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