[Note: This is one of the posts imported from my old Blogger-powered weblog. As you can see, I’ve made the move to Movable Type, but I’ve left this post intact in case someone finds it useful.]
If you have a BloggerFree-powered weblog that you are keen to make more interactive without making the move to a higher-end blogging application hosted on your own server, and/or you aren’t a supergeek, you might find some of these tips useful. If you have access to some webspace (other than blogspot) and minimal HTML coding skills it makes life easier, but even without these advantages there are a number of easy improvements you can make.
One of very first things you will want to add is the ability for readers to leave their comments, enabling you to build and maintain social networks and encourage discussion of your ideas. Luckily, this is dead easy. There are a range of software companies that offer free hosted comments for websites, and Blogger has a list of the most blogger-friendly of these in the FAQ. I use blogspeak because it has a nice clean design that is fully customizable and it has proven to be very reliable. Best of all, unlike many of the other most popular commenting systems, it is still absolutely free!
As the number of blogs and web news sources increases exponentially every day, more and more people are relying on news aggregators to keep up with their daily reading. If you want like-minded people to find your content, you will want to create and publish your own RSS feeds and make them available to the RSS channel directories, thereby increasing the right kind of traffic to your blog. If you are totally new to the whole RSS thing, read this excellent introductory article first, to avoid panic attacks later. It took me a little while to figure out, but eventually I found ways to create my own RSS feeds, without having any special software installed on my server.
Option 1: Scraping
If you have no HTML skills whatsoever and no webspace on which to store your RSS/XML files, there are a couple of places that will automatically generate an RSS feed for you by “scraping” all the html content of your published blog. All you have to do is enter the URL of your blog in a web form, and the rest is done for you. Sound too good to be true? Afraid so. The results are generally pretty inaccurate: myRSS, for example, is a snap to use, but so far it has only managed to index my offsite links while totally missing the permalinks to my own posts – not much help to me really. The best I have found in this category is Blogstreet’s RSS Generator – on the plus side, the feed items do correspond to actual blog posts; unfortunately, however, the title field is ignored. This means that you end up with RSS feed titles based on the first 6 or 7 words of the body of the post, which looks pretty shoddy. So either get very creative about your opening sentences, insert the titles of your posts manually giving them heading style tags, or go for option 2…
Option 2: Fully Manual
If you are patient and get a perverse thrill out of hand coding (who, me?), it is actually pretty basic to manually create your own RSS 0.91 feed. To get started, use this code generator. Then it’s just a matter of copying and pasting the resultant code into notepad, saving the file with an .rss extension, and uploading it to your own server. Voila! On subsequent blog updates, simply replace the titles, permalinks and descriptions with your fresh content. With this option you obviously need some accessible webspace somewhere (i.e. other than blogspot) to store the feed so it can be accessed by news aggregator software. Content-wise, the big advantage is that you can filter out any trivial or link-only posts, creating a better quality and more usable newsfeed.
Whichever option you choose, the next thing to do is to submit your newsfeed to the RSS directories. The three best known right now are Syndic8.com, Feedster, and NewsIsFree. The Weblogs Compendium has a great list of RSS directories and newsreader software, as well as more than enough RSS resources to curdle your brain (presuming, once again, that you are not a SuperGeek). It is also a good idea to add the link to your RSS feed in the Autodiscovery element of your Blogger template (this helps news aggregators find your newsfeeds automatically). One final note: make sure you validate your newsfeed before submitting it anywhere.
Pings and Trackbacks
If you want to make sure that those A-list trackback-enabled bloggers know when you quote them, disagree with them, or shower them with sycophantic compliments, you will need to “ping” them when one of your posts refers to one of theirs. This has to be done manually if you have a blogger-powered weblog, but all is not lost: I found an elegant little stand-alone trackback ping form called Wizbang Trackback that works every time. Just make sure you enter the trackback URL (not the permalink) of the post you have referred to, and use your power for good instead of evil – don’t spam or you will suffer the flames of hell. If more MT bloggers follow Burning Bird’s example and include trackback forms with each post on their blogs, life will become even easier for the rest of us.
Speaking of pings, weblogs.com produces a “recently updated” list that is passed on to a plethora of blog indices and databases. Predictably, blogger is pretty slack at automatically pinging them, so it is best to do it manually when you publish a new post. You simply need to fill in the weblogs.com ping form. But to save doing this every time, here’s a neat trick: complete the form and submit it once. When the result is returned, highlight the URL in your address bar, then drag it (or copy and paste it) into your links bar or favourites. Next time you want to ping weblogs.com, click the link – no formfilling required. nifty.
I don’t claim this is an exhaustive list, and I’d love to hear of better solutions people have come up with – leave a comment to let me know.