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How to Blog About Any Topic – Better

I’ve been blogging a long time – since 2005, actually. Not as long as some, but longer than most. It’s been a passion of mine for quite a while, even consuming a tad bit too much of my time when I was supposed to be doing other things during the day (including countless hours on Darren Rowse’s ProBlogger.net), but that has given me lots of practice and tips. I’ve taken it to the next level in the last 18 months and left my day job and run my own LLC consulting, building, designing, and modifying peoples’ personal and business sites to run on the blogging platform this site is built on: WordPress. I love what I do now so much, I often don’t realize that I’m working because it’s so darn fun to blog, design, and improve peoples’ situations.

Today, I’ll share some of them with you so you can either start your blog or improve it from where it is today… for FREE! Some of the tips involve some minimal costs, but not everything on this list needs to be taken to the letter to be successful. YOU make it successful, while your tools are just there to make it easier.

Authenticity

AuthenticEven if you’re penning your blog anonymously, you absolutely must be authentic. Whether you’re an impartial camera equipment editor or a health blogger, the audience must be able to connect with you or they will not stay. You will see a bunch of one-time visits accounting of one page view, and they’re gone. You just weren’t interesting.

You can go two ways with this: become an expert or become their friend. Of course, a third option is to become both, so go for that, it’s the best way to go. This gives you permission to speak into their lives rather than at them from a podium or just to them like the blind leading the blind. I am a jack of all trades, but now that I am an expert in a couple of things, my professional life has drastically changed.

Appearance

AppearanceSome people don’t mind a horrible-looking site because they wouldn’t know one if it slapped them in the face like a wet noodle. Others will leave your site in a nanosecond if it looks like a 7th grade computer class project. The other industry pet peeves are auto-playing music and auto-playing video. Those two things get people fired at work while they are supposed to be working, so do them a favor and leave it off your site, or at least give them the option to listen to Justin Beiber – the rest of us can’t stand him. It’s only considerate – Beautiful is sleeping on the couch not 7 feet from me suffering from allergies. I can think of 10 of my readers’ sites that would wake her up if I didn’t have the laptop muted. It’s just not something a reader of your site should have to worry about because you are now a better blogger than that.

There are also some basic design rules that should be adhered to in large part, but like fashion some rules are okay to break, so long as you aren’t breaking all of them at once:

  • type must be readable (this includes color choice – many people are colorblind)
  • things should fit in the sidebars
  • things should generally fit within a color scheme (here is a great resource: ColourLovers with many more options to create your own palette from their menu of resources)
  • put your content front and center without ten do-hickies that caught your eye on someone else’s site above your content
  • whitespace is important and can be used to your advantage (in other words, don’t feel like you have to fill every square inch with little things)

Consistency

ConsistencyFew things are more annoying to a reader than going to your site over and over and over, only to find out that you haven’t posted anything. Zip. Zilch. Nada. There are a dozen ways around this, and some of it is connected to the next heading. Since graduation, I have been trying to post something every day. Not everything has been about CF or having CF in particular. What it has been about is writing about what is going on with me if I’m not going on about the business of the topic of the site. I’ve been doing this long enough with various topics to assure you, there are literally fans to be made and friends to be held tightly to out there that want to be connected to your life.

Beautiful had a wonderful idea last week that I thought would be hard to implement, but someone had a plugin solution already, so it was a matter of “doing my job” and getting her what she wanted so I could maintain face as the WordPress expert that I claim to be. She wanted her blogroll to display when they last posted and sort them according to that order. It’s nice to reward them for posting to put them at the top and it saves readers time by ignoring old content on sites that hasn’t been updated in days, weeks, or even months. Heck, she’s got me jealous of my own work on the site I made for her… I’ve got to get that feature over here while maintaining my cool color coding.

Platform

Blogging can be done so many ways, it can be done right on just about any platform and done absolutely wrong on every single platform available for publishing content online. I’m naturally biased to what I do for a living, to say that WordPress is the way to go, but I am not entirely closed-minded because there are some nice sites on every platform. When you do this for a living, you see it all. Here are my choices in a balanced order of ease of use… you may be surprised by what I say:

  • PosterousPosteroushttp://www.posterous.com – Did I surprise you? I think Posterous is the perfect first blog for everyone for a few reasons. It’s free and can be started by simply sending an e-mail of text, video, a photo, or music to [email protected] That’s it! You have a blog! There are design options available and some rather nice premium templates. You can post content from your phone, via e-mail, or via the website. It’s perfect for what I call “just writing.” Don’t worry about formatting photos or all kinds of do-dads in the sidebar.

