So you have your cool little niche blog on your out-of-the-zip-file WordPress or MovableType… and now you want to turn that side hobby into your day job. Even when you are a new blogger – or even an older one that just never quite got around to doing all that much after doing the initial install and maybe a few plugins – there are a lot of things you could do to enhance and optimize your blog that just never get done. Why not? Often its just an extreme feeling of overwhelmingness at “all that needs to be done” or just simply a time or skill issue. But it is these little enhancements – whether for reader usability, search engines, marketing or things just to make your actual blogging go a little bit easier and blogger-friendly – that can really take your blog to the next level… the one that actually earns you money.
Here are some quick and easy fixes you can make to your blog, and you can each one into the same amount of time it takes you to have your coffee break… yes, seriously, each one should take you 15 minutes or less! And it will leave you your lunch break as actual blog writing time. So now you have no excuse not to do at least some of these which will make your blog better for you, your readers and the search engines. And because each is such a quick thing to do, these are perfect for those who still have a day job but have dreams of being a full time blogger.
Some do require you to have FTP access to upload plugins. Many are WordPress specific but could be easily adapted to your blog platform of choice.
Run far, far away from the default template
With the number of free blog templates out there, there is really no excuse to be running the default template on your blog unless you just finished installing it five minutes ago. To readers, this is the equivelant of running fingernails down a chalkboard. So even if you can’t afford to hire a designer to make you something custom yet, go and download a freebie one, just making sure it isn’t sponsored by “Buy Viagra” or “Texas Holdem”.
If your logo is not linked to your homepage, make sure you have a clearly labeled link near the top that says “Home” so people can link to your website easily. Most WordPress templates come with this, but some do not. The quickest way to do it is to add a new widget to the top of your WordPress toolbar, although editing your header or sidebar file can be just about as quick, for those of you not using the widgetized WordPress yet.
Adding a search box can help those who wind up on your blog but can’t find exactly what they are looking for, whether because your categories re a bit too broad or you just have far too many entries for people to find a specific post they want to read. WordPress has one by default, but if your blog is well indexed in Google, you might want to add an AdSense for Search box instead, so you could make a small amout of money from it as well.
Customize your 404 error page
If people end up on a page that doesn’t exist, a customized 404 page can go a long way to helping people find what they are looking for so they don’t simply hit the back button instead. Learn more on creating a 404 page in Eleven steps to creating a killer 404 page.
Underline your links
This is especially important if your blog is targeting a not-so-tech-savvy audience. So while those green mouseover links look hot, the lack of underline-ness can trick some people. And if you happen to be targeting the retired age group, you might want to go with the familiar blue underlined links, instead of just changing the green links to green underlined links. This can be changed in your template .css file.
Keep your navigation consistent
Yes, it can be tempting to make your entry pages with a completely different layout style than your main blog page, but this inconsistency can make it difficult for people to easily find what they are looking for when you navigation swaps sides, for example, or just looks completely different from what they saw on the previous page.
Keep your entries consistent
We all go through periods where we might post six times in a day but then go six weeks without a peep. If you know your schedule is going to get crazy next week, use your coffee breaks this week to write some short but sweet blog entries you can schedule to post next week when you are too busy to do it. Not every single blog post has to be posted the moment you write it. It is far better to post regularly and consistently than to suddenly write six posts in a day then nothing for a week… the better choice would have been to publish one of those blog posts each week instead. End up writing more? Then ramp it up to post two per week. Having a few blog posts saved in drafts that are not time dependent is also a good backup plan, then you can quickly post one when you realize you’ve gone three weeks without having time to blog.
Have a backup list of blog topics
Sometimes we just aren’t inspired by anything when we sit down to write a blog entry. Othertimes we think of ten different things to write about, but barely have time to write one. So when you come up with those blog ideas you don’t have time for, just write down the potential title and maybe jot down a couple of points and save it for one of those days when you have writer’s block and can’t think of a single thing to say.
Add a favicon
Many RSS readers use the favicon when they are displaying posts from your blog, so why not add a favicon to help your blog stand out more to readers when they go to their RSS reader. And not only that, the icon will show up in the address bar of the visitor’s browser, as well as showing in the tabs, if multiple tabs are opened to various other websites too. Don’t know how to do it? We have instructions here in Should a favicon be part of your online branding & marketing presence?
