How to blog?

I received a mail recently from a bloke looking for advice about writing one of these sites.

Actually, I have received a few asking for general advice, so rather than answer them individually,  I’m going to answer them here.

Now, I hate people purporting to be experts, and cluttering up the place with their weedy ideas on how to be a great success, so if you didn’t write to me, you can ignore this.

First of all, I am not an expert blogger.  I just ramble away, and I am still not sure why anyone takes notice.  As for tips on how to write a ‘successful’ blog, I would suggest you go somewhere else.

Anyhows, here is what I have learned, or deduced over the past couple of years.

Hosting

The first thing is to get somewhere to stick your site.  This is not a crude invitation for some bad jokes, but you do need to put it somewhere.

There are free hosting places, such as Blogger and WordPress, but I would avoid the former.  I just have a thing against them.  They leave you little room for manoeuvre when it comes to design or individuality, and their comment areas suck.

The ideal, of course is to set up your own server.  This doesn’t involve converting your back bedroom into a server farm and laying fibre optic to the nearest phone exchange; it merely means that you lease out some space from a reputable company.  At this point I would suggest Blacknight, but I don’t see why I should as they don’t give a damn about me.  Of course you can pay a little over the odds and lease a server plus someone with a little expertise who can help you with any problems you may have.  The latter means you wouldn’t have to worry about software upgrades or any of that nonsense.  Modesty forbids that I mention names here.  *cough cough cough*.

The next thing you need is a design.

Design

If you go with a free hosting, you are stuck with whatever they provide.  If you go with your own server, there are hundreds, nay thousands of templates available, especially if you use WordPress software.

The main thing about the design of your site is to make it readable.  I am amazed at the number of designs I come across that use pale lettering on a white background.  Make sure your text is easily readable, unless of course you don’t want anyone to read it. 

The whole point of a blog is to publish material that people can read.  Ergo, the most important aspect of any design is that the content is easily readable, and there are few distractions.

Try not to clutter your site with things that aren’t important.  Too many sites have flashing things and strange graphics that don’t enhance the site, and are a distraction.  One site I know of has a load of these things, and as a result I never visit – it takes too damn long to download, and if I do download, it gives me a headache!

Content

You wouldn’t think there was anything to watch out for here, but I have found that there is.

I have come across posts in the past there were interesting and very well written, but I couldn’t read them.  Why?  Because they were set out as if they were on the printed page with huge paragraphs.  Reading off a small screen is not the same as reading a book.  Long paragraphs are a strain.  Break them up.  Write short paragraphs and leave a bit of space lying around.

One of the problems with the Interweb and blogs is that there are so many of the damn things around.  People flit from one to another, and unless your page is easy to read, they are going to flit on by to the next one.

Images are nice too.  They can break up text and make the page easier to read, particularly if they illustrate a point.  But keep them fairly small.  Some people are still on dial-up.

Comments

Comments are the lifeblood of a blog.  Without them, you might as well stick up an ordinary static site and be done with it.

Because they are so important, it is essential you make the process of commenting as easy as possible.  Choose a template where the comment link is obvious.  Avoid Captchas [those horrid yokes that ask you to type in random letters] – they are very irritating and occasionally don’t work.  They are there to prevent spam, but any decent blog should be able to bang spam into moderation without any problems.

One question that frequently crops up is how often you should comment on your own blog.  This is up to you, but if you don’t comment at all, you give the impression that you have written your piece and buggered off to the pub, leaving your readers to fend for themselves.  On the other hand, if you comment too often, it becomes a very time consuming job.  It’s up to you to strike a happy balance.

Add-ons

Most blogs come with add-ons or plug-ins.  These are little enhancements you can add to your site that can do various weird and wonderful things. 

The first and probably the most important one is a spam trap.  ‘Akismet’ seems to be the standard one here and is available across several platforms.

Another addition I like is the ability to edit a comment after it has been posted.  Usually you are given a set time in minutes to correct those little typos that always seem to creep in and look embarrassing.

One thing that happens to me a lot is that I comment on a blog and then forget a) which blog I commented on or b) that I commented at all.  A very handy addition that all blogs should have is an email follow up selector, that will notify me of any follow up comments.

Most other add-ons are discretionary, but don’t add them if they distract, or slow down the blog in any way. 

-oOo-

I could say a lot more, but my computer is running out of ink after this lot.

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Comments

How to blog? — 53 Comments

  1. GD – If you carefully pick up the computer and slowly rotate it from side to side you can often free up that last little bit of ink. In this economy we need to save were ever we can. .

  2. I use blogger and find it okay, but I’m a noted technophobe who took years to take the ‘blogspot’ out of the URL by getting my own domain name.

    These are great tips. I’m hopeless for following them myself, and have been told white lettering with a black background can be tough on the eyes. I’m soon due a re-design, methinks.

