I read a lot of blogs. From business to inspirational to news, hobbies and fun. So I’ve had a chance to ponder the head-scratchers that make me wonder if people actually pay attention to their blogs or if they’ve just thrown them out there because someone said “blog”- so they did.
But I’m busy, too, and I know sometimes small things can be overlooked or assumed as we rush off to attend our Pinterest boards or Facebook pages and answer some of those 542 emails in our inbox. So I made a list of things that I see (or don’t as the case may be) that can make the difference between “just another blog” and a really good blog.
The good news is that most of these things are small and if you spend a few minutes right now you can spruce yours up so it’s a traffic driver, lead generator, comment getter and all around enjoyable place to hang out and read.
Fix It #1: Author’s Bio
I’m truly perplexed by blogs that have no author attribution in the byline of the post and no author’s bio at the bottom.
Presumably your blog didn’t write itself (though if you’ve learned that trick, I want to hear about it!) So who are you?
When I read a post I want to know something about the person behind it. You know that whole “social” thing going on these days? Putting a face on your business and all that?
Even if you’re the sole author and it seems repetitive to put your name at the top and bottom of each post, include it anyway. I promise that your regular readers won’t shake their head in despair at your narcissism and first-time visitors will benefit from getting to know you and putting a person to your post.
Imagine starting a novel with no idea who the author is, or reading a business book with no reference to the qualifications or point of view of the author. If your blog is part of your business, make it legitimate by claiming it as your own and putting it in context for your readers so they know who you are and why they should listen to you.
Do this: tell people about your professional experience and qualifications then add a touch of personality by sharing a simple personal fact, like your affinity for chocolate covered bananas or your achievement as the highest scoring Tetris player on the east coast. Try not to make your bio a place to tout your business or company. Talk more about your role and your experience instead. And don’t bypass the fun stuff. You’re not a corporate drone.
PS: Don’t assume that because there’s an “About Me” page on your site that people will figure it out. If you’ve got a longer bio, then link to it from the snippet at the bottom of each post.
Fix It #2: Your Photo
As nice as a bio is, it doesn’t give the whole picture the way, well, a picture does. The missing author photo is almost as perplexing as the missing author bio.
There’s just no way you can hang onto that whole camera-shy thing anymore. Get a haircut, put on a nice shirt and smile. There’s always Photoshop if you really really really want to get rid of that one wrinkle.
It’s hard to be social with a noun. People want to see a face on your blog and connect with you, the person.
Not your cat. Not the super stylized cartoon version of you. You.
And I have more news for you: in spite of “big media’s” insistence on Photpshopping everyone to death, real people know that real people aren’t model-thin, perfectly coifed and perpetually young. Be the wrinkly, warty, bald person you are because that’s the one who’s inspiring.
Do this: take a natural, smiling photo of yourself. It doesn’t need to be a formal portrait and you don’t need to wear a tie or your best hat. Please resist cropping yourself out and pasting your silhouette onto your site. Unless there’s a naked drunk man in the background, the context of your photo will add personality and look better than the Photoshop halo or the perfectly elliptically-cropped shape of your head.
Fix It #3: Social Icons
If I find a great blog, I want more. “More” comes in the form of following on Twitter or Facebook, checking out your LinkedIn profile or G+ page and generally stalking you wherever you are.
And I mean that in the best way.
So give me a way to find you! Blogs with no social icons drive me nuts. Sometimes I’m motivated and I’ll Google you – it’s not like your social profiles can’t be found, so don’t give me any nonsense about privacy. Other times I roll my eyes and forget about it. And you’ve just lost an opportunity!
I understand the argument for keeping people on your blog instead of sending them off to another social account but there’s a difference between a half-page distraction asking people to visit your Facebook page and a small Facebook icon so people like me can find you when we want to.
Do this: add small social icons in the header, sidebar or footer of your site. Include everything – remember, not everyone uses or likes every social channel. G+ geeks may never visit you on Facebook but would talk to you all day on Google if you give them the chance.
Fix It #4: Share Buttons
You can’t read three headlines without finding one that tells you how to get more shares/comments on your blog. Personally, I’ve never met a blogger who doesn’t want or doesn’t care about getting people to share their posts.
So why wouldn’t you have a single tweet, like or plus button anywhere on your site?
Bloggers share content that will be enjoyable or helpful to their audience. Don’t you want to be in their queue?
Do this: install a plugin that gives people options to share on multiple social channels. “Tweet this” is great but if it’s your only option, you’re going to lose the 90% of the population that doesn’t use Twitter. On the other hand, don’t give too many options. You’ve seen those share bars that are about a mile long and you’ve barely heard of some of the things in it. Give some options, but not too many.
PS: Pay attention to where you place your buttons so they’re always accessible. The floating share buttons on the side of this blog are not accessible on mobile, so we’ve added a few at the bottom of each post, too. Nobody has ever written us hate mail about the repetition.
Fix It #5: RSS Feed
Here’s a fact: I will probably never subscribe to your email list. It’s not because I don’t like you. Actually, it’s because I do like you, and I know that if I get your email in my inbox, as much as I really want to read your post, I’m going to “save it for later”, get busy, and eventually delete it.
