The Enjoyable Aspects Of Decluttering Sidebars!

Image of cluttered videosFirst impressions count!

Combine poor theme choice with a cluttered sidebar and you have a recipe for convincing first time visitors NOT to subscribe to your blog.  They’re too busy being turned off to notice your great posts!

Unfortunately sidebar clutter creeps up on most bloggers.  So I thought it would be helpful to share the process I regularly use to declutter my sidebar.

Prioritizing SideBar Decluttering

What I do is take a critical look at my design in the following order of priority (which also reflects their location in my sidebars):

  1. How obvious is it for readers on how to subscribe to my blog?
  2. How easy is it to find information on my blog?
    • Search widget – Is it prominent & near top of blog sidebar? (I prefer a search that only search my blog)
    • Categories and tags – Are they helping readers easily find relevant information?
  3. What other widgets do I have in my sidebar?  Which ones can I live without? — if you compare this blog with The Edublogger you will notice a difference in number of widgets in the sidebars.

Image of drop down menuTip: If you want to display Archives on your blog sidebar it is better to use a drop down menu as it takes up less room.

Editing Categories

Unfortunately my categories failed this latest audit in terms of “Are they helping readers easily find relevant information?” – so I changed too many messy categories (21 categories on this blog) to fewer, more relevant categories (10 categories).

Off course editing each post on this blog (300 posts) and The Edublogger (100 posts) to fix categories was thoroughly excruciating enjoyable.

NOTE: Refer to this post to learn about the difference between categories and tags.

My tip for speeding up the process is to hold the Ctrl key when you left mouse click on the title on the post in your blog dashboard — this opens up the post so you can edit it in a new tab (for FireFox, Flock and Internet Explorer 7).  This open up 15 posts in 15 separate tabs and work through the task faster!

Image of opening up posts


Would love to hear your priorities in using widgets on your sidebar especially in terms of what are your ‘must have’ widgets and why?

This was part of the Day 8 Task for Building a Better Blog.

Image adapted from John Pannell licensed under Creative Commons ShareAlike.

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Are You Getting The Most Out Of Pages On Your Blog?

Image of What was I thinkingHow you write your posts and its content is really important! But so are the pages on your blog!  Did you realise that visits to your pages can be higher than your posts?

But when was the last time you audited your pages and made improvements?  Especially your ‘About Page’ since this is where new readers find out more about you, your blog and decide whether to subscribe to your blog.

Conducting Page Audits

The key with any page on your blog is to focus on:

  1. Is the page relevant/useful for readers? – if not remove or improve!
  2. Is the page title meaningful to readers?
  3. Is it engaging and provide sufficient information to be of value to your reader?
  4. The best location for the page link – Should it be at the top of the blog or a link in the sidebar?

One option for auditing pages is to use Google Analytics data to help guide improvements.Here is how I’ve done this on my blogs, The Edublogger and this blog.

Below is comparison of the rank of each page in terms of top content viewed on each blog, by pageviews, for the last 6 months:

Image of page rank table

My conclusions are:

  1. Readers priorities are helpful tips and resources on The Edublogger – not surprising
  2. My ‘Blogs I read’ page receives the most pageviews on my personal blog – surprising given the link to the page is in the sidebar only
  3. Checking out my ‘About page’ and ‘Other Sites’ are a high priority for readers of my personal blog
  4. My page ‘Want automatic notification?‘ which explains to readers how to subscribe to my blog has poor pageviews on both blogs

Improvements made are:

  1. Updated both ‘About pages’
  2. Updated ‘My Other Sites
  3. ‘Want automatic notification’ page obviously not working probably because new readers don’t understand its relevance.  This has been renamed ‘Info for First Time Visitors’ and includes more helpful tips
  4. Have added a Contact page to my personal blog

Another option for auditing pages (better option) is to get readers to review your pages and provide feedback.

Image of page audit pleadIf you have time would love feedback on my different pages, especially My Other Sites and Edublogs Help Info!, in terms of is the information relevant, meaningful, engaging – what improvements would you recommend?


