Welcome to The Blog Report

I'm so glad you stopped by and hope you find this blog an interesting read. I've been blogging since April of 2006, currently the author of six public and two private blogs. In the beginning I knew absolutely nothing about blogging. Over the years through trial and error, frustration and elation, and a few tears I've learned a lot. However, the learning process when it comes to blogging continues to evolve. Here you will find a hodge podge of my blogging experiences, useful codes and how-tos, sprinkled liberally with my opinions. Enjoy!

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Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Images and Site Loading Speed

There have been recent rumours throughout the blogosphere that Google might start taking site loading speed into consideration for page rank. If your blog is graphic intensive as five of my blogs are this is a bit of a concern. However, it is site loading speed is of concern to your readers. The reality is the longer your blog takes to load the quicker that reader may click to go somewhere else. Those with high speed internet services forget that a vast majority of those online still are on dial-up so images at the very least need to be optimized in size for the fastes loading times at 56K while keeping the highest degree of quality for the image. In addition to loading times most blog hosts and free photo hosting services set a cap on the amount of space you can use before you have to start paying. Shaving a bit off the size of each image uploaded will mean you can upload more before reaching this point.

You have a few choices as far as file types for images depending on your blog host: jpg, gif, bmp, png. There is a great article on the differences between jpeg, gif and png that explains when to use each format. In general use jpg/jpeg for photographs and gif for those images with few colours. The formats I use the most are jpg which are bigger files than gif but have a higher degree of detail and gifs for cartoon type and animation images.

Jpg compress is lossy in that some detail is lost when you save. This means you can use jpeg to your advantage for images that will be shown on the web and not meant for printing. When saving a file as a jpeg in Photoshop® a window will come up to name the file. Hit save then another window will open jpeg options. Here you can set the image and format options while seeing how they affect the file size. Be sure to have Preview checked so you can see what the file will look like. In general set quality to medium or high or somewhere in between. Don't use maximum as the file will be too large. Click baseline optimized under format options to shave off a few more seconds of load time. Once you are satisfied with the results click ok. Even if you only shave 10 seconds load time per image using this method overall it will make a difference on your blog load time. For example if I save an image in jpeg at setting 8, baseline optimized it will take 18.495 seconds to load at 56.6 bps but if I save at setting 6, baseline optimized it takes 15.81 seconds at 56.6 bps shaving off almost 3 seconds in load time yet there is no noticable difference in quality. At 3 images per post that would shave off 9 seconds load time per post so overall this starts having an effect on the entire load time for the blog.

If you use custom made images for your backgrounds and headers be sure to use this method as these tend to be larger files by default. Adjusting the quality level and baseline will shave seconds off of loading yet you won't notice it. I was able to shave 12 seconds load time off my background and 3 off my header on one blog so have gone ahead to adjust all of my blogs for their next update. I plan to optimize any custom images such as titles and other sidebar components as well. In most cases those on high speed likely won't notice much of a difference in load time but those without high speed will notice faster loading times across these 5 blogs.


Monday, December 28, 2009

Blog Traffic

As a blogger one of my main concerns is getting traffic for my blogs. This is not as easy as it sounds and over the years I have come to realize there are two types of traffic, generated traffic and natural traffic. Of the two natural traffic is more valuable because the reader found your blog through a keyword search using a search engine or they found you through your social networking presence. That tells you four things.

  1. The reader is already interested in your content if they arrived on your blog through a search engine. That means they will more than likely stay on your blog longer and if they like what they see will bookmark your blog to visit again or may even subscribe to your blog.
  2. Any reader that arrives at your blog through a keyword search means your keywords are doing what they were meant to do. I like to go through my stats and check the keywords that are bringing me visitors. It is surprising some of the variations used so I try to use these variations to attract more readers.
  3. Any search engine traffic means you have caught the attention of that search engine. They have indexed your blog so all you really need to do is keep writing good content and ping after each new post. I manually submit my blogs to search engines as well to help get them indexed.
  4. Any traffic generated through social networking (eg. Facebook, Twitter, Digg, groups, forums, word of mouth) are likely there because they are interested in you, how you interact and what you write. You already have their attention so all you have to do is keep them happy.
Traffic can also be generated through blog advertising, exchanging links or banners with another blogger, participating in traffic generating sites, listings in directories or participating in a blogroll. These are very much dependent on the design of your blog ad if graphic and blog name if link only. This type of traffic presents
  1. The reader is coming to your blog through a cold click so you only have seconds to grab their attention. If you don't you stand the chance to loose a potential reader. That means your site needs to load fast with no auto-play music or videos and perhaps taking the approach of fewer widgets.
  2. A poorly designed ad usually 125 x 125 pixels or a banner usually 480 x 60 pixels can do more damage than good with the worst being a possible reader not clicking on the ad or banner because they find it distastful or unappealing or too ambigious. It's surprising how much information you can pack into these small spaces so be sure to use that to your advantage
  3. Cold clicks especially those coming from blog advertising sytems encouraging clicks only tend to increase your bounce rate. A high bounce rate will affect your page rank (PR).


Sunday, December 27, 2009

A Couple of Comment Backlink Problems

I recently posted on creating backlinks and the problem of exchanging links. In short the biggest problem with agreeing to exchange links is the other blogger reneging on their obligation. I recently had this happen to me by someone on Twitter who asked several times to exchange links. As soon as I did, he removed the backlink to my blog. When questioned about this he gave a flim flam excuse that he forgot to add the link back during an update. Funny thing is I noticed he forgot to add back the links to others he likely made the same deal with. Why does this matter? Essentially the blogger who does this is feeding off of you giving you nothing in return other than a lowered PR. Rather than argue with this blogger, I simply removed the link to his blog and because I have a long memory any comment this blogger leaves in future will have all links stripped if not just rejected.

There are other problems with backlinks though. If the backlink is through a comment, two things can happen. First if comment spam is suspected then the author may strip the backlink and rightly so. Second any blog you comment on can be set to no follow meaning the search engines won't follow the backlink. The best policy when using comments for backlinks is to leave a good quality comment, one that indicates you have actually read the post you are commenting on. Another thing I have noticed when leaving comments is some bloggers do not allow you to leave a direct backlink to your blog if on Blogger but rather the link goes to your Blogger profile instead. Now aside of you not getting a backlink the blogger is actually hurting themselves by creating a hole in their PR bucket that can't give anything back. So this really is more of a problem for the blogger than the commenter but for the commenter trying to create backlinks, realize this method just doesn't work.


Friday, December 25, 2009

Merry Christmas 2009

Merry Christmas 2009 snow globe ornament on The Blog Report
The Blog Report wishes each
and everyone a very Merry Christmas
and Happy New Year!


Thursday, December 24, 2009

A Few Things I've Discovered About Photos

I previously wrote about using photos on my blogs. With the exception of this blog, most posts on my other blogs have one or more photos included. Over the years I have learned a lot about using photos online so I thought I would share some of that with you in today's post. None of these tips are hard or fast rules but rather methods that have worked for me.

