Monthly Archives: December 2011

How do I want my blog to look?

I need more time!

I thought I had it all sussed out but I am getting cold feet! After chatting about the structure and the lay-out of my blog I initially felt very excited  but then doubts arose that made me feel rather uncomfortable. All kind of things started to race through my mind:

  • What if I can’t cope with maintaining 5 blogs?
  • Will the blog look like I want it to look?
  • Do I know how I want it to look?

Countless questions…..Vague answers!

I suppose these are all normal reactions but how do I deal with them? Is it better to have the blog designed, set up and just start or should I give it some more time before I commit? I have read several times that the best way to learn is to start blogging. Well I am doing that already. I have after all ‘Blogexercise’ whose purpose it is to diarise my blogging adventure.

Having doubts and making changes is all part of this exercise so I should embrace that. Talking to the web designer made it all so definite. I kind of feel I am not ready for that yet. I have had a number of businesses before and for several I consulted a designer. In those instances I knew what I wanted but did lack the expertise to realise the ideas. That’s why you hire a designer. She or he will create the images that reflects  your ideas.

At the moment I do not have a very clear idea about the images that ‘should’ represent my ideas. The question arises ‘How then can the designer know’?  I feel I need to look around and find blogs and features that appeal to me. I need to be able to say what I definitely do not want in my blog and which features I really like. All I can say right now is that I have some vague ideas.

I need more time!  So for now I will leave the whole thing – think, reflect and brainstorm, but make no further commitments. Feels better already.   I thought I was done for the year but I managed to squeeze in another post.

Must be the European in me – we have more time left in 2011..

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Let’s talk about content!

Well, I am still debating the domain. After all it is Christmas and I am preparing to move house next week. A lot to think about and to organise. However I did mange to meet up with my young ‘web consultant’ and we brainstormed the lay-out of my ‘future’ blog for more than 2 hours.

I am excited to say the least. I am starting to see the blog in my mind and more important I can visualise it actually happening! I still can’t reveal a name but the blog will be a global extension of my business here in Brisbane and have 5 different sections. The sections are related and will be a combination of information, “how to’s”, commentaries and pictures.

Enough about that for the moment. After the meeting yesterday I like to write about ‘content of a blog’. After all that is what it is all about. That is why people read your blog. If whatever someone writes about in a blog is not interesting, repetition or even ‘stolen’ from another site, there won’t be many readers or followers.

What is good content?

So what are the rules about content? What is good content? Is that subject to taste or are there rules out there that bloggers have to adhere to?

Apparently the ‘hottest topics’ are technological and political based.  I can relate to technology as this was my reason to start this blog about ‘Blogging’. I wanted  to blog but had very little ‘clue’ about the subject.  Nevertheless I decided to start while exploring, researching and learning about it. And it works because for every blog post I publish I have to spend time reading, searching and compiling information. The result is that I am learning heaps. I was told yesterday that I knew quite a bit about the whole blogging thing already. Made me feel proud!

It’s all about simplifying…

One thing came up during my meeting. We talked about simplifying and I suddenly realised that that is what I really want to achieve. That is exactly what “Blogexercise’ is about – to simplify this enormous amount of stuff that is available on-line. Nobody has time to sift through it all and make sense out of it.

Then what is more valuable if there is someone out there that does this for you as a reader. My ‘future blog’ aims to do that within the topics I will write about. Because let’s be honest,  with millions of blogs already out there, it has to be different!  Otherwise it will be ‘old hat’!  An award-winning blogger calls it “to become the filter” for your readers (www.andywibbels.com). You as a blogger providing  a ‘ready-to-read’- summary.

While elaborating about this topic  I realise there is a lot more to say about what contributes to ‘good content’. As I am not an advocate of very long posts – by the way, there seems to be something to say about that as well – I am going to dig a little deeper and continue another day.

For now have a wonderful New Year and considering that, I realise that my next post very likely will be written in 2012! 

Time to reflect….

How am I going?

