What I've Learned About Keeping A Personal Weblog So Far

  1. Choose a good handle. For memorability, it is best if you choose a moniker that is not already taken by 3,000 other people and does not include numbers or underscores. Have that name listed somewhere on your weblog so that people know who is talking to them, and use that name when you comment on other weblogs.

  2. Register your own domain name. Why? Because you will look like you mean it.

  3. Have your contact information where people can see it. Some of the best feedback comes from private e-mails.

  4. Write an About article and link to it. No one knows who you are or why you are there, and it can be a helpful guide to a potential long-term reader if you give them a clue about yourself beyond the updates on your home page that wax on about your love of ice cream and how much your dog sheds. Think of it as the online way of extending your hand and introducing yourself.

  5. Have a search box on your website. It will help readers (and you) locate past entries that they enjoyed or contain information they want to use or link to.

  6. Ditch the free templates that came with your weblogging service. Those basic templates are used by hundreds if not thousands of other bloggers, and due to their being tailored to meet the basic needs of the broadest audience of users, they lack all personal style. The look of your site is the first thing readers see when they find you, and if your template looks like this, that, and the other person's, you may as well be one of the faceless forgettables shuffling in sweat pants down the streets of North America. If you don't know how to code your own template or do not have the funds to have one designed for you, then use what skills you have to search the internet for free templates that are at least less common than the lacklustre one you originally settled for. People cannot hear you or smell you, so you better damn well look like something. You don't have to look all swanky, but individuality is key.

  7. Do not have things on the page that actively do stuff outside the reader's control. Nothing makes me click away from a page faster than pop-up ads, music blasting that I did not choose to play, animated GIFs, and the like. If it moves, makes noise, or imposes scroll bars other than the ones already in my browser, I am annoyed and will pretend I do not know you if I see you in public. Basically, you have become one of those people who stands too close and talks too loud and pokes people whenever you are making a point.

  8. Font size and colour is important. For instance, this font size right here is way too small, and it takes too much energy to bother with most of the time. Make sure that your font size is readable for a wide variety of people. Also, it might just be me, but using font colors other than greys or blacks can truly decrease the legibility of your content. One out of a thousand people might care that your favourite colour is purple, but almost no one wants to have to suffer through text that is more difficult to read because of it. Also, it is important to remember that a good portion of your audience will have some form of vision impairment.

  9. Make your site easy to navigate. The links directly related to you and your website - the about, contact, RSS, etc. links - should be above the fold and easy to spot. If a reader likes your content, they will often look for links to help them navigate your website, but if those links are buried at the bottom of a sidebar below a graphic declaring your love of puppies, they might not stick around long enough to find them.

  10. Make sure that your archives are accessible from the home page. If a reader finds you and takes a liking to you, they will often dig into your archives for more of the good stuff. If they can't find them, they might forget about you if all they can sample are the updates on the home page.

  11. Have a comments section. Even if people rarely or never leave comments, at least they feel like you welcome dialogue. Readers do like to feel that they are included somehow, that there is some sort of community in which they are taking part. Without comments, your readership won't develop a sense of community involvement, which will lead to your readership feeling alienated from you, the author. Also, do not base any sense of success on how many comments you receive. Some weblog entries will prove to be wildly popular according to traffic but will have no comments. Why? No one knows.

  12. Remember that your commenters are human beings. People sometimes leave thoughtless or stupid-sounding comments. It happens. I've done it. By and large, people mean well, except for when they don't. If someone does happen to leave a mean-spirited comment, use deletion as the only response. Schoolyard bullies love suckers who will dance with them.

  13. Be generous. Give freely of your weblogging and other knowledge if asked. Answer it in an entry so everyone can benefit. I wrote an entry about washing pillows once, and it was my biggest traffic driver for months.

  14. Have RSS. If you don't know what it is, find out. Link to it in a prominent place on your website so that people who use feed aggregators will use your feed and keep reading your content. A lot of readers will forget to come back if their are not served your content by their aggregator when you update.

  15. Have a good portion of your content showing above the fold. A potential reader's first view of your page is important, and if all they can see is one gigantic header image and/or a mishmash of ads, they will likely not understand what your site is about, and furthermore, they probably will not care. Let people know from their first look at your site that there is content worth looking into, because if the content is not immediately visible and the potential reader has to work to find it, even if it is only by scrolling down the page, you will lose them.

