Aside 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.
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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org is far more preferable to email@example.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:
One 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.
During 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:
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.
4 Blogging Lessons Learned in Bali
I have spent over a year collectively on the Island of the Gods.
Bali is a special place.
This popular island in Indonesia teaches you 4 clear blogging success lessons too.
Let’s dive in guys.
1: Expect the Unexpected
During a house sit at a huge villa in Jimbaran I:
- faced down and helped slay a spitting cobra
- dealt with a chicken killing dog
- lost 2 of the pets (1 to cancer and 1 to likely thievery)
This list could go on forever. From this sit alone.
Bali is a fun, fascinating and sometimes wild place. Like most developing places; you never know what waits around the corner.
I am writing this guest post because the security certificate expired on my blog. I had no idea this would happen right now. Completely unexpected. But being a blogger for 10 years I know to expect the unexpected.
When my developer wakes up he addresses it and we move forward. Until then I am at peace with my blog being down. No worries. Part of the blogging game.
Expect the unexpected with your blog guys. It will happen.
2: Learn to Celebrate Everything
Balinese are an appreciative people who celebrate everything.
Staff at the villa in Jimbaran regularly took off for ceremonies, celebrating everything from cell phones, to papayas, to motorbikes.
Even cremation ceremonies are lavish, eye-popping celebrations of life and death.
Appreciate it all with your blog. Wins, losses, and all in between. Celebrating it all makes you appreciative of the internet lifestyle.
I celebrated big wins and tough losses because all these experiences made me I am the blogger I am today.
3: Step Away from the Herd to Be Heard and Seen
Kuta is a tourist trap. Ubud town center can be a bit too much.
But the rice fields well outside of Ubud and the Bukit region of the island are authentic, colorful, peaceful gems.
My wife Kelli and I stand out from many other bloggers because we tend to stay in more remote areas of the island. Even in the popular fishing village of Jimbaran we did a house sit in off the grid farm country and rented a place up in the hills, away from the heavily touristed bay. Our experiences are authentic; not many tourists in Kuta facing down spitting cobras.
Blog in your voice. Tell your story. Be genuine. Blog from the heart.
Step away from the blogging herd. All success lies well away from the herd of bloggers in your niche who tend to follow each other like blogging sheeple, blogging in 3rd person voice and never sharing authentic experiences.
4: The Best Experiences Happen Outside of Your Comfort Zone
We rented a villa in the rice fields outside of Ubud once.
We had to ride a motorbike 5 minutes into the rice fields to reach the villa.
Save 1 other human living on the other side of the compound no people existed for miles around.
The experience was amazing. Once in a lifetime deal. But we had to get used to snakes slithering inside of the house, using an open air bathroom as huge fruit bats flew over your head at 2 AM and roaches, mosquitoes and other insects regularly shacking up inside of the crib.
I would never trade in this amazingly fun, freeing and brilliant experience but of course I felt terrified at times. Definitely pushed me outside of my comfort zone.
A bit before 10 PM on a Wednesday night I’d be comfortable in bed. But since my site is down for a bit now I nudge myself outside of my comfort zone to write this blog post. All part and parcel with being a full time blogger who renders generous service for his readers.
All of my biggest blogging wins occurred because I went the extra mile; even if doing so felt highly uncomfortable.
Get comfortable with being uncomfortable. Your greatest blogging success occurs well outside of your comfort zone.
What blogging lessons have you learned recently?
Top 5 Most Competitive Niches for Bloggers
Finding the perfect niche is like a unicorn for many bloggers. The right mix of passion and competitiveness can be found in the most surprising places and isn’t always clear until you’re already well on your way. But the good news is that the harder you look, the closer you get — which is a cliche, but surprisingly true in this case. So before you give up on your dream of creating content about knitting dog pajamas or anthropomorphized helicopters, start by having a look at what niches are the most competitive at the moment.
Most blogs earn their money through affiliation. The good thing about affiliation is that it doesn’t require you to focus on one particular brand, unlike sponsorships. You’re free to place links in your content or not. And to write whatever you like about the brand in question. Money is earned through reader engagement, not through passive exposure.
Of course, the most coveted and stereotypical blogging dream niche is travel. Who would turn down reviewing hotels in the Caribbean or exciting jungle safaris? Only a few bloggers get to do this, however, but there are still a lot of sub-niches that are easy to get into and earn well in. Local guides and localized content is a great way to find perfect fits for valuable affiliation links and you can even make direct content advertising if you ask. The future is definitely localized.
