If you want your blog to be effective, you need to make sure that it has the design elements that help your target audience engage with your content, engage with you, help spread the word and ultimately do business with you.
Blogs are a great way to connect to the world and grow your business, especially if you are an authorneer. Having a blog site helps you reach your audience and gives them a way to get to know you and your brand, as well as participate in your community. In fact, a blog helps you build a community around your book and the business you build around that book, which, in turn, is important for growing said business and your readership.
However, even the biggest blogs can make little mistakes. They forget or overlook some important design features. Read on to learn the most important features to implement on your blog.
At least one way to subscribe to your blog
There are a couple of ways a visitor to your blog can subscribe to your content. They can subscribe to
- Your RSS feed, or
- Your email list
I highly recommend that you have both options available, using design elements that make them stand out. Let me discuss each one individually.
RSS stands for “Really Simple Syndication.” It is an integral feature of a blog site, so whether you realize it or not, if you have a blog, you have an RSS feed. When someone subscribes to an RSS feed, they receive notifications in either their email or RSS reader that a new blog post has been published. I consider this a back-up subscription to someone subscribing to your email list.
Your RSS subscribers will be notified when you published a blog post, however, they won’t get any other notifications and you have no true ownership of this list. You can’t segment it. You can’t send anything to it other than blog posts. But you should have it as an option because it is better than having no access to a visitor at all.
Fortunately, adding an option to subscribe to your RSS feed is pretty easy. Most blog themes have a way to do this easily, and some do it automatically.
If you want to build a business with your blog, then providing a way to subscribe to your email list on that blog is essential. All email marketing platforms provide you with some form of an opt-in box. Some also empower you to create a landing page with an opt-in box. Some WordPress themes have opt-in box areas built-in, as well. Take this blog, for example. At the time of this writing, I have deployed several different ways for you to opt-in to my email list and receive a PDF copy of the Authorneering 101 Checklist.
- I’ve linked to the incentive’s landing page, twice so far, on which there is an opt-in box
- There is an opt-in box in the sidebar
- On the home page, I have two opt-in areas, one on top of the other
- If you’ve been on this page long enough, one will pop over the content and invite you to opt in
Here are screenshots of those opt-in boxes and short explanations of them.
In addition to my website’s main opt-in incentive, I also have several others that I post at the end of related blog posts. These are often referred to as content upgrades.
As you can see, there are numerous ways to incorporate invitations to continue being connected with you and your brand. The more of these design elements you use, the faster your email list and following will grow.
Contact and About Design Elements
Have you ever visited a blog and thought, “I wonder who this blog belongs to? Where are they? Who are they?” Trust me, readers think this and they want to know. If they can’t find out a bit about you, determine your credibility or make some sort of connection, they’ll move along. Retain your visitors by sharing a bit of information about yourself including a means by which they can contact you.
You’ll find a link to my About page in my main navigation, which is an excellent place to put it if you want people to find it easily. On that page, you’ll find my story as it relates to the purpose of this blog, as well as information about my background that supports my expertise in this area.
My Contact page can also be found in the main navigation. On this page, I’ve provided several ways for you to contact me, including an online form.
In addition to having your Contact page in your navigation, if it is important to the success of your business that visitors contact you, you can use a variety of design elements to make that information stand out.
Some blogs intentionally do not allow comments and while they have their reasons, most people like to be able to leave a comment if they have something to say. If you’re considering not allowing commenting because you want to avoid spam, then check out a few of the spam blockers like Askimet, which is available for WordPress blogs. In fact, this plugin comes with any WordPress installation.
If you’re avoiding allowing comments because you don’t want to respond to them, consider outsourcing the job and having someone moderate your posts, or just set ten minutes aside at the end of each day to respond. People like the interaction and it draws more readers.
That said, you can always compromise and set your comments to close after a set amount of time, such as 90 days.
Archives, popular posts, popular comments, tags and other associated identifier design elementsPeople search and read blogs differently. Some simply read the most recent post and move on while others search by category or tag. Some people will want to read the most popular posts and others will want to sift through your archives post by post. Provide a number of options for your visitors to search by.
