Category Archives: Blogging

Is This The Future For Book Bloggers?

Day 26 of the A-Z challenge.

Z is for Zoom

This time last year if you’d said to a friend “see you on Zoom”, you’d have been met with a blank stare of incomprehension. 

How life has changed. 

The name of the videoconferencing platform has now bludgeoned its way into everyday vocabulary. Zoom has become as much a part of our Covid-19 restricted life as queues, face masks and social distancing. 

Everyone seems to be at it. Parents, grandparents, politicians, doctors, care workers have all flocked to the service. People have used it to keep up with friends and relatives, to host weddings, organise music concerts, livestream funerals  and hold meetings of government bodies.

In the book world, video conferencing has provided a lifeline for publishers, booksellers and authors who want to keep in touch with readers and bloggers. With book launches, signings, literary festivals and all in-person events cancelled for the foreseeable future, creative solutions were needed.

Rising To The Challenge

Publishers, authors and bookshops have stepped up to that challenge with gusto. Author  CJ Cooke was inspired to create a complete virtual festival – within one week of floating the idea she had enough support from authors to stage the Stay-at-Home! Festival delivered via Zoom in March and April.

Bookshop owner Mel Griffin at Griffin Books in Penarth, Wales is one of numerous booksellers to move her literary events programme to a virtual platform when non essential travel was restricted in the UK. Amongst the “meet the author” sessions she’s also hosting twice-weekly storytelling mornings for youngsters and a weekly book club.

Snapshot of events from Griffin Books

Zoom is of course not the only place where these events are taking place.

The Women’s Prize For Fiction is using Instagram for a virtual literary lunch while the Comedy Women’s Writers Prize used the platform for the appropriately named “ChipWittyWednesday Drop Ins” – live chats with authors – while the folks who run the annual Brighton and Hove Book Fayre turned to Facebook. I’ve lost count of the number of book launches taking place via Twitter.

It will be interesting to see how the HayFestivalDigital works when that kicks off on May 22 since details are very scarce at the moment.

I could easily fill my entire calendar this month with readings, discussions, book clubs and other literary events. And I haven’t even touched on those taking place in other parts of the world but I bet they’re happening just as much in the United States and Australia as they are in the UK.

Is Virtual The Future?

The big question is whether, now we have got used to this way of interacting with authors and publishers, will we want to go back to the old way of in-person events?

For readers and book bloggers alike these virtual events are a brilliantly convenient way to get to know the authors. Just snuggle up on the sofa, drink and snack of choice to hand, click a few buttons and you’re in. No hassle with transport and at a fraction of the cost (many events are in fact free).

But – and it’s a very big but – the one thing that virtual author and festival events cannot offer is the pleasure of human contact. I get more of a buzz from being in the same room as other book enthusiasts than being on the same video screen. Sure it’s amusing to see glimpses of the author’s writing studio or hear the occasional barking dog and excited child. But it’s still not the same is it?

So I’m going to stick my neck out and predict that, once lockdowns are over and normal life can return (the new normal that is), we will be flocking to the in-person events like never before. I don’t see virtual events going away however – they are more cost effective to organise, so in a world of tightened budgets, why wouldn’t bookshops and publishers want to add these to their mix of marketing opportunities? I suspect it won’t be a case of events either in person or virtual but of a mix of both.

Paul Bogaards, deputy publisher of Knopf and Pantheon, gave a good indication of how the future could look in an interview with Publishers Weekly

From a publishing perspective, the economics of virtual tours are pretty compelling. That said, we are looking forward to the moment when we are able to resume physical tours.”

Paul Bogaards, Knopf and Pantheon

What about the future of book clubs?

I’ve participated in three so far, all organised in slightly different ways. One was a videoconference version of our regular monthly book club that meets in a bookshop cafe. Another was more of a book chat organised by a book shop. No pressure to have read a particular book since we just talked about what we were reading at the time. The third event was one I organised with some neighbours and friends. Again this was more of a book-related chat where we shared our current book and the stories of how we had acquired them (you’d be surprised at the ingenuity).