Making content about gambling is often as much about search engine optimization as affiliation links. This has made reviews and guides extremely competitive, but creating content only for SEO purposes can be a little monotonous. More localized information in a specific niche like mobile gambling makes mobile-casino.ca a perfect example of how to stay competitive without losing quality.
Health & Fitness
For ethically minded bloggers, this niche can be a minefield. Health and fitness bloggers can benefit from having a blog of their own in many ways — such as keeping themselves healthy and fit, while also inspiring others in the process. This niche market is also filled with misinformation, dangerous recommendations and straight up lies. Are you the one to finally inform readers about the one true way to stay healthy or get fit? Joking aside, whether you’re a zealot or a skeptic, there are affiliation networks for you. Just include a source or two, please.
Including this niche might be cheating. It can cover so much — but that doesn’t mean that your blog should. Specialised content that you’re both passionate and informed about can be very valuable for direct ads. Everyone has some kind of lifestyle niche they’re focused on, whether it be simple admin improvement or urban hiking. Find out if readers are interested in the topic, either directly or related, before you go all in, though.
With how competitive blogging is, blogs that explain how to succeed are more popular than ever. You’re reading one right now and you could write your own very easily. You don’t have to be the best or the most insightful to write an inspiring blog about blogging — it’s more useful than you think to write down what works and what doesn’t in your own humble experience. You can be an expert in learning.
Have you noticed any commonalities yet? If you look hard enough in any niche, you’ll learn enough to create content with a fresh and exciting take. And that’s the current trend for being competitive: Being both subjective and informed; localized and aware of international trends.
Do You Really Know Your Readers?
See the featured image up top guys?
I know readers dig my eBook. Said readers dig my paperback too.
Enter this featured image. I use similar images frequently on Blogging From Paradise. Smart way to appeal to my audience.
But during lean years I did not know my readers because I:
- did not listen to my readers
- did not ask my readers questions
- did not spot my reader’s pain points
- did not read my reader’s comments carefully
- did not spot patterns among my readers
Eventually I woke up. Easy to see this now. But back in the day I had a hellish time owning the fact that I did not know my readers.
Reader Red Flags
You do not know your readers if:
- traffic stalls or disappears
- blogging profits stall or disappear
- engagement dies on your blog
- nobody seems to reach out to you on social media
These are a few red flags guys. Own the flags. Honestly. Owning your mistakes is one quick way to turn things around, to free yourself of this common blogging error.
Do You Know Your Readers?
I mean; do you really know your blog readers? Be genuine before you answer the question.
I know my readers incredibly well now because every blog post, video or podcast I create meets their needs. No guess work, no writing and publishing because I want to write and publish a post and certainly no off topic posting here, on Blogging From Paradise or any place where I guest post.
The other day one of my blogging buddies endorsed my paperback with a YouTube review. In addition to feeling grateful I tuned into one other idea; his endorsement, emails from other book customers and smiling selfies from other book customers alerted me to the fact that my readers are beginning to buy my paperback too, in addition to my eBook. I published a post linking to my paperback and explaining how my book solves pressing blogging problems after spotting this pattern.
I know my readers better and better each passing day because I listen to my readers more closely each passing day. As everything expands with my blogging campaign I find it easier and easier to help folks, to come up with blog post ideas and to know my content hits the mark because blogging with my readers in mind has been the simplest way to connect with these folks.
Your blog is for you and your readers. Never forget this fact. Never forget that if you write just for yourself you are publishing a cyber diary. No need for anyone to read a blog if the blog does not solve their problems.
Knowing your readers genuinely requires you to be:
Listen to the latest podcast interview I did with Alonzo Pichardo on his Sound Cloud channel:
He has invited me to chat on his highly popular channel – with over 300,000 listens between only 8 episodes.
Alonzo is a master at spotting the most pressing issues of his audience. My readers also suffer from problems related to these topics. Naturally, as he shares and builds his impressive tribe and as I build my tribe, we have well over a quarter of a million listens between only 8 podcast episodes.
If you get to really know your readers and patiently hit the mark with your content, over years, 10 listens becomes 100 listens, then 100 becomes 1000, then 1000 becomes 10,000 listens, then 10,000 becomes 100,000 listens, and upward from there.
Develop an intimate bond with your readers guys. Poll them. Email them, asking how you can help them.
Much of your blogging success rests on knowing clearly what your reader wants so you can serve it up to them.
Listen. Ask. Observe.
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