    Good point on the comments too, a balance is important though I write back to 90% of the three or four I get per entry.

    Ahem.

  3. Jim C – They never warned me when I bought this computer that it would get through the ink so quickly! :(

    Radge – Some people dislike white on black. I don’t mind it too much. The main thing is contrast. I like your design, by the way!

  4. ooo, radge i like your design, not hard to read at all, made me feel all warm and comfy while i was there…. might have been the pub atmosphere though… in fact I just added you to my reader.

  5. I think the free hosted wordpress.com is a great place to start blogging,if you then wish to take more control, first thing to do is to point your own domain name at wordpress.com (making it no longer free, but still good value). You may then at any stage migrate your content to your own provider (like Blacknight) or own server using the WordPress.org software (same software used by WordPress.com) when either traffic or urge to fiddle takes control.

    By the way Grandad, don’t be stupid it’s not ink that’s running out, it’s virus infected bytes falling out the ports at the back of the computer yolk that’s causing the trouble. When they hit the floor they break into bits and are the fleas of the modern world, going on to infect man and beast. If you’re dog is scratching it’s bits that byte’ing him, forget the flea powder, get him microchiped and vaccinate him with Norton anti-virus (quear name but great stuff); do it now and dose yourself and herself too!

    Tom

  6. Knowing your Captcha and Blogger aversions, your birthday wishes this weekend meant a lot to me Grandad. You braved BOTH, poor you!

    But, it is time I got off my lazy arse to switch the blogspot address to my own domain, which I’ve owned for long enough now…*sigh*. Work, work, work, honestly…

  7. Grandad,

    Now that’s the best common sense advice I’ve heard yet. No long pontifications about building online relationships and how you can avoid confrontations and all that.

    Of course I’m always guilty of writing paragraphs that are too long. I just never seem to know when to quit…

    …which is probably the main reason I still have my blog going after nearly 3 years.

  8. Radge – I told you it is a good design. Could you remove the television though, please? I hate televisions in pubs!

    Tom – That is a very good progression for a start-up. WordPress.com is a good place to start and to test the water. Thank you for the advice about Norton. I did inject myself with it once and regretted it. I became bloated and sluggish, and eventually I seized up altogether. I now inject myself with AVG, which is quite tasty.

    Susan – If the result is worth the effort? ;)

    TheChrisD – I just don’t know why people go with Blogger. after all, you can have your own server for less than €1 a week!

    Kirk M – Praise from you is always flattering, you being an Uber Geek [right expression?] and all. The last thing I am going to advise is what people should write, as that is the whole point of blogs – the chance to write what you like. Mind you, if you’re going to write shite, you’re going to get a shite reaction!

  9. Dorothy – The $64,000 question! I don’t know. Does your material invite comments? Do you invite opinions or answers? [That’s a generic answer – I’m not referring to your site in particular]

    Writing a post to invite comments is really a common sense thing. If I wrote a post saying “Grandad is mad”, I would probably get a few people agreeing. On the other hand if I wrote “Do you think Grandad is mad?” I would be flooded with comments all screaming YES.

  10. …you being an Uber Geek [right expression?]

    Nah, I just don’t like people all that well. However, conflict being the main thing that keeps any human being alive and well I had to have something to argue with so I picked computers. Those things are always blowing up over something.

  11. some cool tips there, I take the one about smaller chunks instead of paragraphs but mea culpa. Not sure about the self-commenting thing? Do you mean authors comments on commenters comments -surely vital. Or a bit of ego-commenting?

    Hey Tom, love your bits of fleas analogy. Haha, really enjoyed that. Hope Sandy’s been well AVG’ed, wouldnt want her all bitten.

    Off to have a peek at Radgery now….

  12. Charmed – Ego-commenting? Of course I am referring to commenting on other comments. I must start commenting on my own posts though. Would I have to use an alias?

    NaRocRoc – Just about!!

    Radgery – I’ll be invoicing you for all the extra traffic you are getting!

  13. Good points Grandad although Blogger suits me for now. I have a WordPress site (private) but I find it a bit cumbersome to post. Maybe that’s just cos I’m used to the beginner’s ‘ease’ of Blogger. @Dorothy . . it was several months before I received any comments but the more you visit and comment on other sites, the more will pop by and eventually leave a remark or two. You don’t want too many commenters mind, takes for ever to catch up with your favourite blogs! I’d also caution against LONG posts. Guilty as charged, I sometimes get carried away. Keep them to a 500 word minimum.

  14. Thank you for providing clear information. I enjoyed reading the comments, as well. Maybe one day I will find the courage to blog. In the meantime, I enjoy reading many various blogs.

  15. Wouldn’t you know it? I’ve just started this blogging malarkey, negotiated AdSense and tamed my Meta filters (whatever the hell that means) and one of the first blogs I happen upon advises against my uninformed choice of hosting thingy! Shit!

