October 29, 2016

Why series posts are great, and how to write them?

In the first post in this 2-post series on ideal length of blog posts, we discussed how long posts work better towards authority and SEO as compared to short posts. We also discussed how quality matters more than the size of posts. In the present one, we'd discuss in what situations, writing a series is better than one long post, and how it is a win-win idea in certain cases. 

Before we go any further, let's be sure of what we are discussing here. Technically, one dirty joke a day on the blog also is a post series, but we are dealing here with series of valuable posts around a central theme.

Why should I break my long post into a series when it serves great value as a single post?


We'd draw your attention to what we said in the last post in favor of short posts. In brief, in this age of short attention and smart phones, small posts have a better chance to be read, shared and commented upon. So, if your post is long it has an inherent disadvantage in terms of quick readability. Yet, for the sake of many other reasons (May we again refer you to the previous post? Forgive us for that.), you should have some long posts on the blog. Agree?

But how long? 3000 words? 400? 8000?

Yes, some established bloggers can afford to write a few 'epic' posts of that big length because they have so much to share, people trust them and so read their long articles, and they have fans who'd read every word of theirs even if others get bored.

Suppose you are not one of them, and yet you have a great deal to say on a topic, with authority. Should you go for a post as big as a novella?

One option is to go for that long a post, any way. Break it into sections using sub-headings, break monotony with boxes and photos, highlight key points, and so on and so forth. That would make the post more readable but it would be a losing bargain if you compare the effort made with the traffic, shares, back-links and clicks you earn out of that great post.

The other option is to break the long article into pieces and serve them one after the other, i.e. in a series of posts. This seems a very good alternative to posts that have become too long. But it's not that simple. Series should also not be made just to break a long post. Take a decision after understanding the advantages and disadvantages of serial posts:

Go for series when you have a list of standalone posts in mind.

When you have a number of related 'sub-topics' of a big topic in mind, it is better to go for a series of posts. These posts should be self-sufficient in many ways, yet be part of a broad theme. For example, if you are going on a long trip to another continent and will visit a number of places, you can run a series on the trip. Even when you visit a single place that has rich cultural heritage, great natural beauty, a variety of local cuisine and posh markets, you can write a 4-part travelogue on it, isn't it?

Write series when you have many things in mind but do not have time to compose all at once.

Series gives you time to breathe. You do not have to write the magnum opus in one go; you write one part, do research for second, publish first, finish second, do research for third, publish second... 

Series can be very handy for busy experts who can write a post in a short time but do not have time in hand for a long post. Their regular visitors would otherwise miss them for long.

When you write by the calendar or a pre-fixed schedule, series posts is the way.

Don't weekly serials on TV come on a particular day, or daily soaps come at a particular time of the day? The same way, you can run a series of posts on a common theme. On your personal blog, observe a poetry week in which you write one poem a day, devote a month to a hobby, post a photo each day for 10 days, write a summary of goings on in your area every Sunday, run a month-long reading challenge for bloggers...

When you want to give an exercise to readers for many days or weeks, small regular servings work best.

If you carry DIY (=do it yourself) posts or tutorials, think of running a series of posts. For example, in the tutorial series, you can give a lesson and an exercise in the first post. In the next post, give the correct answer and come up with another lesson and another exercise, and the series goes on.

Do posts in a series help SEO or waste it?

That depends. In general, serial posts score well in terms of SEO because individual posts support others in the series due to similarity of content and links. Take care to take actions that we have given in the section on 'what care to take' below.  

Let's repeat that not just number and size of posts matters, it is the quality that primarily determines whether search engines would show up your pages high or low. If you are not convinced, visit our previous post again.

What care to take when writing serial posts on the blog?

The first thing is to properly introduce the series. you can announce it beforehand on the blog, on the first post of the series and through other social media accounts.

Cross-referencing to other posts in the series is a must. You can give an 'intro' about the previous post [as is done in the present post] so that visitors know the context. you can also give the list of all posts of the series at the end of each post to help readers visit them if they want.

You also need to link posts to each other. Link in a natural way, keeping the reader (and not the search engine) in mind. For example, if you run a series on home-made cakes, you may have some posts on types of cakes, best temperatures for different types of cakes, how to prepare flour to make spongy cakes, etc. You could refer to these articles whenever you talk of these aspects in your cake recipes.