One big advantage these virtual book club discussions have over their in-person cousins is that you don’t have irritating side conversations. People seem less inclined to hog the floor so the quieter members get more of a look in.

I don’t see them replacing the face to face book clubs but they’re giving me an idea that they could be a superb way of reaching and engaging with a new audience.

None of the people in my book “friends and neighbours” sessions have ever been to a real book club or have any interest in doing so in the future. They tell me they don’t like the idea of having to read a particular book by a deadline. But they’re all keen to keep up our virtual network.

Then there are the people who are housebound so physically cannot get to an in person event. Often times they are avid readers. Would a virtual book group give them a safe way of connecting with other people and staving off loneliness?

I don’t know the answers, just floating some ideas…

The Future For Blogging?

Every year we get a rash of  articles posing the question “is blogging dead.”  Clearly the answer is no – you just need to look at the number of blogs to see that it’s premature to start writing the obituaries for the art of blogging.

Not dead. But different.

Blogging has changed markedly since the start of the century. It’s use as a personal journal has slowed right down (replaced largely by Twitter, Snapchat and Facebook). Blogs have now become places where people share their know-how and their enthusiasm (cue book bloggers) and, increasingly, used to sell services.

It’s going to change again in the future. We’ll likely see an even greater variety of types of content (text, video, sound etc); longer articles and evident professionalism (ie, quality).

Forecasts suggest that live blogging will be a trend for the future. Apparently it’s like tweeting from an event you are attending, except your updates are on your blog. I’m not convinced about this. Personally I would find it irritating to have multiple updates on the same topic but I guess some people would be interested.

I’m far more interested in thinking that video conferencing could become another outlet for book bloggers who want to extent the reach of their blog. We’ve already seen bloggers like Modern Mrs Darcy and Sarah’sBookshelves launch podcasts and others like SavidgeReads migrate to vlogging.

Wouldn’t video conferencing book reading events hosted by a blogger be a natural progression? We’ve seen the potential of video conferencing so we know it works (though privacy issues remain). There’s no reason why a blogger couldn’t have a live audience while they interview guests or hold a Q&A Session. If publishers can do this and book shop owners can do it, why can’t we book bloggers?

Care To Crystal Ball Gaze With Me?

If you’ve participated in any virtual book related events how would you rate your experience? Do you think this is the future? Or do we just return to the way life was before Covid-19 ever entered our consciousness?

Gutenburg Block Editor: Should You Say Yes?

Day 25 of the A-Z challenge.

Y is for YES

Someone once said (it may have been Walt Disney, he was that kind of person): “Don’t say: ‘No, because…’ Say: ‘Yes, if…’.”

So Y is for Yes. 

Yes to the new perspectives of those books by foreign authors that you’ve dodged.

Yes to those ‘difficult’ classics you’ve “always wanted” to read but somehow never did. 

Yes to an open mind on the new WordPress block editor. 

Ah, got you there didn’t I?

You were with me until I mentioned that dreaded phrase ‘block editor’. But those two words had you shaking your head vigorously. You’re definitely in the “No, because..” camp. 

You may have tried it, couldn’t get to grips with the new way of writing posts so reverted to the comfort of the classic editor. 

Or you may be a newish blogger who’s only just got to grips with WordPress and find it daunting to have to start all over again with a new way of working.

Or you’re a blogger who has heard only negative reactions to block editor. None of them are encouraging you to want to switch from classic mode right now.

I get it. I was pretty much in the “no thank you, not for me crowd” six months ago. I tried it, couldn’t get the hang of it and decided to stick with what I knew.

But then I read that Gutenburg block editor will be the default and WordPress will not support classic editor after December 2021. I know that’s a way into the future but this news was the catalyst I needed to give block editor a second go.

You know what? It hasn’t been that difficult to adjust from the old to the new. I’ve adjusted so well I’ve become a fan.

What IS Gutenburg Block Editor?

