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A blog — or “web log” — is a type of online journal in which individual pieces of content, called posts, are published on a semi-regular basis and (usually) presented in reverse chronological order
. Blogs can be personal, corporate, or community-oriented, and can take a wide variety of formats. From their conception in the mid-1990s to today, blogs have taken a larger and larger role in the media landscape, and are now widely scene as a legitimate source of news and commentary.
History of Blogging
There have been blogs longer than the word “blog” has existed. In the early 1990s, with the advent of the web as a medium for non-technical people, writers began publishing online journals and “web diaries.” Some proto-bloggers referred to their online projects as “zines.”
In 1997 the term “weblog” was coined, and in 1999 it was shortened to “blog” (as a joke: “we blog”). The term took off as a perfect way to describe what more and more people were doing. By the end of that year blogger.com was launched — the name stuck.
Types of Blogs
The quintessential blog is the personal blog, written by a single individual who uses the blog as a platform for discussing personal observations and opinions. But this is no longer the dominant style of blogging.
Corporate blogs, in which a company or organization uses the blog as a form of semi-formal official communication, are a major part of the blogosphere — the global ecology of blog sites.
A large number of news organizations have launched blogs, many of which are essentially an online version of their print or TV presence. In some cases, news organizations have only an online presence, and use blogging software to publish news stories and other content typical of newspapers or magazines.
This, along with the growing number of multi-author blogs on a number of topics, blurs the line between “blog” and “online magazine.” This makes it sometimes difficult (both for authors and audience) to determine the level of formality appropriate and the extent to which traditional standards of journalism should be adhered to.
Benefits of running a blog
Whether you are are thinking about blogging as an individual, starting a blog for your small bussiness, or launching one for a large company or non-profit organization, blogging can be a richly rewarding experience.
- Authentic communication — Readers tend to see blogs as a more authentic form of communication that traditional press releases and corporate announcements.
- Audience connection — If you only speak to the public when you have an official announcement to make, or want to advertise something, you have to work very hard for those moments to even be noticed and to have any impact. But if you blog regularly, you can develop an audience who is voluntarily receiving your messaging on a regular basis. This allows you to impact them on a much more profound level.
- Public feedback — Most blogs allow for comments and discussion. Even if you don’t, Twitter and Facebook can serve as a platform for discussion. Either way, this allows you to gauge the effectiveness of your writing and the response to your ideas.
- Refine ideas — Most bloggers will tell you that the process of writing regularly, for public consumption, helps them clarify in their own mind their thinking and their values. Many popular bloggers have expressed that they would continue to blog even if they had no audience.
- SEO — The most important thing you can do for SEO is to produce content —- high quality content — on a regular basis. Blogging provides a ready-made platform for creating new content. Because of the conversational nature of blogging, it is also a good way to develop links into your site.
Things to keep in mind while blogging
- It takes time to develop an audience, and it takes regularly publishing high-quality content. If you plan to “save” all your great blog ideas until after you have readers, you’ll never have readers.
- Blog posts should be written by a person, they shouldn’t be the anonymous announcements mechanism of a faceless corporate entity.
- If you monetize your blog through affiliate links or writing paid reviews, you have to disclose this information to your readers.
WordPress is, far and away, the most popular blogging platform available. It is Free and Open Source software, and can be easily installed on even the most basic web hosting account. In fact, many low-cost shared hosting plans are especially optimized to provide WordPress hosting, and offer one-click installation of the application.
Other Blogging apps
Content Management Systems
The line between what is a blog application and what is a Content Management System is a bit fuzzy. WordPress is considered by many (including its developers) to be a fully-featured CMS, not just a blog engine.
Likewise, most CMS applications include blog posts as a content type. These are especially useful if you plan you have a larger site which is not only a blog, but which includes one.
Popular Content Management Systems with blog features include: - Drupal - Joomla - Moveable Type
WordPress vs The Rest
The biggest difference you’ll find is that WordPress has evolved to be much more than a blogging tool. It is a full-blown content management system, which means you can use WordPress to build your entire website.