Make it easy for people to share your content with other social networks by adding the Sociable plugin by Joost De Valk. You can see an example of it at the end of this post… and feel free to test it out
Do some spell checking on older posts
Are you known for being a bad speller or typo maven (like me at the moment, since I have to replace my keyboard this week, since not all the keys are reacting like they should!). Pick a category on your blog and do some quick spell checks on your older entries, especially the more popular ones. There could be a “teh” or a “somethign” lurking in your content. It can be easiest to open up the entry in your control panel and use the built in Firefox spell checker, use ieSpell in Internet Explorer or even the Google toolbar built-in spell checker. Many of these support multiple languages as well. You will probably be surprised at how often you made spelling mistakes if you don’t regularly spell check first, at you will probably find you accidentily spelled some crucial keywords wrong too. Just make sure none of those mistakes are actually driving a sizable amount of traffic before you fix them, because misspellings can be money makers.
Set up a blog-centric Twitter feed
I do all my personal Twittering @jenstar but I try to be very conscious of not doing much self-promotion of my own blogs there. But more and more people are using Twitter as their first choice for getting industry news. So while I will continue to twitter my most important blog entries there, I will also have set up TwitterFeeds on @jenniferslegg for those who want to get updated on all the blog posts here, as well as @jensense which is a feed for all my new AdSense & contextual advertising blog posts on JenSense.com. So once you have set up a new Twitter account for your blog, go to TwitterFeed and set it up to begin automatically posing everytime you have a new blog post.
Don’t require registration to post comments
Sure, i would be nice to be able to say that you have X,XXX number of registered users posting on your blog. But the reality is that unless they are extremely motivated to post a comment, they just won’t bother commenting once they see they need to register first. A few years ago, blog spam made this option popular, but with a good blog spam tool and comment moderation, there should be no reason why you should be requiring people to register first. If you remove it and you have even the tiniest amount of blog traffic, you should the number of comments shoot up.
Comment on the blogs you read
Take a minute to comment on a great blog post you have just finished reading. It doesn’t have to be anything totally deep, even just a “Thanks for the article, I never thought of marketing ___ from this perspective before, it is definitely giving me ideas!” Just be careful it isn’t too blog-spammy generic, so you want to make sure it relates to the blog entry you read. But chances are good that not only will the blog author visit your site, but other readers who have read the blog entry after you will see your blog and click through to your site. Some days, I can see 100+ visitors coming from someone else’s blog entry I was early to comment on. Obviously, in this case, it was the fact I was one of the first few people to comment, so more people saw it, so try and stick with blog entries written within the last few hours or no longer than a day or two old. And yes, most blogs no-follow those links, so you don’t get link juice, but that doesn’t mean there are not many other benefits from that link too!
Comment on your own blog
I am surprised at the number of bloggers who have many blog comments, yet rarely – if ever – comment back to their commenters themselves. Interacting with commenters can go a long way to increasing the number of comments each entry gets, as well as providing a useful “forum” to engage and interact with your readers, all on your own site! Once you start responding to those who comment, you should see your comment ratio go up.
Make it even easier to comment on your own blog
So now that you realize the power of commenting on your own blog, make it easy to reply to comments posted to your blog from within the control panel, even as you are approving comments. Absolute Comments adds a reply link next to the usual “Edit, Delete, Unapprove/Approve, Spam” options when viewing comments in admin… when you click reply, a text box will pop up to enter your reply comment. This means you don’t have to go and approve a comment and then go view the post outside the control panel to then reply to it. You will find you will reply to many more when it is quick and easy to do it.
Highlight your own comments
This is actually something I first saw on MajorNelson’s blog (XBox.com blogger) where all the comments he made were highlighted in green. Since he can have thousands of comments on a single blog entry – and mere hundreds on a slow day – it made it easy for users to see where his comments were, especially if it was about a support issue. Matt Cutt’s has made a post on how to do this, which has been on my to-do list for a few months now, even before he posted this!
Recognize your top commenters
Everyone likes recognition. You will need to tightly monitor for comments made just to increase comment count (the more popular you are the more likely this will happen) so make sure you have a tight comment policy in place. And you will want to set a time limit on it, such as top commenters in the last 7, 14 or 30 days, so it gives the new users to your site a shot at making the list. There are plenty of plugins that do this.
Show off the recent comments made
Again, you will need a strong moderation in place to prevent blog spam, but you can show snippets from the most recent comments made on your blog. And as a bonus, depending on what comments are made, it will highlight older blog entries that might be long gone from the front page of your blog or recent posts list.
