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Good Blog Design

Taking a short break from the ‘Finding Readers mini-series‘ because I asked fellow blogger and blog designer Rachel Cunliffe to write a post for me on good blog design. The following is what she wrote:

Darren asked me for a post on “what makes a good blog design” in his blog tip series.

I’ve been making blogs for a while now, will be launching a Blog Design Showcase in January 2004 and I’ll be redesigning my blog in the near future as things have got a bit messy here for my liking, so this is also a reminder to myself.

Of course, it’s all pretty basic stuff, but it’s amazing how many bloggers
get carried away in the excitement of creating a blog and forget or ignore
the basics:

  • Easy-to-read
    • font size
    • colours
    • layout
    • clean
    • good use of white space
    • works cross-browser and uses standards-compliant code
  • Provide
    • Consistent navigation
    • Permalinks
    • Easy-to-find email address or contact form
    • Search facility
    • RSS/XML feed
  • Fast loading
  • Originality
    • Just as you would hire an architect to design your house, why not
      hire a blog designer to create a blog that reflects you and your interests
      and is memorable visually?

Have I forgotten anything?

Feel free to leave your own ideas on good blog design so we can all learn from the process.

Previous Blog Tips

Comments

Blog Logo Design

Whilst not specifically written about Blog logos, the article – Trends in Logo Design – is a great resource for looking at some recent trends in graphic design which might be useful in considering the design of your blog.

Finding Readers for Your Blog (Part D)

This is the final post of the ‘Finding Readers’ mini series. Also read Parts AB and C of this series.

12. Blog Search Engines and Indexes – Get yourself registered on sites like Technorati. These sites have features that allow people to search for blog entries via topic and keywords. They also list the most popular recent topics and each have other interesting features which can enhance your blogging experience.

13. Get Involved in others Blog Projects – From time to time other bloggers will invite your participation in a blog project of theirs. Put your hand up, volunteer some time and contribute in some way. Don’t just do it to get a link on their site, but take the opportunity to build a relationship with them and their readers. Not only will you make a friend, but over time you build some credibility as a blogger who is not just thinking about themselves.

On the flip side start your own blogging project. Do something that is of service to other bloggers. My Underblogs project and ‘Group Writing Projects are examples of these.

14. Get involved in other web forums – Blogging is not the only vibrant online activity at the moment. I visit a number of other discussion forums and e-zines that explore similar ideas/hobbies/interests to me and my blog. I’ve found an increasing amount of traffic to my blog is coming as a result of my contributions to these forums as many of them allow you to add your link as a signature to your posts. For example my recent influx of readers on my Australian Idol post came after I left a comment on the Aussie Idol Discussion Forum. Once again – don’t troll these forums – genuinely interact with them.

15. Take all advice with a grain of salt – Be yourself and have fun! – The web is full of advice like the above – what I’m saying isn’t rocket science. There are no rules of blogging, just people’s experiences. I’m sure there are a lot of blogs out there that ignore all or most of the above advice that have a bunch of regular readers and healthy hits. So relax, be yourself and have fun with it. Experiment with new tools, styles of design and writing.

Once again – hits are not everything. For me blogging is about developing quality relationships and networks, mutual learning and bouncing around ideas with others doing similar things to me. Growing a readership can help achieve these goals, but hits in and of themselves are somewhat meaningless. So don’t be obsessed by them and enjoy blogging for what it is. Have fun.

Finding Readers for Your Blog (Part C)

Also read Parts AB and D of this series.

Part C

9. Web Rings – A web ring is a group of blogs with a common interest that refer traffic to one another. There are many of these dedicated to blogging on a variety of topics. They don’t bring heaps of hits, but I have found a few great blogs by being a part of such rings. Rings generally involve adding some code too your blog template, but once this is done its not something you have to do anything for to upkeep.

There are literally thousands of webrings you can be a part of, take a look at WebRing to find one that suits your blog – or if you can’t find one start your own. As per usual, moderation is the key, if you join too many you might clutter your page with them.

10. Add an RSS feed to your blog – This is also known as Syndication and is a little technical. Its not something I fully understand. However I know that my RSS feed is responsible for sending an increasing amount of traffic my way from readers using News Aggregators. I’m not the best person to explain this so I’ll refer you to this article about syndication. It is longish and a tad technical, but if you follow the instructions its not that hard and well worth the effort.

