April 30, 2009

Google Blogger for Dummies - Full Review

Some time ago, I was able to preview Susan Gunelius' new book, Google Blogger for Dummies, which is now available to buy from your local bookstore. After receiving my own copy, I've spent the past few weeks reading intently in order to provide you all with my full review of this "Dummies" guide.

Blogger for Dummies?

The "For Dummies" series of reference books published by Wiley are complete guides on a range of subjects which present information in plain English. "Dummies" books are offered as complete guides on the given subject, where the information presented makes the subject easy to understand even for a complete beginner.

In Google Blogger for Dummies, Susan Gunelius offers a simple and comprehensive approach for understanding and making the most of the Google Blogger platform. Chapters range from "Setting up your blog" right through to "Making Money With Blogger" and "Boosting your Search Engine Ranking". This ensures that readers learn far more than how to use Blogger to publish our blogs: we can learn how to use Blogger to create an authoritative, income-generating and professional blog on the niche project of our choice.

What's covered in the book

Google Blogger for Dummies is split into six main parts, with each part containing several chapters which comprehensively detail an aspect of blogging with Blogger. Furthermore, each chapter is segmented further into mini-sections (usually no more than a page long) which offers detail, advice and information on the aspects of blogging you may encounter.

Part I: Introducing Google Blogger

This section offers a complete overview of Blogger and blogging in general, which is especially useful for those who are creating a blog for the first time.

By covering in brief the aspects of using Blogger which are detailed more fully in later chapters, Susan creates an excitement about choosing Blogger and anticipation of Blogger's effectiveness as a powerful blogging tool.

Part II: Using Google Blogger

In this section, we are presented with detailed instructions for creating and maintaining a Blogger blog, including how to initially create a blog; how to manage archives; comments and backlinks; writing blog posts; enhancing the appearance with templates, and using gadgets/widgets in the layout.

Each chapter is enhanced by screen-shots and useful tips to ensure we can easily follow the instructions and advice given. I especially enjoyed reading Susan's advice about choosing which subjects to write about, and issues of copyright/fair usage. Such considerations are often misunderstood (or even overlooked) by those who are new to blogging, and her expert advice shines light on what is otherwise a cloudy issue.

Part III: Making Money with Blogger

As pointed out in Google Blogger for Dummies, many people choose to start a blog in order to earn money from it. By devoting an entire part of this book to the subject of making money, Susan understands the needs of many Blogger users (both newly initiated and seasoned bloggers) and offers information most relevant for those using the Google platform as their publishing tool.

In this part, we can learn about the many different types of advertising we can add to our blogs to generate an income, including text links, paid posts, contextual ads, and of course Google Adsense.

Part IV: Growing your Audience

This section of the book offers practical, useful advice for growing the audience of our Blogger blogs which is presented and explained in a very "down to earth" manner.

Most bloggers are concerned with growing their blog's audience and increasing their authority in search engine rankings. I'm often asked about this aspect of blogging by Blogger Buster readers, but since this is something I've learned through a combination of gradual experience and "trial and error", it is not something I am expressly confident in explaining.

Susan's explanations are very clear and easy to understand. She explains the nature of relationship building for bloggers, how to network with other online writers and particularly how to optimize our blogs for search engine rankings. Advice to help track blog statistics, effective linking and keyword analysis are also included which I feel is a boon to new bloggers who may have little understanding of what these buzzwords mean.

Part V: Extending your Blog

This section offers details for growing and downsizing our blogs. By "growing", Susan refers to adding team members, writing for other's team blogs and creating a new blog linked to our blogger profiles. "Downsizing" refers to the practise of deleting a blog we no longer wish to own.

In this section, we can also find details of blogging with different media (such as email posts, video blogging and posting via a mobile phone). Custom domains and FTP blogging are also discussed for the benefit of those who prefer to associate their blogs with their own domain name.

