Blogs as an effective information toolEdit
A blog can be regarded as an effective information tool when it succeeds in reaching the target audience, which could be defined by demographics, location, interests or many other variables and communicating the desired information, whether factual or opinion.
Once you’ve spent hours writing your weblog, you’ll want an audience to read it. But how do you attract them? There are millions of weblogs out there, so how is any potential reader going to find yours?
One of the first things you should do is make sure that your weblog is registered with the major portals and search engines. Most search engines and portals allow you to submit your weblog URL to them directly, e.g.: in Google you can do it from: http://www.google.com/intl/en/submit_content.html. There are also a number of specialized services which will submit your weblog URL too various portals and search engines, free of charge, e.g.: http://www.addme.com/ and http://www.submitexpress.com/
Unfortunately, it can take a long time before your site shows up in search engines or directories, and there’s not much you can do to speed this up without spending money. The sites listed above also offer paid placement services, but these are seldom worth paying for, so just be patient.
An alternative approach is the use of webrings. These are designed to improve links between related sites and they provide a simple way of joining a community of website owners. The webring will normally have a name which gives some indication of its purpose and each site will provide links to the previous and next sites in the ring, as well as some central location where you can join the ring. If a weblog you enjoy is a member of a webring, take a look at some of the other sites which are members. If you feel that the content of your weblog fits in with the others, it may be a good idea to join. You can find a portal to more than 40,000 webrings at http://www.ringsurf.com/
Another approach is to use update trackers. There are a number off services that provide listings of recently updated weblogs. Some of these generate their directories by checking lists of weblogs at regular intervals while others require weblog owners to notify them. Some blogging tools can be set to notify these services automatically whenever you update your weblog, e.g.: Blogger can be set to notify weblogs.com automatically.
Trackers are a popular way to surf weblogs, and they generate a good response for weblogs that are already known. However, any audience that reaches your site through these services will have already read your site before or heard of it elsewhere. You can submit your site to multiple trackers simultaneously by using http://pingomatic.com/
A simple, but useful technique for generating traffic is to add your weblog URL to your email signature. This will help to remind your correspondents that you are now keeping a weblog. It can also be useful if you participate in any mailing lists (sometimes known as listservs). Although these are often regarded as old-fashioned, they remain an important method of building communities on the internet and of making and maintaining contact with like-minded people. You can find out more about mailing lists at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Electronic_mailing_list
Taking part in a mailing list can be a useful way of building your online reputation, through intelligent and relevant contributions. You should ensure that your email signature is included in any contributions you write, but it is not generally a good idea to announce your weblog to the list, unless it is relevant to the list topic.
There are a number of etiquette considerations to be taken into account when using mailing lists. You should read the list for a week or two before you begin posting. You want to make yourself known so that people will be more inclined to read your weblog, but to make a good impression you’ll need to have a clear understanding of community standards before joining in.
If the mailing list has a Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) document, make sure that you read it before beginning to post. Choose subject lines which are clear and descriptive to ensure that members can decide whether or not to read your message. Remember that almost all mailing list messages are archived, so anything you write is going to be available to any interested Internet user for many years – there are still mailing list messages around from the earliest days of the Internet in the mid 1960s!
Another useful approach is joining weblog commmunity sites like Plastic (http://www.plastic.com) or Meta Filter (http://www.metafilter.com). The etiquette rules for using these sites are similar to those discussed above for mailing lists. Remember that the comments you make on such sites provide the only information other members have about you, so if you want to interest them in your weblog, you will need to interact with others in an interesting and friendly manner.
Rebecca Blood (in The Weblog Handbook, Perseus Publishing, 2002) suggests a few rules to be observed when taking part in online communities:
- Do not post when you are angry.
- Always argue the facts, never the personalities.
- Once you have stated your arguments as clearly and cogently as you can, sit back and read what others have to say - you may learn something.
- Respond to personal attacks by ignoring them.
- Do not hijack conversations.
- Do not misrepresent other people's positions.
Once you’ve joined an online community, there are a number of steps you can take to improve your visibility within it. Can you provide a service to other members of the community? E.g.: if you have particular expertise on a specific piece of software, how about providing tips or tutorials to the community. Bloggers occasionally organize community events, which can range in scale from posting on a common theme to face to face meetings of community members. Taking part in events like these can attract visitors to your site. Events which allow you to meet other bloggers face to face can be particularly valuable in building up contacts.
Many bloggers enjoy responding to the “Friday Five”, five questions posted every Friday at http://www.livejournal.com/community/thefridayfive/
You might also want to consider sending emails to the writers of weblogs which have caught your attention in some way. Most bloggers welcome specific comments on the topics they have mentioned and even if they don’t reply to you, they might take time to check out your weblog.
Another important technique is linking to other weblogs. If you link to another site then each time someone clicks that link, the author of the other site will find your URL (the referrer) in their server logs. Most bloggers check these frequently and they will often check out a new site that has linked to them. Many weblogs include a sidebar of links to other blogs. This can tell you a lot about the blogger and the kind of blogs they enjoy. You should also ensure that you credit other weblogs for any useful links you may find on their sites.
Rebecca Blood points out that there are two good reasons for linking to other weblogs:
“The first is to create awareness of your weblog within the community. Just getting your name out there is a first step to being remembered. The second is the hope that eventually the weblogs you link to will link back. They may find an article through your weblog and credit you with a "via" link. They may find so many interesting articles or like your writing so well that they add you to their portal. Even when a weblogger does not link you, he may click through when your weblog is listed on an update tracker or linked on another site.”
When you link to another weblog, always click the link yourself. When you update your weblog, click through to every other weblog you link to. At least you’ll ensure that the linked weblogs get some traffic from your site.
When you are trying to build an audience, always remember that it is more important to have the right audience than a large audience. Unfortunately, you may need to bring your work to the attention of many people in order to find the few who will really appreciate it. No matter what you do to attract an audience, your weblog will eventually be judged on its merits alone. None of the strategies listed above will do you the slightest good if your content is not worth reading.
Building an audience is a long, slow process. Every weblog starts out with an audience of one: the blogger. Although many bloggers have benefited from exposure in other media, such as radio, TV or press, in the long run the best way of gaining readers is through a link on another weblog. Visitors who are referred to your site from another weblog are already weblog readers and they may enjoy reading further weblogs.