Saturday, April 25, 2015

A to Z of Blogging: V - Value #atozchallenge @AprilA2Z

As I said in an earlier post in this series, our blog readers are our primary asset in blogging, unless we’re keeping a sort of private diary online, which I don’t think most of us are doing!

So it becomes essential to give value to our readers through our blog. It becomes essential to make it worth their time to read our posts.

And how do we do that? How do we ensure that our blog does offer something of value in exchange for our readers’ time? How do we give the best possible experience to our readers on our blog?




How to Give Value to Your Blog Readers?


I’ve already covered these points individually earlier in the series. So I’ll just give a brief summary here to refresh your minds. You can visit the linked posts to read the full content of those articles if you missed them earlier.


  • Know Your Readers.
    Having an idea of who reads your blog content helps you tailor your content to meet their requirements and it also helps you deliver your content in ways your readers can easily access.

  • Give Good Content.
    Content truly is king. If your content does not offer anything of value to your readers, they will not visit your blog again. Remember those 5 questions. “Is it useful? Is it accessible? Is it readable? Is it understandable? Is it unique?” Strive for quality, but, not perfection.

  • Keep a User-Friendly Design.
    If you have great content, then a user-friendly design showcases that content to your readers effectively, and helps them access it easily. Your blog design should take care of both the aesthetics as well as the functionality.

  • Encourage Engagement.
    The best way to encourage engagement on your blog is to make the interaction options visible and easy to use. Whether it’s the comment form or the social sharing buttons, the newsletter sign-up box or other subscription options, they should all be prominently displayed. Also, make it a point to respond promptly to all comments and queries you receive.

  • Maintain Consistency in Updation.
    Whether you decide to post daily or weekly or fortnightly or 5 times a day, just fix one posting schedule and then stick to it. If you maintain consistency in your blog updation schedule, your readers will know when to expect new content on your blog and they’ll "fit" your blog in their "routine".

Bottom-line is that if we have a blog that other people read, i.e. if it’s not a private blog, giving value to our readers must be our first and foremost goal. It doesn’t matter whether we blog professionally or as a hobby, or even if we have a niche or not. We just need to ensure that our readers feel as appreciated as we do when they read our content.

Do you believe it is important to ensure that your readers are getting enough value for their time? Do you attempt to do this on your blog? What ways do you use?


This is my 22nd post for 2015 AprilAtoZ.
Link to the previous post: A to Z of Blogging: U - Updation.


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Friday, April 24, 2015

A to Z of Blogging: U - Updation #atozchallenge @AprilA2Z

There is a never-ending debate in the blogosphere about the update frequency on your blog. Some bloggers say you should blog daily, some tell you to blog not more than thrice a week, and some advice a posting schedule of several times a day! So whose advice do you follow?

You decide for yourself, based on the points mentioned below.

First, let’s take a look at the pros and cons of high updation frequency on blogs.




Pros of High Update Frequency On Blogs:


  • Better Ranks.
    Google loves fresh content. Blogs that get updated frequently are better ranked on search engines, provided you’ve taken care of the SEO aspect of your posts.

  • New Visitors.
    More new content means that there are more of your posts on search results pages, i.e. more “entry points to your blog” for new visitors, who find your blog through search engines.

  • Repeat Visitors.
    If a news channel showed the same news for a week, how often would you watch that channel? Same way, if you don’t give new content to your readers for days on end, why would they visit your blog repeatedly?

Cons of High Update Frequency On Blogs:


  • Writer Burnout.
    Posting too often on your blog can affect you as a writer. It can drain you physically and mentally. It can affect your writing quality too. This is known as “writer burnout”.

  • Reader Burnout.
    A severe case of “blogorrhea” can affect your readers too (i.e. the regular ones). They might not be able to keep up with your update frequency and opt to unsubscribe. (So, if you plan to increase your blog update frequency for a temporary duration, then it’s best to inform your readers about it. If they know it’s only for a short time, they just might put up with it!)

  • Reduced Engagement.
    Too high update frequency doesn’t give much time for conversations to happen in the comments forum. The “commentariat” are forced to move on to your next post. You are also busy writing your next post instead of replying to comments on your last post.

Based on the above pros and cons of high update frequency, here are 6 pointers that should help you decide how often you ought to update your blog.


6 Points To Help You Decide Your Blog Updation Frequency


  • Blogging Goals.
    How fast do you want your blog to grow in readership? For slow growth, post weekly or fortnightly. For moderate growth, post 3 times a week. For steady growth, daily posts are recommended. For fast growth, you need to post 3-5 times a day.

