A Candid Guide To Newbie Bloggers

What’s so great about this internet universe is the amount of information you can have at your fingertips by typing the keyboard and entering “Enter.” But there’s so much crap out there that the first thing I would advice to newbie bloggers is to make sure you have valuable information that you can offer. Remember the times when you’re browsing about a certain product you’re researching and internet porn sites comes out from the search results. Thank God we’re so beyond that now but I can still see some unscrupulous peeps who had started abusing the use of the social networks sites like Twitter. You know who you are. Anyways, enough from my soapbox.

Blogging 101

For most of us bloggers, we just take for granted that the whole world knows about blogging at this point in time. There are those who don’t know anything about it at all. Seriously. Don’t even laugh because that’s why I’m writing this. I’d been asked a hundred times about blogging & how to blog. I suppose I’d gained enough information so I can share this to any newbies. To experts out there who maybe reading this, you can add your additional tips at the comments section.

What is a BLOG? Blog is a slang for “web log,” a diary of your thoughts, pictures, videos, mementos, graphics, resource links, and current news.  People have different purpose for having it. Some as a journal, other people just like to get in touch with close friends, and a lot of people had been using it as a professional tool to network with other bloggers and/or prospective clients/employers/business partners.

I’m not going to reinvent the wheel. I’ll just list down things that worked for me as a blogger and sites/resources that you can go to so that it’ll be easier for any newbie to navigate the roadmap in blogging.

1. Choose your publisher/blogging platform.

I’m recommending wordpress.com if you don’t have a domain name (website address) or wordpress.org if you do. WordPress.com doesn’t pay me at all for this but I’d been using it for years & had blogged on & off in different publishing host like blogger.com/blogspot.com, typepad, etc. A lot of other bloggers use those sites because it worked for them. I just think wordpress has evolved in a super user friendly interface now that browsing through it won’t be such a nightmare and turn you off from blogging.

Now you’d made a decision, register or create your username & password. Please write it somewhere safe & secure. The safest combination for a password is a mixture of low caps, high caps letters with numbers.

2. Invest in a domain name with webhosting.

If you absolutely don’t want to, skip this number. But then, domain names & hosting are so cheap now. Check out http://topcheaphosts.net for a comparative pricing. It usually cost around $100/year to have this. Be wary of webhosting sites that sell you services piece by piece. They might say that the domain names will cost you just $1.99 a year but you can’t have a domain name without webhosting. They will usually offer you that they will host their domain name for you but it comes with a price & before you know it, you start shopping like you shop for shoes. I’d been using http://www.bluehost.com but ask & see if any of your geek friends may direct you to another cheaper, effective & reliable webhosting company. And let me know about it if you found one.

3. Know the basics.

Robin Good had this effective article, “How To Blog: A Beginner’s Blog Publishing Guide.” It talks about basic information about blogging that anyone can understand.  The basic characteristic of a blog is that the posts (your own composition-text, pictures, videos) is in reverse chronological order which means that the current post will appear first in your home page.

The basic layout of a blog is that there’s a header, content, sidebar & footer. Your header can be picture/graphics which is more interesting than just a text. Your posts is the content of the blog, the sidebar are snippets of other information like links to sites you like, archives, etc., and the footer signals the bottom of your blog. Usually, that’s where you put your copyright info. Currently, web designers had been creative with the use of footers: http://vandelaydesign.com/blog/galleries/blog-footers.

The posts contains any of your text/ pictures/ videos.  Post have a title & it’s useful to use tags & categories when you’re a post. Tags are keywords and short phrases that you can use to describe your topics. It’s useful for searches/search engines. Categories are the subject matter of your post. You can categorize your posts in any subject matter you want like Art, Music, Beethoven, TV, etc. — any word that will suit your use. Categories are useful in organizing your blog in a way that if a subscriber goes to your blog & just want to read a category named “Beethoven” for instance, he’ll just click on it & any post about Beethoven will appear. Posts automatically have a date & a time stamp.