Most blogging-specific platforms need to be used as an add-on to an existing website, or you have to choose between a traditional site or a blog.
If you plan on having a blog be a dominate feature of your website, WordPress is probably the best Content Management System (CMS) for you. It started as a blogging engine and later grew into a full-featured CMS, which means, at its core, it is still very much focused on providing the best blogging experience. Plus, it’s free.
Other CMS applications provide a blog features, but it’s not their primary focus. However, they excel at other things. Drupal and Joomla are better for eCommerce and allow more customization (and require a bit more tech-knowledge because of it). Movable Type provides a more professional looking site, but you have to pay for it.
Blog or Website?
These days, you never have to settle for one or the other. Modern content management systems make it easy to set up both a great looking website and an easy to manage blog. If you want readers to go straight to your blog, you can have all your posts appear on the front page of your site.
If you prefer them to go to a static page first, you can do that too. Even if you choose a blogging-specific application to host your blog, you can always tie it to an existing website, and in most cases even modify the appearance so your users never know you’re using a different program.
Frequently Asked Questions
Can I review comments before they are posted to my blog?
Absolutely. Community interaction is great, but if all those comments at the bottom of news sites have taught us nothing, it’s that some people aren’t very nice when they get online. If you want to avoid mean posters, or at the very least keep spammers from clogging up your comments space, you can set your blog software to require approval for every comment. Some blogging programs even allow you to set up rules by user or user groups, so some trusted users don’t have to be approved, while others do.
Can I allow others to post on my blog?
This will depend on the platform you’re using, but many blogging programs allow you to set up different users or user groups. Each group can then have different permissions, such as the ability to post on your site. If this is an important feature, make sure you research each program to ensure it provides that capability.
How can I track my followers?
Most blogging software and content management systems have analytics tools built in. If not, your host may provide them, or you can utilize a third party analytics tool, like Google Analytics. If one is not provided as part of the core package for your blogging software, check to see if there are any add-ons that provide this feature.
Is there any way to communicate with blog readers even if they don’t visit my blog every day?
Absolutely. The easiest, and probably best way, is to provide an RSS feed on your blog site. When a user subscribes to your RSS feed, anytime you create a new post, it is automatically sent to their favorite RSS reader. Some users even send RSS feeds directly to their email, so they never miss a post.
What is SEO?
SEO, or Search Engine Optimization, is a process for improving the visibility of a website on search engines, such as Google, Yahoo, or Bing. There are a number of factors that impact how high your site will appear in a search engine’s results, including things like the number of cross-links your site contains, using popularly searched terms in your posts, and increasing the amount of content you have to offer. SEO can be critical for the success of your site, as the higher you appear in search results, the more visitors you can expect to receive.
Is it possible to make money off a blog?
Absolutely. Blogs, like any other website, typically rely on advertisements to make money. Most blogging applications make it easy to include ads on your site by simply placing a widget on the side of the screen. Provided you get enough traffic and your ads are relevant for your users, you can make substantial money with a good blog.
What should I blog about?
That is probably the toughest and simplest question in the blogosphere. Toughest, because you never know what’s going to strike a chord with your audience. Unless you’re a huge-name celebrity (or a cute kitten), there’s no guarantee your blog will be read. On the other hand, you never know what’s going to strike a chord, so the blogging world is an open book. Write about whatever you want. Maybe it will be a success. Maybe it won’t. But you never know until you get it out there.
Do I need to know HTML to blog?
Most modern blogging platforms provide a What-You-See-Is-What-You-Get (WYSIWYG) editor, meaning your post will appear exactly the way it looks on the screen as you’re writing it. They usually features a tool bar for altering the appearance of your text, adding links, or embedding images, very similar to the toolbar in your favorite word processor.
Do I need any special requirements in order to host a blog?
Any hosting platform should be able to host a blog, and most will provide one as a one-click installation. If your host doesn’t, it’s probably time to find a new host.