  • Blog Age.
    If your blog is new, you need to focus on marketing more than content and readership. You must spend time finding other blogs in your niche and commenting regularly on them. You must submit guest posts on other blogs and article directories to establish yourself as an expert and gain some “backlinks”. Moderate update frequency is good during this period.

  • Content Diversity.
    A blog on diverse subjects and many categories performs better with update schedule of more than once daily. Readers expect such blogs to be updated more frequently. Besides, these blogs usually offer selective subscription options. You can subscribe to a specific category only if you like.

  • Traffic Source.
    If you depend on search engines primarily for your blog traffic, then it makes sense to have a higher update frequency for your blog. (As discussed in the pros above.) But, if your readers are regular subscribers or those who have bookmarked your blog, then you should try to keep it moderate or steady.

  • Post Length.
    If you write long, detailed, informational posts on a regular basis, then a posting schedule of once a week is good. It gives you enough time to write and it gives the readers enough time to absorb what you’ve written and have their queries answered via comments. Shorter posts can be published more frequently.

  • Number of Blog Authors.
    Group or multi-author blogs can have a higher update frequency, as there is less likelihood of writer-burnout. Single author blogs should stick to slow or moderate growth. Even daily posts can result in fatigue.

Whatever blog update frequency you decide eventually, be sure to maintain consistency with it. If you’d like to experiment with it a little, don’t make the changes too abrupt, or at least inform your readers about what you’re doing. You can even conduct a poll and ask for their opinions directly.

Do you have a fixed blogging schedule currently? How often do you update your blog? Is it working for you? Or do you think you ought to change your update frequency?


This is my 21st post for 2015 AprilAtoZ.
Link to the previous post: A to Z of Blogging: T - Types.


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Thursday, April 23, 2015

A to Z of Blogging: T - Types #atozchallenge @AprilA2Z


Remember those terms for blogging habits that we covered under ‘H for Habits’? Today, I’m going to share terms that the blogerati have come up with, for the different types of blogs, blogging and bloggers. And who are these “blogerati”? You’ll know in a minute.




Types of Blogging


  • Photoblogging – When you’re posting primarily photographs and images. This is what we usually do when we decide to participate in the “Photo A Day” challenges on our blogs. I have indulged in photoblogging here during three months: March 2012, May 2013 and June 2013. There can be dedicated “photobloggers” too.

  • Vlogging – Short for “video blogging”. When the blogger, known as “vlogger”, posts videos as his/her main blog content.

  • Audioblogging – When “audiobloggers” publish audio files (MP3s or other music formats) as their main blog content.

  • Moblogging – When a blog is updated and maintained via a mobile phone by “mobloggers”.

Types of Blogs


  • Group blog – A blog run by a team of bloggers. (Very popular these days.)

  • Event blog – It is created specifically and exclusively for a particular event. (My school batch is having a reunion later this year. Maybe they should consider creating an event blog for the purpose. We totally hijacked our whatsapp group with senseless chats!)

  • Kittyblog – A blog about cats. (Does anyone have an exclusive kittyblog?)

  • Celeblog – A blog dedicated to a celebrity, usually maintained by fans. (Too many of them!)

  • Celebriblog – A blog that’s actually maintained by a celebrity. (Like Big B’s blog.)

  • Splog – A spam blog, created to promote certain websites, boost traffic to these websites and increase their search engine positions. (Black hat SEO stuff!)

  • Tech blog – A blog on technical stuff. (Very good for making money.)

  • Anonoblog – A blog published by an anonymous blogger. (I wish mine was an anonoblog!)

  • Metablog – A blog about blogging. (Another excellent niche for monetization.)

  • Milblog – A military blog. (Haven’t seen one of these so far. Are military people even allowed to blog about military related stuff?)

  • Linguablog – A blog related to linguistics, translation etc. (Would be a lot of hard work to maintain such a blog, and not enough monetization, I suppose.)

  • Blawg – A blog about legal stuff, (supposedly) maintained by a lawyer. (They usually outsource the writing though. I have written content for a lot of “blawgs” in the U.S.!)

  • Edu-blog – A blog related to education. (There are thousands of these in India. They all curate application/exam notices from the Indian Universities and Indian Civil Services. Make a lot of money through ads!)

  • Dark Blog – A non-public blog, i.e. a restricted-readership blog. (I have made my blog “dark” so many times. Had no idea there was a term for it!)

Types of Bloggers


  • Problogger – A professional blogger, i.e. one who blogs as a profession.

  • Blognoscenti – The fraternity of the most knowledgeable bloggers.

  • Blogebrity – A very famous blogger… a blogging celebrity.

