SherlockChances are that at one time or another you’ve been looking for something specific on the web, and found it frustratingly elusive. Perhaps the pages you find are lacking links, the status bar text has been hidden, or the page simply takes so long to load that you give up.

Here are several ways to make sure your blog posts are as helpful as they can be. As a bonus, you’ll more than likely attract more readers.

What type of file is it?

Generally speaking, when an article contains a link, the reader expects to be taken to another HTML page. If the link is to something else – a PDF file, a Word document or a spreadsheet etc – it’s good manners to say so. An easy way is just something like this :

article [.pdf, 1.2mb]

You can also use a bit of CSS knowledge to add a small icon as appropriate. A nice tutorial on doing exactly that is over at Ask the CSS Guy.

How big is the file?

You may have noticed in the above example that both the filetype and filesize are shown. The filesize is shown as a matter of courtesy; and if you’re on a slow internet connection (or have limited usage available) it’s nice to know.

Who said it?

Point to the original article. This not only makes the post more informative, it actually encourages people to come back to your site. It also delineates between your opinions and those of others.

A common technique is something like :

hat tip : cnn.com

Use quotes when appropriate

If you’re quoting someone in your article, use the <blockquote></blockquote> tags to delineate this. This makes it ridiculously easy to style these sections differently on your site; clearly stating that these are the words of someone else.

Ask permission before linking to an image on another site

Linking directly to an image on another site (aka ‘hotlinking‘) simply allows the other site owner to pay for people to come to your site. Apart from being grossly unethical (and particularly disliked by photographers everywhere), there is a financial reason not to do it :

The images won’t appear in the majority of XML feeds. If your blog also functions as a source of income, consider the fact that you’re likely to lose subscribers as they grow tired of seeing empty posts from your site.

Use links, but only the first time

Linking to other sites is paradoxically a great way of attracting people to yours. Far from losing all of your traffic to the other sites, you’ll actually begin to form a reputation as ‘the source’ of knowledge in your chosen field.

Too many links, however, can have a negative impact. How many is too many? Well, there’s no set number, but you know it when you see it (hopefully on someone else’s site, not yours).

One way to restrict the number of links on a page – and this is one of those things that just ‘feels right’, it’s not a hard-and-fast rule – is to only link to something the first time it appears in your article.

Use the ALT and TITLE tags on images

There are a couple of tags which are optional on images, but have several benefits – ALT and TITLE. To use them, just put something like :

<IMG src="http://yoursite.com/images/cat.jpg" ALT="Young black cat" TITLE="Trevor at 14 weeks" />

Confusingly, if you’re using WordPress, the field called Title (right beneath File in the Upload section) is the ALT text. You’ll need to switch over to the ‘Code’ view to add the TITLE tag.

Cite your sources

For a short piece along the lines of ‘take a look at my cat’, there’s probably not a lot of research involved. However, if you find yourself looking at a 2,000 word epic and are surrounded by empty coffee cups and several piles of books; chances are that there’s some good information in there.

At the bottom of your article, note any books, magazines and articles (both online and offline) that came in handy. If someone wants to add to your work, or comment on a particular aspect of it, or simply finds the topic extremely interesting; a list of your sources will prove invaluable.

As you may have noticed, all of these points have one thing in common : provide as much information as you possibly can, and the readers will keep coming back to your site. Hopefully with their friends.

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