When is a blog not a blog?
Just because software developers and the world at large have fixed ideas about the function of blogs - to bring the invaluable judgements of opinionated egomaniacs to a deserving public - this does not mean that we should be limited by these preconceptions of the blog as the preserve of polemicists and ersatz celebrities. "In praise of blogging" examines the benefits of blogs as adjuncts to conventional web sites and Internet marketing. But the open-source design templates and hosting services used for blogging allow even the smallest business to create a stand-alone Internet presence: a web site, to all intents and purposes. And there's more ... Blogs are free to set up, are easy to update and maintain, and do not necessarily require advanced technical skills. While more sophisticated systems, like the Share Wales platform WordPress, require software-specific training, Google's "Blogger" is an entry-level alternative for the owner/manager of a B&B, pub, restaurant or other small tourism business, even those whose knowledge of computers extends little further than word processing.
Blogger offers up to ten pages of content, sufficient for most micro-businesses. Self-authored, Blogger gives total control, flexibility, professional presentation, instant updates and amendments, an anchor point and Internet address(es) for general marketing activity, and a mechanism for engaging directly with audiences. Other important advantages are:
* No developer fees.
* No proprietary design software required.
* No content uploading software (FTP) required.
* No domain name charges.
* No web hosting charges.
* No capacity constraints other than the ten page limitation.
* Automatic configuration for mobile devices.
To help illustrate the process I will refer to my own 'BFA Blog,' which was discontinued after my appointment to Share Wales. The BFA Blog will open in a new window/tab. Click Here.
Here's the step-by-step for beginners ...
Create a Blogger profile
Go to www.blogger.com and sign up for a free Google account if you don't already have one. You will need to enter an email address and choose a password. We recommend strongly that, here and elsewhere, your email address should reflect the name of your business. You will be be asked to create a profile. We suggest that you elect for a 'Blogger Profile' rather than a 'Google+ Profile' - the last is likely to pop up in all sorts of situations and it is better to tailor your profile for individual applications, thereby giving a number of perspectives on your business. My profile appears some way down the right hand panel on the BFA Blog.
Give a blog a name
Your screen will now show the Blogger Dashboard. Click on 'New Blog'. In the 'Create a new blog' pop-up, enter a title. This will appear as a display banner on all your Blog pages, in my case as 'BFA Blog'. The 'Address' box creates an automatic web address for the Home page of your blog. Again, this should contain your business name. The address bar on the BFA Blog shows 'barriefoster.blogspot.co.uk'. Before leaving the 'Create a new blog' pop-up, select a design template, just to get things moving. You can change this later, from a much wider template selection. Finally, click on 'Create blog!' and you're on your way.
The Home page
Your screen will now show 'Your Blog has been created'. Click on 'Start posting'. We suggest that you begin with a short test article to help find your way around - posts can be deleted later if necessary. Enter the title of your article at the top of the new screen in the 'Post title' box. Create your post in the text box at centre page. The toolbar above the text box carries many of the formatting commands and functions that are common to word processing programmes: typeface, font size, embolden, italicise, underline, range left, right or centre, text colour, etc. Use these commands to ensure design consistency across individual pages.
Before moving on, click on 'Permalink >> Automatic URL' to create a unique web address for your post, necessary to create links to the specific article from, for example, social media, web directories and the web sites of colleagues. Finally, click on 'Labels' (Blogger's name for 'tags') and insert key words and phrases that will activate your post for search engines (including an internal search box - see below). With your first post complete, click 'Preview' to check appearance and content, and then 'Publish' to send your Blog to the web.
The title of your Blog will appear as a headline in the body of your blog, as with 'Visit Wales : Share Wales' in the most recent post of the BFA Blog. The headline will automatically generate the Blog Archive, where posts are listed by year and month - in the right hand panel in the BFA Blog.
Once published, your screen will revert to your dashboard. Here all your posts are listed and can be edited, viewed or deleted. The left hand panel gives access to a range of functions, including 'New post' for adding content to the Home page.
The 'Home' page is dynamic and is the landing page for the main site web address. Each new addition will appear above the previous post and is headlined and automatically datelined, archived and indexed in the 'Blog Archive'. Nonetheless, content can be amended or fine-tuned at a later date if necessary, and errors corrected.