  • Blogerati - The cumulative “intelligentsia” of the blogosphere.

  • Commentariat – Collective term for bloggers who leave comments on other blogs.

  • Dooced – Any blogger who lost his job because of the content posted on his blog!

Some classification, right? Like I said in the beginning of the post, you’ve got the blogerati to thank, for coming up with these creative terms for types of blogs, bloggers and blogging!

There are many more such words in the blogging vocabulary nowadays. Just do a Google search for them sometime. You’ll be happily amazed!

Do you or your blog classify into any of these types?


This is my 20th post for 2015 AprilAtoZ.
Link to the previous post: A to Z of Blogging: S - SEO.


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Wednesday, April 22, 2015

A to Z of Blogging: S - SEO #atozchallenge @AprilA2Z

It is not possible to be successful in blogging with only your real-life friends and family members as your readers. Nor is it possible to build-up and maintain personal relations with thousands of other bloggers, just so they keep reading your blog.

Needless to say, most of the traffic on popular blogs comes from the searches people do on various search engines like Google. For this reason, it becomes essential to ensure that your content is written in such a way that it can be discovered by search engines. This process is known as Search Engine Optimization or SEO for short.

So how do we write Search Engine Optimized content on our blog? Here are 10 Search Engine Optimization Tips to get you started.




Search Engine Optimization (SEO) Tips for Blogging


  1. Keyword Research.
    First, you need to do a research of the phrases people use to search for the content you plan to write, i.e. your niche. It’s only when you know these “keywords” that you can “optimize” your content for them.

  2. Post Titles.
    Once you have a list of probable topics for your blog posts (based on the keywords that you researched), you need to include these keywords in your post titles. Doing so gives your post a better chance of ranking higher in the search engine results.

  3. Meta Tags and Descriptions.
    This is a bit of HTML code added to the beginning of your post that tells the search engines what your post is all about. Meta tags are often misused for stuffing irrelevant keywords, but meta descriptions are good. They are brief “human-readable” summaries of your post and they include your main keywords. You don’t need to know HTML to add them. Both Wordpress and Blogger give the option to add this information to every post on your blog.

  4. Post Length.
    Your post should ideally be at least 250 words in length. Any article shorter than that is not much liked by search engines.

  5. Headings and Sub-headings.
    Split your article into sections and give appropriate headings/sub-headings for each section. Include your keywords in these headings for better search engine optimization of your post.

  6. Keyword Density.
    Ideally, your post should contain a keyword density of 10-15%. So if your post has 400 words, the keyword phrases should make up about 40-50 words. Too high keyword density is considered as keyword stuffing and can get your blog banned from search engines.

  7. Image Optimization.
    Many times, people land on your content through an image search. So you must optimize your images too. Use your keywords as names of the images added in your posts. Add these keywords to the image alt and title tags as well.

  8. Internal Links.
    Optimize the links to other related posts on your blog. Don’t put links on generic words, like “click here”. Instead, use the specific keyword phrase that the second article is about.

  9. Permalinks.
    The default permalinks of Wordpress blog posts are of the format www.xyz.com/?=123. These permalinks are not at all search engine friendly. Ideally, you should have your optimized post title in the URL. Here’s a guide to change the Wordpress permalinks.

  10. Human-readable.
    Lastly, but most importantly, write your articles first for your readers and then for search engines. Keyword spam can get you a higher ranking in the search results, but your visitors will not convert into followers if they can barely understand what you’ve written.

Following these Search Engine Optimization Tips, you’ll be able to get a higher search engine ranking for your content, thereby getting more traffic to your blog. Then, if your content is well written, some percentage of these visitors will also become loyal readers.

Do you optimize your blog posts for search engines? Which of these SEO practices do you already follow? Which of these SEO tips would you like to implement now?


This is my 19th post for 2015 AprilAtoZ.
Link to the previous post: A to Z of Blogging: R - Readers.


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Tuesday, April 21, 2015

A to Z of Blogging: R - Readers #atozchallenge @AprilA2Z

Our blog readers are perhaps the most important part of our blogging experience. They’re the ones who inspire us with their comments and emails. Their feedback helps us improve, and their encouragement keeps us blogging. (In fact, if it wasn’t for them, my blog surely would have never recovered from its so many untimely “deaths”!)

That is why, it is essential that we must know our blog readers. If we know our blog audience, we can

  • publish content that they can relate to.
  • promote our content via channels that they’re comfortable with.
  • offer subscription/following options that can be of use to them.

So what kind of information do we need to know about our blog readers, so that we can connect better with them?




What to Know About Our Blog Readers?

