Let's start with the ten things bloggers should do today. If some of them don't make sense, keep reading for screenshots and details on how this feature is used.
11 Things Bloggers Should Do Today:
- Log in to Blogger in Draft - http://draft.blogger.com - this is the ONLY place I log in. It gives you access to the newest features including the ability to mobilize your site. (If you are on another platform, look on their blog to see if there is a way you can access beta features.)
- Review your settings. All of them. (Do this again when the new interface is released.)
- Make sure you've made your blog go mobile. (Click on Design and Mobile in blogger.) Every website and blog should be mobile compatible and no, it is not automatic. I've tried Mobify and had a hard time with it so I like the automatic way Blogger does this for me.
- Control your own feed. I recommend Feedburner but there are other services out there as well. This means you can "port" your subscribers over if you ever have to. (Make sure you go into your settings and redirect your feed.)
- Activate an email subscription service. If you are a school this is essential. This is a feature of Feedburner but right now I use Feedblitz for this which interfaces with Feedburner. Many people still read email and with over half of adults in their email daily, this is coveted screenspace. Just make sure it is EASY to unsubscribe and that you follow the CAN-SPAM Act here in the US.
- Backup your blog - Look at how you are backing up. Certainly, your blog is there on the server, but what if someone hacked your account and deleted your blog? Could you get it back without having to call the company? I use Backupify.
- Syndicate your Blog to Twitter - Your blog should autopost a tweet when you update. You might forget and many people use Twitter as their RSS reader. I use Twitterfeed.
- Syndicate your Blog to Facebook - I use Networked Blogs but you can use any service that sends your Blog online. I highly recommend you make a Facebook Fan page for this service.
- Make it easy to send your blog to Facebook, Twitter, Wherever - I use Tweetmeme for the badge on my blog and the blogger widget for the bottom. I'm planning on adding a Facebook "Like " button. Make it easy to share your blog.
- Look at Other Blogs and make a List of Features to Try. I get "under the hood" of my blog at least once a year for one to two days. I start by looking at other blogs and making lists of what I like and don't like to decide what I will do. Right now, I have several issues on my own blog: load time of widgets, want to customize background, make easier to share to Facebook, etc. I keep a list in my Paperless app on my itouch so when it is time I'm ready to go.
- Be Real. Finally, blog well. Perhaps some of the best thoughts on the transparency and authenticity required to be a good blogger are in Guy Kawasaki's new book, Enchantment. Great read for everyone, especially bloggers.
So, why would anyone use blogger? Here are my reasons. Look at your platform to make sure you've considered these issues.
- Google Search Optimization
When I started blogging in 2005, I was a noob at blogging but had been doing the search engine optimization thing since I started hand coding websites in 1995. Staying optimized for Google's search engine was a headache but I knew that if I went with Google for blogging that it would be optimized for Google. I've not been proven wrong in that my blog comes up quickly in searches of all kinds and doesn't have issues with the Google bot crawling, etc. that I've experienced with the sites that I've hand coded.
- Ability to Customize using HTML
For many years I had hand coded my blog into three columns and yes, I wrote it by hand in notepad. It is nice for a blogging platform to "do it for you" (like wordpress) but I didn't HAVE to have that feature. The fact that I can have direct access to my HTML and copy and paste it into wordpad is a benefit.
So, when I see something on Timothy Ferris', Guy Kawasaki's, or even Techcrunch, I can look at their code (Go to View--> source in your webbrowser), figure out how they did it, and then do it on my own blog.
The good news for those who didn't understand a thing I just said is that you don't have to do this anymore to have a sweet site on blogger. You can just go into templates and use their widgets and have almost anything. Feed services like feedburner (now owned by Google) can easily add widgets as well.
- Ability to Backup
I use Backupify to back up my Picasa web albums, blogger blog, and my gmail every week. If it is worth having, it is worth backing up. No, this feature isn't FROM blogger but is just one example of how many "plug ins" are available for the platform.
- New Features Have Been Coming
If Bing has taught Google anything it is that competition can come from nowhere and quickly. We've seen super-fast improvements to Google Docs as well as blogger. I no longer have to link all of my about information to www.coolcatteacher.com and statcounter.com has become less vital to tracking my stats. Yes, I sometimes get things later than other people, but that is OK.
The new user interface announced at SXSW looks cool and you can see it in their video below. (You'll have to watch a bit of a pitch about how great blogger is at the beginning.)
- Cool Tools Interact with Blogger
I love Zemanta (helps quickly add links and photos to posts), Tweetmeme (the cute Twitter button on the top left), Disqus (my comment moderation service), Twitterfeed (feeds my blog into Twitter), and Networked Blogs (feeds my blog into Facebook), Kindle Publishing (to feed my blog onto the Kindle), Diigo (the bookmarking service that feeds my links into my daily news blog post) and several other tools that don't come to me right now. Because blogger is one of the leading services, I have few compatibility issues. Yes, sometimes wordpress people get things before me, but if I can't hack my site, usually I know the service will be coming to me soon.
