This blog post looks at why images are always recommended for blogs and why, as an historian, it still remains useful to include them even if they don’t seem relevant at first.
Uploading images to blog posts is easy. Visit enough of them and you will see everyone does it. Seek out advice about blogs and you will almost always be told to include an image. But why? Most advice suggests that it’s there to brighten up the page and make it all look nicer. But that’s not the entire story.
It’s true that often historians will write a blog post with only the text in mind. There isn’t always an obvious image to go along with it, and generally the text stands alone. The image is redundant. I’ve found this many times with my own research. I write down the text and it’s essentially complete as it is. To understand what I am saying you don’t need an illustration.
That might be true for the historian writing his or her piece, but not necessarily for the reader. It’s not always essential, that’s true, but an image does brighten things up and makes the post look more appealing.
This might not matter for the author, but it’s important to remember that reading online isn’t the same as reading a book. It’s not even the same as reading an article online or an e-book. That might seem obvious but take a moment to think about it.
Look at almost any website and you will find that there are images everywhere. They are there often as decoration, but they are also there to help readers to work out what it is they are reading, and – hopefully – suggesting to them that they might want to take the time to read what you have written.
If you visit any news website (go to the one of your choice now if you like) you will find that they always include an image. It’s not there just for decoration – it’s there to guide readers to the news items that interest them. Try it now, and you’ll find that you will probably do the same. I guess it’s instinctual.
Think of images in blog posts as a form of identification or a method of indexing. Images are maps to your blog. A book will give something away in its cover, but it also requires a contents page to explain in bullet points (chapter headings) what the book covers. In a way the image does a similar job for a blog. A successful and lively blog will contain more than one post. It will generally cover more than one subject as well, or at least a diversity of discussion
points within one subject area. It’s true that you will have provided titles, but when coming across a blog online that’s not exactly the easiest way to navigate, at least not without some kind of visual aid.
In essence, images help potential readers to identify what a blog post is about quickly and efficiently. You need the image there, just as you would need a contents page for a book. That image doesn’t even necessarily need to be explicit in doing that job. As long as you have chosen something relevant then the person viewing the blog should be able to identify what looks useful and interesting to them, whilst ignoring what looks of less interest. Images really do help in this.
I have tried in the past to set up a blog with no related Twitter feed, Facebook connection, or any other type of advertising. I relied entirely on people being able to find my blog posts via search engines. It didn’t work!
Over a long period of time – many months in fact – I began to get a trickle of people visiting the blog, but not many. I guess it partly depends on the subject matter and, of course, on how often you post. However, adding a Twitter feed is easy and once set up doesn’t necessarily require much in the way of maintenance. WordPress allows you to automatically link accounts from Twitter, Facebook, Linkedin, tumblr., and Yahoo! In Blogger it is more difficult, although not impossible. As a Google product, Blogger makes it easy to connect into Google+ but not much else.
As a small demonstration of how important it is to connect to other social media, I’ll quickly use this blog as an example. During the first week after I had created the Blogging for Historians blog I posted the initial post and played around with a few of the settings. In that time I had, at most half-a-dozen views. A link on the SMKE website accounted for most of those. Then I linked it automatically to my Twitter and Facebook accounts. That day I received 61 views. WordPress recorded that 22 of these came directly from Twitter, and a further 5 from Facebook. 55 were from the UK but 4 were from the US and 2 from Canada.
After that brief surge viewings have again returned to a low ebb but I have only posted one additional post since then. It’s still early days and I plan to discuss the continuing success (hopefully!) of this blog over the coming year and to talk a little more about how to go about adding these connections to other social media. In the meantime does anyone else have any suggestions on connecting or using other social media to promote an academic blog? I’d be interested to hear your thoughts.
For those interested I’ve added my personal Twitter feed to the left hand bar on this blog. My feed is @mphillpott
(please feel free to follow me). I also Tweet regularly on the History SPOT twitter feed (@IHRDigProjects).
One of the first decisions I needed to make for this project was which blogging platform to go with. There are many out there although Blogger and WordPress are the most well-known, widest used, and I believe most appropriate for this type of project. When I set up my first ever blog – over two years ago now – WordPress made a bold claim that I could set up my blog within 10 minutes. I’m not sure if they still make this claim (I couldn’t find it when I looked this time around) but it’s not entirely accurate.
