Blog in an hour

Get your thoughts online now for the world to read...

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By  Matthew Wade Published  March 2, 2007

|~|BLOG-opener---m.gif|~||~|We’ve all heard the stats and read the stories; how there are currently so many million bloggers logging on around the world and it’s a revolutionary new news and communication tool that’s changing the cyberscape. That’s all true actually, but it only really gets interesting when you get on there yourself and start contributing. And this process is easier than you might think… There are a myriad of both free and paid-for blog creation services online, which will not only help you set-up and tailor your site to suit its purpose but will also, as part of their service, host it. A quick shortlist of the popular providers might include the Google-owned Blogger.com, Typepad , Livejournal and b2/cafelog’s official successor, WordPress. For the purpose of this quick-hit starter guide, we’ll be working with Blogger, as there’s very little confusion possible with this simple, effective tool. ||**||STAGE ONE: Create your blog|~|BLOG-1---step-2.gif|~|If you don't already have a Google user account, sign up for this first.|~|1. Connect to the internet and log onto blogger.com. Scroll down the page, past the part about switching your blog to the new version of blogger (this is for previous users of the first Blogger version only), and then simply click ‘Create your blog’. 2. Create a Google account. If you already use Googlemail (a.k.a. Gmail) or any other Google-owned service, simply sign-in using this e-mail address and associated password. Then hit Continue. 3. On the next screen, you can choose your blog’s title. Considering this will be listed in the Blogger blog directory and potentially many other places online (depending how widely you want to promote your site), make sure its title is a strong one. Check its spelling and grammar. This advice is doubly important if your blog is designed to function as any kind of work- or company-related publishing or collaboration tool. On this screen you must also suggest a URL for your site, which will take this form: http://xxxx your blog’s name xxxxx.blogspot.com (note, no ‘www’). Providing your blog’s headline is hard-hitting and also succinct, it makes sense to use this title for the URL too. Should you have an alternative hosting service in mind, other than Blogger’s blogspot.com offshoot (maybe the same hosting service your company uses for instance), you can choose to opt out of blogspot.com here. 4. This next part is fun - you can choose your site’s look and feel. The templates offered by Blogger are - let’s be honest here - relatively limited in scope (certainy compared to those available for the more complex Typepad), but if you examine the range carefully (by making using of the clickable ‘preview template’ links next to each design) you’re likely to soon find one that will suit the type of blog you want to create.Either way, you can change your site’s template in the future. This can be done both by changing its template within Blogger or, should you have HTML knowledge, alternatively you’ll find a massive range of user-designed alternatives online that just require you to replace your blog’s HTML with that provided by the template designer in question. 5. On the next screen, just hit ‘Start Posting’, and you’re off. ||**||STAGE TWO: Upload your first post with a picture|~|BLOG-2---Step-2.gif|~|You can either upload an image directly from your PC (jpg, gif, bmp and png images are accepted up to eight megabytes in size), or link to a picture you’ve already uploaded elsewhere online.|~|1. The very first screen you’ll see is the standard ‘Compose’ posting screen. Start popping in your text and use the buttons and pull down formatting menus to get it looking how you want. More advanced users might want to move from the ‘Compose’ tab to the ‘Edit HTML’ option, but only if they are fully fluent; otherwise a little tinkering can lead to much head-scratching (and you’ll fly past our allotted hour mark for this blogging task!). You can tinker with a couple of additional options in addition to font style and sizing. Although such formatting features as tabs aren’t included here, what you can set is whether or not to allow reader comments for this particular post (we’ll come to other, more ‘blog-wide’ comment options shortly), simply by clicking ‘Post Options’ under the main text box. Here you can also set the posting time your message should show (again, a different blog-wide option is available to set the time and date format to be used, which we’ll come to). Also under the text box, to the right, you’ll notice a label field. If your plan is to be a prolific poster and write on a variety of topics, labels can be a useful tool for your readers. Use these to categories your posts by topic and readers will be able to better navigate your blog, getting to the content they want to read more quickly. So, if applicable, give your post a label. (In our example, our first ‘Windows Middle East magazine’ post is about ‘Blogging’, so we've given it exactly that label.) 