Here are resources to help you work with pages and Google Analytics:

  1. Differences Between Blog Pages and Posts
  2. Have You Set Up Your About Page?
  3. Changing Your Display Name and Setting up your Comment Avatar – makes it easier for readers to write more personal comments
  4. Setting Up Google Analytics on Your Blog
  5. The Basics of Using Google Analytics

This was part of the Day 5 Task for Building a Better Blog.  If you would like to join us in Building a Better Blog – there is plenty of time.  Start whenever and do it at your own pace!

Image by Twenty Questions licensed under Creative Commons ShareAlike!

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Interlinking! Is it YOUR idea of fun?

Natasa describes interlinking archived posts as “a blogger’s day in hell!”  Strong words but I can’t think of ANY blogging task that horrifies me more than working through old posts to add links to new posts.

It’s incredibly time consuming!  And if your main reason for linking posts is to get readers viewing more pages of your blog I’m not convinced of its benefit unless you have a high traffic blog where readers often visit older posts.

Image of links

BUT…if you want to be a better blogger… make the time to complete this task.  Since it forces you to reflect — what you liked or didn’t like about posts you’ve written; your changing writing style; how easy your blog to navigate.

What the task involves

How it works is you look your posts and, where appropriate, link to posts you have written on the same or similar topics.  As Ken Allan highlights use links cautiously as you can turn off readers by overlinking.

For example, Adding a RSS Feed From Feedburner To Your Blog post has been linked to the different ways you can set up a subscribe by email feed to your blog and how to redirect all your blog feed to Feedburner!.  These feedburner posts could have also been linked to Google Analytics posts.

Where possible it is always better to insert links inside the body of a post rather than use ‘read more on this topic at…’ link at the bottom of your post.

Image of snapshots

Other Handy Tips

If you really want your readers to follow your links DON”T USE Snap shots on your blog! IMHO they don’t enhance a readers experience and are more likely to encourage readers NOT to check out your links!  Read other people’s view here on John Connell’s blog.

I would also recommend switching off Possibly related posts: (automatically generated) on the bottom of your posts.  For the same reason I DON”T recommend the use of technorati tags on blog posts — your main aim with links is to encourage readers to view your content!


Interlinking Posts is the Day 4 task as part of the 31 Days to Build a Better Blog.  While some tasks are more fun than others; they all do help you become a better blogger.  Plenty of time to join us in the challenge — as you can see I’m working through it at my own pace!

What are your tips for interlinking posts?  What is your advice for speeding up this process?

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Dealing With Naughty Ning Neglect!

Image of Ning nong shirtI’m BAD!

Don’t adequately facilitate Nings I’ve created and don’t participate enough in Nings I’ve joined. Do they make shirts for people like me?

UPDATE: Thanks to borborigmus (Vyt) we now have a shirt which he has given me permission to use.

We can’t inflict me on more Nings just to complete Day 3: Search for and Join a Forum for the 31 Days to Building a Better Blog Project.

Don’t get me wrong I’ve connected with people through Ning interactions.  It’s just that I already belong to several and I find forum discussions take considerably more time to engage in conversations than blogging.

My Solution

Instead of joining new forums I decided to address my extreme Ning neglect by:

  1. Tidying up my Ning profiles – Wouldn’t an option to import profiles across Ning social networks be nice?
  2. Subscribing to Latest Activity Feed, Forum Feed and Blog Feed for all Nings using Google Reader

My guess was I belonged to 5 Ning communities.  After wasting considerable time trying to locate all my Ning communities (and failing) I admitted defeated and my Twitter network helped me.  DUH – log into Ning home and then click on my social networks (how can the obvious take so long to find?)

What planet am I from?  5 Ning communities!  Get real! Obviously can’t count or am really absent minded.  Make that 17 Ning communities (of these I created Etools and AquaEd).  Have now tidied up all my profiles and subscribed to all RSS feeds from my Ning communities.  But now decided profile information doesn’t sounds great (= crappy).


For those new to using Ning communities – check out:

For experienced Ning users I would love to know more about:

  1. What Ning communities do you belong to and what have been the benefits of being part of these commmunities?
  2. What tips would you give new people to help them get more out of being involved with Ning Communities?

Image of Ning Nong shirt created by Vyt used with permission.

