Earlier this year, I posted 5 Things I’ve Learned About Blogging So Far. There’s always more to that particular discussion, so today, I’m back with 5 more things I’ve learned. In no particular order…
Find blogging buddies and start networking
And here’s why: blogging buddies act as sounding boards, sanity savers, motivators and cheerleaders, challengers, and inspiration sources. They can help you promote yourself, help out with guest posts, and get where you’re coming from with blog problems.
There’s more that they can do, but suffice to say, they’re probably a blogger’s secret weapon (or, at least, this blogger’s secret weapon). I could not do what I do, and have done for almost three years here, without some kind of support system, and I love being a cheerleader for friends, too.
Ask your readers what works for them
There’s no one-size-fits-all solution for blogging issues, because everyone’s audience is different. You can try and experiment with different techniques or style choices, and since you’re the blogger, it’s ultimately up to you. But if you’re looking for advice or direction that has to do with your blog’s functionality, the best people to ask would be your readers, since they are the ones who visit you and read what you have to say.
For example, I did this just last week – I wasn’t sure if the related posts widget I had on my posts was effective for my blog visitors (it only showed up on my blog, not in my RSS feeds). I removed it because I thought it made things look messy, but when I asked my readers, I found out that they liked it. I liked that the older posts I wrote were getting a second chance at exposure, so that, coupled with my readers’ responses, encouraged me to put it back.
Spend time on your blog’s navigation
If you’ve been blogging for a while, you’ve got content you want to share, right? So, the burning question becomes, how are you going to organize your information so people can find it? Whether it’s linking to your main pages on your sidebar or having a navigation bar up at the top, your blog’s navigation needs to make sense for visitors.
Start by asking yourself a few questions. What are the important pages? Where is the most important info located? Where do you want to link to? How many off-site links do you have? Can you start grouping things together, like a series of posts, and putting them on a splash page (I did that here)?
Here are a few things you might want to remember to include:
- Your email address or some way to contact you
- An about page – you can write this in the first person
- What your blog is about
- Links to your most popular posts or series of posts
- A link to your shop, if you have one
- A search box
- An archive list
- A category list
- A newsletter sign up, if you have one
- A way for people to subscribe to your RSS feed
- Your social media links
Next, think of how you want to physically show it on your blog. The two common places would be on your sidebar or on a horizontal navigation bar up by your header. I don’t think one is better than the other; it’s more a personal preference or a blog template restriction. As a reader, I don’t care so much where the info is located so much as being able to find it when I need it.
Once you’ve got your information grouped, rank them according to importance. Put the most important items on the left of a nav bar, and on the top of a sidebar. Since the Western world reads left to right and top to bottom, make the way our eyes naturally move work for you. Western readers going to see what’s on the left and on the top first, so those are prime real estate areas for your blog. As our eyes travel right and down, attention starts to fade, so keep that in mind.
As for footers, I think it’s a great place to add info, but it shouldn’t be the only spot you employ. Why not? Because not everyone scrolls all the way down to the bottom of the page. If you’ve got a template with a header, no nav bar, and no sidebar but a footer, then it’s obvious to people that they need to keep looking for your info. But if you do have a nav bar and a sidebar, people are going to look there first rather than at the bottom. Instead, consider adding a second set of your most important links in your footer so people who do make it down there don’t have to scroll up.
Finally, when organizing your info, aim for one or two clicks of the mouse. With one or two clicks, can your visitors find the most important info you’re sharing? If it takes longer than that, your navigation may be too complicated or visitors may lose focus, so keep that in mind, too.
Post excerpts aren’t reader-friendly
You know what I’m talking about here, right? This is where only part of a post is shown on the blog’s home page; in order to finish out the post, you have to click a link to continue reading. So maybe this point is more of a personal preference than a lesson, but I stand by it. “Continue reading” links and post excerpts on a blog’s home page aren’t very reader-friendly.
As a blogger, I get that it’s a matter of aesthetics, and presenting a cohesive look to your blog. Who doesn’t want that? But from a reader’s point of view, having excerpts on a blog is cumbersome. It’s even more so when there’s an excerpt in a RSS feed. This forces people who subscribe in a feed reader to click over to that blog to get the full post, which defeats the entire purpose of using a feed reader.
Some readers will deal with it, some won’t, but I see “continue reading” links as another obstacle between your content and your readers, so I vote no. It’s may seem like a clever way to ensure blog traffic, getting people to click around your blog, but it could be alienating readers.
It’s hard enough getting readers to visit your blog in the first place, and then stick with you for the long haul. The very best thing you can do for them (and yourself) is to not stand in the way of your content being read. Instead of limiting your content or putting up obstacles, make it as easy as possible for people to read and talk to you. Put the full posts on view of your blog’s home page, set your RSS feed to full, and, if you’re willing to go the extra mile, set up an RSS-to-email list for those who want to get your posts in their inbox.
The one place where I think an excerpt is helpful is on a website where the blog is only one part of a bigger whole. The rest could be a portfolio, a shop, what have you. This is where you have a variety of people coming to your site – readers, shoppers, potential clients – so your front page is probably not your blog. In that case, yes, use an excerpt widget and bring some of your blog front and center. But on the blog’s home page itself, nix the excerpts and go for a full post.
It’s okay to change it up
If something’s not working for you, if something’s feeling stagnant, if you’ve lost interest in presenting material a certain way, I think it’s perfectly healthy to stop doing it. As a reader, I’d rather roll with a change, big or small, than continue to read a blogger who’s dialing it in because they think they should. Passion is highly attractive, and easily seen (or not seen).
That said, some changes are easier to do than others. Cancelling a regular series of posts because you’ve lost interest in that topic or changing up blog designs? Those are relatively easy to do, even if coming to a decision about it may feel monumental. Switching blogging niches or moving your entire blog to a new domain is a bigger change, but not unheard of, though serious thought should be given to things like how to get your entire readership to follow you (the truth is not all will, either because they aren’t paying attention, forget to do it, or don’t know how to unsubscribe or resubscribe).
Still, if it’s a change you feel you need to make, make it. Give your readers an explanation about what’s happening so they aren’t totally lost, and go for it.
Your turn: what are some lessons you’ve learned while blogging?
Missed part one? You can find it here.