June 30, 2007

What is a blog meme?

Here are some definitions of "meme" from the Urban Dictionary:
  • A thought or thought pattern that replicates itself via cultural means; a parasitic code, a virus of the mind especially contagious to children and the impressionable.
  • An idea that is spread from blog to blog.

In blogspeak, a "meme" is an idea or series of questions that is spread from blog to blog, usually because a blogger is "tagged" to make a meme post in their blog, and then to tag five others.

There are literally hundreds of memes (or "blemes" as they are often called) flying around the bloggosphere, one of the most popular being the "why do you blog?" meme. In fact, memes remind me of "chain letters" which did the rounds in the years before the Internet came to life...

If you are "tagged" by another blogger to participate in a meme, consider this an invitation to blog your meme answer and then tag five others to do the same (by invitation I mean that you shouldn't feel compelled to participate if you don't want to!).

One of the core intentions of spreading a meme is to spread an idea far and wide across the bloggosphere; another is to generate some link love by linking back to the blogger who has tagged you, and also to those you in turn will tag!

You can find some ideas for memes of your own over at iampariah (this site features memes for every day of the week!). Tickle.com has some rather interesting personality test memes too!

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June 27, 2007

Create a custom Google search engine for your blog

Visitors to your blog will often be looking for specific information, which all too often is lost amidst the archives and categories or labels in which you have organised your posts. The best way to ensure readers can find the posts they are interested in is to include a search function in your blog. Most blogging platforms already have some sort of search function installed. Blogger blogs, for example, have a "search this blog" box in the navbar. However, the best search method I have found is to create a custom search engine for your blog using Google's free Custom Search Engine service. This custom search engine has many advantages. You can:
  • Include a search box in your blog
  • Customise the results pages to match your blog style
  • Include only your blog, selected websites/blogs, or even the whole world wide web!
  • Incorporate Adsense in the search results
  • Check if all your posts and blog pages are being indexed

Also, your search engine is hosted by Google and has it's own page which others can use too.

Here's how to create your own custom search engine and add search functionality to your blog:

  1. If you don't already have one, create a free Google account here.
  2. Visit this page and choose to create your custom search engine.
  3. Give your search engine a name and description. This may be your blog's name, or you could choose something different.
  4. Choose some keywords which you would use to describe your blog. Make sure these are relevant to your content as they will be used to filter search results.
  5. Decide if you prefer the search engine to search only your blog, specified sites, the whole web with emphasis on your sites, or if you would like it to act like Google's own search engine. If you specify sites, include the full URL(s) in the box provided.
  6. You can only choose not to feature ads if you are a non-profit organisation. However, you can link your Adsense account to your search engine, so that you will earn money from the ads displayed.
  7. Agree to the terms of service and click "Next". Congratulations! You have created your custom search engine! You can try it out using the search function on this page to preview your results and they way they are displayed.

Now you will probably want to customise your search engine. Click on "My search engines" in the left sidebar, and choose "Control panel" next to your search engine's name. Next you'll see tabs for customisation options at the top of the page.

Adding the search box to your blog:

First, let's get the code you'll need to add a search box to your blog. Click on "Code" and select the branding style you prefer. I've chosen the "watermark" style which you can see in my right sidebar. The code will be generated for you in the box beneath, which you can then copy and paste into the layout of your blog where you would like it to be displayed.

If you find that the width of the search box is too large, you can easily adjust this. Find the following line in the search engine code:

<input name="q" type="text" size="40"/>

The value "40" refers to the number of characters which will be shown in the search box. Change this value to a smaller one to make sure the search box fits your layout better (mine is set to 30 characters to fit in the sidebar with a width of 240 pixels).

Changing the appearance of search results:

The appearance of search results can be customised by clicking on the "Look and feel" tab in the dashboard.

You can use your own banner to be displayed at the top. This must be no taller than 100px and should be hosted elsewhere. Input the full URL of your banner into the box provided. You can also choose for this banner to be a linked image to your site.

The colour schemes can be changed in a similar way to AdSense ads: simply input the hexadecimal codes of the colours you would like to be used for each setting. You could use the same colours as are in your blog. For assistance with hexadecimal colour codes, CeDesign has a great colour calculator you could try.

Linking search engine to your AdSense account

If you have a Google Adsense account, you can make money from the ads displayed in search pages. Simply click on the "Make Money" tab and input your Adsense account details to make the association. If visitors click on the ads from your search results, you will be paid in the same way as when ads are clicked on your blog!

Check that all your pages are being indexed!

One further use of your search engine is to check that all your blog posts and pages are being indexed. Search your own blog using keywords from different posts to ensure the correct results are being displayed. If you notice pages or posts aren't showing in search results, take a look at this tutorial for ideas of how you can help them be indexed faster.

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Blogger hack: Add a sticky post/Adsense/search box in the main column

Let's suppose you want to feature a sticky post at the top of your Blogger posts, or perhaps you'd like to insert an AdSense box or site search facility. At present, there is no facility to do this in the default Blogger layouts system. But there are two ways around this problem. Change the post date to a future time:

This is the easiest method, and is most useful for those who need a sticky post, perhaps about a future event after which time the post need not be at the top of other posts. To do this, simply click on "Post Options" beneath the type box when you are editing your post and change the date to somewhere in the future. Blogger doesn't have the facility to publish posts on a future date, so your "sticky post" will remain at the top of your main column until this date has passed.

Add a new page element:

This is a more permanant, neater and convenient way to add a "sticky post" to the top of your main column. Uses for this may include a search box, a message about your blog, or Adsense/banner ads. You'll notice in the default Blogger layout for your template that there is no "Add a page elenent" in the posts box. You can change this by following these steps:

  1. Go to Page Elements>Edit HTML in your blogger dashboard. You don't need to expand the widget templates for this hack.
  2. Find the following section of code:
    <div id='main-wrapper'> <b:section class='main' id='main' showaddelement='no'><b:widget id='Blog1' locked='true' title='Blog Posts' type='Blog'/></b:section> </div>
    This section relates to the "Posts" section in your layout.
  3. Notice the part which says: <b:section class='main' id='main' showaddelement='no'> You need to change this to "yes" to allow other elements to be added to the posts section.
  4. Save your template and take a look at your "Page Elements". You should now see an "Add Page Element" link in the posts section (click image for an enlargement):

You can choose to add different page elements depending on your requirements:
  • To write an introduction to your blog, choose "Text"To add code for Adsense/banner ads, choose "HTML/Javascript"
  • To add a search function, copy your code into an "HTML/Javascript" element.
  • To add an image, choose "Picture".