Linking should not be too much and intrusive. You should also not use the same keywords as anchor-text for links.

Inter-linking of posts helps in SEO. It also helps you get more eyeballs to different posts, thus improving the chances of more time spent on your blog and more clicks to advertisements on the blog. 

Promote series posts and long posts. They are the gems of your blog, and so try to attract more people to these posts and not the ones you might have written with lesser efforts and those whose relevance has expired.

You can use technical tools to link the posts and let Google know that the series quality for in-depth articles.

Don't have serial posts too frequently because people who have reached your post looking just for a small piece of information might be put off with lack of focus and brevity in inter-linked posts and too detailed information. Have many short and long posts and then a series.

Don't make the series too long. Generally limit the series to 2-4 posts. If you have too many standalone posts, don't give them shape of a series. Rather, give them a label (=tag) and put them under one category, except when the series is long with a purpose (e.g. NaNoWriMo: many people write fiction for a month during NAtional NOvel WRIting MOnth).

Don't make the series too rarefied and with different time intervals. If you publish the next post in the series after a month, the value of the series goes. Similarly, if you publish the next post in one week and the next one in a month, it is not a well-woven series. 
 
A great bye-product of serial posts is an e-book. For making an e-book out of the series, collate the posts into a document, give an introduction, make a content page (optional), standardize formatting and convert it into a PDF document or e-book. You can then offer this e-book for free or in return for  subscription etc.  

Best way to write the post series on the blog


A blog series should ideally not be instantaneous (You find that the post is getting long and decide to break it); it should be by design. You should plan the series before starting to publish the first post. The best steps in most cases are:
  • Decide the topic.
  • Break it into segments, one for each post. Refine individual sub-topics and decide their sequence. 
  • Compose working title for each post. You should revise the title just before publishing that post.
  • Think of keywords for each post. Focus the post around those keywords. Check how the keywords together cover the main topic.
  • Make an 'intro' about the series. Let it be the first para of the first post. 
  • While working on the series, keep promoting it through email, Facebook, etc. Announce it at the end of 1-2 posts before the series starts. You can even think of doing a post on the blog itself to announce the coming series.
  • At the end of each post in the series, write about other posts and give links to these. 
  • Think of giving a concluding para at the end of the series if the series has more than 3-4 posts or has run for a long period.

October 25, 2016

Short blog posts are bad, long posts are better, series is the best!

You might have come across advice to go for long posts as Google likes them. Or that writing one post a day or near-about that frequency helps you dominate your niche. Such advice often emerges from experts, who give the advice in a context, and copy-pasting experts spread them all around as stand-alone tips with fail-proof results.

But why this bashing of fake-experts was required here, you might ask.

Yes, there is a purpose. If you go for a fixed length or frequency of blog posts after getting convinced of a tip and without applying your mind, the tip is going to hurt the blog.


Should I have long articles on my blog? Google loves them, isn't that a fact?

Yes. Google loves in-depth articles and long articles. Some sites doing research on what search engines love have found that longer articles are generally better placed on search pages.

But the importance of length needs to be judged in many terms: whether it is liked by readers, whether readers read all that is written in long articles, to what extent do search engines prefer long articles over short ones?

Nothing describes the readers' response to the length of articles on the web than this data analysis by Medium on 'optimum post size'. It was found that most readers prefer articles that can be read in 7 minutes (that comes to about 1600 words), which is way too high as compared to normal blog articles. However, at the end, Medium concluded thus: Great posts perform well regardless of length, and bad posts certainly don’t get better when you stretch them out. https://medium.com/data-lab/the-optimal-post-is-7-minutes-74b9f41509b#.xe3t367ii

Such long articles or blog posts, when written by experts and after due research, are gems and are referred by readers and shared on their own web-spaces. These add to the reputation of the blogger and the website/blog itself. Google has advised on its own blogs and webmaster guidelines that longer articles with quality content are likely to rank higher on search pages. Google's in-depth articles are a class by itself, and Google wants them to be...

Different search engine experts have found different optimal lengths for blog posts, ranging from 1500 words to over 2000 words.

As for SEO, long posts are more amenable to keyword management. They would also get more back-links when referred to by readers. If their content is ever-green, which is more likely with long posts, they keep getting traffic for a long time without any additional effort.

