1. door Ernst-Jan Pfauth
  2. 5 februari 2009

Dig through the clutter: 40 must-reads for extraordinary bloggers

Don’t you get tired of all those boring “How to be a better writer?”-posts. It’s the same thing all over again, “Have a unique voice”, “Love your commenters”, etcetera, etcetera. To help us all out, I’ve dug through the clutter and selected 36 posts that can help you become an original and all-round problogger. And because vanity is a blogger’s right, I’ve also included four articles by my own hand. Themes are Development & Design, Workflow, Publishing, Inspiration and Comments. Enjoy!

Development & Design

1. WebDesignerWall: WordPress Theme Hacks

WebDesignerWall

Every time when I adjust one of my blog’s design, I refer to the WordPress tricks from webdesigner Nick La. Conditional tags, Feature post highlighting, and thumbnails – I owe them all to Mr. La. Scan the article quickly and refer to it whenever you spice up your blog design.

2. Smashing Magazine: 10 Killer WordPress Hacks

wordpresshacks

Same story here: this is also a good guide to the better WordPress code editing sessions. Especially since this article contains dozens of links to other valuable development posts. Save it in you Delicious for when your blog needs a make over.

3. Yoast: WordPress SEO

wordpress-seo

Some bloggers would argue that search engine optimization (SEO) deserves a special category. I don’t. Only when I’m building a blog, SEO features in my to-do list. WordPress guru Joost de Valk wrote a handy check list for this. Follow all his steps and don’t worry about SEO after that. It’s about the content people.

4. Smashing Magazine: The Secrets Of Grunge Design

Have another look at this blog design and you’ll understand why I’ve featured this grunge post by Smashing Magazine. When working together on the Dutchproblogger.nl design with Odilo Girod, I’ve sent him a couple of these posts. I loved the grunge trend, but wanted an original twist to it. Odilo knew how to handle this request and came up with the powerfull design you’re looking at right now. That’s the challenge in blog design: adopt the trends you love and blend it with your own style.

5. Pro Blog Design: 10 Things to do After Installing WordPress

Darren Rowse, the original problogger from Problogger.net, has set up many side blogs. Have a look at TwiTips to see what I mean. Whenever he spots an extremely popular subject, like Twitter, a blog is created quickly. If you’re like him, refer to this handy WordPress checklist on Pro Blog Design by freelance webdesigner Lee Munroe. He describes then steps you’ll have to take anytime you’re installing a WordPress blog.

6. Rubiqube: Adding Tabs to Your Blog Sidebar

As you might have noticed, the sidebar of this blog is pretty simple. I like it that way, since you won’t get distracted when reading an article. Yet sometimes a blog desperatly needs widgets like “Most Read” and “Recent Comments”. This post on Rubiqube introduced me to a way to prevent chaos in the sidebar. The answer? Tabs! After reading the article you can easily add tabs to your blog with the scripts from the Yahoo! UI Library. You can check out how I’ve used them on the frontpage.

7. Nettuts: Build a Featured Posts Section for WordPress

When working for blogs who welcome ten news posts to the frontpage on a daily basis, one starts searching for ways to highlight posts. At least, that’s what I did. And many others, which explains the magazine trend. Major blogs like Mashable started looking more similar to print magazines in 2008 and this trend will probably continue. If you feel like you should at least welcome a major aspect of the magazine trend, go for the featured post. Never let that great post be topped by a short news article. Nettuts offers a step by step tutorial.

8. Pearsonified: What Every Blogger Needs to Know About Categories

The good thing about hundreds of probloggers sharing their best practices, is that you don’t have to come up with everything yourself. Imaging examing and reviewing every damn aspect of blogs. If that was the case, I would had have to come up with the great categories strategies by Chris Pearson myself. Now I can just read them on Pearsonified and apply plus adjust them to my own blog. Best lesson from the post: “By giving users a list of categories to browse on your site, you are creating a psychological conundrum that usually leaves them with a severe case of analysis paralysis.”

9. Smashing Magazine: Footers in Modern Web Design, Creative Examples and Ideas

bits-pixels

Ok, this blog doesn’t have the most original footer, so why is this post featured in the list? Well, because it shows how far you can take blog design. It’s a fantastic playground, where you can do whatever you like. Especially in places like the footer. It’s a jungle out there. The article also represents the excellent job by Smashing Magazine editors Vitaly Friedman and Sven Lennartz. They have an eye for small trends in blog design and highlight them in a fantastic and thorough way.

