How using roundabouts highlights assumptions in blogging

Poorly finger after making soupNobody likes a misery-guts, moaning on about how sorry they are feeling about themselves. Last week I sliced my finger making leek and butterbean soup (more like leek, butterbean and finger soup, as one of my friends suggested) which made blogging a little difficult!

Then yesterday I got into such a pickle trying to fathom out the inexplicably difficult street signage around the Basingstoke roundabout system, going round and round like a complete idiot screaming my head off, when I should have stopped to look at a map or even try and find my sat-nav somewhere in the dark depths of my car.

And today I have a sore throat (not surprising really), headache and the shivers, so I’m sitting here wrapped in a blanket listening to the storm raging outside and typing this post, determined to look on the bright side, because I have a jolly good reason to be so!

Hooray, I’ve done it!

Proud to be shortlisted in the National UK Blog Awards 2014Yes, I’m shortlisted for the National UK Blog Awards! This is such an achievement for me, even at this stage. Over 900 blogs were entered, so to get picked for both my categories: ‘Digital & Technology’ and ‘PR, Media & Communications’, is a fantastic feat, and I feel very honoured!

So today I’m writing a completely non-SEO post just for you, my readers. Sometimes it’s a good thing to stop thinking about the digital marketing element of what you are doing, and just concentrate on communicating – a bit like you should on social media. So if my SEO plugin gives me a red light, so what!

I’ve just realised…

Actually this idea probably filtered down from what my colleague Jean Wolfe said at our ‘Kickstart your blog for 2014’ workshop last week (which we’re repeating on 20 February, by the way). It was an extremely good day, and the eight attendees, who ranged in a wide spectrum of technological ability, had a wonderful day. Many were inspired to go and write a blog that very afternoon – job done!

Jean provided some brilliant exercises about how to beat procrastination, drawing out writing abilities many didn’t know they had. It was wonderful seeing the pennies drop, and the realisation that communication and conversation were the key factors, forgetting all those boring English lessons from school, and finding the permission to break all the rules and have fun!

But hang on, blogging is fun!

The fact that there are so many blogs on the web is proof, though it’s a pity that so many are forgotten or abandoned. This may be because the subject matter has dried up, life gets in the way, or because blogging may be too technical to continue or develop what you want to do.

Actually the last statement might be one of the main reasons why people shy away from blogging in the first place. Only two days ago I was explaining about blogging and websites to a non-technically-minded person, so it was imperative I used words he could understand and relate to. It’s so important to explain blogging in such a way, without dumbing it down completely, so that more people can have this opportunity to express themselves online. It doesn’t have to be complicated, as there are plenty of cheap and easy methods to use, so why bamboozle people with unnecessary jargon (you wouldn’t teach English to kids in the Chinese language, would you?) which isn’t impressive to anyone unless you’re one of those fast-moving bucks in the corporate world.

It’s no good going round and round…

RoundaboutMy exploits going round those Basingstoke roundabouts yesterday (so embarrassing, good job nobody was in the car with me!) brought home the concept that badly produced instructions can cause such frustration that people just give up (I very nearly did, especially as I kept seeing signs to take me back to Reading!). I wonder if the Basingstoke Council town planners actually sat down and really thought about the poor drivers who are not local, don’t have a sat-nav or can’t drive holding a huge map at the same time that blocks their view, and how they would feel going round a really complicated roundabout system in the middle of nowhere without clear road signs!

Actually the sad thing is that they probably think their signs are perfectly fine. Of course they are, for them! That’s how some blogging instructions or e-courses are put together – because the writer understands how it works, so surely it must be the same for those people who are doing the course. There is a huge amount of assumption going on that a preconception of knowledge is already in place, which means only half the process is fully completed.

And this is where I come in!

Having been a thoroughly non-technical blogger sometime back in the dark ages I suffered terribly because all that was available was nothing but jargon. Eight years ago blogging was just starting to get going, and even once I had finally waded through everything to build my blog (going prematurely grey in the process), when I spoke to anyone about it their eyes glazed over. There was a distinct lack of clear and easily followable signage for ordinary people to understand how to negotiate the roundabout system for blogging and creating blogs.

Fairy Blog Mother builds websites with WordPressSo that’s why I’m focusing on the Level 0 of blogging which really introduces the foundations at ground level. This is also highly important, because without good foundations a building will fall down (I should know that, being married to a Civil Engineer). And I often do refer to a blog (and a website) as a building. The domain name or web-address (URL) is the postal address, the hosting account (the piece of web you buy for your blog to go into) is the land your postal address refers to, and WordPress (the blogging platform I use) is the house you build on that land, which you can transform into anything you like.

And then I go further. Going into the Dashboard of WordPress is like going into the hall of your house (admin access is like using the front door).  In there you can see doors to all the different rooms available where you can do things in your blog. These are the Post, Page, Media, Comments, etc. links in the sidebar. The idea is to show users what is behind those doors and instruct them how to use the contents of those rooms properly in a way they understand, using ordinary, everyday words they can relate to.

Doesn’t everybody do this?

Now this is a method of thinking that quite a lot of technically minded people wouldn’t dream of sinking down to that level, nor could they imagine describing what they know in such base terms. It takes time and energy to rearrange the description of a technical concept into the everyday world, and many are much too busy for that sort of thing building blogs and websites!

But actually I think they are missing a trick, just like those Basingstoke Council town planners. Without clear signage nobody will be able to find their destination quickly and certainly without frustration, annoyance and ultimately despair! Without the ability to understand and use a blog properly from the very beginning means it takes longer to achieve what is wanted or to get where they want to go to. Many poor souls enter the blogging roundabout system at about Level 5, which is no wonder they end up disillusioned, because they haven’t had the proper grounding knowledge to get them there in the first place.

Let’s hope my signage is clear…

Good point! Navigate around my website to find what I’ve already written (there’s a search facility available in the sidebar). Hopefully the boost the National UK Blog Awards will give me, combined with a bit more guest blogging to boost my reach to different audiences, I’ll be able to spread the word to more would-be newbie bloggers who need a helping hand that guides them directly to what they want to go, and not in a roundabout way.

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Alice Elliott writes the award winning Fairy Blog Mother blog for beginner and post-beginner bloggers to “explain things really simply” about blogging and WordPress. She provides simple, easy to understand, highly visual courses and tutorials using ordinary, everyday words. Visit her new Beginner Bloggers blog to find her latest learning resources.