In the first installment of this series (How Come I Have No Readers? Part 1 – Feeds) I described how to provide your readers a way to subscribe to your blog. Now that you have that all set up correctly it is time to help people find your blog.

Great, you told your family and friends about you blog. Gotta start promoting it some how. But lets face it, not all of your friends and family care about your cat so they are unlikely to turn into subscribers. Time to move beyond your small sphere of influence and help other cat lovers find your blog. Don’t sit idle and wait for Google and others to come along and find your stuff. You need to help them out a little.

Tip #1: Create a Sitemap

A site map is what it sounds like, a map to the pages on your site. If you already have an established web site you can use an online tool to help you create a site map. The one I use is the Google Sitemap Generator. I recommend reading all the information available on that page. It’s a bit technical but will help you understand all about site maps.

Once you have generated the sitemap, save it as map.xml and put it in the root directory of your web site.

Tip #2: Even your RSS feed can be a sitemap

So you’ve generated a sitemap with that nifty tool. Now you’ve made some new posts. Do you have to edit the site map? Syndication feeds to the rescue! Thanks to the forward thinking authors of the sitemap spec. you can use your RSS 2.0 or Atom 0.3 or 1.0 feed as a sitemap. Note if you use Feedburner you’ll want to point this at your original feed, not the Feedburner feed.

Tip #3: Create a Sitemap index

This one takes a bit of editing. You’ll want to create a text file called sitemap.xml that contains lines that look like the following:

<?xml version="1.0" encoding="UTF-8"?>

<sitemapindex xmlns="http://www.sitemaps.org/schemas/sitemap/0.9">

<sitemap>

<loc>http://www.mybog.com/map.xml</loc>

</sitemap>

<sitemap>

<loc>http://www.myblog.com/rss.xml</loc>

</sitemap>

</sitemapindex>

In between the first <loc> tags put the URL to your map.xml file that you created in Tip #1 above.

In between the second <loc> tags put the URL to your syndication feed. This may be rss.xml or so other address.

If you have another sitemap you can create another set of <sitemap> tags and insert them before </sitemapindex>. You can create as many as you like.

Tip #4: Modify your Robots.txt

One fairly new development is the ability to help search engines find your sitemaps by specifying them in your robots.txt file. You may not even have one of these. No matter, simply create one in a text editor such as Notepad and add a line like this:

Sitemap: <sitemap_location>

If you created a sitemap index in tip #3 then all you have to do here is specify the index rather than all the separate sitemap files. In that case your robots.txt will read:

Sitemap: sitemap.xml              

Tip #5: Submit your Sitemap

Google has a nice tool for webmasters. Start by adding your blog:

  • Sign into Google webmaster tools with your Google Account.
  • On the Dashboard, type the site URL in the "Add site" field. Make sure you type the entire URL, such as "http://www.example.com/"
  • Click "OK."

Now to add your sitemap:

  • Click the "Add a Sitemap" link beside the site in the Dashboard.
  • Choose the "General Web Sitemap" option.
  • Type the URL to your Sitemap location in the provided field. Make sure you include the entire URL, such as http://www.example.com/sitemap.xml. (NOTE: This is the sitemap index you made in tip #3 above)
  • Click "Add Web Sitemap."

If you have a blog on a service such a Blogspot where you have no control of the robots.txt or any of the files in the directory, you can still add your feed as a sitemap.

You’ll find tons of details on sitemaps at sitemaps.org

Hopefully these tips will get your site on it’s way to being indexed. Don’t panic if you don’t see results right away. Just stick with it and know that with your feed in your sitemap index you can get back to what matters most, creating content that will keep your readers coming back.

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One feature users created on their own is to respond to each other by starting their post with @username. The folks at Twitter have added a Reply tab to help users manage these replies

- The Replies Tab will display an archive of @replies
- @Replies are followed by an ‘in reply to’ link for context
- @username automatically links the username to the profile

Also cool is that the replies tab has it’s own RSS feed you can subscribe to so you don’t miss one.

The other 2 features concern other apps. You can not update Twitter from Facebook and Netvibes. Since Netvibes is my homepage that will make it much much easier to post and keep track.

 

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Yesterday I mentioned Google released its Gears tool for taking web apps off line. Today Lifehacker posted a how-to for taking Google Reader off-line. I may have to give this a try. I went back to Greatnews a couple months ago because I liked the portability and off line access via my USB thumb drive.

Lifehacker: Access your Google Reader feeds offline with Google Gears

 

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I hear it from time to time. People complain that they blog but they have no readers. Is there anything that can be done about it? Now seems like a nice time to have a look at this topic.

First take a step back and get over your bad self. No one owes you their readership. I can already hear you asking what the heck does mister 300+ subscribers know about this?  First off I didn’t wake up the day after I started this blog and have 300 subscribers. It is a gradual process. I can also tell you that those numbers are directly proportional to the amount of effort put into blogging. I don’t post every single day and I’m not enough of an insider (e.g., engadget or techcrunch) to be a story breaker and send my numbers through the roof. It is all about being in a niche.

All that being said, there are things you can do to help your blog out. I’m no wordsmith or copy master (no need to tell that to you regulars!) No, this is a tech blog so lets get into the tech of it all.

