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How to make a successful blog

You’re probably thinking, "I’ll just go make myself a blog and that’s all there is to it. People will come read it, right?”
Wrong. Sure, you can make a blog and start posting in about two minutes. But, as with anything, making it big takes a little work, or at the very least some attention to detail.

Go through the checklist below to find out how to make a blog that’s worth reading and makes people want to come back for a second visit. I’ve tried to push the most important things to the front of the list, but any of the items here are important to some extent.
1. Blog because you really want to

Before even starting your blog, you should ask yourself: do I care enough about this to keep doing it, or is it just a whim? And can I accept the consequences?

Don’t do it because it’s cool or trendy. Don’t do it because "everybody’s doing it”. Don’t do it because your best friend has a blog and she keeps nagging you about making your own.

Do it because you have something to say, something of value to share with people. Do it because it’s something important, that is a big part of your life and will be so for a long time. Make sure you’re confortable sharing your intimate thoughts with complete strangers.

The wrong kind of motives will only get you so far. You’ll produce half-hearted posts for a while, about nothing in particular. Eventually you’ll give up, confused, and you’ll look back and wonder what the heck was all that about and what were you thinking.

Here’s a secret: keeping a good blog can mean work just as hard as any. It takes dedication, discipline, perseverance. Are you up for it?

You must also think of your privacy and the consequences of your posts. Once a post is published, it’s out there. It will be picked up by dozens of cache systems, automated archives and search engine spiders. It will come back to haunt you 10 years from now.

Do you want a prospective employer to dig through your blog and see you making an ass of yourself? Do you want an ex finding out things they shouldn’t? There’s so many ways in that a blog post can go wrong, and there have been many completely weird incidents out there.

I’ve personally seen people lose their jobs because someone found things on the Web they shouldn’t have. If you’re not familiar with the perils of cyberspace, don’t risk it.

2. Publish regularly

A regular posting schedule is one of the most important things about a blog, because it will condition visitors to come back on a regular basis.

So pick a schedule and stick to it. You have to train visitors like the dogs that they are.

Tip: Keep your blog private for a while before you start spreading word about it around. Use that time to determine what kind of publishing schedule you can afford, realistically.

It doesn’t have to be a very precise schedule.
You don’t have to think "I absolutely must post exactly every 24:00:00.000
hours.” A generic interval works too: daily, or every couple of days, every
three days, twice or thrice a week, weekly, and so on.

Even larger intervals work too, such as once a
fortnight or monthly, if the content is interesting enough. But be advised
that, the larger the quiet interval between posts, the more bang the posts have
to offer (be it in size, quality, or both).

Tip: The quantity and
quality of posts are allowed to be in an inverse proportion, to some extent. If
you post more often, it’s OK to lower the quality (a little). If you post more
seldom, you have to raise the bar. It’s give and take.

The important thing is to make the visitor assume
a "come-back schedule” in their mind. You don’t have to tell them the explicit
schedule, they’ll infer it from your posting history. They take one look at
your sidebar calendar and instantly know what to expect.

The important thing is to make the visitor assume a "come-back schedule” in their mind. You don’t have to tell them the explicit schedule, they’ll infer it from your posting history. They take one look at your sidebar calendar and instantly know what to expect.

But whatever you do, don’t dissapoint them. Don’t vary your posting habits wildly and randomly. Depending upon how interesting your blog is, you may get away with it once or twice. But if it keeps repeating, especially if you don’t yet have a loyal reader base, they’ll drop you from their bookmarks or feedreader and that’s it.

Tip: If you have to stop posting for a while, make sure to tell people about it. At the very least make one "last” post and tell them you’re on hiatus (that’s the accepted term). It helps to specify the reason and when you expect you’ll be back.

3. Write about what you know

Pick one or two subjects you know a lot about, or you feel strongly about, or both, and stick to them. Don’t try to spread too thin among a hundred topics.

Ask yourself: "why would anybody read my blog?” What are you offering them? There are 50 million blogs out there. Think about it. Fifty-odd-million. I say, yours had better have something of value, something special!

Truth is, few people have wildly interesting lives. Those bloggers that make it seem like they do accomplish this through other means: they are witty, or post about strange things from an unusual point of view. They are interesting, not their lives. Granted, many people are voyeurs and enjoy a blog for the same reasons they enjoy reality shows. But if the action is dull even a reality show will stop being interesting.

So, find that special something. Perhaps you have a lot of experience working in advertising in Romania. Perhaps you are a rollerblading fan who lives on an island where there’s only one asphalt street. Maybe you’re a Chinese with very strong political opinions. Maybe you’re a photo artist who lives in Tokyo. Maybe you’re a Canadian girl who likes to knit and goes gaga over a roll of bright red wool.

