17 important tune-ups for your blog

March 16 by

17 important tune-ups for your blog

If you’re wanting to put your best blogging self out there, here are some things to check up on or implement. Has your blog ever had these key features? If so, have they gotten rusty on you?

Think about adding these things to your blog, if you haven’t already (or performing touch-ups and revisiting them, if you have):

 

1. Some content that is dynamic

This means things that are newsworthy; current events.  Pick a headline and work it into your topic. Of course, given the current turmoil in our country, if you’re writing anything but an opinion or personal blog, you might want to steer clear of politics in general. Your call.

But a dynamic topic is one that helps you place Google higher in the results page because, when the bots crawl your site, they find posts that are newly updated, on-trend, and they see that your blog has fresh content. They’ll give it a small boost in the ranking as a reward. Google likes that.

Pick the top story on your favorite news channel and make it a metaphor for your topic or a problem faced in your area of expertise. Tell us who is the Lady Gaga of shoe sales. Whatever — just merge some things, make it genuinely interesting, and let the ideas bubble up. See what happens.

2. Some content that is evergreen to your subject

On the flip-side of that same coin, you need to have some content that is unchanging and will never expire.

Google also rewards longstanding, faithfully reliable websites with good information.

Of course, life does change, and that’s a tall order… but here, we’re talking about the basics. While the dynamic content we mentioned above might be about a new book that just hit the bestseller list, for example, or the death of an actor and how that relates to cooking your favorite recipe, evergreen content consists of more hard-and-fast, always-true stuff, like, say, the rules of grammar or ten historical facts about log cabins in the 1800s. Tips and tricks that are tried and true also do well and often hold up. Stories that will hold up with the passage of time, or classic problems that you have an interesting perspective on. Things that stay. You get the idea.

A blend of evergreen and dynamic is what you’re shooting for. If you get that mix right, your rank will increase greatly.

3. Clear style or branding that pulls it all together

One controversial and kind of underground movement in graphic design illustrates this point perfectly.  Check out the website images from this article, and try to take it all in. Wrap your brain around any one of the websites shown.

You kind of… can’t. And that’s what they’re going for.

But if you want your reader to have a more pleasant, leisurely stroll through your neck of the virtual woods, you’re going to have to do some decorating.  That doesn’t mean you have to go all out and get fancy — sometimes all it takes to have a good visual aesthetic is clean lines and white space. You don’t have to know coding, either. Just make sure, for example, if you’ve uploaded a couple of sidebar images, make the fonts match your overall logo or theme design.

Our website is currently pretty simple. It took a lot (read: a LOT) of code to make it look that way. But here’s what we wanted; our mandatory grocery list, so to speak, as we set this all up:  clean, clear, uncluttered, noticeable calls-to-action, and ease of use.

Here’s what we ended up with on our homepage:

 

screencap inkwell basics 3-17

 

Our colors for our class workbooks and printed workshop materials are a specific shade each of dark blue, light blue, and a warm brown. We wanted to complement that, but not be hard on the eyes — because web is quite different than print. (Internet audience habits are quite different than print audience habits, too, but that’s another post for another day.)

We took our logo, and based everything else on that. The “Want to blog, but stuck?” and “Free updates” are intentionally colored, with intentionally chosen fonts, and intentionally placed layouts. At the bottom of this post, you’ll see another image; same fonts, different colors, meant to be auto-pulled in when it’s shared on certain social media networks like Pinterest or Twitter.

Here’s what that looked like, for the same post time-frame:

vulnerability-and-ripples-InkwellBasics

It all kind of matches. It plays well together. You get the sense that most of it’s by a united front — even though there are two of us here toiling behind the scenes. Cathy likes more feminine things, and Tracy likes bold and abstract. But guess what?  Here, we’re just Inkwell Basics, and the parameters are already agreed upon. We know what we want and we try to keep it obvious who the Inkwell Basics stuff you’re seeing is from: Inkwell Basics.

Does that mean we’re doing it correctly, then? Are we super awesomesauce experts?

Hah!  No!

There is no hard and fast “correctly” in this game; it’s all relative. And blog trends change constantly.

But our style at any given time doesn’t flashbang here and there all over the place, and that’s what this particular bullet point is about. If we change our style in the future, and we very well might, we’ll change everything to match. Not half of it.

Consistency. Know what you want. Stick with it, instead of changing midstream every other post. Get it all together, man!

4. A subscription button for new posts

This is a big one for me. This is the one I’d most recommend out of this whole list, truth be known. Why? It’s one of my favorites, it’s something I swear by, it offers provable results and stats, and it’s actually fairly easy to set up. There are plugins galore via WordPress, if that’s what you use, and MailChimp is simple to get going.

