4 blogging actions you must take urgently or repent later!

We, bloggers and other social loggers, tend to become careless about what we post online - especially when we start feeling that we have become expert social loggers. Being conscious of our vulnerabilites saves us from many issues that arise due to carelessness and indiscretion. I give here four blogging reminders so that you take timely actions to secure your blog and its resources, and also avoid Google penalties and social embarrassment. 

Give your blog or website an HTTPS cover.

Starting July 2018, Google started deprecating websites that do not have HTTPS security layer. If you do not have HTTPS implemented on your website, Google Chrome now gives a message to the visitors that the website/ blog is 'not secure'. Other search engines and people also feel that the website might not be secure enough.

If you have opened a blog on a free blogging platform, check whether your blog's URL starts with HTTP or HTTPS. If it has HTTPS prefix and your browser does not show a security warning, your blog is already behind the SSL security layer. Blogs on free Wordpress and Blogger blogging platforms already have this security cover.

Luckily, getting the HTTPS certificate for base level security is free and very simple to implement. You can use the free SSL certificate provided by your web host or install Lets Encrypt, a genuine free security certificate. If your blog/ website is not into ecommerce, you need not pay huge sums on higher level of security.
  

Back up your blog data now; back it up regularly in future.

Though web hosts are getting more secure and sturdy, more and more reports are seen about data from websites being hacked, instances of sudden bad performance by websites, blackouts, data loss and other nasty things happening to small website owners and bloggers. Natural calamities such as heavy cyclones also have destroyed host servers in the recent past.

You yourself can sometimes take an action by mistake, which may turn your website/ blog unusable, or corrupt or delete its data.

Some hosts are reported to be goading users with inexpensive plans to upgrade and if that is not done, giving them poorer service. That includes not putting enough security and backup resources in place.

Even when your blog is on a free platform such as Wordpress or Blogger, don't be complacent that your blog's data/ content will be safe for ever. In addition to other risks, there is also risk of their suspending your account if they don't find your content appropriate.

So, the best thing is to do is to manually backup your blog/ website regularly, perhaps once a month or so. If you have not been backing up your data so far, start backing up your website/ blog's data right now.
   

Be discreet from now on. Delete all 'bad' content.

In the face of enormous pressure from government investigating agencies, web hosts and social media biggies often have to share customer data with them. Governments do not like content that goes against the government or would lead to crime, religious hatred or social strife. Many governments have enacted laws that can be used by authorities to harass bloggers on slight provocation.   

In many countries, religion is taken too seriously and anybody writing or drawing anything looking to belittle any religious saying or icon can face severe reprisals in the hands of religious zealots and fundamentalists.

Bloggers are also liable to defamation and charge of content theft. 

Therefore, for your own safety and security and also of the blog, remove content from your blog that would-
  • be taken as violating your country's laws;
  • provoke your government to take action against you;
  • be taken as socially inappropriate or hurting religious sentiments;
  • invite legal action for defamation;
  • invite notices and legal action for using others' content.
Remember that you are also liable for comments posted on your blog by others! So, remove any abusive comments and comments that have bad links.

If you have linked to bad websites, remove those links or disavow those links.
     

    Stop using any tricks on your blog, whether for SEO or otherwise.

    Search engines and humans don't like to be fooled. Google has publicly said many times that it penalizes action that is meant to artificially boost a website's reputation such as paying to get backlinks or stuffing keywords or hiding links with background color.

    Many SEO 'experts' advise bloggers in general and specifically their clients to use tricks to get to the top of search pages. Some bloggers use other tricks such as inflating traffic figures to show one's influence, taking actions that would harm their competitors' blogs/ websites, starting controversies so as to receive huge traffic, etc.

    If you want to run your blog/ website with a long-term goal, please avoid all tricks. In today's web world, tricks do not work even if they worked earlier. If some cheap SEO tricks work sometimes, they do not bring long-term success and make the blog prone to penalty by search engines. 

    If you already are using tricks to fool people or search engines, it is time to stop doing so, so that you do not repent later.


    security is important for blogs and websites
    Blogging reminders to keep you safe and sturdy.


    Happy blogging!

    Schoolgirls no-nonsense blog that aims at breaking social barriers

    Nathi Nonsense! 
    It means, 'No Nonsense!'