For more basic information, search the Tutorials or Help Section of the blogging platform. Check this out first. Because most publishing platforms are free, they don’t have a free toll number where you can call them. Visit the Forums section of the blogging platform where bloggers congregate & share tips & solutions to your similar predicament. You can even post a question & most bloggers are kind enough to try & respond to your questions. For wordpress, here’s the link: http://codex.wordpress.org/

4. Make sure that you write an “About You” page.

If I become interested in a blog, I’ll definitely want to know who I’m reading & what is that person about. Even in an internet world, it’s about developing networks & relationships. You can be really creative in this page.

5. Don’t be a smorgasbord.

Narrow down the topics that you’ll blog about or else, you’ll confuse your budding audience. The title of the blog should reflect the topics that you’ll be posting on your blog. Check out Genealogy of a Blog: Choosing A Blog Title & Domain Name & URL. Somehow, you are creating a brand about your blog so choosing your title & domain name requires some time for thoughtful process.

6. There is an unwritten Blogging Etiquette.

One of the most important thing is DON’T EVER plagiarize. The internet is about sharing information & not stealing information to pass off as your own. To share the information in your post, quote the blogger/author & share the link on your post (like what I’d been doing right now). Zona Marie Tan wrote this helpful article about blogging etiquette: http://blogs.suite101.com/article.cfm/blogging_etiquette.

7. Have a mean header

—in a beautiful way. Your header is your first impression—& it lasts or change if you want to. Most blogging platforms have a header set up for your convenience. But if you’re equipped with computer graphics skills, why don’t you create your own. If you don’t know how to do it, ask a talented friend/relative, hire/source it out to someone. If you do have time in your hands & you would like to learn & dabble, go for it! There’s a couple of resources I go to that has been helpful to me. One is WebDesigner Wall & another one is Veerle’s Blog for photoshop & illustrator tutorials in relation to web design. Most blogging platforms also have tutorials on how you can customize your header graphics/picture.

8. Have a disclaimer

Having a disclaimer saves your arse from legal action and protect your blog. You’ll never know when you get some loonies who will read your blog & take every possible offense to a candid thought (that’s why this is called a blog, people). In addition to that, this is a page in your blog what kind of language or lingo you’ll use & what kind of comments you’ll accept. There are a lot of political blogs I read where foul language had been used & the webmaster deleted their comments because it is in his disclaimer that he won’t accept any offensive remarks. So, it gives you total control of your blog. Here are some useful articles that you can read about writing a disclaimer:

http://www.blogherald.com/2007/10/02/writing-a-blog-disclaimer/

http://gdisauro.com/2008/05/writing-blog-disclaimer-2/

9. Have a gravatar

“A gravatar, or globally recognized avatar, is quite simply an image that follows you from site to site appearing beside your name when you do things.” Their website explains best what it is. Let’s say you browse another blog and you  made a comment, usually what happens is that there’s a shadow/monster/cartoon image beside your assigned username. I think this is more of a cool factor if you have an image that you prefer, right? Gravatar assigns your email address with your image so that whenever you sign up for another social networking site with the same email address, you don’t have to upload an image again & again. Isn’t that convenient?

10. Spread the news

So why do you want to blog again? If you really want to stay incognito, that’s totally fine. But if you want to increase your visibility in your community or field or use it as a tool for your business or profession,– if you build it, they don’t necessarily come– so, show it off! That’s one of the reasons social networks are helpful. Aside from connecting you with people you like to connect with, it also spread the news that you have at last – a blog (with tooting horn sound effects)! If you haven’t already signed up, check out Facebook, Myspace, Twitter, etc.

Here’s my favorite list: Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Flickr, Technorati, StumbleUpon, BlogCatalog

Most social network sites integrates or links with other social networks which means that any updates of information you have on one social network, it can automatically updates the information you have on another social network. For example, if I have a blog under wordpress, anytime that I post a blog, it will show in facebook. Or even if I post a tweet on my twitter, it’ll automatically update on my blog & facebook. This makes life on the internet more convenient. You have to be signed up to these social networks & set it up to interface/link with with your other social networks so that this will work. Don’t worry, you can always go to the tutorial section of the social network you want to use. This takes time but the payoff is great.

