How to Create and Promote a Blog in Eight Easy Steps
A new buzzword you should know about is “blog”, which is a shortened version of “weblog,” meaning web log, digital journal, or online diary. Blogs are the "Next Big Thing" to hit the Internet, after conventional websites.
Blogs are a special kind of mini-web site. They tend to differ from traditional web sites by typically being more interactive, containing more user-generated content, being more intimate in tone, and more dynamic in nature, due to frequent updating by the blog author (“blogger”).
Actually, blogs, of the type that enable user comments to be added to them, are a new, democratic, collaborative form of online content publishing. They tend to tear down some of the walls that used to exist between site builders, operators and users.
Definitions of Blog
The English dictionary company Merriam-Webster has declared the word “blog” to be the 2004 Word of the Year, based on online lookups, that is, the number of times users have searched the Merriam-Webster web site looking for the definition of the word.
(1) The Merriam-Webster definition is: “a web site that contains an online personal journal with reflections, comments, and often, hyperlinks provided by the writer.”
(2) My more detailed definition is: “a minimalistic, text-dominant web site that primarily contains frequent, chronologically ordered (most recent is first, that is, at the top of the site main page), relatively brief messages or articles (“posts”) by one individual author. Often has a comment posting function that enables user generated content to be added to each message posted by the blog author (“blogger”), and lists (“blogrolls”) of other blogs and web sites of potential interest to users.”
This article describes how to create your own blog.
Eight Steps to Create a Blog
1. Pick a topic
Decide what you’d enjoy discussing—a hobby (such as golf), a recreational interest (such as jazz music), a career field (such as software engineering), a personal pursuit (such as amateur astronomy), a historical interest (such as the American Revolutionary War), a vocational skill (such as gardening), a domestic talent (such as cooking and baking), or nearly any category of interest. Do you know a lot about something and want to share it with others? That might be a good topic for a blog. A blog can also be a way to display your digital photos, digital art, fiction writing, poetry, and other activities in which you feel you have some talent or expertise.
2. Create a title and URL
Choose a distinctive and unique title, one that will be easy for others to remember, and that has relevance to your topic. The URL (web address) should be the same as the blog title, but many bloggers have not followed this guideline. For example, the poet Eleran has a blog titled “Amid Rushes and Reeds” but the address is www.eleran.com. Although I find this confusing, it is common. Perhaps some bloggers wanted to change the name of their blog, but not the web address.
3. Find a host
Many Internet Service Providers charge a monthly fee for blog hosting, and include sophisticated features. I like Blogspot from Blogger/Google, which is free, easy to use, and includes templates, as well as Hello/Picasa photo and art image uploading, comment posting, email notifications of user comments, and many other nice amenities.
4. Choose a template
Blog site hosts often offer free templates. Templates are pre-designed layouts that provide the visual structure for your blog.
Choose your template carefully. Try to imagine what your title and contents would look like in a particular template. Do you want side columns for “About Me,” archives, blogrolls (links to other blogs you recommend), advertisements (if you include any in your blog), and buttons for services such as blog directories (to gain a listing in blog directories, a reciprocal link, such as a graphic link to their site, is usually required on your blog).
You may have access to the template code to change colors and fonts, and make other adjustments, additions, or deletions, but the basic template look will remain the same. Some blog hosts will allow you to change templates, but generally you’ll lose the modifications you made to it, including blogrolls and sidebar text.
Note: I advise against adding gimmicks or fringe features such as chatboxes, externally hosted comment functionalities, site meters, hit counters, and calendars. These add-ons can make the blog appear amateurish, and the price you pay for free add-ons is pop-up advertisement proliferation, advertising the other services offered by the company.
5. Configure your settings
Decide how you want to treat such things as:
- Comment enabling (on, off, off for old posts only, registration required prior to posting, moderation, and so on)
- Format number of posts on the main page, the rest goes into the archives
- Archiving (by date, topic, or other differentiations)
- Time/date stamp (what time zone you’re in, and how you want dates to appear: I recommend January 5, 2005 and not 01-05-2005 to avoid ambiguity)
- Distinct URL for each post (So you can promote an individual post by its URL. The first rule of blog promotion is to promote the individual posts, not the entire blog. More on this later.)
- Site feed (if you want users to be able to stay updated on new posts as headlines via RSS readers).
- Email notification (the host will send you an email whenever a new comment is added by a user).
6. Start posting
Most blogs contain short posts, usually one to six brief paragraphs. I violate this norm in my usability blog, because I use it as a showcase of my expertise, expressed in articles with detailed information. It depends on what you want to accomplish and the interests of your readers. I’ve seen blogs that I wish contained more information, and blogs I wish were briefer. The compromise: don’t be wordy, but don’t be afraid to fully cover a topic.
Develop a distinct “voice” so that you stand out from the millions of other blogs in the blogosphere. You must have a unique angle, a gimmick, a different twist, a distinguishing topic, content, or presentation style. Make sure there’s a reason why anyone would visit and return to your blog.
Use art or photos in a way no one else has. Be creative. Use your enthusiasm, writing style, and immense amount of knowledge to pull readers into your blog. The blogosphere doesn’t need another “random chatter about my boring life” blog.
If you need help finding a personality for your blog, read books by authors who are considered innovative, unusual, revolutionary, or non-conformists. Find extreme blogs on hotly debated topics, and study their style, even if you totally disagree with their opinions. Learn what makes the most popular blogs so popular. Sometimes it’s the rich, accurate content, or the high-interest topic, and perhaps they had the first blog to deal with the topic, but it usually involves more. The personality behind the blog, and the topic being discussed are the keys to differentiate your blog from all the others. Remember: just because it’s online doesn’t mean anybody’s reading it.