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Running A First Time Reader Audit On Your Blog

Image of magnifying glass Day 2 in the 31 Days to Building a Better Blog Project is to Do a First Time Reader Audit on your blog. This is one of the MOST important tasks of the 31 Days Project.  How you see your blog and what you write about is often totally different from how viewed by others.

Take the time to do a Reader Audit of your blog even if you’re not doing the 31 Days Project; you will be amazed how it helps improve your blog.

Conducting A Blog Audit

While there’s merit to Darren Rowse’s suggestions of what to watch for as the reader surfs your blog I think it was a bad mistake to JUST recommend family and friends as the first time readers.  Generally they have little to no knowledge of blogs so aren’t necessarily reflective of your intended audience.

Definitely watch someone surf your blog (even if the only person available isn’t a blog reader) BUT also get more experienced blogger(s) to do a readers audit.  The more input the better; each sees different aspects.  Michele Martin‘s audit for Paul Nichols highlighted aspects I would’ve missed; similarly Anne Mirtschin‘s review for Carole McCulloch.

My Checklist

Image of sidebar orderHere’s my take on what you need to consider for your blog:

  1. Always put the most important widgets at the top of the blog
  2. Search widget – top of blog or top of sidebar
  3. RSS feed using Feedburner – here’s how to add it to your blog but remember to redirect all your feed through Feedburner!
  4. Subscribe by email using Feedburner – here’s how to add Feeburner email subscription to your blog
  5. Effectively use both categories and tags on your post to make it easier in the long term for readers (and yourself) to find posts – here’s the difference between categories and tags
  6. Place category widget above tag widget in your sidebar
  7. AVOID excessive use of bold, italics and colored font in posts – this is my first tips for writing better blog posts
  8. Use images effectively to engage attention – strongly recommend working from the bottom post on this page upwards to read all the posts relating to images in blog posts
  9. Avoid blog themes with strong colors or text that is too small that distract the reader from content and make them not want to read it – here’s what to consider when choosing a blog theme
  10. Choose a blog title that is immediately meaningful and relevant to first time visitors – this can make or break their decision to become a subscriber (YES Mobile Technology in TAFE is an extreme example of a REALLY crappy blog title 8) which has loses me first time readers)

NOTE : Excluded About Pages and sidebar clutter because they are tasks from other days in the 31 Days Project.


So what did I miss on the checklist? What would questions would you use on a checklist if you asked an experienced blogger to review your blog – Darren’s questions or other?

PS my blog theme’s annoying me again — which one shall I choose next?

If you’re interesting in joining us on this 31 Days to Building a Better Blog Project – leave a comment to let us know.  You can do it at your own pace!  My current interpretation of a day is approximately 4 days.

Image by Helmetti licensed under Creative Commons ShareAlike.

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Emailing New Readers Who Leave Comments

Wasn’t me who said I’m currently unable to revisit Darren Rowse’s 31 Days to Build a Better Blog while also reflecting on Steve Dembo’s 30 Days to Being A Better Blogger!

Course I’m able! Simple… I will write posts about each task on this blog but based on my interpretation of what’s 31 Days 8) .

Using Email For Relationship BuildingImage of community

The first task of the 31 Days Project is to email a new reader of your blog.

Why? Helps build relationships while demonstrating you’re grateful they’ve taken the time to comment. Writing comments and engaging in conversations on posts is intimidating for many readers. Yet readers’ comments are where so much of the learning happens for edubloggers.

Would I recommend that edubloggers make a practice of emailing at least one new reader a day? Your decision. There’s pros and cons.

What I can say is bloggers such as Beth Kanter, a non-profit blogger, and Larry Ferlazzo often respond to comments, to both new and old time readers, by sending an email. Being on the receiving end of their emails definitely makes me feel valued.

If you do respond to comments by email I also recommend leaving a comment to the reader on your own post. This demonstrates to all readers that you both read their comments and value their input.

Tip For Email Response

An easy method is to use the comment notification email:

  1. Click on reply
  2. Replace your email in To: field with their email address
  3. Remove the text at the bottom of the comment
  4. Write your response or thanks above the original comment notification text

Image of responding by email

Besides being an effective method of responding it also provides the reader with reference to their comment and gives context to the email.


