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    Optimising your BlogThis is the first of a 3 part series looking at blog optimisation. When people talk about how to optimise blogs, they are generally referring to Search Engine Optimisation while this is important, and something Ill be looking at in depth in part 2 of the series, its only part of what we should be thinking about when we optimise a blog.

    First of all, I think that its important to look at optimising a blog for the people who really count – your readers! Its in your interest to make sure that their experience is as pleasant, productive and straightforward as possible. Why? Because these are the people that you want to connect with, the ones you want to talk to, the ones you want to work with and the ones that you want to recommend you to others. Be nice to them!

    You need to make sure that you help them to find the information that they are looking for, point them in the direction of other subjects they might also find interesting and generally ensure that they stay around to concentrate on the content you are offering without struggling to find or use it.

    So, in this respect, what are the areas that we should be looking at and how can we help our readers really benefit from what we write in our blog:

    1. Write posts on topics which interest your readers
    I know that we come back to content time and time again, but it really is so key that I’m afraid it’s worth repeating once more here. Write things that your readers will find useful, relevant and interesting! You already do? Great – then concentrate on the rest of this post and the other two in the series because they’ll support what you’re doing every step of the way. If you’re still looking for help then, when you’ve finished here, may I suggest checking out Brian Clark at Copyblogger – recommended. Seriously.

    2. Consider the layout of your posts
    Try not to have great swaths of text which create an often impenetrable barrier between your readers and the ideas you wish to communicate. Make sure that you break it up, have areas of white space and use subheadings to highlight your points – where appropriate, use bullet points as well and generally make sure that the layout supports your content rather than hides it.

    3. Good Navigation
    Good navigation should be consistent, easy to find and easy to follow. When your readers are on your blog, the last thing you want is for them to be floundering around trying to find other posts or searching unsuccessfully for them. Why not? Because they wont keep searching – they will have already left and gone to find it elsewhere.

    Try to keep the main navigation menus in the same place on each page and if you use the general blog conventions such as the home page link being in the header, then remember that you are also looking to attract non blog readers who will be looking for a ‘home’ button. Bottom line, make navigation as intuitive as possible for everyone and let them concentrate on your content.

    4. Easy Subscriptions
    Whatever you may be using for subscription forms, make sure that it is easy for your readers to sign up for – this goes for both your RSS feed and any newsletter sign up you might have. For your RSS feed, offer an RSS via email option (and link to a quick overview of what RSS is and its use to your readers) and for your newsletter sign up, include it on all pages, reassure about your privacy policy and perhaps include a giveaway as a sign up sweetener too.

    5. Help them to read more
    If someone has been interested in what you have written then make sure they can find other posts on your blog which might cover the same or closely related topics. Either in your sidebar or following the individual posts, give them a list of the most popular, frequently read or other related posts which they would be interested in. Any element of this type, well placed, will help to direct them to other related posts helping, in turn, to keep your blog “sticky”.

    6. Use Descriptive Categories
    Blogs in general offer you a wonderful automatic filing system in the form of categories and archives – WordPress also offers you the option of using tags as well to help classify your posts. When it comes to naming your categories and selecting your main tags, choose them carefully and make them descriptive as they will provide another method for your readers to find relevant posts which will be of interest. If the category names also contain your key words then there will be additional Search Engine value as we will see in part 2. As they will also act as a type of secondary navigation for your readers, try to keep them consistent.

    7. Search
    The Search function is another element which needs to be on every page if someone has arrived at your blog for the first time and is looking for something specific, then the search box is likely to be their first port of call. So make it visible … and make sure it works!

    8. Don’t forget to link out
    Although conventional wisdom on normal websites says that linking out equates to losing a potential customer, this is not so on a blog. Links out are of great benefit to your readers because it takes them to sites that you deem to be worthwhile to read, hence developing further the trust they have in you and your recommendations. So when you write posts, dont forget to link out where applicable either to support your arguments or to direct your readers to other valuable resources.

    9. Make Commenting easy
    Comments should really be the lifeblood of blogs which enable you to develop interaction with your readers and ultimately a community feel, so make sure that you make it as easy as possible for your readers to leave them. At the same time you do need to safeguard your blog against spammers so what would be the best solution? Making your readers sign up or log in to leave a comment is likely to dissuade all but the keenest commenters and especially first timers. So do your comment moderation behind the scenes and use spam filtering software such as Akismet.

