Last week, I talked about Biz Stone’s tips on how to network with Blogger. His tips are all right on track, and I highly recommend you read them before continuing with this article. But in going over it, I also realized that some additional explanation of a couple of the tips might be helpful, and that there are a few key things missing if you’re trying to use your blog to increase your visibility and build business relationships, i.e., “network”.
For convenience, the following is a quick summary of Stone’s tips:
1. Personalize your blog template to suit your personal sense of style.
2. Update the description of your blog to reflect the image you want to put forth as you network.
3. Write about yourself (more on this below).
4. See who’s linking to you and visit their sites.
5. Link to other blogs with blogrolling (more on this below).
6. Make your data feed widely available.
7. Add user comments so that you can carry on a conversation, not a monologue (more on this below).
I’m going to pick up where Stone left off, plus offer some more details on a few of the items. Some of the tips are specific to Blogger, as a followup to Stone’s article, but others will be generally applicable to any free blogging service that doesn’t include comments, blogrolls (link list management), and trackbacks. The last few will be applicable to any blogger that wants more visibility. Some of the tips may seem like they focus more on making your blog attractive to search engines than on building personal relationships using your blog, but search engines will drive new people to your site, who, if they stay, you can build relationships with. So yes, increasing your search engine placement is a way to build your network with your blog.
Specific to Blogger:
1. Under “Settings | Formatting”, turn “Show Title” on. In conjunction with the next step, this will help you make keyword-rich titles for your blog posts that are links to the individual post. This will help make your blog more attractive to search engines.
2. Change your template to make the title the permanent link, rather than the default, which is to make the name of the author and the date of the post the link. The default template’s Blog Posts section looks like this:
<div class=”byline”>posted by <a href=”<$BlogItemPermalinkURL$>”title=”permanent link”>
<$BlogItemAuthorNickname$> # <$BlogItemDateTime$></a></div>
Take the <a href=”<$BlogItemPermalinkURL$>” title=”permanent link”> and move it in front of < $BlogItemTitle$> and the </a> after < $BlogItemDateTime$ > and move it after </BlogItemTitle>, such that your resulting code looks like this:
<div class=”Post”><a name=”<$BlogItemNumber$>”></a>
<BlogItemTitle><span class=”PostTitle”><a href=”<$BlogItemPermalinkURL$>”>
¶ <a href=”<$BlogItemPermalinkURL$>” title=”permanent link”><$BlogItemDateTime$></a>
This makes your post title (that you enabled in #1) the permanent link, so that there are keywords in the link (again, search engines really like this).
3. Go to “Settings | Publishing” and turn on “Ping Weblogs.com”. I don’t know why this isn’t enabled by default. Weblogs.com is a centralized database of recently updated blogs, and is a key data source for many of the tools we’ll talk about later.
4. Set your archive to daily. I suppose if you post every day, once you’ve been blogging a while, you might want to change it to weekly or monthly, but in general, search engines like a site with more pages and less content per page. That way, whatever a particular post is about, the keywords in the post will be more dense than if there are several posts on a variety of different topics on a page. While you’re at it, replace the “/” at the end of the one line in the BloggerArchives section with a <br> tag for better readability.
Generally applicable to most free blogging services (assuming they don’t offer these features):
5. Set up blogrolling at Blogrolling.com. Detailed instructions will be provided on their site once you register (for free). It’s actually very simple — one line of code inserted into your blog template. This allows you to publicly display a list of other blogs you like to read, and to easily add to and manage that list. Besides being a social gesture of sorts, people may see your blog when using one of any number of tools, such as Technorati, to look at a list of blogs connecting to that other blog. Also, some bloggers automatically display on their blog a list of blogs that are linked to theirs. Social gesture + additional visibility = network-building technique.
6. Set up comments and trackbacking (for free) using HaloScan. Stone’s article recommends several other services, but:
- One is no longer in service
- One is not in English (if you speak Portuguese, it may work fine for you)
- Two (1|2)have numerous notices apologizing for severe performance problems and service interruptions recently.
- The one left besides HaloScan has a few thousand users, while HaloScan has over 100,000. AND, that one doesn’t allow you to edit or delete comments posted to your site — an intolerable situation with the ever-growing problem of blog comment spamming.
No slight intended to any of the other services, but HaloScan is the clear winner. It has by far the most robust comment management features, plus they just announced the addition of trackback support on February 18. This will also help you connect with other people by identifying people who have linked to your blog and displaying them
HaloScan provides easy, detailed instructions once you register. Setting it up involves simply cutting and pasting two blocks of code into your blog template.