Before we answer the question whether you should, therefore, have very long articles on the blog, let's consider other factors.


Are short articles really bad for reputation and SEO?

Short articles are, by their very nature, small takes on something. They cannot analyze a subject deeply. Serious readers looking for information or advice would find them superficial.

Short articles also take very little time to read. So, readers are likely to quickly browse them and go away.

Short articles lose badly against long articles especially when they are churned carelessly at a high frequency as they are seen by search algorithms as without much value. In extreme cases, they look spammy.

On a short article, you can apply keywords only once or twice, as any more would be seen as 'keyword stuffing'. which is hated by search engines.

But short articles also have their good points. In this age of short attention span and competition with Facebook and Twitter, short posts are what are likely to be fully read, shared and commented upon. Short articles can also be full of value when they are focused on a narrow subject, and this suits internet searchers very well when they look for specific information.

Short posts are mobile-friendly. As more and more people are accessing the web on their smartphones, short posts are naturally the winner.

Some types of posts are better written in short. News snippets, gossips, quotes, daily prayers, quick DIY tips, etc are more effective when served in small dozes. Photo essays, posts with info-graphics and static pages (e.g. about me, landing pages) also are better with just a small reading passage.

The best part of short posts and articles is that they can be written fast. This could be a virtue for busy bloggers who would not be able to write at all if they were to write only long posts.


Should I write a few long posts or many short posts on my blog?

Let's come to the decision point now. The ideal or optimal numbers prescribed here are an average; you should adjust them according to your blog platform (standard blog? Medium/ LinkedIn/ Facebook? blog as part of website?), goal (how-to? book review? local sale? hobby blog?), niche, type of readers (young? urban? highly educated?) etc.

Have a mix of length and frequency. Many short posts followed by a long one. Internally link short posts to the long one (only if it is relevant). If you have a serious blog (we consider this blog, ITB, in that category), have majority or all posts of long type.

Maintain a very high quality of long posts. They must serve value by analyzing a topic from many angles, giving wide information and links to reputed resources,

Break the long post with photographs, illustrations, headlines, etc.

If new to blogging and did not have time to build resources before launching the blog, write many short posts in quick succession but sprinkle the blog with one or two long posts at least once in a month.

Don't ever inflate the post by repeating the same thing again and again.

If you have a lot of matter that is going a bit too long (beyond 2000 words), think of breaking the post into a series. Series suits especially when individual articles can stand on their own. When read together, they act like a compendium on the subject. We discuss this aspect in the next post.

October 20, 2016

Is Internet in peril after US cedes control of ICANN?

Imagine an internet run like many Middle Eastern countries, that punish what they deem to be blasphemy... Or imagine an internet run like China or Russia, that punish and incarcerate those that engage in political dissent. says Ted Cruz.

Internet freedom is now at risk with the president's intent to cede control to international interests, including countries like China and Russia, which have a long track record of trying to impose online censorship, says Stephen Miller, Trump's policy director.

Are these apprehensions valid? What happens to internet when the internet body called ICANN goes out of a binding agreement with the US government?

ICANN and the management of Internet addresses


The internet addresses presently are assigned by a non-profit organization called Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), which is governed by an agreement with the US government.

After the expiry of the agreement, that happened on 30th September, 2016, the oversight of the US government - though indirect and rarely used - has ended.

Opposition politicians in the US were agitated over this abandonment of control. Donald Trump, Ted Cruz and others took Obama to task for this. Four Republican state attorneys sought a restraining order from a federal judge but failed.

In the past 47 years of Internet's existence, the job of assigning and closely implementing the operation of IP addresses has grown tremendously as the technology has grown beyond anybody's expectations. Initially, the Ministry of Defense of the US did the job and when ICANN was created in 1998, the responsibility was taken over by this body. 

Though ICANN's working was has not been free from criticism, it has rather appreciably handled the job in the face of numerous challenges. 

The supporters of US control feel that now the organization might lose control and play in the hands of authoritarian nations and private players. Much of their protest is political, as instead of being the sole supervisor, the US now becomes one of nearly 165 nations in the Governmental Advisory Committee.

More details on the transition and Internet governance


The governance of internet has been a matter of debate since inception of ICANN. A large number of social organizations wanted it to be free from US control, even if technical, and it being governed by the global community. Some nations had mooted the idea to give control of ICANN's functions to an international body such as ITU.