The process for creating a custom header is similar to this method, which you can read about here.

Please let me know if there is a particular blog tutorial you would like to see on Blogger Buster by contacting me directly or leaving your comments below.

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June 26, 2007

How addicted to blogging are you?

73%How Addicted to Blogging Are You?

Apparently, I'm 73% addicted (though I wouldn't have been surprised if this was higher!).

To find your own rating, visit Mingle2.com

Use selective post summaries in New Blogger

Thanks to Hackosphere's excellent Blogger hack, I've now been able to use selective post summaries in some of my lengthier posts! Phew, what a relief! I hated having such long posts taking over my blog pages. Instead, you can now see summaries of each post and choose to read the whole post by clicking the "Read more..." link instead. This way, you can find the information you need more easily, and scan posts on my front page without having to go through every other post first! Would you like to include this hack in your own Blogger blog?

To use this particular hack, you need to be using the Blogger "Layouts", rather than the classic (old) Blogger template. Make a backup of your template by going to Layouts>Edit HTML>Download full template in your Blogger dashboard. Then hop on over to Hackosphere's post and follow the instructions to the letter!

It took me a couple of attempts to get this right; my advice is to copy and past the code provided, as any extra spaces or line breaks could prevent the hack from working. Be sure to insert the code provided in your post template too, to ensure all future posts have the correct formatting.

Once you've installed the necessary code, you can choose whether to make your new posts expandable or not.

  • If you choose to write a long expandable post, write the first paragraph before the < id="fullpost"> and continue afterwards.
  • If you choose to write a shorter, non-expandable post, only write before the first < span > tag.

You can also edit previous posts to make them feature expandable summaries, by inserting <span id="fullpost"> after your first paragraph, and </span> at the end of your post.

A truly great Blogger hack as I'm sure you'll agree. Thanks Hackosphere for sharing this!

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June 25, 2007

How to install Haloscan trackbacks in Blogger templates

Unfortunately, Blogger chose not to include trackbacks in their new interface which can make it difficult for bloggers who want to cross reference their posts with other blogs. But luckily, there is a work-around as I mentioned in a previous post: installing Haloscan trackbacks in your blogger template.

Haloscan offer a commenting and trackback system which you can easily install in Blogger templates using their installation wizard. However, if you use this option, you also lose the ability to make and show comments made using Blogger's comment interface. For many of you, this may not be a problem, in which case go ahead and use Haloscan's installation wizard, which is the easiest method by far of installing trackbacks to your blogspot blog. You can even watch a video tutorial of this method here.

However, I prefer to keep Blogger's comment system and instead only use Haloscan's trackback function in my posts. There is some support for this in Haloscans forums and help files, but I've found it quite confusing, so I've posted my own method here which should help you get up and running quite smoothly, and include your post title (instead of those pesky numbers!) in the trackback URLs for your posts.

Here's what to do:

  1. Create your free account with Haloscan (if you haven't already done so). If you have more than one blog, you will need to create a different account for each blog.
  2. Customise the settings of how you would like your trackback links to be displayed in your Haloscan dashboard, including your blog name, timezone and such.
  3. Make a note of your Haloscan username as you'll need this to install trackbacks in your blogger template.
  4. Go to your Blogger dashboard and click on Template>Edit HTML. Before changing anything make a backup of your template by clicking "Download full template". Just in case you accidentally mess anything up!
  5. Now with the modifications: first, ensure that the "Expand widget templates" box is ticked.
  6. Just before the closing tag in your template, insert the following code, replacing "yourhaloscanusername" with your username:
    <script src="'http://www.haloscan.com/load/bloggerbuster'" type="'text/javascript'/">
  7. Now you need to add the trackback code in your post footer where you would like the trackback link to appear. You must be careful where exactly you place this code, otherwise when you try to preview your blog, you'll get a message telling you that the XML could not be parsed! Be sure to paste this outside any <b: if cond=...></b> loops:
    <a class='comment-link' expr:href='"javascript:HaloScanTB(" + "\"" + data:post.title + "\"" + ");"' target='_self'><script type='text/javascript'>postCountTB('<data:post.title/>');</script></a>
    I've included this code next to the comment link as follows:
    <span class='post-comment-link'><b:if cond='data:blog.pageType != "item"'><b:if cond='data:post.allowComments'><a class='comment-link' expr:href='data:post.addCommentUrl' expr:onclick='data:post.addCommentOnclick'><data:top.commentLabel/> <b:if cond='data:post.numComments == 1'>(1) <b:else/>(<data:post.numComments/>) </b:if></a> </b:if> </b:if><a class='comment-link' expr:href='"javascript:HaloScanTB(" + "\"" + data:post.title + "\"" + ");"' target='_self'><script type='text/javascript'>postCountTB('<data:post.title/>');</script></a> </span>
  8. Preview your template to make sure everything looks okay. You should see the trackback link in the footer of your posts.
  9. If all looks okay, save your template and enjoy your new trackbacks feature!

To send trackbacks to other blogs, you'll need to log into your Haloscan dashboard and click on "Manage Trackback>Send a trackback ping. Insert your blog name, the full URL of your blog post, an excerpt from your post and the trackback URLs you want to ping (each on a different line). Once you've pressed "send" you'll be notified of the success/failure of your pings. Usually, trackbacks are only unsuccessful if you haven't used the proper trackback URL of the post you are pinging.

And there you have it: trackback functionality for Blogger blogs! Let's just hope that the guys at Blogger decide to include trackbacks by default in the future so we won't need to use complicated workarounds!

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What are Trackbacks? How do I use them?

