Monday, June 13, 2011

All About Blogs - Part I: The Basics

Before we get to the nuts and bolts of a blog we need to look at the most important aspect of a blog. This is exercise one – look in a mirror. See that reflection? That person has a passion, a hobby, an imagination or something deep down inside they want to share. What is that something? For me it was all aspects of writing. What about you? Grab a sheet of paper and write it down. This will be the foundation of your blog. It doesn’t matter if your topic is as general as ‘writing’ or as specific as ‘the life cycle of a caterpillar.’

Now that you have your main topic it is time to actually make your blog. Hang on a moment here; you may have noticed above that I mentioned blog and website a few times. In my opinion they go hand in hand. Think of a website as a blog on steroids. To be honest, I prefer a blog for ease of maintenance and functionality; plus you have the option to convert your blog to a website and assign a more website(ish) address, For example, The Blood Chronicles can be converted from www.bloodchronicle.blogspot.com to www.bloodchronicle.com (which is something I plan to do soon). Anyway, we are talking about blogs and currently there are a number of domains that allow you to make blogs; however, I believe the top two are Blogger and Wordpress. Each presents their own advantages and disadvantages. I chose Blogger because it is streamlined with Google and you can convert it to a website with ease.

To begin the process you need to go to www.blogger.com and register. You will provide information about yourself, a log in name and password. After you confirm your e-mail address you can log in and generate your blog by following the set-up steps. Don’t go to fast here; take your time and review all the options provided. The first thing you need to think about is the title of your blog and the address (URL). You want to pick a title that catches the attention but not too long. If you notice, both of my blog titles are made up of three words. Think of your blog title much the same way you think of a book title. You want to grab people’s attention with the fewest words necessary. Next is the URL; again, you want it as short and unique as you can. People will not want to type in a long address for that first visit and, remember this, the longer the address the easier it is for mistakes to creep in. It would be horrible to think that people can’t find your blog because a letter was missing from the URL when you linked it to social networks or shared it through e-mail.

So now you have your own blog title and URL. Congratulations! Next is the fun stuff. In Blogger, like Wordpress, you can select or design your template which means you can select 1, 2, 3, or 4 columns for your blog template. Many, when they first start out, select a 1 column blog template which means you have your area where your blog post appears and a column to the left or right of that for other items. I recommend that you start with no less than 2 columns. Why? Flexibility is a word we should always remember. The more columns you have the more room you have to grow and the more freedom you have to move things around. The goal is to find that happy medium; you don't want your blog to look cluttered nor do you want a lot of space between your widgets and added items. Managing your space from the beginning will pay off big time in the future.

You are now ready to move on to setting up the background. Click over to my New Author blog for a moment; the background here is one of many backgrounds available through the Blogger design tab. If you click over to my Blood Chronicles blog you will see an example of a photo used as a background. Why use a photo in one and a regular background in the other? The background is important because it gives you another opportunity to express yourself and set the tone of the blog. When you look at the New Author blog the background is relaxed, neutral, and easy on the eyes but the Blood Chronicles background gives the impression of darkness and dread. I decided to express my novel more with Blood Chronicles and therefore I picked a background image that represents the novel best (until I get my cover).

What do you want to express through your blog, you or your passion? Will a picture fit best as your background or a more generic background? Only you can answer those questions. With your background set you are ready to add widgets to your blog. Widgets are like apps and allow you to display things easily but there are a large number of them. Are some more important than others? Is placement on the blog important? To both I say yes. Here is a question for you. Why do you have a blog? To write about your passion; however, you want people to read and be active on your blog too right? In order to bring more people to your blog you need to show them that people are already there. How do you do that?

When you view your blog for the first time pay close attention to what displays on the screen first. What widgets do you see without scrolling down? This first screen appearance is your prime area. Click back over to the New Author blog for a moment. Without scrolling, what do you see? The Title is there with tabs underneath, then the post but to the left and right you see things such as: Friends and Guests, Followers, a Welcome and a link to MuseItUp publishing. This was done intentionally because it tells people that others have been and are coming back to the blog. Widgets for social links, followers, visitors, and those things that are important to you (like your publisher) should be highly considered for a spot in the prime area of your blog. Once those spaces are occupied add your remaining items under them in order of importance to you.

The last item is, by no means, the least important. Somewhere on your blog (as a tab or in a widget) you should have a contact button. I’m not fond of just putting an e-mail address on the blog and leave it because of spam and junk mail overload so I decided to use the free forms provided by www.wufoo.com. Wufoo will allow you to generate a professional looking contact form that provides security and will send all messages to your designated in-box. For example, click on the ‘Contact Me’ at the bottom of the welcome message for The New Author. That form was generated in Wufoo. You want to share your passion and be open but you also want to be safe with your important information like e-mail addresses.

Once you have your blog put together lean back and enjoy it for a moment.

This wraps up Part I. Part II will be coming soon.

10 comments:

Lisa Forget said...

Hi Brian!

Thank you for all your great advice about the set-up of a sharp-looking blog.

Your blog looks great!

I'm going to tweak mine using some of your ideas.

Wonderfully useful post!
:) Lisa

Brian said...

Lisa - Thank you. Have fun tweaking your blog. When you are done share the link so we can check it out.

Karen Cote said...

You are absolutely amazing Sir Knight. I use Wordpress for everything. This will go a long way in introducing me to Blogger. I have a blogger account but I'm not that well versed. Thank you for doing this. I love being a student especially with such a great teacher to learn from. You are a special individual and such a giving one at that. Thank you for teaching me yet again, something new and with such value.

Brian said...

Karen - You are most welcome. Many of the suggestions and tips work hand and hand with Wordpress and Blogger alike. I use Blogger mainly because that is the platform my blogs are on.

I'm really glad you are finding helpful information in my articles. That makes me happy.

Charlie said...

Hi Brian,
Great post. But have a question. I have a blog associated with my web page (weebly site) My blog is basically introducing authors and tips on writing. Could I, should I start a blog just for my books coming out? They each have their own pages on my website. And how often should you post to the blogs? Thanks!
C.K. Volnek

Mike Hays said...

Brian, thanks for the point to wuffoo.com. There are some great forms there for the taking.

Brian said...

CK - Thank you. I'm actually looking at your site while I respond. Yes, you could set up another blog devoted to your books but I think you can achieve the same goal with the website/blog configuration you have now. Since they each have their own page you can write posts about them on your blog and link to that page so readers can find out more. I would use the blog you have now to talk about your books. Keep in mind that this blog has existed longer so it already has a following. That is a benefit and advantage for using it.

There may come a time when you have to redesign the layout and tabs on your sites but only you will know when that needs to be done.

How often should you post on your blog? I would try for at least twice a week. That will keep it fresh and active. Spread them out so one is at the beginning of the week and the other near the end of the week.

I hope this helps.

Brian

Brian said...

Mike - I have been very happy with wufoo.

J Q Rose said...

How do I put wufoo into my blog. Use the add a gadget html? Thanks.

Brian said...

JQ - You first need to go to Wufoo.com and register with their site. They will take you through the steps to develop a contact form. After that they will give you the html code for that form. Copy that html code and paste it into an html widget on your blog. It sounds WAY harder than it actually is.