If your blog was a car, would it pass its MOT?
As bloggers, it’s easy to focus solely on our writing or to get caught up in the never-ending cycle of promoting, reading and commenting. But how often do we pause to check whether the blog itself is in peak shape and helping readers to enjoy and follow our writing?
Here’s a quick seven-step health-check. Take a deep breath and try to answer each question through the eyes of someone visiting your blog for the first time. Or ask someone whose opinion you value to do it for you.
If the answer to any of the following questions is ‘no’, you may have scope to make easy fixes that will improve your engagement with readers.
1. Is it obvious what my blog is about?
If aliens accidentally landed on your blog, would they be able to immediately tell what it is about?
Important visual cues include: your blog title, tagline, top-level menu headings, categories and tags, perhaps even an ‘About’ profile in your sidebar.
If it’s not immediately obvious, consider adding or amending one or more of the above.
For instance, my blog header includes the tagline, ‘Three kids, one blog. Tales from the front-line of fatherhood’ alongside photos of my kids. My menu bar contains headings for the three main topics I write about: ‘A dad’s life’, ‘Nostalgia’ and ‘Blogging tips’. And on individual pages you’ll also find a handy short profile near the top of my sidebar (in addition to a more detailed ‘About page’).
2. Is my text easy to read?
Is your text large enough, clear enough and readable enough?
Not everyone is blessed with good vision: some people may have issues with colour-blindness or difficulty where there is poor contrast between text and background colours. Others may be reading on small laptop screens or other mobile devices. And that cute curly font may look great in titles but not in body text.
Also remember that white space makes a big difference to readability. Could your posts benefit from shorter paragraphs or the use of headings and photos to break up the flow of text?
3. Are my post titles and headlines compelling?
The most important words in any post are your titles and headlines. Fail to grab a reader’s attention and they may go elsewhere.
Do your titles grab attention and stand out from the crowd, compelling the would-be reader to click on your post? And do your opening lines convey what the post is about in an informative or intriguing way that invites them to read on?
If you have a tendency to write bland titles and rambling opening paragraphs, stop it. Have a look at posts you read that do a great job of drawing you in and understand what works for them. Then practise, practise, practise. Headline writing is a skill in itself. There’s a reason why newspapers use separate writers who are skilled in creating eye-catching headlines.
4. Is there a call to action?
If you’re not getting many comments from readers, consider a call to action at the end of your posts to encourage discussion.
Instead of just ending posts with a statement, invite readers to say whether they agree, share their experiences or add their own examples. And when people take the time to leave a comment, return the courtesy in kind.
5. Is it easy to comment?
To prevent spam, some blogs go to such lengths to screen out unwanted comments that they make the job of genuine commenters something of an endurance test.
We’ve all used or seen those CAPTCHA boxes which require you to input something to prove you’re a human. Some are relatively easy to use, others not so much. Personally I find them quite off-putting, and on more than one occasion I have scrapped a comment in a huff after failing to correctly input the random CAPTCHA words.
My advice is to use the minimum level of screening that you can get away with. In WordPress, I use an option where only commenters who have previously had a comment approved are automatically published – everything else gets held for moderation. Simple but effective.
6. Is it easy to follow my blog?
This is a huge bugbear of mine. I’ve lost count of the number of occasions where I’ve come across a blog I enjoy and then can’t find an easy-to-click button to allow me to subscribe to future posts.
I don’t think there’s any excuse for any blogger not to have a prominent ‘subscribe by email’ option. Having a Bloglovin button is okay but it’s not great to have this as the only option, as not everyone uses it.
If you want people to come back on a regular basis, make it easy for them.
7. Is it easy to follow me on social media?
If you have Twitter, Facebook and other social channels, is it easy for readers to follow you from your blog?
Many blog templates have built-in options that allow you to connect your social media feeds to your pages. Even if they don’t, there are hundreds of icons you can download to create your own buttons – googling ‘social media buttons WordPress/Blogger/A N Other platform’ will quickly show you what needs to be done. I’m a coding Luddite, and it only took me a few minutes.
As an additional call to action, I also include social media buttons at the bottom of every post (as you will see at the bottom of this one) that I drop in to every new post.
And that’s it. A simple seven-item checklist, each of which can be addressed easily if necessary.
Does your blog pass its MOT? And do you have any other top tips for improving the overall effectiveness of your blog?