10 Tools for Beginning Bloggers

Everyone has a blog nowadays, right? Not quite, but everyday more people start blogging about their passions, experiences, businesses and dreams. Below is a list of 10 tools that will help bloggers just starting out to get up and running quickly and start spreading their word throughout the web.

1. Save time with a content management system.

A lot of non-web savvy people dismiss blogging as being too hard for them to do because they don’t have the technical knowledge. However, nowadays you don’t need any technical understanding to start blogging. There are tons of content management systems (CMS) on the market to pretty much automate the process of managing your blogs content. They pretty much do everything except write the content for you.

Those non-savvy people might be more comfortable with a hosted solution like TypePad, Squarespace or WordPress. The more web minded among you will be comfortable with installing systems like WordPress, ExpressionEngine, Textpattern, etc.

2. Keep an eye on how things are going.

It’s a cool feeling to know that perfect strangers are reading and enjoying things you have written on your blog. You can enjoy the same warm fuzzy feeling by keeping track of your sites traffic. There are a bunch of web site statistics and analytic programs available that allow you to keep track of the traffic to your site and content.

If your using a hosted content management system, odds are they provide their own stats tracking functionality. However, for those self hosted individuals a popular free tool is Google Analytics. Self hosted WordPress users can also install the WordPress.com stats plugin to use their hosted stats service for their blog. Another popular stats program which is self-hosted and costs a little money is Mint.

3. Don’t judge a website by it’s design.

Like it or not,  we all do it. Web surfers tend to judge websites based on appearances and not content. That means if they don’t like how your site looks they won’t stick around. With that said, you don’t have to be a professional graphic designer to have a blog that looks good. There are many sites and blog posts around the web that highlight CMS themes and blog templates to help spruce up your blog.

Smashing Magazine has a number of posts on top notch WordPress themes. Template Monster is a great resource for finding inexpensive designs and CMS templates that will help you improve the image of your blog. Another good resource for finding themes is Blog Flux Themes which has a collection of themes for just about all the popular CMSs.

4. Syndication is key.

Really simple syndication (RSS) is a great way to keep your loyal readers informed when you post new content. Most content management systems provide RSS feeds by default. A nice tool to use with your RSS feed is FeedBurner. This online tool lets you track RSS stats, helps you promote your feed and provides you with ways to monetize your content.

5. A picture is worth 1,000 words.

You can post as much text content as you want, but you know what they say “a picture is worth a thousand words”. There are plenty of stock image sites around the web, some provide free images like everystockphoto.com and others provide inexpensive stock photography and vector images like iStockphoto. Even if your not big on putting pictures in your blog posts, create a Flickr account and link up your image stream to your blog. That incorporates some imagery into your site and adds a social aspect to your blog as well.

This is an issue that I have been wrestling with personally. I’m not a designer and I don’t have time to look for a picture for every post I do. That’s why I love Zemanta. Zemanta is a tool I found a couple of weeks ago that makes it really easy to make your blog posts look good. It recommends links, tags and pictures to add to your post as you type it. It’s available as a web browser add-on as well as a CMS plug-in/extension.

6. Don’t let spam happen to your blog.

Ars Technica reports that 81.5% of all e-mail traffic in June was spam. It’s a sad fact, but when doing most anything on the web today you need to take spam into consideration. When blogging, it’s not e-mail spam that hurts its comment spam. When allowing your site visitors to comment on your posts your also opening the door for malicious spam bots to fill your CMS to the brim with junk (and many times dirty) spam posts.

Lucky for us there are tools like Akismet and Mollom to help protect your site. These are free hosted tools that maintain databases of spam that they compare all your comment submissions to so they identify whats spam and whats not. Although spam might not be a problem on your blog when you first start out you should keep these in your back pocket because it’s bound to happen to you sooner or later.

7. Share and share alike.

Search engines look at the popularity of your site when determining it’s rank in the listings. There are a number of factors that are used to determine popularity, but one of the best known factors is links to your site from the outside world. You want to make it easy for your visitors to share your content with others through news sites like Digg and social networks like Facebook. Two tools that make it super simple are ShareThis and AddThis. These sites allow you to put a button on your site that makes it easy for visitors to add links to your site from their social profiles, link managers and even e-mail links to friends.

In addition to making it easy for users to link to your content, you should give some thought to adding a links page to your blog or at least starting a blogroll. Someplace where you can link to sites you like and share some link traffic with your friends. WordPress has a nice links manager built right into their CMS but other popular online link managers are del.icio.us and Ma.gnolia. If you have profiles with an online bookmark app you can probably integrate it into your site via RSS or a plug-in/extension.

8. Get social!

Blogging is a personal thing. You are typically sharing your unique insight about certain topics or issues. If people are going to care about what you say they need to get to know you. Create profiles on social networks like Facebook, Last.fm, LinkedIn, etc. Link to your profiles and start letting people get to know you. The more they know about you the more they will respect your opinion and look forward to your next blog post.

9. Money makes the web go round.

Displaying advertisements on your blog is usually a divided issue among seasoned bloggers. Even if your just promoting your own projects or are looking to make enough money to cover your hosting costs, I don’t think it’s such a bad thing. There are plenty of add tools out there to help you make a little money, the most popular of which is Google AdSense. You can also use tools like adroll which are a little more community oriented. Once your blog starts getting some traffic you can go with a service like Text Link Ads or come up with a pricing scheme yourself and go it alone.

10. What are you doing right now?

Micro-blogging is a phenomenon that is currently sweeping the nation. The idea is to create a space where you post short quick updates about what you are currently doing or how you currently feel. Twitter and Pownce are two popular apps that allow you to micro-blog from just about anywhere. Micro-blogs are nice because they cover that social factor we talked about in #7 above but they are also useful for other things. If you don’t want to update people about what your doing then use it as a link list or a mini-news feed. These apps can typically be integrated into your blogs content management system via a plug-in or extension thereby extending the functionality of your site.

If your a seasoned blogger, let us know what tools you use by posting a comment.

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