    You read that right. This is the title of the blog opened by some schoolgirls in 2015 with an urge to make their voice heard by the society. 
    Of course the girls are now young ladies and have been joined by more like-minded youth. 
    The title of the blog captures the spirit of the blog and the two founders, Nag and Shah, further explain that by saying,  
    We believe in exploring everything and providing others with an opportunity to explore too... We share...a desire to make a difference in the society... We absolutely dislike barriers that surround us.

    featured blog

    Best Search Engine Optimization strategy is simple and ethical

    What are the best SEO techniques and strategy, bloggers often ask. 
    Google says, SEO should help search engines find content with high quality. It also says, if someone claims that he can get your website on the first position on search pages, he is cheating you outright. In 2019, that does not happen. 
    In addition, SEO need not be technically cumbersome. It need not cost money. It is mostly good commonsense with a bit of technical effort and supportive actions that improve engagement and content discovery.  
    The present post lists out the SEO actions that are simple and yet work well in 2019. For bloggers, these serve as quick reminders. Hardcore SEO actions are better left for SEO experts - most bloggers need not bother about them. 
    Please remember that what worked a few years back might not work in 2019, and some positive actions of the past may be red-flagged by search engines. So, this list contains 1. actions that the search engines find genuine and good today; 2. supportive actions fo bringing more traffic to the blog; and 3. actions that may invite penalty from search engines. 
    Remeber the underlying spirit of good SEO: 
    Serve the visitor useful and sharable content and avoid bad unhealthy SEO techniques.

    Simple SEO techniques that work in 2019

    1. Give your site/ blog a good title. Keep the title below 70 characters (if that is not possible, give the most relevant expression within this limit). 
    2. Give the blog a relevant, well-written description within 130 characters. It should contain the highlight of the blog. As search engines have started giving more importance to mobile phones, a bigger description might bleed away from the space available. 
    3. Give the site an independent domain name, not a sub-domain of a free domain (e.g. example.com vs. example.blogspot.com). 
    4. Make the domain name memorable, short, with an expression that defines your blog (keyword).
    5. Use 'rel=canonical' HTML attribute so that Google and other search engines know which of your websites (out of many that arise due to www or no-www prefix, etc) is to be considered for search.
    6. Make one of the two variants as your main blog URL: with www or without www. The other should direct to the one you choose.
    7. Regularly publish original content. 'Original' does not mean you need to make inventions in every post, but you must speak in a voice that is your own and not copied from others.
    8. Keep the quality of your writing high. Have well-researched and detailed articles and without grammatical errors.
    9. Write for visitor, not for yourself or the search engine.
    10. Write long content, of over 1600 words, at least occasionally. The content of these long posts should be ever-green. Link these posts on other related posts.
    11. Do not put too many ads or widgets. They make the blog look unprofessional, reduce stay time on the blog and hurt SEO indirectly.
    12. Give relevant sub-headings to different thoughts, especially in a long post.
    13. If you know how to do it and your blogging platform allows that, use H1, H2 HTML tags for heading and sub-headings. 
    14. Get SSL / HTTPS security for your blog. Blogger and Wordpress do that automatically; for self-hosted blogs, there are free HTTPS certificates available.
    15. Highlight sub-headings by way of bigger font and/or colored text so that they catch the attention of visitors.
    16. Put visual content to support text content: have images, info-graphics and/or videos.
    17. Give relevant description to individual pages/ posts.
    18. Don't ignore to put a relevant ALT attribute on images. It helps search engines to know the subject of image.
    19. Do not have a messy design that hurts navigation and readability. Go for a simple design.
    20. Put keywords in top and bottom parts of text content. But keep them in a way that the keywords look natural. Instead of the same keyword, use synonyms and different ways of saying the same thing.
    21. Use long-tail keywords (two-three word phrases) rather than one-word keywords.
    22. When giving links, use relevant anchor text (the hyperlinked text). It should look natural too.
    23. Give links to useful information on other pages/ posts on your website/ blog. However, do not over-do it.
    24. Bring your content to the notice of authoritative bloggers on your subject. You can send them email to seek their opinion, or regularly comment on their blogs.
    25. Also give links to authoritative sites when these add value to your own site.
    26. Check broken and dead links and remove them once in a while. 
    27. Place a 'broken link'page so that if for any reason a page is not available to the visitor, he sees a page in which you say sorry for that and request him to visit another page.
    28. The site should have trust signals for search engines: Google has stated that it finds high trust in websites that have contact details, an 'about us' page and a customer service page (if relevant). 
    29. If you want to host the blog independently [e.g. not as a free blog on Blogger or Wordpress], choose the host wisely as the web host's quality impacts SEO a lot. 
    30. Make sure that your site is not too slow to open. That can happen if the server is slow, the site is heavy or poorly structured, or there is not enough internet bandwidth available to the site. Google has stated that since 2017, it has been taking site speed as a signal to rank pages.
    31. If your blog is hosted on a small server and the server is shared by many sites, make sure that the site is available all the time (over 99.5% uptime) and the site does not hang when there is heavy traffic.[That's why we said earlier that web hosts can impact SEO in a big way.]
    32. All sites are automatically indexed by major search engines. However, check on Google, Bing and Yahoo if almost all of your site's pages are indexed or not. If not, check for HTML/ crawling errors. You can check them on the Google Search Console.
    33. On the blog, have prominent links and buttons for social networking and bookmarking accounts of yours.
    34. Make sure that your site is mobile-friendly, because more and more searches are now carried through mobile phones.
    35. Put a sitemap on the website. It need not be a page visible to visitors.Blogger and Wordpress automatically do that.
    36. Guest blogging on other sites/ blogs is useful, but search engines do not like it when used for back-linking and on sites that are not in a related field or not trust-worthy.
    37. Have a subscription widget for email and RSS feed, so that people follow you and get updates on email or through RSS feed.
    38. Tell your friends, relatives and colleagues about your blog.
    39. After publishing a new post, send an email to people who might be interested in that content. But do not bombard them with too many emails in a month.
    40. Have your blog's URL and a short description on your visiting card, stationery and other items that you share. Business bloggers can put the URL on carry-bags, advertisements, products, back panels of cars, etc.
    41. Engage with others by leaving valuable comments on their blogs and social accounts.
    42. Be active on social media and its communities as sharing of content on social media gives a positive signal to search engines. 
    43. Be on an industry forum or 1/ 2 groups on Facebook on your subject, participate in a Twitter chat. 
    44. If your blog is on a subject that is visually appealing (photography, food, fashion, travel), cross-publish on Instagram and/ or Pinterest. 
    45. Cross-publish your blog posts on Facebook page and  LinkedIn article. Tweet about your posts. 
    what is good seo

