Sunday, March 06, 2005
How To Improve Your Blog
blogospheric purification zone
I've visited over 250 blogs in the past two weeks.
I've been looking at the top ranked blogs according to Technorati, BlogStreet, and Daypop.
My purpose for these perusals is to determine if these popular blogs are good candidates for the Blog Pro Survey.
My decisions have been partly based on the usability and credibility characteristics of the blogs.
Most blogs pass these quality and integrity tests.
I'm also trying to make sure they're real blogs and not "pseudo-blogs" or "quasi-blogs"
For example: blog directories (like Blogarama), non-interactive information hubs (like Smoking Gun), or fee-based registration online communities (like Metafilter).
I also screen out any blog that uses excessive vulgarity, or is hateful to any spiritual, political, sexual, racial, national, or cultural group.
I will now share a few more blogging tips based on my observations of these top ranked blogs.
This is just a snack, an appetizer.
For the "whole meal deal", you'll have to buy my upcoming Secrets of the Blogging Pros book.
from Observations of
Over 250 Top Ranked Blogs:
(1.) Have an upfront "About Me" link.
Many blogs fail here. I'm in a hurry, as are most other users. We don't have the time or patience to hunt for Who You Are and How to Contact You.
There are over 8 million blogs to choose from.
So--make it quick and easy for users to determine who you are, and why they should pay attention to you.
Posting links to interviews and articles at other web sites is great, but not enough.
Don't drive people away from your blog just to check out your credentials, education, clients, and accomplishments.
Don't assume that people should already know who you are. That's arrogant and naive.
Realize that new users are entering the blogosphere every second, and many of them have no idea who anybody is.
Even seasoned blogging pros don't know all the important bloggers out there. Don't hide your light under a bushel.
Blogs that are anonymous, with no name or organization attached to them, I always automatically dismiss. They are creepy, suspicious, and possibly malicious.
I know some people don't want to disclose their name, because, for some reason, they don't want their employer knowing who the blog is authored by. Sorry. This is not a good reason in my opinion. I'm going to skip you.
I don't trust anonymous blogs, I never return to them, and I would never include them in any study or book.
As in any web site, or business, if you won't reveal who you are, and some easy way to contact you, you may be a fly-by-night con artist, or worse.
(2.) Have an upfront "Contact" link.
There are many blogs that mention an email policy, and speak of receiving emails from visitors, but I cannot for the life of me find their email address.
Am I supposed to guess what it is? This is not good.
I try checking the "About Me" page, the "Feedback" page, the bottom text links on the main page, all the sidebar elements, I hover my cursor over everything, but--no email address.
If you want to enable users to give you feedback on your ideas, to let you know how you're doing as a communicator, to alert you to problems or errors on your blog...
...then, make it easy for users to find your email address.
Or provide an on-site contact/feedback form, so users can send you web mail without knowing your actual email address.
Upfront, non-spammable email addresses, or web-based contact forms boost the interactivity and credibility of a blog.
CAUTION: don't display your email address in an easily harvestable style.
Use something like: steven [DOT] streight [AT] gmail [DOT] com
If you display your email address in the same manner as a person would type it, spambots will be able to capture it and put you on a spam or virus email list. Then that spammer will sell the list with your email address to other spammers.
(3.) Avoid "tip jars" and PayPal donation widgets.
I will not pay to read anybody's blog.
And I will not leave a blogger a "tip" like he or she is a waiter in a restaurant. This is contrary to the free exchange and dissemination of web information.
Does rampant commercialism have to invade even blogs?
It's called "blegging", using a blog to beg. I've seen it mostly on political blogs. Are the political bloggers merely imitating the politicians, trying to raise cash for their pet causes or their own pockets?
A typical "reason" bleggers give for blog begging is: "My blog is getting so many comments, they're consuming bandwidth. I have to upgrade to another server capable of hosting all the extra space needed."
So users have to pay for your success at attracting user comments? Ridiculous.
A function that enables users to send you money is a bad idea. It could be a turn off to many users, could make you look greedy, and could lower your credibility.
There's something about tip jars and PayPal donation widgets that seems desperate to me. It reminds me of panhandling. I'd rather buy them a sandwich and a cup of coffee, since I'm not sure what they'll do with the "tip" money.
You can have a free blog (like this one, at Blogspot), free templates, free hosting, free image uploading, free comments posting. You don't have to have any expenses related to blogging. So why ask for "tips"?
Some otherwise great blogs have tip jars. Even so, I advise strongly against "blegging."
(4.) Avoid turning your blog into a vending machine.
Filling your blog with ads promoting books, articles, reports, white papers, merchandise, etc. for sale is an odd thing to do on a blog.
If you have published books, by all means display images of them, with links to Amazon or other sales outlets.
But think twice about turning your blog into a shopping mall or a sales circus.
I'm not very impressed with sponsored links, product ads, and fund raising banners in blogs.
And I'm totally against IntelliTXT hypertext link ads, where the links in the editorial text, the different colored and underlined words, lead to irrelevant commercial sites.
This is nothing other than tricking users into visiting external sites. Same as comment spam, only even more subtle and devious.
Hypertext links are, by established convention, supposed to take users to relevant information and support material.
E-books are of no interest to me whatsoever.
There's so much free information on the web, why pay for stuff you have to download and print out? I absolutely don't get it.
(5.) Let users post comments.
When a blog is a one-way broadcast station, it feels uncomfortable.
Some of my favorite blogs do not allow users to post comments, but I still read the blogs. I respect the bloggers, but I just don't understand their disabled comments policy.
Not allowing user comments is a risky venture.
You thereby shut down the interactivity of the blog, making it less warm and friendly. Many users will not return to a blog that doesn't allow them to post comments on posts.
