Saturday, June 17, 2006

5 Ways to Improve Your Blog
by Christopher Conlan


Blog, Blog, Blog. It’s like getting the theme song from The Bridge on the River Kwai stuck inside your head. A blog can be your best friend, or your worst nightmare. If used in “moderation” a blog can be a benefit to your bottom line, but beware, blog are addictive. It’s easy to get caught up in your blog and lose focus on your core business goals, so here are 5 simple ways to make your blogging life easier and more successful.

So put down the proverbial blog crack pipe, and remember the blog is there to serve you, not the other way around! Blogs (or Web Logs) aren’t new, but they have become a fast mover in the world of web design and search engine optimization. A blog is a website first and foremost, with a small twist. It usually has a neat user interface that anyone can publish their latest news, product updates, whimsical thoughts, technical specifications, customer service/FAQ information and more. You can use a blog for just about anything you can think of. The more creative you are the better.

There are plenty of low-cost or free ways to get started blogging. WordPress, Blogger, Easy2Blog, B2Evolution and more are all free. I’m a WordPress guy myself because I dig plug-ins, but if you don’t know anything about programming I would suggest Blogger (Google) or Easy2Blog (easy as the name suggests).

The 5 Ways to Improve Blog Performance are more for those of you who have are using publishing software such as WordPress. So here we go (remember, a blog is a website).

Content
There are plenty of ways to get content for your blog. It’s best to keep it relative to your topic. Ezinearticles and GoArticles are great places for free, syndicated articles for your blog. Just be cool about it and remember to cut and paste the text or code exactly as it is and give attribution to the writer (the author link).

Simply syndicating everyone else’s articles isn’t enough, you need to add your own viewpoints. Try and write one a day, even if it’s not 500 words or more. Be careful. It’s easy to become obsessed with adding content to your blog. Spend more time on adding content on the front end (when you’re building the original blog structure) and then simply commit yourself to 10 minutes a day writing at least one post for your blog. It’s easy for a BLOG to become a BLOB that your reader’s will soon turn away from.

Categories
Set up and manage several different categories related to your “topic”. You can publish the same article into different categories. Example: if your blog is about Search Engine Optimization you may have 5 different categories (plus the main category). Your categories could be – On Page SEO, Off Page SEO, Link Building, Directory Submission, and Site Design. Not every article or post will be relative to each category, but some will overlap. Don’t go crazy and put every post in every category every time. You’ll lose readers and value.

Blog Search Engine Optimization
There are a series of tools/plug-ins that will help with search engine optimization for your blog. DagonDesign has a great plug-in for WordPress and it’s free and easy to install. Having clean URLs for your posts is extremely important. When you post an article about “Choosing Colors for Your Website” you don’t want your post URL to be www.blahblahblog.com/?=ID1234 . In WordPress, for example, you want to at least choose the built in selection “Date and Name based” (click “Options” then “Permalinks” in the Dashboard view”). If you feel comfortable and are a bit crafty you can create a custom permalink structure.

Submit your Blog to Blog Directories
In addition to the traditional directory submissions you would make with any website. Most of these directories require a link back to their directory. There are two ways to handle these links (1) create a new page called “links” or resources” and post the links there (make sure you use the HTML editor/button on the post page otherwise the link will show up as code and won’t count), or (2) put the link on your main page in the sidebar.

Keep in mind that the blog directories are for the most part human edited so it may take some time for them to confirm your link and blog content so be patient. Also, it’s a good idea if you’re setting up a separate links page to write down the URL of that page, the directories will ask you for the location of the backlink to their directory when you fill out the form. Most of the general SEO principles for a regular website apply to blogs. Don’t forget to put a link to your main website and to your blogs main page in the footer of your blog (and tag it properly for maximum effect).

Blog Design
Almost every blog is designed using CSS (Cascading Style Sheets). CSS is a great tool for website design and especially blogging. It allows you to create new pages on the fly without redesigning each page. For WordPress (and Blogger, etc.) there are a ton of pre-designed, free templates, themes, skins, layouts (all the same thing) out there you can download, customize or use “as is”. Be a decent blogger and make sure you leave the backlink in the footer for the designer. If you don’t know anything about customizing blogs you can follow the link back to the original designer or the person who “ported” it to the blog format, they may be able to help you with customizing the blog for a couple hundred dollars. Matt at http://www.dagondesign.com/ can help you out here.

Calls to Action
Just like your website, your blog should have specific calls to action so that reader’s can interact with you. Whether it’s a simple “contact us” form mailer or a more elaborate ecommerce function, once you “got ‘em” there, they need something to do. Again, Dagon Design has a cool form mailer plug-in that’s easy to add to your site. You may have to create a separate HTML page and link to it from your blog (put it in your header so it’s on each page) if you want to add a shopping cart. These are just the first 5, stick around for more, or visit our blog at http://blog-template-layout.com and check out what’s new.

Remember, your blog is just an extension of you and your business, so give it some personality, define some goals and make some rules for your blog.

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