Friday, October 13, 2006

Managing Your Blog Entry - 11 Better Tips

What is it about the writing of lists? Here we have yet another post that needs to be deconstructed because the author seems to have just slapped something together rather than thinking the topic through. In this case, it's journalist Vincent Maher. His stuff is in italics, my reply in plain text.

  • A blog entry is a stub for conversation
    One of the key ways to create a loyal audience for your blog is to create a community of readers who interact with each-other on your blog. This means that your blog entries should be structured in such a way that they start conversations. This means they need to be short and punchy, with a clearly defined point or set of points.
No it isn't. The point of a blog isn't to gather a loyal cadre of readers around you dutifully writing comments. And you certainly should not be writing your blog simply to entice the commenters. And if your readers aren't capable of reading anything other than short and punchy, are you sure you should be writing to them? Think this through. A blog entry isn't some place you create to prompt conversation. A blog is a place where you say something. As for the commenters, they should be writing on their own blogs, where people can actually link to them.

  • Think about the perspectives of your audience
    Getting the audience talking means you have to consider what their perspectives may be on the point you are blogging about and position your point accordingly. It doesn’t make sense to waver from one point-of-view to another in your blog entry unless that’s the point you want to make.
So, like, if you have conservative readers, you should position your posts around their perspectives, making sure (of course) not to actually state their perspective. If you are going "huh?" that's because this is really bad advice. Why should I align my writing to my readers' perspectives? Why shouldn't I waver around, consider different points of view, examine things from all sides. Sure, it makes it more difficult for these same conservative readers to respond with the snappy comeback that makes them read you day after the day. As for the rest, though, they appreciate the fact that I don't treat readers like morons. I mean, sheesh. One point of view?

  • Write tight headlines that encourage interest
    Remember that many readers will be scanning your RSS feed along with many others, so the poignancy of your headline is critical. If the headline doesn’t grab a reader’s attention there is little likelihood they will click on it. (thanks to Colin Daniels for this one)
If the whole point of your blog is to attract readers, then you'll have to bait-and-switch them with catchy (but ultimately misleading) headlines. Like, say, Sex Up Your Blog. For the rest of us, though, we know that our readership will be looking at more than just the headline, though if they need some way to decide, our informative and straightforward headlines will give them a good guide.

  • Make points or lists and make then scan-friendly
    Online readers don’t like to read long columns of text unless your content is extremely compelling. A better way to get a series of complex points across is to create a list of key points that readers can scan, along with a description of each point. This will also help you structure your thoughts in a way that seems more lucid.
Well, you could write compelling content. Barring this, however, you will have to give ways for readers to comment on your posts without actually having read them. Of course, you are doing this at the expense of actually creating an argument or an explanation - short pithy descriptions are all you can manage. The rest of us, though, address readability issues with good design and leave the writing to take care of itself by writing deep and compelling content rather than tripe.

  • Link to the context
    If you are blogging about something that other people are talking about, provide links to their conversations so you don’t seem to be speaking out of context. Linking to other sites is a plus rather than a minus because it will help your readers understand where you’re coming from.
Most people link to web pages and posts, not contexts. Of course, what the author means here is that you should link to the posts you're responding to. But he won't say that, because then you might have to link to sites that disagree with you, giving them Google juice and all that. To heck with it. Link to the source and let Google (and your readers) take care of the rest.

  • Quote indirectly and link
    If you feel the need to quote other bloggers, don’t take the easy route and copypaste a blockquote unless there is something very specific about the original wording that you want to preserve. Rather, rephrase the quote indirectly and link it to the source.
If you quote somebody, quote them directly. And link to them, of course. By quoting directly you give the reader to se your point respond to theirs side by side. It's harder to respond to an actual argument rather than to a paraphrase, because you still have to interpret what they said, but you will now be held accountable for both your interpretation and your response. Quote directly and respond precisely.

  • Format long documents for print
    If you have an essay with long paragraphs and an argument that needs careful development, rather make a PDF and provide a short summary of it on your blog with a link to the document.
If you have to format your long documents for print then your web page design is broken. PDF doesn't do anything you can't do in HTML, except it needs a special reader and and bloats the files like crazy. Design your pages for readability and forget the special PDF and print formats - those are for people who can't design.