If you’ve been living under a rock for the last year you might not know what I’m talking about. Here’s the quick explanation…

Block editor was unveiled by WordPress as the first part of an extensive project nicknamed Gutenburg. Other elements of the project will be rolled out in coming years – page templates and widgets are on the horizon.

For now, the focus is on providing a new way to create content.

In the classic editor, when you create a new page or a post, you add the title and then just start typing in free form style. You embed any media into that text. 

In the block editor system you add content in the form of blocks such as paragraphs, headings, media and lists. Each block is treated as an individual element that you can format separately and move around easily. 

To create a page or a blog post you follow three steps:

1. Add a block to the page. There are several ways in which you can do this and multiple options for types of content blocks.

2. Format the block Each block is treated as a separate entity so you can have sections of the page in different colours, size of text, colour background. You can add captions to photos and show quotes in two different sizes. While some of that is possible in the classic editor, it’s much easier in block editor.  

3. Re-arrange content. When you’ve placed all your content on the page, and looked at it in preview mode, you might decide you want a photograph in a different position. It’s simple to do this using drag and drop to move the blocks up and down the page.

Why Is Block Editor Better?

Quite simply the biggest benefit of block editor is the level of control it gives you over the way your page looks. 

1 Easier to add certain features.
Tables for example are a pain to add in classic format – you have to understand a little bit of coding. I used to have tables to display the list of books I’d reviewed but it became a pain to update, so I abandoned it. With block editor, the work of creating rows and columns is done for you. 

You can also create content in columns so if you want to have a magazine look or to have a special feature within the main post, you can. If you like to embed elements like Twitter or You Tube on your page, you can without having to figure out how to insert codes.

2. Maintain integrity of formatting
If you normally write your content in a word processing package and then copy/paste into WordPress, you’ll know that often the formatting goes awry. It might look fine on the blog editing page but in preview mode you can see that some sentences are in a different font or size.

With block editor, any text that is pasted in will have the same format that you have pre-determined for the whole of your blog. What you see will be what you get. 

3. Efficiency
If you tend to have standard elements for certain pieces of content – such as a description of a meme – you can save these as a “re-usable block”. Next time you want that text you simply add the re-usable block to your page. It will retain the exact same formatting whenever you use it.

You can quickly undo and redo any actions – not something that is possible in classic editor.

The Perfect Solution?

Don’t get me wrong. As much as I’ve come to like the new editing system, there are some elements of block editor I don’t like.

My chief frustration is the inability to align photos and text.

This has been an irritant with the classic editor – even though there are options to align images left, right, or center, the results don’t always look good. Sometimes images didn’t align, were not the exact size, or just looked odd.

WordPress says its new block editor rectifies those deficiencies. To get text and image to align you use a block called Media and Text. This block basically adds a two-column area. One column for images (media) and the second column for text content.

I’ve actually used this at the top of this post. It’s fine if you want to make a feature but the problem is that the image’s alignment will automatically adjust to the height of the text in the next column. So you could end up with this:

That looks a mess to my eyes.

With a bit of fiddling around you can get it to work more like this. I’m pleased with the result, just wish there was an easier way.

I’m still in learning mode with this system so there may be other frustrations along the way. From comments in the WordPress forum it’s clear that this new offering has divided bloggers’ opinions – some very vocal participants have said they “hate” the block editor.

Is This For You?

Should you say “yes” to the new way of blogging? I’d say give it a go at least. It does require some effort because there are many new features and ways to get tasks done so try it for about six months before deciding if its for you.

There are numerous videos that walk you through the features of block editor. Here are just two that could be of help.

5 Things I Wish I Knew About Blogging

LetterX with text A2Zchallenge 2020

Day 23 of the A-Z challenge.

X is for The Unknown

I have next to nothing in common with Donald Rumsfeld , the former US Secretary of State for Defence. The one thing upon which we can agree is that “there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know.”

The rest of his answer to a question in a 2002 news briefing about Iraq was gibberish but that one phrase about known unknowns has stuck with me.

It’s how I feel about blogging. Even after 8 years there is so much I don’t understand or know about. I’m hoping that the wisdom of crowds will come to my rescue. The book blogging world is full of generous people more than willing to share knowledge and expertise. Let’s see if you can help fill in the gaps in these areas of my knowledge.

