Optimizing blog posts requires a fair bit of both art and science. Over the past four+ years, and particularly after working in the WordPress.org platform since the spring of 2013, I've learned a lot both about what TO do and what NOT to do. I've also learned a great deal from regularly curating content created by others. I recently published the third edition of Blogging: A Comprehensive Beginner’s Guide, which provides guidance primarily for people who want to incorporate blogs into their organization's digital engagement efforts (generally for marketing, branding, and business development) but aren't sure where or how to begin.This piece supplements the guide by taking a deeper dive into some of the factors that are essential for optimizing blog posts. These recommendations are intended to help achieve the following objectives:
- Representing an organization and its brands in the best possible way throughout cyberspace
- Ensuring that blog content is reader friendly and promotes exploration and engagement
- Optimizing the efficiency of creating and publishing blog content
- Minimizing future maintenance, particularly of long-tail content
My suggestions are primarily focused on blogs that are part of websites built using the WordPress.org content management system (CMS), but the general principles can be applied to other blog platforms as well.
Considerations for Optimizing Blog Posts
In no particular order...
- Develop a set of standards for all posts and create templates that reflect them. Editorial and style standards would include things like post length, types and sizes of images, header font sizes and colors, the use of lists and formatting of bullets, etc. These standards ensure your posts render in a consistent, high quality way across a variety of screens and devices. Once they're finalized, convert these standards into one or more blog post templates. For most blogs this will be a single template for text-based posts, but you may also need/want different templates for other types of posts (e.g., video, audio) and things written by guest bloggers. Using templates will not only help maintain consistency across the posts, it will also make the process of creating a post much faster.
- Include an excerpt and featured image for each post. This is far less common than it should be, but it makes posts much more functional. If you use a widget or feed feature to list posts elsewhere on your website (like we do here), those elements will get displayed, creating a nice effect that's also reader friendly. They are also the elements that get pulled when a post is shared on platforms like LinkedIn, Facebook, and Google+. I like to include the lead image and excerpt at the top of each post as well, as it they provide a quick snapshot of what the piece is all about. Excerpts should be between 50 and 100 words and should recap the post without repeating too much of the text verbatim. For featured images, even if you use a large, landscape image at the top of a post, you'll want to use a square thumbnail (150w x 150h is best) for the featured image. Pick a representative image, and make sure it's something you have a right to use. See the Blogging Guide for more details.
- Create context for each post by including the post date and author name (at the top of the post). Some themes do this automatically, but if yours doesn't you can add the information manually. Author profiles are also useful for readers, especially if your blog has multiple bloggers. If your theme doesn't include an author profile feature, you can add them using a plugin like Fancier or Fanciest Author Box.
- Optimize each post for search engines (i.e., SEO). If you use a plugin like Yoast SEO, it will help guide you in incorporating the necessary elements. Essentially, you will need to identify a unique keyword for each post and ensure that keyword is in the post title, the url, and the meta description (which is an abbreviated version of the excerpt). Without keyword stuffing or detracting from the flow of the content, you'll also want to make sure it's incorporated throughout the text, including headers and in the "alt title" for images. On a related note, you'll also want to give serious thought to your post title template. If you add your organization or brand after the post title, that could produce an SEO title that's longer than Google's preferred maximum (which I believe is 70 characters).
- Create short but meaningful permalinks. The permalink (i.e., url) for each post should include some indication of the post's date (e.g., "2014/07/" for July 2014), as well as a clear but succinct set of terms to indicate what the post is about. As I noted in the Blogging Guide, you can use a URL shortener like tiny.cc, bit.ly or goo.gl to reduce the length of long addresses before sharing posts, but you should still aim to make the url as short as possible, including only the essential elements such as the date, the keyword, and other necessary words from the post title that make the url meaningful. To see what I mean, note the differences between the url of this post and its full title.
- Make post content as time insensitive as possible. I addressed the currency of the main content in the original Blogging Guide, but it's also important to think about ancillary content as well. Although it's tempting to want to include "current" material in posts (e.g., calls to action like completing a survey, or announcing an upcoming event), that content can quickly become stale and out of date. When it does, you either need to go back and delete it or run the risk of people getting turned off by items that are no longer valid.
- Include complete information for hyperlinks and images. For hyperlinked text, this means not just adding the url but taking the time to add a title too. The title will appear when someone hovers over the link, and it can be read by screen readers for those with visual impairment. Adding an "alternative title" for images is also good for those with visual impairment, and as noted above it helps optimize the post for SEO (i.e., when people search for images related to a term). You'll also want to consider whether you want to add a hyperlink to an image or incorporate a lightbox effect (if it's relatively small and people may want to view a larger version).
- Identify related posts. If your theme doesn't include this feature, you can use a plugin like YARPP (Yet Another Related Post Plugin) to list up to four similar posts at the bottom of a piece.
- Enable people to share content easily. If a sharing feature isn't integrated into your theme, you can use a plugin like ShareThis or AddThis to create a customized set of sharing options for your readers. I recommend including this feature at both the top and bottom of each post.
- Allow readers to comment on posts. You can use the standard commenting feature that comes with your blogging platform/theme, or you can integrate a global commenting tool like Disqus. See the Blogging Guide for more on allowing and managing comments, as well as this post.
- Make sure the sidebar is useful and meaningful. Most blog posts include a sidebar with related information. The sidebar is a great way to encourage readers to spend more time on your site exploring other content, in addition to inviting them to subscribe to the blog itself. Categories, tags, recent posts, and a list of blog contributors are probably the best gateways to discovering more content. You can also include an archive list, recent comments, popular posts, etc. Pick and choose the elements that make the most sense for you and your organization.
As always, I'm happy to answer any questions you may have and address anything I may have overlooked. If you are an experienced blogger, I particularly appreciate your suggesting additional considerations for optimizing blog posts.