Monday, April 16, 2007

Ten Tips on How To Blog

Everybody should have a blog. Everybody knows something. Get out there and show the world what you’re a subject matter expert on. Knowledge deserves to be shared, and blogging is an excellent (and easy) way to share it.

Here’s my top ten list of dos and don’ts when it comes to blogging. I see a lot of blogs that don’t follow this guidance, and it amazes me. Don’t they want to be taken seriously? I’ve only been in the game for, oh, six or seven years, and I’m still honing my craft, but it’s already clear to me that there’s a right way, and a wrong way. Here’s what I’ve learned.

  1. Publish an RSS feed. If you’re coding pages by hand in HTML and expecting people to come back to your site every week to look for new pages, you’re trapped in the twentieth century. Feedburner’s a bit coy regarding the number of RSS feed views they see, but the number’s large, and growing larger every day. Feedburner’s publishing over 663,000 feeds, all of which were set up by somebody wanting to read a site, or publish info from a site, using RSS. That’s just published feeds – the number of page views for all of these RSS feeds is undoubtedly in the many millions. It’s not hard to publish an RSS feed, either. Most blogging tools (like Blogger, which I use) already come with this feature built-in.

  2. Optimize your content display for RSS. Sign up for your own RSS feed in something like Google Reader, an easy-to-use feed reader. Make sure the content is presented in a way you’re comfortable with. Just about every day I read some blog post in a non-descript deliverability blog posted by “Matt” or by “Bob.” Sometimes I think, ‘pff, what is this guy thinking,’ then I click through to the actual article and find out that it was posted by the CEO of a very well-known company. Does your RSS feed say your article was “posted by bigal” or does it say “posted by Al Iverson”? Which do you think better conveys who you are and better presents your image?

  3. Add a footer to your messages (or just to your RSS feed). This actually can help you overcome limitations with how your content is displayed in an RSS reader. I add a footer to my anti-spam blogs that says, “Posted by Al Iverson. I welcome your feedback, contact me at .” It helps brand my content as written by me, and helps to get my name out there. I think that’s very important if you want people to know who you are. It also helps for people who just casually stumbled across your blog, people who don’t already know you. Make sure they’re able to recognize you and give you credit for what you’ve posted!

  4. Use your real name. I read (but generally don’t take too seriously) a few anonymously-registered blogs. It gets confusing when some of those sites describes itself by saying “I and me,” but they hide who “I and me” actually are. Professionalism and ethics demand that if you’re going to share something with the world, you should put your name on it and stand behind it. Hide your name, and you’re telling me (and the world) that you’re afraid of criticism, afraid of people knowing that you’re saying a certain thing. It definitely makes me think twice about why somebody wouldn’t want to publish something under their own name.

  5. Have a feedback/contact me link. You’ll learn from your readers. Sometimes what you’ll learn is that they’re morons, but that’s fairly rare. Most of the time, they’ll share something insightful. It might even make you reconsider your point of view, or give you ideas for other things to write about. I go so far as to actively solicit questions via email. I don’t always have time to respond to each one personally, but it helps keep the “idea well” full of things I can write about.

  6. Argue with data, not with emotions. If there is one thing I am tired of, and won’t listen to anymore, it’s sturm and drang from other technology geeks about how a process MUST be implemented a certain way, BECAUSE IT’S THE RIGHT THING TO DO (even though they have no supporting data to prove that it works). If it’s the right thing to do, prove it to me. I realize that it’s not all about business ROI, and that’s fine. But if you’re going to tell me that I’m wrong, or I need to change my thinking, the case is not made via anecdotes and warm fuzzies. People in cults “just believe.” Smart people want proof. Show me what % lift in clicks process X gets you, or show me how Y% of spam is blowback when measured against your mail stream. Not all data is perfect, but data is a far better starting point for a discussion than, “this one time this guy had this problem and it was blocked because of Z.” That will only occasionally reproduce well as shared knowledge.

  7. Stay on topic. Print this one out and tape it to your computer monitor. Tattoo it on your forehead, backwards, so you can read it in the mirror when brushing your teeth in the morning. Stay on topic!!! When I read your blog about spam (or VoIP), I want to learn about spam (or VoIP). Not what kind of cereal you had today, the fact that you sat next to an ugly girl on the plane, nor your thoughts on religion and bar fighting. Nothing drives me away from your blog faster than off-topic ramblings that have nothing to do with the professed topic of the blog. Sure, an offhand comment in the context of an on-topic article is to be expected here and there. But save the “I ate cereal today” posts for your “Cereal and Ramblings” blog. Link to it from your topical content blog if you must, but don’t confuse the two, as you’re talking to two vastly different audiences. Those audiences are not as compatible as you think.

  8. Post regularly. Yeah, I suffer from this, too. I get distracted and don’t have time to write something for weeks on end, sometimes. But I try. And I try to stay ahead by writing new posts and articles ahead of time. Saving them up, and releasing them once or twice a week. That way I am slowly building up the content of my site, but can take a break here and there when I need it. More than half of the time you see me post something over on Spam Resource, it’s really something that I wrote a few days ago and saved to publish out at a certain time, or at least a few days after my last post.

  9. It’s OK to link to stories by other folks, but don’t steal. One of the biggest bummers I’ve had to personally deal with as an aspiring web-based author is people ripping off my content. It’s not okay to republish my entire article, just because you kept my name on it. You’re taking traffic away from my site, which I can track, and sending it to your site, which I can’t track. Quoting a few sentences and linking to my article is acceptable. And I welcome it! Send traffic my way and I’ll try to return the favor. But duplicate my content elsewhere and you’re going to confuse Google into thinking we’re trying to search engine spam, or people are going to visit your site and think it’s my site. Not cool.

  10. Link to other sites (create a blog roll). Google ranking (where your site shows up in search engine results) is based on a complex variable equation, but one important component is how many sites link to you. Link to good sites on topics similar to yours, and encourage those sites (and others) to link back to you. Show readers what sites you read, to give them options of other things to read that they may find interesting. It’s friendly to your readers, and it helps your ranking in search engines.