    10. Can they contact you?
    Try to ensure that you are as easily accessible as possible. I know a number of bloggers who are reticent to do this, but in a business blog it is imperative that your contact details can be easily found, ideally on a specific contact page. You should also have a Profile page so that people can get a little more background on you and what you do which again should contain contact details. It might well be to your benefit!!

    As a final check, if you are able to make sure that your readers dont have to jump through hoops when they want to do something on your blog, then incorporate it. What do I mean? Well, look at it from your readers point of view as a test, go onto any blog or website and any time that you hesitate or arent sure what to do next on it, try to think why and then make sure that situation doesnt happen on your own blog.

    To paraphrase the well used phrase – “they hesitate, you lose”. So make sure that your readers dont have to hesitate but can find their way around your blog and around the information it contains.

    If you enjoyed this post, make sure you subscribe to my RSS feed!

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    Business Blog Design Series[This is part of a series following on from a post called “Business Blog Design“]


    One of the key elements which makes a blog easy to use (as an author) and to navigate (as a visitor) is the fact that it is self structuring and self organising. The main way this happens is that posts are automatically stored in both Categories and Archives. However, even aspects like these can be used to our advantage if they are used properly.

    Categories
    Essentially, the categories on a blog allow you to organise your posts by filing them into various folders according to their subject matter. From a usability and navigation point of view, this has three main results:

    • it makes it easier for people to find what they are looking for either browsing through the subjects covered by the blog

    • it allows them to go directly to an area they are interested in

    • from the author’s point of view, it gives us the chance to try to direct their investigation of the blog rather than just let them search blindly.

    If I take the example of my own blog as well as those that I monitor for others, I find that the categories are where readers tend to look first when they explore the blog further rather than turning immediately to the Search function. So if we can get the naming and positioning right, then this is really going to help to increase the areas and posts which get explored.

    The choice of Category names is also important and has an impact both with regards to our readers and also to search engines. It impacts in a number of areas namely:

    • Visitor focus – using clear names allows readers to get a quick view of your content and focus just by scanning your category names;

    • Friendly Permalinks – with certain permalink structures the category name is included, so make it count by covering your keywords in your category names;

    • Category Headings – these are included at the top of the individual category pages usually in a ‘header tag’ and then of course relevant content follows below in the posts in that category. Great focused search engine content.

    • Anchor text – the anchor text is the word(s) which make up a link. In your blog, the category links on every page point at your individual category page with relevant keywords as anchor text – Search Engines give added weight to this.

    • Keywords on page – as well as everything else, just having the category names (and the keywords they contain) on each page is going to be beneficial!

    Basically, category names need to be descriptive (there’s no getting away from that) but at the same time they should naturally include your primary as well as secondary keywords.

    Don’t forget, that if you are using WordPress, then you can have subcategories as well as the main ones. This can be of use if you want to have different divisions on your page such as Geographic areas and Business areas because you can split your categories automatically into separate lists.

    Archives
    The Archives are another ever present feature on blogs although they come in a variety of forms, primarily monthly but also sometimes weekly or in calendar format. It’s good to keep them on the blog but I don’t recommend that they feature prominently, simply because visitors are less likely to search by date of posting (unless it’s something very specific) than they are by topic.

    A long list of archives can sometimes help to give a feeling of gravitas and substance to a blog, though really this should come out in the writing in any case. Therefore, so as not to clutter a sidebar which could be used for other purposes, there’s no real need to give direct links to more than 12 – 18 months worth.

    There is also a school of thought which says that it is better not to allow indexing of archives by search engines because they just end up in the supplemental indexes and clutter the results. Personally I’m not in favour of doing this, though I agree that the robots.txt file is the best place to control it from – however, I am in agreement that the calendar display formats can cause problems and hence recommend avoiding them where possible.

    Search
    While I find that many people dont use this function, often preferring to navigate using the categories, it is nevertheless one that most people are familiar with and would expect to see on a blog or a website. It particularly comes into its own when they are looking for something specific and when the blog has grown to contain a large number of posts or perhaps a particularly large number of topics.

    Make sure that the Search function delivers as much of the functionality that they would be used to as possible … and, let’s face it, that experience is likely to be based on Google. Particularly, try to make the results page as familiar to users as you can as it will help them explore your blog.


    Make use of all opportunities available to help your visitors find the content they want and also to attract those Search Engines!

    If you enjoyed this post, make sure you subscribe to my RSS feed!

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