Archive for October, 2009

Official Google Blog

Official Google Blog


10 important design tips for your blog

1. Use a decent theme.

Don’t use the theme that came preinstalled with the blog. Search for a better theme. Or at least change the header! If your blog looks like thousands of other blogs, nobody will remember it. Readers have a short attention span. I’ve already forgotten what I was talking about…
2. Don’t use a dark or “busy” background.

This is likely to be determined by the theme you use, but I strongly recommend that you only use black text on a white background, or a light background. A black background with white text can be very hard on the eyes.

If you want to use a background image, make sure your content is readable. You could put a simple background image around the edge of your site and display the content on a light background. Whatever you do, don’t use a photograph and put the text directly on top of it. This does not look good, even if it’s a great photo. You don’t write on a photo.
3. Keep ads and widgets to a minimum.

I have seen so many blogs with ads, widgets, games, awards and other assorted junk cluttering up their sidebars. It looks messy, and it slows everything down.

Don’t add “just one more widget” because someone wrote about it, or because other bloggers have loads of widgets. Many widgets serve no purpose whatsoever and just get in the way. If you want to try a few things out, try to limit yourself to a couple of new items at a time – don’t just add everything you can find.
4. Content should be the main focus.

Aside from keeping ads and widgets to a minimum, any bits and pieces you do put on your blog should not draw attention away from your content. Surrounding your posts is not a good idea. Make it easy for readers to find the content of your posts – don’t make them hunt around.
5. Don’t make the text too small.

Some “designers” think it’s “cool” to use ridiculously small text, with the excuse that you can always increase the size in your browser. This is crazy. Use a respectable font size as your default – don’t make your readers push their noses right up the screen to read your posts. It just leaves noseprints on the screen.
6. Use colours to distinguish between navigation and content.

Many blogs have one or two sidebars alongside the content, sometimes with a horizontal navigation bar across the top as well. It helps to use a subtle background colour for your navigation areas so it’s clear where the content starts and ends.

I have actually seen sites that blend the whole lot together, which causes a big problem when reading – some of the lines within each post actually run into the navigation links!
7. Beware of scrolling.

Except for a few special cases (Plurk is a good example) most sites should not have a horizontal scrollbar. The content runs from top to bottom, you expect to scroll down to read a long post, but you don’t want to scroll across the read the end of each line.

Even vertical scrolling can get annoying if it’s excessive. Don’t put too many posts on your front page, especially if you want to display the full text of each post. I prefer to use the “more” tag in WordPress so the first part of the post is shown on the front page, but the rest isn’t visible until you click to view the full post.
8. Avoid animated images, marquees, and blinking text.

At best, these are a minor distraction that just gets ignored. At worst, your readers won’t be able to concentrate on reading your content. Avoid them, or you might have readers who spend more time watching the animations than reading your posts.
9. Keep everything neat.

Some sites don’t make very good use of the available space. It seems like even a tiny box has huge spaces above and below it. The FeedBurner “subscribe by email” box is a good example of this.

Changing the default code is a good way to tidy things up a bit. Have a look at my home page for an example. Neat and tidy!
10. Give your site an identity.

A logo, an icon, a photo of you, there are a few ways to give your site its own identity. Even if you use an existing theme, you can modify it to make it your own. This will help with establishing your site.

Do you agree with these tips? What other design tips can you think of that are important to bloggers?

10 tips for grabbing a new reader’s attention on your blog

When a reader visits your blog for the first time, you’ll want to give them a first impression that will blow them away. It’s actually quite simple to do this. Here are 10 tips for grabbing the attention of a new reader and push them to keep coming back.