  • Never delete anything
    In blogger culture deleting something after people have read it or commented is a cardinal sin. Don’t do it, rather post a correction on the original entry.
Delete spam, trolls, vile insults from right-wing attack dogs, and other garbage. Correct your spelling mistakes, fix your broken links, repair lost or gibbled images. Change your content, too, but be honest with your readers - if you update something significant, leave a note. Did you say something really stupid? You can delete it if you want to - if people want the original, there's Google Cache. Remember, it's your website - keep your website clean and accurate and don't let the commenters tell you what you can't do.

  • Troll the blogosphere for secondary conversation
    If your blog entry is successful then other bloggers will blog about it. Use tools like Google Blog Search and Technorati to track what other bloggers are saying about your blog entry and update your blog with links to those conversations if they add to yours.
If you think of what other people write on their own sites as secondary then you have some serious rethinking to do. These other writers have taken the time to read what you've written and to expound in some length (usually much more than you can do in a comment). If you have a pimary audience, this is it. If you are engaged in a conversation, this is the conversation. Yes, use these tools to find ut what people are saying, not because you're tracking but because you genuinely want to listen to what others say about your comments.

  • Be active in your own conversations
    Don’t sit and watch the comments streaming in and do nothing, get in there! Unlike traditional journalists, the blogger’s role is to steer and be part of the conversations they start.
The blogger's role is to blog. If it feels to you that this includes responding to comments, do that. If you'd rather make sure your responses are highlighted and indexed, respond in a new blog post. But don't let anyone convince you that you have to be some kind o chatterbug to be a good blogger. Respond if you have something to say and be a good listener otherwise.

  • Create buzz everywhere
    Make sure there are lots of inbound links to your post. Find other blogs that are discussing the same issue, or your blog entry, and post comments with links to updated content or highlighting some of the perspectives put forward by your commenters.
People who do this sort of thing are called link spammers. Yes, in every community there's a group of people who do this, who link to each other endlessly, as though it builds some sort of blog juice. People like that demonstrate only that they don't know how the rankings work. Link as appropriate and be selective. The purpose of linking isn't to make your site popular, the purpose of linking is to refer people to other sites. If you don't understand this, you don't understand the web.


You see - it's like two points of view at work here. Overall, what we have is Vincent Maher who, despite writing in a new medium, still can't let go of those old media roots. To them, it's still all about accumulating as many readers as possible, about keeping them on your site, about pandering to your audience - about everything, in other words, except saying something meaningful and being honest to yourself.

I've seen a lot of former (and not so former) journalists go this route, in my own field as well as others. It's disturbing, because they (and sometimes others) think they gain some sort of credibility through popularity, as though if they grab a large enough mass of readers they will, by this fact, be important.

It's a chimera, of course. The keys to blogging (if not being Prom Queen) are honesty, integrity and meaningfulness. You will gain much more if you just write what you need or want to write and let the audience fall where it may. Even if you have only three readers, if you are able to connect with and really engage with them, then no number of hangers-on will replace them after the switch from substance to dross.

3 comments:

  1. Interesting difference in points of view. I reckon the underlying reason for this is that the definition of blogging seems completely different for Vincent as it is for you, Stephen. Is it an invitation for a point of view or is it the point of view itself? Is it a discussion board or a journal? Is it mine or is it the readers'? I suppose the jury will always be out on this one.

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    Replies
    1. Interesting difference in points of view. I reckon the underlying reason for this is that the definition of blogging seems completely different for Vincent as it is for you, Stephen. Is it an invitation for a point of view or is it the point of view itself? Is it a discussion board or a journal? Is it mine or is it the readers'? I suppose the jury will always be out on this one.

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  2. Excellent comments...cutting out the "fluff" for one thing (read crap here), and learning the modern way of communicating which is allowing for response and for diverse opinion. Clarity of thought, economy of speech, directness and honesty in approach??? Who would have thunk it.

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I welcome your comments - I'm really sorry about the moderation, but Google's filters are basically ineffective.