    Bad SEO actions or tricks that you should avoid

    1. Don't copy-paste others' content.
    2. Do not keep outdated or misleading information on webpages.
    3. Don't write primarily for search engines. While doing SEO, do not ignore the reader.
    4. Don't put exact keywords or one-word keywords too often, whether in title or description or the body of articles.
    5. Don't put keywords and make them unreadable by hiding them through background coloring etc.
    6. Don't be part of link farms (where you link to others in return for others linking to you).
    7. Don't ask for back-links.
    8. Don't purchase back-links. Do not buy PBN.
    9. Avoid having links to spammy, bad sites. 
    10. Don't spend money on an SEO service without being sure of the quality and genuineness of offer. In most cases, bloggers hardly need the services of SEO experts.
    11. Don't fall for offers of thousands of followers etc in a few dollars.
    12. Don't waste time on submitting to directories, search engines or pinging, except for a few genuine directories or local/ trade directories.
    13. Don't make duplicate sites. Don't copy paste the same content on different blogs/ sites.
    14. Don't make websites that have poor content but are there to drive traffic to one particular site.
    15. While being active on social media, remember that it sucks time and energy. Do not be on too many platforms. Also, do not post too much and too frequently or people will mark you as a spammer.

    Will social media have any impact on 2019 Indian election results

    India has already seen two general elections in which online media has played a role

    It was ten years back when India fought its first national elections with a shadow of online media. At that time, the modern social media platforms were not as prevalent and smart phones were yet a privileged device in the hands of upper middle class and the rich. Yet, the web was widely used for political advertisement and as a medium that supported medium mainstream publicity. 
    In the 2014 parliamentary elections in India, social media became a fierce battleground. A large mobile-first population  had helped fast growth of online media. This, along with the fact that many of them were young first-time voters, made politicians to take serious note of it. The then Gujarat Chief Minister, Narendra Modi, more than other contemporary leaders, understood the power of social media to spread his brand, especially among aspirational Indians, and was active on online media much before elections. Many old-styled politicians, however, ridiculed social media platforms and considered social media engagement as a waste of time. 
    By the time of actual elections, quite a number of political parties were highly active on online media, with a core team of content creators and monitors whose actions were replicated by thousands of committed volunteers. 

