Google Tools to Enhance your Blog

googleAside from Google’s Blogger platform, there are several tools you can use to enhance your blog and overall writing experience. From interactive maps you can embed in your blog pages to an online notepad to organize your thoughts and ideas, Google offers us many free tools and services which can help us blog better and interact with our readers to a greater extent.

In this article, I’ll offer an overview of Google’s  most useful services and tools to enhance your blog – no matter which platform you are using to publish your articles online.

Google Gadgets

gadgetsGadgets are small objects which enable you to add dynamic content to your blog pages, either in the sidebar, footer or directly within your blog pages.

These are similar to “widgets” which you may already be familiar with through your blogging platform (eg: Blogger, WordPress, Typepad).

There are literally thousands of Gadgets available through Google which you can add to your blog by simply copying and pasting a few lines of code. Here is a selection of the most popular and useful Gadgets for bloggers:

  • Map: Add an interactive map to your post or sidebar
  • Google Translate my Page: Ideal for readers to translate your articles into their native language
  • Multiple RSS Reader: Add headlines from your favorite blogs like an enhanced interactive blogroll
  • Day Calendar: Add the date and time to your sidebar
  • Quick Email: Enable readers to email you from your blog without having to open up their email client

To add a Google Gadget to your blog, simply browse or search the Gadget directory for the item you would like to add. Click the “Add to my webpage” button, and you will see a preview of how your gadget will appear.

You can then alter the dimensions and color scheme of the gadget to suit your blog design and preview the changes on the page. When you have finished making any alterations, click the “Get the code” button and copy the code offered into your blog sidebar, post or page.

If you use Blogger to publish your blog, it is even easier to add Google Gadgets to your layout. Simply go to Layout>Page Elements in your Blogger dashboard and click the area where you would like to add your gadget.

On the pop-up page, you will be given the option to add a Google Gadget as well as the regular Blogger widgets to your layout. Simply choose the Gadget option, search for your favored item, and add it to your layout in the usual manner.

Google Friend Connect

A relatively new service, Google Friend Connect allows you to add rich social features to your site which enable readers to interact and engage with your site content to a much greater extent. From becoming “members” to adding comments, tags and media, Friend Connect offers a range of services which can help grow a relationship with your blog visitors and develop a simple blog into a community based site.

To get started with Friend Connect, you will first need to set up your blog by uploading two core files to your root hosting. Those using Blogger may be interested to read Antonio Lupetti’s article about adding Friend Connect functionality to Blogger templates instead.

Once you have set up your site, you can choose from various options and widgets to add interactivity to your blog, including dynamic comments, a message board where readers can tag and add media, and even a log-in feature which would enable you to provide content only for registered members of your blog.

To learn more about Friend Connect, take a look at the Friend Connect pages and FAQ.

Google Calendar

calendarGoogle Calendar offers an online means of organizing your schedule. You can set up any number of calendars, both personal and public, and can choose to share your calendar with friends and family.

Many bloggers like to share their calendar with readers. One useful possibility is to offer a schedule of future posts/important events for your blog readers.

While WordPress and other platforms may offer plugins to display a calendar within blog pages, it is even easier to utilize Google Calendar for this purpose by creating a public calendar which can be embedded in any page or post (including Blogger-based blogs) using a few lines of iframe code.

To achieve this, simply log in to Google Calendar and create/edit your calendar as required. If you do not already have a Google account, you will need to create one before you can create your first calendar.

Next, choose your calendar from the menu in the left-hand sidebar and click the “Settings” link.

On this page, you need to click the name of your calendar which will bring up a page of advanced settings for this calendar. Then scroll down the page a little until you see the “Embed this Calendar” section. From here you can edit the appearance (dimensions and color scheme) as preferred and acquire the correct iframe code to embed your calendar in your blog.

Once you have added your calendar to your blog, this will update automatically to reflect each new entry and the passing of time.

To get started with Google Calendar, take a look at the main calendar page.

Google Apps for your Domain

If you own your own domain name but don’t want to pay for extra email/calendar features from your domain provider, you can utilize Google Apps for Your Domain to map your domain name to your email address, Google Calendar and more.

Essentially this offers a more professional approach to your blogging and professional persona: as most web professionals would agree, an email address like your-name@yourdomain.com is far more preferable to yourname@free-email-provider.com! What’s more, it can save you money as you won’t have to pay extra monthly or yearly fees for a service which Google provides for free!

When using Google Apps for Your Domain, Google does not become your domain host. Instead, your domain name is mapped to the Google services you choose to associate it with (for example, your gMail account. You will still manage your domain name and registration from your domain provider.

To get started with Google Apps for your domain, take a look at the six steps required for set-up on the Google Apps page or have a look at this video:

Google Maps

maps-bt-postOne feature I have personally found useful in recent weeks is integrating Google Maps with my blogs. If you have a business site, you can use Google Maps to show customers exactly where your business is based (with useful driving directions and street views); travel bloggers or local interest writers can offer their readers interactive maps to explain exactly where their articles are based or written.

Google Maps can be inserted into blog pages (or posts) or anywhere in your blog layout you choose to add them. There are many different methods you could use to add Google Maps to your blog, many of which offer unique features to tweak the appearance of your maps to the greatest degree.

My personal preference is to use the simplest option: look up the location for your map on Google Maps and embed this in the blog as an iframe.

To embed a Google Map in your blog, visit Google Maps and search for the location you wish to display. Then click on “Link” at the top right of your map. This will display a small pop-out section which includes the default iFrame code to embed this map, or a link to help you customize the appearance of your map to suit your blog’s overall design.

Google Notebook

notebookDuring the course of your everyday browsing, chances are you’ll come across sites or articles you’d like to reference in your blog posts later. Rather than keep a messy handwritten notepad or disorganized bookmarks in your browser, why not use Google’s Notebook service instead?

Using Google Notebook enables you to take “clippings”, write notes and even organize media while you are browsing the web, and organize this for later use. It’s much easier and quicker to use Notepad than other forms of organizing web clippings, especially if you make use of the Firefox extension (which enables you to organize your notes without having to navigate away from the page you are on!).

To get started with Google Notebook, simply visit the Notebook page and log in with your Google account. You can then create any number of notebooks (for example, one for each planned blog post, another for interesting sites and one other for inspiration and ideas) and organize your clippings and media for later use:

Overview

Google offers a huge variety of free tools and services which can be utilized to enhance your own blogging experience and for the benefit of readers of your blog. Here we have discussed several of Google’s most useful services and tools for bloggers, with explanations of how they can be best used in the context of better blogging.

Since all of Google’s services are (currently) free for anyone to use and hosted on reliable servers, these tools are perfectly accessible and offer greater interactivity for your blog which can in turn, help generate a wider readership of your blog posts.

I hope you have enjoyed reading this article. Please feel free to leave your comments and opinions below.

Image Credits: Google Einstein by DannySullivan, Gadgets by jblyberg, Calendar by Joe LanmanGoogle Maps by zone41, Notebook by Marcin Wichary. All via Flickr Creative Commons.

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Disclosure: In full disclosure, it is safe to assume that the site owner is benefiting financially or otherwise from everything you click on, read, or look at while on my website. This is not to say that is the case with all content, as all publications on the site are original and written to provide value and references to our audience.

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