SQL Server Blog

How Should I Blog?

Welcome to Part 2 of our walk through some “metablogging” topics. In the first part (Why Should I Blog?, we covered some of the basics from my experience with a year of blogging done. The main goal was to encourage you to share in a blog if it’s something you have been considering. Part 0 was the first of a two-part interview with Brent Ozar about these topics. The second part of the video is available here

Today we’ll talk about some tips and tricks I’ve picked up from others or experienced with this technical blog. Maybe they’ll help you. I’ll also talk about my experiences with Squarespace and WordPress for blogging.

Why Bother With Technical or SEO Tips?

As I discussed in Part 1, my primary motivation in blogging is to help share knowledge. Whether it be a SQL Server tip, some professional development advice or pet peeves that I encounter, the purpose is always to be helpful.

To that end, I want folks to find the content – I want there to be an audience. Not for some narcissistic or financial reason. I just want to engage others and learn with them. So, I like to know how to make sure I am reaching a wide range of people.

A thought occurs to me as I write the above – Content is key. Search engine optimization, link sharing, etc. won’t do you a world of good if you don’t have content. I have posts that bombed, some good initial hits and then nothing. The initial hits were because of feed readers, tweets, trackbacks, etc. Content reigns supreme, though. Take the tips below as something to add on top of content. Don’t take them as expert advice either, just some reflections of lessons I have learned this first year blogging.

Have some more tips? Disagree? Let us know, I am sure folks would appreciate your advice in the comments or a post of your own that tracks back here so people can find your blog as well.

Some Tips I’ve Used This Year

Want folks to link to you? Link to them.

I don’t mean run some sort of extortion game but technical blogging to a community of users should emphasize community. Why are you blogging? If it’s to gain and share knowledge, who cares if a link drives folks to a different perspective or even a better source. Perhaps your reader wouldn’t have found the information without that link.

A new piece of advice I recently received makes sense. Make your links search engine friendly. In the past when sharing a link, I tried to get their twitter handle and blog out there. I would do it this way, “Mike Walsh (Blog|Twitter)” with each being a link. The problem?

Anchor Text – not a lot of contextual information in the link – Search engines have complex formulas to weigh links and a more descriptive link will help their engines see the relevance and add appropriate weight.

For example: That tip came from my friend, Jon DiPietro (JonDiPietro on twitter), who blogs about social networking tips at Domesticating IT. <– Those links are more meaningful to a search engine. Yes you may go there now to learn about Jon, but the search engines will treat those links differently (well they would if I was a much larger blog :-0 baby steps)

Don’t kick people off your site when they follow a link!

Sure what browser doesn’t support “open this link in a new tab” functionality right now. Most people take advantage of that but why risk it? When creating a link, most blogging tools out there allow you to configure the link with an option of “Open Link in New Window”.  There is probably a balance and I can see a flip side of the argument – “I’m an adult, I will know to open in new tab or window if I want to”.  So if you have a link early on and someone clicks links like I do in wikipedia, consider pointing to a new tab to keep your content up there. But again, grabbing attention with good content beats this.

Participate in Tag-Fest “meme” posts, Quizes and Blog Parties

One of my most widely hit posts was when I started a SQL Quiz asking folks to chime in on Things that they know now that they wish they did when they started. I tagged a few people and it took off from there. At last count there were at least 30 responses that I had collected here. All of the posts were great reading, the community learned from the posts and it helped get me a bit more onto people’s radar screens as I was just starting out. Just recently I wrote a post for Adam Machanic’s “blog party” about T-SQL Datetime tips or tricks. One more avenue to help someone and at the same time I get to learn about other blogs and folks learn about this one. Don’t do it for the links, do it for the community and your own growth but enjoy seeing the extra hits and page views you get. It’s okay.

Use the heading tags to reinforce the theme and message

Most blogging software allows you to classify text as normal, H2, H3, etc. When you start a new thought, categorize it with an official heading format. The heading tags are given different or more weight in search engines. Drive home a point in a heading tag or introduce a theme or concept with them. I use H2 to drive a major point and H3 to drive sub points like the “Use the heading tags…” above this normal text.

Use Trackbacks – Good for you, good for them.

If I am writing something relevant to someone else’s post, I should provide a trackback to their content. This allows their readers to come back here to see a continuation or alternative view. Accept trackbacks and don’t delete those trackback comments that pop up on a post. It helps your readers find relevant information. It doesn’t necessarily provide better linking out of the gate in a lot of platforms. Because of spam most trackback or ping links are tagged as nofollow or noindex by blogging platforms. There are plugins to undo this behavior. Not a bad idea to look into doing if you control spam tightly. Why not give someone writing good, related content the bonus from a link? (side thought: With a blogging technical community, that should be the motivation, I think – building the community as a whole. That way when someone bumps into an issue and does a search for help, they can find the right help and links to alternate points.)

