Running a French Holiday Gite in Rural Brittany

Friday, December 12, 2008

Google Reader (and Geoffrey's) useful tips for Blog/Website developers

Google Reader
I came across a useful page in Google reader help the other day, a set of Google Reader Tips for Publishers.

Among the useful tips Google Reader provides are:

1. Write useful and engaging content with good headlines to ensure your readers keep coming back for more (hopefully I do this on my blog so 'nuff said!)

2. Implement your feed in either RSS or Atom format (but not both) and to ensure you use a feed validator to check that you've formatted it correctly.

I use the excellent Feedburner service for our Gite Blog (now owned by Google) which automatically detects and provides the feed in the right format according to what program the end reader is using to read the Blog.

3. Make it easier for your reader to find your Blog with feed "auto-discovery".
Simply include a <LINK rel=alternate type="application/rss+xml" ...> line in the header section of your Blog and website pages and modern browsers such as Firefox and IE will auto-magically enable you to quickly subscribe to your conent.

All our website pages contain <LINK rel=alternate type="application/rss+xml" title="Our Weblog of Running a French Holiday Gite in Rural Brittany" href="">

4. Include feed subscription buttons so with one-click the reader can subscribe to your blog in their favourite reader.
Unsurprisingly there's webmaster help provided by Google on how to provide a button to join Google Reader, but if you look round most of the other main feed readers the instructions are fairly easy to find.

I do suggest you don't go overboard with subscription icons though, one blog I know of has some 30+ icons on the bottom of each posting which to my mind looks just overkill, untidy and overboard. We have 'Add to Yahoo', 'Add to Newsgator' and (just added yesterday) 'Add to Google' buttons on this Blog, and over on the Gite website page explaining what RSS is we've also got 'Add to Bloglines', 'Add to MyMSN' and 'Add to AOL' buttons.

All good suggestions and fortunately are all ideas that I am already adhering to.

To add to Google's suggestions, here are four of my own:

5. Provide the option for readers to subscribe to your Blog by email.
Many people haven't got the hang of RSS or feed readers so make it easier for them to join in by providing an email subscription mechanism. We use the FeedBlitz service which will automatically email each reader each day with all the new articles posted on your Blog. Our subscription box appears to the right of each Blog page - simply enter your email address and click 'Go', and you can unsubscribe at any time.

Personally I am still split between deciding which method I prefer to read Blogs. I subscribe to 9 different Blogs in my Thunderbird email program but then I receive daily emails from FeedBlitz for about another 18 Blogs. For me I prefer reading all the new postings in one go in one email, but you pays your (no) money, you takes your choice.

6. Keep an eye on where you got your readers from.
As well as established website log tools like Google Analytics which work OK on your Blog there are other niche players dedicated to tracking Blog visitors. One we use is My Blog Log and is now owned by Yahoo. I'll try to write something more about MBL another time.

7. Presentation is everything.
Don't adopt a font or colour scheme that alienates your reader and makes them puke when they visit your site, and equally do take time to customise the default Blog template to make it unique and "you".

It's been an awful long time since I setup this original Blog template and since then Blogger has moved on and is now all "widgetised" so to make more significant changes to the Blog template is going to be a big undertaking for me. Doing this is on my to-do list (somewhere after 'building a railway board for my eldest' but before 'solving world peace') so don't hold your breath waiting for it to happen in the next week or two.

But meanwhile if you want to see how I'm doing the new 'experimental format' Blog is over on Test In Brittany (original name, huh?)

8. Publicise, publicise, publicise!
It's no good having all the best prose and all the best widgets and all the best layout to your Blog if no-one actually finds it. Firstly ensure you notify the main feed directories that you're out there (there's an option in Blogger for instance to notify (ping) when you make a new posting for instance) and then there are literally hundreds of Blog directories out there on the web. Spend time doing a Google search for appropriate keywords and then subscribe yourself to them. I get visitors from,,,,, etc (and they're just the ones starting with 'b').

Also make sure you include your Blog details in your email footer and on other places you comment or write on. I get click-throughs from Flickr, LinkedIn, Blogger itself (where I have written about various new Blogger and Google features) and many many more websites as a result.

So there you go, 8 top-tips. Do comment if you've used any of these yourself or if you've any corker's that I've missed out.



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