Thanks to Lisa Dick’s coordination, there is now 15 bloggers working together on the 31 Day Challenge. Would love for you to join us – leave a comment if you’re interested. And if you like you can bend the space-time continuum like me to interpret 31 Days as……

What are your thoughts? Do you email readers? What do you see as the pros and cons?

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Improving Your Blogging With The 31 Day Project!

One of my Top personal blogging I want To-Do’s is to revisit the 31 Day Project by working through Steve Dembo’s 30 Days to Being A Better Blogger!

Participating in The 31 Days to Build a Better Blog project by Darren Rowse (Problogger) in August 2007 was life changing for me. I attribute much of blogging on The Edublogger and working for Edublogs with the blogging, social networking, and project coordination skills to this 31 Day Project.

Now approx. 16 months later, with more experience as a blogger, I’d love to re-do the challenge:

  1. To see how my views of Darren Rowse daily tasks have changed
  2. To reflect on Steve Dembo’s daily tasks for 30 Days to Being A Better Blogger
  3. As part of my personal blogging self improvement

While I’m still not in a position to do this; others have decided to join together to work through Darren Rowse 31 Days Project. Lisa Dick has set up a 31 Days Project Wiki and I’ve been helping the team with suggestions and bringing together information to help them.

If you’re interesting in starting to blog, improving your blogging skills or developing connections with other bloggers I strongly recommend you consider joining them to participate in the 31 Days Project.

If you do join the 31 Day Project please:

  • Contact Lisa Dick to give her your details
  • Link back to this post on my personal blog so that I can add your blog to my Google Reader so I can support you during the project

PS If you’ve already done the 31 Day Project – Can I get you to help add links to your posts here!

Image by Lieven SOETE licensed under Creative Commons ShareAlike 2.0.

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Learning Together By HELPING The Student blogging competition!

Image of help buttonYou’d think I’d know better after the 31 Days To Build A Better Blog and Comment Challenge but NO! Why? Because I know how much everyone benefits from these Challenges.

So when Miss Wyatt told me she had adapted the concept of these challenges to organised Blogging Competition specifically for student and class blogs I knew I had to MAKE TIME to be involved.

About The Student Blogging Competition

The Student Blogging Competition runs for 10 weeks and commenced 22 September. Miss Wyatt is posting weekly tasks on her blog. So far we have students participating from Australia, Canada, Thailand, India, New Zealand, Portugal, United Kingdom and United States.

I’ve been helping by organising student details to aid students ability to connect with each other and leaving comment on student blogs to encourage them.

Understandably it’s been busy but I’ve solved by cloning myself — shame that clones don’t always look like the original (check out the photos of my clones here!)

Getting Involved

There is still time to join the Competition If you are a student or a teacher with a class blog — just drop past Miss Wyatt’s blog and register your details! PLEASE NOTE: Any students who are on holidays can start when they get back to school!

We’d also love some helpers! The more assistance we receive the better we can support and encourage the students. What ever help you can provide would be GREAT.

Here are areas where we would love help:

  1. Can you check the Competition info page – how does it sound? Have we missed anything?
  2. Here are this participants list – is there any improvements we could make?
  3. If you are a teacher whose students are doing the challenge – Can you encourage your students to visit the participants list and get them to visit student blogs from different schools?
  4. If you are a student – please visit the participants list, make sure the link to your blog is there and when clicked it takes you to your blog.
  5. Educators – please take the time to visit some student blogs and leave comments for encouragement. You can keep an eye on the posts at this URL or you can subscribe to the feed.

Why Get Involved?

If you’re an educator wondering how to use blogs with students this is an excellent opportunity for you:

  • Kick start blogging with your students
  • Observe how different educators are using blogs with students
  • Increase your own skills

I’ve gained a lot this week interacting with the students such as:

  1. Worked hard trying to solve riddles – this one’s still stumping me!
  2. Passed a Noun quiz made by the student using MyStudiyo – almost failed 🙁
  3. Realised students are more imaginative than me. I struggled answering simple questions like If I was an animal, which animal would I be?, What 3 things would you bring if marooned on an isolated island? But surprise, surprise didn’t struggle with White Chocolate or Milk Chocolate 🙂
  4. Stressed whether the baby doll would be okay and if the science teacher would survive daycare.
  5. Who I am when they did a review of my blog’s “About page’ versus Miss Wyatt’s ‘About page’ – I’m eccentric, charming in a relaxed way and people worry when I sneeze.