    It also can auto-post to all of your social networks like Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, YouTube, seriously, all of them. You can even register a domain name and point it there. If you outgrow it, as CF Fatboy did, you can export the posts. Yes, CF Fatboy spent nearly a month as a Posterous blog because I didn’t think it would last. Here is my personal Posterous site: Jesse Petersen’s posterous

  • WordpressWordPress – There are two flavors. The full-powered version that lets you do literally anything you want in terms of themes, widgets, domain name, mailing lists, e-commerce is what is called WordPress.org and only requires a hosting plan. I have a mid-grade plan that costs about $95/yr, but the lower cost one is about $50/yr, though it’s limited to hosting one domain name. I have over 20 sites running on my plan, so I get a lot of bang for my buck. It includes a simple tool called Fantastico that will install WordPress for you.

    Alternatively, on the free end, WordPress.com is free because you’re using their hosting, but they do place certain limits on the customizing you can do and what features you can make your site perform. WordPress is the gorilla in the fight because there really isn’t anything you can’t do, and there are a lot of resources out there to help you learn to do anything that might not be as self-explanatory as Posterous.

  • BloggerBloggerhttp://www.blogger.com – I sometimes need to be held back on my comments on Blogger. In the interest of full disclosure, I started on Blogger in October 2005. I was off Blogger by Christmas because I found out about WordPress, but I kept one of my sites on there until a month ago when I decided to delete it so it wasn’t embarrassing to have my profile appear on Blogger sites that insist on using one of the particular logins to leave a comment. I migrated that site to WordPress as I’ve done for dozens and dozens of clients who never look back.

    My main gripe against Blogger is that I’ve seen every design sin capable by man, woman, and child committed using Blogger. Just because there is an option to customize something doesn’t mean it has to be or that it’s being done in accordance to the design tips mentioned earlier. Some people hire a Blogger designer, and it shows. Some people go crazy on their own, and it shows. I would liken it to those who buy a Dodge Neon and then do all kinds of crazy things to it because they have so much money left over.

    It’s also very Blogger-centric. The blogrolls are almost all Blogger sites because most people simply subscribe to a friend’s blog and the whole thing ends up being a list of Blogger sites without any Posterous, WordPress, TypePad, or Tumbler bloggers on the list – not to mention regular sites worth visiting. So, it’s not that I have a problem with Blogger or Blogger site blogs/their authors, but it hurts me to see it done “wrong” out of naiveté.

These have just been a few tips on improving your blog using several methods. If you’re serious about getting serious, I am for hire if you want to go into a business relationship with your site or I’m working on an ebook that may even end up being free. I will also be teaching online courses this fall that will include two, 1-hour webinars on WordPress 101 and 102, including acquiring hosting and everything to be a confident WordPress user. I’ll be updating this when my material is up and writing further about it when we get closer to that time.

Take care, and happy blogging, however you do it.

Comments

  1. I am a confessed blogger user. I wouldn't mind migrating, but I need to learn more about it. Thanks for the information here. I appreciate it!

  2. Thanks for commenting again, Dan. I have actually found some amazing-looking
    and performing Blogger sites in the last few days. I am going to be working
    on some code for the site that allows me to create a post that doesn't take
    up a full “post day slot” (if that makes any sense in my sleep-deprived
    state) and showcases some of them. Perhaps I will just do screenshots and
    put them in the featured box area this theme has.

    Honestly, there is nothing intrinsically wrong with Blogger, it is just that
    it is done so wrong, so many times. Want a good one for an example?
    http://www.thepilotswife.org/ – she used a
    designer<http://www.graphicallydesigning.com/>to complete her look,
    and see how nicely it all goes together? The designer
    is booked for the rest of the year, as I hope to be soon, as well. 😉

  3. Goodness! Thanks for the compliment! Darcy at Graphically Designing is wonderful to work with. She is worth the wait!

  4. Indeed! She did a mighty fine job for your site. I like what I did with
    Beautiful's WordPress theme myself since there's no need for my #1 client to
    wait for anything, but I must say, yours is an elegant and pleasing Blogger
    theme. Pleased to have you leave a comment on my site. You're welcome any
    time.

  5. MiddleAgedLady says:

    Wow, this is extremely helpful — thank you! I have been mulling over the idea of starting a blog so this is timely for me. I had to write on deadline for years and I think part of my blogging hesitation is not wanting it to feel like work. I'm retired/disabled and love the lack of pressure. But I do have a lot to share and, so far, no forum except for posting to other people's blogs. Har.

  6. MiddleAgedLady says:

    I failed to add that I agree 100 percent about the auto-playing audio and video!! That drives me insane. I'll exit a blog before reading if someone has either of those.

  7. I have been pre-scheduling days ahead so there is no pressure. When an idea
    comes to my head, I start the post and save it as a draft, finish is when
    I'm done, and place it in my editorial calendar. You may have noticed that
    Mondays are my “What CFers Do” day and Tuesdays have become my “Meet my
    Little Friend” days. There goes 2 days where I don't need an original idea
    outside of those thoughts.

    At 12:01, they go live, I watch the traffic for a while and answer immediate
    comments from the West Coast, and go to bed.

