Last summer, I spent some serious time working on my blog. Much of that time was a response to this blog being mentioned as a “Top 50 Up-and-Coming Teacher Blog” by TeachingTips.com. When I saw that my blog had been mentioned, I had a realization – it was really bland. I looked at some of the other blogs out there, looked at mine, and realized I had some serious work to do – I had to “pump up” my blog. So I spent many hours scouring other blogs getting ideas and settled on some simple yet useful changes that have proven to be very effective.
While a nice new theme and a spiffy custom header helped a lot, the most effective additions to my blog were additional widgets on the sidebar. I thought I would share the most useful and interesting widgets that I found that you can quickly add to your blog and “pump it up” a little bit, much as my friends Hans and Franz did to me a long time ago.
- AddThis: Probably the most important addition to a blog. The AddThis buttons provide instant subscription and social bookmarking access to any random passersby. While most blog providers have some sort of RSS provision, the AddThis buttons make it obvious and easy to subscribe to your favorite feed reader or add a blog/post to your favorite social bookmarking service.
- Tags/Categories: Having some sort of tag cloud or category list on the side of your blog is critical to helping readers see what sort of material you post to your blog. If you post mostly on education and technology, your tags will reflect that and having a tag cloud or category list will help visitors recognize if your site will be worth subscribing to.
- Badges: You do need stinkin badges. The main reason for adding a badge is similar to adding a tag cloud – it identifies the goals of your blog. I added an “International Edubloggers Directory” badge to my site to help achieve this end. Even if your blog doesn’t have a direct purpose, there are flickr badges, YouTube badges, Twitter badges, and who knows what else.
- ClustrMaps: More of a nifty little tool for the blogger than anything else. ClustrMaps are a sort of visual counter of the visitors that come to your blog. They add “pins” to a small world map that indicate where your visitors came from. This is a nifty little tool to show how international blogging has become and how wide of an audience your blog is reaching – great for a student’s blog, if you ask me! A similar option is Feedjit.
- Top Posts: One that I haven’t really gotten around to yet, but one that I’ve read is valuable to have is a widget that mentions your best posts. Essentially, it’s an opportunity to showcase the writing that makes your site worth coming back to – it allows visitors to read through a few of your gems and see what your blog is all about at its best.
- Polls: Another widget I haven’t taken the time to add (but should) is some sort of poll (PollDaddy is probably the most common source). This not only provides you with useful information about your audience and their opinions/ideas, but it also helps them realize that they contribute to your blog (and your thinking). For example, I might post a poll asking if teachers prefer a 4-point writing scale or a 10-point writing scale. Not only would this be useful information for me, but when I post the results and my thoughts on those results, readers will be reminded that they are important contributors to my thinking, as well.
There you have it: 6 widgets that you can use to help pump up your blog. However, as is always the case, no amount of widgets can make people visit – they can only bring back the people who visited to begin with. To learn more about drawing readers to your blog, check out my post on the Top 5 Lessons I’ve Learned About Blogging. Best of luck to you!