Trackbacks are a way of telling another blogger that you have found their post useful, and have made a post of your own which continues the discussion. So, rather than include a comment in the other's blog, you can include an excerpt of your own post with a link to the whole thing. This way people can read your own perspective on the subject.

So, how do I use trackbacks?

Well, in order for a trackback to work, both blogs must have the trackback feature installed. You can usually tell when another blog has the trackback feature enabled, as there will be a link beneath their post (usually near the "comments" section) which says "Blog this" or "Trackback URL".

To send a trackback, you will need to use the post's designated trackback URL, otherwise your trackback will not be sent and won't feature in the trackbacks section.

When you want to send a trackback notification to someone's post, you'll usually do this by inserting their trackback URL somewhere in your posting page which will send a ping to the other's blog when your post is published. In Wordpress, for example, this is just below the composition box. It's usually considered good manners to include a link to the post being trackbacked in the body of your own post, though not strictly necessary. Some bloggers also suggest a follow-up comment too.

But I have a Blogger/Blog*Spot blog! How can I use trackbacks?

Unfortunately, Blogger doesn't make use of the trackback feature by default. This decision may be due spammers abusing the trackback facility. However, there is a way Bloggers can still use trackbacks: by installing Haloscan.

Haloscan uses it's own system to manage and create trackbacks from its site. By creating an account, you can install Haloscan trackback and comment links into your Blogger template (either by hand or using their new widget feature) so others can send trackbacks to your posts. If you would like to send a trackback, you can do so from your Haloscan dashboard.

You can see how Haloscan trackbacks work by clicking on the Trackbacks link at the bottom of my post (I've kept Blogger's system for my comments). Though this may be a slightly time consuming way of using trackbacks, I still prefer this to not being able to trackback at all! I've written a tutorial to help you install trackbacks in Blogger templates here.

What about spam?

Unfortunately, spammers understand that it's possible to use trackbacks to create links to spam sites. Popular blogs may well be plagued by these nuiscence links, as spammers love to increase their popularity by having their links on sites with good page rankings.

You should be able to delete spam trackbacks from your blog manually, and may even be able to moderate all trackbacks before they appear on your blog. The only way to prevent spammers for good is to disable trackbacks altogether.

Using trackbacks can be a great way of getting others to notice your blog and form discussions across different blogs. But it should not be abused! Many bloggers are offended by trackbacks which seem to bear no relevance to their actual post, and delete them regardless, so as I mentioned earlier, it may be best to include a link or reference to the blog you are trackbacking in the body of your post. After all, the other author has taken the time and effort to write the post which inspired you!

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June 24, 2007

Blog directories: a quick guide to listing your blog

Listing your blog in blog directories is a great way to help build more traffic and increase your blog's visibility. Think of them as being similar to phone books: when you need a number for a plumber, you may well look in the telephone listings. The same is true of blogs: get your site listed, and your blog will be found!

Most blog directories are offer free submissions. You may need to register with a username and password to submit your blog (a precaution against spammers and splogs), or include a backlink in your blog (you can see some examples in my right-hand sidebar).

But before you go listing your blog in the dozens of directories available, here's a few things you'll want to consider:

Have all details for your blog ready, perhaps in a text editor, as you'll need to enter them over and over again:

  • Your blogs name
  • Your URL
  • A description of your blog which sets it apart from others in the same category. Many blogs require a description of under 300 words, some under 150.
  • Your RSS/Atom feed URL
  • Your contact email address
  • A preferred username and password

Consider an appropriate category/categories for your blog: most directories list blogs by category, and since there is no definitive category list, this varies between sites. Try to list your blog in the category which most adequately describes your content: there's really no point in listing your sports blog in a business category, as no-one will be able to find your site!

Read the submission guidelines for each directory! Many directories have submission guidelines, which could include how old the blog is, the types of blogs accepted, and whether a backlink is required. Failure to adhere to these guidelines will probably result in your blog's deletion from the directory (or even a nasty email from the editors!)

I've created a list of 25 top blog directories to which you could submit your blog's URL. For even more listings, take a look over at Liz Strauss' blog where she's posted the ultimate directory handbook.

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Top 25 Blog Directories

Here's my list of the top 25 blog directories (in no particular order!) to which you can submit your blog's URL for free. I've included a little info for each in regard to submission rules and registration to help you decide which directories are most suitable for you.

  1. Technorati Your blog may already be listed, but do register to "claim" your blog, add tags and more. Hugely popular!
  2. Yahoo Directories: Weblogs Different directories to choose from. Premium (faster) inclusion available. No registration, except to submit your name and email address.
  3. DMOZ.org Weblogs Submit your blog for consideration into this hugely popular directory. No registration, just email address.
  4. BlogCatalog Registration required; more than one blog can be submitted for each user.
  5. BlogFlux Registration required; features some great blogging tools and resources!
  6. Top100Bloggers Registration and backlink required; ranking displayed on blog.
  7. iblogbusiness.com Must be a business blog with at least 3 months of posts.
  8. Diarest.net For personal diaries, journals and weblogs. Sorted by country of origin.
  9. TopBlogSites Registration and backlink required.
  10. Blogroll.net Registration required. Ranking available.
  11. QuickBlogDirectory Relatively new site. No registration, but reciprocal link required.
  12. Blogoozle Free and paid listings available. Must be at least 3 months old with postings within the last 5 days.
  13. BlogDigger No registration required; submit your RSS/Atom feed for inclusion.
  14. Blogarama Account required; includes blogging articles
  15. BlogRankings Registration required.
  16. BlogToplist Registration and backlink required; ranking can be displayed on your blog.
  17. WeBlogAlot No registration required; ping with your RSS feed to be included in directory. Backlink is appreciated.
  18. BritBlog Free directory for UK bloggers. Registration required.
  19. TopBlogArea Registration required. Many different directories and ranking available.
  20. Blogamama Directory for Mommy Bloggers! No registration; email and backlink required.
  21. InternetPublicLibrary Free submission for informative blogs
  22. 9Rules Not exactly a blog directory, but by creating an account your blog's RSS feed can be aggregated.
  23. BlogsRating.com Add your URL for others to rate your blog. Registration is required.
  24. SportsBlogs A directory for sporting blogs
  25. Blogher Hugely popular directory and resource for women bloggers. Registration required and blog must be over 3 months old.

