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HIAWATHA BRAY | UPGRADE

Don't let your blog get lost in the fog

It's official. Weblogs matter. A few of them anyway.

In the election cycle just ended, the blogs made a serious presidential candidate of former Vermont Governor Howard Dean.

They savaged the credibility of CBS News after the network broadcast fake memos damning President Bush.

And bloggers caused a stock market slide during Tuesday's election, by leaking early exit polls which falsely suggested Bush would lose.

Yes, blogs matter. But probably not yours.

There are millions of them, and few are read by anyone. That's mainly due to the banalities that pass for content on most blogs.

But even good blogs can go unread, without a little extra effort to attract visitors.

What's needed are some eyeball magnets -- blogging tools that will bring new traffic to your site. And there are plenty to choose from.

Syndication, for one. That's the popular practice of adding a tag to your blog that will automatically let readers know when you've added material.

On many popular blogs, you'll see a link marked RSS, XML, or Atom. Plug that link into a syndication software program, and you'll get an update every time the website is updated. Most avid blog readers use syndication programs to keep tabs on their favorite sites. Adding syndication to your own blog can deliver a quick boost in readership.

The leading blog-hosting companies, like Google Inc.'s Blogger, provide syndication; it's just a matter of switching it on and adding a bit of extra code to your blog. If you're serious about expanding your audience, it's the first move to make.

How about a spot of blog beautification?

Another Google tool called Hello is perhaps the simplest system for adding photographs to a website. Hello automates the process. Just tell it the address of your blog-hosting service, then use Hello to search your hard drive for the pictures you wish to post. Push a button and you're done.

A new Web-based service called Flickr is also worth a look. Sign up at www.flickr.com and you can put dozens of photos on the Flickr site. Then you can cut and paste a chunk of HTML Web code into your blog, to display the pictures there.

Next, you can try raising your profile. The simplest way is to post more frequently. No matter how small your readership, they'll at least keep coming back if you put up new material every day. Besides, frequent updates will cause search services like Google to bump your blog higher in its search rankings.

You can contact Google and try to get your blog listed in its directory service. Unlike the main search engine, Google Directory uses human reviewers who sort websites into broad categories. The reviewers only choose sites they consider especially interesting, so you had better polish up the quality of your blog. Once it's ready, you can go to directory.google.com and submit your blog for consideration.

How about advertising your blog on other blogs? It's easily done, and for free.

BlogSnob offers a clever advertising service to about 5,000 active bloggers. After signing up at blogsnob.simpleads.net, you create your own advertisement, and add a bit of Web code to your site. Now every time someone visits, it displays ads for other blogs in the BlogSnob network. And visitors to other member blogs will see your ad. You can have your ad shown on any BlogSnob site, or limit it to sites with similar content, where visitors are more likely to be interested in your writings. BlogSnob claims to serve up 12 million ads a week. That's a lot of potential visitors.

The best blogs are two-way conversations. Most blog tools give readers a way to comment on your postings. But some blogging tools offer a particularly potent system called TrackBack. Invented by blog software company Six Apart Ltd., TrackBack encourages bloggers to comment on each other's writing by linking to each other's blogs.

Say you're using TrackBack and you want to comment on something you read on another TrackBack blog. You pop open a TrackBack link in your browser, type your comment, and enter it. The TrackBack software posts your comment on your own blog, and sends a copy to the other blog, along with a link to your website. Now everybody who reads the other fellow's site will be invited to check out yours, as well.

TrackBack lets bloggers create communities of shared interests. You'll generally use it to comment on the same topics featured on your own blog. And your readers will share those interests, perhaps on blogs of their own.

An exchange of TrackBacks can generate dozens of links to new blogs, and expose your site to a host of new readers.

Google's Blogger doesn't offer TrackBack, but you can get it in Six Apart's Typepad and Movable Type blogging packages, as well as several others.

If you're serious about developing an audience for your blog, these tools ought to help -- but not as much as learning to write.

Hiawatha Bray can be reached at bray@globe.com. 

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