Wednesday, 17 February 2016

Getting into blogging - specifically wargaming related blogging

Greetings all,

I've had a couple of people I'm acquainted with recently say to me that they're thinking of starting a blog, and expressing an interest in hints and tips on how to go about it, so I thought what better way to explain things as I see it than writing a blog post about it, what I did and where I think I went wrong. If this article helps even one person start up a blog then I think I'm going to count it a success.

Where to start?

Well the first thing I think is really important in a blog is its name - it's the thing that you're going to have plastered at the top of the page and it's what people will remember. You want people to remember it and you want them to keep coming back and there are a few different ways of doing that. First, you can keep it nice and simple - 'The Burning Eye' is not a difficult thing to remember and it doesn't take an age to read. The more abstract and lengthy your blog's name the more complicated it becomes for people to remember. That's not to say they won't, but it doesn't help matters. The second is to make it hobby related. I'm gonna namecheck now, but NafNaf's blog 'Objective Secured' hits both the first point in being short and simple, and also the second. It's also cunningly based on a special rule from the 40k rulebook, so not only is it short and snappy, it's also hobby related and it leads me neatly onto my third point (see, I can plan articles out in a clever way that flows smoothly). That third point is that if you want people to hit your blog without necessarily being referred from another blogging site, name it after something that hobbyists will feasibly be searching for. The above example is a rule that plenty of gamers out there might search for on the internet if they want to research the point, and NafNaf's blog will turn up in their search and I can guarantee he'll be picking up hits from people that were actually looking to see how the rule works.

 My own blog was started to chart the progress I was making on my Dark Eldar army, who I had dubbed the Kabal of the Burning Eye. Consequently I decided to name the blog after them. I don't think it's a bad choice, but it only hits one of the three points above and so I've probably had to work a bit harder than I might have to get the blog to where it is now. I have had thoughts about re-launching my blogging using a new address but I think that might be counter-productive at this point.

Which platform?

By far the most common seems to be blogger. Wordpress is an alternative I've seen used but much more rarely, and sadly the proliferation of google into our lives means that it's much simpler to jump on that bandwagon than try and go it alone and be different. I've not tried wordpress so it may be that it's not only different but better than blogger, but I can't really express an opinion on that.

Why start a blog?

I think this is the key one for me. It takes a lot of work to make a blog successful, and it's not easy. It can be demoralising at times when you put out what you think is a great article but it only gets a handful of views, or you get some negative comments about your content. There will be times when writing the next article will be a slog and you'll question why you're doing it, so you really need to have that motivation - so what is that? It may sound selfish, but for me, a big part of the motivation is knowing there are people out there who want to hear what I have to say and look at the things I've painted. I started the blog as a way of publishing my hobby progress wider than the painting log I had on I wanted people to look at my models and tell me that my painting was decent, and that the fluff I wrote to go with them was worth reading. I don't think that's a bad thing though - ultimately if you don't want interaction with the wider hobby community then there's no point to you writing a blog. Other, more 'pure' motivations for starting a blog would be to give something back to the hobby as a whole, and I think I've moved into this much more over my blog's lifetime - I can now say that I have experience of gaming and my tactics articles and reviews are based on more than just supposition and educated guesswork. Dave over at 40kaddict gives so much back to the community, from his downloadable terrain templates, his skill and advice at painting and most recently his pledge to donate the proceeds from his adverts to providing a prize to someone for using his free stuff.

Ultimately, you've got to want to keep writing that next article - many blogs will fail early on because you quickly expend your energies on everything you have to say.

How do I register/set up a blog?

Hmm, interesting one actually this, since I've only done it once and it was a long time ago now, haha! I'm going to skip the actual process of creating it therefore, since it's different for each platform and generally you'll be taken through things step by step. What I am going to do however, is talk about the things you'll need to think about in terms of your blog.

Layout - there will be various options you can look at here - I guess the real question is how simple you want your blog to be. The blogger version basically gives you three options, you can stick to simply the articles and nothing else, articles on one side and other stuff on the other (links etc), or articles in the middle and other stuff on both sides. Essentially this is entirely up to you, but what I would say is that you'll need to bear in mind that if you want people to read more than one article on your site, you'll need to give them a way of finding those articles, so I'd strongly suggest taking one of the latter two options. You can then add 'gadgets' into the other areas, which contain things like your blog archive, or your post labels etc, which allow people to find other articles you've done much more easily.

Banner - This is basically the picture at the top of your blog, and will usually incorporate the blog's name in some way. These vary from the simplistic to the extremely elaborate depending on your skills. Mine is fairly simplistic mainly because digital art is something I have no talent for - my blog banner is therefore simply some clipart of a flame, doctored using microsoft office to change the colours and then some wordart added over the top. Simple, but fairly effective. The real thing to watch out for here is the size of your banner - make sure it doesn't discourage people from reading your blog - if you simply put a picture in there it's got to be quite wide and shallow, otherwise when people come to your site they'll only see the picture and not the articles!

Colour scheme & background - blogger comes pre-loaded with loads of templates that include background images, so you can simply pick one and get started. You may also wish to use a picture from elsewhere as your background, it's up to you. One thing that is important however is your colour scheme. Readers will vary from those (like me) who want to see a blogger's individuality come through in their blog, to those who would rather a simple colour scheme with a white-ish background and black text. Again it's up to you (it is your blog after all) but you'll need to bear in mind that if you put something extreme in there, then people may well be put off from returning. Font is also important as I discovered early on, because if an article is difficult to read, people won't bother. My colour scheme on the blog generally changes when I start to focus on a new army, so it has been through a few iterations over the years and will likely change again later this year when I move onto the Bromheads.

Gadgets & adverts - gadgets I've already mentioned briefly, and they come in all sorts, from simple counters to tell you how many times the blog has been viewed, to registers of who follows your blog, to more complicated things like tracking progress on projects etc. There are loads of things you can add to your blog, and there's certainly something to be said for keeping things simple. I like to try and give people as much info as possible though, so things like my blog archive, post labels to allow people to search for my other articles, along with things like links to my club and other events, and pages where I've collected specific articles together are important to me.

I think that's probably enough for now - I'll come back and re-visit the topic soon, and talk about post-specific things like topics, pictures etc.