Why Journalers Should Try Blogging, and How

journaling

This post tells why journalers should try blogging, and how.  A blog is a Web log, a journal kept online.  If you’ve already kept a journal with pen and paper, journaling online isn’t that much different.

Blogging is the easiest and cheapest way to publish.

Type some words into window, drop in a picture for illustration, and click on the “publish” button.  Presto, you’re published!  No paying editors, submitting to publishers, checking galley proofs–none of that.  Last year this blog had visitors from 163 countries.  Could my tech tips have been so widely shared on paper.  No way!

Blogging is the best way I know to promote a website.

What keeps viewers coming back to a website is interesting, useful, entertaining, but above all FRESH content.  If you post at a blog frequently, you’ve solved the fresh content problem.  A website will nag you constantly:  Feed me, feed me!  Blogging helps you do that with the least hassle.

Blogging is potentially interactive.

You post and invite comments.  If you ask for constructive comments you’ll get something much more fertile than “I like this.”  You’ll get questions, or perhaps additional points to those already made.  A long comment thread can evolve into an interest group, or maybe even a community.  Blogging can quickly generate social capital in a way that paper publishing seldom does.

Blogging software helps you maintain an attractive, interactive website with a minimum of fuss about how your pages look and function.

Almost no coding savvy is required.  You install a certain theme on your blog, and that theme determines the structures of pages, font choices and sizes, colors of background, etc.  Your theme insures that your website has a uniform, professional appearance.  You concentrate on the content: the words, the pictures, the videos, podcasts, etc., and leave the formatting to your blog’s built-in content management system.

Blogging can put you in touch with a wider and wider circle of writers with similar interests.

The best way to bring readers to your blog is to visit other blogs, and comment there.  Meet colleagues. Make friends.  Invite guest posts at your blog.  Share and learn.

Have I convinced you to begin?  O.K., what’s the next step?

Blogging Tools

The cheapest and easiest way I know to start blogging is to open a Google account and click on the Blogger link, accessible from your Gmail inbox.  If you don’t see the link, click on the “more” link in the top bar.  This  opens a drop-down menu.  The Blogger link will be in that menu.  Gmail is a free service, and so is Blogger.  If you’re not sure whether you want to blog, with Blogger you can put your toe in the water at no cost.  Blogger software is on the Google server, not on your own computer, so you can make posts from any computer connected to the internet. Blogger is not as aesthetically and functionally flexible as other blogging tools, but it’s a good choice for beginners.

Another good choice for beginners: WordPress

WordPress is free open source software, but you will need to rent space on a hosting company’s server for your WordPress files.  This runs about $15 to $20 a month.  WordPress offers oodles of free themes and plugins to make your site look and function the way you want.  It has a huge user base.  More than  a fifth of all new websites in the U.S. use WordPress.  Because the user base is so large the software is updated regularly, and you can find lots of help, if you need it, in user forums.  WordPress is user-friendly enough for newbies, and it is flexible enough to meet your growing appetite for more sophistication.  If you start blogging with Blogger, you will find it very difficult to migrate your old posts into another blogging platform, such as WordPress.  If you think that you want to stick with blogging, make your initial choice of software carefully.  After several years of experimenting, I’m convinced that WordPress is the best choice.

An offline blog editor will make composing and editing your posts very easy.

By offline editors I mean applications that you can operate when you are not connected to the internet.  Using an offline editor you can compose a post no matter where you are, save it, and post it later when you have access to the internet.  You can also fetch a post from the server and re-edit it later.  Here are some good offline editor choices:

Windows Live Writer is part of the free suite of apps called Windows Live Essentials.  When you download and install the suite, you have the choice of installing the whole suite, or just the the components which you check under the “custom install” mode.  I can’t say enough good things about Windows Live Writer.  It’s so good that dyed in the wool Apple users say they wish they had a similar free app.

Offline Blog Editors for the Mac

I’m not a Mac user, but my research of user reviews tells me that your best choice for Mac offline blog editors are 1) Mars Edit, and 2) Ecto, in that order.

Twitter

Having read thus far, you may already have started blogging.  Now you may be wondering, ‘how do I get my blog noticed?’  Well, you could email your friends a link to your juiciest blog post and ask them to read it and comment.  If you’re on Facebook, you could put the link there too, or in your stream at Google+.  But there’s another, even better way to get the word around:  Twitter.  Yep, that’s right, Twitter, the texting network that seems at first glance a river of drivel.  Stay with it.  Get to know Twitter and you’ll discover it’s a superbly strategic marketing tool.  It can help you meet people that you would not have run into any other way.   They can broaden your horizon and help you build your own blogger’s network.

Tweet Deck

Although you can use the Twitter website for tending your stream, there are hundreds of apps to help you use Twitter more efficiently.  A top free choice these days is Tweet Deck, the “power user’s Twitter app.”

Bitly

Twitter messages are limited to 140 characters.  If you want to include links in your tweets, it’s best to shorten them.  There are many services that shorten urls.  The one I like best is Bitly, because it tracks how many people click on links.  This can be very useful information when you’re trying to determine which of your blog posts have attracted the most viewers.  By identifying your most attractive content you can plan future posts to increase traffic.

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