So, now you have a blog and you want to jazz it up with some bells and whistles. You want some Blog Bling. What are your options and how do you get started?
There is no shortage of things you can add to your site to make it more manageable for you and more interesting for your readers. Below are just a few of the items that I've experimented with in the past.
Let's talk about practical items first, then we'll get to the fun stuff.
As was mentioned before, I would encourage you to add a sitemeter or a onestat counter to your blog. According to most everyone, they are the industry standard and a must if you want to understand where your traffic comes from, who is linking to you and where your readers are located. Please don't get one of those faux counters, the one that turns over every time someone clicks on an individual post or a comment, the one that counts one visit as eight. If you do, you have no true sense of your numbers and if you decide to solicit advertising, you can't honestly provide an accurate measurement of the level of traffic you get. You may be over-inflating your traffic by a huge percentage. We'll get to advertising in a moment.
One of the items I found useful to both me and my readers was a search engine that was specific to my site. If I wanted to recall an old post, I could just type in the subject matter and the search engine would search my blog. I'm sure there are many options, but I used Blogbar for this purpose and I loved it. You can find out more here. You can customize the color, and the directions on how to paste into your sidebar are very simple to execute.
Notice the red "RSS" logo in the lower, right-hand corner of SpouseBUZZ.
You should definitely add an RSS feed aggregator to your site. Savvy blog consumers are increasingly turning to feed aggregators that will quickly scan the new posts from their favorite blogs. I wrote about this here. In our case, we have 282 readers subscribing to the SpouseBUZZ feed. You can subscribe to our feed by clicking here. You can also subscribe to the feed of your favorite blogs and log onto one site to see what's new at dozens of sites, rather than having to click all over the place. If you haven't posted a link on your blog so that others can pick up your RSS feed, search in the help section of your blog software for instructions on how to do so, and make your feed available to your readers. Technology is rapidly evolving. Keep up with it, or be left behind. When I stated blogging, very little bling and useful stuff was available. Now, there are all kinds of choices, which takes us to the next part of this post.
Onto the fun stuff...
Another useful widget (widget = blog bling) is a poll. Say you want to poll your readers on something, fun or otherwise. It's very easy to add a poll to your blog and it encourages reader participation. I have used Vizu before, a free service, but polls have come a long way since then. I was recently introduced to a new, more expanded polling widget. Sodahead allows people to explain their votes, communicate with each other about their votes and even post video polls. You can also create a page there. How fun is that? So, just for fun, and I know this poll won't apply to all of you because we have far more readers than we do reader-bloggers, but for the bloggers out there who would like to use a polling widget in the future, register (must register to vote - irritating, I realize) and cast your vote.
Sign up with SodaHead and play around. This could be a lot of fun. We had a great time with our Army Wives poll earlier this year, close to 1,000 voters participated. We'll be doing more polls in the future. Maybe we'll do video polls of our SpouseBUZZ LIVE dance-off and let you choose the winner. AWTM has laid down a challenge.
Many of you love the animated characters that you can create. A while back, I created an Andi Meez. It was fun building my Meez and, it was free.
Meez features a military line of clothing. Click here to build your Meez.
There are all kinds of widgets available to bloggers. In TypePad alone, the choices are endless. Search the help section of your blog service provider to see what is available to you.
Unfortunately, I discovered it two days after I had deleted my personal blog. A blog which had over two year's worth of posts. Deleting it was painful because I had spent so much time and effort on my posts. Oh, how I would have loved to known about this before clicking the "delete account" button. If I had, my writings would have been preserved forever. I wouldn't have been interested in selling the bound version (and nobody save my family would have been interested in buying it), but having a copy for the sake of posterity would have been nice.
Let's talk advertising, and getting noticed. I know that blogrolls are a popular item, but personally, I've become much less fond of them than I used to be. I rarely scan someone's blogroll, there are just too many blogs out there. I generally bookmark favorites and visit that way. However, I realize that blogrolls, especially for small communities, serve a purpose and others do like them. AWTM has already discussed networking, but there are other ways of getting noticed, too. You could purchase a blog ad, or participate in a Blog Ad Swap. Doing so will generally expose your blog to people who might not otherwise find you and who knows, maybe they'll keep coming back for more.
Want to make money on advertising? You can sign up with Blog Ads and offer advertising to other bloggers on your site. There are some rules, so click here to read them. I've used Blog Ads in the past and had a good experience with them, but you can search for other companies which offer similar services.
Odds and Ends:
Your blog is your creation. As in life, each of us have different personalities and what appeals to some may turn others off. Having said that, let me offer a few comments on my personal preferences for your consideration.
Music and Videos: I prefer these not be forced on me when I click on a site. If I see the link and want to play it, I will click play. Note that I'm talking about blogs here, not My Space pages. Many blogs have music or videos set to play as soon as you click on the link. Not only is this a turn-off to some, but you should remember that often, people are blog surfing from the workplace. If they click on your site and music blares from their computer, their co-workers know they are playing and not working (uh oh). Just something to consider.
Comments: I don't know about you, but I have a zillion user names and passwords. Too many to count. It gets irritating, but such is life. Unless it's absolutely necessary that I sign up for something, or I know I'm going to need it again in the future, I won't. Many of you require TypeKey, Blogger or other types of registration before someone can comment on your blog. You may have valid reasons for that, and it's your business to establish the rules for your blog. However, some people are just fed up with having to register for one more thing, and they draw the line somewhere. I've drawn mine at comment registration.
Spammers are a consideration. An important one, so I would suggest using a verification system like we use here at SpouseBUZZ (type in the numbers/letters you see), which ensures that commenters are indeed human beings, but other than that, I prefer comments be open to everyone without having to go through yet another registration process. If you have a problem with someone, ban their IP address and delete their comments. I read a lot of blogs that I don't comment on because I'm personally revolting against having to register with a dozen different systems in order to join the discussion.
The bells and whistles listed above are just a few that come to mind. Do you have Blog Bling that isn't mentioned above? Tell us about it.
SpouseBUZZ Blog Series:
Part I: Blog It, Don't Hog It
Part II: I Want a Blog, Now What?
Part III: Privacy/OPSEC
Part IV: Networking
Part V: Blog Etiquette