  • I always take multiple pictures of anything that I may want to include on my blogs. Quite often the picture looks fine on the camera viewer but may be slightly blurry or the flash created to much of a glare.
  • I like using some type of frame on pictures. These tend to range from a plain black or white 100 pixel stroke around the picture to a fancier frame depending on the picture subject and the blog. I also like using a 25 pixel bevel on some pictures.
  • I have found food pictures present their own set of problems. Things like patterned plates or table settings especially at restaurants tend to detract from the food itself so I often remove the background and replace it with a plain background to put the emphasis on the food. Salt tends to look like flakes of dandruff on the plate. Melted butter, gravy and some salad dressings play havoc with the flash giving odd glare points. Sour cream and yogurt are not very photogenic either.
  • Some pictures simply look better cropped which is a good way to remove elements of a picture that distract from the subject.
  • I take a lot of sunset pictures and have found they are more appealing with the sun slightly off centre almost at the quarter mark of the picture.
  • Photoshop® is my most used photo editing tool.
  • Unless you have permission to use the photograph of any recognizable person in the photo it cannot be published. There are several work-around methods for this problem. First you can get permission at the time you take the picture or you can blur their face or even with a bit of work remove them entirely from the picture. The last method can be quite useful when you want to use a great picture where someone got in the way. I even blurred the background crowd at one event to solve the permission problem keeping the focus on just the subject.
  • Pictures like any other element on your blog can draw negative comments. I've only experienced this a couple of times so for me it hasn't been a huge problem but it was a surprise. Who would know a picture of a perfectly grilled steak could result in a negative comment especially since my cooking blog has never been portrayed as a vegetarian blog. I simply shrugged it off and continued on.
  • I've found that the size and positioning of the picture does make a difference. I like the 640 x 480 pixels size then uploaded to Blogger on medium size. In general this gives a large enough picture to see the details but not too large as to cause slow uploading. What I am playing with in 2010 is optimizing for web in the hopes of increasing loading speed so I'll report back on how effective that is in the new year. I like the centre position for images on a couple of my blogs because the posts tend to have only one picture. However on the blogs where multiple pictures are used I like using the right, left, right placement that gives the post a bit of movement.
  • I like using multiple pictures (collage) in one picture especially if it something explaining steps in the method or 2 - 4 similar items. For example if I'm showing pictures of 4 pizzas rather than show 4 individual images of each one, I combine them into one image. This makes the write-up a bit easier and helps increase loading speed.
Garden Gnome
©2009


Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Using Digital Images on Blogs

Most bloggers have some type of digital camera and many at some point and time will use their own images on their blog. Digital images are great because they can actually be an incentive to blog about that image. They really enhance blogs, giving them a more personal feel. Five of my blogs are digital image intensive with the majority of the posts having one or more digital images that I took myself. A beginning blogger will be tempted to share digital images just as they appear but that really is one of the worst things you can do. Without some type of photo editing your digital images may not be the right size or there may be digital artifacts that should be removed as well as other slights (hue, brightness, saturation, etc.) that need correcting. You also need to add a copyright to each and every digital image you upload to your blog.

You will need some type of photo editing software. I use Photoshop CS® but there are other photo editing software available including but not limited to Adobe Photoshop Elements®, Paintshop Pro®, GraphicConverter and several free photo editing software downloads. Realize that some photo editing software has more functions than others but even going with a free version you should with a bit of work be able to get some rather decent results. Once your software is installed you can easily edit your digital image. Some of the things you will want to edit on your digital image are:

  • photo adjustments - This includes brightness, hue and saturation. In some cases you may have an absolutely gorgeous picture of a certain building that you want to blog about. Everything is perfect but the sky looks washed out. With a bit of calculated adjustment you can make that sky look better for a more appealing result.
  • elimination - There are many reasons for eliminating something from a picture ranging from privacy issues if a person appears in the digital image and you want to use the picture but don't have their permission (very important if you don't want to be sued). Elimination methods include deleting or blurring the background, using a clone tool effectively to remove the offending portion of the digital image or cropping. One of my favourite methods with my food pictures is to remove the background and replace it with black because it accents the plates I'm using and puts the focus on the food where it belongs.
  • additions - When it comes to digital images there may be times you want to add something to them. For example one year every post I made to my cooking blog had a bow added to the image during the holiday season. This just gave a feastive feeling to the images.
  • sizing - Sizing becomes quite important online and surprisingly aesthetics is not the main concern. The concern is loading speed! There are rumours that Google is going to start taking blog load speed into consideration meaning if you have large digital images that take a long time to load your PR may suffer. I prefer the 640 x 480 pixel size digital image optimized uploaded to Blogger on the medium size. This is working well for me however, you will have to tinker to see what works best for you.
  • optimized for web - Optimizing a digital image takes away all those unnessary pixels not needed for your image to display properly online. This means it looks good on computer screens but not that good if you print it out. The plus side is optimization means your images load quicker because they are smaller.
  • copyright mark - Any digital image you upload to your blog should contain your copyright mark.


Tuesday, December 22, 2009

My Blog, My Rules

The mantra for any blogger should be my blog, my rules. Your blog really has to be a reflection of you. If it isn't the blog is going to end up being short lived because you will lose interest in it. There are so many things that you as a blogger must consider. This includes but is not limited to blog design, content, copyright protection, tone, advertising, promotion, dealing with comments, page rank and SEO. All of these components must work in harmony under the matra my blog, my rules. If any one component is given too much emphasis you will not only hinder the other components you will hinder your own spirit thus hurting your effectiveness at blogging.

When I first started blogging my focus really was on blog design and content. So it was about getting the basics in order and I had a lot of fun doing that. I had no idea how to promote my blog so I just followed what I saw others doing by adding my blog to directories. I never submitted to any search engines but as some point Google discovered me. As I got a bit more interested as I saw my traffic increase I researched other ways to improve that traffic. It wasn't long before all of the aforementioned components became a concern with working on one or more per blog per day became part of my blogging routine. None of this would matter if I did not subscribe to the my blog, my rule mantra.


Monday, December 21, 2009

Recognizing Borderline Comment Spam

Sometimes it is difficult to recognize comment spam and part of the reason for this is there is a fine line between sincere comments and comments that appear to be sincere but there is some doubt as to whether they are or not. So these comments are considered borderline, possible comment spam. Remember always moderate any comment so you can catch any problems before they happen. If in doubt, reject the comment or strip the comment of any links.

I have a person that comments daily on one of my blogs. Now most of the comments left relate to the post being commented on and most show that they have actually read the post. However, some are rather generic comments and what I've noticed is this particular person stays on my blog an average of 0 seconds making these comments getting closer to the borderline, possible comment spam category. What I am going to be doing is leaving the good comments with link to the blogger's profile as is to encourage better comments but stripping the link to the profile/blog for comments such as the following as received via email notification of a comment left. This is a good example of borderline, possible comment spam:

[commenter's name/link] has left a new comment on your post [post name]:

great tips... I have got to work on this

[Publish link] this comment.

[Reject link] this comment.

[Moderate comments for this blog link].

Here are a couple of examples of blatant comment spam:

  • Thanks for that. See http://spammedblog.link for some more info...
In this case I checked out the spammed blog link that basically led to nothing of interest or even related to the topic. Note how there is no real indication the commenter had even read the post.

  • looks divine! come see my blog leave a comment spammedblog.link
The difference between the blatant comment spam and the borderline, possible comment spam is the actual commenter relationship to your blog. In the first case the commenter has been a regular commenter for quite some time and the link only leads to his blogger profile not even his blog. In the second and third case a generic the commenters left a link in their name as well as a link in the reply. In both of these cases the commenter was only concerned with a backlink to their blog/site with no regard to the actual post made. In the case of the borderline, possible comment spam the comment may or may not be sincere that when combined with the stats may be an indication that this commenter is migrating away from sincere comments towards comment spam. Removing the links in the borderline comments will discourage this by giving a subtle but effective indication I'm not going to tolerate comment spam without making a huge deal over the issue, without encouraging the trend towards comment spam and while still encouraging the non-spammish comments.


Thursday, December 17, 2009

Replying to Comments

You have a few choices when you get a comment on your blog. Assuming you have comment moderation activated on your blog you either allow the comment to be posted or rejected. If rejected it goes off into no man's land so to be forgotten by you. So let's say you allow the comment to be posted then what? Any blogger who wants to build their readership will respond to that comment. Why? Someone who has read at least one post on your blog has taken the time to comment so that in itself deserves a response from you the blogger. That is the way that you establish rapport with your readers and start a dialogue something very important for a two way communication necessary in blogging. There are some rules that I use when responding to comments on my blogs:

