Using Blogger Effectively As Your Website
When I first thought of launching TAFA back in 2010, I decided to use Blogger as a free platform to test the concept and see if there was any interest. There was! Blogger worked well as our initial test site. As Google’s free blogging platform, Blogger has immediate entry into a vast network of blogs and support. Many of our members and others out there barely explore the potential it offers in terms of both design and reach.
Reasons for using Blogger:
- It’s the easiest blogging platform out there for non-techies. Blogger’s posting steps are straightforward and lightweight. They changed their format on the back-end awhile ago, which has made it a little harder to navigate then it used to be. For example, the post tags or labels used to be right under the editing box and now they are on the right sidebar and I often forget to add them….
- It’s free. Blogger offers a good way to test an idea or even if someone will take to the whole blogging process. A good blog does demand some organizational and technical skills. Images should be beautiful, text should be readable and make sense, and there should be new posts on a regular basis.
- The design can be personalized. Blogger used to have just a few designs to pick from and if you wanted to change it, you would have to go through a painstaking coding process. For example, it only used to offer one sidebar and many of us wanted two. Now it has the easiest tools for customization that I have ever seen! Fonts, colors, layouts, etc. are easy to change with a live preview showing choices as you go along. It really is great!
- It has powerful networking tools. Followers can join the community, it has an attractive blog roll that can be tweaked, sidebar widgets accept html code for displaying social media and other widgets, RSS feeds are easy to install, and so on. And, because it is a Google product, I have a feeling that Blogger blogs get special treatment by them in terms of Search Optimization. (No proof, just a gut feeling!)
- 20 separate pages can be set up with a navigation bar. Again, back in the early days, Blogger only offered one page where the posts were shown, a major design flaw for those who wanted to use it as a website. Now you can have all the pages you need to create static content (information that does not change much over time). You can have the About page, the Gallery pages, Contact page, etc. It’s really the easiest way to create a website.
- A unique url can be used instead of the Blogger one. By default, all Blogger blogs have blogspot.com as the address. For example, your site would be called www.yoursite.blogspot.com. For only $10 a year, you can buy your own domain name (through Blogger or elsewhere) and replace their address. You would then have www.yoursite.com, a much more professional way to market yourself. Plus, if you eventually moved out of Blogger, you would take all of the links that had been created with that domain with you. It might be a bit problematic as the links can break if they are not the same on the new site, but they would still take you to the new place. This happened to us when we moved TAFA from Blogger to our own site. The links on Blogger reverted to the blogspot address and are now broken within that blog.
- It’s not your real estate. Although it does not happen often, all Blogger blogs belong to Google and they can shut any blog down at any time for any reason. If you pay for your own hosting, you never have to worry about that. It’s your real estate to use as you please.
- The template has limitations. I mentioned how easy it is to tweak and personalize the theme, but one of the big limitations is that every page has the same layout. A self-hosted WordPress site, on the other hand, allows each page to have its own design. This can be useful if you need links on the sidebar to point to different things depending on the page’s content. But, for simple sites, this is not a big deal.
- Search results always show the most recent content first. This was one of the big problems that we had with our Blogger platform as our membership grew. The search always gave higher priority to members who had joined most recently, rather than what was most relevant for the search.
- There are limited widgets for galleries and other special effects. Self-hosted WordPress sites have a million plugins out there which can transform how the site operates, including how images are displayed. Blogger is way behind on that in terms of available tools that are user-friendly.
There are probably many other pros and cons, but those are the basic ones that I think are important in terms of deciding whether to use Blogger as a primary website. The way I see it: Blogger is a great platform for beginners who will eventually graduate into a more sophisticated solution.
Now, let’s take a look at a couple of examples of how a Blogger blog can be improved to better suit one’s needs. I’ve recently worked with two TAFA members on their blogs to help them make better use of what they had. The most recent is Jacque Davis who had a basic blog. She had been struggling with getting a website up, didn’t feel like she had the technical skills to take it on herself, got burnt in the process and was über frustrated. Her blog looked like this:
One pager with posts and a few links on the sidebar. In three hours of tweaking, I changed it to this:
The blog column and sidebars are much wider, she now has several pages, including a gallery of images, and we ditched the Thread of Life name. This is a common mistake that many people (including myself!) do with their blogs. They have a completely different name from the rest of the person’s web presence. Jacque also owns the url http://jacquedavis.com/ which also points to the blog. So, the new blog name matches the url name. Most importantly, Jacque now understands how she can tweak the blog and its design to make it work for her needs.
Blogs initially started as a way to keep a web journal. They were such a hit that soon every mother and her sister was blogging! Because they have new, dynamic content, people soon realized that their old static (unchanging) websites would perform better if their blogs and websites were at the same place. Blogs show up better in search engine results, but the static pages were also important as they provided key information that could be understood quickly. For example, if you have twelve quilts for sale, it’s much better to have a page dedicated to them with the price and other descriptive info than to have them buried in various posts. Blogs and websites have largely merged into one tool these days.
Unfortunately, there are some website services that do not offer a good blogging platform. Such was the case with Georgianne Holland’s new site. Georgianne invested a great amount of time, energy and thought into having her new site designed. It is beautiful and provides her with the tools she needs to accept commissions for her folk art pillows.
She already had a blog on Blogger, so she hired me to tweak it so that it would match her website as closely as possible:
They are obviously different from each other, while clearly related. Using the same logo, graphics and colors helps the two speak to each other. So, for Georgianne, this is an imperfect, but useful, solution for the problem she had with her new site. Notice that she also has a navigation on the blog, and yes, you can imagine that having two sites means more work. When updating the main site, she also needs to make sure that the info on the blog is still relevant.
I moved my site and blog over to WordPress last year (See The Skinny on WordPress) and although I know that it was the right thing for me to do, I still miss how easy it was to work with Blogger. I still use it when posting on our TAFA Team Blog:
Hopefully, looking at these examples, you will think of ways where you can improve how you are using Blogger. Have you added extra pages? Are you using your sidebars effectively? Have you personalized the design and purchased your own url? Websites can cost thousands of dollars to farm out and having such an accessible option can really help level the playing field for anyone who wants a presence on the web, no matter how limited their financial circumstances might be. Some time, some patience, taking good photos, and keeping a regular blogging schedule can all help your chances of being found and followed on the web.
Tip: When I see something that I like on someone else’s blog or website, I try to figure out how they did it. I will do searches for it, read posts, watch videos and then hopefully, figure it out. There are a gazillion tutorials on YouTube on how to use Blogger. The problem is that you have to do a lot of digging to find some gold as much of the freebie stuff out there is truly poor quality. I did some weeding out and found this one as he does cover quite a bit, is clear and easy to follow. It’s 40 minutes long, but if you want to learn something, it does take time to understand how things work:
What about you? Have you used Blogger? Any tips, questions? We love it when people share their experiences, so don’t hesitate to leave a comment!
About Rachel Biel
We love hearing from our community!