1. Your pitch

Tell readers what your blog is about. Don’t ramble on and on – give them a concise explanation of your blog, and give them a compelling reason to stick around. This isn’t easy, but it’s important to get it right. Otherwise, you may be losing potential readers at the very first hurdle.
2. Your latest post

Writing “pillar content” is all about writing great posts. But it shouldn’t be something you do every now and again. Every time you publish a post, make it a great post. Make every post a work of art. Any of your posts could be the first one that a reader sees – so how can you justify publishing half-baked posts?
3. Your best posts

No matter how much effort you put into your posts, some will stand above the rest. You’ll need to decide how to measure the success of a post, whether it’s down to pageviews, the number of comments, the quality or length of comments, the post with the most retweets on Twitter, or something else entirely. Whichever you choose, be sure to list some of your best posts on your home page.
4. A striking, unique, clean design

We’re not all designers, but even a small amount of effort on your design can make the difference between “blah” and “blimey!”. If possible, hire a designer to help you out, or use a theme that can be easily customised. Make the most of your header area – don’t waste space with a huge banner or loads of ads – keep it simple. Also, ensure you keep clutter to a minimum.
5. Images

It’s pretty boring when a blog is nothing but text. You need to include a few images that add value to the site, but don’t go overboard. Thumbnails are a good compromise – they look good, but they’re small, unobtrusive and fast-loading. That’s what I use on the front page of Top Ten Blog Tips.
6. Clear and concise categories

While writing new posts is very important, don’t keep churning out post after post without thinking of how your blog should be organised. Every now and again, it’s a good idea to tidy up your blog categories. You should also look at how to improve your navigation.
7. Recent updates

In point 2, I said that you should highlight your recent posts. It goes a bit further than that – you need to have recent posts! Readers may be turned off if a blog has no recent updates, say within the last few weeks – or even more. It might be less of an issue for blogs that already have a lot of content, though. What do you think?
8. Comments and replies

A blog with no comments looks lonely and abandoned. A blog with no replies from the author looks like the blogger doesn’t care. Comments are one of the most important lifesigns of youir blog – don’t ignore them, and don’t stop trying to increase your blog comments.
9. A quick way to subscribe

There’s a fine line between helping people to find your subscribe link, and putting it right in their face. Sure, make it easy to find – but I’ve never been keen on these popup windows that appear on my first visit before I’ve even had a chance to read the latest post, saying “subscribe now!”. Hey, how about giving me a chance to decide if I want to? I’ve heard some bloggers saying that these popups give them loads of new subscribers – how about all the people who didn’t subscribe because they found the popup really annoying?
10. A personality

Readers are much more likely to relate to a real person than some mechanical robot writer. Posts written with style, character and personality are far more likely to make a connection than a generic set of ideas that the author doesn’t even follow on their own blog.

What do you think? What makes people stop and check out your blog? What makes you stop and check out other people’s blogs? Is there anything else you’d add to or remove from this list?

Top 10 Blog Writing Tips

Most of the “rules” about writing for ezines and newsletters apply to writing posts for your blog, but there are some important differences. Keep these 10 tips in mind and you’ll be publishing great blog content that attracts prospects and clients in your niche market.