  • I keep the tone of the comment the same tone as on the blogs. You simply can't write an well toned, friendly atmosphere blog encouraging communication then come back with a stiff, sarcastic reply.
  • If I ask a question as part of the post I expect to be able to answer it to the best of my ability.
  • If someone asks me a question via a comment I give the fullest answer possible which often includes additional information that may be of use to them.
  • If someone asks me a question that I don't know the answer to I reply that I don't know but will do some checking for them and post a second reply to their question so please check back.
  • If a comment is just almost borderline comment spam but I'm not sure so allowed the comment perhaps with the backlink removed I still respond in a positive manner. This allows the commenter to see their comment along with the response with the hopes it will establish some type of communication. In short this is giving the suspected comment spammer the benefit of a doubt. If they return with another comment that leads to a good dialogue both of you win as do the rest of your readers. If they don't return chances are your first suspicions were correct but at least you gave them the benefit of a doubt.
  • From time to time especially on an controversial topics you blog about you will get one or more commenters that disagree with what you are saying. Opposition and disagreement is normal and should be addressed in a calm manner in the same tone as your blog. However, both opposition and disagreement can at times lead to nasty and/or hostile comments or even your blog being bombarded with a multitude of such comments. Always remember you are the blogger, it is your blog, your rules! Do not allow opposition or disagreement lead to an online fight. Just don't do. Reject any post as soon as it crosses the line to become a personal attack or any post that becomes hostile. You may have to do this a few times but the commenter will move on rather quickly when they don't have an audience.
  • An odd one you may encounter after blogging for awhile is someone who displays a bit of stalkish behaviour. There's nothing threatening that sticks out about their posts although sometimes there may just a bit of a feeling regarding the wording. The most obvious sign of this is they will comment on each and every post. Unless the post is threatening, hostile or comment spam allow it to be posted remembering you can strip the backlink to their blog or profile if need be. Removing their backlink is a nice, subtle way of saying hey, I'm on to you so knock it off. If at anytime you feel threatened or feel the comments are hostile or in any other way negative, reject them and continue to reject all comments from that commenter from that point onwards. Eventually they will move on to an easier mark.
  • Finally at some point you will get a commenter asking for personal information. The rule of thumb here is reject the comment and move on. If you don't have the information out there they really don't need to know it.


Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Comment Control

Sometimes you will get a comment on your blog that is not definite comment spam but could be considered something that could lead to comment spam. If you recall my position on all comments is to always have comment moderation turned on so that you can catch any nasty or comment spam comments before they are posted. Yesterday I had a comment on one of my blogs that on the surface looked quite benign but something about it just kept saying this is a comment spam tester message. So after pondering the message for awhile I checked out the link attached to the poster's name. What I found was a new blog started the same day, no posts but a few ads so clearly under construction. Now in theory this could be just a new blogger starting out but that doesn't explain immediate advertising so it is rather indicative of a spam blog set up except the comment itself wasn't spam. Two things happen in this case. First if you approve the message with the link it provides a whole in your PR bucket. Second this could easily be a spammer just trying to get their name/link trusted before they start a spamming run. There were two ways to deal with this situation. I could have just approved the message, left the link and know that even if the commenter planned on spamming later it would not affect me because of comment moderation. The problem with this method is the commenter is not discouraged so will go onto to comment spam on other blogs. The method I chose to use was strip the comment of all html then allow it to be posted. In this way the comment is legitimate was posted without any backlink but at the same time if it was the start of comment spam it would discourage any further spamming because of the lack of backlinks. This tactic gives the commenter the benefit of a doubt while discouraging comment spamming. This also allows you time to decide whether or not this commenter is going to be a problem commenter based of further comments. Until you are sure, strip the html for any backlinks in the comment.


Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Copyright Infringement

This morning I checked my stats for all my blogs as I normally do. I noticed an url I had never seen before for my cooking blogs so as with all urls pointing to another blog or forum I checked it out. Despite a very clearly lined out copyright policy on all my blogs someone in this forum had copied and pasted a picture from my cooking blog to the forum. I had no choice to to act. The reason being if you let one copyright infringement such as this slip through the problem will escalate. Had the person contacted me and asked for permission to use my content that would have been a whole different story. Instead I find out about the blatant theft of content through my stats. This type of thing is something every blogger has to face at some point and time.

To help counteract content theft, you need to be proactive! Make sure you have a clearly outlined copyright policy on your blog. In addition to that each and every post should be marked with your signature followed by the copyright symbol and copyright date(s). Each and every image as is digital photograph or any graphic you make should also have the the copyright symbol with your name or online nym. Once you have done that there are a few ways to prevent this through coding and several ways to track copyright infringement. The important thing is you really do have to act when you see anyone stealing your content and despite the nonchalance attitude regarding cut & paste combined with everything online is fair game. When you find any copyright infringement act and act right that moment!

Contact the site or blog owner with a copyright infringement notice stating the facts and that this is copyright infringement contrary to the DMCA (Digital Media Copyright Act). Be sure to include the url where the stolen copyrighted material is on their site or blog. Ask them to remove your copyrighted material immediately. Go back to your original content and add in bold red font an update indicating the stolen material should be removed from the offending site or blog immediately. If after 24 hours your content has not been removed it is time to contact their host and/or upstream provider repeating the request to have your copyright protected material removed from the offending site or blog. Continue with these cease and desist notices until your content is removed.

A particularly effective way to deal with image theft is to change the name of the original image then upload the newly named image to replace the original image. Then replace the original image with the same name but with something that says image stolen from and your url. Guaranteed that image will be down in a flash! Be sure to tweet out this nice change.


Monday, December 14, 2009

Following Trends

When I first started blogging I used a very basic Blogger template and in fact my current blogging templates are all based on modifications of this template. Each blog host will have basic templates that depending on the host can be modified as desired. Once the novelty of blogging wore off I began noticing certain trends with respect to design and colours.

Very much on the forefront was a scrapbooking style layout. This is very much a stylish, cutesy, well co-ordinated layout design. Everything must match. This allows for considerable customization! You will need Photoshop® or Photo Shop® or other graphic editing software to do this. Essentially what you do and really there is no order is create one graphic you really like say for the background then go about creating co-ordinating graphics. Everything is based on using scrapbooking elements to add layer and texture to your blog. That means a fair amount of Photoshop® work but the end results are well worth it.

There are pluses and minuses for following blogging trends. In general if all blogs are going for a lighter design your design could stick out from the rest if your design is heavy and dark. Now standing out from the rest will get you noticed but necessarily get you readers but sometimes it's a good thing so don't be afraid to go against the flow. At the same time following trends will only be a huge help if you are in certain niches. Some niches dictate that cutesy just doesn't work. But that doesn't mean you can't follow the under lying principle of co-ordination. All of the elements on your blog needs to flow together. It doesn't matter whether the page design is plain or cutesy or in between. It seriously needs to flow so follow that basic unspoken trend.


Sunday, December 13, 2009

Redundancy

Redundancy is quite common when you author more than one blog. This differs somewhat from duplicate content in that you may use the same image you created on two of your blogs and by default some images such as your profile image will be the same over all of your blogs. Redundancy will also be found in the overall design layout and organization of content through all your blogs. That is because as a blogger certain elements simply appeal to you so you tend to use them fairly consistently. The problem with redundancy is it can seen as duplicate content if all you do is use the same image over all your blogs. This is extremely easy to do when creating holiday greetings posts. For example as my Christmas message I created an animated snow globe using Photoshop®. I used it for 2008 and decided to use it for 2009 so essentially even though I changed the date on the globe it is essentially the same animated graphic. I could of course and may yet change each graphic slightly to make each slightly different. This graphic will appear on all 6 of my blogs but to prevent this from becoming duplicate content I have named each alt="" tag slightly different and added a customized message in keeping with each blog them to appeal to the readers of each blog. By adding these extras I prevent the content from being seen as being duplicate even though the graphic is the same. This type of redundancy can also occur through digital images. Sometimes I find a picture I have take would be equally effective on two of my blogs so I will use the same image but vastly different write-ups and a backlink to the main article.

I have found that a bit of redundancy is fine if:

  1. it is restricted to seasonal redundancy as is the same graphic and/or message across the blogs you author. I keep mine to the major holidays - New Year's, Easter, Thanksgiving and Christmas.
  2. it is an element of your blog. If for example you have 2 blogs and you want a consistency between the two it is fine to use the same font and graphics for things like side bar titles.
  3. it is the overall design and layout. If you like a particular layout (eg. Blogger's Rounders) then use it just customize it so each blog has their own feel and presence. Customization can be as simple as colours to using graphics for backgrounds and creating unique graphics for each blog.
  4. a critical in the news topic such as an amber alert, death of a well known celebrity or dignitary (can only be worked into some blog niches), or catastrophic event worthy of taking up niche blog space.