In March 2014, the US Department of Commerce asked ICANN to convene the global community of Internet stakeholders and produce a plan for placing the internet addressing system in the hands of ICANN, with no binding agreement with the US government. This transition plan, the Department directed, must meet a series of strict criteria.

Till the transition plan was accepted, ICANN was to remain bound by its agreement with the US Department of Commerce. An agency within the Department, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) did the actual oversight over the Internet's addressing system.

In March this year, ICANN submitted 'IANA Stewardship Transition Proposal' to NTIA. (IANA stands for Internet’s addressing system, the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority.) 

The period just before March and after that has been very hectic. A large number of US industries and other organizations supported the move while a number of politicians and organizations opposed it. Internationally too, a big debate ensued in which global internet organizations, UN bodies, governments, social groups... all had their say. ICANN itself and people behind it had to carry out a large number of transitional works and lobbying with stakeholders all over the world.

In June, the offer was accepted by the Department and it was decided to free ICANN from NTIA stewardship from 1st October, 2016.

On 30th September, ICANN’s contract with NTIA was allowed to expire. As a result, the coordination and management of the Internet’s unique identifiers becomes fully privatized and in the hands of the multi-stakeholder community.

Interesting though it may sound in the midst of the hype created by Trump and others, ICANN does not control the internet; it controls only the matters relating to internet addresses. In fact, most of technological aspects of internet are governed by a society called the Internet Society (ISOC). Founded in 1992, ISOC now has over a hundred organizations and thousands of individuals as its members. Its aim is to foster global cooperation and coordination on Internet technologies. It also serves as a global clearinghouse for Internet related information.  A number of international bodies work under the oversight of ISOC and ICANN to administer and oversee networking, technology, standards, addresses and names, and various other aspects. A number of UN bodies too have a role in coordinating different matters.


What happens now to Internet addresses?


Rest assured, nothing changes as far as governance of Internet or even internet addresses is concerned. 


There are likely changes in the naming system but these will be to accommodate new demands. ICANN is not going to be in the hands of rogue nations or ugly commercial interests the way some US politicians forewarned.

October 17, 2016

The journey of adoption of Twitter by leaders: Shashi Tharoor's take

Shashi Tharoor is a well-known name on social media. An Under secretary General in the UN who lost against ban ki Moon in the race for Secretary General, Shashi adopted social media when thought leaders worldwide were highly skeptical about it. Later he turned into a politician and became a minister in the Indian government - here too, he was among the few who used social media for communication with his audience. Politicians in India, at that time, ridiculed the idea of using Twitter or Ted Talks for airing one's ideas.

It was Modi, the present Indian Prime Minister, who dethroned Shashi from the top Twitter followed politicians' list in India. He still is one of the top politicians on Twitter, with an awesome following of 8.6 million people.

In an article on Outlook, Shashi takes us through his journey on Twitter - which brilliantly captures the path of social media's rise as the medium of choice among opinion leaders anywhere, especially in India. 
He shares how things tend to go extremely wrong when a small indiscretion takes place on the social media; he should know it well as he had to eat a humble pie thanks to one tweet.

Shashi is not oblivious to the reality that though Twitter and other social platforms are being adopted by the masses, aided by fast adoption of smartphones worldwide, social media would not influence elections in a big way in the near future, at least in a country like India. 

Shashi Tharoor also knows that a large following on Twitter does not necessarily mean those many people endorse you: Having ‘followers’ doesn’t mean they are all fans, friends or supporters—many follow you just out of curiosity, some just to attack you. But they are an audience.

Twitter, to Shashi, is a great medium of information and networking and its role as purveyor of knowledge can be much more than a traditional newspaper. He says, Like other social media, Twitter can help you create knowledge networks, disseminate information and keep track of the world around you well ­beyond what is available in our daily newspapers. The links posted by people I follow on Twitter give me a wider range of information and ­insight than any single newspaper can. His tweets are a testimony to what he says: they are full of links to thoughtful reading material elsewhere.

Shashi's article has been used in this post with permission from Outlook magazine.

October 13, 2016

Should you copy others' blog title and post headings?

Bloggers who want to grow fast with little effort often copy successful bloggers. Copying is not limited to images or passages but headings and titles too. 