I am thrilled to see that I get the occasional ‘like’ and even followers for my blog. It shows that someone is reading it. Great feeling but more important at this stage is that I have an outlet to put my thoughts, feelings, elaborations, ideas and what more on paper. The more I write, re-read my own posts and think about it, the clearer the picture gets of what my ‘future’ blog will look like and what it is about.

Business plan as a blog

Doing this blog as an exercise is like writing a ‘business plan’ while I am already ‘kind of’ doing the business. Quite a luxury as it does not cost me anything and I can’t lose money. But I get to practice!  

So far I am happy with what I have learned and philosophised about but as I look at the actual lay-out of my blog posts I have to admit that I haven’t spend much time on the technical aspects. I have not even added categories. My categories are uncategorised. I am a little ashamed to say that I don’t really know how to do that.

A friend of my daughter is venturing into web design and knows quite a bit about blogs, platforms, design and coding. She is only 18 by the way. She is willing to meet up with me and discuss how to make my future blog look ‘pretty’ as she describes it herself. I may have to consult her as well for ‘Blogexercise’. Just to find out what possibilities I have with this blog in WordPress.com.

Time to get the domain name!

One thing I will do next week is to buy my domain. I have brainstormed, debated, discussed with trustworthy people and even dreamt about what name to register. I need to keep my options open as I have aspirations for 5 blogs that cover various topics but are all related. The bottom line is that the name has to be applicable to all aspects.  It also has to be quirky, fun and ideally show what the blogs are about.

I am not asking too much, am I?

I think I have something and I am happy to make it official. When that is done, there is nothing to stop me to start the real blog and my meeting next week with my daughter’s friend will fit in the schedule perfectly. What a great way to start the New Year. Not only a resolution but also an action plan. I feel inspired…

I won’t make it too long today. After all it is Christmas. Maybe not where all of you are but where I am it is and it time for breakfast and presents!

A Merry Christmas to all my readers and followers!

 

Who reads my Blog?

My last post was about types of blog writers. There are educators, philosophers, researchers and ‘ranters’ and offcourse a mix of those and more. I have been thinking this week about readers of blogs.

Why do people read blogs? Who reads them and what makes them look for blogs?

I wonder if people have written theses about the blogging phenomenon. Years ago while living in The Netherlands I was very surprised to hear that someone was writing a PHD about Madonna. This was during the Eighties when she grew more and more in popularity. In fact she was so popular that ‘her persona’ as a PHD subject had been approved. Sometimes trends or in this case a pop star have so much impact on all aspects of life, that from a research point of view it is worthwhile to document it. It may shed some light on why we ‘as a public’ do and like things.

Could ‘blogging’ have reached that stage? As I said before, it has been around for a while. More than 70.000 new blogs are written every day and this post will be one of a million blog posts written today. Staggering statistics! Another one is that the ‘blogosphere doubles in size every 5 -6 months. Huge potential to get a message across or to find one.

What do blogs offer?

Millions of people turn to blogs for information, to read a review or to have a good laugh. Companies have started using blogs to promote products and to create forums where their products and services can be discussed online. Blogging has made it easy to see what competitors do as the ‘online debate’ is transparent and there for anyone to see and to comment upon.

Combined with the fact that we all can start writing and share our ideas, knowledge and wit, blogging as a subject must be on the list of research topics. After a bit of research on this matter I actually came across a blog post that was called ‘10 reasons to blog even if nobody reads it’ (www.businessgrow.com).  The writer of this blog has made it his business to research the blogging phenomenon in the corporate world. And his conclusion is that the blog as a tool is vastly growing and benefits business growth. The title was a little bit misleading as several of the 10 reasons made very little sense without a readership!

An interesting question would be the following. Would people still write a blog if they knew that nobody reads it? How much do you blog for yourself and how much for an audience?

Personally I started writing this blog for myself. I want to document my own thoughts and see if it can help me to develop my ‘future’ blog. But I can’t deny that I felt a thrill when I saw that I had followers!

