Welcome to the 30 Days to a Better Blog series. This originally started as a New Years Resolution, with 30 days to whip your blog into better shape. Now it’s reorganized to give you better structure and you can implement it whenever, and however, you’d like.
Tools, Tricks & Technology:
Make your blog better simply by using the most up-to-date software, analyzing your statistics, checking out your competition, and using the tools right at your fingertips.
Let’s face it, blog layouts change frequently. The standard “categories on the right sidebar” has gotten very stale and now there are ways to make your blog stand out.
A better blog needs better content. Learn how to find your voice, create an editorial calendar, and make your posts SEO friendly.
Posts aren’t the only thing that your readers see. Learn what pages are imperative to having a better blog.
Distribution & Marketing:
Now that you have great content, it’s time to learn how to distribute and market your posts.
With a better blog comes a better sense of community. Learn how to engage with your readers and reach out to the bigger blog community at large.
Note: You’ll notice there are only 29 links. That’s because day 30 is to pick a time, sometime later this year, to come back and do this all again! Help keep your blog from getting stale and nondescript.
30 Days to a Better Blog: Be Flexible
I’m a pretty rigid person. I can easily get set in my ways and start to think my way is the best way. And when someone questions me, I tend to go on the defensive.
But I’m learning. I’m learning that critiques and questions and differences of opinion are good things. They help me grow and reach and learn. I’m learning to be flexible.
The same goes for blogging. Technology is going to change. Blogging platforms are going to change. Your audience is going to change (to an extent). And your content and blogging habits may need to change with it.
The goal here (and throughout the year) is to be flexible. When someone questions your blog posts, your blog content, or your way of thinking – don’t go on the defensive. Take a step back and analyze their points. You don’t have to accept everyone’s criticism, but it never hurts to evaluate their thoughts and respond. And criticism and controversy on a blog can be a good thing Make it an effort to stay on top of the latest trends, news, and technology. You may need to launch a mobile version of your blog soon, and that could impact your design and content structure. It’s okay! Be flexible.
Being flexible doesn’t mean bending to the point that you break. It means shifting when you need to, growing when you need to, and always acknowledging that you can improve. Do you consider yourself to be flexible?
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30 Days to a Better Blog: Start a Series
A series, in any capacity – whether it’s a book series, television series, or blog series, can be very successful in retaining an audience. In blogging it gives your readers something to look forward to, sets their expectations, and gives them something to look back on!
In terms of your blog – a series is beneficial in other ways too:
- It Gives You Direction. It’s easy to build out your editorial calendar when you are writing a series!
- It Helps With SEO. Interlinking back to the other posts in the series is always beneficial. And if you create a page that lists out the topics covered in your series, it’s even better!
- You Can Pre-Post. Heading out of town? A blog series allows you to write out your content in advance.
There are several attributes to a series’ success, including:
- Choosing a topic that will carry through several articles. You want to be able to sustain the series. Consider writing out at least 10 headlines that can be covered. And make sure it’s appropriate to the audience of your blog!
- Choosing a feasible timeline. Can you keep up with a daily series? weekly? What works best for your audience and calendar?
- Building off other trends. You may want to consider building a series off of a trend in Twitter. Something like #MusicMonday or #WritingWednesday allows you to fit your series with those trending topics.
- Ending each post with a link back to the series and/or a glimpse as to “what’s next”. This keeps your reader from disappearing after they’ve read that one post.
Alli provides other great tips in running a blog series – including planning your content, explaining your series, and making yourself available after each post.
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30 Days to a Better Blog: Consider Your Categories
As part of our 30 Days to a Better Blog series you should now have great posts and pages on your blog – and we want your readers to find them, even months in the future. It’s time to consider your categories and navigation.
In the “olden” days of blogging, categories were the main source of navigation through a blog. They were typically located in the sidebar, and a blog could have 50+ categories if it desired! But with newer themes and layouts, many blogs are moving to a top level navigation – and you can create menus and sub-menus within your category structure.
I’ve done several category reorganizations and I know it’s a daunting and time-consuming task. But ultimately, your categories serve as the main navigation and overall structure to your site. A reader should be able to look at your menu and know exactly what they’ll find.
