45 Ways to Power Up Your Blog

BloggingToday I’ll be attending WordCamp Dallas, which Charles Stricklin and I jointly organized. We’ve got a whole line up of fantastic speakers including Matt Mullenweg, Jonathan Bailey, Cali Lewis, Liz Strauss, Lorelle VanFossen, Chris Smith, Aaron Brazell, Jacob Santos, and Mark Ghosh.

If you’re one of the WordCamp attendees and you happen to be sitting in the lecture hall reading along as I stand here on stage, well… deja vu! Otherwise, for my normal readers here comes a list of 45 Ways to Power Up Your Blog!

Incidentally, the actual video of this lecture is available here. It seems to now have some historical significance because of the introduction of Woopra in the last three minutes.

For the sake of keeping things organized, I’ll tackle these tips by category and also attempt to cram in as many links to additional resources for each tip as possible. If you happen to have a link to add to a particular tip please drop a comment below with the link and where it should go.

This post is by far the most comprehensive article I’ve assembled on blogging. It does make reference to a few of my previous posts, but much of this information is brand new. One other little warning… a lot of the tips presented below are only available to the stand-alone version of WordPress. If you are running a different blogging platform (I suggest you change it), or if you are on the free WordPress.com platform, you may have to seek alternatives.

Search Engine Optimization

Yes, It’s Still Important

To get us started, check out the article I wrote for Lorelle called Why Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is Still Important. The impetus for this article was the fact that so many WordPress themes were claiming to be SEO friendly, but so few people understand what that really entails.

I don’t trust most of the SEO information out there, but I do trust these links:

Use English Naming Conventions for Images

Matt Mullenweg
“NOT a Hot Asian Chick!”

Every image on your site should be named exactly what it is – in English.

  • So instead of “img0001.jpg” rename it to “Cute-Dog.jpg”.

Also, use the alt text for descriptions of all images, and Title element for all hyperlinks. These are legal ways to increase the keyword density of a page – but make sure you aren’t cheating! The descriptions must be accurate or you may incur the wrath of the Google anti-spam team!

Descriptive, Accurate Titles are Key

Article titles should be extremely direct, concise and keyword loaded. Fancy titles will not bring hoards of traffic, and even worse it will negatively impact Google search results since the title is heavily weighted in the algorithm.

Use TITLE Elements on Hypertext Links

Use the TITLE element on every single hypertext link on the site. The title will show up when a reader hovers the mouse over the link in most Web browsers for an added description, but the words will also be noticed by the search engines and contribute to higher search results.

Pick the Right Theme

Google Referral TrafficBe very, very picky about your blog’s theme. Having a solid SEO underpinning is far, far, far more important than the eye candy. I have major criticisms for the vast majority of themes out there. My Rapid Access theme may not be the most attractive, but I get thousands of visitors each day from search engines – and a lot of people tell me they wish they could get more search traffic.

You definitely don’t have to use my theme, but at least read through the features when you’re evaluating another one and pick one with as many of the features as possible.

Your Web Host Affects Your Traffic

Purchase a faster server. No shared hosting! At least a VPS or dedicated server. Search rankings are affected by site performance, especially server downtime. And sites like StumbleUpon, which can deliver significant traffic, will stop sending it altogether if the server is unresponsive for even a very short time.

Bottom line is that if you’re serious about building a large following you need to either invest in a little infrastructure, or go with a completely hosted blog like WordPress.com.

  • Incidentally, Layered Tech’s Virtual Private Servers run on The Grid, powered by 3Tera, and offer complete physical redundancy for about $50 per month. There is not another provider on the planet that can say that!
  • If you send me an e-mail and tell me you heard about it here I’ll make sure you get a special deal on a Grid-based VPS.

Host Your Own Images

Google Image SearchServe photos off of your own server, or lose the google image traffic to Flickr (or wherever the photos are). I realize that image hosting can bog down your Web server, so get a faster server (see this tip in the SEO area too)!

Use a Sitemap

A sitemap is like a table of contents for your blog. It helps search engines find every single post you’ve got, but they would take a long time to generate if you had to do it by hand. Luckily the Google XML Sitemaps plugin takes care of this issue automatically.

