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Take Your Blog to the Next Level!

written by: •edited by: Michele McDonough•updated: 7/29/2011

Isn't it time you stopped idly blogging from your mobile phone and took your website seriously? By adhering to these best practices for blogging, you can build your blog and your reputation and take them to places you had only previously dreamed about.

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    Blogging has really taken off in the past few years, developing from a simple means of recording your thoughts on a daily basis (the term is derived from “web log", a type of online journal) into a widely used method of conveying up to date information, news, thoughts and data about specific subjects. Big online organizations, newspapers, magazines, communities and even churches take advantage of the blog paradigm for websites, something that enables a level of personal contact with the readers of a website.

    It is probably safe to say that blogging has become so popular thanks to the proliferation of free blogging services such as Blogger.com, WordPress.com, LiveJournal and many others, but a result of this widespread blogging activity is that various conventions and basic rules concerning netiquette, promotion, legibility and taking responsibility for content have been overlooked, diluted or simply ignored.

    This selection of 20 best practices for blogging should make a few things clearer, and help you to focus on the strengths of your blog, your knowledge of the subject and benefit as much from your readers as you do from them.

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    Managing a Blog

    Running a blog is a position of responsibility, whether it is a title that you have set up yourself or one that you manage on someone else’s behalf.

    Understanding the purpose of your blog is probably the most obvious pre-requisite to managing a blog, but you should also be focused on your content.

    Being able to settle on a subject matter is vital. You wouldn’t want to be running a blog about digital photography tips and then branch out into trivial British sci-fi TV shows. With no context and little to keep the interest of readers looking for help taking photos, you will soon find the blog is hemorrhaging hits.

    In addition, adopting a consistent tone and opinion on matters that your blog deals with is vital for cementing a reputation. Additionally, you shouldn’t allow these opinions to be diminished or affected by the jangle of coins – plenty of blog owners have lost readers when it appeared that they “sold out" to advertisers. In blogging, reputation is paramount, and it is important that you protect yours from self-destructive statements and actions.

    Every day, new people will visit your blog for the first time, perhaps via an interesting article, and might be interested in knowing more about you and your services. This is when an About page comes in useful.

    There are different approaches for the creation of a page of this kind, but the general idea is to feature a brief bio, the purpose of the website, what you stand for. Don’t forget to include a photograph so people know what you look like and an email address or contact form.

    As time marches on you might opt to try out a few new looks or add features to your blog. This can prove difficult, and potentially lose visitors. The secret of doing this effectively is simple: do not test updates and changes on a live blog! Instead, take the time to learn how to create a copy of your blog on your local computer, a local server or on a sub-domain. This will enable you to take the time to ensure your changes work without disrupting the experience of your readers.

    Ultimately, being professional is the key to everything, and it is certainly an attitude that will help you to understand and act upon all manner of challenges, pitfalls and bonuses that you will encounter as a blogger.

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    Posting, Formatting and Editing

    We can bring the whole attitude of professionalism to the matter of the day to day running of a blog, such as the matter of posting. Whatever your subject matter, the following best practices should be adopted to give you and your blog the very best chance of being recognized as authorities in your field or niche.

    One of the main things that you should do when writing anything is to reread your posts before you submit! The same is true of emails, online forms and even offline letters. While discovering problems after the post has been published (inaccuracies, lack of credit for images, etc.) won’t prevent you from resolving the issues, they could potentially take longer to sort out and impact the way people view your blog.

    Various conventions should be recognized and adhered to when running a blog. For instance, you should always link to sources relevant to your article. There are two main ways of doing this, either by listing them in the foot of your blog post or place them contextually within the text. For instance, rather than “click here for more" you might write “find out what Jim said about all of this before he departed."

    If you do decide to make any adjustments to blog posts, you should probably do it in such a way that your readers are kept in the loop. Rather than pick up on something that is raised – perhaps by a comment left by a visitor – you should let readers know about any edits you make to blog posts for clarity and subject matter. Grammatical problems you should just change, and avoid the temptation of replying to pedants.

    There is nothing worse than landing on a blog that is just text. Standard editorial conventions should help you to extinguish the use of walls of text, but alongside the white space you really need to include images. After all, blogs are a visual medium, and by ignoring the power of images to inform your writer and provide an interesting contextual counterpoint, you’re letting down yourself, your blog and your readers.

