By Bill Tammeus
For a newspaper-related blog to be effective, it must give readers something useful they can’t get elsewhere and it must do that consistently. So it can’t be just another column full of words.
Rather, it must offer links to related Web sites, helpful graphics, an opportunity to correspond with the blogger and a chance to enter into discussion with other readers.
I’ve been doing my daily “Faith Matters” blog since late December 2004, and in that time have learned some useful tips for others:
* Post consistently at the same time each day or each week or at whatever schedule you choose. I set my posts to publish at 12:15 a.m. each day. But don’t be afraid to update the post with something breaking if it’s appropriate.
* Use all the links you can. If real estate is about location, location, location, blogging is about links, links, links. If your blogging system allows you to have the linked sites open in a new window, do that, so readers don’t leave your site. And if you need to warn readers that the site to which you’re linking them contains potentially objectionable material, don’t be afraid to say so.
* Use graphics. Lots of clip art and free stuff is out there. Typepad, the blog hosting site I use, makes it easy to insert art in the text.
* Develop a consistent voice by being you. Decide how formal or informal you plan to be on your blog and then stick relatively close to that. Don’t be William Faulkner one day and 50 Cent the next.
* Let readers have their say in the comments section. I almost never invade that area with my own comment. My space is the daily posting. The comments area is for readers. However, you may decide you have to moderate the comments and post them only after you’ve reviewed them. I disliked having to move to that arrangement but did so after my site was being spammed by terrifically annoying, often abusive, posters. I decided that I was not going to provide a format for the continued degeneration of civil discourse in our society. Now commenters must register and I have to publish their comments manually after I’ve read them. I almost never edit for content. I try not to be a censor.
* Try to limit the length of your postings (and encourage commenters to do the same). The most easily digestible posts run about 300 words. I limit comments to that length, though I let commenters post up to five times daily.
* Find a format for the look of your page that you like and stay with it. People like consistency — with some occasional flare.
* Notify your whole e-mail list to advise them that you’ve got a blog they should read. And do that again about every six months to celebrate the fact that you’ve survived on the blog for another half a year.
* Try to get a link to your blog on as many other sites as possible. Links on other sites drive traffic to your site. The more the better. And if you work for a newspaper, make sure the paper promotes your site on its opening page.
* And for heaven’s sake, whatever else you do, read my blog at http://billtammeus.typepad.com and steal good ideas, but not content.