So who does read blogs?

An annual survey (www.blogadds.com) on 17,000 blog readers came up with the following results.

  • 61 of blog readers are over 30
  • 75% earn over U$ 45,000
  • 21% are bloggers themselves
  • 54% of their news intake is online

17,000 readers may not be a ‘scientific’  representation but at least it gives an indication…

How to get more structure and clarity!

I feel that I am getting closer to laying down the building blocks for my ‘real’ blog. In case you wonder, my real blog is my future professional blog, the one with the domain name, hosting and a flexible platform. The one about the topics close to my heart, the one that will support my business and where I like to attract advertising. In order to develop such a blog I have started ‘Blogexercise’ as a test blog.

Why not start writing and learn on the job?

Starting with a test blog has its benefits. It forces you to write content, it makes you think about how you want your blog to look and it motivates you to research things you want to blog about. It also enforces you to be ‘online’. Suddenly your stuff is out there in the blogosphere and it is public. Readers can comment, criticise and support you.

Some bloggers fall in the trap of feeling the need to change their writing style to appeal to their followers. This defeats the purpose as the reason they got followers is because of what they have published and not of what they think they ‘ought’ to write. So changing writing style to ‘suit’ may lead to people not liking what they read and stop being a follower.

A blog post is an extension of you as a writer and should therefore be natural and almost like a ‘conversation’. It is your chance to be ‘real’ and to be ‘yourself’. It is your voice!

It is a bizarre feeling to write something and to post it. You may not get any comments or reactions for a while and still people may read what you have written. It is anonymous and yet not… It is a thrill to suddenly see that you have followers and that people express that they like what you wrote.

What is your role as a writer?

With this in mind and speaking from my recent ‘experience’ I recommend prospective bloggers to start writing. It may help you to learn about your writing style and to experiment with the roles you like to have. Will you be writing as a reviewer, an educator or as a researcher? Or do you just want to have a good old rant! You could be very witty and your style could best suit an entertainer.

I like several of those roles and I have not decided yet what my ‘forte’ is. Maybe I can be more than one. I like to educate people – several of my past occupations and businesses have educated my clients. I thrive on that and it makes me feel fulfilled. I also like to review things and ‘tell the world’ if I am enthusiastic about something I did or have seen.

A review can also be negative and become a critique and even a ‘rant’. We all know the rippling effect of a bad review. We apparently tell 2 people when we are positive, but we tell 10 people when we are unhappy with a service or product.

A negative review on a blog could potentially be read by hundreds of people. Imagine the power of that….

Who is my target audience?

How do you identify the people you write for?

I had an interesting conversation with my 18 year old daughter the other day and it made me realise who the target audience of my blog is. When posting my latest blog post there was a suggestion to add some ‘tags’ to my post. Not knowing what this meant I researched ‘tagging’ and got some answers. But it left me in the dark on how to add them. So I asked my daughter if she could enlighten me.

The fact was she couldn’t. She had a vague idea but there it stopped. I was a little disappointed as I expected her to be able to show me what to do blindfolded. We discussed this further and I realised something interesting.

Different generations – different approaches!

Most people of my generation, the ones that grew up without computers, do not automatically understand how to do things online.  If my blog suggests adding ‘tags’ they have to teach me how to do that, tell me what it means and show me the result. In other words, I need a step-by-step manual.

My daughter being from a different generation, replied that she would figure it out by playing around on the screen, push buttons and eventually would get a result. This does not mean, she added that she actually understands what she does, but, and there is the difference – she does not feel the need.

There are different ways of learning and I am very much a ‘kinaesthetic learner’ meaning that I learn the best when I physically do the things I need to learn. This in contrast to ‘visual’ and ‘auditory learners’ who get the most out of visual and auditory aids. So if I don’t get shown and do the ‘tagging’ myself I won’t learn. Or more important I won’t remember what to do the next time!