    2019 elections are seeing direct role of social media like never before

    In 2019, India has many more smart phones, and these devices have reached the lower middle income class if not lower. These phones have reached small towns and villages; data has become much cheaper; videos clips have become much easy to create and share. What a smart phone user uses the most is social networking and media sharing platforms. Besides global social networks such as Facebook and Instagram, local and language platforms e.g. ShareChat, Hello and TikTok have become popular among the young. [TikTok has been removed on 17th April from Android and Apple app stores in India due to inappropriate content.] Instant messaging, sharing of content and group communication on WhatsApp is highly popular across age groups, genders and regions.
    Fake news has become much more prevalent than in 2014. Because of availability of quick photo/ video editing apps, dedicated teams of fake news creators and broadcasters, poor filtering of such content by platforms and people's indiscreet sharing of content on social media, there have been numerous cases of serious damage to people's life, property and reputation. 
    Elections become a handy playground for spreading one's alignment with or against a political group or opinion. Fake news makes it more thrilling for those wanting to let loose their emotions. 
    Though the Election Commission, government and social platforms have come together in the recent months to prevent and check the menace of fake news and other undesirable content on the web, it does float in good quantity.

    Does social media really influence voter decision?

    Studies the world over have found that social media (and the overall web media) does make some influence on the voters but not as much as it is felt to be. 
    Another common observation is that social media may not have had a considerable positive impact, but it had a very high potential to damage someone’s prospects.
    It is also felt that in most cases, most of the election-related social media buzz is due to armies on each side - trolling and abusing the other side and creating fake news in one's favor and against the other. They are committed content-creators and spreaders. The average consumer of social media spreads or comments on them based on his/ her pre-conceived notions. Thus, social media does not influence a voter enough to change his/ her voting decision.
    It has been agrued by many observers that social media acts more as a mirror of the society. At best it reinforces what happens in the society and what comes on mainstream media. Though social media may be playing a role of influencer too, but if these two are its basic properties, the logic of its being an influencer of significance falls flat. 
    In 2014, a study conducted by India Today had concluded that over 46 per cent of respondents, who were eligible to vote for the first time in those elections, took online opinions  seriously. 
    A study by  IAMAI found that social media was likely to make high impact in 160 out of 543 constituencies in 2014 because there were more number of Facebook users in these constituencies than the margin of victory in the previous election or where the number of Facebook users was more than 10% of the voting population. 
    Another study by the same organization concluded that social media could swing 3-4% young men and non-working women voters in majority of states. A Google survey suggested that social media could impact 30% of seats. 
    It was also found that social media reinforced Narendra Modi’s narrative that the then ruling party was deeply mired in corruption and only he could rid the country of corruption and take it forward.
    Come 2019. The premises remain the same; but social media has become part of more people's lives and it does influence their life decisions. Smart phones in the hands of millions of young people in villages and towns, many of whom are unemployed and many are of impressionable age, increase the influencing potential of social media. Consider also that this time, all political parties and politicians have learnt to use social media in their crude or sophisticated ways - which adds to mesh up of social messages, and these messages do travel to real-life discourses in families and close groups and thus may influence one's voting decisions. 
    Direct and surrogate advertising on the social media is another matter that is drawing attention of the Election Commission and it is understood to be keeping a tab on it. From the perspective of the present discussion, a huge expenditure on online publicity is an important indicator that political parties and candidates consider social media as an important influencer.
    Besides the obvious and rather crude way of using social media, big political parties have been investing good money also on making social messages more impactful. Technological and statistical tools, especially for data analytics, are used for targeting messages. Professional outfits have emerged, which guide politicians on making the best use of social media for connecting with their voters. Such 'professional' use of social media in elections is also likely to increase its impact.


    social media in elections

    Social media does influence political democracy

    Beyond election outcomes, social media has been found to contribute positively to democratic discussions and debates. There ae also concerns, as in the current Indian elections too, of it being too superficial, susceptible to opaque and corrupt practices, reinforcing divisions/ polarization in the society, prone to foreign interference, etc. Maybe, we'd discuss these matters sometime later.
      
    Disclosure: This post is partly an excerpt from 'Use of Social Media in Elections' chapter of The Manual of Social Media, with updates. 

    9 types of pages that add value and trust to blogs - and improve search visibility too

    A blog is known by its posts, not pages, right?  Yes, but pages have their own special role in blogs. While posts are the life-blood of a blog, standalone pages give the blog the required background support. Their content is more permanent than posts and therefore need not be updated too often.

    If you have not yet created static pages on your blog or not considered them important, take action now so that your blog becomes more valuable for readers and search engines.