    When your visitors view your blog on a regular basis they expect to be able to read posts without being distracted by odd spellings, mixed grammar and unusual use of italics and bold type. By establishing a “house style" and sticking to editorial conventions you can furnish your blog with a uniform approach to song titles, styling for blockquotes and other similar matters, allowing your blog to grow an additional veneer of quality.

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    It doesn't matter whether you are a new blogger or a veteran - best practices should be employed across the board in order to set and maintain standards for yourself and your readers. Blog promotion and comments are key areas in which this is true, from building a community to looking professional and treating others with respect.
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    Managing Comments

    Regardless of how often you post, sooner or later you need to embrace your readers. The best time to do this is at the start of your blogging life, but if you haven’t adopted this particular aspect of blogging into your skillset, now is the time to do so!

    The thoughts and opinions of your readers can be received in comments displayed below your posts. While you might have this function disabled it is a genuinely simple and direct means of communication.

    Naturally, spam is a consideration for many blog owners, but there are now so many ways of dealing with this problem (such as Akismet for WordPress blogs) that it really shouldn’t be a problem. As such, in addition to activating and inviting comments from your readers, you should also allow comments from anyone, regardless of whether they have signed up to your blog or not.

    Don’t just expect comments to fly in every time you post, however – a much better practice is to actively invite comments on posts that you think your readers will be interested in. This might be simply by asking a question in the article, saying something controversial (but not out of character or in any way that you could damage your reputation) or saying “tell me what you think!" at the end of the post.

    There is no point inviting comments if you’re not going to interact with commenters. This can have multiple benefits, from facilitating an interesting new relationship between you and your readers to allowing you to understand what they think about certain issues, something that might prove to be the spark for a future article.

    By replying to comments on your posts and being friendly, fostering a community spirit should be pretty straightforward and become a strong element of your blog. Remember that your blog is more than you and your posts, it is about the community that uses it, the users, their comments, thoughts and opinions. All of these things reflect on your blog’s profile or brand, so spend some time connecting with readers.

    Finally, it is important that you place some focus on your regular commenters. This can be done in different ways, from adding a comments section template and style sheet that highlights the comments better to using plugins to allow readers to rate comments or even focus on popular commenters so that their efforts on your blog are recognized!

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    Promoting Your Blog

    No blog can survive long term without promotion, and it certainly cannot grow. As such, you should spend time investigating some of the best avenues for marketing your blog, either by advertising on related websites, offering your services as a specialist in your field or simply making sure that people you communicate with regularly know that you are involved with the blog.

    While you should certainly spend time identifying and emailing blogs and websites that you think might be receptive or even interested, you should approach them on an individual basis rather than sending out a cookie-group email. This way you can tailor you email, specifically at the owner of the blog, something they will respond to, just as you would in their position. What you certainly shouldn’t do is leave spammy comments in your potential advertising partner’s blog posts - this is most definitely NOT best practice!

    You already have one of the most powerful promotional tools at your disposal thanks to your email account, something that can be leveraged in many ways to promote your blog. For instance, you might use an email signature that tells your regular correspondents about your website (example here), or go a step further and setup an email account with your blog domain name. Another clever email-based promotional tool is the email newsletter, something that can be compiled automatically using a service such as Feedburner or manually using services such as Aweber.

    There are plenty of offline methods that you can use to promote your blog, such as corresponding with relevant newsletters/periodicals with a view to some shared promotion. Again, best practice is to be polite, genuine, gracious and generous, in keeping with the true spirit of blogging.

    Another way to gain free promotion for your blog is to join up with a similar site and discuss the possibility of submitting guest posts, articles that feature you sharing information and knowledge about your topic. If you like the sound of this, arrange to feature a link back to your own blog in the article footer, allowing people who are impressed with your post to find out more. Note also that you will need to be as proactive in addressing comments on this post as on those on your own website. This can also work both ways, and the draw of a respected opinion contributing to your blog occasionally could be very beneficial.

    Thanks to the success of social networks such as Twitter and Facebook it is now possible to get free promotion for your blog by posting updates to content on your website. Using this strategy - which can be automated using services such as Twitterfeed - you can build a following away from your blog while linking back to it, effectively leveraging social networks and benefitting your blog, your community and yourself.

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    References

    Author's own experience as editor of http://www.kasterborous.com

    Screenshots provided by author.