It’s really exciting to see the students enjoying the pleasures of blogging to such an extent they are writing posts outside of school hours – check out C.J’s routine! Many of the students have similar routines.

My only wish? Would Paul Bogush please end the suspense and tell us the answer to the riddle!


Hope you take the time to check out the student blogging competition and gain from it as much as we are!

Please feel free to share your own riddles, tricky questions and activities that the students may enjoy by either writing your own post (and link to this post) or leaving a comment. Likewise students – please feel free to do the same and see if you can stump the other students and educators.

In the words of Sarah “The greatest feeling is when you make a difference for the better” — so join us to inspire others.

Thanks to Miss Wyatt for organising this competition!

Image by Siobhan Curran licensed under Creative Commons ShareAlike 2.0.

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Creating Web 2.0 Logos using Web tools

I’m part of “Web 2.0 Wednesday” where each Wednesday Michele Martin posts a Web 2.0 activity for us to try. This week Michele asked us to create a logo for our Web 2.0 Wednesdays — only condition was we had to use Web 2.0 tools to create the logo.

I love tasks that really challenge me and this is a challenge as I’m not the most creative or imaginative person around. The idea is this logo will be used for branding the posts we write so will need to be about 200 to 250 pixels wide.

I did consider using images from Flickr and tried manipulating them using Dumpr but felt it would probably make the logo too busy. So instead I checked out the amazing number of free online Web 2.0 logo generators. Here is what I’ve created:

Image created by LogoCreator


Now I need your help! Can you please tell me do you like any of the logos? And if so, which one(s) and why?

Lets be honest I’m not creative! Perhaps you could help us out by joining us for Web 2.0 Wednesdays and coming up with our logo using Web 2.0 tools? I’m sure you are a lot more creative than me and besides its lots of fun searching for the right tools to do the task.

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Introducing Web 2.0 Wednesdays!

While the Comment Challenge has ended the connections it created hasn’t. We loved the task aspect of the Challenge and wanted to continue but on a less intense basis. Our solution? Web 2.0 Wednesdays!

Each Wednesday Michele Martin will post a Web 2.0 activity for us to try. Please feel free to join us and have fun while you learn. If you blog your post please tag your posts web2.0wednesday plus save it to with the tag “web2.0wednesday” — the posts and items tagged to are feeding into this page of our wiki.

Web 2.0 Wednesday Task for 18 June

Our first task for Web 2.0 Wednesday was come up with a one-minute presentation for any of the following:

  • Show someone how to use a Web 2.0 technology
  • Explains a Web 2.0 technology and how it works
  • Persuades people to use your favorite Web 2.0 technology

Now if you’re thinking I’m late completing this task (6 days) — think again! This wise one learned that “Slow and Steady Wins The Race!” by reflecting on how others complete the same task. So far we have:

My 1 Min Presentation on Web 2.0

The most important aspects I would want to show anyone about Web 2.0 is:

  1. The sharing, collaborating and power of networks
  2. How you can harness Web 2.0 technologies to achieve greater innovation

So I sent the following request for help out to my twitter network to try demonstrate this in action:

Image of Twitter message

My network recommended the following for a 1min presentation:

  1. Explanations in Plain English Series – links provided by Britt Watwood, jsommermeyer, James Croft, onEnterFrame
  2. Liz Davis excellent 21st Century Tools Wiki – link provided by bcdtech
  3. Janning provided these words “Collectively we can create what can’t be done by individuals” with this Flickr photo which I have combined to create the following image. Image adapted from N’Dr3W licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic (Words on image supplied by Janning).Image of Web 2.0
  4. Alec Couros What Does the Network mean to you” created using a Voicethread – link provided by NZ Chrissy


I think we would all agree that collectively my network was considerably more innovative than what I could have achieved as an individual; thus demonstrating the true power of Web 2.0. Hope you join us for Web 2.0 Wednesday!

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