Tips for good blogging

12 October 07 , , , ,
Pick a topic and stick with it

Nearly every list of advice for bloggers I've read contains this tidbit. Keeping focused helps in a couple of ways. First, narrowing your topic actually makes it easier to find something to write. When you are struggling to find something to write on schedule, you can go back to your focused theme and brainstorm from there (what have I learned about XX this week?). Second, users who are interested in your topic (high-end stereo equipment, for example) will stick with you, and won't be turned off by random posts about your dog's skin condition.

Write for someone

This is closely related to the first point. Unless you are simply writing for yourself, make sure your topic and each post has something your readers will value.

Proofread, proofread, proofread.

This can't be overemphasized. You wouldn't send a letter without first reading it over and making sure there aren't a bunch of errors, so you shouldn't post to your blog without first proofreading either (luckily, with a blog post you can always go back and fix something you missed). This includes checking for:

  • Grammatical errors.
  • Spelling errors. You can write your posts in a text editing program with a spellcheck feature, or write your posts on the Textpattern interface using Firefox 2.0 as your browser - it has a built-in spellchecker!
  • Working links. Visit each link you've included to make sure it is current and functioning.
Use the formatting available to you.

Many people use italics or bold text for emphasis, but there are other formatting options available as well. It's important to structure your posts using things such as:

  • Headings
  • Unordered lists
  • Ordered lists
  • Blockquotes - used for extended quotes.
  • Links

For a very complete guide to all the structures available and how to create them, visit the Textile Reference Manual. I will also be posting more on this topic.

Link well and often

Search engines love links. They're part of how they decide how sites rank for different search terms.

Link not only to outside sites, but also to older posts of yours that may be related to the current post, that new readers may not know about.

Choose appropriate text to link. Some examples:

  • BAD: You can find more information on HBO's Entourage here.
  • GOOD: HBO's Entourage page has everything you'd ever want to know about the show, including episode synopses.

Use link titles to give users more information about the site being linked to. With Textile, you do this in the following format: "link text(with title)":http://example.com/

Stimulate comments

If you do allow comments on your blog, try to entice your readers to leave some by asking a question, inviting challenge, or simply being thought provoking. In Textpattern, you can customize your comment invitation on a per-article basis. Make sure you respond to thoughtful comments.

Publish regularly, if not frequently.

Even if you only publish once every 2 weeks, make sure you do publish on a very regular basis. A reader will be turned off if she visits your site expecting something new and doesn't find it. It's also good to publish more frequently - once a week or better.

Consider your titles.

The titles of your post are more important than they may at first seem. If you publish an RSS feed, a user may see only the title when deciding whether to read the post or not. On many sites a post's URL is also formed using the post title. Thus, links to your blog will show your post title. A good title should describe the content of the post well enough to stand on its own. But, it should also be succinct - 40 to 50 characters.

Keep it brief.

This is another piece of advice I've seen everywhere, but I'm not sure it applies universally (obviously I'm ignoring it). Generally I've seen 2-3 paragraphs recommended, with the first paragraph quickly getting to the point of the post. This relates to point one--staying focused. Obviously, you shouldn't go on long tangents or repeat yourself, but if it takes 5 paragraphs to tell your story, then that's what it takes. I do think it's a good idea to, between the headline and the first paragraph, make clear what the post is about.

Checklist

  • Have I read through for grammar and style?
  • Have I spellchecked?
  • Does the headline concisely express what the post is about?
  • Do all my links work?
  • Have I correctly categorized and tagged the post?
  • Have I used all the appropriate formatting (Headings, lists, etc.)?

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