Tuesday, 15 May 2012

Guest post: Steve Morton's blogging tips


As many of you will know, I have been collaborating with Steve Morton of Philofaxy for a while now on a range of diary layouts, available here and on that site. While we've been working together, I've learned an awful lot about blogging from Steve, and was delighted when he agreed to put some of his ideas in a guest post for me. Over to Steve...

Most of the following tips also apply to blogging in general, but most Filofax bloggers come to blogging for the first time.
                     
I’ve learnt by trial and error and by reading other peoples blogs to get ideas and I have tried out some ideas of my own.

Stats

When you want to build an audience, there’s nothing worse than ‘talking’ to yourself. If you want to know how big your audience is, you need something to measure how many people visit your site and also how many return to your site at a later date and whilst they are on your site find out what they are reading.

Blogger (blogspot) includes some simple stats on their blogs, but you can do better. Likewise so does Wordpress. But if you want to get serious about measuring the impact any change to your blog has or to see what sort of rate your audience is growing at, they get yourself a Google Analytics Account

Once you have set up the account with your blog URL etc. It’s a simple case in the case of Blogspot blogs of adding the Analytics ID: UA-13088822-1 to the Google Analytics setting in ‘Settings’ ‘Other’ in the new layout on Blogspot. In Wordpress get the Google Analytics Plug-in and authorise the plug-in to use your analytics account.

Then you have to be patient and wait whilst the stats start to build up and you can then have a benchmark to work from.

Name

What you call your blog is very much a personal decision. However, I would suggest that you don’t make the name too long or too similar to other similar blogs. Looking down my list of blogs on my ‘watch’ list there are a lot of ‘Filo’ blogs already.

Design

Keep the design of your blog simple, I see some horrible designs whilst I hunt around the inter-webs. Yes design and beauty are a very subjective thing, but don’t get carried away with the fonts. I tend towards using a simple serif font for titles but a san-serif font for the text, that’s the bit your user will be reading most. Try to keep the number of fonts you use to no more than say three, any more and it just looks amateurish.

Sidebar

The sidebar on your blog is the place to put things to help the user find their way around your site and to help them to get back to your site. I try to put ‘subscribe/follow me’ type things towards the top of the side bar, with navigational things next and anything else towards the bottom. Don’t make it so long that it requires a 1500 word post before anyone ever scrolls that far down the page before they find your subscribe by email sign up box.

Footer

I prefer not to put important things in the footer of the site people often never see it.

Posts

When you are writing those first few posts you will be trying to do something new or different, don’t get carried away, short brief and to the point posts get the message across and often I find the ones I rush off in a few minutes flat get more comments and visits than the ones I spend days researching and run to 1000 words or more. Free For All Tuesdays are a case in point, I often struggle to think what to say to introduce these with… one recently nearly went out on line with only the word ‘Blah’ in it!  Yet these posts get dozens of comments and thousands of page views…

With a Filofax post the more photos you include the less you will have to write. So make those pictures nice and clear, well lit, preferably take them on a decent digital camera in natural light. May be on a table outside on your patio, or on your desk below a well sun lit window. Make sure the photos are in focus. Don’t be tempted to get close to the subject, stand back, and make sure you don’t shadow the picture. You can crop the photo afterwards to ‘zoom in’ on your Filofax. If photography isn’t your art then ask a friend who is to do some photos for you. This Philofaxy post might also give you a few more tips:

Check your writing for typos, grammar, spelling before you publish it. Again your style is important and the style you write in whilst it is subjective can be the thing that makes your blog appealing to others. I for instance always try to have a light-hearted approach to the topics, slipping in the odd bit of humour here and there. Mainly poking fun at myself, if you can make people smile it always helps.

Make sure your work is your own, please don’t go on a Copy and Paste extravaganza or pinch photos from other sites… you will be found out!

Frequency of posts

This is a difficult one to tackle, people often start with a great deal of enthusiasm and post a dozen posts one after another and then their work rate slows down. Try to do it the other way around, build up the frequency of posting. May be one every month, one every two weeks, one a week, two a week etc. But if you plateau at say one every two weeks, don’t panic continue at that rate it is fine. People will expect to see a post at that sort of frequency and will return or expect a post every couple of weeks. Doing a post every day is quite intensive… believe me!

Use the scheduling facility on your blog to be able to write ahead of publishing time, so if you get 5 different blog post ideas you can write them whilst they are fresh in your head and then meter them out one at a time at your normal blog post frequency.

Comments

Respond to comments on your blog it encourages people to return if they think you are taking notice of what they say.

Getting noticed

Make sure Google can find your site, which means you can’t keep it private. In Blogger you will find the privacy setting in Settings, Basic, Visibility to Search Engines.  In Wordpress, Settings, Privacy, and you want the radio button next to Allow search engines to index this site. ‘ticked’

If you are a Filofax Blogger then you need to contact Philofaxy and get them to include your posts on their ‘watch list’, this will ensure you suddenly have a few hundred people trampling around your site, poking around it and hopefully reading and coming back to your site…

Philofaxy likes to discover new Filofax blogs and stealthily add you to their ‘web finds’ posts without you knowing about it and it is only when you look at your stats and you suddenly see this massive spike and you think WTF did that…. 

Get your blog on Twitter even if you aren’t on there yourself. Use a site like Twitter Feed to automate the posting of ‘Tweets’ that link back to your new blog posts from the RSS feed.  Twitter Feed can also post to your Facebook time line as well.

Guest posts

If you don’t want to venture in to having your own blog then why not offer to post as a Guest Blogger on one of the established Filofax blogs, there are plenty to choose from these days. 

If you are running your own blog, also invite existing bloggers to guest post on your blog in return for a guest post on their blog, this will also work as a link exchange for both of you and should bring you more visitors.

Disclosure

If you are reviewing items or recommending items on your blog then you should give a disclosure some where in the post and may be on the site as well, to indicate that you have been sent the item by the company to review and you haven’t spent your own money to purchase the item. This I believe is law in the USA and possibly other countries.  If you bought it yourself then again it is advisable to include this fact. It just keeps things neat and tidy. Nickie over at Typecast has a ‘Disclosure’ page that is worth reading

Linking back

Once your blog gets established it’s worth encouraging people to link back to you. Philofaxy have a ‘Grab the code’ box at the foot of the side bar, this was quite easy to design, and it allows people to put some HTML code in to a widget in their own side bar to say ‘We like Philofaxy’ people clicking on the badge then come through to the blog. Interestingly sites that have this badge on them feed in readers that read more pages than people that arrive at the site either from Google or as a direct link.

Finally

This is just a start, but hopefully a good start to your blogging experience. The essential thing is though to enjoy your new challenge, listen to what people say and learn from experience.

Enjoy.

My thanks to Steve for sharing these insights.
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