This is Number One in a series about how to blog.
This is a series for beginners, answering the questions that beginners are asking. I know the questions that beginners are asking … because I too am new to blogging.
But wait! I can hear you asking yourself: what does he know?
I might be new to blogging, but I am certainly not new to systems development. Over the years I have found myself in many new situations, trying to make sense of complex propositions and building new products services. This blog might be written by someone new to blogging, but it’s not written by someone new to systems development.
Over the years, I have found myself in many situations where, in the beginning, I didn’t quite understand what was going on … mainly because I hadn’t got a grasp of the terminology.
The same is true now. I know what’s supposed to happen – mostly – but there are words that I haven’t come across before. There are also words that I have come across before but now they don’t quite mean the same thing.
I have set up a blogging site. You know that because you are here, but to make it this far, I had to ask loads of questions.
These are the answers to some of the first questions that I asked.
What is a blog?
The question: “What is a blog?” is not a stupid question … there are no stupid questions!
The term “blog” is derived from “weblog”. A weblog was originally a collection of journal entries that were sorted and presented chronologically, with the most recent entries appearing first. The original weblog was essentially an online diary, which could be kept private or it could be made public.
Blogging in 2020 retains a significant essence of the original blogging concept, but over the years, blogging platforms have become so much more sophisticated. The modern blog is a focus for writers or groups of writers to develop and share views on specific subjects, but peeling back the layers reveals that the basic chronological blogging principles have endured.
Is a blog the same as a website?
There are plenty of definitions of blog and web sites to be found, on the web. They will mainly tell you that web sites are fairly static and that blogs are updated frequently, and then they will tell you that blogs are presented in reverse chronological order, but we already know that. These are the sort of re-vamped definitions that do nicely as space fillers for blogs but don’t really answer the question.
Both blogs and websites may be updated on a regular basis or it may be that both can be designed, built and then just left for browsing, with only occasional updates. Updates may then be triggered routinely or by some discrete activity.
It may have been different historically, but now, blogs and websites are essentially the same thing.
Paper diaries don’t go anywhere near the internet, but it’s also entirely possible to keep a private diary online. An example of this would be writing in a diary every day using Microsoft Word and then saving it online in OneDrive. It’s stored online but it’s only accessible to you, and anyone you might choose to show it to.
A blog, on the other hand, sits in website land (www) and like a website, is primarily designed to be shared. But whilst blogs are not considered integral parts of, or requirements for, websites, many websites do incorporate a blog.
It is also possible to build a blog with minimal website functionality. Go have a look at the dullest blog in the world … it is just a blog! 😁
Blogs and websites – same thing, just a different emphasis on design.
Who writes blogs?
Apparently, there are 500 – 600 million blogs out of 1.7 billion websites, which tells you that blogs and websites do indeed fall into the same category (see above)… and with numbers like that, it looks like just about everyone must be blogging. If you are interested, there are more statistics on the Blogging Statistics page.
My take on this: if so many people are blogging, blogging isn’t something that is done only by other people. We can all blog and in doing so, we can add knowledge, experience and value to the collective of humanity. A grandiose statement maybe, but we all know stuff that could be of help to others.
We can all write blogs.
What is a Blogger?
A blogger is someone who has something to say and blogging is just one way of saying it.
I come back to the principle of helping others – and maybe making a living from blogging in the process. We all have to eat.
Blogging has the potential to work against the common good as well as for it. On the one hand, blogging can be about using your experience to provide help to those asking a question that you can answer. On the other hand, it can and has been used to raise and legitimise the profile of misinformation, and then to deliver that misinformation to a potentially gullible public.
Blogging is not a mechanism to be used for spreading misinformation.
There are people who tell you that they have a right to an opinion, and then they will tell you that they have a constitutional and moral right to express that opinion. Personally, I don’t want plumbers advising me on my options for open heart surgery … and neither does Google!
If a blogger is going to add value, they must be able to demonstrate expertise, authoritativeness (is that even a word?) and trustworthiness (E-A-T). Google is on the case!
A blogger is someone that you can trust.
Blogging in lockdown
Just an aside really … what better time is there going to be to have a go at blogging?
The impact of coronavirus is touching all our lives, society might well be changing as a result.
I look around and I see all the stuff that families are doing at home. People are creative!
I am taking the time to develop a 1970s haircut, which takes skill, judgement … and hair!
I am also taking this opportunity to learn the technical mechanisms of blogging. If you can’t learn a new skill during a global pandemic lockdown, when can you learn? I have already learned how to solve the Rubik’s Cube, so learning to blog is going to be a walk in the park.
We are starting to see an easing of the lockdown, governments are reviewing the conditions and people are beginning to be allowed to venture out. This is a good thing, but the last couple of months seems to have taught the world that there is another way … and everyone has become a Zoom expert!
Working practices are changing … for the better.
Less traveling means more time to spend on creative pursuits. So now is probably the time to have a go at blogging, especially if you are being creative and developing your interests in other areas. Now is a good time to share your experiences.