Related posts:

Feel free to add other useful blog directories by leaving your comments and a link below.

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June 23, 2007

Do you "Ping"? If you don't, you probably should...

In blog terms, a "ping" notifies servers that keep track of weblogs that you have recently updated your blog. There are many such services available, most notably Weblogs and Technorati. Your blogging platform may already ping one or two of these services automatically each time you post, but to ping a number of services each time would be time consuming and could slow down your publishing. Here are a few services which accept pings from weblogs:

And there are many more besides!

Pinging weblog servers is a good idea as it ensures fresh content from your blog is always available to them; this in turn can help generate more traffic to your blog. An easy way to ping several servers at once is to use a pinging service, such as Pingoat or Ping-o-Matic. You simply input the name, URL and RSS feed (optional) of your blog and these free services do all the hard work for you! You can even bookmark the page for an automatic ping each time you load it.

Much easier than visiting a dozen websites each time you update, or waiting for ages for your blog to publish and ping!

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What is a blog carnival? How do I join in?

A "blog carnival" is a collaboration of posts by different bloggers on a particular subject or theme. It's like a magazine in structure: usually presented as a post on the carnival host's blog with links to each submission and often editorial comments. Blog carnivals are usually posted regularly: weekly, monthly or even daily! They are a great way to find useful information on a particular subject of interest, and can also be a good way to encourage others to read your blog, by either submitting an article for inclusion, or hosting a carnival of your own. So how do I join in? You can either find a blog carnival you'd like to contribute to, or start your own. BlogCarnival.com is probably the best place to start: hundreds of carnivals are listed here, along with links to the hosts to whom you should submit your articles. Carnivals are arranged by subject, and you can even search for your particular area of interest. If you've discovered a blog carnival on someones blog, chances are you may be able to join in too! If you'd like to start a blog carnival of your own, you may like to sign up to BlogCarnival.com where you can easily create your carnival, arrange a host (this can be yourself or a volunteer) and publicise your carnival for others to discover and read or contribute to. Alternatively, you can easily start a carnival on your own blog, simply by posting about it, and spreading the word to your fellow bloggers. Submissions could be made by email, or a comment including a link to the contributor's post. Some carnivals make use of Mr. Linky: a widget which can be used to submit links which are then displayed in a blog post or sidebar. An example of this is seen in Chili's carnival, which I posted about yesterday. However you choose to be involved in blog carnivals, they are undoubtedly a great way to discover like minded bloggers, and also to attract traffic to your site! If you discover or host a carnival which you think would be of interest to Blogger Buster readers, feel free to leave your comment and a link below. Technorati Tags:

June 22, 2007

How StumbleUpon can benefit your blog

When I first heard about StumbleUpon, I was somewhat reluctant to try it. Installing a toolbar to my Internet browser seemed too much of an inconvenience to me; there's already too many buttons clogging up my browser, thank you very much! But eventually I gave in. I thought I'd give it a try, at least for a few days, just to see what all the fuss is about. I'm so glad that I did! For the benefit of those who don't already know about this great tool, here's a little explanation:
StumbleUpon uses ratings to form collaborative opinions on website quality. When you stumble, you will only see pages which friends and like-minded stumblers have recommended. This helps you discover great content you probably wouldn't find using a search engine (StumbleUpon)
Once you've signed up, you can submit keywords of your interests which guide your "stumbles" to sites that other members have tagged. By stumbling sites related to Blogging, for example, I discovered sites like this and this (great blogs, I'm sure you'll agree!) As a blogger, I've found the StumbleUpon toolbar to be an invaluable tool: there's a vast wealth of online inspiration and resources out there which StumbleUpon can help you find. What's more, if your blog gets the thumbs up from just one reader, it will be added to the database and become available for others to stumble too. It could be a great way to get a surge of traffic to your blog, provided of course that your content is worth a thumbs up! Technorati Tags:

How to get your blog indexed by Google

Google crawls the web regularly, and indexes new sites as it finds them. Unfortunately, it can take weeks for Google to index a new blog, and may not index all of your pages at once which can make it difficult for you blog to be visible in search results. You can easily check if Google has already indexed your blog by submitting your blog URL to the site status wizard. If your blog is not yet indexed, you can hurry the process along by following these steps:
  1. Create a Google account (if you don't already have one!). There are many benefits to this as I will explain shortly.
  2. Log in to the Webmaster tools section with your Google account.
  3. In the "Add new site" section, enter the full URL of your blog (eg: http://www.yourblog.com). Google will usually index your blog on its next crawl.
  4. You may also want to verify that you are the owner of your blog; this allows you to access statistics and crawl errors. There are two ways you can verify your ownership: add a meta tag to your blog template, or upload an HTML file to a directory specified by Google. For blog owners it may be easier to add the meta tag, which you can do easily by copying and pasting a small piece of code to the section of your blog template (Google provide this unique tag when you opt for this form of verification). Don't worry, the tag can't be seen by your readers!
  5. Once you've verified your ownership, it's also a good idea to tell Google the location of your sitemap (I explained how to create a sitemap for your blog in this post). This ensures that all of your blog pages are properly indexed and available to search. To do this, click on the "sitemaps" tab at the top of your Webmaster Tools dashboard, and click the "add" link next to your blog url. You need to enter the full url of your sitemap (for example: http://yourblog.com/sitemap.xml).

Once you've taken these steps, Google will crawl your blog regularly to check for updates and new pages. You can ensure that all of your pages are being indexed by logging into Webmaster tools>Sitemaps to see how many URLs are being indexed. If you notice that some post pages are not indexed, you can help Google to index them by linking from other posts (create a "related posts" section in other posts, for example).

Eventually, all your blog posts and pages will be crawled and indexed by Google, and your blog will achieve a "Page Rank" which you can also see in Webmaster tools. You can also view detailed statistics for your blog, links to your posts, and any crawl errors (such as missing files) which may be found.