2. To add a picture, just click the small picture button (to the top right of your message text). You can either upload an image directly from your PC (jpg, gif, bmp and png images are accepted up to eight megabytes in size), or link to a picture you’ve already uploaded elsewhere online, at a site such as Photobucket.com say. Once your image is in your post, you can tweak its position by dragging and dropping it, as well as resizing it by clicking its corner points. 3. When satisfied, hit ‘Publish’, then on the next page that appears choose ‘View blog’ (in the same window or a new one) to see how your first offering looks when it’s up there, ‘live’ on the internet. ------------------------- Quick Clicks As with word processors, Blogger posts support a few handy shortcuts. Most are similar to Microsoft Word, however note that Control + D = save draft, rather than Control + S (which in Blogger’s case isn’t Save but actually publishes your post!). Control + B = Bold Control + I = Italic Control + L = Blockquote (HTML-mode only) Control + Z = Undo Control + Y = Redo Control + Shift + A = Link Control + Shift + P = Preview Control + D = Save as draft Control + S = Publish post. -------------------------||**||STAGE THREE: Tailor your blog to suit your style|~|BLOG-3---step-1.gif|~|First give your blog an intro-ductory ‘synopsis’ paragraph that explains what your online offering is all about.|~|1. In your main Blogger screen (if you viewed your blog in the same window, hit your browser’s Back button to reach this), choose the ‘Settings’ tab at the top. First give your blog an intro-ductory ‘synopsis’ paragraph that explains what your online offering is all about; ‘The enthused ramblings of a desertified mind’ etc; as you like. This paragraph will appear on your blog’s front page and - along with your headline - is an essential tool with which to persuade patience-free surfers to stay at your site and check out what you have to say. So make this really engaging, no more than a paragraph in length, and again check it for silly school-kid errors. 2. Under this text box come various options. If you want your blog to be public, you’ll want it accessible, so leave ‘Yes’ highlighted in the first ‘Add your blog’ option (this means your blog will appear to other users and surfers on Blogger). The next ‘Quick Editing’ option is also useful. When turned on (and when you’re logged into Google), this lets you edit posts directly from your blog’s proper URL, rather than needing to click over to Settings/Formatting (one tab away from where you are now). Similarly, the next Compose Mode is essential for first time creators like yourself. Lastly, don’t hover your cursor near that ‘Delete This Blog’ option; instead hit ‘Save Changes’. 3. Move onto the Formatting section by clicking the relevant tab at the top of the page. Here you can set Date Header and Archive header formats (how the date of your posts and archived posts are shown on the page). You can also set your time-zone and your blog’s language (impressively, numerous Arabic versions are offered). If you then move to the Comments tab above, you can allow or block reader comments (uploaded thoughts on your posts). If you can’t take criticism or, potentially, public humiliation well, you may want to choose to ‘Hide’ comments. Click ‘Save Settings then and let’s move on... 4. Move from the Settings arena of your blog’s user interface and click the top-most ‘Template’ tab header. Here’s where you can really get creative. Under the ‘Page Elements’ tab you can effectively play around with the structure of your page. If you reckon your blog’s intro text (under its title) for instance explains enough and you therefore want to dump the About Me section, click Edit in the ‘About Me’ box and then click on ‘Remove Page Element’ in the pop-up box that appears. Note: About Me refers to your author profile. Therefore, you can write a little about yourself or your company/hobby group. You can also add your picture here. To find out how - as this process will take more minutes than you can spare here - click the top-right Help link in the Edit Profile pop-up (this appears when you choose About Me/Edit). You’ll need to add your image to a blog post however for it to be ‘hosted’ online or else pop it on the web via a service such as Photobucket. ‘Add a Page Element’ brings up various personalisation options, from the opportunity to list your favourite books or movies, or to label category headings for easy reader access. You can also try to make a little cash from your blog by setting up Google AdSense ads to run in this box (whereby through this service you earn a tiny commission each time a reader clicks through one of these to its link site). Best of all, if you want your About Me blurb above the Archive links, just drag-and-drop page items around as you like, then Save Changes and check out how your newly reformatted blog looks in a separate browser window. 