Reader Demographics

  • Gender
  • Age
  • Geographic location
  • Ethnicity

Reader Behavior

  • Device/Operating System/Browser used
  • Day-of-Week/Time-of-Day of their visits
  • Source/Medium of Traffic (Search/Social Media/Direct/Referral)
  • Most popular content (posts, tags, search phrases)

And how do we find out all this information about our blog readers?


How to Know About Our Blog Readers?


  • Analytics Tools.
    Google Analytics gives us data about their location, as well as the technology they use, source of traffic, and the search phrases that bring them to our blog. Alexa also gives information about their age group etc. I find Histats pretty useful to track what day-of-week and time-of-day my readers choose to be active.

  • Surveys/Polls.
    I do this at times, especially when I’m making some changes in the blog layout. It is always best to ask our readers directly about their likes and dislikes.

  • Blog Comments.
    The comments section can also provide a lot of information about our active readers, viz. who they are, whether male or female, their feedback, their queries, etc. We can start conversations with them through the comments, and get to know them more personally. Eventually, we can carry the relationship forward onto emails.

  • Other Channels of Interaction.
    Many of our readers don’t like to comment on our blog directly. Instead, they give their feedback on social media sites, like Facebook and Twitter, when we promote our posts on those sites. Some email subscribers prefer to just email us directly. By keeping a track of these little details, we can understand what social media channels are used more by our readers, and promote our content accordingly.

  • Observant Reading.
    Many of our blog readers are bloggers themselves. So the best way to know them better is by checking out their space, i.e. their blogs, and by paying attention to what they write about.

In business, the rule is “know your customers”. In blogging, it is “know your readers”. Better understanding of our audience helps us deliver content that is better appreciated. If we’re blogging to make money, this translates to more effective monetization. If we’re blogging for the networking, this helps in forming stronger connections with our readers.

So who are your blog readers? Do you use any of the above ways to understand your readers? Do you use any other ways to do so? Does knowing your readers help you in deciding what to post?


This is my 18th post for 2015 AprilAtoZ.
Link to the previous post: A to Z of Blogging: Q - Quality.


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Monday, April 20, 2015

A to Z of Blogging: Q - Quality #atozchallenge @AprilA2Z

We’re repeatedly told to “publish quality content on blogs” and that “quality is more important than quantity.” At times, this makes us so conscious of our work that we don’t publish it at all!

I remember, the first time I attempted a daily blogging series here in September 2010, I almost didn’t make it through. I was under so much pressure regarding the quality of my posts in that series.

Perfectionism is a deadly trap. The need to deliver perfect content all the time makes you overly self-critical! You keep revising and re-evaluating your work, and even then, most of it ends up in the discard pile because you decide it is not good enough!

But you cannot choose to NOT hit the ball just because there’s no way you can score a six off it! If you keep waiting to play only sixes, you’ll hardly get any runs on the board!

Over time, I have realized that perfection is highly overrated. Usually, “good” is good enough. So what makes good blog content?




What Is Good Blog Content?

  • It is any content that entertains people.
  • It is any content that informs people.
  • It is any content that educates people.
  • It is any content that inspires/motivates people.
  • It is any content that connects with people.

Any content (be it text, pictorial or audio/visual) that does any of the above, is worth publishing on your blog. You just need to take care of certain basic quality parameters.


How to Maintain the Quality of Your Blog Content?


  • Uniqueness.
    Is there anything new in your blog content? Are you sharing any new information or idea? Are you presenting an old idea with a new angle? Are you making it any simpler to grasp? There must be an original take in your blog content.

  • Reader-Centric.
    A reader-centric blog focuses on the readers and not on search engines. There’s a natural flow in the content. The topics resonate with the readers. The language and writing style mirrors their own.

  • Spellings, Typos and Grammar.
    I am no grammar nazi. I give more weightage to the idea than the presentation. Still, spellings and basic grammar can easily be rectified by running your content through a Word Processor like MS-Word. It doesn’t take too much time.

  • Visual Appeal.
    The layout and formatting of your blog content, as well as your entire blog design, together make up the visual appeal. Good quality content is content that is easy to read/view, with respect to both the eyes and the gray cells.

As long as you have content that is “good enough”, you should go ahead and publish it. There will always be some posts every once in a while, that will be outstanding. Aim for high quality, but, do not compromise too much on quantity. It is equally important to keep your blog updated regularly.

What quality parameters have you set yourself for your blog content? Do you ever cut down on quantity to meet your quality demands? How do you manage to achieve a balance between quality and quantity on your blog?