General Blogging Tips

Don’t Believe the Hype

Flavor Flav - Don’t Believe the Hype!I’ve been hearing people advising authors to stick to only one topic per blog for some time now. And they are just plain wrong.

Any possible SEO advantage is more than outweighed by the fact that authors and readers become bored by the same subject after a while and content becomes stale and painful. Not to mention the fact that you’ll only keep a regular subscriber for so long without some variety. (Oprah doesn’t talk about the same thing every day, so why should you?)

Instead, write about what you know and love… all of it. As an example, my blog has 42 categories and 2,300 tags. I average 15-20,000 page views each day, with a record day being over 140,000.

Keep ‘Em Engaged

Post regularly. No less than every 2-3 days. I write articles in advance and post date them. Keep a 2-3 post buffer at all times, a week or two is even better if you can.

Draft Early, Draft Often

To help you keep up the pace, start a draft post every time you have a new idea for an article. You can come back and finish them when you have time or need inspiration. I normally have at least 30 drafts standing by at any given time.

Remember, you can always delete an idea later, but you can’t remember one once it’s forgotten.

Always Show Related Posts

Related PostsWhether you are including links to related posts directly within your article, or using a plugin to automatically generate them, showing related posts is key for a number or reasons:

  1. You work hard to attract eyeballs to your articles. You might as well get two or three visits for the price of one!
  2. Related posts in your RSS feed will bring regular readers back to older content.
  3. Search visitors who land on a page might find a related article more interesting than the one they came in on.

So, be sure to incorporate links within articles to others that you know are highly related, and then get a plugin to generate an additional automated list.

Do You Have a Print Stylesheet?

Make sure your site has a print stylesheet! If there is anything I hate it’s finding a great article and wanting to print it out to give to someone, only to learn that it is completely unprintable! AArrgh! I think every theme that lacks a Print CSS should be taken out back and shot! If your theme doesn’t have one, add one to it!

More information about print CSS:

WP Admin Bar Reloaded Speeds Up Blogging

WP Admin Bar ReloadedI didn’t write WP Admin Bar, but I did update it. You see, I got sick of having to jump back and forth between login screens and the front of my blog to try and write articles, admin comments, and change my theme. Luckily there is an easy way to put an administration bar on every page of the blog – but only for people who are logged in and who have rights to those functions. WordPress.com already has this function, so why not the self-hosted version?

Usability Tips

Most of these tips are adapted from Jacob Neilsen’s Top 10 Weblog Design Mistakes article.

Author Biographies

Unless you’re a business blog, you probably don’t need a full-fledged “about us” section the way a corporate site does. That said, the basic rationale for “about us” translates directly into the need for an “about me” page on a weblog: users want to know who they’re dealing with.

It’s a simple matter of trust. Anonymous writings have less credence than something that’s signed. And, unless a person’s extraordinarily famous, it’s not enough to simply say that Joe Blogger writes the content. Readers want to know more about Joe.

Author Photos

John P.Even weblogs that provide author bios often omit the author photo. A photo is important for two reasons:

  • It offers a more personable impression of the author. You enhance your credibility by the simple fact that you’re not trying to hide. Also, users relate more easily to somebody they’ve seen.
  • It connects the virtual and physical worlds. People who’ve met you before will recognize your photo, and people who’ve read your site will recognize you when you meet in person (say, at a conference — or the company cafeteria if you’re an intranet blogger).

A huge percentage of the human brain is dedicated to remembering and recognizing faces. For many, faces work better than names.

Links Should Say Where They Go

Many weblog authors seem to think it’s cool to write link anchors like: “some people think” or “there’s more here and here.” Remember one of the basics of the Web: Life is too short to click on an unknown.

Tell people where they’re going and what they’ll find at the other end of the link. Generally, you should provide predictive information in either the anchor text itself or the immediately surrounding words. You can also use link titles for supplementary information that doesn’t fit with your content. (To see a link title in action, mouse over the “link titles” link.)

A related mistake in this category is to use insider shorthand, such as using first names when you reference other writers or weblogs. Unless you’re writing only for your friends, don’t alienate new visitors by appearing to be part of a closed clique. The Web is not high school.