Thursday, December 10, 2009

Controversy

I once read a blogging tip that said one of the best ways to get traffic to your blog was to create controversy. Essentially what you do for this type of post is to take the opposing position on some hot topic. Now this does work well but only if you don't over use it. The problem with hot topics is they tend to go cold and they can change at the drop of a hat. As soon as today's hot news wanes traffic due to that topic will drop significantly. The second problem which may or may not be a problem depending on your mood or personality is controversial topics tend to attract those who will try to shoot you down so to speak. This can quickly end up in a fighting match between you and one or more readers. The end result is you are getting traffic from those disagreeing with you but at the same time you run the risk of regular readers leaving if they don't like your tone when doing your rebuttal. The third problem is using controversy too much ends up being overkill. If you have a rather mild manner blog that is quite consistent in the style of posting then all of a sudden post something controversial your readers will pay attention because this gives them the message that hey, this is something that really bothers you. It bothers you enough you made a post about it even though it would not normally be something you would post about. In this respect the controversy becomes an effective traffic driving strategy.

Now I have seen a few successful blogs that use controversial posts on a daily or very regular basis. In fact all their posts are controversial. I honestly do not recommend this method. First you run the risk of blogger burn-out. There's only so many controversial topics you can come up with before the argument gets old which runs the risk of reader burn-out. So when it comes to using controversy and yes it does work in any blogging niche, use it sparingly but do use it. In this way controversial posts become a useful blogging tool.


Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Blogging Should Be Fun

I can remember when I set up my first blog. It was new and in many ways quite amazing. As time went on the true meaning of blogging set in but each time I set up another new blog that feeling came blazing back. And that is what it is all about! Blogging should be fun! You should have fun playing with the design, the layout and the content. If you reach a point where your blog is not fun or an enjoyable activity to spend your time on, walk away. The alternative is to try to recapture the spirit and fun that went into your blog in the first place. If you can't, walk away.

The average lifespan of a blog is 3 months. By that time the blogger is either tired, bored or disillusioned about what blogging entails. For that reason you will find a fair number of abandoned blogs. Sometimes the author comes back to try to re-start the blog but quite often they simply delete the entire blog. Avoid this by making your blogging experience fun first and foremost.


Tuesday, December 8, 2009

If In Doubt

There comes a time in every blogger's life where you come across something that would be great blogfodder. Here's where it can get tricky. If you have established yourself as a family oriented blog and you come across say a joke that is close to being off colour or at least something that might not be considered family oriented then the rule of thumb is if in doubt leave it out. Anytime the question should I arises regarding of a post idea comes up refer to the rule of thumb. If at any time any content whether it be a joke or a graphic or a cartoon or a post ever gives you reason to question it even if only briefly refer to the rule of thumb. This gives you a chance to really consider the content before it gets onto your blog.


Monday, December 7, 2009

Focus on Content

Blogs are all about form and function. That means a blogger needs to take all the aesthetics of the blog design into consideration while providing content. Content is king when it comes to blogging. You can have a cutesy layout and great colours but without content your blog is just fluff. If push comes to shove, content is what really gets you noticed by the search engines too. Content is what gets you readers and keeps them coming back for more.

So your traffic numbers are low? You are frustrated because they are low and the knee jerk reaction is to start messing with your template or enrolling in a traffic exchange (seriously don't do this) or anything else that will help your traffic increase. STOP! Take a deep breath. Now focus on content and only on content. Step away from your traffic counter. Take at least one week to focus on writing anchor posts. If you recall anchor posts are those posts that will consistently pull in traffic. Be sure to use good keywords when writing your articles. Now these articles can all be posted in succession or schedule them to appear over the period of a month. Write a few extra posts to pad out your anchor posts even providing a link to them if it fits into the post. Add a few elements of interest for your readers such as a poll or a few picture posts maybe a few jokes or something that brings you as a person into your blog. This develops rapport with your readers. Ask your readers questions or perhaps run a contest on your blog. See where I'm going here? This is all adding content that will gain you traffic, keep readers coming back for more and get the attention of the search engines without you doing anything else.


Sunday, December 6, 2009

Monetizing Your Blog

One misconception a new blogger has is blogging can make a lot of money. As a result they try to monetize their blog too early before they have learned the ins and outs of blogging. Unfortunately one of the most enticing ways to monetize a blog is to write paid per post posts. Yes you get paid for the post you make regarding product X but Google specifically and other search engines penalize you for writing paid posts which ultimately means you get little to no traffic from them. This will directly affect how well other types of advertising such as Adsense performs on your blog. So right off the bat you have hurt your earning potential for that blog. The rule of thumb is unless you are an experienced blogger you should not try monetizing your blog until it is at least 6 months old with good, consistent and quality content.

By that time you should have a better idea of what it takes to write a successful blog. You have a better idea of what content you want to present and how to present it. You've had a chance to understand and use a bit of SEO. Most importantly you have had a change to interact with other bloggers. In the first few weeks of establishing a blog everything revolves around you, the blogger. You blog for yourself without considering others. You design your blog layout for yourself and you choose your blog colours for yourself. However blogging is not about blogging for yourself. It is very much about becoming a part of the blogging community known as the blogosphere. The sooner you interact with other bloggers the better and only after you have established yourself as a blogger should you consider monetizing your blog.


Saturday, December 5, 2009

Backlinks

Backlinks are those links originating from another site into your blog. A high number of good quality backlinks is desirable to increase both traffic and page rank. The problem is you cannot control who links back to you but you can influence it to some degree. You can encourage backlinks by continuously adding new content to your blog which will make others want to link to your content. Being active in the blogosphere by leaving quality comments on other blogs also encourages backlinks. In some cases blog comments are rel="nofollow" so while you don't get an actual backlink you will get your name out there so even that will give a bit of traffic.


Friday, December 4, 2009

The Problem With Reciprocal Link Exchanges

From time to time you will more than likely be asked for a reciprocal link exchange. Now exchanging links has both pros and cons. If you exchange with a high PR site it will help with your page rank but if you exchange with a low PR site it can hurt your page rank. The second problem is quite often the blogger you exchange links with will remove your link once they are sure you have put up their link. I just had this happen to me and while you can't prevent this from happening you can monitor all reciprocal link exchanges and remove all links that don't link back to you. Why? Essentially what is happening in this case in your PR is going to them but you aren't getting anything from them including traffic. These links form a hole in your bucket letting your PR out. So your best bet is to keep on top of any reciprocal links and remove any not linking back to you.


Thursday, December 3, 2009

Duplicate Content

This issue of duplicate content is two fold. At certain times it seems like every blog you visit is talking about the same thing and quite often the content is almost identical. This is a sure fire way to spot paid posts and a good way to lose readers. Search engines especially Google will penalize you for using duplicate content on a regular basis. Duplicate content should be avoid for both reasons.

Most bloggers at some point and time want to include a video clip, cartoon or picture especially on those days where bloggers block comes into play. If you find something interesting online such as a picture, cartoon or video that you want to use on your blog the way to get around the duplicate content issue is to add new content such as a commentary. In this way you are still able to use what by itself would be considered duplicate content yet the commentary adds new content.


Monday, November 30, 2009

A Few Important Blog Considerations

When you first start blogging you are naive which likely works to your advantage because you really are doing things to please yourself. It doesn't really matter to you if someone doesn't like your blog or something you said. It doesn't matter if they like your content or overall theme. At some point though all that changes. You suddenly realize if you do something a bit different it gets you more traffic and bloggers love traffic. However, it is very important to get the attention of search engines as well.

So you do all the recommended SEO which is never really enough. You are consistently adding new but not duplicate content to your blog. You are not using any black hat SEO. You are advertising your blog through blog advertising such as CMFads and Adgitize remembering to stay away from blog advertising you can't control content on the widget (eg. 125exchange, Spottt, Entrecard) and you are not using any form of pure traffic exchange. How do you gauge your effectiveness?

