structure of your blog. Themes come with different colour-schemes, positions for pages, categories, and various other 'widgets' as they're usually called.
Depending on the theme which you choose, you may have the option to have a dedicated homepage for your blog. Should you have one, or not?
In deciding whether or not to have a theme with homepage capabilities as part of your blog, you should think about what the benefits or drawbacks of having a homepage might be. Whether or not you decide to have a homepage may also be influenced by the content, and style of your blog.
A blog which handles serious issues such as medicine, law, the news, current events, or which is linked to a private business would benefit from having a homepage, because it would inform readers what the blog is about, what it will contain, and what the reader is likely to get from reading the blog's contents. In this capacity, a homepage serves as an introduction-page to the blog's contents, perhaps providing context and additional information, which will help the reader to better understand or appreciate the postings that are to follow.
On a more personal blog - one which is devoted to your interests, passions and hobbies, having a homepage is entirely up to you. It depends on whether you want to introduce yourself or the blog to readers, before they start looking at the actual content. In this situation, the perceived benefits or hindrances of having a homepage are really up to your own decision-making process.
Personally, I never bothered with having a homepage. On personal blogs, I'm not sure that they're that desirable. That's not to say that you can't have one, it’s just that most people just don't bother with them. I think that this is because people view them as a hindrance to the accessibility of their blog's content. Readers who click on personal blogs want to jump straight to the written content. Having to do another click, even if it is only one, - to bypass the homepage, is a distraction and may discourage people from looking at a personal blog - especially when the content of the homepage does not greatly contribute towards the blog on a whole.
The conclusion to be drawn from this thought process is that a homepage is of benefit to your blog if it adds something (context, clarification, information etc) to the blog, which cannot be put somewhere else, and which is important for a reader to know BEFORE they read the blog's general contents. If you find that your homepage doesn't really do this, then it's better not to add it. In this respect, it becomes an unnecessary distraction.
Pages vs. Posts
Part of making your blog an attractive place to visit is keeping things organised. One of the best ways to do this is to keep your posts and your pages organised, and knowing when and how to use each of these effectively.
A 'PAGE' should be used when the information within it will relate directly to the blog and how it operates. Pages should be dedicated to subjects like what the blog is about, what its contents will feature, information about the blogger and how to contact him/her, and any special news or updates regarding the blogger or blog, which readers might like to know.
Blog 'POSTS', on the other hand, are the bread-and-butter of your blog. They are the building-blocks of your website's contents. The quality of your postings is one of the main factors in the popularity of your blog. If the postings are horrible, then the chances of getting a dedicated following will drop significantly.
While the pages on your blog are important for general information about your website and who you are, the postings that you make on a daily, weekly, fortnightly, or even monthly basis, are far more important. These postings make up the day-to-day, week-to-week content and activity of your blog. They are what the people online will come to see. If your postings are amazing, interesting, funny, well-written or thought-provoking, then they will encourage people to return and read your blog on a regular basis.
Attracting a loyal following of readers is one of the main aims of anyone who starts a blog. But you will only get this loyal following if you have postings of actual merit, which people will want to read. Postings should have a clear subject, should be easy to read, be well-formatted, and should be as free from typing mistakes as possible.
A blogger may be forgiven for the odd mistake here and there, in the postings of his/her personal blog (hey, we're only human, after all!), but a posting that is riddled with typographical errors, mistakes in spelling, grammar and punctuation, becomes a bore and a headache to read. With every passing sentence and paragraph, the reader becomes more and more distracted by the errors in the writing, rather than engrossed and drawn into the content of the writing itself. This will bore people, and turn them away from coming back to your blog in the future.
For a blog to be truly successful, it needs a specific foundation of essential content - postings and pages which the average online blog-reader would expect to find on almost any blog. This essential content is extremely important - it is what will determine whether a person spends five minutes on your blog, or two or three hours on your blog, and whether or not they might actually leave comments and ratings on your blog - the best indication of a blog's success. Essential content is generally comprised of the following pages:
'About the Blog'
Here is where you should put the information which pertains to what your blog is about! That is to say - what is the subject of your blog? What will you be covering in your postings? What is the very point and purpose of this blog's existence? This should be as short and as punchy as you can make it. If readers cannot immediately discern what your blog is about - then they will lose interest, hit 'BACK', and go on to find something else that piques their interest more than whatever you might have on offer here. There! A potential fan lost forever!
