Monday, December 19, 2011
Author Blogging 101: Blog Infrastructure
by Joel Friedlander
What defines a blog is a matter of opinion, but in my mind the basic element of a blog is a stream of posts that are usually presented with the newest one first. This reflects the very first blogs that were really online journals.
What makes a blog a part of “Web 2.0″ or an interactive social-media site is the comments. Blogs without comments are still blogs, but they aren’t part of the social media landscape since there’s no way to interact with them.
But blogs have evolved quite a bit since their beginnings, and can now be the center of a multifaceted web presence with sophisticated content management and e-commerce capabilities.
How you set up your blog, the size and number of your columns, the specifications for your type fonts and headings and emphasis settings are all part of the infrastructure of your blog. All together its the bits and pieces, many of them behind the scenes, that make your blog “go.” Let’s make a list:
1. Platform—This blog runs on software from WordPress.org. You can also blog on Blogger, Tumblr, Posterous, TypePad and numerous other platforms. I like WordPress because it’s widely used and supported, it’s open source and freely shared, and it’s easy to find resources from training to technical help.
2. Header—The area at the top of your blog. On most blogs this is going to be used for a logo, the title of the blog, and where the visual branding is strongest.
3. Text column—The main text display area, usually somewhere in the middle of the screen. You can set the width of this on lots of blog software, but keep in mind that the length of your text line has a crucial impact on overall readability. The optimum will show about 10 words per line.
4. Sidebars—These are the narrower columns next to your main text column. You can have no sidebars, one or two or three sidebars, really it’s up to you and the limits of your software. Sidebars also hold more infrastructure items likes widgets.
5. Posts and Pages—Many blogs, including WordPress blogs like TheBookDesigner can contain both pages and posts. These are handled quite differently by the blog software.
6. Pages—These are fixed pages like those you will find on any website. They have a place in the hierarchy of your pages and subpages. Being able to create both posts and pages gives you the ability to create a hybrid site that contains both your sequential, dated articles (posts) and your fixed articles or other content (pages). For instance, most blogs contain an “About” page, and that is a fixed page of content.
A separate type of page is one created on demand by your blog, which is really a content management system. What does that mean? All your posts are stored in a central database, and can be shown on screen in response to different choices a reader makes. For instance, if you use categories to organize your posts, a reader can click the name of the category and your blog software will create a page that displays the most recent posts in that category, with the rest just a click away. These on-the-fly pages are also created by clicking on a tag, or by doing a search for some specific word or phrase. Clicking the headline of any article will create another type of page, the single post page, that shows the entire article and nothing else.
There are many kinds of pages that can be included in your blog.
· Informational pages, like those that describe your services or link to other resources in your field.
· Sales pages, for displaying one or many products for sale directly from your site.
· E-commerce pages, where you sell a whole selection of goods, like an Amazon page of books and products you recommend.
· Landing pages, often used in internet marketing to focus attention on one specific action the reader is supposed to take. These are often stripped of page navigation and sidebars. When the design of the page leaves only the option of taking the action or leaving the page, they are called “squeeze” pages.
· Opt-in pages are a special type of landing page used solely to allow a reader to sign up for a product, a service or some special offer.
7. Page navigation—Most blogs have a navigation bar (or “nav bar”) that gives you access to the fixed pages you include for display.
8. Footer—Down at the bottom of your blog you’ll see your blog footer. This area may be very small, just one line, or it might be quite deep, with links, opt-in forms and other content. What you can put in the footer is mostly a function of which software you’re using.
9. Plugins—On WordPress blogs, plugins are small programs that can be added to your blog’s software to perform even more duties. Some of these plugins are almost mandatory. An example is Akismet, which catches spam comments and sends them to a spam folder for you to examine. Another is Google Site Maps, a plugin that allows your evolving blog to be more accurately indexed by Google’s roaming robots.
10. Widgets—These are more functions you can add to your blog, often created by third party providers. Widgets mostly live in your sidebars and do things like display ads, or your recent Twitter stream, or the books you recommend, or your mailing list opt-in form.
11. Themes—Software like WordPress is mostly behind the scenes, managing your content for you and displaying it for readers in response to their requests. At their simplest, themes add a “skin” or visual style to the underlying framework. At their most complex, they contain lots of software themselves that allow you do perform functions not included in the basic platform. These themes might be free themes you can install any time you like, and change at your whim, to alter the appearance of your blog. Premium themes have a lot more variety and sophistication, along with more features. Premium means they cost money.
Parent/child themes like Genesis create another level of software run by the parent theme that adds functionality to the blog, and also allows you to swap out child themes to change the look and feel of the site. When you get started, it’s fine to stick to a free theme. Just add a header to personalize it and start publishing, there will be plenty of time for all these other improvements later.
12. Syndication—Your blog generates a feed when you publish your content. This feed can be picked up by a third-party service and sent to lots of different places. This syndication is a powerful way to multiply the impact of each article you publish. For instance, people can subscribe to your feed and get your posts delivered automatically. You can also direct your feed, with a little help, to other locations like your Facebook page. The beauty of this is that it’s easy to do and mostly free. Usually referred to as RSS for Real Simple Syndication, and is represented by the RSS icon you’ll see on most blogs.
13. Categories and Tags—I found the difference between these two mystifying at first, until I ran into an explanation from another author. They said they considered their categories like chapters in a book, and tags like items in an index. Categories give you a high-level organization, while tags are more useful to describe the terms in an article that people would be searching for.
14. Under the hood coding—Of course there’s a lot you can do by creating custom code for your blog software, but that’s not something I spend any time on. I hired a great blog designer to create the look of my blog and the style you see in the headers, heads, typography and sidebars.
It’s important to know the parts of your blog. It will save you a lot of time when you first get started just trying to figure everything out.
Article by Joel Friedlander
Joel Friedlander is a self-published author and book designer who blogs about book design, self-publishing and the indie publishing life at TheBookDesigner.com. He's also the proprietor of Marin Bookworks, where he helps publishers and authors who decide to publish get to market on time and on budget with books that are both properly constructed and beautiful to read.