This is my 17th post for 2015 AprilAtoZ.
Link to the previous post: A to Z of Blogging: P - Platform.


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Sunday, April 19, 2015

A to Z of Blogging: P - Platform #atozchallenge @AprilA2Z

One of the biggest challenges in starting a blog is, perhaps, deciding which blogging platform to choose. There are many options available: Wordpress, Blogger, Typepad, LiveJournal, Wix, and Tumblr, to name just a few. Some of these blogging platforms are free, some are paid, and some offer premium services in their paid versions. They all have different sets of features and require varying degrees of technical skills to use them.

Most popular of the lot are Wordpress and Blogger, and there’s a never-ending debate on which of these two is better. To be completely fair though, the debate should be between THREE and not TWO. Wordpress.com and Wordpress.org are two separate blogging platforms.

My own blogs are all hosted on Blogger. I have made some professional websites too on Blogger, to save on hosting costs for my clients. That doesn’t necessarily mean that you should go for Blogger too. It works for me, but, it might be totally wrong for you.

In this article, I will let you decide which of these three blogging platforms is best for you based on your specific requirements.




Which Blogging Platform Is Best For You?


Wordpress.org

  • Cost:
    • None for the software.
    • About $80-90 a year for domain and hosting.
  • Pros:
    • Easy to post, upload and customize.
    • Thousands of free themes and plugins.
    • Full customization control. 
    • Better support for advertisements.
    • Search Engine friendly.
    • Excellent support from community.
    • Storage space only limited to hosting plan purchased.
    • Provides four user levels.
    • Can password-protect individual posts.
  • Cons:
    • Setting it up on own hosting requires moderate levels of technical skills.
    • Hosting being from some third-party, is not as secure and reliable as hosting on Blogger or Wordpress.com.
    • Also more prone to malware attacks.
  • Ideal For:
    • Professional bloggers and business owners. 
    • News curation blogs.
    • High traffic blogs.
    • Multi-user blogs with varying access levels.

Wordpress.com

  • Cost:
    • None for subdomain blog (i.e. xyz.wordpress.com).
    • $13 a year for mapping your own domain.
    • $18 a year for buying a domain through them.
      (Rates are at the time of writing this post.)
  • Pros:
    • Free reliable hosting on Wordpress.com servers.
    • Easy to setup (can start blogging in 5 minutes).
    • Easy to post and upload content.
    • No coding/design skills needed.
    • Hundreds of default themes.
    • Many built-in plugins and widgets.
    • Excellent support from community.
    • Provides four user levels.
    • Can password-protect individual posts.
  • Cons:
    • Limited functionality, unless you pay for upgrades.
    • Have to pay for own-domain mapping too.
    • Restricted to default themes and in-built plugins and widgets.
    • No access to template code to modify the HTML/CSS.
    • Cannot add javascripts.
    • Limited support for advertisements to monetize your blog.
    • Limited storage space for all content – text and images.
  • Ideal For:
    • Personal blogs.
    • Low-to-medium traffic niche blogs.
    • Multi-user blogs with varying access levels.

Blogger

  • Cost:
  • Pros:
    • Free reliable hosting on Google servers.
    • Can setup with your existing Gmail user ID.
    • Easy to post and upload content.
    • Free own-domain mapping.
    • Thousands of free third-party themes that can be used in place of default themes.
    • Allows full access to template code to modify the HTML/CSS and add “hacks” for various plugin functionalities.
    • Supports javascripts.
    • Better support for advertisements.
    • Search Engine friendly.
    • Unlimited storage space for text content.
    • Fully customizable with some webdesign skills. Or you can also get your custom blog design from a professional, at a one-time cost.
  • Cons:
    • Very few default themes and widgets.
    • Moderate coding/design skills needed to make any kind of customizations.
    • No option to self-host (not even a paid one).
    • Only two user levels.
    • No option to password protect individual posts.
    • Limited storage for images on Google Picasa.
    • Doesn’t work that well with heavy traffic.
  • Ideal For:
    • Personal blogs.
    • Low-to-medium traffic niche blogs.
    • Minimum budget blogs.
    • Multi-user blogs not requiring too many access levels.

My preferred blogging platform, at the moment, is Blogger. All my blogs are single-user blogs, with moderate traffic. Plus, I have design skills, so I can customize my blogs any way I want, at no extra annual cost (besides the domain name).

Which blogging platform do you use? Blogger? Wordpress.com? Wordpress.org? Any other? Are you happy with it? Would you have chosen differently if you knew better?


This is my 16th post for 2015 AprilAtoZ.
Link to the previous post: A to Z of Blogging: O - Originality.


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