8 tools & techniques to improve your blogging

Blogging is hard. However, as with everything in life it is easier if you have the right tools for the job. Here are 8 which help me.

I have been blogging for over 4 years now. The vast majority of people give up within 3 months. That is because blogging can be hard work. The effort of coming up with subject matter, the sheer mechanics of writing and publishing a post, can all be too much effort.

To be honest I am amazed I still blog. I am lazy, I don’t like hard work. However, I have kept it up because I have discovered a number of tools and techniques which have made the job easier. I thought I would share them with you.

Making idea generation painless

The biggest challenge most bloggers face is picking subjects. The longer you blog the harder it gets. Often you feel you have completely dried up. Fortunately, I have discovered four tools that help me:

1. Find inspiration using Google Reader and Newsstand

I read a hell of a lot. I am subscribed to hundreds of RSS feeds. I find them a massive source of inspiration for blog subjects of my own.

When I arrive at work in the morning I open up Google Reader and scan through any stories that have come in over night. If I am interested in a post I send it to Instapaper to read later.

Screenshot of Google Reader

In the evening I repeat the process but this time I an on my iPhone and I use Newsstand. Newsstand is a superb iPhone App that integrates into Google Reader as well as allowing me to tweet about a link, send it to Instapaper or email it to myself.

2. Engage with your community using cotweet

Asking your readers for suggestions is also an excellent way to get inspiration for posts. I have found twitter a superb source of ideas.

However, I have found that time differences can make twitter a challenge when it comes to soliciting suggestions for blog topics. If I only ask for suggestions when I am awake, I will never hear from those who live further afield. Also even if they do spot my tweet, it would be easy for me to miss their responses.

I have got around this problem by using a web application called cotweet. Among other things cotweet allows me to schedule tasks so I can post requests for ideas even when I am asleep. It also allows me to track @replies I receive and ensure I have read everything suggested to me.

Screenshot of cotweet

Obviously there are many other twitter clients, but this is currently my favourite.

3. Collect ideas with Omnifocus

Inspiration can strike anytime but you can be sure of one thing – when you sit down to write a blog post your mind will go blank. That is why it is so important to keep a note of all your ideas.

Basically all you need is a list. This could be produced in notepad or scribbled on a piece of paper. However, for me those ideas live in Omnifocus along with the rest of my life.

Omnifocus Screenshot

The reason I like using Omnifocus is because I can easily add ideas either from my laptop or iPhone. Also it is extremely quick to add those ideas whether they are submitted by users via email or just pop into my head while lying in bed. Finally, I can flesh out those ideas by adding notes within Omnifocus.

4. Discover popular subjects with PostRank

With any luck you will have too many ideas to write about. So how do you narrow down the choice. One way is to look at previous posts and see what content proves popular. However, judging popularity is more than the number of people who read a post. What about those who save the post to delicious or tweet and comment on it? A good article should not just be read, it should encourage engagement.

Fortunately I have just recently discovered a tool that identifies these engaging posts. PostRank looks at all forms of engagement and ranks the popularity of your posts. In a single glance you can see what types of post works and what doesn’t.

Streamlining the production process

Once you have take the pain out of idea generation, the next area for improvement is how you write the posts. From dealing with resizing and uploading images to the risk of losing unsaved work, it is important to have the right processes in place.

5. Post easily with Posterous

On some blogs like this one, you want to add well considered and constructed posts. On others you just want to throw something up as quickly and easily as possible.

I wanted to start a personal blog that was more like the latter of the two options. I wanted to be able to put a thought online in a matter of seconds or grab something I have seen elsewhere and repost it.

The answer was Posterous. Posterous allows me to post directly to my site via email. It also allows me to clip video, text or images from a website using a bookmarklet and then republish my post to twitter, facebook, flickr and more.

Posterous Screenshot

It’s fully customisable and takes absolutely zero time to setup.

6. Write and preview in Marsedit

For the longest time I posted directly to my WordPress blog using the WordPress interface designed by HappyCog. It is intuitive, beautifully designed and did everything I needed.

Wordpress Admin Screenshot

However, more recently I began to get frustrated with my connectivity. Sometimes I wanted to write a post when I was without a connection or my connection to the web was particularly slow. In such situations I prefered a desktop editor. After trying a few I settled on Marsedit.

MarsEdit Screenshot

Marsedit has a couple of things going for it that finally convinced me.

First, I could configure keyboard shortcuts for elements I found myself regularly adding to a post. For example I have a keyboard shortcut setup to automatically paste the current URL in the clipboard to an A tag.

Second, it has an excellent preview facility that allows me to view my post as it will look on the live site.

7. Hassle free image management with Skitch

Imagery has always proved a headache when blogging. Not only do you have to source imagery, it needs resizing and then uploading before you can finally add it to your blog post (once you have copied and pasted the url).