Showcase Top Articles

Hopefully, you’ll write some pieces with lasting value for readers outside your fan base. Don’t relegate such classics to the archives, where people can only find something if they know you posted it, say, in May 2003.

If you notice, I’ve showcased some of my more popular posts in the footer of this blog. Other people use the sidebar. And some people use a widget from a service like SpotPlex which dynamically lists the most popular content.

You Need Your Own Domain Name

Having a weblog address ending in wordpress.com, blogspot.com, typepad.com, etc. will ultimately limit your options, and make businesses appear unprofessional.

Add a Domain Name

Letting somebody else own your name means that they own your destiny on the Internet. And the longer you stay at someone else’s domain name, the higher the cost of going independent. It only costs $10-15 per year to get your personal domain name and own your own future.

As soon as you realize you’re serious about blogging, move it away from a domain name that’s controlled by somebody else. The longer you delay, the more pain you’ll feel when you finally make the move.

Community Building

Encourage E-mail Subscriptions

FeedBurner StatsIt’s great to have people subscribe to your RSS feed because they’ll remember your site and periodically they’ll come back. But if you’re RSS reader is like mine you’ll never get around to reading most of the articles. E-mail subscriptions are a whole different ball game. They show up on the day they are posted and present readers with the opportunity to get to the content while it’s still fresh and hot.

In addition, I find that my e-mail readers are far more likely to leave comments. In fact, on average my articles have 10-15 comments by the end of the first day. And it’s great to get the instant feedback.

  • I recommend FeedBurner for handling your subscriptions.
  • After you sign up for a free account, go to the PUBLICIZE tab and look for EMAIL SUBSCRIPTIONS.

Full RSS Feeds Are the Way to Go

WordPress allows you to control whether you publish partial or full RSS feeds via the Reading Options tab in the admin control panel. I always assumed that full feeds would impact my site visits, so held off for a long time – only bowing to demand after about a year.

The reality is, I saw almost no impact from the change. If anything, readership increased a little.

Because I use full feeds in conjunction with the related articles plugin, I’ve had friends tell me that not only do they now read more of my articles, but they click on the related article links and go back and read the archives!

Open Up to Comments

CommentsIf you really want comments, you’ve got to make it quick and easy for people to leave them.

  • Do NOT require people to log in to leave comments.
  • Do NOT require all comments to be moderated

Instead, use Akismet and Bad Behavior to filter blatant spam, and moderate the rest regularly.

MyBlogLog Makes It Personal

I like MyBlogLog. I use the widget in my sidebar, and have even paid for the Pro stats they generate (which update instantaneously unlike Google Analytics). The widget has helped grow my community by “humanizing” things.

Regular readers of my blog see a big version of my own avatar at the top of every page, and they come to recognize other regular readers in the MBL widget when they visit, reinforcing a sense of community.

Show Recent and Top Commentators

When I installed the Show Top Commentators plugin on my blog I saw a noticeable increase in comments. This may be partially due to the fact that my blog’s high Google PageRank seems attractive, but it’s offset by the fact that I heavily moderate comments and delete spammers as well as comments with no value.

After installing the Recent Comments Plugin I noticed that older posts which received comments brought regular visitors back to older content in addition to simply serving as a quick way for me to personally keep up with new comments.

I tend to think that the main benefit of these plugins is to help my readers understand that I really appreciate every comment and I’ll keep an eye on them and respond.

Social Media Matters

You might not have been able to get on the home page of Digg or Slashdot yet, but that doesn’t mean you should ignore them. Social media sites can bring plenty of joy and pain, but most importantly they bring new visitors – something quite important for building up your subscriber community.

Here are a few recommendations:

Make it Personal

If you want to build a sense of community, you’ve got to start out by making a personal connection. And on the scale of human inter-connectedness, the least personal method of communicating is writing.

Move up the inter-personal scale by adding a photo of yourself, including audio (podcasts) and even V-Logging (video blogging). The more personal you make it, the greater the effectiveness when it comes to connecting with your readers. One other thing – always, always include an About page along with personal information.