10. WordPress Codex: Template Tags

All the articles mentioned in the Design/ Development section of this series are focused on WordPress. It’s simply the best blogging platform out there – mainly because of its seemingly infinite customization options. The WordPress Codex’ Template Tags page represents that for me. Template tags are used within your blog’s Templates to display information dynamically or otherwise customize your blog, providing the tools to make it as individual and interesting as you are. Browse through them and finetune your blog during a rainy Sunday afternoon.

Workflow

11. Zenhabits: The Dirty Little Secrets of Productivity Bloggers

the-dirty-little-secrets-of-productivity-bloggers-zen-habits

“I’ll be the first to admit it. I take naps. I sometimes take a day or two off and feel unmotivated. I will let tasks pile up,” writes Leo Babauta, author of the Top 100 blog zenhabits. He’s part of an online elite called productivity bloggers. These folks pump out high-quality content in an amazing speed and throw around terms like “reached x thousand RSS subscribers in four days” and all that. Although they provide the blogosphere with lots of effective techniques, don’t get all shook up by them. They’re human. Hence this post.

12. ReadWriteWeb: RSS Reset, Dump Your Feeds for a Month

rss-reset_-dump-your-feeds-for-a-month-readwriteweb

Are you tired of the same old stuff flowing through your feeds? Do you feel like you’re not coming any further than Darren Rowse’s writings? You realize there’s more stuff out there and appreciate diversity, but your stuck in your RSS Reader. ReadWriteWeb’s Corvida has a solution: dump all your regular feeds for a month and start working with aggregation sites. Smaller quality blogs will allow you to venture into unexplored territories.

13. Problogger: How Batch Processing Made Me 10 Times More Productive

Do you recognize the following scenario: you spent all day running around and working only to wonder in the evening how much you’ve really done? Problogger Darren Rowse comes to the rescue. In June 2008, he wrote a post describing a technique that has increased his productivity levels incredibly: batching. He organized his working life in such a way that most of the activities that he does are ‘batched’ in one way or another. He has discovered that many ‘urgent’ things can wait and in fact to make them ‘take a number’ and ‘get in line’ brings order to mess. Please read this post, as you’ll definetly become more productive. I promise.

14. The Four Hour Work Week: Interview with Gina Trapani, Founder of Lifehacker

In March 2008, Bestselling-author Tim Ferriss from The 4-hour Workweek interviewed the founding editor of Lifehacker.com, Gina Trapani. She made some interesting remarks on the flexibility of the Getting Things Done approach: “To some degree, I reject the super-structured, old school of time management thought, (..) From 10:45 to 11:15 check email,” etc. As a “web worker,” by nature I embrace serendipity and tangents, and like to keep myself open to working on unexpected things that excite me, even if they’re not in the plan. (..) At the same time, I think a lot of web workers like me can take this to the extreme, and need a dose of structure and limits in their day.” Food for thought, especially when you’re a blogger.

15. DutchProblogger.nl: The self-destructive tendency of bloggers

Take a moment and think about the worst posts you’ve ever written. Got some? Alright.., now go back to the moments you were writing those low-quality posts. Back then, you were probably blogging to fill up space or meet an (imaginary) deadline. Right? Never do that! Only blog when you feel inspired. Otherwise you’ll wind up with poorly-written stuff. And when you do feel inspired, write more than you need to.

16. Bomega: Hiatuses Increasing Aversion Effect

Serial Internet Entrepreneur and founder of The Next Web Boris Veldhuijzen van Zanten thinks the reason most new bloggers stop blogging because of the Hiatuses Increasing Aversion Effect. That’s his own theory, and it basically comes down to the habit of raising the bar for yourself – based on a feeling of guilt. Recognition of a problem is the first step to a solution. So when you’re new to blogging, you might wanna take a moment to read this short article.

17. Web Worker Daily: GTD for Bloggers, The Art of Stress-free Blogging

The GTD standard work is David Allen’s book Getting Things Done. I’ve read it, and you’ve probably read the book too. Some techniques Mr. Lifehacking describes aren’t suitable for bloggers. Their tough schedule, pressure for getting scoops, and the endless comment moderation require different approaches. Hence Leo Babauta wrote an article for Web Worker Daily in which he describes how you can adjust GTD to blogging. Read and learn.

18. Lifehacker: Top 10 Tools to Get Blogging Done

“Writing your blog should be a fun way to stretch your mind and stay connected to trends, friends, and the greater world, not another computer task that takes far too long to get done. But that’s exactly what it can feel like if it takes you more time to find your post ideas, tweak your markup, and make everything look right than to actually get your thoughts down.” Being somewhat experienced at this blogging thing, Lifehacker editors have pinpointed a few tools and tricks that make their posts go faster and smoother. Firefox hacks included.

