When Katie Green shot this, I had just been fixing blogs and ranting about better marketing practices for about 5 hours straight. So I was a little manic in the moment. Enjoy!

I’m stepping off my soapbox now.

Correction: I misspoke on one point in this interview: I haven’t “been to all of the major BlogHer conferences except for the first one” — I’ve also missed the BlogHer Business conferences. Sorry about that.

The BlogHer Geek Lab in Washington, DC was loaded with questions about how to improve a blog and increase its reach.  I ended up on my soapbox more times than I expected, ranting about misinformation and imploring bloggers to rethink their strategies.

I’m summarizing most of my rants below because I think they’ll be helpful to some people.  Please keep in mind that I’m coming at this from my own experience.  I’m not an “ad revenue” blogger, and there are plenty out there who can give you tips on what they’ve done to be successful. I encourage you to go talk to them, too.

The Goals Rant

If you ask me, “How can I make my blog better?” I’m going to ask you what “better” means.  What are your goals? If you don’t know, stop whatever you’re doing right now and figure them out.  Here are some common ones:

I want to…

  • express myself in a creative, positive way.
  • vent my frustrations in a safe and constructive way.
  • work through some challenging issues.
  • document a process or experience.
  • create a space for myself that’s separate from my daily life.
  • establish a certain kind of reputation.
  • convey a certain tone and aesthetic.
  • serve a certain community in a certain way.
  • build a community that supports me.
  • make money with ads and affiliate revenue.
  • find new work/jobs/clients/customers.
  • maintain my existing work/jobs/clients/customers.
  • give friends and family a way to keep track of me.
  • keep track of my thoughts and the interesting things I’ve found on the web.

If you have a lot of these goals (and hopefully some others I haven’t named yet), that’s great!  Now you need to prioritize them. Which ONE do you care about first and foremost? How about second? Third? Fourth? Lay them all out in order — NO TIES! It’s fine if your priorities change in the future, but you need to be honest with yourself about what they are right now.

Once you’ve got that, you’ll know what “better” means. And you’ll probably be able to brainstorm about 20 answers to your original question without any help from me now, too.

The Money Rant

So you want to make money from blogging, and you’ve heard that ad revenue is the way to go.  That’s great and I completely support you, but let’s talk about it for a minute.

Read the rest of this entry »

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We had a steady stream of conversations and template hacking in the Geek Lab at BlogHer Boston yesterday. Here were some of the major questions that came up (and my quick-version answers, for those hacking at home):

Q: How can I find photos that are okay to blog?

A: Here’s a trick: go to Flickr’s Advanced Search page and scroll to the very bottom. Check the box that reads “Only search within Creative Commons licensed content.” If you’re planning to use the picture on something you’re selling, also check the “commercial use” box. If you’re planning to edit the picture, also check the “modify, adapt” check box. Then scroll back up to the search term box and run your search as usual. All of the photos that come up will be ones you can legally use on your blog. Most will require “attribution”, which means you should clearly display the username of the person who originally uploaded it and include a link back to the Flickr page the photo lives on.

Q: What’s RSS? What’s a blog reader? What should I be doing with these?

A: I’m just gonna cheat right now and show you the Common Craft video:

Q: How can I give my readers a way to receive automatic updates about my blog posts by email?

A: There are a few different ways to do this, and today we used Feedburner. Go to Feedburner.com, create an account, and follow their instructions to create a Feedburner RSS feed for your blog. Then go to the “Publicize” tab, click “Email Notifications,” and activate it. Follow their instructions to put the subscription form (or a link to it) on your blog. (Hint: we figured out that if you’re using WordPress.com, you have to use the link instead of the subscription form.)

Q: How do I add a link or an image to a blog post?

A: If you’re just starting to blog, creating posts that look the way you want can be a pain. So before you go any further, get to know the toolbar at the top of your text box. It’s usually a series of buttons, starting with bold and italic, and moving on to lists, text alignment, links, images, and other nifty bells and whistles. Just poke around and figure out what they all do. The one for creating a link is usually a picture of a metal chain link, or a globe, or both (I know, it’s weird and non-intuitive, but they were trying to be metaphorical…). The option for adding an image will usually give you two options: upload from your hard drive or enter the URL to a photo that’s already somewhere on the web.

Q: How do I add stuff to my sidebars? What if I have to work with code?