Whatever your specifics, though, it makes sense to capture future readers from those who are current readers. Why work twice as hard to show the same person you exist twice, when you post another article?  Why not give them the option to sign up and get a quick notice when you’re at it again?  It’s still totally optional, and opt-in only.  But it reminds people you exist, instead of starting from scratch each time, or worse, almost, relying on Facebook’s wonky algorithms to actually display your post if and when it gets the whim.

5. Moderated spam

We vouch for and love Akismet for WordPress users. But even if you’ve already got that or another system going, when was the last time you dropped in and checked on that spam folder?  I cleaned mine out a few months ago. Looking at it now, it shows 35 new pages of “spam comment” results.

Oh. Yay.

Fun.

(Sigh.)

It really doesn’t hurt anything much to sit there and stockpile, of course… except your storage space.

But get in there every once in a while anyway and clean out the cobwebs. You know, just because it’s something you do.

Also spin through the comments approved on each post, and make sure they’re all actually legit. Spambots are getting smarter all the time, and I’ve had “commenters” who made two or three decent comments, and then magically started selling name-brand shoes or penis enhancement pills once they were on the safe list. Your mileage may vary.

6. Peace with your comment system

Do you have open comments?  If so, is that what you want?

If you moderate them, how often do you check your pending comments… and is it worth doing?

Do you answer back to everyone who leaves a comment?  Do you intend to?

Check in on how you feel about comment threads at your blog every once in a while and make sure they’re still working for you — and not just stressing you out. Make changes to approval level — or even commenting availability at all — if you need to.

7. Easily viewable recent posts

Is there some way for your reader, who might be mid-article or just finishing one, to be tempted into reading a couple or three more posts?

There are plugins for “Related Posts,” and many WordPress themes build in a sidebar widget availability for this, too. Options often include most recent, most popular (read: commented upon), or related posts (which pulls in posts sharing the same tags, categories, or keywords, depending how you set them up.)

Here’s one from the sidebar of my personal blog (note the super-different branding):

And here’s what we use here at Inkwell, at the end of each post and right above the comment section:

Even the most basic blog-only themes will let you set up a display at the bottom showing your next and previous post titles, in a forward-and-back style selection.

Whatever your mechanism preference, this remains: your reader is already here. Keep them around for a minute!

8. Images within each post

 

This is a big one, and its importance is ever-increasing.

Social media makes this almost vital.

And if you fail to upload a pic or two INTO the post, Facebook and other sites will invariably pull the randomest thing possible as a link thumbnail when someone shares your site. Sometimes, that’s a logo. Or a header. Or a commenter’s tasteless profile pic.

You never know.

Unless you pick intentional images, you’re taking that risk. A header is not enough. Put them IN the post!

Again; think branding as you do this, and add a watermark or your website name — something! — to pics you use for social sharing and the like.  Images grab people’s eyeballs out of a feed much more than text does; it’s been proven over and over.  If you haven’t bothered to think visually and include an interesting image or two, your post is likely to get skipped over for something brighter and more immediately engaging.

9. Clearly displayed social media connections

This could be what we call a “chicklet” (the little square-ish icons with a simple logo that leads to a given social site), or maybe it’s another plugin, one that pulls in your last several tweets and displays them on your sidebar.

You pick. But make it really, really easy to follow you in various places, and clear how to do so. Everyone has his or her favorite social site. I don’t give a crap about Instagram, but I am hooked on Twitter and Pinterest. If you can get me to follow you on those two?  You probably own my attention for life. Or at least until the next social site comes along.

10. A bio (or better, a real “About” page)

Who are you, anyway?

Who am I reading?

Stick a quick text bio in the sidebar with a photo of yourself, or your logo if you’re a team, like we are. Head over and make an about page so we can hear why you do this, where you do it, and what we can learn from you. Not only does it flesh your website out more and make you look more professional, it furthers connection — the biggest thing a blog needs.

11. A private way to contact you offsite

While I would not generally advocate putting your personal phone number on the web, if you have a business phone, you absolutely should display it.  Same goes for a good email address. At the very least, get a contact form with a captcha installed.

Why?

Because some of the best things — opportunities, fans with heartfelt stories, new advertisers, your grandmother — might wander in and need to discuss things pertaining to your blog that are not meant for the world at large to see. Whatever it is, provide some way of contacting you besides public discussion. (And then don’t forget to check your messages!)

If you don’t want responses and opportunities back, why are you even blogging?

Give us a way to find you and connect.