The actual technical process of setting up a blog probably takes no more than 5 minutes with WordPress and it’s not much different with Blogger. So I guess the claim stands up on their end. It’s easy – you just sign up and follow their easy step-by-step guide, choose a template, title, and url address – and hay presto – one blog ready to roll out. But what should your title be? What about the url? Is that important to search engines? How about logos? Should it include the blog title, a pretty motif or something else entirely? These are all important decisions that require lengthy deliberation; much longer than ten minutes.
My first blog was a project officer’s log for the Institute of Historical Research which was meant to look into the day to day progress of the History SPOT project. The development of this podcasting and research training sub-site for the IHR was not named at that time, so I called my blog IHR Digital Seminars and Research Training. Such a clunky name but at least it was descriptive of the project. In fact it’s still there as the sub-title (the blog has since been renamed the History SPOT blog).
A catchy but descriptive name is vital. That may seem obvious but it’s not so easy to achieve. Take this blog as a prime example. This project looks at blogs and blogging about History as academic practice and compares them to successful examples from archives and academic libraries. My aim is to ask questions about why academics, librarians and archivists blog, either as an individual or as an institution. I want to learn what they hope to gain from it and how they go about it. I’m looking for ideas about best practice that can be shared with History postgraduates and other early career researchers. How do you fit all of that into a two or three word title?
Some people are very good at working out catchy names; I’m not one of them. This project has the longest name of any of the SMKE projects: A best practice blog: Academic, archival and library History blogging. It tells you what you need to know, but it’s hardly inspiring. My first attempt at a name for this blog was A blog about blogging. I still kind of like that title, but it doesn’t recognise the academic aspect, nor the limitation that the focus is on History related blogging (the name ended up as the first sentence for my opening post instead). The History Blogging Project has already been taken by a pervious AHRC project, and therefore my second idea of Blogging History Project reeked of plagiarism and copy-cat antics. How about Historians and the Blog? Better, but not quite there. I eventually settled on Blogging for Historians. It captures the essence of the blog site nicely whilst not being too wordy.
The URL is just as important. My first blog had the URL ihrprojects.wordpress.com. I guess I can get away with this as it was my first blog and the project didn’t really have a proper title at the time. Now, it’s a bit of a shame as it doesn’t really say much or make it easier for search engines such as Google to find me. From what I can tell there is a fair bit of debate out there on the web about whether URL’s matter anymore for SEO (search engine optimization). The general opinion seems to suggest that it’s still useful, perhaps very useful. One day I will update the History SPOT blog in its entirety. At that time I will come up against the thorny issue of whether I should change the URL and thus break all links back and forth entirely! That’s another reason why choosing the right URL from the start is so important. It’s a lot of work replacing all those faulty url links.
A site logo isn’t always necessary, indeed blogs tend to have images associated with them rather than logos. WordPress provides space for a wide image and title. This combination works well and can be anything related to the blog topic but doesn’t necessarily relate to any form of branding. Nevertheless, a logo of some sort can be a nice touch. The ‘A Blog about History’ blog uses Roman tiles to display its title which is a nice touch. The History and Women blog uses an image of a woman in red next to the title, sub-title, and sub-sub-title. The National Archives blog has a very specific look with a variety of icons explaining its purpose and meaning, however it is the TNA logo at the top that really matters. The British Library also maintains a particular theme for all of its blogs, using appropriate pictures to help distinguish each blogs purpose (and of course includes its own branded logo at the top). Dan Cohen’s Digital Humanities blog has a simple black box with his name in white. At any rate it is important to consider which image to use on your header. It’s the first thing your visitor is likely to see and first impressions, as they say, are everything!
All in all making these decisions take time and they are important to make before you click on that ‘sign up’ button. Behind all of these decisions, however, is an even more basic question: what is the blog about? In this case, this was an easy question to answer as the blog is part of a wider project with clearly defined goals. In a sense I had already identified the purpose. But this is not always the case. It’s certainly worth thinking about for a while on a conceptual level. What will you include and what will you exclude? How narrow will your topic be? Not too narrow to make your blog uninteresting to all but a few experts, but not too wide to be unidentifiable to the passer by. The blog needs to be seen to have a specific purpose and theme and this needs to be clearly expressed at a glance.
These are the basic things I needed to consider when creating this blog, and they are equally important for anyone else starting up a blog. These are my early thoughts and opinions, however. Hopefully, as this project develops I will gain a wider understanding of what is required and needed for setting up blogs. At that time I hope to revisit this post with a detailed and fully researched list of things to consider.