So, carve out some time, take a look at your existing categories, and consider implementing the following (I prefer doing this in excel for easy visualization):
- Choose 15 (preferably 10 if possible) top level “parent” categories. If you move to a horizontal top navigation, you want to keep your parent categories in a single line. You may have to create new categories, or rename others – but these should encompass the main post topics that you cover.
- Under each of these you can now place your remaining categories as sub-categories or “child” categories. You can incorporate a drop-down navigation that will display these when someone mouses over your parent categories.
- If something doesn’t fit into this new structure, take a minute to analyze why. Is it a category that you’re not really using? Is it a rogue topic not covered by your blog and needs to go? Does it need to be a parent category over something else?
- Have a couple of people glance at your new category structure. Does it make sense to them? Do the sub-categories fall where they’d expect to see them?
Once you’ve finalized your new category hierarchy, it’s time to implement it!
- To avoid SEO meltdown, do NOT edit your category slug if you rename it.
- If you delete a category, any posts only assigned to that category will now be assigned to your default. You will want to edit those posts and reassign them correctly.
Read Alli’s rethinking the structure of your blog.
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30 Days to a Better Blog: Write Effective Headings
Do you write posts with effective headings? I’m not talking about your post title. I’m talking about segmenting your post into different sections or paragraphs and labeling them for easy scanning by your reader. As an example, take a look at Alli’s A Beginners Guide to Twitter Basics – or – Chris Brogan’s How to Write Effective Blog Posts. See how they contain bolded headings that break up the content?
Headings are key for busy readers, who want to scan and quickly absorb as much as they can. If they see a headline that doesn’t apply to them, there’s a good chance they’re going to skip it! And if they scan a page without any headings, or ineffective headings, they may bounce out of the post altogether.
An effective heading will:
- Relate to your title. Headings can help you stay on topic!
- Summarize your content.Each heading should give the reader some indication as to the content that’s going to follow.
- Get a reader interested. You can use the same tips for writing an effective blog post titles to write your headings. Ask questions, write a list, or use humor. Just get your reader to read!
- Break up the page into easily digestible sections. You want your reader to quickly find the information they need before they get bored and leave.
- Be written in your voice. Dry headlines can signify dry content. Keep your headlines interesting and in the same style that you write the rest of your post.
How do you write your headings?
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30 Days to a Better Blog: End With a Question
Today’s tip is surprisingly simple. Want to know the best and fastest way to encourage readers to leave a comment and start a dialogue? Ask them a question (or series of questions) at the bottom of the post!
People love to talk about themselves, so by giving them an open invitation to write, they’ll probably do it. As long as the question is personable and easy to answer. Sample questions include:
- Have you ever had this experience?
- Do you have any other tips?
- Do you share the same opinion?
- Did you try the steps above, and how did it work out?
- Do you have a story to share?
- Have you … read the book? tried the recipe? worn this style?
As always, I’ll remind you to respond to your comments and thank them for writing!
What kind of questions do you ask your readers?
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30 Days to a Better Blog: Use Trackbacks Effectively
A trackback is the automated process of notifying a blog that you linked to one of their posts. Some blogging platforms automatically create a trackback when you link out to a post – while others require using the trackback field to ping their blog. Once a trackback is initiated, the blogger will need to verify the link (like a comment) before it will show up on their blog. Once your trackback is approved, your link will display in their comments section. This is a great way for you to link out to other bloggers, and give their readers a way to find relevant posts on your blog! If the blog has a high enough google rank, this can help your SEO and also bring traffic your way.
Here are some ways to use and approve trackbacks effectively:
- When linking to blogs, make sure the blog content is relevant and that you link to a specific post instead of the homepage. This is beneficial to your readers, and makes the recipient blogger more apt to approve the trackback.
- Have your post link to theirs in a new window so that your blog visitors will still stay on your blog.
- When someone links to you, check their referring post before approving. There are many spam sites hoping to use trackbacks to improve their SEO. The last thing you want is to help them and/or lose your readers when they click off to a bad site.
- When a blogger links to you, go comment on their blog and thank them. This will urge them to continue to link to you – allowing you to (hopefully) receive more traffic!
