10 Ways to Spice Up Your Blog

If you want your blog to attract attention (and hits), try adding one of these free Web tools.

InformationWeek Staff, Contributor

September 13, 2007

9 Min Read

It's hard to stand out in a crowd. And where blogs are concerned, that crowd numbers in the tens of millions. Even if you provide copious amounts of unique, insightful, downright invaluable content, there's a good chance your blog will go unnoticed by the very audience you're striving to attract.

That's why it's vital to look beyond mere content and find fun, practical, eyebrow-raising accoutrements that can spice things up. By surprising, entertaining, informing and/or educating visitors, you're more likely to encourage repeat visits and generate word of mouse--er, mouth. I've rounded up 10 whiz-bang tools that'll help your blog stand out, and not one of them will cost you a penny (though some do incur fees for more advanced features).


Bubble Guru

To really make your blog pop, add a pop-up video bubble. You supply the webcam; Bubble Guru gives you the simple Web-based tools to record a talking-head snippet, which can be anything from a simple greeting to a product plug to a quick summary of today's most newsworthy post. Just don't get crazy with the bubbles: What starts off as a nifty, attention-grabbing novelty can quickly turn into an annoyance if over-used.

You can add a Bubble Guru bubble to your blog free of charge (the site gives you the cut-and-paste HTML code you need), but you're limited to one 20-second bubble. If you decide you want more, you can get five 60-second bubbles for $9.95 per month.



If you like the idea of adding a recorded video greeting to your site but don't want the intrusiveness of a pop-up bubble, try Eyejot. Though designed primarily for sending video e-mail, the service also offers a blog-embeddable widget that shows visitors a prerecorded clip. What's the big deal about that? You can accomplish the same thing with YouTube, right? You can, but Eyejot goes a step further: It lets site visitors "reply" by recording a video of their own. Sure, you might get some weird (or even scary) messages, but you might also attract an entire demographic of webcam-wielding users. Because, let's face it, everyone likes to be on camera. Eyejot is free of charge.


Google Maps

Want to direct site visitors to your store/training site/frozen-banana-on-a-stick stand? Make things easy for them and embed a Google Maps map. Until recently, this required jumping through some programming hoops, but now it's as simple as creating the map you want, then clicking on the "link to this page" link. Google Maps supplies the code you need; just copy it and paste it into the appropriate spot in your blog. These aren't just static maps, either: They're fully interactive, so users can scroll, zoom, get directions, and view satellite and/or hybrid versions. And as with Google Maps itself, the embedded maps cost nothing to use.


eBay To Go

eBay recently took the wraps off eBay To Go, a slick service that lets you add an interactive auction-listing box to your blog. Why bother? Well, if you're selling items or services of your own, it's a no-brainer. But even if you're not, it's a neat way to showcase items you find interesting or those that relate to your blog, business, etc.

This widget can list a single auction item, a roster of up to 10 items, or even the results of an eBay search (new iPod nanos, for instance). Once you’ve built your widget (an easy four-step process), eBay To Go provides the code you need to paste it onto your site. It also offers step-by-step instructions for embedding the widget into various blog sites, including Blogger and LiveJournal.

The widgets themselves are attractive, informative and thoroughly dynamic: Mousing over certain areas reveals more information, and you can even conduct an eBay search using the widgets’ built-in search tool. eBay To Go costs nothing to use, and you don’t even have to be a registered eBay user.



People love to take polls (trust me -- I just conducted one and the results were 94% in favor). With FlexiPoll, you can whip up a blog-ready poll in about the time it takes to read this sentence. All you do is type your question, choose a width for your poll (200 or 400 pixels), then supply two or more possible answers. When you're done, FlexiPoll supplies the embed code and a preview of both the poll and the results box. In an interesting twist, voters can type in their own answers instead of relying on yours, and those answers get added to the list of voting choices. Polls are a great way to get feedback from customers and other site visitors, and FlexiPoll offers a cheap (i.e. free) and easy way to add them.



You might think a PowerPoint presentation is the last thing blog visitors would want to see, but it all depends on what's inside. A presentation that's informative or humorous can drive thousands of eyeballs to your site and even generate some positive buzz in the blogosphere. That's the idea behind Slideshare, which is like YouTube for slideshows: Just upload your PowerPoint, PDF, or OpenOffice slide decks; Slideshare hosts the presentation (for optional public viewing) and provides blog embed codes. And as with YouTube, you can easily host presentations that aren't your own -- another great way to add interesting content to your site.


Zoho Viewer

Why stop at embedding presentations? Zoho Viewer opens the door to many other kinds of documents, including Word, Excel, and PDF. That means you can embed, say, a product manual, budget worksheet, or just about anything else your readers might find useful. You don't even have to sign up for a Zoho account (which is free anyway); just upload your document, choose a size for the embed frame, then paste the supplied code into your blog. Visitors can then view the document without having to open or download anything.


Meebo Me

If you really want to open the lines of communication (and you've got time to spare), consider adding a Meebo Me widget. In case you're not familiar with it, Meebo is a browser-based, cross-platform chat tool. The widget extends this functionality to your blog, adding a personalized chat window where visitors can instant-message you directly. You can choose from three different window sizes and a variety of color schemes. And like Meebo itself (one of my all-time favorite Web apps), Meebo Me costs nothing to use.



Ready for your close-up? BlogTV embeds a streaming-video player in your blog, thus putting you center-stage (make that center-webcam) for whatever live, real-time event you care to broadcast. You can show a product demo, live-blog a trade show, interview an industry dignitary, or just star in a show of your own design. The player includes a chat window to encourage community participation, and BlogTV allows for two webcams to stream simultaneously, so you can team up with a remote friend or co-worker. Neat stuff.


Movavi Video Converter

There’s nothing like a little added value to make readers appreciative of your site. The Movavi Online Video Converter widget makes it simple for users to leverage Movavi’s eponymous service, which converts uploaded video files to just about any format under the sun. Visitors simply choose a file, specify the desired output format, then supply an e-mail address where they can receive notification that the conversion is complete (along with a download link). It’s a surefire way to generate some goodwill, especially if your blog has something to do with video or gadgets or the like.

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