  16. Dorothy – I knew you’d say that [hence my rider]. No. I’m tempted to say your last post was great, but then you would say I was criticising all the others ! ;)
    And Baino is right [even if she does use Blogger] – comments can take ages to start arriving. I hardly got any in my first couple of months, but then I didn’t expect any. I still am a bit surprised when people visit!

    Baino – That’s a good point about long posts, though I presume you mean 500 words maximum? Actually, today’s is my longest post ever at 1050 words. My average is a mere 279 apparently [I have a plug-in that keeps tracks on these things]

    Maxi – Don’t worry about it. No one reads your blog anyway.

    Kathy – Welcome to insanity! Blogging is like swimming – you just dive in at the deep end. After that it’s easy. Too easy. Incidentally, I can’t swim either.

    NaRocRoc – Try leaving your text alone and tweak the contrast on your content? Just a suggestion?

    Welcome Sexy!! May I call you Sexy? Don’t mind what I say about Blogger. It’s only a personal thing. It’s not like I’m an expert. And if I’m in Cork, can I stay on your couch?

  17. Grandad, Radgery is a non-profit making equal opportunities employer of random nonsense and tomjudgery. As such, stay the hell out of my pockets. And the television stays. I don’t know Photoshop.

  18. TV in pubs is a whole separate rant. My husband really hates it and goes around asking everyone if they don’t mind him switching it off – does it in the gym as well with the “uumfa uumfa uumfa” music – as he calls is. Most emabarrassing..

  19. Have a gander. I agree. Better without the idiot box. I’ll give you 4 old Irish punts, a pint and a box of Skittles for your troubles, deal?

    And thank you kindly.

  20. Dorothy – I have given out about them before. I hate them. Especially the ones with the sound turned down so that they are a complete distraction with no entertainment value. And God help us if there’s a match on……

    Kate – You have it right in both of ‘em! :)

    Radge – It’s worth more than that. I had to nip down to the Stag’s Head, nick their telly and take another photograph for that. And you’re welcome!

    NaRocRoc – It’s not a bad television. I’m keeping it in the back bedroom.

    Sexy – Despite what you say on your site? There is no such thing as blogging expertise – we’re all just hacks.

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  22. Now if only I’d seen something like this before I started, I’d have been in a much better position. Great advice Grandad, I’ll be pointing people your way.

    Only nice people, mind. Not tourists. Or headphone wearers. Or the people you don’t like the look of.

    I have a server and all that, but I also lack the knowledge of what to do with it.

    Ditto, Maxi!

  23. I’m really lucky, my hosting company loves me….. Actually I own the hosting company – so it damned well should :)

    WordPress all the way as far as I’m concerned!

  24. I don’t know about TVs in pubs, but I was grateful for the little one in a local carry-out… when you don’t want your gaze bouncing from customer to customer while you wait for your food, it’s a relief to have something to stare at. :-) There was also one in a hospital waiting room.

    I sometimes worry about comments on blogs… I try to answer all comments on mine, but so many of my favourite bloggers (who come and comment on my blog) only answer about one comment in a thousand on their own blogs… and sometimes it makes me wonder if I’m just being silly. I mean, sometimes a comment merits a response, but sometimes it doesn’t. This area can be a bit of a minefield, at any rate, mostly because people have different expectations.

  25. Diddums – Comments are tricky. I base all my actions on my experiences, and I find a blog ‘more friendly’ if I comment and get a reply in return. It can be a little [very little] off putting to comment and be ignored in return. I think even the mention of a name can suffice just to show you have read it. I know some blogs where people comment and the author doesn’t reply at all, which I thik is bad. It gives the impression that they have written their article and their job is done. readers deserve more than that?

    Why am I replying to this?

  26. “Why am I replying to this?”
    Because you’re kind. :-)

    I stopped reading some blogs in the past when made to feel as though I was barking up a silent tree. Though, to qualify that, I find that over half of those who regularly comment on my blog tend not to reply to comments on their own blogs… unless there is a very good reason (such as a question to be answered). A few don’t even answer questions on their blogs, but will still comment on mine.

    That makes me think that it’s often a case of differing expectations. I like to socialize a bit, but others will regard comments as being one-off replies to their gambits, and not as the start of a debate or conversation… I guess. People (often close family members) are the same with emails: they only respond if you ask a direct question. I’m a Scot, though; we’re bred to be a bit taciturn. (Sigh).

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  30. Thanks for providing a good ould down to earth guide to blogging. I have just added a link to my own blog which is dedicated to encouraging small tourism enterprises to get online and make the most of the opportunities presented to them through blogging…
    cheers to TV less pubs!

  31. Talktourism – I normally get a bit sniffy when people link to sites rather than blogs, but you are living proof that flattery will get you anywhere. Thanks for the comment and death to the television!

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