    What are the standalone pages on a blog and how to make best use of them?

    Posts and pages both are technically web pages and have a unique URL of their own. Pages are those web pages that are  not pushed down like posts when new matter is posted on the blog. Usually they do not have a time stamp and thus are eternal. 
    In the typical web design of blogs, pages are not displayed in the main column - which is reserved for posts - but in special places where they are always visible.  Since the standalone pages have a unique personality, they quietly define your blog's standard and trustworthiness. 
    The additional information the pages provide helps visitors to know more about the blog and blogger. Some pages add to the blog's reputation by establishing the blogger as trust-worthy. Google itself has said that the trust generated by such information helps them come high on search pages.
    Therefore, you should not take the creation and placement of standalone pages lightly. I give here some common uses of pages on blogs and blog-like websites:
    1. Giving information about the blogger and/ or the blog: Usually we call such a page as an 'About us' page. It tells how the blog started, what all it contains, who all are behind the blog, what is its guiding principle and so on.
    2. Giving contact information: There could be a separate 'Contact us' page or the contact information could be part of the 'About us' page. Google says, blogs/ websites with a page on the owner's contact details are more trusted as compared to those whose owner remains hidden. The contact information includes contact details for specific purposes (e.g. customer service, product details, downloads), email ID, telephone number, physical address, etc.
    3. Giving background information about the topics covered in the blog: Since posts come and go, they do not stay on top of home page unless specially pinned. Pages, being static, serve well as the storehouse of background information that does not change too often. 
    4. Giving the visitor additional information on your product or service: Let us illustrate this with the example of an author blogger. There can be information about the book on some posts, but if you want to share a chapter or take the visitor to your creative journey or give interesting information on characters/ locations or display purchase information, a page can be the best way to do that. Same goes for other products and also services.
    5. Asking visitors to take action: Such pages are called 'call to action' or 'landing' pages. A page comes handy when you want to hook the visitor - a potential client - to buy your product or take any other action (e.g download an ebook, subscribe to updates, refer your blog to a friend). Bloggers/ website owners who sell products and services often have a long promotional article with a pitch for purchase, testimonials, etc on the landing page.
    6. Providing manually curated resources: Many bloggers manually make a list of the best posts on the blog. Some give a list of external resources. Some produce an FAQ list.
    7. Providing specific information. Standalone pages come handy when you organize a web event or a real-life event, or carry out a project. Standalone pages give all details of the project in one place.  
    8. Giving website policies: You can put all policies such as privacy policy, cookie policy, and comment policy on a separate page and link it to the homepage of your website/ blog. Similarly, disclaimers and disclosures about your content and conditions for using it can be included in that page.
    9. Guiding visitors in case of broken link: You should have a '404 error page' that is displayed when any web page in your blog is not displayed due to misspelling or using wrong URL by the user or the web page not being available due to some other error. This page should apologize for the inconvenience caused to the reader and guide him where to go from there. 

    Best places for displaying pages on the blog?

    Standalone pages do not pose problem of display unlike other design elements such as widgets. Static pages are best displayed as links or buttons on the homepage and within posts when they need to be cross-referenced. The menu bar just under the title is the best place for some or all pages. Sidebar is also good for displaying standalone pages. 
    You should prominently display the 'About us', 'Contact us' and 'call to action' pages. 
    From web design point of view, the footer area is the best place for linking pages relating to disclaimer and web policies as they need not take up prime space. 
    There is no need to display the 'broken link' page. 

    Some bloggers like to make a page as the homepage of the blog to give the blog the look of a static website. That is a design choice but in our view it partly reduces the 'blogging' feel and serves no good purpose.


    importance of pages in blogging
    Facebook blog's homepage. Compressed and shortened for clarity.

    WordPress (both CMS and free blogging platform) and Blogger allow easy creation of pages and customization of their placement. Both have Pages Menu widgets, and you can play with both to place all or a few pages with other menu items in different places on the blog.
    Please look at the screenshot of Facebook's blog, which I have tweaked for the sake of easy viewing. It has a menu bar in the title area with links to a number of pages. The sidebar has a widget for upcoming events, but they could have displayed one or more pages here. The bottom has pages for Ábout', 'Çontact Us', etc.

    Gutenberg block editor on WordPress: a new blogging experience

    Wordpress has rolled out Gutenberg editor with Wordpress 5.0. It is the default now, and one can go back to the classic editor by using a plugin.
    I had announced the likely introduction of Gutenberg editor, long back. Wordpress has kept its promise and with Gutenberg, added a very useful property to blog/ website editing: blocks.
    The block editor on Wordpress is applicable for both, posts and pages.