  • your stats - Every blog should have some type of stats tracker. I personally like StatsCounter but there are others available. This involves registering on their site then adding a piece of code designed specifically for your blog. From there you can check your stats daily to get a better picture of not only the traffic but the bounce rate and keywords used to find your site.
  • Technorati - Technorati rating is a must if you are blogging. Sign up then claim your blog following their directions. Once you have claimed your blog you can check the Technorati rating, any increases or decreases in rating as well as keywords and site load time. You can also become involved in the community which may help your rating a bit. At any rate do not overlook the importance of the Technorati rating. At one time it was advisable to ping Technorati every time you updated your blog but a couple of weeks ago they announced they were no longer accepting ping but instead would be crawling blogs. That means you must have your meta tag fpr ROBOTS set to content="All" otherwise they will not crawl your blog.
  • Alexa - Alexa rating is almost a given but what you need to do is check your blog's Alexa rating from time to time. They analyse your blog traffic giving you key information and and automatic visualization of how well your blog is doing in comparison to other websites. There is a lot of valuable information there on your blog so use it to improve your blog's performance.
  • Google Analytics - Google Analytics is an extremely valuable resource that shows you your blog's performance. This is a must use tool especially if you have any advertising on your blog.
  • subscribers - Blogger allows you to track your blog followers (subscribers) as does Feedburner. A higher number of subscribers means you have an interesting blog that the subscriber will more than likel visit again and often become a regular reader.
  • comments - Quality comments received on your blog posts means someone has stopped to read what you wrote. Spam comment on the other hand means the spammer was just interested in his or her own agenda and more than likely didn't even see your blog if it was a spam bot. Always encourage the quality comments and never let the spam comments through. The more quality comments you have is a good indication of the effectiveness of your blog.


Sunday, November 29, 2009

Decorating for the Holidays

One blogging trend is decorating your blogs for holidays. Some bloggers go all out changing their backgrounds and modifying headers and/or titles to match the holiday theme. Others simply add a few free graphics in celebration of the holiday. Bloggers with more than one blog may go all out on one blog but decorate less on their other blogs. By far the biggest decorating for the holidays with respect to blogging is for the Christmas holidays. Blogs become a reflection of how the blogger has or how they would decorate their home. It's meant as a fun, seasonal yet temporary change. There are a couple of things to go lightly on or stay away from all together:

  • too much blink - There are all kinds of seasonal blinkies out there. In general most readers don't like blinkies or blinking backgrounds or backgrounds where it looks like snowflakes are falling. The reason for this is too much movement detracts from the content. The movement also causes them to lose their concentration so they are more likely to click through rather than stay and read your posts.
  • certain widgets - Every year there are holiday theme widgets. Last year there was a cute Christmas tree that just about every blogger used so it got a bit boring after seeing it a couple hundred times a day. The second problem was half the time the widget either wouldn't load or caused loading problems. Unless you are sure of the widget's response it's best to not use it.
  • holiday music - Any auto play on load music should not be on your blog. This is rude and inconsiderate to those on low speed connections.


Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Technorati Claim Token

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Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Blog Changes

There are so many ways you can change your blog. It is important that you continuously tweak and make changes to your blog because this keeps your readers interested. However you have to be careful when making drastic changes. If the change is too drastic it may cost you readers. It's better to introduce drastic changes in stages to avoid losing readers. When it comes to changes one of the most drastic changes you can make is to the template.

In many cases it is best not to change the feel of your template. Tweak the background and the titles with customized skins and colours but keep the actual layout of the template the same. Tweak the size of the main frame and the side bar but keep them in the same positions. If your sidebar was on the right keep it on the right. This gives your readers a sense of familiarity that makes any changes you make easier to tolerate. They can still find what they want without getting frustrated. If you decide to make major template changes like moving elements from their normal position then make a note to that change to help your readers find that element easily.

One of the biggest changes you can make in your template is going from a 2 column to 3 column layout. A 3 column layout allows you to get more content onto your blog but this comes with a price. Some readers don't like the 3 column layout simply because if not executed properly the layout quickly becomes visual overload. This ends up distracting the reader from the very reason they came to your blog in the first place.

One thing to take into consideration is minor tweaking, changing backgrounds and colours and that type of thing will not have much of an impact on SEO but major changes will. For example I like the Rounders template so my blogs tend to be based around that particular template. However if I were to change to another quite different template to base my blogs on that does affect the SEO. Now if you only do it once a year it shouldn't matter much. If you do it several times a year expect your PR to decrease.


Sunday, November 22, 2009

Colours

Right from the very beginning when you choose a generic blog template colour becomes a huge influence. Something about that template appeals to you and more likely than not it is the colour or even absence of colour. Now absence of colour is still colour. Make no mistake your personal reaction to colours, your favourite colours and how colours affect your mood is going to influence your choice of colours for a blog template. It's your blog your choice but at the same time try to keep in mind how your colour choices affect your readers.

Colour choices with too much contrast can hurt your readers' eyes to the point they won't bother coming back to read. Strange colour combinations can also result in complaints. Sometimes you won't actually hear the complaint but rather will see the results by checking your stats. Keep in mind regardless of your colour choices you will likely at some point get some complaints. Make sure you have comment moderation set to always moderate then if you get a complaint regarding the colour theme that is constructive you can take those points into consideration and perhaps tone down the theme just a bit while keeping the colours. For example on my cooking blog I found a great test background in pink and black. After a lot of testing I toned down and texturized the pink, changed the black to grey and texturized then added customized graphics. What I ended up doing was losing the harsh contrast between the pink and black. So think along these lines always tweaking your colours until you get the right effect you want for the moment you are in while keeping your readers happy.


Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Editing Images

I have learned so much about using images and pictures on blogs in such a short period of time. Some things work and some don't when it comes to editing pictures. Others are trends but the basics remain the same. So here are some of the things I quickly learned about using digital images and other images for use on my blogs.

  • size - My favourite size for all digital images is 640 px x 480 px. This fits nicely while showing good detail. I like using the medium setting for picture size on Blogger.
  • backgrounds - Backgrounds can actually detract from the picture. I quickly learned that plated foods look better with the backgrounds removed then replaced by a plain background because that puts the focus on the food where it should be. In other cases if there are identifiable people it is best to modify the background in such a manner as they cannot be identified. Blogger says you can upload gifs with transparent backgrounds but then it turns the background to white. The work around for this is to add a background layer the same colour as your blog main layer background then merger the layers and save as jpg. This way the image looks transparent even though it isn't.
  • details - I use a lot of food pictures on my one blog. I quickly realized salt makes the plate look like it has dandruff, butter gives an undesirable effect and sour cream very seldom works without a lot of tweaking so I take my pictures before adding any of these.
  • tone/hue/saturation/filters- Lighting really throws off a good picture. This needs to be adjusted by applying correction to the tone, hue, saturation or add a filter to either warm or cool the picture.
  • animated gifs - Blogger says you can upload animated gifs but I have never got them to work by going through Blogger. The only way I have got them to work is to upload to Photobucket then upload the link to Blogger.
  • frames - This really becomes a personal choice and your readers will let you know if you get too fancy. Frames can add a lot of interest to the image but the overall effect may be overpowering depending on the frame design and blog. If in doubt go with a simpler type of frame or use bevel and emboss to give a bit of a detail without over powering.
  • positioning - In general the main positioning for images is centre, right, or left. Again this is a personal choice. For consistency and flow of your blog choose a positioning style then follow that. For example on posts with multiple images I like using the left, right, left positioning but for at least one of my blogs I like the centre position. Try to stay as consistent as possible.