And just because you have no comments, doesn’t mean nobody is reading your posts. Only a tiny percentage of readers of online material bother to add comments. Users may be shy, inarticulate, at a loss to know what to say, afraid that others may think their comment is stupid, or too busy to take the time to post a comment.
7. Start promoting
Promote individual posts you wrote, not the entire blog. If you’re at an online discussion forum, for example, and the conversation turns to something you wrote about on your blog, then feel free to mention the URL for that post to further the discussion while at the same time driving traffic to your blog. A note of caution, if you do this kind of promotion gratuitously, or too frequently, you’ll be considered a comment spammer.
List your blog URL in blog directories. Users consult blog directories to find a blog on a specific topic. Many blog directories exist, including the following:
- Blog Explosion is the Internet’s first blog exchange where thousands of bloggers visit each other’s blogs to increase blog traffic. Imagine how many other people out there could be adding your blog to their blogroller and how many people could be reading your blog every day with this sort of attention. It’s free to use!
- Blog Catalog is a listing of blogs from all around the world. The blogs listed in Blog Catalog range from political blogs to sport blogs. Blog Catalog is the ideal site for users looking to submit a blog and for users searching for a blog. If you don’t see a blog category that fits your blog you can always recommend one.
- Blog Philosopher contains blogs of all types and categories.
Promote your blog URL in your letterhead, business cards, email (in your signature), web site, brochures, catalogs, television or radio commercials, and any other marketing tools you use, including promotional products (pens, calendars, coffee mugs, tee shirts, and so on).
8. Keep Updating
Fresh content is key to return visitors. Most bloggers post at least once a week. Many bloggers add a new post every day, some every few hours, especially if it’s an event blog (a blog dedicated to a single event, like the Republican National Convention or the tsunami tragedy). Old content gives the impression of an abandoned blog, a blog the operator simply lost interest in and neglects to update.
Provide users with some idea of your credentials, reasons why they should read your blog, when there are millions of other blogs out there.
The speed and simplicity of blogging are great, but anybody can do it. Thus, a blog is dubious and unreliable unless users have reasons to trust the blogger.
If you would like more examples of good blogs and blog-related sites just email me and I’ll be happy to send the information to you. Ask for “More Blog Examples.”
Blog Online Resources
A Bloggers’ Code of Ethics (www.cyberjournalist.net/news/000215.php) lists ethical standards for j-bloggers and anyone operating a blog.
Amid Rushes and Reeds (www.eleran.blogspot.com) is a poetry blog by Eleran. Comments enabled.
Assemble Me (www.assembleme.com) is an Information Visualization blog by Julius Schorzman, Technical Coordinator at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, a branch of the National Cancer Institute’s Cancer Information Service. Interesting posts on various ways information is presented online and in print.
Daypop (www.daypop.com), a blog information resource, includes current “Top 40 Blog Topics” of the blogosphere.
EACH HIT: for lunch (http://ratsliveonnoevilstar.blogspot.com)is a blog by artist Steven Garrett. It includes uploaded artwork with personal posts. Comments enabled.
Jeremy Zawodny’s Blog (http://jeremy.zawodny.com/blog) contains a mixture of personal and technical blog posts. Comments enabled.
Milo Vermeulen Photoblog (http://milov.nl) displays a photographer/programmer’s work. Comments enabled.
PhotoMatt—Unlucky in Cards (http://photomatt.net), the blog of Matthew Mullenweg, founding developer of WordPress blogging software, contains technical aspects of blogging.
Rebecca Blood’s History of Blogs (www.rebeccablood.net/essays/weblog_history.html) is another source of history and explanation of blogs.
Seth’s Blog (http://sethgodin.typepad.com). Seth is a marketing expert and author of Free Prize Inside, Purple Cow, Permission Marketing, and Unleashing the Ideavirus. This is a broadcasting blog (comments not enabled), but still very valuable to anyone interested in the spreading of concepts, revolutions, or product sales.
Simplicity (http://weblogs.media.mit.edu/SIMPLICITY) is the blog of Professor John Maeda of MIT Media Lab and famous web/digital art designer. Comments not enabled.
Technorati—”What’s Happening on the Web Right Now” (www.technorati.com/) is a blog information compiler and research organization, including “Top 100 Weblogs” ranked by number of sources that link to a blog.
The Origin of Brands Blog (http://ries.typepad.com) is Laura Ries’ blog on branding and marketing strategy.
This is Broken (http://broken.typepad.com). Users post photos and descriptions of dysfunctional things that need to be fixed. Comments enabled.
Wikipedia “Weblog” article (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Weblog) provides definition and history of the blog.
Amazon’s Best Picks for Books About Blogs
Blog: Understanding the Information Reformation That's Changing Your World by Hugh Hewitt
The Weblog Handbook: Practical Advice on Creating and Maintaining Your Blog by Rebecca Blood
Blog On: Building Online Communities with Web Logs by Todd Stauffer
Blogging: Genius Strategies for Instant Web Content by Biz Stone
The Complete Idiot's Guide To Creating A Web Page And Blog by Paul McFedries
We've Got Blog: How Weblogs Are Changing Our Culture by Editors of Perseus Publishing, Rebecca Blood
Buzz Marketing with Blogs For Dummies by Susannah Gardner
About the author
Steven Streight is President of Streight Site Systems, a provider of web usability testing, analysis, and content writing. Steven operates three blogs: a web usability blog, Vaspers the Grate; a business promotion strategy blog, Mentally Correct Marketing; and an online art gallery blog, Art Test Explosion. He may be reached at email@example.com.