Add your blog to your email signature
Yes, many of us are lazy and don’t add a signature to our emails, whether it is because we send out emails that are totally not related to the blog, or just one of those things that has been on the to do list forever. Add a blog and a short tag line to intrigue people to visit. You never know, your daughter’s softball coach might actually be a fan of whatever you blog about and your signature just got you a new reader.
Create or update your about you page
Have you recently received any awards, guest blogged on a high profile site, spoke at a conference or quoted in a major newspaper? If they aren’t all on your About You page of your blog, they definitely should be! It should include relevant information such as your bio, but also things like your username (preferably with profile links) to thinks like social media sites you belong to.
Create a contact us page
Don’t put your straight email address on your website. Use a contact form instead so you don’t need to worry about the spam. And this will also make it easy for people to contact you for quotes (whether quotes for articles or quotes for your services!) as well as to give you heads up on anything new and exciting. There is a great contact us plugin that includes spam protection so you shouldn’t have to deal with contact form spam.
Make sure your RSS feed button is placed prominently. If your RSS button is hidden away or not noticeable, you just might find that people won’t bother to subscribe rather than hunting around for it. Working on increasing your numbers? Remind people at the end of each blog entry where to subscribe. And if you get one blog entry that gets a lot of social media traffic suddenly? Make sure you make it easy for those people to subscribe so you don’t lose any traffic because while the added traffic is great, you want them to keep coming back long after they initially arrive because of a Stumble or Digg.
Offer full RSS feeds over snippets
Popular bloggers with thousands of subscribers are able to get away with offering snippets much easier than new bloggers who are trying to build up their readership. Many bloggers want them “on the site” rather than just in the RSS reader, but it is better to get them reading, enjoying and anticipating a full blog entry in their reader than it is to just give them a snippet they might only click through on 5% of the time. Once you have a large readership, then you can change to snippets if your heart is really set on it. But as you are in the phase where you are trying to attract and maintain readers, offering full feeds is definitely the best way to go.
The new WordPress has built-in tagging, and there are plugins for the older versions. But make a point of tagging a few of your older blog entries a day, and before you know it, you will have a great tag representation of your posts for others to use.
Recommend related blog entries
You just wrote a fantastic blog entry that has been Stumbled and Dugg… but do you make it easy for those new-found fans to write other articles you have written on the same topic? It is easy to add a couple links to the end of a blog entry if you happen to notice it getting a ton of traffic suddenly. But sometimes you just won’t notice until the traffic is gone or you suddenly notice the comment numbers have shot up on a particular entry. If you install a recommended entries / related posts plugin, it will automatically pull several related blog entries to recommend to your readers at the end.
Highlight your most popular posts
What are your most popular posts of all time, either by page views or comment count? Add a list of popular posts to your sidebar. This gives them a bit of extra link juice, since chances are good it has been a long time since they saw the homepage. But also it gives your new readers a chance to see what they have missed but which were highly popular with readers.
Recommend other blogs
You don’t live in a closed world and believe it or not, some people won’t just read your blog and nothing else. So why not recommend other blogs you enjoy? Add them to your blogroll so readers can see what else you read. Not only are you sending traffic and links to blogs you admire, but you just might see some of those bloggers reciprocate and recommend your blog back to their own readers.
Get your own domain
Still lingering on yourname.wordpress.com or yourname.blogspot.com? Even if the yourname.com isn’t available, in the longrun it is still best to have your blog on your domain. So spend your coffee break looking up domain nams for your own yourname.com. Worried about your old blog entries? If you use WordPress, they have ways to import from various hosted blog platforms either built in or as a plugin. So don’t let that stop you from moving to your very own domain name.
Don’t get too widget happy
Ah, widgets, they are great little things. But there are definite blogs that go overboard to such extreme measures that they overshadow everything else on the page – even the fantastic content you have written – or worse, stall the loading of the page completely so that I can’t even see what you have written. How to avoid widget overload? Don’t sit down one day and add twenty new things to your sidebar. Start with two or three, then slowly ramp them up. This way you can identify any load issues, and you won’t be stuck figuring which of the twenty you just added is causing problems.