Of course, the best way to improve your blog's visibility in search engines would be to work hard at your blog, write great posts and generate some link love! A subject I'll talk about in detail in future posts...

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The "My Blogging Story" Carnival

How did you start blogging? What did you hope to achieve with your blog? Do you make money with your blog?

These are all questions Chili asks in her invitation to join her blog carnival: Your Blogging Story: enquiring minds want to know.

This is a really great carnival to be involved in, even for new bloggers. When you answer the questions, you begin to get a better understanding of why you blog, and how you might improve. All you need to do is write a post which answers the questions, and submit your link to Chili's Mr.Linky, which in turn will provide a link back to your own blog, and help you get more exposure. There are some really inspirational posts there already! I've just linked mine, which you can read here. Or simply hop on over to Chili's blog to take a look at what others have written.

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June 21, 2007

Customised 3 column Blogger template download

I've been asked a few times how I created my 3 column Blogger templates, both here and for my other blog. So, I decided to create a simple 3 column template with some of my customisations already in place, and make this available for download. For free, of course! You can download the XML template from here: Download customised 3 column Blogger template This template includes the following customisations:
  • 3 Column layout
  • Label cloud in right sidebar
  • Haloscan Trackbacks (please replace "yourhaloscanUN" with your Haloscan username!)
  • Social bookmark buttons at the end of each post

The template is based on the Denim Blogger template, and all colours/fonts are fully customisable. I hope this helps some of you along the way to having a 3 column blog! In the near future, I'll post a walkthrough of how to create your own.

For more 3 column Blogger templates, try these sites:

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Create a sitemap to have your blog indexed by search engines

Sitemaps are a useful tool in helping get your blog pages indexed by search engines, which gives your blog extra "visibility" online and can drive more traffic to your site. Unfortunately, it can be quite difficult to hand code a sitemap file for a blog, especially if you have a lot of posts! Also, you would need to have your blog's sitemap hosted in the root directory of your hosting account, which makes it impossible for Blogspot bloggers to achieve. There are ways for for bloggers to solve this problem, and create sitemaps which can be indexed by Google and other search engines. Here are some suggestions: Blogger: The easiest way to upload your sitemap to google is to use the atom.xml file which is automatically generated for you. This will be located at: http://yourblogname.blogspot.com/atom.xml if you have a Blog*spot hosted blog, or at http://www.yourdomain.com/atom.xml if you have a custom domain. I've also found this tool by Stephen Newton, which is a template you can use temporarily (don't publish, whatever you do!) create a sitemap which can be saved as an XML file if you have your own blog hosting (or some free hosting with your custom domain). Full details can be found over at Stephen's site. Moveable Type: Niall Kennedy has created this great template file which you can use to create an XML sitemap of your Moveable Type blog. Copy the code into a new index template and save as "sitemap" or something memorable. Once your sitemap template is saved, you can tell Google and other search engines where it is. TypePad: You can choose to publicise your sitemap in the settings. To add a sitemap to your weblog, go to Weblogs > Configure > Publicity and select Yes under Google Sitemap for your Publicity Preferences. More information can be found here. Wordpress: Arne Brachhold has created a great Wordpress plugin to generate a sitemap for Wordpress blogs, which you can find on this page. There's also a useful PHP file available for Wordpress users in the Social Patterns blog. General/Other blogs: Pingoat have also created a dynamic sitemap generator which uses your blog's address and can alter the priority of your posts to let search engines know which pages are most important. Once you've created and saved your XML file, you'll need to save this in the root of your web directory. Technorati Tags: | | | | | | | | |

How to set up your Blogger custom domain with GoDaddy

This post is originally from my other blog, Glamumous. I decided to reproduce it here so you readers can easily find other information linked to this subject. I used GoDaddy to register my domain name, as this company seemed the cheapest dot.com domain provider, and also because they supply a free email address and basic hosting account with each domain, which has come in rather handy.

However, I'd read quite a few complaints about using GoDaddy for custom domains with Blogger hosting, so I was rather careful to make sure I did everything correctly!

Please do note that you can only link your site as http://yoursite.com or http://www.yoursite.com. Not both. It just doesn't work that way. My advice is to use the www prefix, and if you can make a simple redirect page in your host root, as I'll explain later.

I followed Blogger's advice to the letter, and everything works fine. Here are the basics of their tutorial, or you can read the whole thing yourself on this page.

  1. Buy your chosen domain name and create your account.
  2. Once your domain has been registered, log in to your control panel, and choose to "manage domains".
  3. Click on the area marked Total DNS Control, and then on Total DNS Control And MX Records.
  4. Look for a record prefixed "WWW". If there isn't one, add a new CNAME record; if there is one, you'll need to edit this record instead.
  5. Insert these settings exactly as they are described! For the "Name" type "www" (as in www.yoursite.com). For the Host Name, you need to enter "ghs.google.com". Don't change or enter anything else except for these two functions. If this is a new CNAME, click "add". If you are editing an existing CNAME, click "update" and "continue".

Before you link this domain to your Blogspot blog, you may well want to check that all the settings are correct. To do this, you'll need to "ping" your new domain and ensure the host points to ghs.google.com.

If you're a Windows user, this is quite simple to do using the "command" feature. Windows 98 and ME have a "command prompt" program in the start menu; Windows XP has the "run..." feature, which brings up a box; simply type in CMD, hit enter and you'll get your command prompt.

Then all you need to do is enter the following:

ping www.yourdomainname.com

substituting yourdomain.com for your domain name and suffix. Hit enter, and see what happens. It should look something like this:

Pinging ghs.1.google.com [] with 32 bytes of data: Reply from bytes=32 time=85ms TTL=247 Reply from bytes=32 time=89ms TTL=247 Reply from bytes=32 time=86ms TTL=247 Reply from bytes=32 time=86ms TTL=247 Ping statistics for Packets: Sent = 4, Received = 4, Lost = 0 (0% loss), Approximate round trip times in milli-seconds: Minimum = 85ms, Maximum = 89ms, Average = 86ms

Notice that the ping recognises that my site is hosted with ghs.1.google.com. This means that I can (and indeed, have) followed the next step in telling Blogspot my new domain name. If you don't notice the host is registered as Google, wait a little longer before following the next step.

