Aardvark Alley

Lutheran Aardvark

Confessional Lutheran theology, hagiography, philosophy, music, culture, sports, education, and whatever else is on the fevered mind of Orycteropus Afer

02 February 2006
  Building a Lutheran Presence; Part 1
Increasing Readership and Raising Visibility for Confessional Bloggers.

The following summarizes and builds upon some of the thoughts expressed at the Confessional Lutheran Bloggers Conference prior to the Fort Wayne Symposia in January of this year.

Not everyone blogs to be read by anyone. Some write intentionally for a small audience of friends, family, co-workers, and the like. However, even in these circumstances, most bloggers remember in the back of their minds that others also may be reading. Most bloggers — including confessional Lutherans — do write for a wider audience. Finding, attracting, maintaining, and building that readership is the focus of this series of posts.

Hold the Mirror Up to Your Own Blog(s)

First of all, if you want to keep readers — even from among your own family — a good product helps immensely. There are many good color schemes — and many horrible. Clean, uncluttered layouts abound — so do cramped or sprawling messes which either trap the contents or spew them randomly about the reader's monitor. Not everyone writes like Hemingway — unfortunately not everyone spells like him, nor do they always follow the rudiments of good grammar. If someone stops to read your blog, make sure it's easily read.

Relating to this is content. Most bloggers write because they enjoy it. Often, someone along the line told them they were decent writers. However, if that someone was a teacher, he or she likely also encouraged writing about what one knows. This doesn't mean we can't speculate or only touch on certain portions of a topic we understand. However, the best blogs combine their authors' knowledge of a topic with a certain passion for (or against) the subject. My favorite reads belong to people comfortable with their vocations, whether they raise cattle, children, or skyscrapers. Know who you are and what you know; tell others who you are and what you know; give others some idea why who you are and what you know are important.

Be Lutheran. This doesn't mean constantly quoting Luther, Confessions, hymnals, or even Scripture. However, it does mean possessing and writing from a distinct Lutheran worldview that understands grace, vocation, and being both saint and sinner. Whether writing about your congregation, your family, your job, or your hobby, how does being Lutheran help you to enjoy, cope with, overcome, or surrender to the events of life? Most Lutheran blogs, except for a few which intentionally write at a high intellectual and academic level, do well by limiting the jargon and explaining that which they use. Justification, quia, sanctify, simil iustus et peccator — all of these are fine expressions possessing true Lutheran distinctives. Just don't assume that most people reading your blog will understand them. Embrace people with your Lutheranism; don't rub their noses in it.

Remember to regularly critique your blog and invite honest friends to tell you what bothers them — and what they like. This applies to content (am I getting boring, repetitious, preachy, rambling, or just plain off-target?). It also applies to form (does my blog load quickly, are graphics well placed and appropriate, is something interfering with readability?). If you can test with different browsers and screen resolutions, so much the better. I use Firefox and recommend it to all, especially those who have trouble viewing my pages. I also examine my blogs with IE and occasionally open up Opera and look through it. I've seen Amazon ads and Flickr displays bring page loads to a grinding halt. If you use a high-speed connection, keep in mind that many still use dial-up. Make sure improvements and enhancements really improve and enhance your blog.

A related suggestion: Learn the language. I don't mean English (I hope you already know enough of it to avoid looking like a kindergartener in a college class). Your writing is displayed using coded formats which tell browsers how to display your wares properly. Developing familiarity with HTML, CSS, and the like will help you make little tweaks which result in much more effective displays. I've told some of my pastor friends that if they could learn Greek and Hebrew, they can learn enough HTML to write their own web pages. The amount needed to greatly enhance your blog composition is less than the French or German you'd need to order a meal in a European restaurant, find a beer and a bathroom, and get directions to your hotel. If you want to see how someone else pulls off a cool trick, you can often use your "View" menu or right-click your mouse to "View page source." Learn to size your graphics, include "alt" and "title" tags, and otherwise tweak your page. Learn the page-authoring code and use it properly.

Finally, be accessible to your readers. If you allow comments, respond when appropriate. Try to provide contact information. If you don't want spambots harvesting your email, then write out your edress along these lines: "aardvarkalley AT gmail DOT com" or "aardvarkalleySPAM@gmail.com". Netiquette (net etiquette) frowns upon contacting bloggers through their comment links with unrelated posts. Rather than making your readers use poor manners, give them some means of reaching you. Maybe they have a good idea, perhaps they represent the estate of a long-lost family member, maybe they want to invite you to join a worthwhile project. Perhaps they want to involve you more completely in the Lutheran blogosphere through link exchanges and you're going to lose that exposure because you aren't prepared to welcome their email. If you want, get a special gmail or Yahoo! account just for your blogging. In the minds of the reader, an accessible author equates with an accessible blog.

This concludes Part 1. I welcome comments about related material. If I've neglected a significant related item, I'll add it to a future post. Part 2 examines ways of attracting new readers by promotion, linking, and using site feeds.
Excelent points as always, herr vater. I look forward to subsequent suggestions.
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