19. Dutchproblogger.nl: How to process blog-related email Getting Things Done-style

David Allen shares some good email techniques. Yet when you’re a blogger, checking your mail is a slightly different story. So I started thinking about a good way to process my mail, and this is what I came up with.Every time I open a blog-related email I ask myself – like Allen commanded – ‘Can I do this in 2 minutes?’. If so, I do it immediately. If not, I use a handy Label system that prevents from going nuts over email.

20. Locus Magazine: Cory Doctorow, Writing in the Age of Distraction

Earlier in this list I mentioned an interview with lifehacker Gina Trapani. She advised bloggers to go in a closed mode when writing. BoingBoing’s Cory Doctorow elaborates on that with an article in the Lotus Magazine of January 2009. He writes: “We know that our readers are distracted and sometimes even overwhelmed by the myriad distractions that lie one click away on the Internet, but of course writers face the same glorious problem: the delirious world of information and communication and community that lurks behind your screen, one alt-tab away from your word-processor.” Here’s how to prevent that.

Publishing

21. Problogger: 13 Questions to Ask Before Publishing a Post On Your Blog

In the haze of blogging, there’s always a chance you miss an important aspect that might boost the popularity or usefulness. Luckily, one of world’s most expierenced bloggers has made a checklist with thirteen questions to ask before publishing a post on your blog. Print it, frame it, live by it, and only violate one of the rules if you do it purposely.

22. Copyblogger: The Richard Branson Guide to Making Money With Blogs

Copyblogger Brian Clark is famous for his great headlines (I’ve also included a tutorial on headlines by him) and witty posts. The one I’m including in this problogger list, is actually quite short. It would be a great idea to frame this one as well and hang it right next to Problogger’s 13 questions post. Helped by a quote from Richard Branson – I wanted to be an editor or a journalist… but I soon found I had to become an entrepreneur in order to keep my magazine going -, Clark hopes to give you a vital insight.

23. Problogger: 69 Questions to Ask to Review Your Blog

American computer scientist, researcher, and visionary Alan Kay once said: “perspective is worth 80 IQ points”. Look back every once in a while to not lose perspective. Problogger Rowse gives you a helping hand by publishing a longlist of questions you can use during the review process. Save a Saturday for this and think of topics like traffic, content, your niche, design, community, money and technical. Make sure you translate these thoughts in action point and improve your blog drastically.

24. 43folders: What Makes for a Good Blog?

Blog company SixApart asked 43folders’ Merlin Mann what his favorite blogs are. As Mann started thinking about the blogs he has returned to over the years — and the increasingly few new ones that really grabbed his attention — he wants to start with, ironically enough, a list. So Mann compiled one with points he thinks help make for a good blog. Like “Good blogs reflect focused obsessions” and “Good blogs make you want to start your own blog”. Great read – for monthly review.

25. Copyblogger: How to Write Magnetic Headlines

“Your headline is the first, and perhaps only, impression you make on a prospective reader. Without a headline or post title that turns a browser into a reader, the rest of your words may as well not even exist,” that’s how Brian Clark starts this tutorial for writing great headlines. On average, 8 out of 10 people will read headline copy, but only 2 out of 10 will read the rest. That’s why he helps you with templates for effective headlines and tips on finding inspiration and keywords for that incredibly important line.

26. Dosh Dosh: How to Say Nothing in 500 Words (A Lesson on Writing)

The ability to write well is important for anyone who has ever needed to arrange words together to convey ideas or opinions. Well, I think bloggers fit that profile easily. Maki, a Philosophy student in Toronto, is the man behind Dosh Dosh and knows perfectly how to grab people by using the right words. He writes around one post every month and manages to attract thousands of readers with them. Why? Well, partly because he takes the side of the argument that most of the citizens will want to avoid. He also slips out of abstraction. Want to get know more of Maki’s tricks? Read this article.

27. Kurt Vonnegut: How to Write With Style

Kurt Vonnegut was a prolific American author with a clear opinion on writing with style: “Why should you examine your writing style with the idea of improving it? Do so as a mark of respect for your readers, whatever you’re writing. If you scribble your thoughts any which way, your readers will surely feel that you care nothing about them. They will mark you down as an egomaniac or a chowderhead — or, worse, they will stop reading you.” Use the following tips by Vonnegut to give your blog a recognizable and fine tone of voice.