1. Why Do Some Blog Posts Get Scant Attention? 

It’s a mystery to me why some of my blog posts get a lot of interest and others just disappear into a void.

Memes and list posts tend to attract likes and comments very shortly after they are published but then they disappear without trace. Certain book reviews may not get much reaction initially still get visited years later – a few have even ended up as some of the most popular topics I’ve written.

I’ve been puzzling about this for some time. I’ve figured out that the memes and lists posts don’t endure because people are not using search engines to find that kind of material. Book reviews are different – they’re often read a long time after the book is published. In the case of a classic, it may be even centuries later. So any post which is based on a review has a more durable quality.

How do I explain that a review I wrote in 2013 on a novel Petals of Blood by Ngugi wa Thiong’o is the highest visited post in the entire history of this blog. Thousands of people have read it, yet it’s had less than a score of comments. I suspect it’s on an academic syllabus for African literature and the people finding my review are hoping for analysis that will help with their assignment (I think they’ll be disappointed). Does that explain some high visitor numbers for my thoughts on Fear And Trembling by the Belgian author Amelie Nothomb?

All reviews of books by Welsh authors get lower interest than those by people from other parts of the world. Very disappointing but I’m not going to stop doing these because I strongly believe Welsh authors deserve even more exposure. At least I know why this is happening.

But others I simply don’t understand why they die the death. The headline isn’t interesting or maybe not specific enough? The first paragraph doesn’t interest people so they don’t read on? I’ve spent too long explaining the plot and now what I thought about the way the book was written or its themes.

Anyone find this happens to them and if so, do you have any explanations to offer?

Things I wish I understood about blogging Question mark lying on its side
Photo: Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash

2. How To Make Images Workable Across Multiple Platforms

In my recent post about Using Images In Blogs I mentioned that often my images look too small on the page. I searched for some guidelines about how big images should be but didn’t find anything that was easily understandable. One blog expert said:

… don’t use anything that is more than one third of your content block 

Which is all find and dandy if only I knew what size my content block is or where to find such information.

Then there’s the problem that different social media platforms want images of different dimensions. The photo might look the right size on the blog but then when I use it on Twitter, it gets distorted or looks puny. Facebook wants something different and Instagram prefers vertical rather than horizontal format.

Does that mean I need different size/shape images for every social media platform I want to use? Seems like a lot of effort. Are there any shortcuts to get this done? Help needed please!

3. Which Social Media Platform?

“Don’t spread yourself too thinly” was a piece of advice mentioned more than once by bloggers who’ve taken part in this A2ZBookBlogging series.

It’s advice I am taking to heart. I simply don’t have time to keep on top of multiple social media channels. But this raises another question: if I can manage just one social media platform which should I choose?

Until now I’ve focused on Twitter. I’ve played around with Pinterest but abandoned it – it looks to me like an online scrap book and I couldn’t see how it would generate any traffic to my blog which is my primary platform. I opened an Instagram account earlier this year but haven’t done very much with it as yet. Then there’s Facebook, You Tube, Linked In; Reddit, Medium. The list goes on and on.

I’m willing to invest the time and effort to learn how to use most of these tools. But I want to make sure I’m investing wisely. I don’t honestly see myself as a booktuber (incidentally I’ve yet to find a really good book tube channel). Would Instagram be a better option than Twitter? Should I create a Facebook group?

If any of you have experience of social media platforms beyond Twitter, do let me know how you use them and how well you think they work.

4. What Else Can WordPress Offer?

Writing these A2ZBookBlogging posts has forced me to dig into WordPress more deeply than I’ve ever done previously. It’s been a revelation.

I never realised you could create carousels of photos or make the images round. Nor did I know you could add a list of recent posts to any page (I thought that was only possible on the home page). I’ve also found there’s a way to merge and edit categories and tags without having to visit each post individually.