I streamline this process using a screen capture program called Skitch. Skitch allows me to capture anything visible on my desktop, resize it and upload it in a matter of seconds. What is more when it uploads to your web server, it copies the url to your clipboard so you can immediately paste it into your blog. You can even configure it to provide you with a complete IMG tag if you wish.

Since installing Skitch I have found myself adding considerably more images to my blog posts.

8. Focus with isolator

Finally, I am somebody who gets distracted easily. Email, Twitter, IM, they all lure me away from the job in hand – writing a blog post. Personally, I have found this is a particular problem since moving to a mac. Unlike windows it is easy for your screen to become cluttered with open applications. I find this clutter distracting.

Screen capture of my cluttered desktop

What I want is to be able to hide all of this distraction and focus on my writing. The answer is a little application called Isolator.

My desktop with Isolator turned on

Isolator does one thing, it blacks out everything other than the active window. All of your other applications are still running but are hidden. Perfect when trying to write a blog post.

What tools do you use?

So that is my list of techniques and tools to aid you’re blogging. However, I am acutely aware that it is a personal list. For a start it mainly has mac apps.

What tools do you use to help you’re blogging? Share your experiences in the comments below.

  • really, man?

    You lost me when you used “your” instead of “you’re”.

  • Alex Subrizi

    At my company, where my role extends to corporate communications, we’ve been discussing the purpose and importance of our blog for some time. Yes it’s hard, as you point out, to get employees to contribute regularly, and over a five-year period we’re averaging only about 10 posts per year. More significantly, none of those posts has ever generated a relevant, serious comment (there are always spammers that always insert a URL after some bland bit of praise).

    So the question we are asking ourselves as we try to revitalize our blog is whether the lack of comments equates to a (near) total lack of interest in our blog, and whether this might be addressed by more frequent posting or more high quality posts. Having to choose between these last two, which ranks higher in your view?

    And yes, I agree that you could fix that “your > you’re” typo. It’s the first word of your fourth point. Having your ideas thrown out by a reader because of a spelling or punctuation mistake is short-sighted, I agree. But forgoing the chance to correct an error once it’s pointed out is odd. For those with an eye for such things, errors interrupt the flow of discourse: call it a harsh truth about written communication. Proofreaders have jobs for this reason. You didn’t “lose me”, I kept reading, and enjoyed and shared your post. But I find it strange that, once the error is pointed out, it remain uncorrected.

  • C.I.Agent Solutions┬«

    This is a great post full of useful information! I was recently tasked with starting a blog for my small company, as part of a newly implemented social media strategy. We offer secondary containment solutions for the utility industry, so consistently coming up with creative content for interesting posts catered to such a niche audience poses quite a challenge for me. Even more disheartening is the majority of our target market don’t find blogs to be a valuable content type, according to a recent survey by CFE Media and TREW Marketing.

    Despite these obstacles, I’m determined to keep at it in 2015, and your pointers will help me in this process. I do disagree with you on point 3. Of the blogs I follow and read regularly, I prefer ones with teaser menus. We’re rolling out a new website design in a few weeks, and my designer recently asked me how I wanted our blog laid out. I know you’re a designer, too, so I thought I’d ask you why you advise against the “teaser feeds.” We host our blog on our site, so a large feed of full articles (and the scrolling involved) would feel cluttered and disorganized, at least in my opinion. I looked at the 37Signals blog you referred to, and while I was extremely impressed with the quality and variety of posts it offers, I found the overall blog format too “text-heavy” for my liking (though they did a very good job of effectively breaking up the text with images, etc.).

    Thanks again for the post – I have bookmarked this article and will probably refer to it often through this corporate blogging journey. Hope you have a Happy New Year!

    • I think what Paul is saying about the teaser feeds applies for when people subscribe via RSS and get an email saying a new blog post has been published. He is advocating for blogs to provide the whole content within the RSS feed, so people don’t have to click through to the blog post hosted on the original website.

      (Having said that, I arrived here thanks to an email from Linkedin that told me Paul had shared a link via Linkedin. The Linkedin post was just a teaser!).

      I think you’re right to go for “teaser feeds” on your blog design – a simple headline, excerpt and a strong image should do it.

  • Hi Paul a company should have a blog. Beside that blog update people everyday, anywhere anytime. Blog have contributions on the social media.

  • Nicole

    If you think I’m one of the high-strung weirdos who gasped when you used “Your” instead of “You’re”– then you, sir, are totally correct.

  • I have a blog and i think that 50% success depend on planning. So it’s important to need know how to blog post properly and effectively. Thanks Paul for you kind and helpful tutorial. I apply your advice in my professional life.

  • Thanks for sharing…!

    Honestly, I’m using Excel to plan my content. However, I love the editorial calendar, and thanks for sharing, by the way. I’m impressed. When talk about the image, the most of bloggers are using Google images, specially newbies. My Adsense account used to get banned because using of Google free image. We should find great sources to get the right images, and be sure no copyright material.

  • i have a blog site…. thanks for tips …i am apply your tips.