Applicable to all blogs, especially new ones:
7. Read and link. Link to posts by other bloggers. Add your favorite blogs to your blogroll. Learn how to use Trackback. HaloScan provides a very detailed Trackback tutorial. FYI, Blogger does not provide a way to generate outbound Trackbacks at the time of posting—you will have to manually input the Trackbacks at HaloScan. If that all sounds like Greek to you at the moment, don’t sweat it—the tutorial will explain it in great detail.
All of this will help with your visibility in the various blog search engines and other tools described below.
8. Make yourself known to the blogosphere infrastructure. Some of these services will get you into their database eventually if you do the linking activity described above. However, unlike the major search engines, there’s no advantage in waiting for that to happen “organically”. Go ahead and register your new blog right away.
Keep in mind that Blogger uses the Atom format for syndication, not RSS. If you host your Blogger-based blog on Blogspot, the URL for your Atom feed is the home page of your plage, plus “/atom.xml” . There are ways to create an RSS feed for Blogger, but they involve extensive technical manipulations that go beyond most users’ interest or abilities. That will be an issue on some of these, as noted.
Here are some of the most popular blog search engines and directories:
- Blogdex (submission page)
- Blogdigger (submission page – submit your Atom feed)
- Daypop (submission page)
- Feedster (submission page – submission requires RSS feed – Blogger users are currently unable to register here)
- Popdex (submission page – they supposedly fast-track your submission if you link back to them)
- Syndic8 (submission page – accepts Atom and other feeds)
- Technorati (register so you can claim your blog and do all kinds of cool things with it)
I’m not one to reinvent the wheel… a far more extensive list can be found at the Ari Paparo’s big list of blog search engines.
These are more involved than the blog search engines, as you generally have to notify these services manually when you make posts in particular topics. This should also be reserved for your higher-quality, longer posts, not merely short commentary with a link.
There are also groups/forums about blogging on INWYK, orkut, and others that I can’t link to directly. Also, if you are into real-time chat, there are a lot of bloggers on the #joiito IRC channel, which you can learn more about at joi.ito.com/joiwiki/IrcChannel.
11. Once you get into blogging, it’s easy to forget that it’s still a small minority that use RSS readers. Make your blog accessible via email to the rest of the world by setting up Bloglet, a free service that will allow people to receive a daily digest of your blog postings via email.
12. If your blog is a combination business/personal blog, and not a purely business blog, then write about yourself. As an exercise in self-exploration, and a way of developing a very interesting profile, I highly recommend undertaking the “100 Things” exercise, in which you write down 100 interesting facts about yourself that someone wouldn’t ordinarily learn about you in an initial casual conversation. While the originator of the idea seems to have shut down his blog, the idea has become widely popular, as indicated by the 32,500 results for a Google search on “100 things about me”. You can also join the 100 Things About Me Webring, which will help draw additional people to your blog.
13. Work on your writing skills. The most popular blogs are, quite simply, well written, even those that may have a less formal style. Even people with poor grammar and writing skills don’t like seeing it in the writings of others, even if they can’t quite put their finger on why they don’t like it. And while blogging is great writing practice, it’s worth reminding that it’s not that “practice makes perfect”, but rather “perfect practice makes perfect”. If you have bad habits, and you practice them, they become even more ingrained and harder to break.
If you are unsure about your writing skills, have a friend who’s a professional journalist, editor, or author give you an honest opinion. If you need work, take a class, or pick up a copy of The Classic Guide to Better Writing, which is available for less than $10 used on Amazon—a small price to pay to communicate more effectively online. A well-written blog will attract and keep more readers; a poorly-written one will hurt your credibility.
Blogs are a tremendous tool for building your social network:
- They can create a much richer profile than a typical static profile page on a social networking site.
- They’re an appropriate venue for more in-depth content. For example, I would never post this article in its entirety on a discussion forum, but here it’s fine.
- They are public—out in the open—so they are indexed by search engines and are viewable by anyone, without the barrier of having to become a member of something the reader may not be interested in.
- You own and control them. If you decide you want to change blog hosting companies, it might be tedious, but you can fairly easily migrate all your existing content to another service. If you want to drastically change the look-and-feel or content of your site, you’re free to do so.
- They’re distributed. There is no dependence on any one particular company to maintain the social network. Even if a major provider suddenly disappeared, others would quickly move to fill the void.
I’m not saying that you should blog instead of participating in online social networks. I’m just saying that if you’re not blogging, you’re missing out on one of the very most effective ways to build visibility and credibility on the internet.