How do you use trackbacks?
30 Days to a Better Blog: Add Affiliate Links
Most bloggers have a group of ads along the edges of their website – in the header, sidebar, and footer. Perhaps they have other banners sprinkled throughout their content. But affiliate links embedded directly in your post can lead to a much larger percentage of click-thrus and add another monetization source. Just don’t overdo it! You want your readers to trust your blog, content, and links – so only add links that are applicable and trustworthy. And only one or two per post.
My personal favorite (broad) affiliate sites that I’ve used are:
When should you embed an affiliate link in your post? Any time you’re talking about a product, group of products, or service! Doing a book review? Add a link to Barnes & Noble. Talking about a product launch? Use an affiliate link. Discussing the merits of pedometers? Link to the pedometer page of Amazon. The opportunities are endless. Alli put together a list of the 8 Affiliates Selling in her 12 Days of Blogging series. Check it out!
Do you use affiliate links and how do they work for you?
30 Days to a Better Blog: Connect With Other Bloggers
You’re whipping your blog into shape, and now it’s time to connect with other bloggers! The blogiverse is an amazing place of camaraderie and friendship.
Most niches and industries are very open to working with their fellow bloggers to network, share links, and even guest post. The more bloggers you work with and help, the more you’ll find they are willing to reciprocate.
Remember that competitive analysis you did? Those blogs are the a great place to start, but also consider researching other intermediate and smaller blogs. They may have more time to respond to your comments and work with you further.
Once you have a list of at least 10 blogs, here’s the best way to connect with those bloggers:
- Research the blogger. Take a look at their blog. Read their About page. Look at how they respond to comments. Once you’ve done all this, you’ll have something worthwhile to contribute.li>Research the blog’s followers. How do they interact with each other? Is there a lot of humor involved or do they keep it professional? You want to draw attention to yourself, but not in a bad way!
- Leave a worthwhile comment. Respond to a specific post or discussion. Leave your blog link as part of your name, but don’t link back to your own blog just yet. Once you’ve gotten into a dialogue, you can suggest reading further on your blog, but not in the initial contact.
- Follow up on your comment. Come back to the blog or subscribe to the comments so that you can continue a dialogue. Don’t ask a question and then not respond or thank the blogger for answering.
- Email the blogger. After you’ve had a few discussions with the blogger, you can choose to contact them off their blog with any further items … do they want to join your blogroll? do they want to participate in a blogfest? the opportunities are endless.
Now make this a part of your routine. I have a list of blogs in my RSS feed that I try to browse and comment on – at least on a weekly basis. How do you connect with other bloggers?
30 Days to a Better Blog: Consider Your Sidebar
I’ll admit it … I have a pet peeve when it comes to blog sidebars. It bothers me when the length of the sidebar is considerably longer than the length of a post.
Why?Because when I first land on a page, I take note of the position of the scroll bar on the right side of my browser. If it looks like I have a lot of scrolling, that impacts how I read the post. Imagine my surprise when I scroll down one time, the content ends, but the sidebar goes on forever?!
Really, what’s the point? People are going to stop at the end of your content, so anything further down on your sidebar is going to get lost. And it’s really an easy fix. You can either:
- Lengthen your posts.
- Shorten your sidebar.
The first option requires reanalyzing your content structure and amount of writing. The second option is really quite easy! Here are a few ways you can shorten your sidebar:
- Add a second sidebar. Many of the good WordPress themes offer a second sidebar – you can add it on the opposite side of your content, or have two sidebars next to one another.
- Add a top menu. If you don’t have a top menu for your categories/pages – consider adding one to remove that bulk from your sidebar.
- Remove duplicate content. If you do have a menu on the top for your categories/pages – you don’t need to duplicate it with a list or dropdown on your sidebar.
- Condense your sidebar. If your sidebar is still too lengthy, you may have to dump some items. Analyze what’s important – a search bar, advertising, social media buttons, a quick bio perhaps – and start deleting the rest. Tag clouds may be fun to look at, but if you already have multiple methods of navigation, it’s something that can go!
What’s on your sidebar and is it all necessary?