Monday, November 16, 2009

Blogger's Block & Finding Blogfodder

Every blogger will experience blogger's block from time to time even if you are niche blogging. The reason for this is quite simple. Some days you just can't think of anything to blog about. If this is the case it is better not to blog at all. This will be fine for a day or two especially if you take advantage of scheduled posts or special day posts (eg. Wordless Wednesday) however, there will be days you need a blog post but can't think of what to write. In this case perhaps a few of my trips for blogfodder will work:

  • check the news - There's usually something going on that will provide a bit of inspiration. As long as it fits your niche, blog about it. Your readers really like this because you're blogging about something that is of current interest. Don't make the mistake of blogging about something that happened in the new a couple of years ago. Keep it current to keep your blog interesting. For example three things are in the news here: H1N1, the proposed HST in Ontario and the proposed TV tax in Canada. These are providing some rather interesting blogfodder for some of my blogs.
  • check other blogs - Checking other blogs for the topic du jour can be quite inspiring especially if you run across several bloggers all posting about the thinly disguised paid per post of the day. Assuming you don't do paid per posts which you shouldn't do if you want a good PR these kind of posts can provide some seriously humorous blogfodder. At the same time you can see the current hot topics bloggers are talking about so take advantage of that.
  • check television shows - If you watch closely television shows within a certain niche tend to group shows with a similar topic yet with a different spin together. For example on the food channel most of the shows will be about one topic (eg. polenta) on the same day. A lot of people watch the food channel so will go online searching for that keyword. That means if they are all talking about it you should too because your post will show up in the searches.
  • check Twitter - Twitter is one of your most valuable blogging resources! Check it daily for blogfodder. It's amazing the conversation you can find on Twitter that will give you an endless supply of blogging inspiration.
  • check the search terms in your stats - This will give you a good idea as to how people are finding your blog and what they are looking for. If you have an anchor post that got them to your site take that post to a new level in a new post that adds more information.
  • pay attention to real life - It is amazing how much blogfodder you can come up with just by observing those around you!
  • don't sweat it - Don't try forcing a blog post. The more you worry about it the longer the blogger's block will last so you can end up getting into a vicious cycle. Walk away from the computer or go on to do something else. Remember blogger's block will pass :)


Saturday, November 14, 2009

Blog Writing

I recently heard an excellent quote. It is better to write for yourself and have no public rather than write for the public and have no self. This is so true when it comes to blogging! Yes all bloggers want traffic after all thinking you are doing all the work of blogging seems like there is no pay off. So yes we want readers and more importantly regular readers. The first thing I realized about blogging is I really had to do it for me. The writing, the graphics, the template and the overall design had to be about me. What this really meant was coming to terms that while the public aka readers are important I have to be true to myself when blogging. That means I blog about what is of interest and important to me through my eyes and my words. It means I keep control over who can comment on my blogs not allowing nasty comments or comment spam. It means I control the colours, the fonts, the design and everything else when it comes to my blogs. The bottom line for me is my blog, my rules. While I'm always very conscious of my readers my blogs are very much about me. That's one reason I blog :)


Friday, November 13, 2009

Digital Images

For the most part any digital image you take needs to be edited prior to publishing on your blog. Cropping as well as lighting, tone, hue and saturation adjustments may be needed because you want to present the best image possible. Frames may or may not be appropriate. Looking back on some of my earlier digital images I think I made a lot of mistakes when first using my digital images. First I made the images a bit more complicated by using some rather fancy framework. Now this works for some blogs but not all blogs. The second mistake I made with some digital images was not removing the backgrounds. Sometimes removing the backgrounds puts the focus on the subject where it should be. I think my biggest mistake was not taking enough shots of the subject. Have since learned that 10 shots of the same subject may only result in one good, useable image so I try to keep this in mind when taking the images now. There are two notable considerations to keep in mind when posting digital images you have taken:

  1. Any image where a person can be identified should not be posted without their permission. If you don't have their permission don't use it!
  2. Any recognizable building (eg. Eiffel Tower) cannot legally be posted without permission of the owner of the building. If you don't have their permission don't use that image!


Thursday, November 12, 2009

Graphics

Right from the get go I started using my blogs as a way of sharing my digital images and some of my blogs include a graphic of some type with almost every post. In most cases digital images will need to be edited and resized for web use. This requires photo editing software such as Photoshop®, Photoshop Elements® or Paint Shop Pro®. I use Photoshop® CS which works well for me.

All of your digital images and any graphic you create should be copyright protected. This can be subtle or quite blatant. There are many ways to do this so choose a method that works for you to protect your images and graphics. Free clipart and other graphics are available online. If you use these be sure to read the Terms of Use (TOU) for those graphics before using them. Some require permission from the creator and/or linkbacks while others may have no TOU. Always comply with any TOU and never claim copyright for the image or graphic. In this case make a small note that the image is not yours. If in doubt do not use the image.

Graphics include clip art, digital images and any images you create yourself including animated gifs. Graphics add a lot of interest to your blog but search engines don't view graphics as images. What you have to do is take advantage of the alt="" tag in image html. Upload your graphic in the normal fashion. Then click on edit html in Blogger where you will see the code for your image. Insert your image description as shown using accurate keywords.

alt="your image description"

Your image will now be indexed. Click back to compose if desired or stay in edit html to finish writing your post.


Wednesday, November 11, 2009

How Often Should You Update?

One of the biggest concerns new bloggers are faced with is updating. If you want good traffic it stands to reason that you have to consistently add new content to your blog in the form of new posts, polls, links and anything else your readers may be interested in. Adding new content stops your blog from becoming stagnant. By far adding new posts is the most important aspect of updating so the question becomes how often should you add blog posts? Unfortunately there is no cut and dry answer to this question but do keep in mind most blogs cannot survive by only updating once every 3 months or less. Once a blog goes stagnant it takes a fair amount of work to revive it. To put it in perspective if you turned on your favourite television show to see the same episode over and over for 3 months how long would you keep being interested in the show?

Some bloggers add new posts once a week, others add once a month while others add multiple posts every day. The bottom line is add new posts when you feel like writing. If you are having a bad day rather than forcing a post simply for the sake of adding a post, sit on your fingers and refrain from posting. Your blog will not suffer if it misses a day or two of posting. So while there are no hard rules with respect to updating, do what works best for you but be consistent.

I aim for a post every 1 - 3 days across my blogs ideally but that doesn't always happen. On a couple of my blogs daily posts are pretty much the norm but they will survive if I miss the occasional day. One of my blogs gets a lot of updates during the gardening season but fewer during the off season yet it works. What does work well for me is using Blogger's scheduling feature so when I'm in the mood to write I can do a fair amount of posts scheduled to run as desired. So do keep scheduling in mind as a way to help keep new content being posted on a regular basis.


Tuesday, November 10, 2009

How to Remove Blogger Navigation Bar

As you know Blogger automatically puts a navigation bar on your blog. This allows for easy navigation through other blogs as well as reporting those blogs that are against Blogger's TOS. If you want a bit more professional look while using Blogger you can remove the navigational code by adding the following to the html of your blog.

#navbar-iframe {
height: 0px;
visibility: hidden;
display: none;
}

This code should be added just under the blogger template style description and before the /* variable definitions line near the top portion of your blog html code.


Sunday, November 8, 2009

Traffic

It honestly doesn't take a new blogger to become obsessed with getting traffic to their blog. Here is the reality. It is a blog! Building traffic takes times and more so for personal blogs. Most blogs fail or are abandoned in the first 3 months of going live. If you survive long enough to get any kind of page rank that means you know your stuff. Most blogs will not gain page rank. If you can push your blog to the point you are consistently getting good traffic that means you know your stuff. Most bloggers are happy if they can get 20 or so visitors a day. Knowing your stuff doesn't mean you are applying it consistently. Keeping both page rank and your traffic level takes work. Slack off just a little and you may find your traffic dropping.

Now traffic falls under two categories: those staying for awhile to read your blog and those who land on your blog then move on in under 30 seconds without hitting any links. This is known as bounce rate. Bounce rate is usually expressed as a percentage of your traffic. Ideally you should aim for a lower percentage which indicates a lower bounce rate but it is a blog! Blogs have a higher bounce rate by nature. Over time the more content you get on your blog will help reduce the bounce rate but really that's no guarantee so you are left with the fact blogs have high bounce rates. So you can switch over to a traditional website or accept the fact blogs have high bounce rates. There's a few ways you can help reduce the bounce rate on your blog but basically blogs have high bounce rates. Your best course of action is to recognize this, try to minimize this then focus of what is important, blogging.


Saturday, November 7, 2009

Don't Take Things Personally

Blogging can seriously get you down somedays especially if you open up your stats to find you've lost a few followers over night or your are dealing with negative comments. Seriously take a deep breath! Readers will stop following blogs simply because life got in the way. It's nothing personal it just happens. So chill. As long as all your followers don't leave you all at once don't worry about it and even if they did it could be a problem with your feed or the site tracking your followers. Again, just chill as it will sort itself out. If you constantly track your traffic as I do, realize there are certain days of the week where traffic is normally lower and mine tend to be consistently Thursdays across all six blogs. There will also be dips in traffic during certain holidays although others may bring peaks so it does pay to follow the traffic trends but don't get hung up on them. Your main goal is to keep blogging and put out content. With good management the traffic will come so don't sweat the small stuff. When it comes to negative comments your mantra should be my blog, my rules. Assuming your are moderating your comments which you should be the only one who sees the comment is you. Reject the comment then let it go. Unless the comments are abusive or threatening coming from one individual of which you can track let it go. Don't feel guilty if you reject a comment. Don't feel you need to offer any explanations and do feel you need a blog comment policy on your blog. It is not necessary. It is your blog, your rules so always remember that!