28. The Four Hour Work Week: 7 Reasons to Subscribe

There are tons of articles out there telling you how to boost your number of RSS subscribers. Useless, as the answer is pretty simple: write great content. What’s more valuable, is introducing people to the RSS phenomenon. There’s a huge group of Internet users who are not familiar with the time-saving reading technology. Timothy Ferriss knows how to convince those folks, as you can tell by his RSS page. He highlights the advantages and encourage people to “test” RSS. Click and learn.

29. DutchProblogger.nl: How to get true fans, pick a sentiment

In order to win fans of your blog, pick a certain sentiment and let that echo back in every post you write. I got this idea when I admired the psychedelic pop group MGMT at Lowlands, one of Holland’s most popular music festivals. A friend and I discussed why we thought this band rocked. My friend said he liked the lyrics, which concern topics like freedom, hedonism, anti-establishment, and the use of mind-altering drugs. MGMT represents a lifestyle a lot of urban kids secretly crave – but don’t dare to adopt. By listening to MGMT’s music, thousands fans – including my friend and I – have the feeling they actually are part of this revolutionary wave of kids. This shared sentiment is an important part of MGMT’s recent success. Apply this lesson to the tone of voice of your blog. I did it as well.

30. Wired: Secrets of the 7 Basic Blog Posts

When reading a lot of articles about how you should blog, which formats are the most effective, and how many words you should limit your post too, the stress can become too much. Is there any room left for creativity? Sure! Just don’t take everything too seriously and preserve enough of your own style. Lore Sjöberg proves this with an article on the Wired site. He writes: “In the spirit of oversimplifying things so that you can smugly shove human endeavors into pre-labeled slots, I’d like to present my own, contemporary take on this premise: the Seven Basic Blog Posts.”

Inspiration

31. GapingVoid: How to be creative

It has been twenty years when Hugh MacLeod started drawing his “squiggly” cartoons and a decade when he decided to draw them on the back of business cards. It was the consequence of a “creative bug” he had. For him, this bug led to a lot of great work and experiences, yet this isn’t a guarantee that it will turn out successfully for everyone. After all, it IS a bug. So in 2004 he decided to write a piece called ‘How to be creative‘. A great read! Especially his remark that creative people should have a “sexy” and a “cash” job helped me a lot. Some work you do is just for the sake of paying the bills, the other is for fun – it’s your creative outlet. When I build a blog for a company, I just do it to pay for my groceries. When I write a post on this blog, I do it because I love it.

32. BoomTown: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Learned to Love the Blog: Goodbye Dead Trees!

Kara Swisher started covering digital issues for The Wall Street Journal’s San Francisco bureau in 1997 and also wrote the BoomTown column about the sector. Halfway 2007, she said goodbye to printmedia and focused on her blog. At the beginning of 2008, she wrote: “I think it is safe to say that I will probably never write another thing professionally for a print publication and will spend the rest of my career–such that it will be–publishing online only.” Though I don’t agree with her “dead trees” comments – news papers are here to stay -, her story about blogging is inspiring.

33. TechCrunch: Six Months In, And 600 Posts Later . . . The Worlds Of Blogging and Journalism Collide (In My Brain)

Before Erick Schonfeld started writing for world’s largest techblog TechCrunch, he already covered startups and technology news for 14 years. After six months of blogging, the former journalist wrote: “The journalist in me has been avoiding this post (too navel-gazing, too self-absorbed), but the blogger in me can’t help it. Media is changing—how it is produced and how it is consumed. The worlds of blogging and journalism are colliding and I want to get some thoughts down on this transition before I forget what the old world was like or feel too comfortable in the new one.” He then continues describing the growing influence of blogs, his 24/7 addiction to blogging, and the mantra of the TechCrunch crew: “We live or die by how fast we can post after a story breaks, if we can’t break it ourselves”. A must-read for every (tech)blogger.

34. Liako.Biz: The makings of a media mogul: Michael Arrington of TechCrunch

In December 2008, Technologist Elias Bizannes wrote an extensive article about the success of Michael Arrington, the man behind TechCrunch: “Compared to his peers/competitors, he joined the game quite late, and yet he is absolutely smashing them. Same software in some cases and same focus. The question is, what did Arrington do that others didn’t?” The analysis by Bizannes is both interesting and motivating. You know the deal, sort of the American Dream kind of thing. Hard work and luck.

35. Sitepoint: Blogging Isn’t Dead, But Linking May Be Broken

In October 2008, the blogosphere was stirred up by gossip blogger Paul Boutin. In a successful attempt for some linkbait, the Valleywag correspondent announced the death of blogging on Wired.com. Thousands of emotional articles from angry bloggers followed. Sitepoint’s Josh Cantone put aside his emotions and wrote an excellent post about a phenomenon that IS threatening the blogosphere: information silos. Some blogs have stopped linking to other sources and focus on previous work instead. Cantone wrote: “The blogosphere was built on links, and it if wants to avoid the death that Boutin so prematurely announced, bloggers must continue to link to one another and not create silos around their information.”