Follow the “How to Blog” posts, I think I am getting the hang of it.
What goes into a Blog?
A blog has a structure, just like a website. Some of it is fairly static and the rest is dynamic. By convention, the static elements are referred to as pages and the dynamic elements as posts. Having said that, there is no reason why a page can’t be updated frequently, and no reason why a post, once published, can’t remain fairly static.
As well as pages and posts, there are menus and widgets and other artefacts that all need managing.
How long is a Blog Post?
A blog post can be any length you like. But … if it’s less than 500 words, you’re probably better off keeping your pen in your pocket.
I have taken the position that there are three types of blog post:
- The Response Post
- The Staple Post
- The Pillar Post
I have developed this view after reading and watching Ricky and Jim, and others. There are alternative approaches to the subject of blog post length, but this one appears to be sensible and considered … and it’s fairly widely accepted and adopted.
I will be looking more closely at the form and function of each post type separately but for now, and because we are here to look at the basics, here is a summary.
A response post for a blog should be around 1200-1500 words long, answering a specific question without hesitation, repetition or deviation. If you haven’t got a clue about the reference … have a look here. 😎
A staple post is going to be around 2500 words long and it is going to provide more than just a straightforward answer to a question.
A staple post could be used to explore a particular subject through a wider lens. It could be developing the subject matter with links to other pages, both on-site and off-site. It could be a set of interconnected “how-to” guides, adding further substance to the framework supported by the pillar posts. A staple post could also take the form of a list: 5-things to do before breakfast on a Wednesday!
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If you do a google search for “What is a staple blog post?” there is effectively nothing. There are a couple of references that point to how long a staple post should be but not a thing about the content. I would have thought that if there were so many blogs about blogging, there should be some proper chat about what goes into a staple.
Where is the simple answer?
I think I’m going to write one …
The term pillar has been around for a while, the references to “pillar article” here go back to 2006.
A pillar post should be in the region 3000-5000 words long, and it must stay on point. As its name suggests, a pillar post is one of the foundational structures of a site. If you are following through with the architectural references, you might also want to use the term “cornerstone”. Both terms help you to visualise the function of this type of post.
The post lengths referred too are not prescriptive. Posts can be longer or shorter because, fundamentally, the post is defined by its purpose:
- is it answering a question?
- is it developing an idea?
- is it part of the framework of the subject matter?
Remember: padding out a Response does not make it a Pillar.
What is a Blog Page?
This is where the definitions of blog and website become blurred. If you look at the Venn Diagram, you can see why that might be so. The generally accepted definition of a blog page is one in which the content is static, but this definition could just as easily apply to some pillar posts.
Your “About” page (and mine) is going to be fairly static, and the same is true of landing pages and “Start Here” pages. They are essentially reference pages, but this is not a hard and fast rule as it will depend largely on the content.
Some articles will end up being reference pages, by their very nature. It’s an interesting point and one that you should be thinking about it in advance because it will have an impact on your menu structure. For me, this has been tricky. Maybe it’s because of the subject matter or maybe I am overthinking, but thirty years of experience is telling me that I am probably not. Once I am happy with the principles, I shall write about menu structures.
How do I structure a Blog?
There are many possible answers to this question:
- from the relationship between the different post types,
- through the relationship between the different content elements in the post,
- to the relationship between the website elements presented to the reader.
In this post, I am going to stick to the look and feel of the page … or the relationship between the website elements. I’ll save the detail and an analysis of the other structures for later.
Now there’s something to look forward to.
So what goes into a Blog Header? At the practical level, the header will contain blog titles and menus and maybe a couple of social media following buttons. At the aesthetic level, it can be used to support your brand and the image you would like to present.
The main, or primary, blog content panel is home to your main blog content. It’s the space that will become host to your different posts and pages as they are selected from the menu, and possibly from the sidebar.
The Blog Sidebar, which may be positioned on the left or the right or on both sides of the Primary Content panel, is home to fixed and dynamic widgets.
You can then choose from a huge selection of widgets that can provide you with a huge selection of blog-related functions and services, depending on the host, the theme and your intentions.
You can also choose not to choose to employ the services of a sidebar.
The choice is yours.
At the bottom of the page, you will usually find a Blog Footer. Given its name, I guess that you are unlikely to find it anywhere else! Here is where you put contact details, copyright notices and disclaimers.
Again, the footer is optional … but some of the information isn’t.
What have we learned?
We now know what a blog is and we know what a website is, and we have learned that they are pretty similar.
There is no reason why we can’t all write a blog – if we want to.
Bloggers are like you and me, and a good blogger is an honest blogger, like you and me.
Whilst we are in varying degrees of lockdown, now is probably a good time to have a go.
Now is not the time to be worrying about haircuts.
We have learned the “differences” between a page and a post, and we now know what they are for.
We know the basics about blog formats and what goes where.
We have learned that blogging is accessible to all.
We just need to do it.