- Moving Your Blog Takes You Backwards.
Some people like change for the sake of change. When you're dealing with a blog - even if you know how to move your subscribers using a service like Feedburner - you're leaving all that traffic and conversation behind. It is literally like splitting off part of you. I know people like Doug Belshaw who have had to move but still have issues with links to old posts. If you do it and have your reasons - do it ONCE but if you keep moving, you'll just not make best use of yourself.
I don't move because every link and every subscriber are precious. I've spent six years of my life building up the conversation and sharing things that are very important to me. My family has given up time with me for this blog and I'm not going backwards. This blog is very important to me and my life, not just monetarily, although certainly I've received some excellent speaking offers from my work here. Blogging is important to me because it is what I do and who I am. Onwards and upwards - don't go backwards. In this case, moving would be moving backwards. Not going there.
- I don't have to advertise.
Lots of free services are supported with Google ads. I do use Amazon affiliates when appropriate, however, I've made a decision not to sell links nor use Google adsense at the present time. I'd like you to know that I am writing about what I share because it is something I like or believe in. The fact that Google doesn't force me into doing their adsense service is a positive for me. I know the traffic I get means that I'm giving up money, however, I hope that those who read my blog will come see me speak and buy my books when they come available.
I don't hate Google ads, it is just that contextual ads mean that things contrary to the message of a post can easily appear. For example, when I tested it, I had a page on term papers and had ads selling term papers come up. Sure, I can exclude certain types of ads, however, as an educator, I have decided this is the right move for me, who I am, and the message I carry.
New Blogger Features "Under the Hood"
For those of you who want to "compare" - let's look at the back end of my blogger blog today, knowing that some of these will change.
Blogger Posts and Pages
I can post blogs or "pages."Blogs, like the one shown below are individual blogs. You can add up to 10 standalone "pages" like the one I have on the top bar of my blog including Freebies and About Me.
|The current blogger interface. The "in text links" and "context recommendations" are from the Zemanta plug in for Firefox that I use to generate links.|
|New blogger interface announced by Google.|
I've been using statcounter for years and have also recently used some alert services, but the new statistics tracking is a START. The most important thing to me is the backlinks. It is important to me to comment when people link to my blog. This has become a bit more challenging now that my blog is distributed over so many platforms, however, I like how statcounter lets me see just about every place I'm getting traffic to my blog. Then, I can go comment and read what they are writing. You can see that the referring URL's that I'm getting now are limited. I care about even the 1's and 2's and don't get that as much.
|Current statistics tracking page for one aspect of stats - links.|
There are many more templates and the ability to customize the web fonts that you use. Still, for me, there aren't quite enough choices and the ability to customize templates is a feature most named by my wordpress friends. This is an area where I'll need to do some customization work over the summer. I and most of you like to look different and personal to who we are. I like the colors of my blog but have some work to do.
I do, however, like the widgets that we have now which requires less "geekiness" on my part as I can modularly edit HTML instead of getting into the code.
|Current back end of my blogger template. You can see the gadgets or "widgets" as some call them.|
It is vital to "mobilize" your site. This is one reason I have our school news on blogger and then feed it into the website. Deploying via email subscription and mobile sites is important to me. It is easier to let Google handle the work. This is something you have to go into Google draft and activate, however.
I still use disqus for a multitude of reasons, including the ability to moderate through email, however I set up disqus to sync my blogger comments. This way I can go back if and when blogger catches up to the robust features of disqus. It is a pretty simple setup and worth it. For most people, though, blogger comments with improved spam are doable.
I do not believe in "closing" posts as I think that this is a bit of legacy snobbery. Do we think that those who come later to a blog post do not deserve to be heard. I still get great comments on old posts and sometimes older posts just go active for some reason - let the conversation continue! Disqus is great at zapping the spam that hits older posts.
|Current blogger commenting system which is improved, however, I still use disqus.com.|
Blogger isn't perfect. No blogging service is. My biggest issues right now are:
- Limitations in China - In the last month even when using a VPN, the google blocking situation in China has become almost impossible to get around. My friends are reverting to yahoo mail and shunning google docs for things like Zohowriter. This is why it is important that I syndicate my blog in other places including Kindle. I don't have a complete answer to this as the situation in China and filtering Google has become HUGE.
- Glitches - Little glitches like the linking problem that I've been having while posting today can become annoying. What blog doesn't have glitches.
- Crash - I did crash halfway through this post, however, I've found that most often it happens in new browsers (I'm using Firefox 4) and with plug ins (Zemanta caused the last one.)
- Scheduled Posts -I schedule many of my posts. I have to be careful because at least one time out of three the scheduled post DOESN'T happen. I'm not sure why.
- Beauty. OK, Wordpress friends - your blogs are prettier. They just are, but if you can't be found then it is kind of like a flower in a box. (I'm not saying you can't be found but it does take some intentional work on your part.)
- Blogger Bar - You have to remove this manually.