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