This is an on-going problem with the technical aspect of using social media. It kind of expects users to be able to navigate, add features and so on. This knowledge is absent in many people and I realised it more than ever when recently a friend asked me what a ‘blog’ actually was.

So there is my target audience!

The ones that lack technical skills, those that cannot open up any gadget without manual and those that have never heard of a tag! I have found a couple of blogs that have this simple step by step approach of explaining things and guess what!  Several of them are award winning and make a living out of blogging. That says something…………..


How to choose a name and domain for my blog?

More decisions to make. Choosing a blog name and a domain. Another minefield…

Deciding on the right name for my blog is important but choosing a domain name that ticks all the boxes may require some extra thought. Just to clarify – domain names are only needed for blogs that are self-hosted.

I have had a number of small businesses in the past and they all had names that were different from my own. Some were great and some were less impressive. It is actually a great feeling to come up with a business name that is memorable, that can put a smile on someone’s face and….. that is available. It doesn’t matter what I think off, if it is taken it is better not to use it.

A good domain can be valuable and people have made a killing by buying up domain names and selling them later on. Names such as ‘business.com’ and ‘beer.com’  have both been sold for more than 7 million dollars.

So what do I need to keep in mind when brainstorming for names?

  • Availability

No use to dream about it if it is taken unless I like being sued!

  • Niche with a wide or narrow focus

What are my goals and objectives? A name may have a too ‘narrow’ focus if I have plans to expand and introduce a number of sidelines. In that case I may want to keep the name as ‘wide’ as possible

  • Keyword or brand

Do I want my name to be a keyword so search engines can recognise it or is it better to have a brandable name?  The name ‘Google’ is in fact an alteration of the word ‘Googol’, a mathematical term for a certain large number. The underlying thought may have been providing large quantities of information. The name ‘Google’ has turned into a brand and a very powerful one indeed.

  • Domain extensions such as .com and .net

The favourites are domain names with the ‘extension .com’ but understandably the best ones have been taken. Extensions with .net and .org are also suitable options but these could lead to search problems when people assume it is .com. When you think of a great name it is recommended to buy several available extensions. It is not expensive and it may be worthwhile in the future.

  • Simplicity, length and clarity

It could be effective to have a name that explains what my blog is about. Look for example at ‘realestate.com where the name says it all. The length of a name plays a role as well. The longer the name is the harder to remember and more prone to mistakes!

With all this in mind my task now is to research the availability of the names I like.  I can’t disclose what I have in mind until I know it’s mine to use!


Decision Time

Reading my previous post about blogging platforms, I realise that there are some decisions to be made but that it is not the end of the world if I don’t get it right the first time. I am sure we have all heard of the person who needs to get the office perfect before the business can start. Very likely the more effective and successful  person is the one who just sits in the park using his mobile phone to get clients.

I prefer to be that last person…..

So what do I want from blogging? What is my picture for the future?

I like to start blogging because I feel I have something to say. I also think that I like to make it bigger than a hobby. I see it as longer term and I want to make money out of it.

The ultimate goal is to create a business that I can take anywhere and that I can work at where ever I am. This would give me the freedom to live where I want while having an income. The latter is important to me as I like to move to France and I am realistic enough to know that making a living there the traditional way will be very hard. I have to think and plan outside the square and I see professional blogging as a suitable option.

Well there it is. The dream, the motive, the first building stones for my mission statement. Looking at my future blog from this angle, there are a couple of things I have to keep in mind.

  • Income: I want to make money out my blog. That cuts out some platforms as they currently don’t allow you to monetise your blog.
  • Style: I am big on design, style and appearance. Choosing a platform that offers templates where I can’t express myself to the extend I want are not suitable for me.
  • Technical skills: I am a novice and at the moment I don’t feel equipped to create my own self-hosted blog. This means I need to find help.
  • URL: I like to have my own URL as I believe that in that way I can create a name I like and one that has more memorability.

