As a communication and community-building tool, blogging is up there with Twitter as a key social media platform. A place to both offer and share opinions as well as a view at the person behind an online persona, a blog is more than just a personal or business journal – it’s your voice.
There are many blog platforms, tools and plug-ins around, all with various benefits. Some are better than others and depend on your own needs. Here are 10 of mine. Since it’s my platform of choice, these are mainly based around WordPress.
- Self-hosted blogging. While free blogging (Blogger, WordPress.com, MySpace, etc) is a great starting point, self-hosted (WordPress.org, TypePad, Squarespace) is definitely the way to go. For sheer optimization and personalization options, it’s hard to beat. Buy a domain name for about $10 and then get a web hosting package for less than $4.00 per month.
- Premium theme. There are some great free theme designs for WordPress, and Smashing Magazines has a list of 100 free themes. If you’re willing to pay, however, you can get a premium theme. There are some great ones from iThemes, Thesis, WooThemes and Revolution. There’s also great support for premium theme members that you don’t always get on free ones.
- Analytics. Knowing who your main audience is can help you tailor your blog more effectively. Of course, writing for you first should always be the aim and hopefully others will like it too. There are some great tools for monitoring your readers. Two I use are Woopra for actual traffic analytics and Quantcast for more in-depth information on demographics. And they’re both free too. Technorati is also a great way to see who’s referencing your blog.
- Comments. An integral part of the blogging experience is the comments section. Giving you insight into what your readers think, comments are a great relationship builder between blogger and reader. CommentLuv is a plug-in that shows your visitor’s last post and a great way to show blog link love (coming here soon). Threaded comments using IntenseDebate or Disqus are also great tools to encourage conversation and debate. Offer an option to subscribe to comments as well, so your readers can keep up with an ongoing conversation.
- Images. Picking images for your blog can be a pain. Finding the right ones can take time and often copyright is involved – so services like those offered by Zemanta or fotoGLIF are a major plus. Zemanta offers you a choice of Creative Commons-approved images, as well as links and a reblog option to share your post, while fotoGLIF offers more than 1 million free to use and copyright-free images. PhotoDropper also offers a great service for licensed images. (Disclosure – I’ve previously carried out some PR work for fotoGLIF).
- Feeds. Gaining readers is part and parcel of blogging, so making it easy for them to find and come back to your blog helps. Your blog will normally have a standard RSS feed, but offering more options will benefit you and your readers. One of the most popular is Feedburner, which allows your readers a choice of feeds or email subscription. Other options include Feedblitz, Feedstats and Feedity. Make your options visible – you’ll see mine at the top right of my blog.
- Navigation. Make it easy for your readers to navigate your blog. Offering something as simple as a search box lets anyone look for a certain topic. Lijit makes it even easier by not only searching your blog, but any content from your social networks on the topic as well as that of your contacts. Use your blog sidebars to offer topic breakdowns as well, so readers can go straight to posts that interest them. The Yet Another Related Posts Plug-in shows similarly-themed posts that your readers might also enjoy.
- Sharing is good. The great thing about social media and networking is the selfless sharing of information. So make your blog another resource of information by offering the option for readers to share something they’ve enjoyed. Share This and Tell-a-Friend are two customizable options to share your blog on other social networks. They can help you gain new readers too.
- Google is your friend. While having a loyal readership is great, it’s always nice to get new visitors as well to join your existing subscribers. Make your blog easier to find by optimizing it for search engines. The All-in-One SEO pack is a great plug-in that helps you stand out with keywords and search terms. If you use the Thesis theme, this has a similar option already built in.
- Protect your work. While blogging is a great way to build community and friends, it’s also open to plagiarizing, with many bloggers victims of RSS thieves that post your content as their own. One way to counter this is with Better Feed. This allows you to place your copyright in your RSS feeds and email subscriptions and ensures that any “borrowed” work will link directly back to you with your copyrighted message.
These are just some of the tools I use. As I mentioned, they are skewed heavily towards WordPress, although some will work on other blogging platforms as well. Yet as good as they are, they’re just a small window into all the great blogging options around.
What do you use for your blog? Any not on here that should be must-haves?