    What is block editing of websites?

    If you have been using Blogger or the older versions of Wordpress, the text editor window looks like a word processor (e.g. MS Word). There is a spacious single slate on which you write. You can format the text using the formatting toolbar, add image and so on using their own tools. 
    In block editing, which is available in Wordpress 5, every element of the post is a block. So, there is a title block, each para can be a separate block, a list or a table is a block and each image is a block too. 
    A block is like a stand-alone tile in the floor layout of the post. 

    How does block editing enhance editing posts on a website/ blog?

    If you consider each block as a floor tile in the post layout, it is obvious that one can easily re-position the tile/ block without disturbing the entire layout. One can also replace formatting of an individual tile/ block more cleanly. 
    The beauty of the Wordpress block editor is that you can add one of the many types of pre-designed blocks such as paragraph, table, list. Each block comes with its own tool sets that match the type of block. You can drag a block up, down or side-ways to re-position it. Blocks also make it possible to create multi-column text.
    Gutenberg block editor for Wordpress

    One fantastic option on Wordpress is to create reusable blocks. Once you create a paragraph or list or some other element that you would use later too, you give it a name and save as reusable block. The next time you need to insert the same element, pull it from the list of reusable blocks created by you!
    Since the block editor comes with a number of elements that needed plugins earlier, the task of adding such elements becomes a one-click affair. For example, you could add a button, a text+image box, a cover image. 
    Bloggers and website creators who have mastered advanced features of Wordpress can make use of blocks in more imaginative ways, with blocks of codes etc.

    Is the classic editor on Wordpress gone? What about plugins that may not work well with blocks?

    There is a possibility that some people may not like the block editor because initially it may look slightly confusing. Moreover, there could be some plugins that do not work well with blocks. 
    For such situations, Wordpress has created a plugin, Classic Editor Plugin, which restores the classic/ old-style editor.

    How to start a blog and make money from it in 2019

    Blogging in 2019 is not what it was in 2006 or even in 2012. Earlier, most people started a blog because it was the only (or the main) medium for socialization on the web. Now that role has been taken up by Facebook, Instagram, Twitter etc.  Bloggers earlier used to do blogging mostly for expressing themselves. Now a big section of bloggers open blogs for professional purposes: (i) to create a strong personal or business brand or (ii) to make money out of blogging. 

    How to start a blog and make money - in 2019 

    The present post will concentrate on professional blogging, especially blogging with the aim of making money. For the sake of ease and clarity, I give below a quick intro to blogging. This is basically meant for friends who are not fully aware about how blogging happens. More knowledgeable visitors may like to go straight to the next section that deals with the actual nitty-gritty of making a professional blog.

    The basics of creation of a blog

    * A blog is a website of a special type, and it consists of some code and resources (e.g. text, images and videos) that are served to people who visit it. 
    * So, the first thing we need to do for creating the blog, or the blogging website, is to decide (i) on what subject the blog should be and (ii) how it should look. There are many website creation tools available on the web - and you need to choose one of them. 
    All website creation tools are simple and intuitive, and most bloggers can create blogs by themselves. If you cannot create the blog yourself, you need to hire an expert for that. 
    * The blog must have an appealing design so that you can put the blog's title prominently, and put other elements the way you like. That is not done from scratch but there are  THEMEs already available on the web. You can  apply a free theme available on a blogging platform or elsewhere, or buy a theme. 
    * The blog creation tools and themes are free when you open your blog on a free blogging platform. But as it happens with any free offering, there are limitations of designs and functions. 
    Professional blogs should be created using a proper blogging/ website-creation software and should have a professional looking theme. 
    * In addition, the blog needs to be placed somewhere on the world wide web so that it is available to people who want to visit it. This action is called WEB HOSTING  of the blog. 
    Free blogging platforms provide free web hosting, but you need to buy space and have associated software if you want to make a professional blog. This is because blogs hosted on free platforms have many limitations. 
    You need to pay to the web hosting company for hosting your blog on the www, if your blog is not on a free platform. 
    * Well, even if the blog is ready and hosted somewhere on the www, how do people recognize it? For that, you need to give a name to the blog. 
    There is a set system according to which websites are named (called domain naming system) so that each website (or blog) has a unique DOMAIN NAME
    Free blogging platforms give you a blog name for free but your blog looks like a subordinate entity under that platform. Therefore, professional blogs should have independent domain name. 
    To register your blog's name, you need to apply to a domain name registrar. Getting a domain name and maintaining it year after year also costs annual fees. 
    * A professional blog must have features for attracting traffic, visitors' interaction, social sharing of posts, etc. If you want to sell products or services from the blog, you also need to have provisions to accept payment. Such functions can come only when you apply special features on the blog, and you either need technical know-how or you should be prepared to hire an expert for that. 