I’m not convinced I need all those functions but just seeing what’s possible got me thinking what else does WordPress have to offer? Am I getting the full benefit of this platform or are there some valuable features I am overlooking? There’s a WordPress for Beginners site and blog which contains some helpful tutorials and “how to” articles which could well provide answers.

5. Should I Plunge Into Self Hosting?

This is the biggest of my unknowns.

Until now I’ve used WordPress.com platform, upgrading from the free plan to the business plan. This gives me far more flexibility with the choice of themes and plug ins and also means I don’t have WordPress branding on the site.

For a personal blogger this gives me as much scope and functionality as I did (it would be different if I was using the blog for business). However it’s more expensive than using the WordPress.org platform which is a self-hosted option (though I would need to pay a separate company for a hosting service).

Being self-hosted would give me even greater flexibility to add more functions and different themes.

But I’m hesitating because making the switch has some disadvantages and some risks.

First I’d need to find a company offering a reliable web hosting service at a reasonable cost. They would be storing all my files so I’d want to make sure their servers were secure and properly maintained. Then there’s the question of whether I can move all my existing content across without screwing up.

These are big questions which is why I have hesitated for more than a year whether this is a wise move.

Anyone here made the switch? If so, am I right to be nervous?? 

Can You Help?

I’ve told you all about the 5 areas that are gaps in my blogging knowledge. I’m wondering if you have the same questions or if you’ve figured out the answers. Leave me a comment to let me know if you can help.

Text 5 Things `i wish I knew About Blogging against blue background with heading A2Z of Book Blogging

Favourite Blog Widgets & Plugins

Day 23 of the A-Z challenge.

W is for Widgets & Plugins

Want to add more features and functions to your blog site but don’t want the hassle of using code? 

The solution is to incorporate widgets and plugins into your blog. 

Don’t know what they are? 

Look at some of the blogs you visit regularly. If you see their home page has a search function, or displays a list of popular topics, a blog roll and a category cloud, you’ll know the blogger is using widgets and plugins. 

PlugIns are the most powerful of these tools. They’re mini programmes or extensions that have to be installed and activated before they can be used on the blog site. Think of them like apps you install on your phone.

Widgets are drag and drop blocks of content that you can add to your site’s sidebars, footers, and other areas. They give you more control over your site without having to understand or apply coding. Some plugsin create widgets, others are bundled with your blog platform.

For a more detailed explanation take a look at this article on the difference between widgets and plugins

Which Widgets and Plugins Should You Use?

The choice of widgets and plugins is already extensive yet more and more are developed every week. It’s easy to get overwhelmed but bear in mind that a large proportion of these tools are really only of benefit for people using a blog as a business platform. Others may not be available if you are using only the free version of WordPress.

The ease of installation also means it’s easy to get carried away and add lots of them to your site. Try not to do that. If you use a large number of plugins you could affect the load speed of your site. Plus, your home page can end up looking very cluttered.

I’ve tweaked the widgets in the side bar of my home page countless times, trying to decide which is the most useful. The most recent change I made was to add a contact form and remove the Twitter feed.

Over time I’ve come to see a few widgets as “essential” and some as “very useful.”

Must Have Widgets and Plugins

These are tools I think are essential for blogs of all sizes.

  • A search function. This will enable people landing on your site to go direct to specific topics. A search widget comes bundled within WordPress. You just have to add it to your site.
  • Subscription sign up . This will enable people who don’t have a WordPress account or a Blog Reader to receive notifications whenever you post a new article. WordPress has one called Subscribe2Widget. The sign up function I use is part of a Jetpack plugin – a paid for option which includes multiple widgets.
  • Social media icons. If you have Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest accounts, it’s a good idea to make these prominent on your home page so people can easily connect with you. WordPress doesn’t seem to offer these as a standard widget so you’ll need to install a plugin. Again I use Jetpack but there is a plugin called Social Icons Widget by WPZoom which looks interesting.
  • Copyright notice. You want to protect your content so make sure you have a copyright “warning”. You can use the WordPress standard Text widget and just paste in your copy .
  • 404 Redirect . A 404 error is the message your reader sees if they click on a broken link somewhere within your blog. It’s a dead end. If you install a 404 redirect plugin, you can ensure all broken links end up on a dedicated page where you can provide a more tailored message to your reader. It’s giving them a better experience until you fix those broken links. The plugin I installed is called All 404 Redirect To Homepage. If you’re not sure why broken links are a problem, take a look at my post on Why You Need To Fix Broken Links.
Photo by Chris Yates on Unsplash

“Very Useful” Widgets And Tools

There are a few more widgets that I would class as “very useful”. All except the last item come bundled within WordPress which makes it very easy to add to a side bar.

