Practical Advice on Becoming a Better Blogger

by Jon Mountjoy

Editor's note: I wrote this for all our Dev2Dev and Arch2Arch bloggers out there. It should be applicable to a wider audience though, so we're publishing this as an article.

We want you to succeed as a blogger—to have people subscribed to your blog, for you to be part of the bigger conversation on the Web, for you and your blog to become recognized. So here's an 11-step process to becoming a better blogger. We're not promising fame and fortune. This is just a guide to improving the way in which you blog.

You don't have to follow all of these recommendations at once. Rather, try and progress through this course with each new post that you publish. Each one shouldn't take more than five minutes to read. Start with the Absolute Essentials, and then move on to The Basics. After that, start adding some Link Love. Now start doing some Email Promotion, and then Play Tag. Next, check out Add Yourself to Aggregators and Help, I Have No Comments. Finally, take a look at Pictures vs Words, Preview Your Posts, and Making Mistakes.

1. Absolute Essentials

The absolute essentials section is about getting familiar with the blogging policy of your company. It mentions some of the do's and don'ts, such as "Don't tell secrets" and "Don't talk about clients or business partners," but it also contains some sound advice we'd love you to take into account:

To be a successful blogger, you're going to have to blog more than once. In fact, you need to do it with some regularity. So an absolute essential is:

And finally:

This is all to say, we're advising that you make you, the blogger, happy. Writing what you know, in the style you want, will help you feel more comfortable blogging and hopefully lead to a long blogging career. And don't for a moment think, "Nobody will care about what I write." You'll be surprised by how big the world is!

2. The Basics

Logging in: You're about to write your first blog post. You need a title and the text for the post (and a little more, as you'll see). First you've forgotten where your blog is right? Log on to Dev2Dev/Arch2Arch, and then go to Blogs, and choose "My Blog." You'll then be presented with the Web interface to our blog system.

Now you're ready to start writing. Here are some basics:

  • Title - Choose a title that conveys the message of your post and even some keywords that you know folk would tend to look for. For example, if you're blogging about "WebLogic Event Server," don't call your blog "Oatflake and Honey Biscuits." You can do that once you're established and have an audience. Rather, choose something like "Writing Queries in WebLogic Event Server." Google likes nice titles, and you like Google. ;-)

  • Text - I'm going to leave you to write your own blog text in this phase. Just remember to say something. Why would someone read your blog if all you do is ask questions? Put the text of your blog in the "Entry Body" section of the blog. Please ignore the "Extended Entry"

  • Short Description - You're not ready to hit that "Publish" button yet. You'll see a field for a "Short Description" (sometimes called a blurb, excerpt, or description). You want to fill this with a short, one- or two-sentence description of the blog post that you're writing. When folk read blogs, they often just scan the title and description, so make sure the title and description convey enough interesting material to convince people to click and read your blog post. Read our list of recent blogs to see how blogs may be aggregated on different pages. You'll notice that only the title and short descriptions are shown. (Actually, some blog systems display the first sentence or two if no excerpt is supplied; this is invariably a poor substitute.)

Blog Short

  • Category - There's one final thing to do. You'll notice a "Category" selection. Use this to select the appropriate categories for your blog post. For example, if you're blogging about "WebLogic Server," make sure to select "WebLogic Server" from the category. That way your blog will automatically appear in the developer center for WebLogic Server. Choose the category of "Role:Architect" if you want to make sure your blog appears in Arch2Arch. Finally, you can "Save" your post, and then choose multiple categories if you're using the blog interface.

Blog Category

How would someone know that you are blogging about something interesting? Well, they may find you with Google (that's why the title and description are important), but more importantly, people will often find a blog by reading some other blog post on some other site somewhere that points to yours. Why would someone point to your blog post? Often it's because you pointed to theirs!

The thing about blogs is that they work very well when posts point to other posts. So when you write the body of your blog post, make sure you point to some other blog post somewhere else. You're already reading blogs right? Right?

Okay, so you're writing about Topic X. You have been inspired to write about Topic X because some blogger Joe on some Web site Foo has written about it in his blog. Go and grab the link to that particular post within his blog (sometimes called the permalink). When you write your blog post, refer to it. For example:

Joe, over on Foo, has {written about}[link this to permalink!] Topic X.
I don't agree with Joe. I think ….

In other words:

  • Find relevant, related blog posts - Another cheap way to find a relevant post is by using the blog search as indicated above. Try to find recent blog entries—posts that folk are still reading. Another way is to search Technorati or look for other people who have tagged posts in the same way. See the advanced "tag search" at Technorati.

And once you've found them:

  • Point to these relevant blog posts when you write your blogs, as shown in the example above.

The thing is, the more external blog posts you reference, the greater the potential that those bloggers you reference will refer back to you. You want inbound links—it's an important way to raise your Google ranking. Simply put, you want people to refer to you.

I am putting so much emphasis on how to refer to external blog posts because this gives you a better chance of that blog post carrying a so-called trackback item to your post, so anyone who reads that external blog post that you referenced will see a related link back to you.

What happens when your post refers to another is that the blog engine pings the other blog you referred to and inserts a trackback. This is essentially almost like a comment that is left on the other blog post that you referred to, that points back to your blog. In other words, people who read that post now know that you are referring to that post too, and may click back to you.

Moreover, the author of the blog you are pointing to might enjoy what you write and subscribe to your blog. If you're really lucky, you may get added to their blogroll. They may even post their own blog posts that refer back to you too. Link Love!

Of course, as always, do it sensibly—not for the links, per se, but because they add value to what you say. Remember: At the end of the day, nobody is going to point back to you just because you point to them:

  • Write something that continues the conversation - Don't just point to a post and say "Duh." Interact with what people are saying; add value by suggesting alternatives, or by exposing features in our products that solve problems that they've identified.

4. Participate

Participating in the blog world is not just about writing blog posts or pointing to other relevant posts. One great way to participate is to leave comments on other blogs.

Blog comment

When you leave comments, they almost always provide you with the facility to put in your URL. Insert your blog URL there. That's your "blog home" after all. So:

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