Promote Your RSS Feed

One Man’s Blog’s RSS FeedsI cannot emphasize enough how important it is to give your readers the opportunity to subscribe to your blog via RSS and e-mail subscriptions. Luckily, Google’s Feedburner service is a completely free way to offer both RSS and e-mail subscriptions.

  • WordPress users can install the FeedBurner FeedSmith plugin to transfer RSS subscriptions to Feedburner.
  • After signing up for free at Feedburner, use the FeedCount widget to show your subscriber count and also offer RSS feeds.
  • Also install the e-mail subscription box and promote your daily e-mail service big time!

Site Performance

Optimize and Resize Every Image

FastStone Image ViewerFaster page loads are an edict of excellence in Web design, and are just plain good news for visitors. In addition, site performance is a factor in search results, so trimming down every article you author will help Google make the decision to send more traffic your way.

  • I personally prefer to use the free FastStone Image Viewer to resize images.
  • The SAVE dialog box offers a simple slider bar to increase compression and preview changes along with new file sizes.

Offload Server Load

Plan for the worst (best) case scenario and offload plugin functionality from your server whenever possible. For example, rather than using a “Digg This” plugin, install the Feedburner “Digg This” javascript script. It will transfer a little extra load from your server to theirs.

  • It can mean the difference between your site going down, and staying up.
  • If your server stops, the Digg stops too!
  • First 2 hours are the most critical

Google or other Analytics vs. plugin based stats

  • Google uses a javascript loaded from their servers
  • Plugins use a script on your server plug database activity

Tame That Theme

Lion TamerIf you want faster site performance, again – turn to your theme. If it contains unnecessary PHP, images, and other items that increase the load you’ll find out when it’s too late. I’ve seen a simple change of theme triple the performance of a site.

Trim it down to the bare essentials. If you don’t know how, either pick a theme without fancy menus and graphics, or buy a huge server cause you’re gong to need it to sustain a Digg!

WP Super Cache is King

Pace Picante SauceNot running WP Super Cache on a WordPress blog is like making picante sauce in New York city! Partner, we’re going to have to shut you down!

WP Super Cache is a static caching plugin for WordPress. It generates html files that are served directly by Apache without processing comparatively heavy PHP scripts. By using this plugin you will speed up your WordPress blog significantly.

Content Authoring

Track, Test, and Respond

You must use a detailed statistics tracking service, preferably one that gives instant feedback, and watch which articles are getting the most traffic. You’ll learn which ones are most appealing and it should help you figure out why. You can do a lot with that information like putting targeted advertising on those pages, writing more articles like that one and linking to them, etc.
I recommend the following services:

  • MyBlogLog – my personal primary stats tracker due to it’s simplicity and performance.
  • Performancing P-Metrics – my backup that I turn to for much more detailed information.
  • Google Analytics – offers some additional tools for ad tracking and is free, but only updates daily.

Check Your Topic Digg-ability

LAF Title CheckerDan Zarrella has created a fantastic tool, called the Link Attraction Factors Keyword Tool, to estimate the effectiveness of a given topic towards attracting social media. He has also made available a WordPress plugin to integrate the tool directly into your blogs authoring page.

So for example, when it comes to the 2008 election, the candidates names in titles stack up as follows:

So and article about Hillary that goes popular on Digg would be most likely to get links, while John McCain clearly bores everyone to tears.

Write Authoritative Content

I believe in really researching things and making content information rich. Just getting keywords in the content won’t do any good if the search engine bounce rate ends up being 90%+. People won’t stick around long enough to read any of your other articles – so make sure you ask yourself this question every single time you publish something:

If this was the first article I ever read on this site, would I come back for more?

Review Everything

Do complete and thorough reviews of products you like or dislike. Then put Amazon links on the page. This does three things:

  • Helps people who are looking for reviews before they purchase.
  • Gives you something to write about.
  • Actually earns some cash from Amazon affiliate links. (I made over $1k last year from only 5 or so articles with Amazon links.)

Always Include At Least One Image

Maggie Q. - Hot Asian Chick!
“Yeah! A Hot Asian Chick!”

I recommend including an image at the beginning of every single post to help set the theme of the article. In my blog I generally include thumbnail sized images which link to larger versions, and I like to alternate floating them to one side or the other of my content. Another alternative example of image use can be found on WebUrbanist.com where the author’s strategy is to use one large image, or a combination of smaller images, that precedes the content area.