One of the things that’s important in networking on the net, find a blog that you also like, or a blog that is somehow similar to your topics. Read them & make a comment. You can ask nicely to visit your site, ask to see if they’ll like it, ask them to make a comment & ask them to exchange links with you. Exchanging links builds up your visibility so always ask nicely but they don’t have to do it. Now if they agreed, you should also make sure that their links or blog address is on your blog. You usually have this link information called as a “Blogroll.” Every blogging platform have a different way of handling this and it’s usually on your Tutorial Section to know the details on how to add their links. “Blogroll” are often located at the sidebar.

RSS Feeds are just awesome. It’s a short term for “Really Simple Syndication.”  They benefit readers who want to subscribe to timely updates from favored websites or to aggregate feeds from many sites into one place which is called the feed reader. Make sure that this is activated on your blog. This enables your potential audience to subscribe to you. Anytime that you have a new post, it automatically goes to their feed readers like google, yahoo, etc.

11. Monitor your blog

It takes a while to gain visibility with zillions of blogs in this world competing for people’s attention unless you’re already someone famous. But it’s useful when things are starting to pick up. So, I would suggest to set this monitoring tools early on your blog. Use Alexa &/or Google Analytics. Alexa has a free toolbar that collects data for browsing behavior which is transmitted to the website where it is stored and analyzed and is the basis for the company’s web traffic reporting. So that means, if your visitor doesn’t have an Alexa toolbar — it doesn’t count. That sucks, huh? But it’s still pretty useful for newbies. Google Analytics, on the other hand is a free service offered by Google that generates detailed statistics about the visitors to a website. For them to get browsing information about your visitors, you should copy & paste their code into your blog. Don’t worry because they explain very well how you can do it yourself.

7 Proven Secrets for Improving Your Alexa Ranking is an interesting article to look into. By the way, I use both because I like having more information about my blog.

12. Monetize your blog

People can make some money blogging, so it doesn’t hurt to try it, too. There are a few resources that you can try out:

Adsense is an advertisement application run by Google. Website owners can enroll in this program to enable text, image, and more recently, video advertisements on their websites. These advertisements are administered by Google and generate revenue on either a per-click or per-impression basis.

Linkshare use affiliate marketing for your blog to earn some income. It’s a revenue-sharing plan where an online automated marketing program lets Webmasters place an advertiser’s banner ads or buttons on their own Web site. Some blogging platform are set up to have it so you only have to input the code in the sidebar/widgets/gadgets for it to work.

Amazon Associates uses affiliate marketing, too. They have different means to set it up so check out their tutorials. I really like this one because I buy from Amazon.com a lot of books. So, I just refer only the books or products I liked & bought from this site.

Don’t stress out about this part & don’t harass your visitors by placing your ads all around your blog. InsideCRM editors wrote an enlightening article about this issue: 101 ways to Monetize Your Blog Without Irritating Your Reader.

13. Blog regularly

Some people blog everyday. I’m not suggesting that you do that, too. Every person has unique schedules and I believe that you should have a full life outside of the internet universe. With that, you can bring so much richness of your experience in the real world into your blog. But then if you blog today & your next blog comes out 3 months from now, you’ll lose your audience. That’s what happened to me when blogging was just starting to happen. I was blogging once a week & then I just stopped because life happens (that’s my excuse). So, just maintain a balance. It doesn’t have to be a super looong essay. Just express yourself & be yourself.

14. Don’t be scared to try CSS & HTML

I think it was 7 years ago that I tried teaching myself HTML & CSS on & off. Whenever I get the time, I browse on the net and go over some tutorials. Well, it wasn’t easy at first. Make sure you understand the definition of terms so it’s easier for you to read the tutorials. If you really want to learn it, why don’t you enroll in extension classes at the community colleges & adult school in your area. They usually offer it at the start of the season. Here are some resources that helped me:

http://www.tizag.com/

http://www.htmlcodetutorial.com/quicklist.html

http://www.w3.org/Style/Examples/011/firstcss

So, there you go. I hope this will help you and let me know what’s the result of your blogging journey by writing on my comments below. Good luck, newbie blogger!