    *** To sum up, you should have a feature-rich and professional looking blog if you want to build a brand around it and make money from it. For this, you must have
    • a blog designed using standard blogging software and/or using a good theme - with good features
    • a good web host
    • a good domain name
    Web hosting and holding the domain name have annual fees that are essential. Designing the blog (and purchasing a theme, but this is  optional) may also need one-time investment in case you are not confident of doing the work on your own.  

    In the lower section, we discuss the best practices relating to blog design, web hosting and domain naming.

    Best practices for blog creation and maintenance

    Let me answer some frequently asked questions from bloggers:

    Which blog creation software is best for creating blogs?

    It is reported that Wordpress is used by over 30% of the websites, including blogs, the world over. We also recommend it over other website and blog creation software.  However, if you intend to make a blog that looks more like a standard website, we'd recommend Google Sites.

    How to choose the right web host?

    There are many web hosting companies, some of global size and some local. Some small companies and individuals buy plans from big companies, divide them in small packets and sell them at cheap rates to small businesses and bloggers (= re-selling). 
    I would recommend that you go for local units of big brands such as Bluehost, HostGator and SiteGround (and choose local companies only when these big hosts are not available in your country). Do not go for re-seller plans. 
    There are numerous types of web hosting plans. Go for cloud-based, shared hosting (VPS) plans out of all available plans of the host. These will be cost-effective and will have reasonably good service. 

    How to choose the best theme or design for the blog?

    Wordpress has many themes in-built. You can browse the web for available premium themes. If you like a premium  theme much more than the free themes available, you can go for that. 
    Apply a theme that looks clean and in which different resources of the blog (e.g. different categories, archives) can be accessed easily. The theme should not be too heavy to load. It should be SEO-optimized and should have social-sharing buttons. Do not go for unusual themes and those with built-in animations. 
    There are free themes that go with blogs on free blogging platforms. You can also choose to apply a premium theme on a free blog. 

    How to choose the right domain name for website/ blog?

    A website's domain name is  its permanent address. You can change the theme, re-design the blog and change the host, yet visitors will find your blog with the same web address.  But if you change the domain name of the blog, you will have to change links to the blog wherever you have shared them and there will be many more issues. Therefore, choose the domain name with a lot of consideration. 
    There are many domain name registrars, e.g. GoDaddy. Your web host itself might also be a domain name registrar and may offer a free domain bundled with web hosting offer.  When you look for a domain name, the registrar suggests available options. 
    Choose a name that can relate with the subject of the blog or with your name. Do not make it too difficult to type. .com is the most used suffix, but you can choose any other suffix that suits the blog. 
    Do not choose a name or suffix that would misguide the visitors.

    Why not to go for free blogging platform for a professional blog?

    You can always open a free blog on Wordpress or Blogger and then upgrade the blog to a professional blog. However, it is neat and hassle-free to create the blog on a paid platform. There are many other free blogging platforms but they do not allow upgradation.
    Some of the limitations of free blogging platforms that pinch when you want a professional blog are:
    • Limited disk-space and resources.
    • Risk of blog being knocked down if its content violates the platform's policies.
    • Wordpress asks for money for any upgradation. 
    • Free platforms do not generally allow posting advertisements (except Blogger).
    • Free platforms usually do not allow much tinkering with the core code. Blogger allows it to a certain extent.
    • Blog's domain name is subsidiary of the platform's domain. (However, you can buy an independent domain name and map that to the free blog, but most of the platforms charge for that.)

    Do I need to apply SEO and buy analytical tools for traffic and site performance?

    A bit of search engine optimizatin (SEO) and some monitoring of the performance of the blog is essential for success. However, you need not spend too much time or money on such activities. Most of SEO actions are common-sensical and can be taken care with minimal effort. 
    Do not apply 'black-hat' or unethical SEO. Not at all! For finding the best keywords on which to write, checking search performance of the blog, finding how your competitors are doing and other SEO actions, you need not buy expensive tools. The following are some of the free and useful tools that suffice a blogger's needs:

    How well does social media engagement help in getting traffic and convincing people to click/ buy?

