For some time now I have been intending to put some material together relating my blogging experiences since I began blogging in 2004 and that led to me submitting a session for SQLBits recently where I intended to do just that. That didn’t get enough votes to allow me to present however so instead I resolved to write a blog post about it and Simon Sabin’s recent post Blogging – how do you do it? has prompted me to get around to completing it. So, here I present a compendium of tips that I’ve picked up from authoring a fair few blog posts over the past 6 years.
Feedburner.com is a service that can consume your blog’s default RSS feed and provide another, replacement, feed that has exactly the same content. You can then supply that replacement feed on your blog site for other people to consume in their RSS readers. Why would you want to do this? Well, two reasons actually:
- It makes your blog portable. If you ever want to move your blog to a different URL you don’t have to tell your subscribers to move to a different feed. The feedburner feed is a pointer to your blog content rather than being a copy of it.
- Feedburner will collect stats telling you how many people are subscribed to your feed, which RSS readers they use, stuff like that. Here’s a sample screenshot for http://sqlblog.com/blogs/jamie_thomson/:
It also tells you what your most viewed posts are:
Web stats like these are notoriously inaccurate but then again the method of measurement here is not important, what IS important is that it gives you a trustworthy ranking of your blog posts and (in my opinion) knowing which are your most popular posts is more important than knowing exactly how many views each post has had.
This is just the tip of the iceberg of what Feedburner provides and I recommend every new blogger to try it!
Monitor subscribers using Google Reader
If for some reason Feedburner is not to your taste or (more likely) you already have an established RSS feed that you do not want to change then Google provide another way in which you can monitor your readership in the shape of their online RSS reader, Google Reader. It provides, for every RSS feed, a collection of stats including the number of Google Reader users that have subscribed to that RSS feed.
This is really valuable information and in fact I have been recording this statistic for mine and a number of other blogs for a few years now and as such I can produce the following chart that indicates how readership is trending for those blogs over time:
[Good news for my fellow SQLBlog bloggers.]
As Stephen Few readily points out, its not the numbers that are important but the trend.
Search Engine Optimisation (SEO)
SEO (or “How do I get my blog to show up in Google”) is a massive area of expertise which I don’t want (and am unable) to cover in much detail here but there are some simple rules of thumb that will help:
- Title – Search engines take notice of web page titles as well so make them specific and descriptive (e.g. “Configuring dtsConfig connection strings”) rather than esoteric and meaningless in a vain attempt to be humorous (e.g. “Last night a DJ saved my ETL batch”)!
- Title(2) – Make your title even more search engine friendly by mentioning high level subject areas, not dissimilar to Twitter hashtags. For example, if you look at all of my posts related to SSIS you will notice that nearly all contain the word “SSIS” in the title even if I had to shoehorn it in there by putting it in square brackets or similar. Another tip, if you ARE putting words into your titles in this artificial manner then put them at the end so that they’re not that prominent in search engine results; they’re there for the search engines to consume, not for human beings.
- Images – Always add titles and alternate text (ALT attribute) to images in your blog post. If you use Windows 7 or Windows Vista then you can use Live Writer (which Simon recommended) makes this easy for you.
- Headings – If you want to highlight section headings use heading tags (e.g. <H1>, <H2>, <H3> etc…) rather than just formatting the text appropriately – again, Live Writer makes this easy. These tags give your blog posts structure that is understood by search engines and RSS readers alike. (I believe it makes them more amenable to CSS as well – though that’s not something I know too much about). If you check the HTML source for the blog post you’re reading right now you’ll be able to scan through and see where I have used heading tags.
- Microsoft provide a free tool called the SEO Toolkit that will analyse your blog site (for free) and tell you what things you should change to improve SEO. Go read more and download for free at Search Engine Optimization Toolkit. Did I mention that it was free?
- If you are including code in your blog post then ensure it is formatted correctly. Use SQL Server Central’s T-SQL prettifier for formatting T-SQL code.
- Use images and videos. Personally speaking there’s nothing I like less when reading a blog than paragraph after paragraph of text. Images make your blog more appealing which means people are more likely to read what you have written.
- Be original. Don’t plagiarise other people’s content and don’t simply rewrite the contents of Books Online.
- Every time you publish a blog post tweet a link to it. Include hashtags in your tweet that are more likely to grab people’s attention.
- Use the correct terminology. You are currently reading a blog post that was posted on my blog. There's nothing more annoying to me than someone saying "I've just published a blog". No you haven't, you have just published a blog post - there is a difference.
That’s probably enough for now - I hope this blog post proves useful to someone out there. If you would appreciate a related session at a forthcoming SQLBits conference then please let me know.
UPDATE 2011-01-08: Paul Randal has written an excellent post sharing some more tips for would-be SQL Server bloggers at So you want to blog about SQL Server?.
This will likely be my last blog post for 2010 so I would like to take this opportunity to thank everyone that has commented on, linked to or read any of my blog posts in that time. 2011 is shaping up to be a very interesting for SQL Server observers with the impending release of SQL Server code-named Denali and I promise I’ll have lots more content on that as the year progresses. Happy New Year.