The Smart Blogger's Guide

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Tips for getting started

Best blogging practices

So how do you create an interesting blog and get the word out? We talked to Anil Dash, the vice president of evangelism for Six Apart, to glean some of his best blogging tips.

Find Inspiration around You Feeling blocked? Dash suggests taking things that you’ve sent in an e-mail and repurposing them for posts, or using feedback from your community as fodder for new content. Tying current events to the topic of your blog works well. And don’t be afraid to link to another blog, a Web site, or a video as an excuse to update your site.

Promote, Promote Tell friends and family about your blog, and add a link to it in your e-mail signature. Find a few blogs that are related to yours and send an e-mail to their authors—they might end up linking back to your site.

Don’t Force Updates Update as often as you have something to say. “If you force it, your readers will be able to tell, and you won’t be doing anyone any favors,” says Dash. For a business blog, he recommends updating several times a week, “though some excellent business blogs only update a few times a month.”

Deal with Problem Commenters In cyberspace, accountability is key. Dash says that commenters will be less likely to cause problems if you require that they supply an e-mail address or use an authentication service. And if inappropriate comments do pop up, feel free to delete or edit them.

Accessorize your social space

If you’re one of the 50 million people with a MySpace page, or one of the growing number of Facebook users, you’ve got a world of widgets to choose from. However, installing them isn’t as cut-and-dried as it is on your own blog, since MySpace and Facebook offer less leeway in how you can manipulate your page. MySpace actually blocks some widgets, so you need to make sure that the ones you want to add will work.

One way around this is to use Widgetbox, which automatically installs widgets on both sites. When you find a widget you like, look for the MySpace or Facebook icon. If it’s there, you can add that widget to your page with just a few clicks.

For Facebook users, there’s an even easier way. Facebook now lets you add miniature programs to your profile page, such as a map of cities you’ve visited or a program that establishes a personal training regimen based on your fitness goals. You can see a huge (and growing) list of widgets by clicking on the Applications link near the top left side of any Facebook page.

Home, home on the Web

If you’re hoping to make money with your blog, having your own Web address is a must. Blogging on your own domain, however, takes a little bit more setup. You typically do it in one of two ways: by publishing to your own server via FTP, or by domain mapping.

Google’s Blogger and desktop blogging programs such as iWeb and Rapidweaver support publishing to your domain via FTP. Just make sure you have enough server space to do this. WordPress, TypePad, and Tumblr, on the other hand, all use domain mapping (Blogger offers this as an option, too). This means your custom URL is pointed toward, or mapped to, your blog. In other words, when people type in your domain, they end up at your hosted blog. In most cases, you can do this with the registrar you purchased your domain from. Each service and registrar does things a bit differently, but no matter which one you use, it’s often a good idea to set up a subdomain or folder to publish your blog to, such as blog. yoursitename . com or yoursitename. com/blog (rather than your top-level domain, yoursitename. com). This allows you to publish material other than your blog on the same domain.

For more details, check out each site’s domain-mapping FAQ. Here are those FAQs for WordPress, TypePad, Tumblr, and Blogger.

Tip: Keep it private

With most blogging platforms, you can choose whether the service publicizes your work. But a simple Google search for your name or company can easily turn up your blog, potentially exposing it to the eyes of coworkers and future employers.

If you want to blog about sensitive issues—for example, your job, a relationship, or an illness—you may want to set up a blog that only friends or family can read. Community-oriented services such as Vox and LiveJournal let you restrict posts to viewing by authorized people. If you go with a service that doesn’t provide this option, make it a policy from the get-go to not mention your company or the full names of people you may be talking smack about (see “Best Blogging Practices” for more tips).

[ Mathew Honan has been blogging since 1998. His blogs include Emptyage and the tumbleblog Emptyagr. He also writes for Wired and National Journal’s Technology Daily.]

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