Track your progress

Get a Google Analytics account setup. It’s easy to follow the instructions once you get your account going. You verify your site and then the Analytics engine tracks visitors to your site. You can see what content is popular, what search engine traffic is driving visitors and how you are doing over time. Why? You can see what is working and what isn’t. You can see what posts are loved and which ones aren’t. From there you can ask yourself the why question and learn from your missteps. Brent Ozar just recently blogged about finding buried treasure in Google Analytics.

Announce your blog posts to the audience.

Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and other such sites are popular gathering spots for people. If you are a part of your technical community of users on these sites, people want to hear about your posts. They may not hit all of them, but tell them about your posts and they’ll click the link if they need or want that info. Now don’t spam the community, be a part of it and participate in the conversation, the blog posts are a bonus. You can even post a second or third follow-up, lots of time zones involved but don’t flood and bore people with your blog posts. There are plugins for this in WordPress, like pingpress.

What other tips have I discovered to help my blog?

First off. Learn From Successful People

Check out the related/referenced links at the bottom. Learn from those bloggers, learn from the links they provide.

Description meta tags

One flaw in the tool I use to blog with currently just switched from is it is impossible to change these for a blog post. As Brent said in his Blog Better week post on SEO, this is a big help to folks finding your content on the search engines. If you don’t provide a description tag, the particular search engine will generate a description for you from the content and it likely won’t sound that appealing since it doesn’t seem to follow a pattern of where it grabs the data. (This doesn’t increase your position or ranking – It helps explain your point in 1-2 sentences to the person searching for something)

Encourage people to subscribe to your RSS feed

I personally get most of my blogging content through feeds. I have an extensive subscription list in Google Reader and I check it at least once a day. I don’t have time to browse to every blog post out there in a web browser. That being said, when reading a new post I find from a link, I get busy and don’t always remember to click subscribe on a new blog that seems interesting. Every once in a while, a link to your feed in a post is a good reminder of the feed.

Make your blog titles to the point and to the user looking for info

I should read the book Brent suggests in one of his posts I linked above (“Strunk & White’s Guide to Style”). My writing style is informal and mostly a glimpse inside the ongoing monologue into my head. Not quite stream of consciousness but close. It works for me and it works for some posts.

It doesn’t work so well when picking titles, though. Titles show up in search engines. Titles show up in feed readers. The person reading the title scrolling through is making a very quick decision – do I read the first paragraph? Do I skim? Do I ignore it?

Shorter titles that get to the point are great. Also think of how people are searching for information, think about the point you are trying to make and match up a title. For this post, I started with “SQL Server Blogging Tips and Tricks (Part 2)” That didn’t follow these principles. The chosen title helps convey the message, is short and goes along with the first part, “Why Should I Blog?”

Simplification/Multi Parts

A post I was quite excited about didn’t get a ton of hits and I missed the point with title advice and trying to be concise. The post was my “Benchmarking, Who Needs It?” article. The major point I was excited about was using the Performance Analysis For Logs (PAL) tool. The second point was why Benchmarking is important. I should have done that in two posts. One on the tool as a how to and a second one on the benefits of benchmarking, linking to that how to.

Involve the readers more

Lately, I have been asking for input/questions/etc in comments or e-mails towards the end of my posts. I don’t want to be dictating things to folks here. I don’t want to be talking at you but I want this to be a form of a dialog where we can interact. I want to hear the readers opinions and experiences. It will help me learn and I am sure it will help the other readers. To that end, I am going to see how to involve my readers more in the content. I welcome any suggestions 🙂

Squarespace vs. WordPress

There are other blog providers out there but these are the two that I have experience with. I started this site on Squarespace as my first blog before I tried wordpress for some personal blogs. When I started writing this series it was on Squarespace still, I changed it the weekend before this went live.

Why I originally chose Squarespace

I selected Squarespace initially because the reviews looked good. It looked easy for a non “web guy” like myself and it seemed like I could get off the ground quick. No messing with hosting (it is a content management system and host all in one, with a simple pricing structure and tiers).

I liked the demo and liked the styles available then.