  • Anthony Baggett did a nice post on How to Position Images.
  • Digg now allows images in posts to be attached, and it helps!

Be Creative!

Yeah, it’s easier said than done isn’t it? I wrote an article called 16 Tips for Blog Idea Brainstorming a while back that still applies. But the key theme here is that it doesn’t really pay to write about the same old things everyone else is covering.

There are already a million articles on the iPhone, does the world really need one more? How much attention do you really think your article is going to command when you have to compete with TechCrunch? Instead, focus on things you know and try to tell a little story with your post. Keep it concise, but work in some humor, philosophy and facts. The blogosphere will thank you for original content.

Revenue Generation

Please… No Begging

Please DonateBuilding some semblance of a community is important. It will help motivate you to write, give you feedback on your articles, and help you gain critical mass. But that won’t happen if you’re begging your visitors to donate money.

So unless you’re a certified charity, or you’re putting out free software, don’t beg people for contributions! Instead, concentrate on building the site and ad revenues will come later.

Homepage Excerpts Increase Pageviews

Lets face it. If your blog is intended to produce revenue, you want as many page-views per visitor as possible. Each page generates additional opportunities to convert to revenue. This reason alone is enough to justify using excerpts on your homepage (the MORE function), plus it allows people to navigate and pick and choose articles more easily.

Friends Don’t Let Friends See Ads

Use Donncha’s “No Adverts for Friends” plugin. This plugin hides the ads from anyone who:

  • Is registered and logged in
  • Has left at least one comment
  • Is reading a brand new post

You might think that would lower your revenues, but you’d be wrong! On my blog I was able to put much larger and more intrusive advertising at the top of my articles which really only shows to search engine visitors. They get a much higher click-through rate than before, even though my regular readers never see an ad! Best of both worlds.

No More “Make Money Online” Blogs, Please!

Make Money Online!For God’s sake people, please don’t jump on the Make Money Online bandwagon. These sites do NOT make money online. And it’s just going to continue to be downhill as other bloggers who write real content continue to crack down on commenters trying to gain backlinks.

Sites of this type routinely get marked as Spam in Akismet, and Google competition is fierce – assuming you make it past the Web Spam team, so instead of dedicating all those man-hours towards “building a better mouse-trap” how about just writing some content that can appreciate in value over time without tons of scrutiny?

There is still no way to get rich quick.

VLogging, PodCasting and Multimedia

Viddler is the Only Way to Go

If you’re looking for videos to embed in your blog posts I’ll admit that YouTube is still the 900 pound gorilla. They’ve just got everything on there! But if what you really want to do is actually share high quality videos to embed in your site – nothing beats Viddler!

I actually heard about Viddler last year at WordCamp as well, when I was filming everything and looking for a place to post the videos for later download and consumption. I tried just about every site on the Web, but they all had major drawbacks. Most had file size limitations, some were difficult to use, and some just had very poor quality.

Viddler however has none of those shortcomings! High quality videos, no file size restrictions… plus you can even make a little money off of ads and offer the videos for download in multiple formats! Now, if we could only get their hosting moved over to Layered Tech to help with a little better hosting…

Tools Make the Difference

Logitech QuickCam Ultra VisionIf you are going to start putting your blog out in multimedia format you really need to invest in a little quality gear. There is far too much competition to get people to listen and watch when you’re recording with a $29 Webcam. That doesn’t mean you have to break the bank though. Here are a few tools that can help:

Use PodPress for Podcasting

Dan Kuykendall, the creator of the PodPress plugin, delivered a very good discussion about PodCasting at last year’s WordCamp in San Francisco. He goes over the rationale for Podcasting as well as the equipment he uses to produce his own podcasts.

When you’re done with all that, you might want to fast forward to the lecture I did the following year called, “Make More Money with WordPress, Social Media and Analytics“.

Article Written by
John P.

John P. is CEO of Livid Lobster and co-host of Geek Beat TV. You can also find him on Twitter, Facebook and Google+.

Comments

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  2. Bruce Thomas says:

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