March 21, 2017

Bloggers on Blogger, have you seen these fantastic new themes?

Blogger, the free blogging platform of Google, has quietly added some contemporary themes/ templates. 

These themes come in four groups: Contempo, Soho, Emporio and Notable. Each has a number of sub-themes.

Notable theme: one option out of many

Soho: new, bold, theme

One area in which Blogger was supposed to be poorer in comparison to Wordpress was that it did not have modern looking themes. We have seen comments such as 'Blogger blogs are fit for a 16-year old blogger experimenting with her fashion, and not for serious bloggers and in no way for professionals'.

blogger new theme
Contempo: another Blogger theme group

Those on Blogger platform had the facility to play with colors and layout but, yes, their choice for ready-made themes was rather limited. The new addition bridges that gap to a very large extent. With the ability to further customize the themes, bloggers on this platform can now easily create a new blog template of their choice, with dozens of choices of color, font, layout etc within each theme.

Emporio theme on Blogger
A blog on Emporio theme
One word of caution: Minutely study the preview pane (it comes just before the tool tabs, as shown in the images in this post) before applying any new theme, because your assets on the blog may be re-positioned in a way you may not like. When such changes are minor, you can correct them through 'advanced' tools within 'theme' or through 'layout' tools, but when these are too many and big, it would take too much time and energy in fixing them.

March 17, 2017

These 9 actions just before publishing can make your blog post great

The difference between a good blog post and a sloppy one sometimes just a word, sometimes the time it was posted, sometimes...

Many popular writers/ bloggers are average writers but manage to write while articles written by a large number of skilled and expert writers remain unseen or are not shared. That is ironical, but true.

In a big majority of cases, the good and bad articles travel the same distance and then one becomes very good and the other, average or bad. The turning point quite often is JUST BEFORE THE WRITER HITS THE 'PUBLISH' BUTTON!

Never allow your good article turning bad only because you didn't take the last few actions that are so important for any article, including a blog post.

1. Will you check grammar for just one minute please?

There is no bigger put off than seeing a mis-spelt word or an expression that looks stupidly out of place. 

The bad side of this coin is that most grammatical mistakes are there not because the author didn't know grammar but because he didn't check it before publishing. The good side is that it takes just one minute to check grammar if you know it. One last minute, before you publish your post!

2. Hey, what about the language? Is it flowing, easy, standard? You need a bit of humor? Is it appropriate?

Like the actor, who must act for the audience, the writer must write for the reader. No further arguments if you want to be a good writer, a good blogger. 

Use your creativity, use wit, use persuasion. Depending upon the topic and the type of visitors your blog has, write the way it will appeal them. 

In most cases, write in small sentences. Show more than describe in long passages. Break monotony with change in sentence structure. Illustrate with examples. Tell story, a flowing story. 

 If you have already written an article, why not look for these attributes? Maybe, changing a few expressions makes it less heavy, less verbose, more readable.


3. Have you applied the right labels to the post?

Let's now look beyond content. Put labels on posts so that you can group them and put similar articles in one section. (If you are not sure of the value of labels, visit this post on what all can be achieved by putting labels correctly on blog posts.)

4. Does the article has proper links to useful resources?

Links are one of the most useful features of the webpages, and not for no reason. They relate the current article with useful resources, thus adding value to the content.

Check whether you have given links to relevant resources within the blog or elsewhere. If not, take just one minute in deciding what the best linkable places are and then link them. 

One word of caution here. Google likes links, but they should be relevant and in moderate numbers (should not look spammy). 

5. Why not put an image for relief to the reader's eyes if nothing else?

In most cases, you can find an image to supplement the blog's content. It could be a graphic or a slide or a cartoon or a photo. Even highly research-oriented posts will do better with an image: in that case, it could be a graph or a slide or a photo of the machine or...

If you do not have a ready-made library of good images, build one. If in a hurry, go to a license-free picture site (e.g. Pixabay, CreativeCommons), select a picture, look at the terms of licence and use in the blog.

As in the case of links, use only relevant images. A model's photo will not go well with most types of posts.

6. Now that grammar and resources are checked, why not look at formatting? It will take just a few moments.

Like grammar, this is a badly neglected part of the blogging craft, and bloggers pay heavily for neglecting it. 

In general, formatting should aid readability and should be standard across the article. It should not be too experimental and should not disturb reading.