I treat my categories like a Table of Contents for my blog. All my content is related to one of a handful of categories. I use tags like keywords. Together, categories and tags organize my content into logical chunks. I make my archives available through my categories, however, if I wished, I could also make them available by date. For some blogs, this would make sense because their content is tied to dates. However, my content tends to be more evergreen, so organizing by date doesn’t make much sense, which is why I don’t use that particular option.
WordPress comes with a few design elements baked right in that can be a fun way for people to explore your content, for example, a tag cloud or an interactive calendar.
Figure out the ways that your content would make the most sense, and then empower your readers to explore your content in those ways.
Social networking and bookmarking design elements
Let’s face it, social media is a powerful way to get your content out into the world. So make it easy for people to share your content on at least the major players, such as Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram and Pinterest. Digg, Reddit, and other social bookmarking sites are also a good idea. Some WordPress themes, like the one I use, come with this option built-in. Others, you’ll need to use a plugin, of which there are too many to name.
Social media design elements can be displayed at the top of your content, at the bottom, or to the side. Experiment with these options to find the one that works best not only for the look and feel of your site, but also with the effectiveness of encouraging sharing of your content.
Easy navigation and search
Your blog’s theme should come with a couple of ways to display your main navigation and include a search bar. It is important that your main navigation is organized logically and not have too many tabs. I currently have eight tabs. I recommend that you have no more than 10. Fewer is better. It organizes your content into chunks. Typical items to include in your navigation are:
- About: This is the page where you tell your story in relation to what you do for your target audience. The story may, on the surface, look like it’s about you, but it really is about what you can do for them.
- Contact: At minimum, this page should have a contact form. However, including a phone number, mailing address and email address can be a very good idea, too.
- Blog: This is where your visitors will find all your blog posts.
- Products: Do you sell things such as books, ebook, training programs? This is where your visitors will find them.
- Services: Do you provide services such as coaching, writing or editing? This is where you should list them.
- Audience segments: If you serve more than one kind of audience, it might make sense for you to organize your content by audience segment. For example, I have a client who provides the same services to teens, couples, and executives. She could easily draw members of each segment’s attention by including in here navigation such things as “For Teens,” “For Couples,” etc.
- Essential rolls: Sometimes it makes more sense to organize your site around the rolls you play in your business. For example, I’ve included “Author,” “Speaker,” and “Mentor” in my main navigation.
You want to include a search box somewhere near the top of every page, either in the navigation or the sidebar (or both. This empowers your visitors to find what they want more directly and not make them search by clicking on link after link after link, especially if they don’t necessarily think along the lines of your content’s current organization.
Two essential non-design elements
While these two items may not be design elements themselves, they can have an impact on your overall design and content.
You want to know how many people are visiting your blog, where they’re coming from, how many posts they read and how long they stay on your site. In addition, you need to know which posts are the most popular so you can learn more about your audience’s interests and leverage your high-traffic posts. Google Analytics will tell you all that and more. To make good decisions about how to grow your blog, it pays to have the kind of information an analytics tool can provide.
If you are technically savvy, you can go straight to Google Analytics’ interface and analyze the data there. However, there are also a number of plug-ins that will take the data and display it in much more easily understood formats. Check a few of them out and select that one that’s is easiest for you to understand and use.
One of the wonderful features of a blog is that it’s welcomed by the search engines due to frequent and easily indexed content. That being said, there is an abundance of quality search engine plug-ins, particularly for WordPress, which makes optimizing your posts for the search engines quick and easy. The one I recommend is Yoast. Their free version is quite powerful and can help you make sure that your posts are optimized correctly. In addition, if you join their email list, you’ll receive all kinds of tips and advice to optimizing your content.
What I find the most helpful about these types of plug-ins is that they remind you of the myriad ways you have available to optimize your content, including not only the words you use but design elements, as well.
Blogging is extremely popular and useful, and along with this popularity comes a bevy of useful tools. Take advantage of these tools, resources and design elements to grow your subscribers, profits and business.