Of course, old-timers unlike myself can bemoan the bloated state of the blogosphere til the cows come home, but even they must realize that there's always one good outcome of a hobby breaking out from the underground and going global. That is, of course, the fact that as soon as something gets big, there's someone who wants to profit from it, and the people we are focusing on and acknowledging the hard work of are those lovely souls who design things that make our jobs easier - usually at no cost to the end user, either! Widgets, also called plug-ins, are small programs designed by professional web developers to make your blog run more smoothly, either by helping you connect with your readers or making it easier for them to access the information already on your blog. Some of them are even internal for your own use to increase the usability of your blog or your own edification about it, and your readers never even know they're there.
For example, after providing useful content and creating a name or "brand" for yourself (more on the latter another time), the most important thing for a you as a blogger to do with your blog is keep track of statistics. This will tell you, at the very least, how many people you are reaching, and on a more advanced level, what sites they're coming from, what keywords they're searching to find you, and even where they are, sometimes down to the country, province, and even city. I always really enjoyed how the Wordpress internal stats were set up even though they aren't terribly in-depth, so if you're reading this from WP, congrats- you're probably all set. A few months ago, Blogger also set up its own version, a sort of dumbed-down Google Analytics, too- for the casual, curious blogger, this is probably plenty. However, for anyone who considers themselves "serious" in any manner, it is my recommendation that you install Google Analytics. The statistics you get from this site are incredibly in-depth, and it's customizable in that it can work for any level of seriousness- you could easily just keep track of your hits, but you can also make use of much more involved options like setting goals and comparing two different time periods. Why should you care? Because you can use this information for things like your own personal promotional needs (knowing what websites your readers are coming from means that you should promote there more or on similar websites), and also as leverage for companies who may want to advertise on your blog in the future. If the promise of future money isn't a good enough incentive to track your stats, I don't know what is!
So, besides this, what are other goodies we can make use of in our blogging careers? Here are a few more of my favorites:
- LinkWithin: Scroll down to the bottom of this post. You see those "You might also like..." links right above the comments section? LinkWithin creates links with thumbnails to other articles on your blog that relate to the each one individually. This is a great way for you to up your bounce rate, which is created by people clicking around between pages/entries on your blog.
- Google Friend Connect and/or FeedBurner: Both of these are methods of creating yourself an RSS feed. Friend Connect is through Google and therefore Blogger, so it's already installed for all of us over here, and unfortunately because it's owned by Google, like Google Analytics, it can't be added to Wordpress blogs. That's why we have FeedBurner! FeedBurner creates an RSS feed for your blog or website; this means that anyone who wants to can follow your blog in this way instead. To be honest, I had no idea what RSS was or why it mattered until I read about it in Blogging In Style, where it was put to me this way: If you read 100 blogs and want to keep up-to-date on them, do you really want to check them individually every single day? Of course not! RSS feeds create a webpage that links to the recent posts of all of the blogs you're subscribed to, that way you don't have to go 100 different websites every time unless you know you're interested in the content. It's not really going to do that much to you as a blogger (though I do feel like Friend Connect builds a bit of a community feeling for me, and I love reading my followers' blogs!), but your readers will definitely appreciate it.
- Twitterfeed: I just started using this, and it's great! I know a bunch of other Blogger-users have been struggling for ages to link Blogger with websites like Twitter and Facebook, so that they would update with a link to your most recent article as soon as you post it. That way, all of your friends on Facebook or followers on Twitter who may not subscribe to your blog know to run and check it right away, and you don't have to lift a perfectly-manicured finger. Effortless promotion? Yes please! This is especially helpful for gals like me, who type up their entries in advance and then schedule them to post at a later time/date.
- Facebook Like Button: I don't actually use this baby because Her Lumpiness doesn't have a Facebook Fan Page (though I do have one for my business), but you can see it on sites like F*** Yeah Lolita and Ramble Rori.This feature connects your Facebook Fan Page to your blog, usually either with a small graphic saying "Become a fan on Facebook!" or a full Facebook widget box saying how many people are already fans, a small description, if any of your friends are, etc. If you do have a fan page, this little guy is a must!