I've helped several people get their blogs set up over the past few weeks, and thought I'd share with you the basics. I'm mostly familiar with Typepad, Blogger, WordPress, and SquareSpace. Everything suggested here is doable on those platforms without knowing any html, css, or php. I'm sure most other popular platforms will have most of the same functionality, but of course I can't promise that.
Setting Up - Content
Here's what I consider the minimum set to get your blog going:
On each post
- The date. While the date is important, the time of day isn't really necessary unless you plan to be exceptionally prolific. I leave mine on for silly, personal reasons, thank you very much :)
- An obvious permalink or trackback.
- Email this. You definitely want the ability for readers to email your post. You might not be able to specify this within your blogging system. Don't worry, you'll be able to get it along with those Digg, Del.icio.us, Reddit, etc. links you see everywhere when you get set up with Feedburner a bit later.
- Subscribe. Somewhere at the very top should be a link to subscribe in a reader. I also like having a "subscribe via email" option. Lots of people are still intimidated by feeds, but don't hesitate to subscribe via email. Some platforms have their own feeds, but I recommend Feedburner here as well (covered after the jump).
- Search. I use Google because I trust it and so does most everyone else. As with all widgets, you'll need code your specific platform. Here's the code for Google Search in Typepad.
- Recent posts. You certainly want to show readers what you've written about recently. But I've never found recent comments helpful. If they're aren't many, you look like you have no buzz going on. If there are a lot, you end up with comments out of context, which isn't helpful either.
- Categories or Tag Cloud. If you limit yourself to a handful of categories or tags, it probably makes sense to have a list for navigational purposes. If you tend to have more tags (within reason, of course) I think the tag cloud is really useful. The fact that the size of each tag increases with each reference makes for a great navigational aid. And, with a quick glance at a tag cloud, you can get real feel for the content of a blog. I'd dig further into a blog with a huge TECHNOLOGY and a small PORN, for example, but wouldn't bother if the cloud showed a large PORN and a small TECHNOLOGY. Honest!
- Archives. Yes. Show your archives. How else will anyone get to your old stuff?
After the jump: Feeds 101, Publicizing, Metrics, and Blog Networks
RSS stands for Really Simple Syndication. RSS Feeds aren't nearly as scary as they sound. One way to get blog content is to go find a blog and read it. Another way is to let the blog come to you. You do this by subscribing. An email subscription is just an RSS feed sent to your mailbox. When you're subscribing to or setting up a feed, you'll sometimes be asked to choose between RSS 1.0, RSS 2.0, or Atom. These are just different versions of the RSS protocol. Read more about RSS.
Some platforms offer their own feed service. Typepad, for example, offers one that you can add to your page by simply checking a box. This will also work perfectly well for you. The advantage of using Feedburner is you get a bunch of other good stuff from them, even with the free version. You get:
- Stats - basic stats about subscriptions for free, more detailed stats in the pro version.
- Access to Feedflares - that's all the groovy "Digg This" goodness you crave.
- A "Subscribe via Email" widget.
Feedburner is a good deal. Setting it up isn't hard, but it does get a little confusing at times. Here's the basics:
- Go sign up for Feedburner and do like it says - enter the url of your blog.
- Here you'll be asked to choose RSS 1.0, RSS 2.0, or Atom. Make your life easy. Choose Atom. It's widely supported, and will be the kindest to your content, especially if you plan to embed videos or other media types.
- You'll need to name your feed - keep in mind, it's case sensitive. I named mine JulesSays, and I regret it. I usually do everything lower case, so I forget I did it differently here. The address will rarely if ever show up anywhere publicly, so don't sweat the case.
- Now you have a feed. Click on the blue feed name, and you'll be at your dashboard, where you set up the rest of it. Click on the Publicize tab to get at all the widgets.
You're going to have to do quite a bit of back and forth between Feedburner and your blog at this point. In some cases you'll have the option to create a widget for your specific platform. In other cases you'll have to copy code and insert it into your template.