  • Category cloud. This gives readers a feeling for what your site is all about and which types of content you write most about
  • Recent posts. A list of around five headlines . Very useful for readers who may be new to the blog
  • Top posts and pages. A list of your most viewed content. This is a good way for older posts to be highlighted.

Tools With Potential For Book Bloggers

As I was exploring all the widgets and plugins available I came across a few that I have could be of value to book bloggers.

  • RafflePress. If you regularly run book giveaways or mini competitions this could be a very interesting tool. It enables you to set up a giveaway and add it to a post, page, or sidebar. There is a free version called RafflePressLite 
  • WPForms This is one of the most popular plugins available via WordPress. It enables you to easily create a contact form or an email subscription form. Businesses use it for order forms, surveys, customer feedback. For book bloggers I think this tool offers a great way to display lists on a page. For example: a list of books reviewed on the site (for a good example of this see A Life In Books) or a progress list for challenges.
  • Feature a Page Widget. This is a plugin with a widget that allows you to add a page as a featured page in your WordPress sidebar on the home page. You can choose to display a page title, featured image, and excerpt. This could be a good option if you are running a reading month or a challenge and you have a page dedicated to that event. See this article on how to feature a page in WordPress to learn more.

How To Install Widgets And PlugIns

Within WordPress you’ll find a number of widgets included as standard tools.

To use them, go to your WordPress dashboard.

Choose Appearance → Widgets.

Select the widget you want to use and drag it to to the widget section of your page. The location could be your sidebar or the footer, depend on which design theme you are using. You can easily rearrange the order in which they appear.

To find plugins, go to the dashboard again but this time select Plugins. The next screen will show you which Plugins are available according to your theme – you simply activate them by selecting the radio button next to the plugin name.

If you want to install a new Plugin, Click on Add New (this is shown on the top of the screen and also in the dashboard Plugin menu on the left). Use the search tool to find the PlugIn you want. Click Install and then Select.

Your Favourite Widgets & Plugins

I’ve shared my list of favourites but I may have missed some other very useful tools. Let me know what you’ve discovered.

text on blue background of A2Zbookblogging and Favourite Blog Widgets & Plugins

Using Images to Take Your Posts to a New Level

Day 22 of the A-Z challenge.

V is for Visual Appeal

How many times have you heard someone say “A picture is worth a thousand words”?

It’s a concept that had its roots in the early 1920s with an article published by Frederick R. Barnard, an American advertising executive. His piece, headlined “One look is worth a thousand words”, argued that a single still image is more memorable and can convey complex ideas more effectively than words alone. 

A century has elapsed since that idea originated but it still holds good.

Think of the really big news stories from the last few decades. In every case, the story was enhanced by powerful images. 

Photo: Pixabay.com. Free for commercial use

Princess Diana sitting alone at the Taj Mahal.

Pelicans  covered in oil after the BP spillage in the Gulf of Mexico. 

Koala bears trapped by Australia’s devastating bush fires

It’s often the visual we remember, more than the detail of the text.

Give Your Blog Posts Some Oomph

Your blog content is unlikely to make international news (unless you plan to say something extremely controversial!) but you can still use images to make your blog stand out.

Photos and graphics make your post more memorable. If you use a similar style throughout your blog, they can become unique features that distinguish your blog from all the rest. Just take a look at how theorangutanlibrarian does this with her playful sketches or how Carol at readingladies.com uses collages. 

Graphics and photographs like these also help break up the text visually.