'About the Blogger'
To prove that your blog has been written by an actual person and not by a faceless, souless automaton with a pair of fully functional robotic hands, an 'About the Blogger' or 'About Me' page is useful. Not as essential as the 'About the Blog' page, this page nonetheless allows your readers to connect with you, and allows you to connect to your readers. Explaining who you are, where you've come from, what you do and why you do it, allows readers to put things in context, and better appreciate or enjoy the postings that you have uploaded to share with the rest of the world.
A strong 'About the Blogger' page will make the readers more interested in you as a person, and make them more inclined to read your blog postings when they know just that little bit more about the person behind them.
Of course, how much you include in this particular page is up to you. It can be as personal or impersonal as you like, but at the very least, it should include who you are, where you come from, what your interests or hobbies are (if these are pertinent to your blog's contents), and your motivations for starting and maintaining your blog.
Whether or not you include extra details (such as a photograph) is entirely up to you. Some people might be intensely private, and others might be more extroverted. You should only put into this page as little or as much as you are comfortable with sharing with the rest of the world - because that is exactly what you are doing!
As I mentioned in my previous posting about starting and operating your own blog, being able to provide a private and separate line of communications between you and your readers is a huge plus in encouraging people to read, linger and eventually, follow your blog.
The information for this separate line of communication, be it a Facebook page, YouTube Channel, email-address or even a telephone number or postal address, should ideally be included in its own page, separate from the 'About the Blogger' page. This will make it easy to find and will help people who want to contact you privately, to do so in the fastest and easiest way possible. Nothing is more frustrating to a reader than genuinely wanting to contact a blogger for information, help, to leave feedback, extra information or to congratulate them on a job well done, and not being able to find out how to do this!
If the information that they wish to tell you is private, and they can't send this information to you via a private channel, then they may well not send it to you at all. If their only option for communication is through posting a comment in one of your blog postings, then they may well abandon their attempts to contact you at all.
This lack of accessibility to the blogger can drive readers away and cause them to seek out another blog on the same subject, in the hopes that the blogger there will be able to better aid them in their queries. If you know more about this particular subject than another person and can provide better answers to questions, then you are almost obligated to make yourself contactable - there's no point in sharing information online if you can only do it in one way!
Depending on the host that you've picked for your blog, you may be able to set up a page, or a widget ('widget' is the name given to the various optional add-on features to your blog) which allows you to share external links (links to content outside and away from your blog) with your pool of followers.
Setting up a list or page of external links on your blog which your readers can access is great for many reasons. The two main reasons are that these links inform your readers on what you like to read about, but such external links might also allow you to advertise more of your own stuff, creating a sort of your own online 'network', linking together the various facets of your online presence into one continuous web of content and information.
Having a page, or list, of external links to other websites, channels, and/or other blogs that you enjoy visiting will inform your readers more about your interests and passions. If they share these interests and passions (likely, since they are reading your blog!), then it will allow them to find out more about the things they like, and broaden their knowledge base.
External links leading away from your blog do not necessarily have to be to content other than that which you have created. External links are great for advertising other ventures or websites of yours - magazine articles, websites, your personal business, your YouTube channel, Instagram or Flickr account, Facebook page or LinkedIn page.
Sources and References
If you’re working on a blog which aims to educate, inform or otherwise share information with other people, then a vital part of operating your blog is making sure that you keep a list of sources and references for the blog postings that you make. These sources andn references are essential, as they will lend credibility to your postings. Postings on scholarly subjects need not read like a university essay – they can be relaxed and more casual, at least in the reading and the writing of them, but not in the listing of sources.
People will not take you seriously if they can’t find out where you got your information from – and you won’t be able to tell them, if readers question you about it. Your memory isn’t going to be that good that you can remember all the sites, films, documentaries, TV series and books that you’ve read or watched to find the information you need, two, three, four, five or ten years after you made a particular posting in your blog.