It may be humor, it may be knowledge, it may be an angle. Whatever it is, it has to be a constant.

4. Write well

Nobody likes to struggle to read a badly worded post, written with poor grammatical skills, without caps and punctuation.

If your blog contains text (and most of them do), then you have to write well. Writing is everything, it’s the very substance that your blog is made of. If that substance is thin and breaks apart, so will your blog.

You must have decent writing skills. You may not be Shakespeare, but at the very least you need to obey grammar and spelling, use proper caps and punctuation, and stay away from words you don’t know the meaning of.

Must ave well writing skills. may not be Shakespear but you gotta use good gramar & spelling with stuff like caps and dots and stuff. keep away from big words lol.

See what I mean? Which of the above versions would you rather be reading on a regular basis? OK, so it’s an extreme example, but even small spelling errors are bad, because people stop reading the content and their minds wander thinking "look, a spelling error”.

Please note that the actual skills may depend on the nature of your blog. If you have a photo blog they translate to making good pictures. If you post pictures which don’t respect basic photography rules, people will just laugh and go away.

Whatever the form of your blog, it has to be good form.

5. Make a good first impression

The first few seconds after a new visitor arrives to your blog are crucial. It’s love, hate, or indifference at first sight.

People will try anything once (when it comes to blogs). They’ll follow any link if it seems interesting, and when reading blogs they jump around to new ones all the time. But how many of the blogs they visit do they deem interesting enough to bookmark or add to their feedreader?

The decision is taken in split seconds after they arrive at your blog. They scan the page they landed on and instantly judge it.

  • Does the post title stand out? Is it meaningful, does it give an instant idea of what the post contains? "Hahaha check this out” is a bad example. "Hushpuppies 2002 concert in Berlin” is a good one.
  • Can you spot the post text quickly? I’ve seen blog pages laid out so badly that I had trouble telling the content column from the two(!) loaded sidebars. I actually had to search around for a few seconds, in confusion, and when I finally found the text it was crammed in a thin column. I gave up in disgust.
  • Can you actually read the text? I’ve seen people who think it’s cool to write with black text on a dark red background. I used to struggle to read it. Now I don’t even bother.

Make text very clear to help people read it (mind the fonts too). Split it into paragraphs instead of keeping it as one big blob. Choose a good title and print it in bigger letters.

It also helps to structure content a bit, add headings and a table of contents if it’s a bigger text, or perhaps split it in several parts. Format quotes and notes and warnings differently.

Caution: Who says people arrive through the front page? You have to give all your pages the same attention.

6. Let visitors participate

People love to put their mark on your blog. At the very least, let them comment freely. A blog without comments has half the fun missing.

People like to feel that you care about them. A blog that lets them comment will be a lot more popular in their book than a blog that doesn’t. Sometimes they go so far as loading the comment feed into their feedreader, alongside the post feed.

A blog without comments is so… annoying. People have come to expect to be able to offer their input, it’s a big part of what makes blogs cool. Reading other people’s comments and posting your own makes everything better. Coming across a site which is supposed to be a blog but behaves like a regular webpage is frustrating.

Sure, there’s mostly silly chatter. They may be just sucking up, or writing "lol” or curse words akin to those on bathroom walls. But think about it another way: it’s feedback. Even if what they say is not much, at least they say it. You, the author, get to see that people care. You’re not alone in the cyberspace anymore.

Caution: Make comment posting as easy as possible. Do not require registration, or you’ll almost never get comments. If comment spam becomes a problem add a captcha or moderate, if you have time. But otherwise make comments appear immediately. If it takes people more than a few seconds to comment, they’ll give up.

7. Personalize your blog

It helps a lot to make your blog memorable. Pick a title, a tagline and a domain name that will stick in people’s minds. Make your own unique design.

If you want to make a lasting impression on your visitors it helps if they can automatically tell you apart from all the other blogs. Choose a memorable title they’re likely to commit into their memory. Choose a witty tagline. An interesting domain name (short and cool) is also a good thing to have.

You can’t rely on people’s bookmarks or feedreaders all the time. Sometimes they don’t have those handy, and they’ll write your address in their browser directly, if then can remember it. Or, they’ll use a search engine to find your blog. If you have a special title or tagline they’ll find you, even if you have an impossible address. If not, tough, I guess you won’t be getting a visit from me today.

