Brian Bailey Preface to the Revised Edition

Building a Better Blog

Here are my Top 10 ideas for how to build a better blog, now gathered in one place, and featuring a special Greatest Hits Collection Bonus Track!

1. Use Categories

If you publish all of your writing to one location, but regularly write on a wide variety of topics, do your readers a favor and utilize categories. This will allow an interested reader to quickly view all of your posts on network security, while avoiding the day-by-day emotional swings of your child's soccer season.

2. Use Titles

As much as possible, title your posts. This works best when your posts are fairly original and somewhat lengthy, but can be ignored if your blog is primarily links to other sites and posts. The benefits are two-fold. First, Google seems to place a large value on titles, especially when others link to a post. Second, your readers who follow your site using a news reader/aggregator will appreciate being able to quickly scan your titles for posts of interest.

3. Publish During High Traffic Times

If one of your desires is to generate traffic, try to publish during high traffic hours. Many people scan and other services (including TypePad and many TypePad member sites) for recently updated weblogs. Also, publishing during prime waking/working hours will give other writers time to comment, link, or respond to your post. A brilliant post in the middle-of-the-night will often get buried by the morning rush of fresh content.

4. Syndicate Your Entire Post

Again, in the never-ending effort to ensure happy readers, be sure to syndicate (i.e. send) your entire post through RSS. I follow over 75 weblogs (which is probably a low number on average). With the amount of time it takes to keep up with the constant stream of information, it is a great benefit to be able to read each post in its entirety without a separate trip to the browser. I know it is especially tempting for businesses to try to drive traffic to their site by forcing readers to visit the website in order to read the full article, but inevitably I end up unsubscribing from those sources instead.

5. Click Your Own Links

When you post an article that links to other post or blogs, be sure to click those links after you post. First, this simply verifies that your links work, which is always a good QA check. Second, this will cause your site to show up in the stats and referrer logs of the sites you link to. Most bloggers track their traffic and referrers religiously, so this will make sure they are aware of your post as soon as it's been published.

6. Develop an Authentic Voice

Obviously, this is the most important element of a successful weblog and a daily struggle. If you are authentic, honest, and original, you will find readers who care about what you write. And if you write about what you know and what you are passionate about, you can assure that your readers are informed and entertained. Resist the temptation to imitate your favorite weblogs while still leaving room to learn from the best.

7. Tell Us Who You Are and How to Contact You

I often find myself on an interesting blog and decide I'd like to link to it or contact the author. Other times, I might find an opinion unique or challenging, but then realize that I don't know whether the writer is an employee or user.

A surprising number of weblogs have none of this information. Often weblogs start as a way of communicating with a small number of people who know each other well. But you can be sure that soon Google will find you, and then others will land on your site and they need to be able to get the basics about you quickly. You don't want to be dismissed as a gadfly when you're actually the lead developer for a highly anticipated piece of software.

So, unless you have specific reasons for confidentiality, include your full name, position and role (if your blog is related to your professional life), and a way to contact you directly.

8. Don't Be Afraid to Promote

I've written a number of posts that I thought would be of interest to other bloggers or sites, such as Robert Scoble, MacSurfer, and Hacking Netflix. My first hope was that the writing would be so captivating that the posts would slowly rise to the top of the blogosphere and be noticed. Not a good plan!

My second hope was that by linking to these sites and clicking on those links, my site would show up in the referrer logs for those sites, which would spark curiosity and bring my post to their attention. This works fairly well, but relies on the site owners and authors religiously monitoring their traffic or subscribing to weblog search sites such as PubSub and Feedster. Better, but still inadequate.

Finally, I stumbled upon a brilliant, but underused technique: Tell them about it!. People who are active in the weblog world are active precisely because they are curious people who are always looking for new perspectives. I find that sending a short, polite email that introduces yourself, offers a thank you or general kindness regarding their site, and then brings your post to their attention, is generally very successful. I never specifically ask for a link and wouldn't recommend it. Your purpose is simply to be read by people you respect and if you achieve that, you have been successful. The choice of whether to link to your site is entirely up to them.

9. Comment on Other Sites and Your Own

All of us crave feedback. When people post comments or send you an email about something you've written, you're reassured that your effort is worthwhile and having an impact, however small, on others.

What's the best way to encourage feedback? Simple: do unto others! Commenting on other sites not only benefits other writers, but it's a great way to get your own site noticed by people who would not normally find you. It's hard to expect others to give feedback if you're not willing to do it yourself.

In a related note, when people do take the time to leave a comment or send you an email, be sure to respond promptly and thank them for dropping by. There should never be a lonely "Comments (1)" on one of your own posts.

10. The More You Write, the More You'll Have to Write About

Despite the fact that this sounds like a bad line from a fortune cookie, it's been proven time and time again. Nearly everyone who starts a blog asks themselves, "What in the world am I going to write about?" The best advice I can give is to just start writing with as little self-criticism as possible. As your mind gets used to writing, you'll start thinking of new ideas without even trying. You'll naturally begin seeing writing opportunities all over the place, in conversations, reading, driving, shopping, or even in church. Whenever I'm talking to my fellow bloggers, I find myself saying, "That's a blog post!" But before that happens, you need to start writing more and thinking about writing less.

[Bonus Track] Content Brings Google

Do not underestimate the power of Google as you raise your site's traffic. As you're content grows and your posts are linked to or commented on, search engines will bring more and more visitors. Google in particular seems to highly value weblog posts in their rankings, allowing rather small blogs to show up on the first page of search results with large, established corporate sites. I estimate that over 20% of my daily traffic is from search engine traffic. Many of these people read the related post, but then spend a short time browsing the rest of the site, which is another reason why Tell Us Who You Are and How to Contact You is so important. I also recommend placing a Where Do I Start? collection of your best, most representative writing on the front page to help people get up to speed quickly.