For this reason, you should always list the sources of the information mentioned in your postings, at the end of each posting, or at least have a dedicated page of sources and references on your blog, which you update regularly. That way, people will be more likely to trust the information they’ve read, knowing that you’ve actually bothered to research it and look it up, instead of plucking facts, figures and dates out of thin air.
A ‘widget’ is the name given to any of the various add-on features which you can use to accessorise or improve your blog, and make it more appealing to the reader. Deciding which widgets to use, how to use them, and how to organise them are a key component of making an attractive and reader-friendly blog.
Widgets include features like hit-counters, search-bars, ‘Recent Posts’ lists, comments lists, post-archives and so-on – not all of which, may be included as ‘standard’ when you start a blog. You usually have the option to add these widgets in later. Not all widgets are free – some of the more desirable ones which wouldn’t come as ‘standard’, you’d have to pay for.
Useful widgets to have include a hit-counter, so that people will know how many people visit your blog, and how popular it is, a ‘recent posts’ widget, so that people can see what’s been written about in the past few weeks or months, a ‘recent comments’ widget, so that people can see who has been posting comments about what (which also gives an indication of which posts are most popular), and a ‘Top Rated’ widget, which tallies up the statistics of your most popular posts.
Other widgets that you might want to add are up to you, and the limitations of the website which hosts your blog, but the ones previously listed would be considered the bare minimum, as they would allow both you, and your readers, to keep an eye on just how well your blog is doing.
Comments and Emails
If you want your readers to take you, and your blog seriously, then you need to run all aspects of your blog as efficiently as you can. This includes moderating and answering the comments and emails that you’re likely to receive, as your blog grows in popularity and readership.
In order to draw people back and to keep them coming, they need to know that you take an active interest in the running of your blog, and that you will answer their questions in a timely and appropriate manner. Nothing is more frustrating than posting a comment on a person’s blog, and waiting for weeks and months for the blogger to answer your query – by which time, you’ve probably forgotten about it, anyway! Don’t be THAT blogger, to the people who have taken the time to read, and post, in your own blog, otherwise, folks may not come back!
Policing Your Blog
A very important element of running your own blog is keeping the peace between you and your followers, and between followers and other followers. You are your own policeman, and your blog is your beat. Patrol it with diligence.
Every comment posted in your blog has to go through a moderation process first, where you, the blogger, will personally have a chance to approve it for publication. You need to take this chance to determine which comments are genuine and which are just spam. Some are more obvious than others. Some comments may be rude, insulting or otherwise inflammatory – remove them at your own discretion. Above all, remain professional. Flame-wars and such, should be avoided at all costs.
Headlines and Titles
Headlines, or titles of your postings should be clear, but individual. There’s nothing wrong with a title to a post being bland and just stating the obvious, but an interesting title which still tells a reader what to expect will get a lot more attention from someone who is just flicking through a blog out of boredom. It will pique curiosity, and fewer things are more powerful than the draw of curiosity. Ambiguous headlines or headline which are excessively long or difficult to read should be avoided, as these may drive people away.
Overall Design and Style
One of the last, but certainly not least, important details to consider in your blog is the design and style – the colour-scheme, the fonts, font-sizes and general appearance of your blog. Although this is partially up to personal taste, the appearance of your blog should reflect the nature of the contents.
For example, if it’s a more scholarly blog, then a more subdued, conservative appearance would look better. A blog concentrating on photography might have black and white, or colour photographs as the background. A blog related to arts and crafts, sewing or homemaking could possibly have flowers, patchwork-quilts or paints in the background, and a more artistic and vibrant colour-scheme, to match. A business blog may have pictures on it relating to the field of business, e.g. clothing, cars, jewellery, or food.
This brings to an end my second posting about building and running your own blog. Hopefully, reading this posting has given you, the owner and operator of a brand-new blog, some insight into the elements that make up a successful blog. Finally, a blogger should always keep his or her audience in mind, in all aspects of their blog: Content, appearance, ease of access and clarity of information. If you have any questions about setting up your own blog send me an email and I will do my best to answer.