At this point the appearance of your blog is governed by the preliminary template chosen at start-up. At the left of the dashboard is a 'Template' button with a paint roller icon. Click to reveal a range of templates that can be used to set up the general design scheme of your blog, including overall layout, colourways, etc. Your current template will appear as 'Live on Blog'. To change the template, choose from the range and click 'Apply to Blog'. (Tip: have your published Blog open in a separate window/tab and use the Refresh/Reload button to view each new template as it will appear full screen. Also make a shortlist of the templates that you find most appealing so that you can go back to the layout of your choice.) Don't be scared to experiment: the two basic rules of marketing (and much more besides) are, "suck it and see" and, "if it works, don't fix it". For maximum functionality, use a 'Dynamic' template.
For the future, when you are comfortable with finding your way around Blogger, you can customise the appearance of your template by clicking on 'Customise' in the Template window. Finally, the Template window will also display your Blog as it will appear on mobile devices. This, too, can be customised.
From blog to web site
So far your literary talents and impeccable design sense have produced a simple dynamic page that is refreshed as you add stimulating and compelling news to attract visitors to your area and your business. But Blogger also allows you to create additional static pages containing non-ephemeral information that can be targeted on the interests and susceptibilities of your customer base. While one page should be dedicated to essential information - what you are, where you are, contact and booking details - additional pages can be used to promote the special qualities, amenities and facilities of your area - the destination sell.
As example, a B&B in a rural area might choose to appeal to bird watchers, hill walkers, history buffs and sports anglers (and always remember that specialist interests are not mutually exclusive). Authoritative pages on each of these subjects are a service and an inducement to potential guests while creating rich content for search engines - and because Blogger is a Google product you are already ahead of the game in this respect. Blogger allows up to 10 pages, all of which will conform to your overall design template. The BFA Blog uses 6 pages, including the Home page, which are shown on the tabs across the head of the page(s).
Here's how to do it.
From the Dashboard, go to 'Pages'. Your Home page will already be showing in the Pages list. Click on 'New page >> Blank page'. The new screen is exactly the same as that used for Blog posts. The 'Page title' will appear as a tab once posted - it is advisable to use a short form, e.g. 'Walking'. Enter your content in the text box (it is worth reviewing our post on Google Panda at this point). Click 'Publish'. You will be taken back to the 'Pages' screen. In the Show Pages drop-down menu click 'Top tabs' and then click 'Save arrangement' at top right. You have now added a static page that will appear in the tab bar. Repeat at will. Simples.
Having converted your simple Blog into a multi-page quasi web site, now is the time for relaxed exploration. Don't be scared! Here are a few basic things to try.
Insert media. Add photographs or video clips to your pages by clicking on the appropriate icon on the editing toolbar. You will be prompted to upload material from your computer or other sources. Use 'Preview' to make make sure your media are well positioned.
Use hyperlinks. Hyperlinks can be used for cross-referral, between Blog posts, between pages or to external web sites. The easy way is to open a new browser tab and go to the page you want to link to. In your Blog editing page, highlight the text that will contain the link (for example, Click Here). Select 'Link' from the toolbar and copy/paste the web address of the target page into the dialogue box and select 'Open in new window'. Note that individual blog posts (on the Home page) have a unique web address. Clicking on the headline will take you to the individual article at its unique address - use this to create a link in the normal way. Cross referrals between Home page articles can help create continuity and avoid some of the disadvantages of a rolling platform. And links to individual articles can be used to direct traffic to your site from social media such as Facebook.
Use 'Gadgets'. Gadgets can increase your site's functionality by leaps and bounds. The BFA Blog shows a series of gadget insertions on the right of the page, including a monetised MP3 selection, a 'Follow by Email' facility and a search box (which works off the labels inserted for each post). To choose and insert Gadgets, go to 'Layout' from the dashboard. The screen shows the live content of your site (you can edit from here) and several dormant positions which carry the text 'Add a Gadget'. Click on the position of your choice (these elements can be moved around at any time). A pop-up gives you a selection of useful functions including the search box facility, a translator, stand alone slideshow and video elements, links, and much more. (Note that some Gadgets can only be used on dynamic templates - see 'Think design' above.) Feel free to play. If you are not happy with a particular Gadget, go back to Layout, click on Edit and remove.
As familiarity and confidence grows you will find new ways of using your web site at no more cost than a little time and imagination. And for an insight into how useful a blog-based site might be for end users, go to our short piece on Searching the Share Wales Blog.
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