12. Recently verified, working links

When’s the last time you tried all the links in your blog?  Or maybe you went through your blogroll or link list, but it’s been a while since you literally clicked and followed the links within each post from last year’s archives?

If you want your posts to matter as time goes by, you have to perform link maintenance from time to time. Maybe the Youtube video got pulled, and your whole post coherency falls apart without it. Find another copy, and link or embed that. Or maybe even describe it on your own;  tell us what you need us to know if you can no longer show us.

But whatever you do, don’t forget us. Don’t leave us hanging with dead links.

13. A “search this site” bar

This one’s pretty easy. If your theme doesn’t include a built-in search bar for hunting things down and browsing within your own site, all you need to do is visit the “Widgets” section and drag the pre-made one into your sidebar. Easy peasy.

14. Consistent and cleaned-up tags and categories

This one’s kind of self-explanatory. You can view the most-used ones within the WordPress Dashboard, and edit things; rename them, delete the tags or categories; whatever.

Blogs and topics change and grow. Make sure the words you’re attaching to them have grown at the same rate.

Remember: those are not only keywords, they’re hotlinked keywords.  Google sees and records them. People click on them and read within those sets of posts pulled back. Related post functions use those for the suggestions they’ll display.

These matter more than you think. Make sure they still make practical sense.

15. Updated plugins

Lecture time.  Sorry in advance.

(Well, a little bit.)

It is as dumb to skip updating your plugins as it is would be to skip locking your car in the city.

These are mini-programs, if you will (not really, but it’s a decent analogy for now) that you have willingly installed from unknown creators to make your website behave how you want it to.

To be clear: there is nothing wrong with that!  That’s the beauty of WordPress in the first place. It’s customizable, and chances are very good that there are already people working somewhere on whatever it is you’ve dreamed up to try with your site.

Use them!  But when those same people, who presumably know the code better than you do (and definitely know it better than I do!) tell you, “Hey, we found a vulnerability in the old version, and it was worth the time, headache, and hassle to go back in and rewrite things” by posting an updated version? Umm, you should LISTEN!

It just takes one push of a button to get the update going, and maybe a minute to check through the settings and make sure nothing was reset to defaults in the process. It’s well worth the small amount of preventative effort. Because trust me, you do not want to have the pleasure of recreating your entire website because some unknown jerk took advantage of some outdated errors you could have fixed in two seconds.

16. Social media shares of your own stuff

When you post something new, do you hit all your accounts and let everyone know?

Or do you think, as I have been guilty of many a time, “Meh, they’ll catch it on the feed reader or subscription alert if they care enough.” We’re all lazy sometimes.

But if you want to earn readership — and make no mistake, every reader is earned! — then you have to get out there and leave the breadcrumbs in various places on the internet to lead them back to your site. Otherwise, what’s the point?  Who are you writing to?

Don’t go overboard and post everything from 2015 in one afternoon on your Facebook page. That’s dumb.

But every once in a while, throw back something that still has legs. At my solo blog, there’s a post about word counters and tools that I’ve been riding for years. Every time NaNoWriMo rolls around in November, it goes viral again.

It’s been successful enough to land me this Google result placement, if anyone searches for a word count meter:

I like that. It would be cool to get to keep spot number three out of seventy bajillion.

So, guess what? I reshare a link to that same post the last week of October, everywhere, like clockwork, while everyone’s still all motivated and gearing up for writing All The Things and before anyone’s blown it off and given up already. (Which happens on, like, day three for me. But hey, I always try.)

If you have an older post that is both currently interesting and validly worth a reshare, get in there and do it!

17. Fun! Engagement!

 

Do you still LIKE having your blog?  Does it still suit your purpose?

Think back to when you were first setting up, or if you’re more established, when things first started taking off or you got your first awesome feedback.

What were you going to do with this space?

Have you done it?  If so, why not?  Did you outgrow those plans?  That voice?

If your blog has no passion pumped into it, it’ll read as lifeless.

Yes. We will know.

Find something to play at; go a little off the wall and out of the box… mix all the metaphors, and remember why you’re doing this in the first place.

If your voice is authentic, and your information good, we want to hear you.

.

And, if they suit your style,adding

those little finishing touches

makes it easier for us to do so!

 

 

tune-ups

(Image credit: Walter Groesel)

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Tracy Lucas

About Tracy Lucas

Tracy Lucas is a writer, editor, and the co-owner of Inkwell Basics. She owns Four Square Creative and Smash Cake Press, and she blogs about writing and publishing at her personal website. She has written and sold more than one hundred and fifty pieces for print, web, radio, and stage.

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