Remember that reading on screen for long periods of time isn’t a pleasurable experience. It’s even more challenging if you are reading on a small screen like a tablet or mobile phone. So if you break up your text with headings and images you are creating a more comfortable reading experience for your readers. 

How To Use Images Effectively

I know how much of a contribution strong images make to the overall appeal and effectiveness of a blog post or a page. My challenge has been two fold: how to find attractive and interesting images and how to get them working effectively on the blog.

I’m working on solutions to the first challenge.

For generic images I’m using Unsplash.com which has a large collection of high quality license-free photographs.

For book reviews I’m experimenting with canva.com and a photo collage app called Photogrid.

For regular list type posts like Six Degrees of Separation, Sample Saturday and Top Ten Tuesday, I’ve started using photocollage.com.

I do have Photoshop but it’s a very complex programme and I’m not convinced that its worth the investment of my time to learn its intricacies. Anyway Mr BookerTalk is an expert on the programme so I’ll just press gang him into service if the need arises for something more fancy. By the way, he created the graphic below that I’m using for the A2ZBookBlogging series.

Part two of the issue is making sure they work effectively when placed on the page. Often times my images look too small and inconsequential to have any real impact. But I’m concerned if I make them bigger that will cause the page to load more slowly – and irritate my readers.

The solution it seems is to “optimise” all the images used within the blog site so the file size is reduced.

This involves three elements:

1. Choose The Right Image file Format

The standard file formats for graphics are JPEG, PNG and GIF.

JPEG is a compressed file format which slightly reduces image quality but has the benefit of a significantly smaller file size. PNG is an uncompressed format – it gives a higher quality image BUT the file size will much larger. GIF files (which I don’t use personally) uses fewer 256 colours and compression technology, making it the best choice for animated images.

2. Compress The Photo File

Compression is in essence a way of shrinking the file size so it loads quicker on the page. The higher compression, the smaller the file size will be.

You can install plugins that can automatically compress images when you first upload them.  I installed one called Imagify which worked really well but the free option limits you to 25MB of images every month. I’ve already exceeded that for this month. There are alternatives via  TinyPNG (the free option is limited to 20 images of 5MB each) or JPEG Mini which appears to be completely free. With both of these, you just need to remember to do this to each photograph or graphic before uploading to the media library.

3. Reduce File Quality

Photographs imported from phones, iPads and digital cameras are normally very large and have a very high resolution.

Typically the resolution will be 300 DPI (dots per inch) which is the standard required for print or desk top publishing. But that’s far superior to what’s needed for web usage. These imported images also tend to have very large dimensions – upwards of 2,000 pixels.

Reducing the dimensions, using the image editing software on your computer, to something more reasonable can significantly decrease the size of the image file. I just did this with one file and reduced it from a whopping 5.3MB to 599 KB, but still had an image large enough to make a big splash on the page.

Share Your Insight

All of this has convinced me I need to put some effort into optimising my images. It will make a huge difference to the speed at which the site loads, a source of major frustration for many blog readers.

Is this something you have tried yourself? I’m curious to hear about your experience. Do you have any favourite image tools that you can share?

Breathe New Life Into Old Blog Content

Day 21 of the A-Z challenge.

U is for Update & Refresh

If you’ve been blogging for a few years you probably have a substantial library of posts. How many have you ever revisited? A handful? None? 

We focus on writing new content so much that we forget the posts we wrote years ago. Yet there’s gold in those older pieces. 

Think of it like this. 

Most of the readers who follow your blog now, were not your followers when you started the blog. So they’ve never seen many of the older articles that you worked so hard to create. Those earlier posts have disappeared into a blog cemetery.

Why not dig them up and give them a second life? 

Photo: Unsplash.com.

Why It’s Good To Update Posts 

If you give these older pieces of content a refresh and then re-publish them, you’ll be bringing them to the attention of your current readers and helping to boost your presence with search engines. 

