Author: Charlie White and John Biggs
Publisher: Focal Press
Aimed at: Novice bloggers and those contemplating blogging
Pros: Readable, interesting and helpful
Cons: Probably not the only book needed by beginner
Reviewed by: Sue Gee
How well does this book live up to its subtitle, "Learning How to Build, Write, and Run a Successful Blog"?
It's unusual for a book review on I Programmer to say much, if anything, about the authors of a book.
But in the case of a book about blogging knowing what website they are involved in seems important. The book's introduction gives two personal introductions to John Biggs who now runs CrunchGear, the gadget website owned by AOL having started his career as a technical editor on Laptop, a print magazine and who started blogging for Gizmodo, where, in 2005 he hired co-author Charlie White, who had already been writing about technology on the web for a decade. Charlie is now Senior Editor at Mashable, one of the most popular and influential website. Between them they claim over 20,000 posts and so their credentials to write this book are rock solid.
The book will be useful for those contemplating and blog and for novice bloggers and has a logical structure. Chapter 1, The Niche, is about finding the right topic. To a certain extent unless you have something you want to write about then this book is not for you. But given that you have something in mind, the advice will help you focus. It ask you to answer four questions including Who are you? and What are you passionate about?
Chapter 2 Getting Started helps you find the right tools for the job it opens with a section on HTML and then moves on to finding an available domain name and gives some help in devising a good one by putting together pairs of words and recommending GoDaddy as a domain name registrar. It moves on to listing a handful of ready-made platforms and then looks at WordPress and tumblr. It briefly mentions the ideas of having your own domain name rather than being a subdomain and hosting your own server, which is "outside the scope of this book". The final ten pages of the chapter has a brief run down of "Tools of the Trade" from computer and Internet connection to a bag to carry it all in, mentioning image editing software, digital camera and camcorder and voice recognition software along the way. The real beginner would probably need to whole book devoted to the topics included in this chapter.
In the next chapter the authors turn to essential blogging skills - and start by looking at writing, or rather by suggesting that the first step towards becoming a good writer is reading. They go on to say that:
"Bloggers are journalists but writing a blog post is not the same as conventional journalism. The best bloggers craft their text to be tight and scannable,"
The next instruction is "you must write a minimum of 1,000 words a day" and this section concludes with the motto ABP - Always Be Posting". Well there's a lot to be said for that if you are building a blog but it is a hard instruction to follow, especially when the analytics are telling you that virtually no one is reading what you are writing. The chapter then goes into practicalities on interviewing, note-taking, text editing and layout where it goes into the rudiments of HTML. Photography is its next topic where it is again prescriptive - images should be exactly as wide as your blog column - and the chapter ends with a long section on videography which includes tips on when to use video and how to shoot video.
Chapter 4, called Hello, World is about launching your blog and advises "First, define yourself" and advises preparing a 1-minute introduction giving some examples, including a sample first post produced by John Biggs for the launch of CrunchGear. The chapter ends with a list of contact points you should establish to let people contact you. Google Analytics is listed here, alongside AIM, Microsoft Messenger, Google Chat, Twitter, Facebook and You Tube. The rationale is the Google Analytics shows where your visitors are coming from but in this list it stands out as the odd one out.
In Chapter 5, What to Write About the authors share "a little secret: Most bloggers are finding news items on the web, and then rewiring those stories with their own byline at the top". In fact they are not advocating this practice - instead they are encouraging bloggers to "go further than simply paraphrasing news" by adding opinion to the mix. This chapter includes strategies for finding news with advice on building an RSS feed, using Twitter as a source, checking Google Trends, getting on press lists, attending conferences, trade shows plus getting invites to dinners and events. Because of the nature of their own blog, covering computer hardware and gadgets there's a section on review units and the chapter ends with Ten Questions to Ask Before Posting - which should perhaps have more prominence.
Chapter 6 "How to Write a Blog Post" goes into details. It first asks "When Should Your Post? “The answer is, every day but not all at once - ideally once per hour. It has a useful section on headlines, which are something that blog writers have to get right. One point it doesn't make however, is how to write headlines that will be picked up by bots as well as by humans. The book does cover bots and the problems of SEO (search engine optimization) but not until Chapter 8. Grammar Goofs, some "Finer Points", types of post and the advice "Find a Graphic for Every Post" are all in Chapter 6.
For any reader who has already embarked on a blog it is the remaining four chapters that will be of the most interest. Chapter 7 is a short one about coping with comments and spam and how to deal with situations in which you have upset your visitors.
Chapter 8 has the promising title “Building Traffic, Making Money and Measuring Success”. The authors open the chapter by dismissing the idea of search engine optimization – their route to success is to “write good stuff” but they then include a section on SEO from Eli Feldblum, CEO of RankAbove which keywords and how spiders (the bots that crawl the web) work. Then comes advice about using social media and running contests. This is the chapter in which analytics is discussed and in the “How to Make Money” section there’s discussion of ad sales, donations and merchandising.
Chapter 9, Ethics Problems and How to Solve Them goes from libel and slander to whether you should accept freebies and the authors are at pains to ensure that the hard-won integrity of blogging is maintained. The final chapter has the title “Building an Empire” and looks at coping with success and how to expand by finding other people to blog for you or with you and become a blogger boss. The book concludes with an appendix of tips and tricks including seven ways to enhance your blogging efficiency all of which I can agree with.
This book can’t ensure success as a blogger, and the complete beginner probably needs additional practical and technical help, but it has a lot of good, realistic advice delivered in a readable and accessible style. Recommended.