Friday, November 6, 2009

People are Sheeples

I'm not kidding! People are Sheeples which really means people are predictable. They follow trends and following blogging trends is no different. If you don't take that into consideration then your blog traffic will suffer and you will more than likely lose readers. The current trend is moving away from the few basic templates offered by the typical blog host. At best, readers do not want to see the same template with the same colours over and over again. At worst, using a standard template with the same colours with no change will date your blog and depending on how that template is being used by other bloggers could hurt your blog. Put it in perspective. Two women show up at an event wearing the same dress. Now everyone knows this is a social faux pax. No self respecting woman would put themselves in this position and so it is with blogging templates. You template can be based on a basic blogging template but that is where it ends! This works because readers want the same yet different. So give them what they want and they will come. They want the same layout with a new skin, something that looks different yet has that feeling of similarity. At the same time you as a blogger have to pay attention to the trends.

Some of the current trends I have noticed:

  • basic templates are out - If you are using a basic, host provided template with no modifications it send the message to your readers that you don't care enough to go that extra step. Keep in mind there are very few blogs that can use a basic template without modification and get away with it if they want to get good traffic. Even though I used a basic template for this blog I still did a lot of tweaking and that is what it takes.
  • scrolling backgrounds - These are very easy to do and in fact I wrote a tutorial on making scrolling backgrounds. They are an easy way to customize your blog with minimal effort although you do need graphics editing software.
  • scrapbooking effect - The scrapbooking effect is huge in blogging right now! Everything from background to header to titles has to be co-ordinated but then it goes just a bit further. This is a direct effect from those who were into paper scrapbooking getting into digital scrapbooking as well as more women getting into blogging.
  • less is more - Readers are getting tired of sensory overload. They don't want blinkies or floaties. They don't want on load videos or music. They really want a nicely designed blog with good content with content taking priority over design just a little. If you think back to the advice when writing essays to go back editing to remove every linker (and, but, etc.). Well that is good, steadfast advice. Now apply that to your blog template. Remove anything that will slow the loading of your blog or irritate your readers. Basically if it moves or makes noise get it off your blog! Keep anything that moves as a special treat for your readers. Think holidays (animations) or special video but keep in mind your reader should never see more than one animated gif when they load your blog. No video should load unless the reader wants it to.
  • customized titles/headers - This is a huge trend. Very few blogs other than those starting out use generic headers or titles. Titles aren't as important as headers but customizing both are the trend.
These are just a few of the recent blogging trends I have noticed. I'm sure they will change depending on socialital influences. That's one thing that makes blogging so much fun. Just when you think you have it figured out the rules change much like raising kids :)


Thursday, November 5, 2009

My Top Ten List of Blogging Mistakes

Once you start blogging it's natural to start discovering the wonderful blogosphere with all its good, bad and ugly. One of the best ways to do this is blog hop using one of the many blog directories or blogrolls. Once you have visited a hundred blogs or so it will quickly become apparent that some bloggers do things that are just down right irritating. These are blogging mistakes that will cause readers to not want to read any further. Every reader will have their own list of things they just don't like when visiting blogs. Here's my top ten list of blogging mistakes:

  1. auto-playing music or videos on load - I'm sorry but this is just rude, offensive and inconsiderate. Quite often readers are already listening to their own music so it is irritating when auto-play music or videos interfers. Auto-play music slows down loading and for this still on dial-up it is painfully slow. Some readers pay by the bandwidth used so auto-play music costs them financially. Readers using satellite internet connections get FAPed (slowed speeds) for as much as 24 hrs if they exceed a certain bandwidth something that music can quickly put them over. If you want to share your music and video choices with your readers do so in a way where the readers have the option whether they want to listen to it or not.
  2. floaties - Floaties are little graphics such as leaves or snowflakes that give the appearance of them falling from top to bottom of the blog. This is quit distracting when trying to read the blog posts.
  3. paid posts - Paid posts are not ok when the entire blog consists mainly of paid posts. These blogs are quite obvious as the blogger is just thinly veiling that they are trying write an ad in which they get paid to write about a product they really know nothing about. For example I read a blog post about injury lawyers in Chicago written by a Filipino blogger. It was obvious it was a paid post as the blogger knew nothing of the subject and from the sounds of it had never been out of the Philippines!
  4. splogs - A splog is a blog that has been set up for the sole purpose of making money. They seldom have any decent content and in some cases the content has been blatantly stolen from another blogger.
  5. memes - A meme is a post where the author answers a series of questions about themselves. Some are can be quite long and after the first few questions they become quite boring. Memes tend to make the rounds where one blogger participates then passes the questions on to a set number of other bloggers who also pass it on. So what happens is you get to see the same meme over a large number of blogs. There is nothing worse than trying to read a blog where the majority of the posts are memes.
  6. poorly designed graphic - Nothing looks more amateurish than poorly designed graphics that do not fit their intended placement. Graphics should work flawlessly with your blog template. Graphic editing software is a must. If you cannot figure out how to design a graphic to fit the desired placement get a bit of free help from other bloggers who will give you a hand.
  7. neon font - For awhile some bloggers used black or red backgrounds with brilliant, mulit-coloured neon font and you still see it from time to time. This is extremely annoying for reading with the font almost burning your eyes. One of the worst I recently saw was a neon purple background with neon orange header and neon yellow font. It was simply hideous but more importantly I took one look then left the blog increasing their bounce rate.
  8. irregular updates - Blogs do not need to be updated daily but they do need to be updated often enough to keep your readers interested. Too few updates will lose readers as well as stop search engines from indexing your site.
  9. negative and/or daily rants - I can understand the occasional rant but readers tend to get put off by a blog with posts that are only negative and/or ranting. Yes your life might be really in the gutter but your reader's life might actually be worse. Most readers view blogs as a source of entertainment or staying in touch. So to keep readers coming back refrain from making your blog all about these types of posts.
  10. excessive profanity/obscene content - Most adults have heard just about every profane word out there so it doesn't impress us much other than to leave your blog. I'm not a prude but I seriously don't need to read a post that has more eff words than it does other words! When it comes to obscene content well that may get some traffic from dubious sources but no traffic worth getting. If you have to resort to either perhaps another medium besides blogging is best for you.


Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Comment Spam

I recently discussed the comment issue with part of the problem being comment spam. One of the biggest problems with comment spam is that it does affect your Page Rank. What happens is search engines specifically Google view links going out as a drain from your blog so every time someone leaves a comment spam meant only to plug their blog you lose. What matters more is your readers lose. You can write the best blog with the best content presented in a wonderful manner but if you don't have readers it means nothing!

When I first started blogging comment spam was quite obvious. The comment was either very short as is "great info" with their link or just a blatant reply with no reference to your blog post along with their link. Either way it was comment spam. A new form of comment spam has recently surfaced as a direct result of bloggers getting wise over comment spam. What comment spammers are now doing is trying to build a bit of trust. So they will leave a comment or two with no outgoing link. If those comments go through then they may leave a couple of more. What they are doing is trying to get their nic (nym, online name) recognized before they actually start the real spamming.

Once you realize a comment is comment spam you have three choices. You can ignore it and let it through that will ultimately hurt you and your readers in the end. You can use moderation so your readers never see the comment yet you keep complete control. If comment spam from any one spammer is a problem as in several repeat spam messages you can report it to their blog host and ISP. Comment spam in my opinion should never be tolerated!


Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Scheduled Posts

Anyone who blogs will come across the problem that life gets in the way. There really is no way around this blogging problem. What can minimize this blogging problem is scheduled posts. This is a newer feature some blog hosts offer. What you can do is when you are on a writing roll is sit down and write several blog posts scheduled to run when you want them to. The real benefit to this is if you are on vacation or life simply gets in the way the scheduled posts ensure your blog continues to get that all important regular new content to keep your readers happy. So do take advantage of scheduled posts if your blog host offers it.