11. List your site on Portals – There are a growing number of sites which exclusively list blogs. If you want people to find you its worth submitting your blog to be listed on them. Some focus on specific topics while others list blogs on a wide variety of topics (like Eaton Web and Globe of Blogs). Other portals like BlogShares and Blog Street also list a lot of blogs in different ways which might increase your blogs profile.

Also read Parts AB and D of this series. As per usual please feel free to add your tips, experiences, helpful links and suggestions to comments.

Finding Readers for Your Blog (Part B)

Also read Parts AC and D of this series.

Part B

5. Interact with ReadersI’ve written about how to interact with your readers before so I won’t go into it too much except to say that if you interact with your readers they are more likely to put some time aside to come back and engage with you – its just human nature.

6. Update frequently – With the advent of news aggregators people can be notified of your new post in real time. I noticed that when I publish a new post that my stats nearly always go up slightly just afterwards as those readers with aggregators log in to have a quick look at my latest musings. Of course this only works if you have an RSS feed (get one!) and have readers who use aggregators. Update regularly and give your readers a reason to come back regularly. You’ll also find that the Search Engine bots will come visiting more often if your site is constantly changing.

Also related to this is the hits that come when you ping sites like weblogs.com or technorati. These sites keep track of changes on websites – the more you update the more you will ping them (if your blogging tool enables pinging) and the more they will take notice of you and include you in their lists.

7. Search engines – The longer your blog is active and the more you post the higher the chance of a search engine like Google or Yahoo referring visitors to your site. There are a lot of theories of how to boost your ranking on search engines floating around the web but an obvious starting place is to submit your blog’s domain to them so that they’ll start listing you.

Getting listed – There are a lot of services out there that will do it for you (for a fee) – but there are also some free services (which claim to submit your site to a smaller amount of search engines). I can’t guarantee them but its worth a go. For example – Submit Express. I’ve used a number of these services and they seem to have worked quite well as I’m listed on all the major search engines.

You can also go directly to many search engines and register for a free listing – for example here is Google’s submission page. Most other SE’s have them also.

8. Add a signature to your outgoing email – Many bloggers do this. Simply add the domain name to your outgoing email. Most email programs will allow you to do this automatically. However be careful with automatic signatures if you don’t want your blog to be read by everyone that you email.

Also read Parts AC and D of this series.

Finding Readers for Your Blog (Part A)

Also read Parts BC and D of this series.

A number of new bloggers have recently asked me how to get people to visit their blog. Let me say up front that ‘getting hits’ isn’t everything – there are other reasons to blog than simply to have your thoughts read – for some its more about the process of writing and what is learned along the way, for others its about writing for their family and friends. I guess it comes down to priorities.

Having said that – most bloggers deep down must have some desire to have people read what they write – if not why not just keep a private diary on your computer?

So, hits are not everything, but having people read your blog is part of the deal – so how do you get them there?

There are no hard and fast rules that will guarantee you hoards of readers. However, the following are some ideas that spring to mind that might help you connect with potential readers. (this the first of three parts on this topic).

1. It takes time – It may not be what you want to hear, but it unless you’re a genius, extremely lucky or have an amazing new idea, it takes time to build a readership. So settle in for the long haul and muscle up some patience.

2. Quality Content and Good Design – There are millions of blogs out there for your readers to choose from – give them something a little unique and worthwhile to come and read. Original material tends to get more attention than links to news or other blogs (unless you’re one of the few metablogs that get attention).

Also try to keep your content up to date and topical. Think ahead so that you are blogging about upcoming events a week or so in advance – this gives search engines a chance to find your page before the day when everyone is searching for info on it. For example I posted a post on Matrix Revolutions almost two weeks ago – today (release day for the movie) over half of my search engine referals are going to that post. If I’d posted it yesterday it wouldn’t be found by Google til after the initial buzz about the movie had subsided.

3. Link to others – Having said that original material is best – linking to others is a good way to get another bloggers attention. They might notice your link on a tool like Technorati, or in their statistics package referrals or in their trackbacks (if they have it). Don’t link randomly to everyone and anyone – be selective and link to quality content.

If you have a collection of blogs that you regularly read put them in a blogroll in a side bar and surf to them through your page. If they check their referrers they’ll know you or someone from your site has stopped by.