Check for blog spam
Never got around to getting your Akismet API key? Do it now. Sure, if your blog is new, maybe you have been fortunate enough to only get a handful of spam comments and/or trackbacks on your blog, just enough that you can easily handle it in simple comment moderation. But trust me, there will be a tipping point when the slow trickle will become a flood. Has the flood already hit and you are knee deep in masses of comments awaiting moderation that you are certain legitimate ones are caught up in? Once the key is added, there will be a link to recheck the queue for spam and it will remove the bulk of spam. Think some blog spam might have slipped through unnoticed? Do a search within your WordPress comments tab, because it will search for keywords not only in the text but in the URLs as well. So do a search for the usual suspects of keywords such as poker, holdem, viagra, cialis, mortgage, loans, debt, payday, xanax, phentermine. That said, don’t go and delete all comments with those keywords without reading them first… they could be completely legitimate comments that are using one of those words for a legitimate reason.
Check for signs of hacking
Similar to checking for spam, this involves doing a site:yoursite.com search in google, and appending one of the usual suspects of blog spam keywords (ie. “site:yoursite.com viagra” would be the search term). This could show up comment spam as well but will also show if there are any exploits or hacks where spammers have injected links into your site it should show up here.
Check those title tags
Wordpress has this nasty habit of putting the title of your blog first before the title of the blog entry. So if you have a longish blogname, you could be pushing the title of your individual entries right off of the Google search results. Even worse, depending on the version you use, could also be adding things like “Blog Archive” before getting around to displaying the title of the post in your title tag. More on this from WordPress or just install the SEO Title Tag plugin.
Make sure you have good permalinks
Are your blog URLs something along the lines of http://www.yourfabulousblog.com/p?=89 Not very descriptive nor search-engine friendly. Make sure you are using permalinks that include information from the blog title such as http://www.yourfabulousblog.com/how-to-optimize-your-blog You can see how the second would be much more beneficial In WordPress, you will find this choice under Options then click the Permalinks link. You can chose your link structure there, but do remember you may need to manually update or add a .htaccess file to do it depending on what your server permissions are for the relevant files.
Make your post slugs more manageable
This is one thing I consistently forget to do, and I know I’m not the only one! When publishing a new blog entry, your post slug (the permalink URL title that is usually the same as all the words in your blog entry title) should not be thirty words long, as some blog entry titles wind up being on occassion! So if you have a massively long title, you want to make sure you change the post slug from a-really-long-and-wordy-and-keyword-rich-title-of-my-blog-entry-that-is-super-exciting to keyword-rich-super-exciting-blog-entry or something else that is much shorter but is also descriptive enough for someone seeing it as well as having your all-important keywords included in it. I don’t always remember to do this before I post, but I generally remember something I have set to publish in the future sometime between the time I finished writing it and the time it actually goes live on the blog.
Write killer article titles
When you have a good article title, you can entice people to read something they wouldn’t have read with a poor title. The ability to write great titles is definitely a gift, but it can also be learned with the practice makes perfect rule of thumb. A blog entry with a great title is also much more likely to go viral because a lot of people that submit things to Digg, Sphinn etc just can’t be bothered to rewrite the title – nor would you really want them to. So a great title is crucial.
Have you optimized your images?
Sure, people either love love love the traffic they get from Google image search, or they despise it because they end up with image leechers. If you want to get as much traffic as possible, make sure your images are optimized so people can find them easier, especially if you tend to use images with cryptic filenames like tw445seo.jpg which might make perfect sense to you, but do absolutely nothing for anyone else. You can do this manually as you upload each photo, depending on your version of WordPress, or you can use a plugin like SEO Friendly Images which does it for you automatically.
Add a technorati widget
Make it easy for people to favorite you on Technorati. First, you need to sign up and claim your blog, if you haven’t already. Then add a button like this:
(That is to this blog, if you’d like to favorite it!) You can go and grab the code to to this button right in Technorati, along with a whole host of other widgets, even adding links to the most recent blog entries on your personal list of favorites in Technorati.
And add some other easy RSS subscribe buttons too
Add links to things like Bloglines and Google Reader so your readers can subscribe to them easily. You can add them individually, use one of the wordpress plugins or use something like FeedButton which makes a rollover like this:
Fix for RSS scrapers
Don’t you just love it when you post a new blog post and then see it syndicated immediately on other websites? And especially if you see it ranking above yours… which can happen, if you know of the story about Search Engine Journal‘s Journal. But, you might as well make sure you at least get some credit for it, so make sure you have a link going back to either your blog or your blog entry so that people who stumble upon the scrapers can find their way back to the original source… you! If you are code-savvy, you can edit the RSS yourself or you can use the RSS Footer plugin. Bonus tip: It works for ads too, your RSS ads will be displayed wherever your blog entries are scraped.
