Despite the possibility that no one is really all that invested in such, it’s time for my (roughly) biennial post concerning my thoughts on the mechanics of blogging. (You can find a past example here.) I generally stay out of other folk’s blogging exploits (ergo “biennial” and not something more invasive like “monthly), but I’ve noticed a few things that have been making me itch a bit recently, and I feel compelled to pontificate, just a smidge.
To more fully-paint the intention of this post, I should point out that the following ramblings are intended for anyone who is interested in growing the readership on their blogs. Some of you are not invested, content with expressing your thoughts and then going on with your life, and that’s fine. But even if you fall in that second category, perhaps you should stick around for a bit. You might be doing some things on your blog that are unintentionally alienating fresh visitors who would otherwise enjoy what you have to share.
And here we go…
The Thing with the “Like” Button
I understand that some bloggers aren’t fond of including a “like” button on their posts, for a variety of reasons, ranging from “I don’t want people judging me” to “it looks bad if my ‘like’ total is really low”. (And there are even some “blogging experts” out there who advise that you should skip the “like” functionality in order to avoid the low-tally possibility. Instead, you should rely on glowing comments to expand your reach. But I think those experts are wrong.)
Because here’s the thing: The majority of casual (and potentially long-term) readers on your site are not going to make a comment, even if they like a specific post. They are much more inclined to hit a “like” button rather than compose an ode to your creations. And to take this in a different but related direction, the lack of a “like” button often reads as “I don’t care about your opinion”. This is not the way to gain a following, should you seek such. You should always give folks an easy way to show their appreciation for your work.
Now, this leads us to a related, dual-angle point of consideration. There are some WordPress themes out there that do not have an option for a “like” button or they are hinky with the programming, resulting in that annoying mess where it simply says “loading” where the “like” button should appear, for hours on end. I’ve noticed this most especially with themes where the blogger is “self-hosting”. The churning cheerio of non-redemption spins away, interminably and frustratingly. I can’t show my love, and nobody appreciates being scorned for their possible affections.
If the theme you are using does not do what you want it to do, not matter how initially-clever it might be, stop compromising. Find another, more satisfying theme and let the love flow, like a bird on a wing. (And if you don’t know what your blog layout looks like to a casual reader, sign completely out of WordPress and then take a gander. Better yet, peruse your blog on a device that you haven’t used before in your blogging, thus negating any imbedded cookies that automatically revert to your view and not that of a first-time visitor.)
The Thing with the Navigation
Since we’re already discussing themes, let’s look at how effective yours might be when it comes to readers maneuvering around your site. Can they easily find what you what them to find? Can they return to the home page with just one click? Are the episodes in your serialized stories linked? Do all of your links work? In short, and if you’ll excuse the innuendo, are your buttons available and easy to push?
There are so many blogs out there with little or no navigation. I get stuck on individual blog posts with nowhere to go. I click on a link and end up with a 404 error because that page no longer exists. I find a post entitled “My Amorous Adventures in the Circus – Part 7”, which naturally intrigues me, but I cannot locate the first six parts. And the real kicker: I’m on a homepage, and there are no links to anywhere else. None.
Every individual blog post should have at least 5 navigation links: “Previous” and “Next” options so readers can peruse things chronologically or reverse-chronologically, one-click access to your home page, access to your archives, and access to your “Contact/About” page(s). These are buttons that a potentially-long term follower will use. If the buttons are missing, the follower will move on to someone else.
Every home page should have links to the critical components of your blog. If the reader is stymied by the inability to get off that first page, you can’t expect them to stick around. I’ve noticed that these “lockdown” home pages are often “static”, wherein the blogger has a non-changing home page. Static homepages are fine, but if you don’t have them set up properly and the reader is a hostage on the homepage, it doesn’t matter how stunning your author photo might be or how cleverly your bio is worded. Nobody wins in that situation.
The Thing with “Gravatar”
I see this all the time, wherein someone hasn’t properly set up their Gravatar profile. (This is the system that WordPress uses to associate your username and profile pic with your blog(s).) If you don’t follow through on this, you’re essentially anonymous to most WordPress readers. Two examples of not-good results of an incomplete Gravatar profile: One, if you click “like” on a post, and the author clicks on your thumbnail photo to see who you are, they will be taken to an empty-shell account. They cannot find you. Likewise, two, if an author uses email notifications (like I do) as a trigger to follow-up on activity on my blog, that email will be blank when it comes to contact links. I cannot find you. (For the record, if a Gravatar account is set up correctly, the notification emails contain a link to your blog homepage as well as up to three of your most popular posts.)
Bottom line, make sure your Gravatar profile is complete and pleasing. If you have no idea what this is or where to go, here’s a link from the WordPress help page.)
The Thing about Lots of Other Things
Just some random thoughts…
If you insist on using pop-ups on your blog (which I find annoying, but maybe that’s just me), make sure they are user-friendly. Don’t have that thing pop two seconds after I land on your blog; give me some time to nose around a bit before you ask me to join your email list. (Yes, you can adjust the timer. Check into it.) And give me an option to simply close the pop and investigate further. I’ve been on several blogs in just the past week wherein I couldn’t close the window without entering my email address. Suffice it to say that I won’t be going back to those blogs.
Speaking of email addresses, you might want to think twice before using a theme or plug-in that requires a potential commenter to enter such before they can make any remarks on your post. This is a bit pushy and, frankly, is essentially none of your business. Be respectful.
Be careful with your usage of the “featured post” option. Sure, we all have a few posts of which we are proud, and we naturally want folks to see them, especially if that post is a great example of similar posts to be found on your blog. But if you get too many older posts piled-up on your home page, your blog looks dated. If I’m scrolling through that page and everything has a year-stamp of 2011, I’m thinking you’re not posting anything fresh. That’s not a good look. Limit the number of “features” and rotate them out with some degree of regularity.
Be wary of those “follower stats” you see in sidebars of blogs. You might think, wow, this guy has 10,000 followers, he must be good. WordPress allows a user to link many of their social media accounts to their blog, and that total is an aggregate. Of that 10k, 5k might be on Facebook and 4.5k might be on Twitter, with only 500 on WordPress. Appearances, as always, can be deceiving. I’ve shut down that linkage so that my tally is only true WordPress followers. This is probably the most pointless paragraph in this post, but it irks me when folks inflate their actual reach.
Keep in mind that you shouldn’t just limit your “share this post” options to those platforms where you have an account. Your readers are going to be varied and have different interests. Give them the opportunity to share as they see fit. You might be surprised at the results.
And my final tidbit is somewhat obscure but has proven relevant over the last half-year or so, and it has been noticed by other bloggers as well. I’m one of those folks who immediately checks The Reader to make sure that my post is appearing in the refreshed list. When it doesn’t, I mildly panic. Turns out, 97% of the time the issue is that WordPress has unfollowed me from my own blog. (I certainly didn’t do it.) If you aren’t following your own blog, you can’t see new posts in The Reader. I refollow, and everything is groovy. Sometimes this happens as frequently as two or three times a week. So, keep an eye on your follower status. (And yes, I’ve reported this to WordPress, but I haven’t heard a word back. Maybe their Gravatar profile is incomplete?)
If you’re still with me at this point in the post, thank you for your gumption. I know this mess was lacking the typical Bonnywood whimsy, but I firmly believe that we’re all in this together, despite our variances, and we should do what we can to help each other out. Unless you have pop-ups that I can’t close. Not so fond of that.