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Designing my blog

I have met twice with my web designer and during the second meeting I realised – and so did she- that she may not be able to achieve what I have in mind. I am confident about her technical skills to build my blog but I was less certain about her skill regarding its appearance. I think she did have the same feeling.

A long time ago I studied Graphic Design at Art School in the Netherlands. This is before the computer era and doing graphic design was ‘slightly’ different than it is now. Creating a flyer or brochure was done with the so-called ‘collage’ method. You had to type, write, draw and cut every part of your design and consequently stick them on a piece of paper until you had a satisfying composition.

I told my web designer about this old fashioned method. Instead of laughing it off she thought it might help me to do just that with my ideas regarding the looks of my blog. I thought about that for a while but dismissed this option. Cause – lack of time. Instead I headed to the lady who has designed some stuff for me in the past. We met over a coffee, brainstormed and discussed my blog and the look on her face was telling me that she was on the way to create something cool.

She created an eye catching logo for a business I started some time ago. The business is called ‘Easy Done Services’ and my blog will take on part of that name as well – EasyDone Gourmet and Style.  With a couple of changes we will be able to use the logo for my blog. We also talked about some cool images for the side bar and the header of the blog. I can’t wait to see what she will come up with. So far she has never disappointed me and I am not surprised as she is very talented. She just did the graphics for a website of a major company in Australia.

Once she has created the ‘looks’ of my blog, it can hopefully be build. My aim is to have it up and running by July 2012. At the beginning of July I will be travelling to Europe for 5 weeks and it would be great if I could start blogging while I am there. After all the blog is about gourmet and style and what could be better than starting to discuss these topics from a French, Spanish and Belgium perspective? These countries offer so much when it comes to gastronomy and design, and there will be so much to write about.

Blogexercise may change slightly change as I will write EasyDone Gourmet & Style from a different platform. I suppose that change will be a whole new world in itself and I certainly will have a whole array of new topics to write or ‘rant’ about.  Think of domain, self-hosting, setting up the blog, in sum being much more technically challenged than with WordPress.com as my platform.

Challenging? Sure, but also inspiring, motivating, exciting and hopefully above all fun!

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Help, my ranking is low!

Obviously my ranking is low because I get targeted by all kind of miracle workers who are willing to boost my popularity for a price. It is interesting and intriguing as I really do not know much about it – the so-called SEO or Search Engine Optimisation.

It must be every site owner’s worst nightmare – this phenomenon of ranking. How does one go about it and what makes your page go to the top? To be realistic there is only one space at the top and there is only one first page. Usually the sites that are at the top of page 1 ‘buy’ their space. At the moment I am not interested in that so I’ll leave that option.

What is SEO?

Let’s step back and explore SEO a bit further. “The process of improving webpages so they rank higher in search engines for your targeted key words”, are the words Shimon Chandler uses when he introduces his PowerPoint about SEO. He is one of the many links to SEO on the first page. It is hard for novices to know which one to read, believe and try. As with many sources of information nowadays, it is not easy to educate yourself – there is just too much information available.

Another specialist on the first page presented his daughter who, after hearing about monetisation of blogs, decided to create her own blog, put AdSense on it and managed to make $1000 per month in no time. When you are 16 this is no doubt a much better income earner than dog walking, babysitting or selling fast food. But I don’t believe it is that easy, although for her it might have been as her father is a SEO specialist.

Unfortunately I do not have SEO gurus in my circle of friends so I have to figure it out myself or pay for it. “Pay for what?” I say immediately as I don’t know what needs to be done. I heard that the majority of people who browse the web do not go past the first page. That is tough, the first page! To be one of the ‘chosen’ ones on page one of all those ‘wannabees’ must come with a huge price – excuse me for being cynical!

SEO marketing…..

I bet this article will attract a large number of SEO specialists which may be good for me. I will be able to have a look at their offerings before I decide what it is that I need to do to get to that coveted number 1 spot. The unfortunate thing is though that I do not really understand their technical jargon, too specialised for me. As always the same issue – unless you are computer savvy it is beyond my ‘technical’ comprehension!

In one of my previous post I wrote about ‘simplifying’ information. That is my aim with this blog – to simplify the blogging phenomenon for the less technical savvy user. I am one of them myself but I take the effort to learn, sift through the available material and act somehow as a filter. Regarding SEO I need to find someone who can be the filter I need. All these sites about SEO offer the best results and claim that your blog can’t exist without their latest Plug-in or Widget.

Unfortunately I don’t know what they are talking about and I never spend money on something I do not understand. It’s a vicious circle, I am afraid!

Ready to put your ‘technical hat’ on?

I think it is time to get a little more technical. I have been avoiding it for a while but I feel I can hold off no longer. I will do an attempt to get a good grip on the basic technical attributes of a blog. By the way we are still talking about a hosted blog – a turn-key blog.

Blogging sites such as WordPress, BlogSpot and TypePad have made it very easy for the less technical equipped and in less than 5 minutes you can register and create a blog, choose your favourite template and off you go. It is user friendly and I am sure that most bloggers will be perfectly happy to have a long relationship with their ‘hosted blog’.

They are easy to set up, easy to run and their features are easy to use. In case you do get stuck they offer tutorials that cover everything you need to know about your blog’s features.  They also have automatic updates that happen behind the scenes without you realising it.

Using a ‘hosted blog’ has some disadvantages such as lack of control and limitations in designs and templates. Also your URL is not unique and it will contain the name of the blog host – in my case ‘blogexercise@wordpress.com’. This may not bother you at all but it could become an issue when your blog gets very popular and you would like to create a more professional look with your own domain. The good news is that it is possible to transfer the content of a hosted blog to a self hosted blog. It just may require some technical help!

The basic anatomy of a blog

Whatever blog you choose they all have a couple of things in common. It will have a banner, a profile and there is usually an email address so your readers can get in touch with you.

Banner or header image

The face of your blog and it contains the blog’s name, an illustration or a picture. You can find it at the top of the blog and it ideally represents your style and you as a writer.

One of the reasons that I would like to change to a self hosted blog is that I could not find a template and banner that really is ‘me’ or more importantly what I would like the blog to look like. My problem is that so far I only have vague ideas about the ‘looks’ of my blog so for the time being I am kind of happy with the face of ‘Blogexercise’. It’s simple, fresh and stylish.

Profile

A bit about youwho you are, your name, where you are from and what your blog is about. Could be a craft, a picture blog, cooking or whatever drives you to write your blog. You can reveal as much or a little about yourself as you wish but your readers will be interested in learning a bit about you.

Columns

Your blog consists of a main column where your blog posts appear and there usually one or more of sidebars where links are being displayed. You will find things there such as archives, categories, photo galleries, ads and more. In ‘Blogexercise’ you can see a list of recent posts, archives, categories and various links.

Basic so far but more to come!

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…..