I often get people asking me where the best places are to put their ads, the best fonts for their blogs, the best way to lay out their blogs, and although most of the people are legitimate in their desire to learn I sometimes worry whether an old art is being lost thanks to the wonderful advice and accessibility of knowledge now available in the blogosphere: the ability to experiment.
If you want to know the best way to learn how to blog, outside of writing for a network or paying for the privilege, its hands on experimentation.
Now for me, perhaps I’m old school. When all my friends at school had Commodore 64’s I had an Amstrad 6128 (it did after all have better graphics, memory and storage) and I didn’t have anybody to share copies of dodgy software with and I didn’t have any friends to share how to program a computer with, so I learnt pretty quickly that the best way to learn was to experiment. But what was happily referred to as BASIC back then wasn’t really as basic as html and php is today. The availability of easy to follow cut and paste instructions makes things easier again.
So here’s my quick list of things you should look at experimenting on with your blog
this is the most subjective of topics, and for me it seems as though its never finished. If you haven’t noticed the bottom right hand corner nav bar here at the Blog Herald it records what version the site is currently at in terms of design, and it read at the time of writing: version 5.2. Translated, this site has had 5 significant changes of appearance since it started back in March 2003. Sure, each site design shared some common elements (the header logo is basically the same as v3) but each major change saw differences in a majority of areas. But what works for me might not work for you, because although I’m happy with the current look of this site it might not be your preferred look. At the end of the day, do what feels right for you. Remember some simple rules though: it should be easy to read (white backgrounds for text are always the best), it shouldn’t be too complicated (remember KISS ideology) and it should be compatible across most browsers and systems.
if you’ve been visiting recently you’ll have seen a lot of changes in ad placement and layout here at the Blog Herald because I’m constantly experimenting. I even spent some money recently on some e-books on the subject, but you don’t have to spend money to experiment if you don’t want to. Try moving your ads around if they aren’t delivering reasonable CTR. Generally speaking “inline” ads work better that external ads. I’m not going to give a lot away that I’ve learnt from Joel’s book but I’ve read similar stuff elsewhere as well, and I’ll make one observation: I’m basically giving up on Adsense within the right navigation bars of most of my sites as a result.
some of you will shudder at the thought of this but you know the longer I blog the easier it gets, and its been experimentation that’s helped me get to where I am today (being a Feedster Top 500 blogger and all :-) ). Mix and match your posts because what’s right for you and your audience might not work on another blog and vice versa. I try to mix it up a little by providing the occasional link of interest, mixed with blog news and original opinion and content. For me mixing is good, but there’s one little thing I know more than anything, that if content is king original content is the grand ruler of the universe, because original content if its quality content will help drive traffic and bring back visitors as well. There are any number of meta-blogs out there on any number of topics: if you’re able to deliver interesting and original content eventually someone will find out.
Update: there is a follow up post to this post here.