5. To move your blog from ‘looking okay’ to being a smooth, colour themed creation, stay in the Template tab and hit ‘Fonts and Colours’. If a font type or colour has been bugging you, here’s the place to change it by trying out a few option and finding the best fit for you. Choose the text item in the left-hand menu, click a colour and see it change ‘live’ in the preview pane below. Don’t like it? Hit ‘Clear Edits’ and try again (note however that this action will clear all your unsaved edits, not merely the last change made). Truly a trial and error approach, yes, but a simple one that works. (Extra notes: the headline of each individual post is referred to in the left option list as the ‘Link’ color, whilst individual post dates are called ‘Date Header Colour’). And that’s it! You’ve just created your first blog, live online, in way less than sixty minutes. So onto four stage 4... let’s use the minutes you have remaining to start trying to get you some readers. After all, it’s no good being published if no-one notices your work is it?||**||STAGE FOUR: Start promoting your blog online|~|BLOG-4---step-2.gif|~|To add your blog and increase the chances of its being seen, try ‘claiming' your blog with Technorati. |~|When it comes to directing surfers towards your gem of a site, steady and considered progress is the approach to take. If you expect one blog directory or promotional service to guarantee your blog a thousand hits a month (as suggested by some online), you’ll likely be very disappointed, so start off expecting little and work on steadily building the buzz about your site. Here are three good starting points, with more ideas detailed overleaf for when you have more time to spare. 1. Make the most of Weblogs.com. This is Blogger’s built-in blog update notification service and is used by both individuals and services - such as Google-partnered blog directories - to track changes to blogs such as yours. In Blogger, go to Settings/Publishing and make sure that ‘Notify Weblogs’ is enabled. 2. Technorati is an internet search engine focused on primarily on the world of weblogs (along with other ‘citizen media’ content) and currently indexes over 55 million ‘weblogs’ or blogs. There are hundreds of blog directory sites out there in cyberspace, but this should be your first port of call because it’s one of the longest-running, most visited and best organised such directories, plus it offers a myriad of useful tools for bloggers. To add your blog and increase the chances of its being seen, you must first ‘claim your blog’ (this means, in other words, tell Technorati about it), by submitting your URL, a brief description, topical tags and a photo. If a visitor then searches for tags relating to your blog, it will pop-up on their search result list. Essential Technorati links: Claim your blog: http://technorati.com/account/blogs/#start_claim Technorati Link Count (software) http://technorati.com/tools/linkcount/ Favorite Button (let Technorati users ‘Favorite’ your blog): http://technorati.com/account/favbuttons.html 3. Incoming links to your site from other respected and related sites - AKA ‘backlinks’ - are a great way of securing traffic. Therefore if you have any friends or relatives with sites, or are a member of any interest groups or online forums, ask that they link through their URLs to your blog. In addition, you should also be able to track down a community blog site or blog-ring, through which related topic- or country-specific blogs are linked to each other. Get listed on these. A good example based in the Emirates is http://uaecommunity.blogspot.com. Its equivalent in Saudi Arabia meanwhile is http://saudiblogs.blogspot.com. Based elsewhere? Try these sites… http://bahrainblogs.org (Bahrain) http://jordanblogs.com or www.jordanplanet.net (Jordan) www.syplanet.com (Syria) www.bloggers4oman.blogspot.com (Oman) http://lebanonheartblogs.blogspot.com (Lebanon) www.omraneya.net (Egypt) www.qatarliving.com/qatarblogsproject www.kuwaitblogs.com Last but certainly not least, make sure you integrate your blog’s URL - along with a short but arresting ‘come visit us’ type of sentence - into any - or all - of your e-mail signatures. And that’s it; you should now have a functioning online resource you can use to publish your thoughts, articles, rants and more, complete with pictures and hopefully the occasional visitor. To promote your new blog further and make it even easier for your visitors to use and keep up-to-date with, just flick over the page. ||**||Time to spare?