Log in to your Blogger control panel. In the settings section, click on the publishing tab. Near the top of this page, you'll notice "publish to a custom domain". This is what you want to do.

When prompted, enter the domain name you have directed to the ghs.google.com host, including the www prefix! Continue, and you should see that your new settings have been saved.

View your blog to ensure everything works and looks okay. Don't worry if at first you get a "404 file not found" page: it can take a few days for DNS settings to propogate across the whole internet. You can always switch back to Blogspot hosting and try again in a day or two. When this does work okay, you'll see your blog exactly how it is normally seen, with the exception that your new domain name is in the address bar. Blogger takes care of all the inter-blog links, page titles and such for you, and even redirects traffic from your old name.blogspot.com address to your new www.yoursite.com address! This is great as it means it's unlikely you'll lose traffic or page ranking stats.

Now here's the awkward part: as I mentioned earlier, you can only have http://www.yourblog.com or http://yourblog.com. Not both. Blogger/Google simply haven't recognised that this may be important, and only offer the function of linking one address to your blog. But in a strange way, this is good: you don't have to worry about having two seperate blogs listed in Technorati, for example.

I advised that you use the www prefix for a good reason. Many domain providers offer a single page (often called a "holding page") with each domain name. This will show when you type http://yourblog.com, even though www.yourblog.com will link to your Blogger blog.

So make use of it!

If you are able to edit the HTML, you could create a redirect page to automatically redirect visitors to your www address. That way, you won't lose any visitors at all. To make the page redirect to your www address, you need to insert this code between the head tags, substituting "mysite.com" for your domain name. You can do this using an HTML editor (I prefer Notepad).

<head><meta http-equiv="refresh" content="0; url=http://www.mysite.com" /></head>

The part content="0; means that there is no pause before the browser is redirected. You can change this to "5" for example, to give a 5 second pause if you also want to include an explanation for the redirect in the body of the page. It is also a good idea to include a hyperlink to your www address in the body of the page, just in case the visitor's browser doesn't recognise the redirect command.

If you look at my redirect page at http://bloggerbustercom/, you'll notice that there is an 8 second pause and an explanation for the redirect. Play around and see what works for you!

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June 20, 2007

What is Google Page Rank, and how can I improve my ranking?

Google uses its Page Rank (PR) system to determine how sites rank, and in which order, in their search results; so, the higher a web site's page rank, the higher it will feature in search results.

The page rank system is based on an equation which looks something like this:

PR(A) = (1-d) + d(PR(t1)/C(t1) + ... + PR(tn)/C(tn))

Quite confusing, isn't it? However, we can think of it in a simpler way: Page Rank = 0.15 + 0.85 * (a "share" of the page rank of every page which links to it). Of course, the real equation is Google's secret formula, developed so that it cannot be "cheated" by spammers!

Here's how Google describe their Page Rank system:

In essence, Google interprets a link from page A to page B as a vote, by page A, for page B. But, Google looks at considerably more than the sheer volume of votes, or links a page receives; for example, it also analyzes the page that casts the vote. Votes cast by pages that are themselves "important" weigh more heavily and help to make other pages important." Using these and other factors, Google provides its views on pages' relative importance. (Source: Google)

So does this mean that the more sites link to your blog, the better your page rank will be? Possibly, but in reality a blog's authority will depend much more heavily on the quality of writing, and accessibility of information. The best way to improve your page rank is to provide quality information in your posts in a manner which is easy for search engines to read.

How do I check my page rank?

There are many online services available which you can use to check your Page Rank, such as:

These are very simple to use: simply enter the URL of your blog and submit; your page ranking should follow, possibly with explanations of how other factors (such as DMOZ inclusion) affect this. Do be aware that if your blog is relatively new (under a few months old), your page rank may not yet be available.

How can I improve my page rank?

Believe it or not, as a blogger you are well on your way to improving your page rank already, simply by updating your blog on a regular basis, creating topical content and linking to your blogging friends! To help get the ball rolling a little faster, here are some more tips:

  • Write great content! This is probably the most important thing any blogger can do to improve their page rank. If your posts are good to read and contain useful information, it's more likely that people will link back to you, thus ensuring "votes" from across the bloggosphere for your blog!
  • Use "post pages": that is, ensure each post has it's own page. This increases the size of your blog and helps search engines find the information faster.
  • Be smart with your use of "keywords": try to focus on keywords which adequately describe the content of your posts; have these in the title of your post, especially in the first few words, as these will be picked up from the URL of your post pages.

Jim Durbin at 5 Minutes forMom has written a great post about blogs and Page Ranking, which is well worth a look if you're relatively new to the subject!

Finally, don't be too concerned about your page rank! It can take months, and even years for a blog to become well established, and worrying about how well your blog ranks in search engines can only distract you from the reason you started blogging in the first place: to write well and have your voice heard (or should I say, "read"?).

As I mentioned earlier, a blog's authority is much more dependent on the quality of writing than how many people link to it! If the latter was the case, then sneaky spammers would have a higher page ranking than Google themselves! Writing great content will always develop your readership, so ensure this is your first priority!

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Top ways to market your blog offline

You've probably read about SEO (search engine optimisation) and methods of promoting your blog online. In fact, I'm going to post about this soon, but first I want to point out some methods you may not have considered, which are just as important, whether your blog is business related, or simply a personal blog for which you would like to attract a readership: promoting your blog offline.