  16. Include pictures in your content. People are simple. Pictures are pretty. It will make you look like you know what you're doing. Make sure that the pictures you use are hosted properly on your own server or by a service you pay for, such as Flickr, or by your free weblog host, such as Blogger. If you stick a picture on your site using someone else's picture link, you might be stealing their bandwidth, and that's poor form.

  17. Check that your links work. Regularly click on the links in your blog template to make sure that they are still functioning. Your template is part of your content, and it can be frustrating for readers if they try to click on links to other websites that only lead to 404 error pages. Remove the dead weight and keep your site clean and usable.

  18. Keep unnecessary gadgets/widgets to a minimum. Polls, quizzes, link exchange boxes, news feeds, etc. can clutter up sidebars and drive attention away from more important aspects of the site such as content and navigation links.

  19. Write on a regular basis. This does not mean that you should make sure to write an entry every three months. Write every week at the very least and at least once every day at best. If you do not engage your readers regularly, they will move on, because they will not feel as though they know you or that you are terribly interested in being there in the first place. It is the squeaky wheel that gets noticed.

  20. Spelling and grammar always count. No one's perfect, but if you put in the effort, what you write will appear both more readable and more authoritative.

  21. Write short paragraphs. On the computer screen, long paragraphs can look daunting, and it can be difficult to keep your place visually. It is much easier to read through an entry that has its ideas organized into shorter chunks.

  22. Don't write about work. Getting fired sucks. Getting fired because you were naive enough to think that talking smack about your work on the internet isn't like putting up a giant billboard next to the freeway sucks even worse.

  23. If you write about friends and acquaintances, don't use their real names. They may not want to be googled by future employers only to have them find a detailed account of that embarrassing projectile puking incident you wrote up in such fine detail.

  24. Pretend that you are your own audience. Entertain yourself, because if you are not having fun, no one else will.

  25. Bare yourself, but set reasonable boundaries. Let your readers see the real you. Perfect people are boring. Show your neuroses, embarrassments, and failures alongside your positive attributes and successes, and accept that this will make you feel vulnerable, but do not venture into areas that might push your envelope too far. The boundaries you set are up to you. Find a balance that works for you.

  26. Enjoy what you are doing. Enough said.

  27. Someone you know will read what you write at some point. They will. You are never as anonymous as you think, and when someone you know finds you, they will comment or send you an e-mail. Your heart may leap up into your throat whilst you remember what you said about your aunt Ginny, but remember, you did this to yourself. Then go write something nice about Aunt Ginny.

  28. Do not speak ill of other bloggers due to their popularity or lack thereof. That just makes you look bitter and petty. Of course, if you want to seem bitter and petty, then go for it.

  29. Don't apologize on your website when you haven't written anything in a while. It makes boring reading, and since you are back anyway, you might as well put the space to better use.

  30. Read other people's weblogs and comment on them. Just like you, other people want to know that they are not just screaming into the void, and it helps them and their readers get to know you and build community.

  31. When you write about something that not everyone might automatically know or recognize, link to further information about it. Not everyone knows who your big crush, Neil Patrick Harris, is or what naked mole-rats are. Throw your readers a bone.

  32. Perseverance is key. Write. And then write some more. Take pictures. Write even more. Do it for a long time. Write and write and write. It could take years, so you'd better love it.

  33. Read Tony Pierce's "How To Blog".

  34. Read Rebecca Blood's "Weblog Ethics".

  35. Read Mark Bernstein's "10 Tips On Writing The Living Web" at A List Apart.

ADDITIONS AS PROMPTED BY READERS:
  1. Do not leave comments solely to spam another site with your own website link. It is a common mistake for beginning bloggers. When you leave a comment that basically says Come read my blog!, it shows little respect for the person whose site you are visiting and makes you appear overly self-interested and selfish. Join some blog directories if you want to advertise your website, and leave comments that either add to the discussion or support the author. (via Snafu Suz)

  2. Have a permanent link posted for each weblog entry. This way, people can link directly to particular entries if they want to send traffic your way. (via Poppy Buxom)