Monday, November 2, 2009

The Importance of Page Rank

I think the first time I heard about page rank I had been blogging only a couple of months. I understood it partially but my blogs weren't monetized then so I didn't think it mattered all that much. I could not have been more wrong if I tried. Page Rank refers to how search engines see your blog. The higher the ranking the closer to the front page of the search your blog will appear. Why does this matter? It's proven that most people when doing a search will check the first page and some might check the second page of the results. If your blog is buried on page 4 well searchers simply won't see it. So first you want to take the necessary steps to get page rank and continue improving your page rank.

Each search engine uses their own form of page rank but the biggest search engine is Google. I'm sorry if you do not pay attention to Google's criteria you are not going to get page rank from them and that will result in very poor traffic for your blog(s). That's the reality of blogging is the higher the page rank the more traffic you will get and you won't get the traffic without the page rank. The number one biggest mistake new bloggers make is blogging to increase page rank without taking other factors into consideration.

To understand page rank your page is a pitcher. It has a certain number of holes in the form of links out. It has a faucet of links in. Ideally you want more links in than links out but it gets more complicated. Links out are and endorsement you agree with what is on that link. Inappropriate information can cost you and definitely linking to a banned site will cost you. This is another good reason to moderate comments especially comment spam. On the other hand links coming in can't be controlled so they have a lesser effect on page rank. But page rank is not all about backlinks and it's not all about content or design or keywords, SEO or even the blogger's personality is is a combination of all of these factors. If you are lacking in one area it will be reflected in your page rank.


Sunday, November 1, 2009

Anchor Posts

Very early in blogging I realized I wanted to get more traffic to my blogs. Like anything else I did a bit of research to find out how to do this. Over and over the recommendation was to create anchor posts. Now here is the problem as I see it. You don't know a post is going to be an anchor post until you see how it is received. I have written some very good posts that by any stretch of the imagination should be anchor posts. They have good content and keywords but when I look at my stats those posts do not come up as the most popular or even the ones hit the most by the search engines. On the other hand on one of my blogs I made an off hand post about the Bristol zoo parking lot attendant hoax email and my traffic doubled that day and that silly off hand post continues to bring me daily traffic. Another case in point on my cooking blog I posted about canning green beans and another post about pea meal bacon. Those two posts became anchor posts on that blog. They bring in good search engine results on a daily basis. In my experience anchor posts just happen and you never know which one of your blog posts will become and anchor post. I also think that the effectiveness of anchor posts is transient. Over time the popularity may go from very high to waning to at some point becoming popular again. So anchor posts change and while I understand the need for them I never write with the purpose being creating an anchor post.


Saturday, October 31, 2009

Content is King

Just about all blogging resources agree that content is king. Technically everything on your blog is content but all content is not the same. For example a blog comprised of YouTube video posts will not gain the page ranking that a blog comprised of YouTube video posts with a commentary. That is because the YouTube videos are viewed by Google as duplicate content while adding the commentary is seen as original content. Many bloggers rely on using their own photographs on their blogs but the search engine bots don't see images so if you don't take advantage of the alt"" tag in the image description a post consisting of only a picture or two will not be viewed as original content.

Even though content is king you still need to choose keywords and use them appropriately in context with what your article is about. Whatever you do, do not keyword pad a post as that will get you quickly de-indexed from search engines. Another huge no no is to blog about what you don't know. This is most obvious in the thinly veiled paid per post (more on that to come) posts on some blogs. It is immediately apparent they haven't even used the product but somehow they have to work the paid link in hoping they will earn a little money off the post. Well they might end up getting a bit of money if they are lucky EXCEPT Google hates paid posts so will penalize you and you don't want to be penalized by Google! They are the largest search engine so if they stop sending you traffic or blacklist you any revenue from paid per post or revenue based of traffic is going to dry up.

The main things I quickly learned about content are:

  • content does matter
  • duplicate content should be avoided at all costs
  • content needs to be regularly updated
  • some content becomes anchor content


Friday, October 30, 2009

The Header

The header for your blog is the most important feature of your blog. It really is the welcoming mat. If it is not designed to be welcoming it will turn readers off of your blog. It seriously irritates me to no end to visit a very nicely presented blog, well designed with nice colours yet the header is off. The header is either too large or too small and it is off centre throwing the design of the entire blog off.

I like the Rounders template in Blogger and used it as the basis for 5 of my blogs. This blog uses the Minima template. To find the sizes of the outer wrapper where the header goes, go to "edit HTML" and scroll down to:

#outer-wrapper {
width:740px;
margin:0 auto;
text-align:left;
font: $bodyFont;
}

In Rounders the width of the header is 740 pixels. If you want to keep the same size then the header image you create should not exceed 740 pixels in width. I like using an image 700px x 300px for my headers on the blogs using the Rounders template.

If you decide you want to change the width of the outer wrapper you can quite easily by increasing or decreasing the width pixels. Before you do this, back-up your template! Always back-up your template before making any changes to it. You can also change the widths of the main body (posts) and side bar. I recommend you write down the original widths so if you want to revert to the original you can easily do so. Change the width then click preview to see how you like the new width. If you like it then go ahead and save the template. You have now created a customized look simply by changing the widths.


Thursday, October 29, 2009

Be a Squeaky Wheel

I'm sure most people have heard the adage that the squeaky wheel gets the grease. What this really means is the more noise you make the more attention you get. This is so very true when it comes to blogging. You really need to make the noise to get your blog noticed. Essentially you need to drive traffic to your blog using good blog promotion techniques. Here are some of the ways I have found that work for me:

  • ping services - Use an online ping service to send a ping to search engines each time you make a new blog post. This keeps your blog in their face, saying here I am and I have new content, come index me.
  • comments - Interact with your readers through comments. Encourage comments on your blog and respond. Visit other blogs and leave quality comments relating to their post.
  • social networking - Engage in social networking (eg. Twitter, Digg, StumbleUpon). Add content to the community, interact with other bloggers and promote your blog(s). Be careful to not make the interaction all about you.
  • branding - Establish a brand for your blog before your blog goes live. Each time someone sees your brand they will know it is you so don't mess with brand design after you present it. Each of my blogs has a unique look and feel to match their niche. Each is a reflection of me which is very important when blogging. Each has a custom made header, 480 x 60 banner and 125 x 125 badge. These all become sub-brands of my main brand of Garden Gnome. Every forum, group, advertising site and social networking site I participate in I am known as the Garden Gnome or GG for short. I use the same avatar on all of these sites as well so that has become my brand.
  • signature tag - Most forums and groups will allow a 3 or 4 line signature tag. Take advantage of this by adding your name or nym and a link to your blog(s). Add a signature tag that includes your blog(s) link to your email correspondence. Omit the signature tag only if it would be inappropriate to include.
  • advertise - Use your banner, badge and text link to advertise. I recommend CMFads, Adgitze, Project Wonderful and Blog Explosion. I don't recommend Entrecard, Spottt or 125 Banner exchange because they force you to place their widget on your blog. Entrecard is surrounded by horrendous controversy surrounding their service and the fact they are now taking 15% of the advertising time to run ads you can't control. It's also a huge time waster that increases your bounce rate something Google does not like. I also do not recommend Spottt and 125 Banner Exchange because you have no control over what ads run on your blog and especially with Spottt some of those ads are borderline pornography. Some sites sell private advertising as well. Even with advertising always choose a method that keeps you in control of the content being displayed on your blog and where your advertising is displayed.
  • link exchange - Once your blog gets a bit of recognition you will get requests for a link exchange. This is one area where you do need to be careful because by adding that link you are saying you approve of what's on their blog or site. If something inappropriate appears on that blog or site you could be penalized by losing readers and/or page rank. Don't feel obligated to exchange links.
  • niche communities - A niche community goes beyond a forum or group. There are other activities such at rating other blogs, promoting your blog, friending other members, choosing favourites and some host real life events and get togethers.
  • directories - As soon as your blog goes live start promoting it through directory submissions. Use a manual process where you can control what directories your blog(s) is submitted to. Avoid services that will submit to multiple directories where you don't have any control.