It also helps if the design of your blog is special. Of course, it’s hard to create something that’s absolutely completely never been done before, and it takes skills, but it’s worth the effort. The ready-made or stock designs are being used to death; the more popular they are, the more likely you are to see them everywhere. People have seen stock designs a lot; if you use one, you’re just joining a hazy mass of look-alikes in their minds.

Caution: Be careful not to fall in the other extreme. A stock design is not good, but at least it’s a constant. It definitely beats a blogger who can’t make up her mind and changes it every week.

8. Promote your blog

You may have the coolest blog on Earth. If you’re the only reader, what good is it for?

Caution: Sometimes you don’t want your blog advertised, if it’s meant for a closed group of people. But don’t just rely on nobody finding it; if you really want it to be private, protect it with a password.

You have to let people know about your blog. There are several ways you can do that, and they can be accomplished inside an initial half an hour, and maintained minimal effort later.

  • Submit it to regular search engines. I mean Google, Yahoo, MSN and Open Directory.
  • Submit it to specialized weblog search engines. You’ll need a list of engines for this; here’s one from Open Directory and one from Blogger’s Blog. Make sure you enable your feeds first; many of these engines will want feeds, not regular web pages.
  • Seize the power of social bookmarks. Make it easy for your visitors to share whatever they’re currently reading with other people, by offering them a "share this” button placed in a visible spot. Many weblog engines will have a plugin which implements such buttons for you easily.
  • Ask around for even more specialized weblog search engines. Perhaps there’s a directory or something that caters to specific blogs. For instance, in Romania we have

Tip: Meaningful post titles will go a long way when drawing visitors to your blog. If a search turns up "mhhmmm so good” I’m probably going to skip it. If a search turns up "The tour of my new apartment” I’ll decide if I want to visit it, because I have something to work it. It also helps if you have a meaningful post summary.

Another very useful way of getting known is by getting out there yourself and letting people know. But you have to be polite and subtle, so I don’t mean spam of any kind. Simply put the title, link and tagline of your blog in your email signature. Or put them in your post signatures on online discussion forums. When you comment on other blogs, put in the blog address as your URL, they usually become a link to your blog.

Tip: It helps if you’re active on mailing lists or online forums with a profile similar to your blog’s. Advertising a blog about super-computers on a pet owner forum is not likely to get you very far.

Inter-blog linking is another useful method. Other blog owners may take notice of your blog; sometimes it’s because you made an intelligent comment on their blog; sometimes it’s because they noticed that people followed a link to them from your site. If they think your blog is worth it, they’ll add it to their so called blogroll, a list of other interesting blogs that they offer on their own pages’ sidebar. It works the other way around, too: if you find interesting blogs, link to them in your blogroll, then contact the owners and ask them if they’d be kind enough to return the favor.

Caution: Don’t link to another blog just because they linked to you. Relevance is more important than reciprocity. Ask yourself: is the contents of their blog related to yours? Is it likely to be useful to your readers?

9. Offer a good interface

People have come to expect to find certain things on blogs, the way they expect to find a long handle on a frying pan. There are good reasons behind these things, so make sure to provide them, or you’ll get burned.

Here’s a list of things that a typical blog should have. They have been chosen by natural selection, and these days any blog would do well to provide them.

  • Offer a master list of posts, with titles and summaries. Some people put entire posts in their main index, but that only works if most of your posts are fairly short.
  • Posts should take the biggest part of your pages, because a blog is about its posts first and foremost. Delegate all other stuff into a thin sidebar.
  • Organize your posts in categories. Offer a list of categories in the sidebar. Don’t put every post in every category, because they lose their meaning. Or you can use tags instead. The differences are quite subtle so it’s better to not use both tags and categories at the same time.
  • Offer a search box! A lot of times people manage to find your blog again but can’t find a particular post. Searching is fast and simple, it’s the very first thing they’ll try. Place the search box near the top, on all pages.
  • Tell people a little about you and how to contact you: a small picture, a few words about yourself or about the blog. It would be nice to make a dedicated page for this but if you don’t want to at least add these things to the first page, on the sidebar.

  • Don’t forget to link to your feed! Blog engines and browsers or spiders have ways of talking silently to each other and make feeds visible anyway, but people don’t.
  • Yes, add a calendar to your sidebar. Not for time-based navigation, because experience has sadly shown that hardly anybody wants to browse by month; they’ll use searching or categories long before that. But a calendar will let them see at a glance how often you post, and tells them when they should come back.

Do not be a pack rat. Resist the temptation to bundle all kinds of gizmos in the sidebar. Otherwise, before you know it, your pages will start looking like the shelves in a supermarket. The very fact that you think you need more than one sidebar is already a warning sign.
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