You can do all this in any order.
- Go to the Chicklet Chooser on the left. I like the small Feed icon myself, but that's personal preference. What they call "browser friendly" widgets are separate icons for each possible feedreader, giving you a long (ugly) list of icons. With the single-link widgets, the user is unfortunately subjected to an extra click, but I think it's worth it for a cleaner look. (I know I've read about a way around the extra click, but now I can't find it... can anyone point me there?)
- Go to Email Subscriptions. Here there are widgets for Typepad and Blogger, and code for the rest of you to put in your sidebar.
- Be sure to check out the subheads under Email subscriptions - there are options to customize the subscription email and change the branding elements and look and feel of the feed.
- There's a feed count widget you should only use when you have a significant number of subscribers. Sadly, I don't yet have enough subscribers to warrant this widget :(
- Creative Commons - that's the kinder, gentler, open-source copyright you're seeing more of these days. I use it and support it.
Switch over to the Optimize tab
- Active Smart Feed (so your subscription link recognizes any feedreader)
- Click on FeedFlares - these are links that are going to appear after every post. I'm not sure why you wouldn't want these on both the post and the feed, but you have to opt into both. Don't go overboard with the flares - chose the ones you use or you know others use.
- you definitely want your readers to be able to Email this - that's a no-brainer
- you may not find all the flares you want on the main list - reddit and magnolia, for example, aren't there - you need to look in their catalog to get them.
Google has recently bought Feedburner, so watch for changes to all of this.
Don't forget to subscribe to your own feed via your feedreader and email so you can keep an eye on how things look.
Publicizing your posts
Bookmarking and Indexing services
I have a routine I go through after each post. You'll need to sign up for a bunch of services to make this efficient.
- Onlywire. Go get an account here, and you'll be presented with a long list of bookmarking services, including the big ones like del.icio.us and mag.nolia. Use that list to go sign up for all that are relevant to you. I recommend you come up with a publicity nickname and password that you use for all of these. Basically, you'll be having OnlyWire log into all these services and bookmark your posts. You'll tag them, and others who use those services will find your posts when searching for content containing those tags. Do this for an individual blog post, i.e., a permalink - not your generic blog url. How useful is OnlyWire? Well, those bookmarks bring me a handful of traffic every day, so it's at least working a bit.
- Ping-o-matic. Only a bookmark needed here for your generic blog address, i.e., not a link to a direct post. It will ping a lengthy list of indexing services for you. Both this and pinging Google just hasten the indexing process that otherwise might not happen for weeks.
- Ping Google. Again, just your blog address here, but do it after each post.
After a particularly good post, you'll want to submit to news sharing and cool-site-finding sites, such as
- This could be a long, long, long list, I know. These are the ones I like. Probably Reddit brings me the most traffic of all of them.
I am, admittedly, new to blog networks. I signed up for my first one, MyBlogLog, just yesterday. I had been hearing all sorts of awful things about the spam you get as a member, but apparently they've recently done an overhaul and that's no longer an issue. So my explanation here is as an ultra-noob :)
Basically, you sign up as a member and get a profile page where you can list your web site (s). Here's my profile page. You can go there and make me a friend or contact. You can also click on the link to my blog and join that community. I'm not sure yet what the relative benefits of each are yet. I put the widget on my blog over there on the lower left. Now, whenever a mybloglog member visits my page, their picture shows up. Likewise, my picture shows up on their blogs. I'm seeing new traffic from it already :)
This is easy. Go immediately to Google Analytics. This is very, very cool. It's a chunk of code you'll embed in your blog (on mine, it's in an invisible typelist in my sidebar) that gives you statistics on your blog. Page views, unique visitors, where they're from, how long they stayed, which posts were most popular... there's just an enormous wealth of fun stats here. And it's free, until you get really really popular, at which point you won't mind paying a few bucks for it, right?
So, that's what I've taken my friends and colleagues through to get their blogs going. What are your 101 tips?