Make sure you are pinging Google
Are you pinging the Google blog server? The Google blog search updates incredibly fast – as in within minutes of pinging, you will see your blog entry in the blog search results, and it isn’t much later than most blog entries end up in the regular Google search too. Learn more about pinging Google here. Or you can submit your feed to Google here for a one-shot ping.
Label ads as ads
People hate being tricked, and this can impact whether people want to follow you or not. So if you accept advertising, label it as Sponsors or Advertisers. Add no-follow if you are concerned about appearing as though you are selling links. Bonus tip: This makes Google happier too.
Avoid going into advertising overload
This mistake seems to be made primarily by newer bloggers, but longtime bloggers can be just as guilty of this one too! You can make far more with one or two well-placed ads than you can with 10 different ads plastered all over your blog. And too many ads can also lead to poor usability for your readers, especially if there are a lot of flashy image ads going on.
Use nofollow on links if needed
Essentially, if you are selling links or you are linking to a site that you cannot vouch for its authority or trustworthiness, you should pop a nofollow on the link to stay in Google’s good books (if Google search traffic is important to you, that is). There are more penalties for sites identified as having sold links, so using nofollow can help prevent any future problems – or fix any current ones!
Link to other bloggers as you’d like to be linked
Remember the song Money for Nothing? Well, apply it to links. When you link to other’s blog entries, link to them as you would like them to theoretically link to you. You hate it when people refer to your blog but don’t include a link… or include an unlinked URL. So why should you do the same just to hoarde your link juice? The same applies to anchor text too… link with the blog entry title or blog name instead of things like “read the blog here”.
Subscribe to competitor’s RSS feeds
Yes, you can do this, it isn’t being disloyal to your own blog But you can great great ideas by seeing what your competitors are talking about and linking to, and you can use it to bounce off of for your own blog entries.
Link to your competitor’s blogs
Sure, you might see them as competitor who have more of the blog traffic you want. But a news flash… many of those subscribers might also subscribe to you too, it isn’t a case where readers have to pick one over the other. And chances are pretty good that other blogger isn’t viewing you as “competition” but rather a cool new look into the same market area. So link to those blogs you view as competition to yours, and good things can happen, such as that person now discovering your blog and maybe sending a link your way too. If they publish their trackbacks, your blog could show up on a blog entry they did that you wrote about. Blogging is an entirely different animal when it comes to linking to competitors, so just do it
Check on old links
You should definitely do a link health check on your blog on a regular basis. Visit your outbounds, check to see if you should nofollow anyone (especially for those blog entries you might have done before nofollow even existed) and just do an overall look at all your links to ensure they are all helping and not hurting you!
Robots.txt for duplicate content
Sometimes how the date archives are done on blogs you can end up with duplicate content because blog posts might be indexed under their own pages, their category pages and then a couple of date pages as well. Create a robots.txt to prevent Google from indexing the unneeded date pages. And be sure to run your robots.txt file through a robots.txt checker to be certain you haven’t accidentily made a mistake and told Google to not index your entire site… this has happened to bloggers, so it is better to be safe than sorry when it comes to your site’s indexing status!
Set up a Google Webmaster Central account
Sign up here and then verify your site. This will give you information on your site such as any 404 pages Googlebot has found, the number of subscribers (using Google Reader or iReader), top search queries and top clicked queries. And it will also serve to alert you if Google finds anything suspicious on your site that could affect indexing, such as if you have been selling text links and they caught you
Keep your blog updated with the latest version
It is important to ensure you keep your WordPress, MovableType or whatever blog platform you use updated with the latest version. Yes, it can be a pain, but it is even a bigger pain to clean up a blog that has been exploited in some way. If you are too scared to do it yourself, hire someone to do it. Unfortunately, some exploits (such as ones that insert hidden links in your footer) can get your blog booted right out of Google. This one might take you a little bit longer than your coffee break – do this one on your lunch break or set aside some time in the evening or weekend to do it. But it is crucial to do this.
Backing up your blog
And while we talk about updating your blog, it is also important to backup your blog files and your database on a regular basis, so if disaster strikes you won’t discover you have lost all your template files and two years worth of blog posts…. believe me, I have seen it happen. So definitely take the time to backup all your related blog files.
Whew! That’s all folks Fifty-two quick and easy changes you can make to your blog to make it more user friendly, search engine friendly and yourself friendly too. Anything I missed that can be done quick and easy?