Before you say: "what's the point in that? Readers need to be online to read my blog!", try to realise that offline promotion can be just as effective at introducing new and regular readers to your blog as online methods. Have you visited a website because you saw it referenced in a magazine, or it was recommended by a friend? Most likely you have, or will in the future. And these are not the only ways you can promote your blog offline. Here are some more examples:

  • Word of mouth: Now you've made your blog, taken the time to create well written posts and make it look great, why not tell everyone about it? This is especially effective when speaking with people who have an affinity with your subject matter, be it your work colleagues when discussing your business blog, or parents at the local nursery when mentioning your "mommy blog"! If someone reads your blog and likes it, chances are they will also recommend it to friends and family, which can only attract more readers and page hits.
  • Business cards: Print your blog address on your business card to raise awareness of your blog. This works especially well if your blog is in the same field as your line of business. You can also try getting some cheap business cards and printing your own with a brief description of your blog. Hand them out if anyone asks about your online habits; post them on message boards and even leave a couple in libraries/coffee shops/waiting rooms for others to find.
  • Letterheads and correspondence: A similar practice to using business cards, and something you can also try with personal correspondence too.
  • Stickers and buttons: A friend of mine helped to promote her school website by handing out stickers and buttons at a summer fayre; visitor stats increased tenfold! If such promotion seems too pushy for your blog, you could instead print off some stickers with your blog address and keep them handy for an occasion where you might use them. Sticking to parcels sent for Ebay purchases is a good example (I've had many with the senders website attached). CafePress provide a great selection of stickers and buttons which you can fully customise to suit your requirements.
  • Press releases and newsletters: Over at Problogger, I read about PRWeb.com, whose free services can easily be modified to include a blog in a business press release, or even to publicise a blog in it's own right! Press releases are an ideal solution for businesses to promote their services, and also for professional bloggers. But what if you're a personal blogger? Newsletters can be a great alternative: if you blog about a group/school/organisation, or a subject which would be of interest to them, why not ask for your blog to be mentioned in a newsletter?

It's a good idea to recognise your niche in the market, and promote your blog in this area of interest. For example, if you blog about student life, try promoting your blog at local universities; if you blog about fishing, go visit your local pond and talk to others about what you do. You'll be sure to attract some interest!

For more advice about promoting your business blog offline, you should have a look at this article from the ProBlogger archives; and don't forget to read through the comments too: others have pointed out some great ideas about how they've successfully promoted their own blogs offline.

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June 19, 2007

Frequently Asked Questions

This page will be updated shortly. In the meantime, feel free to leave your comments or contact me directly by email: amanda at bloggerbuster dot com.

What are "widgets" and how do I use them?

Widgets are a great, easy way to add functionality to your blog (or indeed any web-page that you own)!

Most blogging platforms already have a variety of widgets installed and available for you to use if you choose so. These may range from a widget to display your profile section in the sidebar, to links of your most popular posts.

If your blogging platform (eg: Blogger, Wordpress, Typepad) already has widgets installed, you can usually drag and drop them wherever you want in the layout of your blog, and customise them to suit your every requirement. There are also numerous sites available where you can get extra widgets, such as clocks, RSS Headlines, recent comments and much more besides. Many of these websites will also be able to insert the widget in your blog layout automatically, so you don't even have to worry about inserting your own HTML/Javascript code!

Here are a few popular sites for blog widgets:

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June 17, 2007

How to create a custom header in Blogger

My blog template is based on the Denim theme, but since I didn't particularly like the header, I replaced it with my own graphic, along with a link back to my site. Want to know how? Read on!

First, you'll need to create your new blog header using your favorite image creation software (eg: Paint, CorelDraw, Gimp, Photoshop...). Take a look in your blog template HTML and make a note of the width of your blog header; you'll probably want your new blog header to be this width too! Don't worry about the height: it can be as tall or as short as you want.

Once you've made your new blog header, you'll need to tinker with the HTML of your template a little bit. Make sure you backup your existing template before doing anything more, just in case something goes wrong and you need to pout your current template back in place instead. Then look for the following section of code:

<div id='header-wrapper'> <b:section class='header' id='header' maxwidgets='1' showaddelement='no'> <b:widget id='Header1' locked='true' title='Header (Header)' type='Header'/> </b:section> </div>

The elements highlighted in bold need to be changed. So:

  • Change maxwidgets='1' to at least 2 in order to be able to add another element in the header section.
  • Alter showaddelement='no' to showaddelement='yes' to be able to add a different element to the header section (your new image)
  • Replace locked='true' with locked='false' so that you can later remove the old header.

Now save your template, and go back to the layouts section in your dashboard. You'll notice that you can now add another element to your blog header!

If you only want to add your new blog header, and don't want to have this linked to your home page, you can easily do this by choosing to add a "Picture" element to your blog and uploading your new header.

However, if you prefer to link your header to your homepage (as in the default Blogger templates), you'll need to do a little more work first. Upload your image to a remote site (there are many free hosting accounts available, such as FreeImageHosting.net) and make a note of the full address of your file, including the extension (eg: www.yoursite.com/images/yourimage.jpg). Then, choose to add a "HTML/Javascript element and add the following:

<img src="http://www.yoursite.com/images/yourimage.jpg">

Replacing the image source with your own image address of course! This is the code needed to display your new blog header. Now to make this image become a link back to your blog's home page, you would need to add link tags as follows:

<a href="http://yourblogaddress.blogspot.com"><img src="http://www.yoursite.com/images/yourimage.jpg"></a>

Save this element and view your blog. You should see both the original blog header and your new blog header. Make sure your new blog header looks the way you want it to, then go back to edit the layout.

This time, click on the "header" element (the original blog header), and choose "remove page element". Once you do this, the original header will be completely removed, leaving only your customised one (a good reason to have saved a backup of your template, just in case!).

And there you go: your very own customised blog header! Enjoy!

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How to set up your Blogger custom domain

After blogging for a while at a Blogspot.com address, you may decide it's time to upgrade to a custom domain (eg: yourblog.com). This is the least expensive method I've found of hosting your blog at a custom domain since Blogspot will still host your blog for free! All you need to do is pay a few pounds for your domain name, be it a dot.com, dot.co.uk, dot.info or whatever you choose!

The process is probably much simpler than you think! You don't need to worry too much about finding a host provider that is compatible with Blogger: any domain provider which allows you to alter the DNS records for your domain is compatible! Just make sure that you don't have to pay extra for this service (these days, most domain providers don't, but there is still the odd one around...).

Here's how to set up your Blogger custom domain:

  1. Decide on your domain name, and register it with a domain name provider. There are literally hundreds of sites you can use (just do a Google search for "domain name providers"). My provider of choice is GoDaddy.com, since this site offers very low cost domains with free hosting, free email accounts and other features too. I'll explain shortly why having free hosting is very beneficial.

