Sue Waters Blog

March 22, 2009
by Sue Waters
10 Comments

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

FINAL THOUGHTS

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.

And if you’re enjoying this blog, please consider Subscribing for free!

March 1, 2009
by Sue Waters
17 Comments

Are You Being A More Effective Blogger By Tracking Comments?

When I leave comments on other blogger’s posts I like to be notified on any new comments that are posted.  Maybe it is just me?  But comments by other readers and response(s) by the blogger help my learning.

Being notified of follow up comments means I can choose to continue the conversation by returning to the post to add further comments — this makes me a more effective blogger.  Needless to say, after 18 months of tracking comments, I’m ‘quite’ good at it.

Subscribing by RSS

There are several comment tracking services that allow you to subscribe to new commenting by RSS using your feed reader.   RSS is always my preferred choice when available because it makes my life easier.

Image of comment shutdown

I was using co.mments and cocomment but co.mments was discontinuing their services and shut down as of today!

Here is my detailed post on how to keep track on of new comments on other bloggers’ posts using cocomment.  One definite benefit of cocomment is if your comment is accidentally lost and you can normally find a copy of what you’ve written in your cocomment account e.g. your comment failed to post due to problems with the anti-spam word.

I’m now also using Commentful which is okay, as a backup, but doesn’t give me the type of RSS feed I like.

Subscribing by Email

There are several options if  you prefer email to RSS.

Some bloggers use the Subscribe to Comments plugin which allows readers to select ‘‘ when they write comments.  This means each time a new comment is posted you will recieve an email.

For posts that don’t have the option to ‘‘ you can always use:

  1. Commentful
  2. Bloppy
  3. Cocomment - select email notification in your account settings

Both comment tracking services provide the ability to track comments by email.

Image of Bloppy

FINAL THOUGHTS

People often ask me how I’m able to respond quickly to comments on other bloggers posts.  Hopefully this has answered those questions.

Would love to hear your thoughts! Do you like to track comments on other bloggers posts? If so, what is your method(s)?  What tips do you have for being more effective at tracking comments?

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

And if you’re enjoying this blog, please consider Subscribing for free!

February 22, 2009
by Sue Waters
25 Comments

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?

FINAL THOUGHTS

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!

And if you’re enjoying this blog, please consider Subscribing for free!

February 8, 2009
by Sue Waters
21 Comments

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!

FINAL THOUGHTS

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?

And if you’re enjoying this blog, please consider Subscribing for free!

January 28, 2009
by Sue Waters
27 Comments

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).

FINAL THOUGHTS

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.

And if you’re enjoying this blog, please consider Subscribing for free!

January 17, 2009
by Sue Waters
9 Comments

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.

FINAL THOUGHTS

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.

And if you’re enjoying this blog, please consider Subscribing for free!

January 13, 2009
by Sue Waters
34 Comments

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.

FINAL THOUGHTS

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?

And if you’re enjoying this blog, please consider Subscribing for free!

January 10, 2009
by Sue Waters
31 Comments

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.

And if you’re enjoying this blog, please consider Subscribing for free!

January 17, 2008
by Sue Waters
7 Comments

Becoming A More Effective Blogger:The 31 Day Blogging Project

betterblog.jpgAs Graham Wegner highlighted in his comment on The Edublogger –”it wasn’t all that long ago (well over a year I think!) I had a Skype conversation with Alex Hayes and your good self where you declared that you didn’t really “get blogging.” So true, I didn’t get blogging and was into podcasting! Yep, took awhile to “get blogging” and thankfully the 31 Day Blogging Project made me a more effective blogger.

For me, the key to my gain from the 31 Day Blogging Project, was completing the daily tasks while collaboratively working together within a team of 14 participants. Knowledge gain was greater working in a team, because each individual gained a different perspective from the task – giving participants greater “food for thought!”

The team aspect of the project is sooo important – which is why I pleased that a new group of bloggers have just begun working together on the 31 Day Project! Congratulations Kate Olson, Sarah Stewart, Jess Mcculloch and Andy Roberts (please drop past their blogs to provide assistance and encouragement). Kate’s explanations for her involvement are inspirational

As just anyone in the world has the power to create a blog, I feel it’s my responsibility to go above and beyond to learn all that I can. My students (and colleagues learning from me in the professional development arena) deserve to have an educator who is dedicated to learning.

Here are some tips from my experience of the 31 Day Project that will help keep you sane going:

Check Out What Others Learnt

Before I started a task I would first check out what the others had learnt! Saved time and gave me ideas! Summary of what I learnt is located on this page of my wiki with links to daily tasks you need to complete (those relating to being a problogger have been remove). Click on the participants photo on the 31 Day Project page of my blog to view what each participant learnt when we did the project (please let me know if there is a problem with any links and I will fix).