Why I like Squarespace

  • One price handles everything (content, hosting, etc.)
  • Great and fast support
  • Good uptime
  • It was really easy to get going to this non-web guy
  • Search engine traffic has been decent
  • They have their own really neat analytics overview that shows real time info on visitors. I hardly have to visit the Google Analytics site for this blog, I can quickly see new referrers/etc. (Though my hosting company uses awstats which looks also close now, come to think of it)

In Walks WordPress

I played with WordPress for a couple personal sites and I was instantly impressed with how simple it was. I used hostgator to host my blog on a linux server for about $8/month. From their site, I was able to use a wizard to build and configure a WordPress blog in about 20 minutes. I have gone through the process to switch over to this WordPress site and like it better for my needs (no hard feelings to the good folks at Squarespace! I think for a business site, forum, etc. their content management software is excellent. I think it is just a bit overkill for my needs). Why?

  • Tons of great widgets
  • I can change the meta description tags with a widget like the All in one SEO widget
  • Easier for commenters to add comments
  • Lots more themes to choose from and easy to switch them to see how they look
  • More control over content, like ability to stream my own video or podcasts easier than I can here.
  • You name the need there is a plugin for it. Not so with Squarespace.

Want to watch me switch to WordPress?

I will be posting a series of posts soon showing how I set up my WordPress site and how I migrated to it. This will probably go live at some point in January and I’ll add some links here when it happens. The Outline will look something like this:

  1. Starting a Blog From Scratch
    1. Picking a Host and getting setup
    2. Installing/Configuring WordPress
    3. Getting some of the basic plugins that “everyone should have” from what folks I trust seem to say
    4. Getting some posts out, scheduling and tweaking things.
    5. Other misc WordPress tips I’ve found as a n00b.
  2. Migrating from an existing Blog to WordPress
    1. Archiving/Exporting (using my squarespace example)
    2. Importing
    3. Setting up Redirects for permalinks
    4. Tags/Categories
    5. Patience

Referenced & Related Posts

Brent Ozar – Started a series on his “Blog Better Week” tips. Check out the first post on How to build your blogging momentum and then have fun reading the follow-on posts linked together.

Problogger – Subtitled about helping you make money blogging, this site still offers a lot of great tips to someone thinking about blogging.

Problogger – One of their post series was on 31 days of tips to improve your blog. Good tips.

Jon Dipietro at Domesticating IT – Jon has given me some great tips about blogging personally. He’s helped organizations better harness social networking and blogging. He blogs about a wide range of topics but touches on social networking and blogging a lot.

Andy Leonard – Proving that timing is everything, another great post from Andy just went up at his blog on sqlblog.com. This post, Blog (Durnit!), Getting Started, has some great tips also.

You – If you are thinking about starting a blog and are going for it, I really want to hear from you. I will subscribe to your blog so you’ll automatically show up on my blogroll, I will also post a follow up to this in January with the folks who recently started blogging or are checking out tips from any of the blogs referenced this week.

Tag you’re it!

Do you blog? Are you reading this series? Consider yourself tagged. I’d love to hear your thoughts on the why and how about your experiences. I am sure folks would like to hear your thoughts to someone considering starting.

Article by Mike Walsh

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21 thoughts on “How Should I Blog?”

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  8. After reading Brent’s post earlier, I have started to write. Can’t say it as a blog yet, but am working on it..

    Thanks for this nice post. Really motivated..

  9. Hey Deep –

    If you are writing and publishing it on the internet then it’s a blog. Doesn’t matter how many posts you have to date. I am really excited to hear that you are motivated to start and that the posts with Brent and I helped! That is awesome news. Feel free to follow up with any questions if you ever have them.

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  11. Thanks, Mike. I’m slowly (very slowly) working on starting up my blog. I’m mostly posting about stuff I encounter throughout the workweek. Currently, I’ve done a little bit of DBPro and some Powershell. It’s pretty sparse so far, but I’m getting there. I appreciate the advice.

  12. Hi Mike, just wanted to say you’ve done a nice job with this article series. I jumped into the world of blogging two months ago. Am currently with Squarespace and am considering moving to WordPress entirely due to the Google snippet / description issue you described above.

    Couldn’t agree with you more on the benefit of blogging to the learning process.

    Thanks again for the series. Good luck with your blogging efforts!

    • Hi Melissa!

      I’m glad you enjoyed the blog. Yeah Squarespace was great at first. It was really easy to use, the templates are great for this web-unfriendly DBA, etc. I just found the freedom on my own WordPress site that I host and use is so much easier. WordPress is more blogger friendly and the themes and add-ins are incredibly simple. I’ll be following your blog as you go. Every time I hear about a new SQL Blogger, I get incredibly excited.


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