Author: Antonio Cangiano
Publisher: Pragmatic Bookshelf
Aimed at: Developers and technically-minded entrepreneurs
Pros: Readable style, helpful tips and interesting case studies
Cons: May paint too optimistic a picture
Reviewed by: Sue Gee
Blogging has the potential to change your life - that's the premise of this book. Does it make its case?
In the introduction, Antonio Cangiano states "I imagine my ideal readers to be developers and technically-minded entrepreneurs who are blogging about software development and business-related subjects" - so his audience fits well here.
The book's introduction really should be Chapter 1 as many people often skip the prelims imagining that they aren't properly a part of the main work. In this case the introduction forms an integral part and is worth your full attention. Having made the case that "Blogging Isn't Dead" it briefly lists the benefit you can hope to achieve from blogging:
Blogging can advance your career - by helping to make you more in demand and able to command better rates
Blogging can help you become notorious - in the best possible sense
Blogging can help you earn extra income.
The author is a bit apologetic about mentioning economic benefits, anticipating criticism from some readers who may feel such concerns are demeaning. However the justification he gives is absolutely spot on - any time you devote to blogging has cost associated with it. Either it takes away time in which you could be earning money or it takes away time you could be spending with your family - and I would add to this time you could designate your own time. As anyone who has started a blog will know it is hard to justify devoting large chunks of your life to something that has no tangible benefits to anyone else who would like part of your time!
If you start a blog to promote a business the benefits are easier to quantify - it can find new customers, build loyalty and find new employees, partners and investors.
Moving on to the main book it has a very logical structure:
Part I Plan It
Part II Build It
Part III Promote It
Part IV Benefit from It
Part V Scale It
Chapter 1 tackles the question "What Kind of Blog Are You Going to Run, and offers the choices solo versus collective, general versus niche and pundits versus instructional with the extra category of business blogs. There are some one line tips scattered through the text and in this chapter they are:
Tip 1 Collective blogs can benefit greatly from an editor-in-chief.
Tip 2 Don't betray your readers' expectations.
Tip 3 Do one thing, but do it well.
This chapter sets an anecdotal tone, drawing on the author's own experience and that of other bloggers and leaves you to make your own decisions
Chapter 2 is about planning, including defining goals for your blog and analyzing the size of the niche you intend to fill using Google Trends. As well as tips, this chapter has a Case Study section listing some popular tech blogs and the reasons why people read them. It's worth knowing that the URLs in this book are collected together at technicalblogging.com/links which is a useful resource for any reader who want to benefit from lessons to be learned by examining these examples.
One of the sections I found interesting in this chapter was readership expectations. We are told readership can be evaluated by various metrics including visitors, pageviews and the number of subscribers, either via feed or email, that you can expect to attract in the first year of blogging. It is subscribers that is chosen as it "tends to be a less transient measure of popularity".
Less than 100 is regarded as "still struggling, need to improve strategy", 100-500 off to a decent start; 500-1000 "Above average readership" and also the sort of figures the author expects his readers to achieve. Over 1000 in the first year counts as a "very successful blog"
At this point to chapter moves to the practical matter of choosing and registering a domain name.
Moving on to Part II, there's a chapter on Setting Up Your Blog. The recommended route is to use the open-source WordPress.org but two alternatives are mentioned - static site generators such as Jekyll or Octopress; and blogging services such as WordPress.com, TypePad and others. Blogger is the one recommended to those without an IT background or who want to test things out before committing to a hosting service.
Choosing a hosting service is the next topic and in my opinion Cangiano doesn't really convey the complexity of this decision where you need to balance how much you can afford to pay for hosting with issues of scalability if your blog is a success. He does advise "Spending as little as you can on hosting in the beginning is the key to keeping your blogging expenses to a minimum before your blog has proven itself and he does mention that he was himself kicked out of shared hosting for having to much traffic. He suggests Cloud Computing, epitomized by Amazon AWS, as a solution that gives flexibility for coping with traffic spikes and there's more to say on this topic - sadly it's not explored further in this book.
Next we get into the details of configuring your domain name and installing and configuring WordPress and enhancing WordPress with plug-ins.
Chapter 4 is on Customizing and Fine-Tuning your blog and covers a number of issues with reference to WordPress
Picking a professional them
Enabling Tracking of Site visitors - with details of Google Analytics and Clicky.
Next it discusses customizing your sidebar to promote your site and get users to subscribe. After a section "Encourage Social Media Sharing" covering the Facebook, Twitter and Google +1 plus Reddit and Hacker News it returns to the topic of attracting subscribers and discussed Feedburner and distributing an email newsletter. Other topics in this almost 30-page chapter are disclaimers, SEO and improving performance using caching.
Chapter 5 is about creating content - with one of the tips being "Write epic content you'd love to read yourself and it has lists of do's and dont's and ideas for what to write about. The main interest for anyone who already has a blog is the case study in this chapter of the author's math related blog, math-blog.com for which he shares statistics not only about the best and worst performing articles but also where the traffic (a total of over a million visitors) came from.
Chapter 6 "Producing Content Regularly" confronts a question that most bloggers face - how often do they need to post new material. It also explores how to overcome writer's block and considers getting others to write for you.
We move next to Part III and in Chapter 7 look at Promoting Your Blog. First it dispels the idea that creating a blog is all you need to do - marketing it is a very necessary step. After a review of On-page and Off-page SEO it looks at tactics including guest blogging on other blogs and promoting your articles on social networks and social news sites such as Reddit, Hacker News and DZone. It also uncovers the "dark side of online marketing.
Chapter 8 is a helpful one on Understanding Traffic Statistics with reference to Google Analytics and Clicky Statistics and Chapter 9 is on Building a Community Around Your Blog - including suggestions such as Start a Forum, Start a wiki, hold office hours, organize chat grips and infiltrate other communities. Several pages are devoted to the types of criticism you can expect and how to deal with it.
For many readers it is Part IV on how to benefit from a blog that will be of most interest. Chapter 10 is on making money and in covering advertising looks in some detail at Google AdSense and then lists some alternatives and then considers the disadvantages for a technology blog of having any advertising. Next it looks at the idea of sponsorship and then affiliate programs, in particular Amazon Associates. The chapter concludes with a breakdown of the revenue the author made across his various sites in a single month which made me think it must be well worth reading his advice. Chapter 11 is about ways to use a blog to promote a business and Chapter 12 is about other ways to take advantage of it – improving your writing skills; advancing your career and obtaining freebies. There’s also a useful list of situations that might crop up as a result of having a successful blog – from students asking for help with homework, through being asked to speak at conferences to people trying to purchase links on your site with advice about what to do.
Assuming you are successful, perhaps even to the extent of making money from your blog, you may decide you want to make it grow bigger. This is dealt with in Part V Scale It, specifically in Chapter 13. This has advice on how to hire a team of bloggers to join you, even discussing rates of pay and where to look online to recruit them and also on building a blogging empire by spawning more blogs from the initial one.
Chapter 14 turns to a more general topic - that of establishing yourself on social media networks. It has lots of useful advice bit also reveals just what a lot of effort is required. A sentence in its final What’s Next section conveys this clearly:
Get started as soon as possible, because building a solid presence on social media properties can take several months.
The final chapter is just two pages encouraging you to try blogging out, giving a list of blogs to follow and contact details for the author himself so that readers can connect him.
This book is full of detail and if you have recently started a blog or are considering taking this step it is well worth a careful read. And make sure you don’t skip the Introduction!