    A bit of social media engagement is necessary, much like SEO. You must engage with others on some of the main social networks. You must also put social sharing buttons at the bottom or top of every post and prominently on the blog. 
    How much you should engage, how many posts you should publish on social media or which social networking platform you should use depend upon many factors. Your product or area of activity is one important factor; if you are into fashion, beauty, travel etc you must be active on Instagram and Pinterest; if you want to build a professional brand around your name, you should be active on LinkedIn; and so on.  
    Do not spend too much time and don't be on too many social media platforms. Start with the main ones, e.g. Facebook and Twitter. Then, if a platform is wasting your time without much gain, analyse the reasons. If that platform does not suit you, quit that.

    Should I promote my blog, and how?

    If you are serious about your blog, you must keep promoting it on the web and also offline, in different ways, e.g. by emailing new posts to subscribers, discussing a related topic on others' blogs or forums, cross-posting blog posts on social media, etc.
    Do not forget to occasionally promote the blog around an activity, e.g. by giving away a free ebook or something else, emailing expert bloggers or companies in your field when you publish an exceptionally important post, doing surveys in your field, and so on. 


    How to earn from blogging in 2019
    You can think of paid promotion also. Issuing advertisements through Google Ads and by issuing ads on Facebook and Twitter are reported to be quite cost-effective. But do not commit too much money in one go. Experiment with targeting ads to your potential audience/ customers. Use their customization tools for best targeting. 

    New Zealand terror video on social media sparks reactions. But are platforms feeling accountable?

    The live streaming of shooting by New Zealand mass shooter last fortnight and the video going viral have generated a lot of heat against social media giants. Social media platforms could not perhaps have stopped the live streaming of the act of terror for some seconds, but they were expected to stop it from going 'viral'. By the time it was wiped out, it was circulating for almost half a day.
    Facebook, on which the live stream was shown, said it 'quickly' removed 1.5 million videos from the platform. But the fact is that The Christchurch mosque shootout was seen on all major social network platforms and then traveled to television channels - effectively, many million people must have watched it.


    social media and crime, terror

    Such display of terror is abhorrent and against media norms. However, beyond that, such grossly violent content has the potential to influence young people who might get thrill out of an act that confirms that the type of violence they witness on - and even take part in - video games is thrilling and very much doable. For terrorists, such videos are handy for radicalizing the youth and provoking mass vengeance. 
    The lack of responsibility and accountability of social media platforms needs no elucidation. It is widely reported that harmful content on social media is leading to suicides and mental health issues among teens and young adults. There is rise in cases of cyber-bullying, which also threatens to shake confidence of young people in themselves. Social media is being used by terrorists, smugglers and other criminals with abandon.
    Governments and UN agencies need to be firm in enforcing accountability in social media platforms. This should go hand in hand with severe penalties for non-compliance. If not, the enforcement agencies are also to blame for the mess being created by these platforms.
    The only way out to rid the social media of toxic content is the platforms' full commitment rather than lip service and getting away with statements like ''We are working closely with governments to find a solution. "
    Last week, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison met social giants, Facebook, Google and Twitter, with the threat that their executives in Australia could face jail if they do not remove terror content from their platforms. The meeting with Australian PM mentioned was described by an official as not very productive as social media giants insisted that they were doing all that could be done. 
    US Congress has called upon Facebook, which was the primary source of terror-related live stream in this case, to behave.
    In India, in the wake of ongoing elections, the Election Commission has taken many actions in concert with social platforms and they have assured all the needed action; they have also appointed a 24x7 grievance officer especially for elections. Some of them have put in place mechanisms to filter toxic content and limit forwarding of messages. But there seems scope for much better action.
    EU has, in recent years, severely penalized some tech giants for omissions and commissions. Other countries need to also be strict.
    New Zealand has enforced a 14-year jail and up to $10k fine for possessing that particular video. The government has also started forensic probe on the spread of the live stream and subsequent videos on social networks. Similar actions must come from others.
    However, there is this other side of the coin. There are suggestions in the media, whether live streaming may be stopped all together on the social media. Some people are suggesting that social network and sharing platform must pre-filter user content. All such steps seem too reactive and regressive.
    Another word of caution: in trying to make the social media giants accountable, governments should not themselves get carried away. While responsible governments may follow rules, rogue governments may find it a great handle to stifle all forms of dissent.