Blogging: The Why & The How

You like using a computer and the Internet (otherwise why would you be here?). You consider yourself reasonably up to date with technology. But you haven't got a blog? You're kidding me!

There are more than 200,000,000 blogs on the Internet, so if you've finally decided to have a go you're in good company. Blogging (derivation of web log) started in the early 1990s as an online diary, but really took off in the late 1990s when hosted blog tools such as Blogger became available. Within five years they were seen as a major source of news dissemnination, and by 2009 their impact was such that several newspaper corporations in the USA were bankrupt.

“And it occurred to me that there is no such thing as blogging. There is no such thing as a blogger. Blogging is just writing — writing using a particularly efficient type of publishing technology.” (Simon Dumenco)

Blogs are now accepted not just as a form of personal diary, but as a major source of presentation for business. In fact you can do just about anything, and here's the why and how.

Why blog?

If you're not particularly interest in things technological, maybe the Internet just doesn't get you all fired up, then blogging probably isn't for you. To be successful you've got to blog regularly, otherwise the content on your site won't be particularly interesting. So it's not going to be an enjoyable activity unless you like using a computer.

Helps also if you're interested in reading other blogs, since swapping links is a great way to increase your readership. Yes, your blog may be just a personal thing or something you just want to share with friends and family, and there's nothing wrong with that. But most bloggers hope their content is good enough to attract readers.

Still interested? Time to think what you're going to blog about. You don't need to restrict yourself to just one blog. I have three I regularly update, another two that get added to periodically. At the risk of losing you right now, I'll subject you below to some of my blogs (and better examples) as an indication of what can be done. But it's really important at the beginning to think what your blog is all about. Yes, you could just write about your life, but in that case to attract readers you'll need to write well. For some ideas click here.

Whatever topic you choose, it helps if you're pretty passionate about it. Something you feel you could have a good ongoing conversation about, since that's what you'll effectively be doing with your readers. Sounds obvious, but you've got to be interested in the topic enough to continue research for some considerable time.

“Yes, blogging is entertainment. It is performance. Each blog post a show, sometimes an opera, sometimes a 30 second commercial. Like a show, it may start with a bang, lead you along from song to song, have a great climatic moment, then leave the audience wanting more.” (Lorelle Van Fossen)

So if you're really going to get into it, define your goals and identify who your readership will be. The blog is going to be your brand, so it helps to be clear what it's all about. Doing this will help you to think of a title. The more memorable or catchy the better, so readers will find it easy to return. You can use an online generator to help, for example Wordoid.

Some examples of what a blog can be used for

* Want to display your photos or art? Have a look at The Impossible Cool or Creative Kismet.

* Fancy cataloguing your music? Have a look at my own humble offering at Music Melancholy.

* For dipping your toe in the water of being an author, try reading An Occasional Table or Three O'clock in the Morning from the thoughtful and always readable blog Resistent But Persistent.

* Use a blog to construct an online newsletter or magazine. There's information on how to do that at Allotment Heaven: How To Create a Blog Newsletter and an example of our own allotment association newletter at HRAA Newsletter.

* You can construct a family history blog in a similar way to the newsletter. Just do a post for each ancestor setting out all the information you have with links to documents such as birth and census records. Set the date so each post is in the right order for date of birth, and in the Contents section list each family member with date of birth in order as well. There's a more straightforward example at Grace and Glory.

* Use a blog as an online diary. Have a look at my own effort at One Moment Each Day.

* Share your experience with the world. Read Mind On Medicine or My Tiny Plot for good examples.

My main blog, the one you're reading now, heads itself as mainly being about my allotment experiences, with other bits of life thrown in. Can't tell you what a kick I get when I see currently over 200 people a day are reading something from my blog. It's normally somewhere over 100 a day, with readers accessing any of the 300 posts written over the last six years, but try searching in your browser for 'apple wine'. What comes out as the top hit? Lots of people wondering what to do with their excess apples this time of year... so lots of people reading my apple wine post.

How to set up your blog

First choice is, which blog platform are you going to use? What's a blog platform? Its the provider who will host your blog and supply functionality.

The main two are WordPress and Blogger and both are free. Assuming you're new to blogging, Blogger is probably the better option. It's simpler to use and, although WordPress has more theme options, you're not limited to the themes Blogger offers since there's lots of scope to customise your blog. For example, Allotment Heaven uses a custom theme, and Music Melancholy has a customised header. But the standard Blogger themes give you a wide choice anyway.

It takes less than 15 minutes to set up your first blog. Go to Blogger and, if you already have a Google ID then sign in, otherwise sign up. You'll be taken through some simple steps to set up your blog.

Whatever template design you initially choose, you can easily change this later. You can also change settings such as how many posts to display on the home page or how to display a summary of your archived posts.

At some point it's worth thinking about what gadgets you want to add to your side bar, gadgets that allow you to add text or links, show which are your most popular posts and add third party functionality. You can see mine on the right. But you don't need to worry about them initially.

Getting ready to write your first post

Now you've got your blog set up it's time to do your first post. You can do this using Blogger's own WYSIWYG functionality under Compose, although if you're using an iPad this won't work, see below for an iPad solution.

But if you're using a Windows PC you've just got to use Windows Live Writer. It's a free Windows programme that makes it really simple to write your post and publish it to your blog, and it's the best by far. Including a spellchecker, it makes writing, adding links, photos, video and tables so much easier with a more stylish output than any alternative. You can download the programme here. Worthwhile also adding plugins for Polaroid Picture and Tables.

If you're blogging from an iPad, the best app to use is Blogsy. Not as good as Live Writer, and I use it only for my more simple blogs, but to write text and add images it's fine.

“Don’t focus on having a great blog. Focus on producing a blog that’s great for your readers.” (Brian Clark)

And finally, how to write that post. It's a good idea to keep a notebook for jotting down ideas and reviewing periodically. You'll then never be sort of ideas, and particularly strong themes might arise when you can combine several ideas into one post. Also write naturally and incorporate humour if you can. Oh, and quality counts so do check spelling, grammar, layout etc. For a good guide to writing a blog post read 13 Simple Tips For A Better Blog

Any questions? Just click the Contact Me tab above and pose a question.

1 comment:

  1. Great post. Ive been blogging for nearly a year, (and could have possibly done with this post a year ago!). Still found it interesting now, and makes me remind myself why i started blogging.

    P.S. You certainly keep yourself busy writing a couple of blogs!


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