These are currently the four factors that are important to me. Looking at the pro’s and the con’s of hosted blogs versus stand alone blogs it seems I will have to choose for stand alone (self-hosted). The only negative about that choice is my lack of technical skills. There is two ways to go about that. Hire someone to do it for me and upgrade my ability. I may opt for both.

What blogging platform do I need?

Blogging platform or not..

There are a number of blogging platforms out there and they all have good features and very likely some bad ones as well. So which one to choose?

One argument could be: ‘Choose the one that you feel most comfortable using’. Does this mean that I have to try them all and then chose which is the best one for me. What if I don’t know what I feel comfortable with?

Needs versus technical ability?

One of the problems I have come across of is the following. I am from a generation that has grown up without computers. I did my university essays on IBM type writers and I was so lucky to have access to one of those. I never had jobs where I used computers.

Then suddenly there is the home computer with all kind of packages to make our lives easier. Well I don’t know about you but it took me a while to see that it could make my life easier. What was wrong with all the things that I had been using so far? My kids would cringe when reading this but they will experience the same things when they have kids. Technology is developing so fast that a time span of 5 years can create a different generation. My 18 year old and 12 year old are an excellent example of that. Just give a 4 year old the latest iPhone and see what happens…

The point is that I don’t know what is out there and I don’t know what it can do for me. A couple of years ago I wanted to have a website for a new business.

The following thing happened:

Web designer:  ‘What features do you want on your site?’

Me: ‘What features can I have?’

Web designer: ‘That depends on what you want to do with your site”.

Me: ’I don’t know. What can I do?

Can you see the vicious circle?

I didn’t know what I wanted because I didn’t understand what a website can do. I hired the designer to create my website and show me what is the best for me. However their service does not seem to cover that last point.

The same goes for platforms. I have researched a number of different websites that try to educate us about what platform to choose. The people behind these sites have such an extensive knowledge about the topic that they have lost to see what level of understanding the majority of us are on.

The reality is that most of us don’t know anything about it and need a step by step introduction. Several blogging sites have recognised this and offer a service that sidesteps all these problems. And this is great for those who just want to write a blog and don’t care so much about its attributes. It becomes a problem when you want more but you don’t know what is more…..

The birth of a blog

Starting a blog is easy, but then what….

Well the blog is there and it is alive. I noticed that I spend a lot of time perfecting the blog posts before I publish them. I suppose that is the perfectionist in me.

The whole point of ‘Blogexercise’ is to experiment and to learn while the blog is online so it should not be important if I make mistakes. The point is to write and publish posts, see what works or does not work and then find out how to correct it.

When starting a blog, you’ll find that there is a wealth of information out there. In fact there is simply too much and it is confusing to know what to do and where to start. Many people just like me have started to blog and learn on the job. It is not difficult to start and websites such as WordPress and Blogger have made it very accessible even for the computer illiterate amongst us.

I like to add that  it ‘seems’ not difficult but when you dig a little deeper, it appears that you ideally make certain decisions before you start and in order to do so you need to know more about the whole process than initially said. For instance should you go for an all inclusive hosting service or should you self-host? To understand what this actually means you need to know about domains, hosting and web addresses. Well when I started I had heard about all these things but had too little understanding to make an educated decision whether I need an online service or should self host.

Technical Ability

One professional blogger who has made a living out of teaching people like me how to blog, claims that a crucial factor in making a decision about self hosting or a hosted blog is your ‘technical ability’. Well that means that I and probably many others should go for the hosted online service but….. if I have aspirations to add advertising to my blogs it is better to self host! It apparently is complicated to transfer blog content at a later stage. It is possible but again you need to have a ‘certain technical ability’ to make such a transfer.

So what’s next?

Where does that leave me? I think I like to create a couple of blogs about certain topics. Topics I know something about, I have worked with and can teach others about. I may like to attract advertisers and add Google ads but with a hosted blog it is very hard to have input how the page will look and where ads will be placed. That is how I understand it at the moment and I have set myself the task to get some clear answers.