We were asked a question on Quora recently 'Can I use the same blog post title that's been already used by someone?' When we visited the original question, we found 5 answers, 4 of them supporting the idea of copying others' titles. Two of them added caution but yes, they started with supporting it.

Why not, you might say. After all, it takes energy to make catchy titles. Sometimes you don't get great expressions even after trying for days. If you see a superb title used by somebody, why not use that? After all, just copying the title/ headline cannot be called plagiarism.

As ethical bloggers, we can't support that. Forget the moral/ ethics part, the practical cost of copying others' titles is also much more than the intended benefits.

One, you lose confidence in your capacity to write marvelous titles. You also make yourself a slave (mentally) of that person as you just can't match his level. The cost might look small, but when you lose confidence in your writing, it diminishes your creativity in many unseen ways.

Two, you might really be penalized by search engines. Copying title, in fact, should come first in the sight of search engine robots - before they catch duplicate content in the body of the post. And, today's search engines are unsparing of duplicate content.

Three. To get the full juice of the title, you must copy the body text too. Otherwise, your arguments are not likely to reflect the essence of the title. But if you do so, you get deeper into plagiarism.

Four. Not only search engines, humans might also penalize you. Some writers are very touchy about their creation being copied without permission. So, if you copy a vigilant blogger's title, he/ she would find it out sooner or later and might send you a knock-down notice or complain to your web-host who might then slap a big penalty on you.

Five. You lose respect among your readers. People who come to your blog searching for something would often be regular web surfers. If they have seen the original article or post and then discover that you have copied that article's title, you lose credibility. You lose enormously because getting credibility back is a very tough thing to happen. 
So, blogger friends, be original. Hold your head high. Even in blog title and post headings.

ITB's detailed resources on copyright, disclosure, etc:
What to do if others steal your content
Disclose, disclaim, attribute when using others' content

October 10, 2016

Why should governments support blogging? An Indian perspective and an appeal

Indian government has been supporting small newspapers and magazines since long, with the promise that these promote expression of free thought and support grass-root democracy. Besides giving freebies and taking their reps on press-tours, the government issues advertisements to them through an umbrella advertisement wing called DAVP. A similar system prevails in state (=provincial) governments of India.

The system of their empanelment and giving advertisements is highly corruption-ridden, but successive governments have been perpetuating that.

Government ads are mostly propaganda ads, but almost all have something that is people-centric. Many times, governments want to send social messages, which are very important especially in developing countries.
 
Bloggers are in no way in competition with these papers but have come up as a means of free thought much stronger than the small print press. The influence of blogs is much more than small print, and they promote exchange rather than being just the broadcasters of information and messages. 

As a prominent Indian blog, ITB has represented to the Government of India that blogs may be considered for a similar support. The government may, for fair play, invite applications and thoroughly screen them before empaneling them for advertisements.

But governments are not likely to respond positively to such a suggestion unless some highly influential person/ lobby supports it or a large number of people petition the government. 

May, we, therefore, appeal to bloggers and their organizations everywhere - especially India - to create an atmosphere in which governments consider the merit of supporting blogs.

The letter sent by us to the Government of India (main letter to Information & Broadcasting Minister, copies to others) a fortnight back is reproduced below:

I am writing this to you on behalf of Indian blogging community, which now plays the role of mass media much more effectively than most medium- and small- newspapers and magazine.

THE SORRY STATE OF SMALL NEWSPAPERS IN INDIA

The fact is well known that a very large number of small newspapers are published just for getting DAVP registration. Once the registration is obtained, it is used to get ads from others. They also get government ads on special occasions and publish those editions just to have a proof of having published the ad. Some of the papers registered with DAVP just have classified ads and nothing else; some have content copied from elsewhere and published for showing to DAVP!

It is also a fact that many magazines and souvenirs survive on PSU ads and serve hardly any social purpose.

You, as a grass-root politician for lifetime, would know that many small newspaper owners use their publication to blackmail businessmen, contractors, politicians, even policemen and district officials.

RELEVANCE OF SMALL PUBLICATIONS and HOW BLOGS SERVE THAT PURPOSE NOW

In theory, and in practice in olden days, small publications serve(d) the purpose of supporting democracy and also taking government initiatives to people.