In your last-minute formatting check, you must check whether you need to
  • give sub-titles, 
  • break big paras,
  • increase line space between paragraphs, 
  • make some expressions bold/ italic/ in different color (please do not do it excessively), 
  • change font type and size for better readability,
  • add indent, 
  • put quotes within " " marks, 
  • put bullet points when listing items
7. Have you taken care of attributions and credit if due?

Attributions are a must, from both ethical and practical angles. You must give credit when you copy others' content, even when it is permissible under fair use norms and the law. 

Be sure that you have taken permission of the owner for using the image/ video clip/ long passage that you have used in the post. When in doubt, leave it out.

8. Can you afford to forget optimization when you write for the web, can you?

As we said in one of our earlier posts (why promote the blog), you need to be discovered even if you write the best blog in the world. 

For being discovered, you need to promote the post among friends and others. That is an on-going process. What you need to see just before hitting the publish button is whether the post has expressions around the focus areas. In simple words, what you need is to do is to select one or two key expressions (keywords) for which you'd like the post to come on search pages, and then see that these expressions are there in the article. It also means that your title and sub-titles are such that they catch attention and also support the keyword or key phrases that are unique to that post. 

SEO is a big topic, and so we refer this post in case you are not sure what search optimization is: SEO tips for bloggers

9. Is it the right time for posting? 

Finally, be sure that you are pressing the publish button at the right time. This is very important if your target viewers belong to a fixed location or visit websites at a particular time of the day or your topic has high relevance only during a particular time of the year. 

You won't publish a post on Christmas in the month of February and on winter ailments in summers; that's obvious. But what we often ignore this point when the time relationship is subtle. For example, our visitors' location and their web-surfing habits.

If you have a post ready but you discover that people would be looking for such type of post at some other time, schedule it for that time.

March 10, 2017

Social Media Updates: WikiLeaks, Social Depression, Pak ban...

Big brother is watching you!

The Orwellian prophesy that one day all actions of citizens will be watched by the government finds resonance in the latest Wikileaks expose.

Hailing it as the largest ever publication of confidential documents on the agency, WikiLeaks has said that CIA had been cyber-spying by infecting computer systems at global scale with viruses, Trojans, vulnerabilty-exploits and other malware. WikiLeaks has found that the several hundred million lines of code which CIA used for this dirty hacking has itself been hacked.

The code is essentially different types of malware that CIA used to infect systems, including desktop, mobile and TV platforms. Since this all has got leaked, there is the risk of its proliferation and unscrupulous use. 

WikiLeaks founder, Julius Assange says, The Central Intelligence Agency lost control of its entire cyberweapons arsenal. This is an historic act of devastating incompetence to have created such an arsenal and stored it all in one place and not secured it.

More proof of social media impacting emotional health

We have earlier reported about how use of social media is linked with social and emotional disorders. Among them, you'd recall wide-spread rise in eating disorders noticed among girls.

A new review study finds a small but statistically significant correlation between social media use and depressive symptoms in young people. What it means that young people are more than likely to get depression with heavy use of social media.
If you are interested in the original paper, you can visit this link: Social media and depressive symptoms...

Too much social media influence? Image: Pixabay

Add to this another recent research paper (such links might break after a while) confirming a link between social media use and social isolation among American young people. 

Pakistan on the verge of banning social media over blasphemy?

A Pakistani superior court judge has threatened to ban social media if it indulges in blasphemy and stop people indulging in online insult to Islam from leaving the country.

In Pakistan, blasphemy against Prophet Mohamed is punishable with death.

Five bloggers have specifically been named in the lawsuit that the judge was hearing. Media reports say, authorities have already removed their 'blasphemous' posts on mostly Facebook.

Ironically, the judge called blasphemy as an act of terrorism, and terrorists and religious fanatics label any liberal voice as blasphemous so as to quell all opposition.

[Cambridge dictionary defines blasphemy as something that you say or do that shows you do not respect God or a religion]

Twitter is trying to make its platform safer: an update

Twitter has announced a number of safety features    that include filtering out abusive content and reducing the spread of tweets from abusive accounts.

Hope, the micro-blogging platform has taken seriously the bad press and social reactions that it got recently for its inability to check unsafe content.

March 2, 2017

How to choose the best among web hosting offers in 2017

Once you feel that your blog is growing fast and it cannot be handled by free platforms, the first thing you look for is a good web host, isn't it?