Recording The Progress of Your 31 Day Project

Personally I recommend writing posts of what you learn on your blog so that your readers can also help you with your journey. My readers provided me with sooooo much guidance, help, assistance and mentoring; thanks everyone! However as I progressed I found it was better to post several tasks in the same post e.g. 31 Days To Build A Better Blog — Day 20-26 plus posts from my journey which would help my readers e.g. Why Does Technorati Mock Me?, Why Didn’t I install Google Analytics Sooner?, How keep track of new comments on other bloggers’ posts!

As you progress it is easy to lose track and feel worn out! Ticking off progress was important – writing the task number with progress status, smiley face and the famous tick/cross all helped (especially the image of the tick and smiley face).

FINAL THOUGHT

For those that have already completed the 31 Day Project — What are your tips/advice for the new participants?

If you have been thinking about doing the 31 Days to build a better blog, or wanted to improve your blogging, I strongly recommend you join the latest 31 Day Project Team and join the Better Blog Community (so the community can supply support)! Please let me know if you are joining so I can drop past your blog to provide encouragement.

September 30, 2007
by Sue Waters
2 Comments

Do Busy Readers Dig Deeper Into Our Blogs?

What I like about this week’s challenge at Better Blog community set by Simon Thomas (Oak Innovations Blog) on Mobilize your archives is I have already done it for my Day 4 task of the 31 Days to Build a Better Blog. The task involves going back through your old posts and looking for opportunities to link to new posts mainly in the hope of driving readers deeper into your blog. As Darren says “One of the challenges that faces blogs that have been around for a while is that they end up with a wonderful collection of posts in their archives that are rarely read by readers.” The other 31 Day task aimed at driving readers deeper into our blog was Day 18 Create a Sneeze Page and propel readers deep into your blog.

Why do I like it? Well it has been:

  • 2 months since I interlinked old posts with newer posts
  • 20 days since I created my squeeze page

So is an excellent opportunity to stop and reflect, for my situation, how effective these tasks were for driving readers deeper into my blog.

Lets start with my squeeze page – what I have called my Want a Specific Article page. Readers are definitely using this page to locate posts they want to read and are using it more than my categories (the subjects in my sidebar that tells my readers what I write about).

Now Gary disagrees with Darren about squeeze pages – his comment on my post was “if people can’t find the information in a well formed index (navigational) list then how are they going to find it if it’s a click away on another page” and went on to recommend that I improve my use of subcategories. I agree Gary — especially for my blog where I am writing on a range of subject areas which must be soooo confusing for my readers — so I have set up subcategories under my main categories. I have also set to display number of posts, which makes my side menu look more cluttered but provides information readers probably want to know.

categories1.jpg

How successful is interlinking old posts with new posts?

Really hard to tell! What I can say is the posts I did choose interlink with aren’t ranking high in my top 100 content – when I did this task originally I was not using Google Analytics so based on current statistics it would appear that I chose the wrong posts for the task. As I have said previously why didn’t I install Google Analytics sooner! So may re-do the task– will think about it!

The best parts of originally doing Darren’s interlinking and creating a squeeze page was I worked through all my blog’s posts and this made me reflect on:

  • how my site looks to visitors and so I made time for improvements
  • posts I had written e.g. what I liked/didn’t like about the post and what improvements were needed for future posts
  • posts I maybe should have written
  • how easy to my blog was/wasn’t to navigate your blog

My Thoughts

Realistically it is hard to propel readers deeper into a blog. Readers are busy people.

Reflecting on my own blog reading habits when I find a new blog to subscribe to I don’t have time to go back through their old posts and will only skim read their first 10 posts that load into Google Reader unless a post grabs me. But I will go back to a person’s blog for an article on a specific topic if I know they provide great information on that topic — but are more likely to use the search their blog feature.

The 31 Days to Build a Better Blog were never for fame or fortune for me. My goals are to help others and blogging is one of the methods I share information with others so I decided it would help me be a more effective blogger.

Driving people deeper into your blog is only one way of being more effective — I strongly recommend, if you are a blogger, you make time to work through the 31 Day Project by:

  1. Working through these tasks from the 31 Day Project customised for educational bloggers
  2. Or doing the shorter 5 days tasks for people just starting to blog
  3. Join us at Better Blog community

Let me know if you plan to do the 31 Day Project as I would love to join your journey as you improve your blog!