A: If you’re using WordPress, try going to Presentation -> Widgets. If you’re using Blogger, try Layout -> Page Elements. If you’re using Typepad, try Design -> Select Content. Assuming your template supports it, you can usually get away with simple drag-and-drop customizing that will let you do really neat stuff.

You may find yourself needing to use HTML and/or CSS to make it work the way you want it to, though. This can get tricky, but don’t worry, it’s not the end of the world. If you’ve used HTML before, refresh your memory by checking out the HTML Cheat Sheet. If you’d like to learn some new skills from scratch, check out some of the tutorials available for HTML and CSS — they’re free. If you want do some deep customization but you don’t want to touch any code, consider hiring someone who knows what they’re doing to help you. And if you don’t want to touch code and you don’t want to spend money, it’s probably time to switch to a better free template.

Q: I want to customize my blog more! How do I switch to WordPress software?

A: Great! First, make sure you really want to do this. It’s a lot like moving into a new house — you’re going to feel discombulated for a while, but if it’s worth it, it’s worth it.

To get started, you need a domain name and a hosting account. A number of attendees highly recommended Bluehost.com as a place to get both of these, but there are many options. (Sidenote: a good place to research a hosting company’s reputation is the Web Hosting Forum.)

Once you’ve got that all set up, go to WordPress.org and download the most recent version of the software. It’ll be a large file, and you should unzip it and upload it to your new hosting account via FTP (your host can tell you how to do this). Then go to the URL where you think your blog should now be, and you’ll probably see an installation page. Follow the instructions and pay careful attention when it asks you about importing content from an existing blog. That’s the holy grail. After you’ve got your content loaded in, the resources available at WordPress.org will help you start customizing things. This is also when you should start searching the web for free WordPress themes, which is hands-down one of most exciting searches you will ever do.

 

All in all, it was an inspiring day and informative day. I especially loved connecting with (::deep breath::) Naked Anarchists, Lisa Williams, Beth Kanter, Alissa Kriteman, Suzanne Reisman, Dana Rudolph, Sassymonkey, Liz Henry, Kristy, Lisa, Elisa, Jory, and a bunch of others. What a powerful posse of brilliant women!

And now… onto Washington DC!

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This Saturday and Monday, I’ll be organizing the Geek Lab at BlogHer’s Reach Out tour in Boston and Washington DC.

So what’s the Geek Lab? Here’s the official spiel:

Every city on the Reach Out Tour will feature a Geek Lab happening in parallel to the Blogging Basics track and each city’s Custom track. Part OpenSpace, part mentoring program, part hack-fest. If you’re an advanced geek, here’s your all-day Birds of a Feather opportunity. If you’re not an advanced geek, here’s where you’ll find them…and find answers.

Whoever shows up will either get help or give help, or — in the case of most people — both.  I’m going to ask you about your experience levels, remind you that the stuff you already know is immensely valuable, and find out what directions you’re trying to grow in. Then we’ll skip the rest of the small talk and dive immediately into making our blogs better.

Between a core group of traveling smart folks (like blog hacker extraordinaire Liz Henry) and your fellow conference attendees, the Geek Lab will have the resources to help you with pretty much anything you’re looking for.

There’s a palpable energy that builds in the air whenever you get a room full of mostly-women into brainstorming and creative problem-solving mode, especially when technology is involved. It’s exciting and inspiring, and it leaves you with a renewed motivation to hack and revise your entire world.

Here’s what I’ve found from other events like this:

  • If you don’t know what you want help with, you’ll figure it out as soon as you start talking.
  • If you don’t know how you can help other people, you’ll figure it out as soon as they start talking.
  • Getting help is wonderful.
  • Being helpful is one of the most satisfying feelings in the world.

So if you’ll be at the conferences and you’d like some personalized bursts of brilliance, just show up to the Geek Lab, find the woman with the shaved head, and say hello.  The rest will take care of itself.

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If you had unlimited resources (including a team of brilliant developers), and you were building a website that met following requirements, which programming language(s) would you use and why?

  • Spider-web-style map visualizations with drag-and-drop capabilities (in AJAX, not Flash)
  • A large database with lots of cross-references (tagging, stories, user accounts with different levels of connection)
  • High traffic, needs to be fast
  • Clear core requirements, but the expectation that lots of other features will be added in the future

Your answer will aid the widespread rehabilitation of sex on the internet.