Users will think: "Oh. Nice blog, but I have to be silent and just read it. This is not a normal blog. I can't react to what I read. I can't praise or question or criticize the text. I have to just read the posts, and keep my thoughts to myself."
Now that I've arrived at #115 on the BlogStreet Top 200 list, I am skipping any blog that doesn't let user post comments.
I'm at the point of thinking, "This alleged blog is just an ivory tower soap box pulpit machine. It is preaching at the blogosphere. It is a unidirectional megaphone, thus old-fashioned, and not hip to the online etiquette of interactivity."
Although some blogs that don't enable user comment posting will let users email a comment, this is a cold and distant way to incorporate user-generated content.
If a blogger is worried about comment spam, there are many ways to prevent or reduce comment spam. Disallowing user comments is the worse way to handle this serious problem.
(6.) Be careful with foul language and vulgar expressions.
When I see a lot of cuss words or dirty language in a blog, I assume that the blogger is either very angry or just has a filthy mouth.
Many times this coarse language detracts from the argument or the issue at hand.
I try to follow the principle that the best way to express anger is with clean, educated, intelligent language.
Some people will be offended at rampant foul language, and will consider the blogger to be ignorant, uncultured, or just repulsive.
While I don't mind an occasional bad word or phrase, excessive amounts turn me off.
(7.) State your purpose clearly and quickly.
Let users know what your blog is all about.
If your blog is "just about my life", you'd better be living a bizarre, dangerous, heroic, genius, impossible, insanely wealthy, tragically disabled, or otherwise extraordinary life.
Orient users to your mission, your subject matter, and your point of view.
Vague blogs that are just random personal musings are generally not very popular. There generally needs to be some expertise, or unique point of view, or special subject matter to hold the attention and interest of readers.
Heavy doses of personal drivel and mundane life details really tend to dilute the value of otherwise great blogs by smart, highly trained bloggers.
Believe it or not, most people are not going to care about what are your favorite movies, food, music, or books. Save that stuff for an "About Me" page, way down at the bottom of it.
Most people visiting your blog are probably going to care only about what you can teach them about a subject, or your comical personality, or your radical, unique perspective on various issues.
Sometimes satire and parody are not quickly understood, and may be mistakenly perceived to be the opposite of what's actually meant.
I've visited blogs that were clearly political, but it took me a while to figure out if they were liberal or conservative. Most are at one extreme or the other.
Yet with some political blogs, it's not immediately clear what position they are taking. Usually this is due to the user of satire, humor, or parody.
(8.) Forget SEO copy.
Now I've ruffled some feathers, I'm sure. I've just made a lot of enemies with this Grating statement.
I say that Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is vastly over-rated, and of dubious value. It is only one very small consideration in writing blog or web site content.
Blogs must be full of reliable, relevant, rare, radiant information. SEO will not help a mediocre blog with boring, off topic, poorly researched, or useless information.
Consider: would you sprinkle "keywords" into a suicide note, love poem, resignation letter, or any other important text document?
Oh, you may have in the back of your mind certain key words or phrases you do want to include. I've done this in complaint letters to organizations, when I wanted to use certain legal, technical, or business terms that might not come naturally to me.
In a recent complaint to a religious charity organization, which I caught turning a blind eye to daily, obsessive acts of perversion in their facility, I made sure to use the words "culpable", "unseemly", "due diligence", and "disingenuous".
And I'm not finished exposing and causing harm to the director of this organization yet.
However, to deliberately write blog posts filled with key words just to boost search engine ranking? Ridiculous. Disingenuous.
Consider also: if you boost search engine ranking, and people flock to your blog, then all they see are posts that don't say much, but have key words sprinkled into them, what will they think?
People will think your blog is of little value, that you use SEO keywords to trick people into visiting your blog, and that you are a waste of time. A fool.
Write your blog posts from your heart and your experience in whatever field you blog about. I'm not saying you should just ramble on about a topic without caring what technical terminology you use.
What I'm trying [clumsily] to convey is this: If you are well-versed in a given field, wouldn't you naturally be using lots of "keywords" (and a few "buzzwords" if necessary and natural) in your writing?
This is what I fail to understand about Search Engine Optimization: how can a post be improved *for users* by artificially inserting keywords into it? I don't care what anyone says, this sounds like it's wide open to spamdexing, in other words, spamming the search engine spiders with keywords.
I once revised a web site's text, with SEO considerations, but overwhelmingly with users in mind.
I turned dense blocks of text into scannable lists or shorter paragraphs. I turned "we" orientation into "you" orientation. I made the copy more powerful from a marketing viewpoint, and more user-friendly. I added lots of strong benefits copy and clarified product offerings.
The client rejected the whole content revision and retained the weak, fluffy, corporate-speak, feature-oriented copy. Why? Because an SEO guy had written it. The SE rank of this web site is not good. Nothing is really being accomplished by retaining the user-alienating SEO copy.
I, Vaspers the Grate, have never written a single blog post with keywords added to boost search engine ranking. I know of the SEO techniques, but don't bother to implement artificial keyword insertion.
Search engines don't necessarily direct good, qualified customers to you. They often send you merely curious people who typed in a keyword or phrase into a search engine, because they have no clue as to how to find good information or professionals in a field.
I'd rather have people coming to my blog from other blogs that blogroll me or post articles about me.
Check the Technorati, BlogStreet, and Daypop top blog lists, and visit the most popular blogs. See what you like or dislike about them. Try to guess what it is that makes them so popular and successful. Emulate their good points. Avoid their bad points.
Hurry. The book is nearing completion. Time is running out.
Posted by steven edward streight at 3/06/2005 09:59:00 AM