You would appreciate that blogs of all hues serve this purpose much better than even genuine small papers. Even the Prime Minister started his social media ascent with his very thoughtful blog created on a free blogging platform.

During 2014 elections, major political parties (especially BJP) placed ads on the web. Blogs displayed such ads all the time but through AdSense; so while Google made big money, blogs ended up showing them to visitors, with not much gain.

May we list some ways blogs serve great value as a new form of mass media:

· They promote free expression.
· Most blogs are either personal and thus have good credibility.
· On the other hand, professional/ non-personal blogs receive good traffic. Niche blogs are often maintained by experts with good following.
· Blogs have interactivity (which is furthered by their links with social networks) unlike printed newspapers. Blogs also have followers who receive feed and email subscription and thus have a committed clientele which may be small but focused.
· It has been found in a number of surveys that opinions on blogs are more influential for marketing than advertisements.
· Blogs that are popular, and have good content, are eminently suitable for government advertisements with social themes.

These are just some of blogs' strong points. Individual blogs have their own strengths.

GOVERNMENT ADVERTISEMENTS ON BLOGS WOULD HELP GOVERNMENT ITSELF AND ALSO DEMOCRACY

Now the purpose of writing this rather longish letter.

Sir, you could consider supporting blogs with DAVP advertisements. This should be direct and not through intermediaries. In return, you will get many more views at a small cost. Besides gains to you, it will also fulfill your social purpose in supporting small media and through it the democracy.

Right now, DAVP wants huge circulation and huge investment from any website that DAVP can consider for empanelment. Bloggers are mostly small publishers who often publish on free platforms such as Blogger and Wordpress. So, they just can't fulfill your conditions.

DAVP can call for applications from bloggers and website owners for its ads. It can easily examine blogs for their content, genuineness, history, traffic and other parameters that your experts can devise. In fact, you can have a graded payment system and could be paying based on the number of visits that your ad on a blog actually received! This would be much more genuine and scientific than print media's fake figures.

You could have a strict policy on content on the blog so that only good blogs get your ads. You could disqualify any blog that is found to have inappropriate content (and checking this is a child's play).

Hope you consider our request and ask DAVP to immediately work in this direction.

October 5, 2016

Yahoo mail hacking, tech offers and social intelligence: social media and tech updates

First the bad news.

Yahoo emails passwords hacked two years back; accounts still under threat


Yahoo, the second largest email provider, has announced that a copy of certain user account information was stolen from the company’s network in late 2014 possibly in a state-sponsored attack. At least 500 million account holders are likely affected by the attack. 

Yahoo is now asking the potentially affected users a security questions in addition to password. It is also advising users to change their password.

Twitter now allows more than 140 characters to accommodate photos etc!


Twitter's announcement is self-explanatory; we need not add more: Say more about what's happening! Rolling out now: photos, videos, GIFs, polls, and Quote Tweets no longer count toward your 140 characters.

To visit the tweet announcing this, click here.

How much has Google modified its search algo recently?


Google has announced on its blog that it has rolled out an update of 'Penguin' (one search signal consisting of many factors, released in 2012) in all languages. It is applied real-time now and has better spam filtering capability.

YouTube Go: great video experience in poor connectivity

YouTube has announced YouTubeGo, an Android app that allows offline video-viewing and many other features aimed at billions of people with poor bandwidth. The service is going to start with India, in a few days from now. This is one leap ahead of the offline video on YouTube app started two years back.

Allo and Alexa: trying to take chat experience to a new level


Google has delivered on its promise to bring out Allo, its 'smart' messaging app by September. It looks really smart, with suggestions coming up based on your chatting history, stickers, myriad ways of expressing emotions and editing photos as you share them. On top of it, you ask a question about something such as a flight or a restaurant and the 'personal assistant' helps you with immediate response without your needing to go elsewhere. At first sight, Allo looks to be a better assistant than Cortana (Microsoft) and Siri (Apple).


That takes us to Alexa, the personal assistant offered by Amazon. Reports are that Amazon wants to give Alexa the power of social conversation. That means, in addition to giving you information about the things you are searching or writing about, it will chat you up!

The social intelligence project on Alexa is to be promoted and tested through a university competition for a year, ending November 2017. The team developing the best socialbot gets a princely sum of $500000 and the school, another one million dollar.