Here are some valid reasons for updating content:

  • You’re a more skilled and savvy blogger than you were in your past. Your writing has likely become more polished with all the practice you’ve had. You’ve got better at using images. When you first started the blog you maybe didn’t know how to use keywords or links. And you didn’t fully appreciate that writing for a blog is not like writing for a print publication – large blocks of text are difficult to read on line. Applying the skills and knowledge you have now, to your older content can give them added value. 
  • Many of the people who discover your blog will never see the majority of your posts. If you re-publish older posts you give them more content to enjoy. 
  • Some of the older content has become outdated. For example you may have reviewed one title in a series that has expanded since you did the review. Or the author whose debut work you reviewed has since published additional titles.
  • Your original post didn’t link to some more recent content you’ve written on a similar topic.

Ways To Update Older Content 

  • Replace the images/graphics (remember to add the alt text). You may also want to make the images larger/smaller. 
  • If the post is lengthy, add more images to avoid the text looking too dense on the page 
  • Improve the formatting to make the page more readable and findable by search engines. Add headings, sub headings, shorten the paragraphs. Use bullet points. 
  • You could re-write the heading. A word of caution here– be very, very careful that change doesn’t affect the url. If the url is altered, other posts that link to the one you are updating will become broken.  
  • Add internal and external links. Over time you’ll have written new content that is associated with the old ones. Maybe you’ve written a review of another book by the same author, or you’ve written on a related topic.  Links improve the experience of the reader by directing them to content you think they would be interested in discovering. For more information on links check out the article Is Your Book Blog Search Friendly?
  • If the original post was very long, consider adding more content. As I wrote in the topic Quantity or Quality Which Works Best, there’s an indication that search engines prefer longer content. Obviously the new material has to add value to the piece.
  • Fix any out of date or incorrect information – either remove it or update 

How To Republish: Step By Step 

1. Select the posts to update

You’re not going to update every post you’ve ever written. Some of them are not worth the effort. Think about what would interest your readers most? Probably not your “new book purchases” or month in review posts or your predictions for which titles will win the xxx literary prize three years ago. The posts you’ll want to focus on are those that have a longer life span, like your book reviews.

If you were a professional blogger you’d narrow down the list further by using various analytical tools to decide which are getting some, but not a lot of views. 

We non professionals can use a simpler approach and review a year at a time. Use the statistics available via your blog programme to find posts that had modest traffic and a few comments. 

Set aside some time, maybe just once a month, to go through that list and update one at a time.

2. Decide How Much To Change

You have two options for updating. 

The simplest method is just to republish each of the older posts. All you need to do in WordPress is to change the “publish” date. It will then appear in your followers’ blog feed as a new post. 

It will only take you a few minutes for each post. 

But I’d advise against doing it with posts that have a good number of comments. The reason is that readers will see from the date it’s a new post. Yet the comments are dated from years ago. So they’ll end up confused.

The better solution is to update the post. Some posts may need only a light touch update, others may warrant a substantial rewrite.

3. Make Your Changes

Before you make any changes, make sure to keep the original post live. In WordPress “edit” mode do not select the option to “switch to draft.”

  1. If you plan on making just a few tweaks to the text, do this within the blog editing mode. If you intend to do a complete re-write or want to add a lot of new material, copy and paste the content into a new document, make the changes, and then copy back.
  2. Add your links. Check existing links are still valid.
  3. Change other elements like the graphics and formatting

4. Be Transparent

Add a note at the end of your post to indicate this is an update. This transparency will maintain trust with your readers and is especially particularly important if your older version had a good number of comments.Your transparency note could simply say:

This note was published originally in [date] but has been completely revised and updated for accuracy.

Or

This note was published originally in [date] but has been partially revised with new information 

5. Publish

You are now ready to republish.

Change the publish date and time to the current date and time, and click “update”. Do not try to schedule the changes for a future date or time otherwise it will result in a “404 page not found” error message for your readers.

Ready To Give It A go?

It’s a whole lot easier to revise existing material than it is to create new content.  So if you struggle to think of new content, take the pressure off yourself by revisiting older material. Is this something you have tried yourself or maybe will consider doing in the future?

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