    I'm glad you enjoyed it. Thanks much.

  8. BINGO!!! DING DING DING! I'm hoping everyone who is an offender of this
    catches on. It's happened to me 3 times today – most annoyingly when I open
    3-4 tabs at once and then music starts playing from a mile down on ONE of
    them.

  9. Seanset says:

    I'm really pleased that you suggested blogging to me using Posterous. I never thought it would be something I could do. I love using this form of blogging as it's so simple you can't go wrong. 🙂

  10. I'm glad you and Lauren are both enjoying it, because I enjoy seeing what
    you have to say.

  11. Poohspiglet says:

    Since I am soooo not good with this machine (your mom & dad will tell you) I am impressed and proud of you. Aunt Sandi

  12. Thanks for stopping by and saying so!

  13. I just clicked over and her site looks great! I'm sure your queue will be full in no time!

  14. Thank you! It's quite full for the time being, but it's come in waves since
    I've begun. Maybe one day the waves won't stop and I'll have to put up a
    sign to come back later. That would be wonderful.

  15. rhondab30 says:

    I read Emily's blog and I do love her pleasing, yet simple design. It is great! I am as you know a Blogger. It was all I knew. My husband is going to school currently for programming but has no idea on how to create a site for me. I would love to talk to you further about this :). I love what you did for your wife's blog. MckMama is another site I've seen migrate and while hers is a little too busy for me, I love the color choices. I know hers is a Mommy Money Making Blog, but all the sidebars and ads drive me crazy. I read it in reader unless I want to comment. Help me please “grow-up” from Blogger!

  16. rhondab30 says:

    PS. I read and use Darren's photography blog/updates.

  17. I'd be glad to help you, as WordPress is one of my passions. I do exports
    rather economically, especially for fibros, cysters, and immediate family of
    said people. Design is another issue, but if we find you a theme you like,
    we don't have to do much, now, do we? What programming is your husband
    doing? PHP, CSS. XML? Once the site is up, he very well may be able to do
    just about all of your tweaking in short order if he's a smart enough cookie
    to be going to school for it. I was self-taught, but wish I had a course or
    two in PHP under my belt.

    Let's go back and forth tomorrow. I've got your e-mail from this form and
    I'll send you some info and processes and I'll help you graduate as Darren's
    material helped me graduate.

    • Anonymous says:

      He is currently working on C++, Java, and Visual Basic.net He knows about PHP and XML but hasn’t worked with it yet. On a side note, I’m so excited to have found your site! There has been much info I’ve been passing along to John (my hubs) that quite possibly can/could be helping him. Working full-time, going to school, treatments, family, exercise…. it is a lot for a healthy person (aside from the treatment part of course) to handle. Your site and experiences have opened up some things for us to consider and seek out. Thanks for sharing your CF life.

  18. Boy, do I feel like a dummy now! I am a big offender, but at least I don't have music on my blog! No, really though…I am so clueless when it comes to web design. I have been on Blogger for over a year now, and only started blogging to keep distant family and friends informed. It has become slightly bigger than that now, and I admit that I'm completely in the naive category and will probably remain in such a state since I have no funds to be spending on redesign. A girl can dream of bigger and better soap boxes, I suppose. Thanks for the tips, Fatboy!

  19. My pleasure. Start from the beginning through May 9th for my full schedule
    posts when I was doing it all at the same time.

  20. I myself am just nervous as heck to make a switch although I know that I should. Plus, blogger just seems so easy to use although doesn't look nearly as pro as say your platform. One of these days I will make the leap though 🙂

  21. Thankfully, you registered runsickboyrun.com a long time ago, but all of your permalinks are associated with blogspot.com, so all of your content links on Facebook and Google would go away. The links on Google would be re-indexed soon enough, but others would just end up pointing to your then-closed site.

  22. “I don't know what I don't know,” we say in our family. It's not your fault you didn't know. I started off badly, just like you see people using Facebook and Twitter badly because they don't know… technology just simply has a learning curve at every corner. No pun intended.

  23. I like WordPress quite a bit, and the new mobile apps for Android and Apple are quite helpful as well. Rather than writing at my computer, I'll work on it over time, like I do a poem or a story. It fits my writing-method very well.

    Everything you said here is helpful, but the one thing you left out was writing style. I'm willing to forgive a poorly designed blog for someone who writes not only well but distinctly. Sickboy and Katherine (at From A to Pink) are good examples: I get a really sense of personality from Sickboy's blog, and I get a sense that Katherine chooses her words carefully. My point is that, just as the blog needs to be visually appealing, it should be syntactically appealing as well.

  24. I completely agree – I'm saving that post for another day. Perhaps I should
    have changed the title of this one before publishing. 😉

  25. Booooooooooooooo!!!!!!

  26. Didn't I tell you that about a year ago when I called you and said that was
    the time to do it? /grin