Part VI: The Part of Tens

In all "Dummies" guides, the "Part of tens" is used at the end of the book to reference key points or resources appropriate for the particular subject of the book.

In Google Blogger for Dummies, the Part of Tens includes:
  • Ten useful social networking and social bookmarking sites
  • Ten common Blogger problems and possible solutuins
  • Ten places to find free Blogger themes and templates
The "Blogger problems" section was the one I found particularly useful as it covers problems which Blogger Buster readers have contacted me about with regularity. These issues are explained in detail, along with problem-solving solutions and ideas for prevention so these issues do not occur again.

Excellent Presentation

One of the reasons I am a fan of Dummies books in general is the overall presentation of these guides which enables readers to locate the information they require with ease and literally "dip in" at any stage to find useful tips or references.

The front cover is bold and unmistakably part of the Dummies series with a bold yellow background. Key points of the book's content are presented on both the front and back covers, along with a brief biography of Susan Gunelius - a professional blogger in her own right with expert status in marketing and branding.

A key aspect of presentation which I find useful in any technical guide is the use of headings and points to break up text, and appropriate hints relevant to the main content at key points. In this respect, Google Blogger for Dummies comes up trumps: the content is very well organised making it easy to follow; icons refer to tips, warnings and technical areas of the content, while highlighted text boxes enhance basic instructional sections with advice based on Susan's professional experience on a given subject.

The contents section actually comes in two segments: the first offers a brief overview of the parts and chapters, while the second is a comprehensive guide to include all major sub-headings (the individual topics) which are covered in the guide.

Near the end of the book is a comprehensive glossary which provides easy referral for key terms associated with both Blogger and blogging in general. Finally, a complete index offers a means of easily locating any terms or subjects with which we need particular guidance.

Unfortunately the screen-shots in Google Blogger for Dummies are in black and white, rather than full colour. Having read other Dummies guides before, I had not expected colour images; however, colour in some sections (such as when discussing templates and layouts) would have been more beneficial for readers of this guide to offer a more complete analysis of the sections being discussed.

So is it a complete guide to Blogger?

Almost, but not quite. The range of subjects discussed is very comprehensive in Google Blogger for Dummies and Susan Gunelius' expertise in blogging offers a highly comprehensive guide for building and maintaining a successful blog. However, there are a few small areas which I feel could be further enhanced, particularly as many readers of this guide will have little or no experience using the Blogger platform.

For example, in Chapter 16 when explaining how to purchase a domain from a third party, more information regarding changing the DNS settings would have been much appreciated. This aspect of using Blogger is often difficult to navigate, and while I understand that the process does differ between domain providers, an overview explaining key terms or a link to Blogger's help pages on this subject would lift the fog and enable new bloggers to manage this important aspect of Blogger much more easily.

I'm also concerned that the subject of editing the Blogger template is virtually skimmed over in this guide. Although the Layout>Edit HTML tab is briefly mentioned as a menu item and is referred to in the process of uploading third party templates, no explanation of how to manually edit the Blogger template is given. This may be a personal opinion, since editing templates is a key aspect of my experience with using Blogger; however, I'm sure that many readers of this book would have appreciated at least some advice, if only an overview of how Blogger template files are coded combined with HTML/CSS resources where more could be gleaned on this complicated subject.

In summary...

After having read most of the books available about the Google Blogger platform, I can honestly attest that Google Blogger for Dummies is the best and most comprehensive guide available. Rather than simply explain how to use Blogger, this book offers a complete guide to building a successful blog with Blogger, an interesting and wholly useful standard which few other books about blogging platforms have adopted.

I do certainly recommend Google Blogger for Dummies, particularly for those who are new to blogging or who have recently decided to use Blogger as their publishing platform. While certain advanced aspects of working with Blogger could be enhanced, the basics are all included, enabling even a complete novice to build, manage and maintain their blog using this easy to follow guide.

Google Blogger for Dummies is currently available from Amazon, Barnes and Noble and other online bookstores for around $16.49.

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