I get a whole lot of email so I’m super selective about which blogs I’ll sign up for. But here’s what I will do, without a second thought: subscribe to your RSS feed.
I subscribe to tons of blog feeds and read them every single day. It’s a double-edged sword, I know. You want the subscribers because you want to build a list so you can market. If that’s you, consider having a separate list just for marketing. I don’t mind getting a marketing email every few weeks, but a new email every day from your blog is a bit more than my brain can manage.
Do this: make it easy for people to follow your blog by setting up an RSS feed. You can build your own XML feed or use a simple service like Feedburner. Either way, give people that little orange icon that makes it easy for them to get and read your content. After all, isn’t that the point?
Fix It #6: Headings
Blog posts need headings. I don’t care how short your posts are, you need at least one heading. Worst case scenario, write an introduction and then use a heading to separate your main content.
Headings will make your content easily scannable and digestible. I admit, sometimes I don’t read long posts, but I always scan the headings for the part that most interests me. Sometimes I do read long posts, but I still scan headings to help me get oriented before I dig in.
But most importantly, use headings to identify segments of your post. Another thing that drives me nuts is when posts promise “6 ways to be awesome” and there isn’t a single heading or number in the entire post. The six things are just floating somewhere in endless blocks of text. When you started reading this post, I bet you expected nine headings! If there weren’t any, you’d probably be confused and may not have read this at all.
Do this: if you don’t currently use headings, start. And if you do, consider how helpful they are. Think of them as individual titles for your post sections and make them as interesting and meaningful as your post title. Give them a unique style so it’s obvious that they’re headings but don’t make them so big that they scream at me. And check your H1 and H2 settings… there should be a clear hierarchy and they should display properly when your headings break onto two lines.
Fix It #7: Underlining
I hate underlined text. Super hate it. Do you know why? Because in internet speak, underlining is a convention that indicates a link. If your post is full of text with underlines AND you have links with underlines I’m sending you the next bill from my therapist.
There’s another benefit to losing the underlines, which is that people won’t assume your underlines are underlines and miss your links. We’re past the days when underlining gave keywords superpowers in search engines. No matter how many times you underline that word, Google won’t care. But your visitors will.
Do this: if you want text to stand out, use other formatting options that won’t confuse the heck out of people. Try italics, bold, a bigger font size or different color. In fact, you don’t even need underlines on your links. A special link color or hover state is enough to clue your readers in. But if you make your links red, then don’t use red to designate non-link text. Links are special! Treat them that way.
Fix It #8: Errors
Typos happen. I’m fortunate enough that I have an avid reader in my dad who emails me two-point-five seconds after my post goes live to point out any typos. No matter how many times we proofread, sometimes our brains just hiccup and typos slip through. I’d like to say I have the luxury (and time!) to hire a proofreader but that’s not the reality for most bloggers.
However, there’s a difference between a typo and a complete lack of proofreading.
Sometimes I read blogs and wonder if the author even scanned their content or just banged it out two-fingered and hit “publish”.
Here’s a fact you may not want to hear: you may be able to build a small and loyal community of other two-fingered bloggers but you will never be taken seriously in your business or industry if your blog posts are filled with misspellings and outrageous grammar.
I don’t know about you, but if I visit a blog for the first time and the first post I read is full of typos, I don’t care how great the content is, I’m not going to read it. It’s just too distracting.
Do this: write your post at least one day in advance so that you can write it, put it down and then come back and give it a thorough proofreading. Sometimes when you know what you want to say, you can easily miss mistakes because your brain automatically fills in the blanks. Give yourself enough space so you can read it fresh with new eyes. Whatever you do, proofread at least once before you hit the publish button.
Fix It #9: Categories
Sometimes when I visit a blog, the first post on the page isn’t particularly relevant or interesting. But the topic is good, maybe I like the author’s style and I’m interested enough to read more. The first thing I do is look in the sidebar for tags, categories or more topics.
And I’m stunned when there isn’t a single one of those to be found. Your blog content doesn’t expire the moment you publish a new post. In fact, if you’re smart and serious about blogging, you’ll repurpose your content for days and years to come.
A blog is no different than a website in that it needs navigation to help people get around. That navigation comes in the form of categories. You don’t need a hundred of them but you need something. Unless you want to hide what you’ve written and guarantee yourself a 100% bounce rate, give readers as many ways as possible to access all of your content.
Do this: if you don’t currently have categories think about the themes that you write about and the most relevant groupings for your content. Even if you do use categories, reconsider how helpful they are to people. Clever category names are not as useful as their plain-Jane counterparts. Don’t assume people will just use your search bar. What will they search for? Turn those into category names.
PS: Some people use tag clouds. Unless you’re selective about tagging, these can get very messy and your “smaller” tags can be easily overlooked. Plus there’s been talk about leaking link juice through tags, so stick with a handful of good categories instead.
What do you think? Is there anything you can do to improve your blog right now? Any other blog mishaps that I’ve missed? Anything about this bog that drives you nuts? Let me know in the comments!