Saturday, March 23, 2013

Bringing Your Blog to the Next Level

Over in the Flannel Friday Facebook group, we've been discussing how to spruce up a blog in Blogger. I've been using Blogger for about 6.5 years (started as a student in library school), so I feel pretty confident in it. I've considered moving my blog over to Wordpress but everything is already set up using Google products and at this point I'm not interested in switching things up.

Anyway, a member was looking for some ideas to improve to function and appearance of her blog, so I thought I would share my suggestions to her (and some more for when she feels comfortable) with everyone. A lot of people have started blogs because of Flannel Friday, so I'm hoping some of these ideas will be helpful for anyone who is interested in upgrading their blog. Lisa wrote a really great post about some of the more beginning things you can do to enhance your blog, but I want to talk about some of the more advanced options.

If you're just getting started...
The most important thing from a reader's perspective is good content. Before you start promoting your blog, take the time to write a few posts so that once people stumble upon your blog there will be some things for them to read. Then they can evaluate whether they want to continue to hear what you have to say by subscribing via email or RSS. (By the way, since Google announced it's shutting down Google Reader, I've switched to Feedly and really like it so far. Feedly reminds me a lot of Pinterest in design. I'm a visual person and can get through the content a lot faster. I've gone and added a bunch more feeds since I can read them faster.)

Another recommendation I make a lot is to consider scheduling posts. I write a lot of blog posts in one sitting  (especially Flannel Friday ones) and then I sit down and change the dates so that when they're published, they will be spread-out. You can find out what your post's URL will be by clicking on the Permalink section of the post settings on the right when you're writing a post. I just copy and paste that and give it to that week's host. I often write 5 or more Flannel Friday posts in one day, since everything (felt board, iPhone for pictures, etc.) is out and ready. Then I will change the dates so that the posts will last a whole month.

Help your readers find the content they want easily
Also, think of what would make good categories for what you are writing about. You might decide to break posts into storytime age groups (baby, toddler, preschool, school-age, etc.), or into themes (apples, winter, penguins). There are a lot of possibilities and only you know what will work best for your blog. Look at what other bloggers with similar content are using. In Blogger, you can assign labels (also known as tags) to posts to make it easier to find similar things. Here's Google's help page for that.

Another way to display similar items is to install the LinkWithin widget on your blog. You will have to copy and paste some HTML code into your Blogger site to do this, but it is really worth it. It will take a few hours to go through your site, so don't worry if it doesn't display properly immediately. This is free, requires no registration, and walks you through the steps.

Lastly, don't forget to link to previous posts when you are writing new ones! This will help readers who are new find older posts that they may be interested in and remind readers who've been with you a long time to check out some older content.

Maximizing Pinterest Potential
I honestly think Pinterest has been the best thing to ever happen to my blog, in terms of adding new readers. Since it started, I have tried to be better about adding a watermark with my blog's name and what the photo is about. Like Lisa, I add my watermarks in Picasa but I only use the web version through Google+. I try to put an image in every post, because while you can pin text-only things to Pinterest, it is much, much harder to do so. So I either whip up something in Microsoft Paint or find something from the free library over at Open Clip Art (where all the images in this post are from).

Another thing I have done is install a button that puts a "pin it" button on any image. This was really easy to install once I found the right spot, although since I have that fancy image slider on the main page I had to ask my brother-in-law for help to adapt the "pin it" code without breaking that code.  section in your HTML code) and I think it's really cool! It even adds the right URL even if people are your main blog page and not the actual post. 

I also keep an eye on what is being pinned from my site by looking at the Pinterest source page for my blog. Then I adapt what I'm posting to what is getting the best response on Pinterest, in the comments, etc. One thing to think about with Pinterest is whether you want to include downloadable patterns. I like to host mine in my Teachers Pay Teachers store because then I can see how many people downloaded them. It's because I'm nosy that I have a TPT store, not because I'm greedy. I've only made one actual sale! Ha.

Looking at Statistics
Blogger incorporates some basic statistics for you to look at. You can see how many people (and from which countries) visited your blog on a daily, weekly, monthly, etc. basic. You can also see which posts are most popular. That will give you an idea of what content people are looking for and then you can customize more posts on that. Most importantly, you will be able to see where most of your traffic is coming from, whether it's Google, Pinterest, or something else entirely. If you participate in Flannel Friday, the odds are good that much of your traffic will be from those 2 sites.