|~|BLOG-blog-explosion---m.gif|~|Blog Explosion is free to join and details various ways in which to promote your blog. |~|Follow these tips to further promote your blog and allow web surfers to receive your new content automatically... PROMOTE IT 1. Ensure that Blogger’s ‘Post Pages’ function is enabled; this way, each individual post will have its own webpage and URL. Head over to Settings/Archiving and under ‘Enable Post Page’ choose Yes. 2. Add well-written content regularly. The more often a site is updated, the more potential it has to appeal to readers and the more pages Google can index and bring up as search results. 3. Employ a keyword research tool - such as that as goodkeywords.com - and research the most widely used keywords relating to your blog’s topic. Then optimise your blog’s title (using hypens rather than several words together), overview paragraph and even the text in individual posts to help search engines find your pages more often. Alongside this, if you are interested you can use a service such as Statcounter (at www.statcounter.com) to discover and analyse where your visitors are coming from, which search engines they use and what search terms they used to find your site. 4. Set up pings (digital alerts), to tell online blog services when you have updated your site. (They will then know to crawl and index your site, publishing your blog’s contents and thus increasing your blog’s popularity.) Start with these two: Pingoat (http://pingoat.com) and Google Blog Search Pinging Service. 5. Join BlogExplosion (www.blogexplosion.com). This blog traffic exchange is free to join and offers various ways to promote your blog and, all being well, grab you new readers. You can add banner ads to promote your blog, featuring useful click-through reports, get your blog reviewed by other members and much more. 6. To get your site ‘indexed’ quickly by Google, add Google Sitemap to your blog (www.google.com/webmasters/tools/siteoverview). GET IT READ 1. Set-up your blog so that your readers can subscribe via e-mail. Do this and all they’ll need to do is sign-up by providing their e-mail address and typing in an on-screen verification code, after which each time you update your blog they’ll receive the content in their inbox! Windows recommends Feedburner’s service over at www.feedburner.com. These are the steps to take: - Register with the site - Log-in, head to My Feeds and click your feed title - Choose the Publicize tab (up top) and then choose Email Subscriptions (to the left) - Under ‘Subscription Form Code’, ignore the HTML code and instead choose ‘Use a widget in Blogger’ and click Go - This will take you to a Blogger page where you can tailor the Blogger e-mail subscription element - Head over to your blog proper and test it out. Note: the first updates take a day or two. 2. Give surfers who use newsreader (or ‘aggregator’) programs such as FeedDemon or NetNewsWire the chance to read your updated content too. As explained by Blogger itself, “Syndication means that when you publish your blog, Blogger automatically generates a machine-readable representation of your blog that can be picked up and displayed on other web sites and information aggregation tools.” Newsreaders and Aggregators scan these feeds, automatically letting their users know when chosen sites have been updated. Rather than RSS, Blogger supports Atom 1.0 format feeds (although if you add ?alt=rss to the end of any site feed URL you can get the same feed in RSS 2.0 format). Start then by checking that site feeds for your blog are enabled by heading to Settings/Site Feed in Blogger. Here you can select how much of your content you want to syndicate. ‘Full’ puts the entire content of each post in your site feed, while ‘Short’ only includes an excerpt from the beginning of each post. ‘None’ turns your site feed off entirely. If for any reason visitors to your blog can’t find links to your feeds (these don’t always appear with Blogger or can be tricky to find), just add a couple of tags to your site’s template. The first piece of code can go in your sidebar, or wherever you’d like it to appear (if in doubt, grab a HTML-competent friend or check out the full explanations in the sites listed in this article’s final text box). The code looks like this:

<$BlogFeed sVertical$>

Depending on your settings, this code will provide links to a feed of all your blogs posts, and/or a feed of all the comments on all your posts. If you're using both types of feed, the result on your page should look like this: Subscribe to Comments Posts Don’t forget, if you set-up a blog you’re proud of then send the URL to windows@itp.com and it might just get a mention in our next issue! ||**||

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