  1. Write with the reader in mind. Remember WIIFM? It’s marketing jargon for What’s In It For Me? That’s what you should be keeping in mind. Your reader will read your post looking for what’s in it for them.
  2. Make it valuable and worthwhile. Don’t waste people’s time. If you don’t have anything to say, no problem, plenty other people do. So share their articles, do an interview, review a book.
  3. Proof-read for typos and glaring grammatical errors. You wouldn’t go out of the house with dirty hair or missing a sock, so why would you publish spelling mistakes? Respect your readers by polishing up your stuff.
  4. Keep it short and simple, sweetie. (KISS). Most people are scanners. You may have a lot to say and think it interesting, and it may be. But people are reading online and out of time. Get to the point quickly. Publishing short posts more frequently is a better format than publishing lengthy articles every few weeks.
  5. Keep it lively, make it snappy and snazzy. Even if you aren’t a natural born writer, you can write for your blog. Just write like you’re speaking to your friend.or to yourself! Remember though, get to the point quickly. Keep in mind the journalist’s rule of 5 W’s in the first paragraph: who, what, why, when and where.
  6. Link often. This builds credibility and positions you as an expert in your field. People don’t have time to know what others are doing, you should tell them. Linking to other blogs and websites also helps you build a network of associates who will in turn link to your blog.
  7. Use keywords often. This will help you stay on purpose, and the search engines will love your blog. Your rankings will go up. This is one of the reasons we have you write out your purpose statements before beginning your blog. The clearer you are about your purpose, the more consistently you will deliver messages that are on target. And the more often your keywords show up, the better your search engine results.
  8. Write clearly (short sentences, only one concept per sentence). No double speak or jargon; no more than one idea in one sentence- don’t make your readers have to think about your meaning. Spoon feed them. Use commas and dashes liberally.
  9. Write like you talk. It’s okay to use common expressions from speech. Examples: Go figure. Don’t even go there. Now, I ask you. Gotta love it. (And, remember the age group of your readers.)
  10. Use a clear headline, and don’t be afraid to make bold statements (but don’t mislead people either). Make it snazzy and use key words. Example: Ex-Techno-Weenie Masters HTML Code

BONUS: After you write a post and BEFORE you hit the save button

Use this checklist to ask yourself a few questions as you are reading through for typos and grammar:

  • Is the topic clear to someone who only reads the headline?
  • Does the lead paragraph tell who and what the story is about and why the reader should care about it?
  • Is the angle you’ve used likely to seem newsworthy?
  • Would someone who knows absolutely nothing about this topic understand this post?
  • Is the post free of jargon?
  • Is it written in journalistic style and does it make an effort to be objective?
  • Have you peppered the headline and the post with keywords and phrases that will be attractive to search engines?
  • Did you remember to ask your readers a question at the end, or something to stimulate readers to comment?
  • Did you remember to write with the reader in mind, always keeping in mind WIIFT? (What’s in It for Them?)

More accessibility features in Android 1.6

From time to time, our own T.V. Raman shares his tips on how to use Google from his perspective as a technologist who cannot see — tips that sighted people, among others, may also find useful.

The most recent release of Android 1.6, a.k.a. Donut, introduces accessibility features designed to make Android apps more widely usable by blind and low-vision users. In brief, Android 1.6 includes a built-in screenreader and text-to-speech (TTS) engine which make it possible to use most Android applications, as well as all of Android’s default UI, when not looking at the screen.

Android-powered devices with Android 1.6 and future software versions will include the following accessibility enhancements:

* Text-to-Speech (TTS) is now bundled with the Android platform. The platform comes with voices for English (U.S. and U.K.), French, Italian, Spanish and German.
* A standardized Text To Speech API is part of the Android SDK, and this enables developers to create high-quality talking applications.
* Starting with Android 1.6, the Android platform includes a set of easy to use accessibility APIs that make it possible to create accessibility aids such as screenreaders for the blind.
* Application authors can easily ensure that their applications remain usable by blind and visually impaired users by ensuring that all parts of the user interface are reachable via the trackball; and all image controls have associated textual metadata.
* Starting with Android 1.6, the Android platform comes with applications that provide spoken, auditory (non-speech sounds) and haptic (vibration) feedback. Named TalkBack, SoundBack and KickBack, these applications are available via the Settings > Accessibility menu.
* In addition, project Eyes-Free (which includes accessibility tools such as TalkBack) provides several UI enhancements for using touch-screen input. Many of these innovations are available via Android Market and are already being heavily used. We believe these eyes-free tools will serve our users with special needs as well.

You can turn on the accessibility features by going to Settings –> Accessibility and checking the box “Accessibility”. While the web browser and browser-based applications do not yet “talk” using these enhancements, we’re working on them for upcoming releases. Check out this Google Open Source Blog post for more details, and stay tuned to the eyes-free channel on YouTube for step-by-step demonstrations on configuring and using accessibility support on Android.

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