If you are interested in seeing more detailed information about who is reading your blog, I recommend giving Feedburner, another Google product, a try. You will be able to see statistics for how many people subscribe to your blog via RSS and how many get emails when you update. Google walks you through setting Feedburner up here. Every year I set a goal for how many RSS and email subscriptions I want to reach. Last year I doubled my goal!

If Feedburner is not enough, you can get very detailed stats by signing up for Google Analytics, but I think it's overkill for a simple storytime blog. I had it set up for my blog but I never checked it and since I don't run ads on my blog, I don't need it. Feedburner suffices for me.

Pinterest also has an analytics tool, which I just installed, so I can't really talk about it yet. You do need to verify your site, which for those of us running Blogger or Wordpress means you need to insert a meta tag into your HTML. You are given a unique piece of code to edit into your site. I did find that I needed to add after the code Pinterest supplied for Blogger to accept that code. ALWAYS, always, always download a copy of your HTML before you start tinkering with it. That way you can revert back to the prior version easily. As far as I know my analytics can be viewed by anyone, so feel free to check it out.

Promoting Your Blog
I've found that the best ways to promote your blog are as follows (in no particular order):
  • Leave thoughtful comments on other blogs. Don't ask them to read your blog, but if you leave the URL in the commentator information section, there's a good chance the blogger (and many of the other commentators) will stop over and check it out. The more people who read the blog, the more likely it is that some of them will stop over. On the other hand, if fewer people read the blog, then your comment won't get lost in pages and pages of comments.
  • Set Feedburner up to autotweet when you have a new post. 
  • Be active on Pinterest and don't be afraid to pin your own posts. Don't do 40 posts in one day, but add them to relevant categories sparingly. 
  • Respond to comments when people write them! You don't have to reply to ones that say something like "Cute!" but if someone takes the time to write a substantive comment, why wouldn't you want to encourage them to do it again? 
Getting more advanced
I've been interested lately in learning how to do more and harder things on my blog. It took a couple of hours and a lot of Googling to install, but I'm really proud of my current blog template. It is a free template from Btemplates. I had to customize the HTML to change the rotating images at the top, remove some of the "widgets" on the side that I didn't want, and personalize the social media buttons so you can email me or find me on Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, etc. Btemplates walks you through the installation process but then you have to figure out how to personalize the code on your own. I like Webmonkey's HTML cheat sheet. I do lots of CTRL-F to find the proper lines that need to be changed. And sometimes I call my brother-in-law, a web developer, and beg for help.

I hope this is helpful information for you! I'm starting to follow some blogs for ideas about how to write more engaging content and also for marketing my blog. I'm not interested in trying to make money off this or any other blog, I figure it is also good to read up on best practices for social media as I also do Facebook posts for my library. Plus, I just find it an interesting topic. I would love for companies to stop offering me "opportunities" to advertise their skateboarding shoes (true story) on this blog though. 

7 comments:

Thanks for writing this! Whenever I look up customizing, it usually ends up in a convo about switching to Wordpress. I so appreciate your take; it will be bookmarked!

I really love that image slider at the top and wish I had the skillz to adapt it for my blog! And the idea of a pin-it button for images is great! If you ever want to post about learning HTML, I'll be listening!

This is terrific, Anne! Thanks for putting it together. I will definitely read (and save) any tech-y how-to articles you post :) I would also love to hear about what you're learning about best practises, netiquette etc.- or just the links to point me in the right direction :)
I think there is a blog in my future, but I have a LOT to learn and get comfortable with first. Posts like this really help.

P.S. I've just been Bookmarking posts I want to look at again, and sometimes when I try to access them later the link doesn't work anymore - what is a better (but still easy) way to save things? You can answer by email if you want.
Thanks for the help!

Your post was perfect timing for me! I have been trying to get my blog http://cybraryplanet.blogspot.com going and encourage followers, but it is slow going. I am always looking for great ideas and advice and your blog has both. So glad I started following it. Thanks for the great information.

Thanks for the feedback, ladies! I will think about writing some more with working with HTML (it's really more intimidating than difficult).

I'm happy to answer specific questions through email, if anyone wants to write me one. My address is anne (at) sotomorrowblog.com.

Anne,

Wow! I am consistently amazed with what I find on So Tomorrow, but i actually bookmarked this post and immediately started tinkering with BusyLibrarian.com c/o some of your very thoughtful and effective suggestions. Thanks for doing what you do so well and, as always, for sharing it with all of us!

Sincerely,

- Matthew

Thanks, Matthew! That's so kind of you to say.

Congratulations on your Movers & Shakers award! Always awesome when people I "know" win. :)