4. Comment on others blogs – I suspect that a number of my regular readers first came to my blog because I left a comment on theirs. It was not a strategy I thought about – I just found myself quite addicted to reading others blogs and giving feedback. When you leave a comment leave your own blog address. Often people like to know who is reading their blog and will come visiting you. Don’t comment just for the sake of it. If someone leaves me a ‘hi’ comment or is obviously trolling my blog I won’t visit them – its just frustrating. Make genuine comments on posts that connect with you. You might make a good friend in the process.

Also read Parts BC and D of this series. Feel free to leave your thoughts and tips in comments.

How to Start a Weblog

Have you ever tried to explain how to start a blog to someone? Just point them to this post – Introduction to Blogging – its a great introduction including definitions of, tools and some great starting points.

He’s also written Part II – Syndication.

Also on the topic of how to start a blog:
- How do I start my own blog?
- The Why and How of Blogging
- Starting a Blog with Moveable Type

Interactive Blog Tools

In the last blog tip we talked about how comments are one way to increase the interactivity of a blog.

Of course not everyone agrees that comments are the way to go. Each to their own.

Having harped on about comments I should also say that there are many other ways to make your blog more interactive.

Interactive Blog Tools

- chat, rooms || Newsletters/mailing Lists || Guest Maps || forums || discussion boards || trackback || Polls (and another) || guest book || Chat Boards

In addition to these tools you might want to consider making yourself contactable by posting your email address – beware of spam if you post it as a link. One way around this is to have a Contact Form. You might also post your instant messenger ID (but again be aware this means you might get anyone messaging you!)

Lastly other people encourage people to comment by featuring ‘recent comments’ or ‘most prolific commenters’ in their side bar. This gives some added incentive to post comments.

A word of warningBe selective in how many of the above tips you implement. A common mistake is to give you readers too many ways to interact with you and have ‘bells and whistles’ just for the sake of having lots of features. This will clutter your page and confuse your reader.

The level and type of interaction of your blog is up to you. It will depend upon your personality, content and willingness to put time into interacting with your readers. In my opinion the benefits are worth the effort.

A last tipDon’t put any of the above tools on your blog unless you yourself are willing to use them in interacting with your readers. If you don’t have the time or energy to talk back – don’t advertise the fact that you do. I know a number of bloggers that get a lot of hits and wonder why they don’t get many comments – I reckon its because they largely ignore their readers. Thats just my theory.

Set Boundaries

I found this great page 47 key tips from the World’s best Bloggers.

It was interesting to see that most of them talked about establishing boundaries for the content of your blog.

Here is what some of them had to say:

Meg from Megnut‘Set boundaries. Think about how much of yourself you’re comfortable sharing. You don’t have to ‘tell all’. Just decide which parts of your life you’re willing to share, and try to find a balance that works for you.’

Fraser from Blogjam‘Don’t write about work, and avoid writing about people you know in general. You’ll end up offending someone.’

Glenn from InstaPundit‘Starting off, pick some topics that you know more about than most other people – your profession, your locality, or whatever – and make those a major part of your blog. ‘

Robyn from Aint too Proud to Blog‘Remember that even though you think you’re writing to just friends and family, your words will have a global audience. You never know just who is reading your blog, and where they may be located when reading it.’

Hash from iMakeContent‘The blog should do what you say it’s going to do. You want people to come back, to become regular readers, so you need to live up to whatever you promise. If you’ve set up a tech blog, your readers might be surprised if you start writing long accounts of why your marriage/team/country is going down the drain. Of course, in the process you might pick up some new readers and decide to relaunch the blog. ‘

Rannie from Photojunkie‘Before you begin blogging, figure out your boundaries. Decide how much or how little you are comfortable with disclosing. It’s easier to change your boundaries once you have started blogging, but harder to put up those boundaries after you have crossed the line and posted something that you didn’t think anyone else would see.

I’m not really hearing any of them say don’t blog about personal things – rather the message is to consider what you will and will not share on your blog.

Its also useful to define your blog to some extent (at least in your own mind) and keep within the boundaries you’ve set yourself.

My last word on the topic is be careful. I’ve heard cases of people loosing jobs because their bosses found their blog – other have had similar experiences of pastors finding comments about sermons. Be prepared for people you know to find what you write.