There are numerous sites on the web telling you which website hosts are the best. We can't dispute their reviews but advise that in mnay cases, such reviews and recommendations are colored; they have some hidden commercial relationship with the web host they recommend

How to select the web host most suited for your needs

Consider various factors that are relevant for your blog, and then pick the host that suits your needs. We had earlier talked about what all you should consider while selecting a web host; check each host for these because shifting blog/ website from one host to the other again and again can be painful.

In the present post, we'd take that discussion forward and help you select a good web host for your website or blog. As always, our recommendations are fully unbiased and are not influenced by any advertisement that might appear on ITB. These recommendations, updated as of 2017, are meant to suit small or medium sized enterprises and bloggers.

Web host: a place in the web world. Photo:Pixabay

1. You won't have issues with shared hosting.

Shared hosting is good for users who don't want to spend a lot of money on hosting packages and don't mind some of its traffic and data transfer limitations. VPS hosting is great for businesses that want more power than shared hosting, but don't want to deal with dedicated hosting's prices. Dedicated hosting is both powerful and pricey; it's reserved for sites that experience incredibly high levels of traffic per day. Managed WordPress hosting is for those who want to build their sites on the back of the popular WordPress content management system (CMS), but don't want to bother with a lot of the back-end stuff (such as updating the apps and CMS, and enabling automatic backups). In cloud hosting, you pay for only as much resources you use but is at present more expensive than shared hosting.

2. You can always graduate to a more robust, feature-rich package.

All major web hosts have more than one plan. You can upgrade the plan once your blog grows bigger than what can be handled by the smaller plan. So, there is no need to spend extra bucks from the beginning unless you think you'd become very big very soon. 

There is a catch though in this arrangement: some web hosts start charging exorbitantly once you upgrade. In fact, you should be checking bigger plans than what you plan to buy initially and be wary of web hosts that have steep up-gradation costs.
3. Server location is a very important factor.

In olden times, you could buy hosting plans from only one location where the server of the web host was located. Now most big guys have servers in many countries, at least one in each continent (except Antarctica, of course). For example, if you are not located in the US and click on a link on a web host's advertisement in this website, it might take you straight to the web host's site meant for your country, and the rates might be better than what are seen on the ad. 

In most cases, it is more cost-effective to buy from a server in your location; it might also give you better customer service and in your native language. 

But be doubly sure that the local guys are as good as the main one. Check online forums and review sites, make local inquiries and also call them up. Why we advise this is because we have seen many reports that some hosts have unreliable franchisees or inefficient local units outside their headquarters.

4. Most bloggers are served well by Wordpress CMS, so website builder might not be of much use.  

If the web host is giving you a website builder on a cost, you need to assess whether you really need that. Small businesses and all bloggers will seldom need a website builder that has features beyond what Wordpress CMS can give - and it is free. 

If you host your blog that is made on Blogger platform, you can continue to use Blogger's tools. In general, you won't need many new features. Of course, if you need new features, e.g. latest templates or e-commerce features, you should not hesitate to pay for their tools.

So, do not pay for a website builder if you don't need it. But if you are a big or growing business, it might help to go for the web host's website builder and even get the website built by experts.

Why not have a look at this series on migrating the existing Wordpress or Blogger blog to a new host?

5.  Site up time is one of the most important things to consider. Big web hosts, all of them, boast of a fantastic up time. Though there are reports of poor service when their servers sometimes go down or get slow, they still are the most reliable lot. Small, local, web hosts might have a problem here.  

How do the biggest web hosts fare in 2017 ?

In a post last year, we had discussed  good/ bad features of some of the biggest names in the web hosting industry: Bluehost, DreamHost, GoDaddy, HostGator, InMotion

All these web hosts are still the toppers and we retain the list. We won't rank them according to price and features as we have seen a full range of good and bad reports about all of them and we believe that location, type of plan, personal needs and level of understanding about technical aspects are big factors in the quality of output - so the quality of web hosts is difficult to judge in absolute terms.

The hazard of ranking will be clear if you see these reports: There is a site, HostingFacts, which finds HostGator's cloud offer as one of the cheapest and with the best up time, fastest load time and fast service, leaving all others much behind. While it finds Bluehost with a poor load time, not so great up time and poor customer service, another reviewer Top Web Hosting finds Bluehost as the best web host! WhoIsHostingThis is gaga over SiteGround, finding it feature rich, most liked by users and much above the ones mentioned in this article.

Just a small addition to our earlier understanding of these biggies. We find that HostGator has improved its customer service and has added new features. GoDaddy is big and reliable too, and it scores over others in domain name registration more than web hosting. But make your own assessment especially if you are in a country other than the host's headquarters.

All the best!