8 tools & techniques to improve your blogging

Paul Boag

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.

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.