Tip #1: Offer your readers a way to subscribe

Subscribing to blogs is what makes them fun. I don’t want to go surfing to some site to find out if it has been updated. I want it to let me know when there is something new. Likewise, offering a subscription to my stuff keeps my site on the radar of other people. I don’t have to rely on them thinking hmmm wonder if he’s put up something new.

This tip seems like it would be a no brainer. Dead wrong. For most technology blogs it isn’t a problem because we live this stuff but the other bloggers out there need our help in a big way.

My wife is into cooking. I’ve helped her subscribe to several blogs related to that. Now it’s not like she can’t handle the task. I mean it’s essentially copying a URL to your feed reader. Thing is, on more than one occasion it was near impossible to find the feed URL! Once, before Firefox had the brilliant auto-discovery icon in the URL field, I had to look at the source html to find the feed! Unacceptable for anyone. Put a link to your feed right there on your page.

Sidebar: If you still don’t get why RSS is cool, watch the video: RSS in Plain English

Tip #2: Make it easy to subscribe with popular feed readers

Many people use things like Google Reader or Bloglines as their feed readers. A nice thing to do is make it even easier for these people to subscribe to your feed. I use a block like this one to allow people using these popular readers to subscribe quickly:

Add to My Yahoo!
Subscribe in NewsGator Online
Subscribe with Bloglines
Subscribe in My MSN
Subscribe in Rojo
Add to Google

There is no sophisticated coding here. Just go to the RSS Chicklet Generator, enter you feed in the field and click the ‘Generate HTML’ button. You’ll then have a block of code you can cut and paste into your blog template. Easy.

 Tip #3: Offer an email subscription

Not everyone has a feed reader or wants to use another piece of software. Don’t lose these people as subscribers! If you’re your still following along and have implemented the above solution you have already done this. Rmail lets you get feeds right in your inbox. You could take it a step further and add some text around it indicating how brilliant you are that people can get an email every time you post something new.

Tip #4: Put the link to your feed at the top of the page

Do not make people hunt for the link to your feed. Put it right there at the top, ‘above the fold’ in newspaper parlance. In the worked of the web, ‘above the fold’ is on the first screen. Scrolling for the feed URL = bad.

Tip #5: Make sure you are using auto discovery

This is a bit technical and most blogging platforms such as Blogger or WordPress handle this pretty well. Still, it’s very important and worth mentioning.

Auto discovery is the magic behind the scenes of your blog that lets modern browsers like Firefox 2 and IE 7 discover your feed URL. If you use Firefox I am sure you have noticed the feed icon in the address bar. It looks like this:

The code needed to do that will look something like this very simplified version:

<html>
<head>
<title>This is my Blog</title>
<link rel=”alternate” type=”application/rss+xml” title=”RSS”
href=”http://www.myblog.com/feed”>
</head>
<body>

In the <head> section of your page you should have a <link> element. Written just like the one above with all the other necesary bits of ‘rel’ and ‘type’ will work the magic.

Tip #6: Make sure auto discovery and other links are pointing to the right feed

Have you signed up for Feedburner? If so you might want to comb through the code on your blog. More than likely it is still pointing to the wrong feed. Look at your links and make sure they point to Feedburner’s URL. This gets a bit tricky in the case of auto discovery. With most blogging platforms you can find the auto discovery code (see tip #5) pretty quickly. Blogger however likes to obfuscate the code behind one of their template tags.

Here is how to fix this in Blogger:

1. View you blog in your web browser
2. Right click on the page and click ‘view source’ IE or ‘view page source’ Firefox
3. You’ll see all the code behind your web page similar to the screen shot below

4. Copy all the text between <head> and <title> tag

5. Go to your Blogger dashboard

6. Click the ‘layout’ link next to the blog you want to edit

7. Go to the Template tab and click ‘Edit HTML’

8. Delete the line that says ‘<b:include data=’blog’ name=’all-head-content’/>’

9. Paste all the code you copied in #4 right in the spot you created in step #8 (see the picture for details)

10. Now look through the code you just pasted and find the <link> element similar to the code I outlined in tip #5 above.

11. Carefully delete the link that points to Atom. This just confuses things.

12. Replace the href with your Feedburner like this:

FROM:

<link rel=”alternate” type=”application/rss+xml” title=”Tech Life Web Test Blog – RSS” href=”http://techlifeweb.blogspot.com/feeds/posts/default?alt=rss” />

TO:

<link rel=”alternate” type=”application/rss+xml” title=”Tech Life Web Test Blog – RSS” href=”http://www.feedburner.com/myfeed” />

Don’t mess with any other parts of the line. You need that trailing “/” so leave it. And, to be clear, ‘myfeed’ should be the actual feed you created over at Feedburner.

13. Click preview to make sure you blog looks ok

14. Click ‘Save Template’

Tip #7: Offer full feeds

Some services like Feedburner allow you to offer partial feeds. This is where only part of your content is in the feed and the reader has to go to your site to read the rest. There used to be a battle over this but guess what? Full feeds won. The war is over, peace has broken out across the land and the soldiers have gone home.

Executive summary

You can beg borrow and plead for subscribers but if you don’t make it easy for them you might as well pack up and go home.

Next in this series: How Come I Have No Readers? Part 2 – Search Engines