  2. Once you've registered your new domain name, you'll need to change the DNS settings. DNS stands for Domain Name System: a DNS server determines what site a given address takes you to. You need to tell the DNS servers that visitors to your custom domain should be directed to your Blogspot blog, which is what we're doing here. You need to access the control panel for the DNS settings associated with your domain. Take a look at the CNAME records here. Is there a name/sub domain called WWW? If there is, you'll need to edit this; if not, you'll need to add a new CNAME record. In either case, you should enter the correct information as I'll explain next.

  3. For the name/sub domain (this depends on what your provider calls it!), enter "www" and save (or click continue).

  4. For your target host/destination/record (again, this is provider dependent) you need to enter "ghs.google.com". Save and continue. This is all you need to do with your domain provider!

  5. It may take a few days for the DNS settings to come into effect, so it might be worth waiting a day or two before completing the next step, which is to associate your Blogspot account with your new domain.

  6. Now, you should log into your Blogger account. In the "settings" area, click on the "publishing" tab near the top of the page and choose to set up your custom domain. In the text box, enter your new domain name (eg: www.example.com). Now when you preview your blog, you should see your custom domain in the address bar instead of your blogspot one!

Your old Blogspot address will automatically forward to your new domain, so you don't have to worry about losing any traffic. Also, since Blogger still hosts your domain, you'll have no worries about hosting or bandwidth.

However, there are a few points you should take note of when publishing to your custom domain.

Most important is this: you can only post to http://yourdomain.com or http://www,yourdomain.com. NOT BOTH! So before you enter your domain name in the Blogger settings be sure which of these you prefer to use.

My advice would be this: try to use a domain provider which offers some free hosting with your domain (this is why I'd recommend GoDaddy) and set your blog to be hosted at www.yourdomain.com. Then upload a simple redirect page as your index to your hosting account, which will redirect any visitors to www.yourdomain.com instead.

I don't consider this to be much of a problem. In fact it can be an advantage: having only the http:// or http://www in your blog address is that your Technorati ranking will be improved, since there will not be two entries for your blog (one at each sub domain, a problem I used to have with a hosted Wordpress blog). By redirecting your readers, they will always know where to find you, and you won't lose any traffic.

For a complete tutorial on registering your Blogger custom domain with GoDaddy, take a look at this post on the Glamumous blog. For detailed walkthroughs to register with other domain providers, this article on the Blogger help site can prove rather useful.

As always, I appreciate your comments! Also, if you have posted a walkthrough for other providers, please leave a link below to help others do this too.

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Manipulate your blog feed to generate more traffic

If you want more traffic to your blog, your blog feed can be one of the most useful tools at your disposal. In an earlier post, I explained what a blog feed is, and why you need one. This post will deal with ways you can use your blog feed to help attract more readers and ensure they come back for more.

  1. Make sure your blog feed is available and visible on your blog. Many blogging platforms have the option to make your feed visible or not. Make sure that you have chosen to make your RSS/Atom feed visible, and that there is a link to it somewhere on your blog. If you scroll down to the bottom of this page, for example, you'll see a simple text link for the Blogger Buster Atom feed, the default visibility for the Blogger platform. However, I've also made the feed visible in other places, which I'll explain more about later.
  2. Decide how much of your posts you want available through the feed. This is a personal choice, and depends on whether you want readers to visit your blog, or simply read what's available in the feed. In your blog settings, you shouild be able to choose if you prefer just headlines, a certain number of characters from each post, or the full post available in the feed. Personally, I'd choose to have around 200 characters available: blog headlines alone often don't give enough information about the content; full feeds can often be too much to digest in a feed reader. A good post should use the first paragraph as a teaser for the rest of the post. Unless of course, your posts are all very short!
  3. Make use of widgets! This previous post explains how to make a widget for your blog headlines which could be placed in a sidebar. Then, if readers stumble across your specific page, they can also see a snapshot of other recent posts you have written in an attractive, easy to digest format. Trawling through the archives for other great posts can be such a drag! Make it easier for your readers to find something they enjoy. Widgetbox has some great RSS/Atom widgets you can easily insert into your blog; Feedburner is also excellent, for reasons I'll explain shortly.
  4. Transform your feed into a newsletter! Many internet users aren't aware of feed readers, or simply prefer not to use them (myself included!). So why not make your blog feed available in a newsletter format, delivered by email to your readers each day (or whenever you update) instead? You can see an example of this in my right sidebar: using Feedburner's free service, I've made my atom feed available as a daily email digest to newsletter subscribers (other such services are available, though Feedburner is my personal favorite). It's easy and free to sign up for their basic service; paid subscriptions are available if you plan to make your blog a big business, but I consider the basic version to work well for most bloggers.
  5. Use a feed syndication service. To "syndicate" your feed basically means "to get it out there" and promote it as much as possible. Feed syndication services, such as Feedburner and FeedBlitz will republish your blog feed to make it available to a wider audience, and also offer services such as the email subscription I talked about above. Also, such services frequently monitor subscriptions so you're able to understand how many readers you currently have, and possibly identify trends to help you improve your performance.

Here are some more sites with information on blog feeds and promotion:

Related posts at Blogger Buster:

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June 16, 2007

Looking for copyright free images for your blog?

Here's two great sites that I use regularly for free, copyright-free/creative commons images:

  • StockXchange: features some great quality stock photos by professional/semi-pro photographers. You need to sign up to use this site, and may occasionally need to ask permission from the author to use their photo. But for the scope and quality of what's on offer here, it's really worth it!
  • Creative Commons search engine: I came across this excellent search engine through Blogger: you can use Google to search only images and video which are published under a creative commons licence. Loads of great photos and images available; authors are usually amateur/semi-pro, but there are some real gems to be found. And you don't need to sign up to use the site!

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Browse through the Archives

All existing posts are still available to view while I'm working on the site, albeit seen in a much simpler interface. Feel free to browse through the archives to find tutorials, templates and articles to help you build a better blog:

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