36. The Blog Herald: More Tips for Conference Blogging

I’ve done a lot of live blogging at The Next Web, the European tech blog. Although the last gig, Le Web with Boris, was some good old geeky rock ‘n’ roll – my best live blogging experience took place at The Next Web Conference. I teamed up with Anne Helmond. We chose a good spot in the front, sat down next to TechCrunch’s Erick Schonfeld and blew the blog away. We covered every talk and session out there. Want to know about our secret? Read Anne’s post on The Blog Herald and some tips on the very blog you’re looking at right now.

34. OnlineJournalismBlog.com: Starting a blog? 12 ideas for blog posts

Having a popular blog is great. But starting one is pretty damn difficult. Most people complain about a lack of inspiration. Well, here’s Paul Bradshaw to the rescue. This British blogger is currently writing a chapter on blogging for a book on online journalism. It includes twelve typical blog post types to kick start ideas. It includes “Blog an event”, “Suggest an idea”, “Pick a Fight”, and, here’s the best one, “Let someone else post”. Paul is a great guy who left an impression at the international blog conference in Amsterdam, BLOG08. He knows exactly how to maintain a personal blog. So if I were you, I’d click on the link below.

35. Lost Art of Blogging: The Homeric Way of Blogging: Storytelling

“The Lost Art of Blogging” must be one of the best names ever made up for a blog about blogging. It has a certain sentiment, sounds like an adventure movie, and presents the blog immediately as a place where experts write. You expect writings like these: “I feel like the storytelling element in blogs is growing ever thin, with more and more blogs going on a more blunt approach, way too direct and to the point. I read a lot of marketing and tech blogs, and while they’re very good, they don’t really have substance; they all feel somewhat the same. I’ve noticed the same thing in most niches, too.” The writer then mentions Homer, the ancient Greek poet, and continues with some practical tips (all accompanied by examples of Homer). Classic stuff.

36. BBC News: Bedtime for Gonzo?

“Championed by Tom Wolfe, Truman Capote, Norman Mailer and Thompson himself, New Journalism blurred the old distinctions between journalism and creative writing”, wrote the BBC when Hunter S Thompson past away in early 2005. During the Sixties and decades after that, Thompson practiced the art of Gonzo journalism. “Where Tom Wolfe politely declined an acid tab in his iconic Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, Hunter S Thompson denied himself nothing.” He went all the way for his stories – of which Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas is the most well-known. I think that we, bloggers, can learn a lot from this great writer. Thompson showed us how to combine creativity with reporting. And that’s exactly what blogging is about.

Comments

37. The Guardian: What is the 1% rule?

All the bloggers immediately know what I’m talking about if I start complaining that readers don’t comment. A famous study by Jakob Nielsen in October 2006 showed that only one percent of a blog’s visitors contribute to the comments section on a regular basis: “In most online communities, 90% of users are lurkers who never contribute, 9% of users contribute a little, and 1% of users account for almost all the action”. The Guardian has some background you have to know before reading on.

38. Dutchproblogger.nl: Getting readers to comment by writing an unfinished blog post

Tempt people to comment by leaving things out. Make sure your blog post has an open ending, don’t give away everything you have to say. An article is only complete when it includes a discussion with visitors. During that discussion you can give away your last arguments in order to discover the opinions of your readers.

39. Problogger: 10 Techniques to Get More Comments on Your Blog

As you’ve read in the above post, only 1 out of every 100 readers comment on your blog. Luckily, Darren Rowse knows some techniques that have helped him tremendously the last couple of years: Invite Comments, Ask Questions, Be Open Ended, Interact with comments left, Set Boundaries, Be humble, Be gracious, Be controversial, ‘Reward’ Comments and Make it Easy to Comment. To give you an idea, this actual post attracted 626 comments.

40. Lost Art of Blogging: The Comment Etiquette: The Guide to Proper Blog Commenting

“Commenting has been used as a promotional tool for years and guess what, it still works like a charm. However if you truly want tot harness the fruits of blog commenting you have to know how to properly do it.”, writes young internet entrepreneur Tibi Puiu on The Lost Art of Blogging. He outlines a few unwritten principles of proper blog commenting, that are based more on common sense, then on any particular social skill. He’s right, commenting IS a great way of getting more exposure. Don’t approach it like some sort of spam, but follow the advice of this young rock star.

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