When you’re a new blogger, it can be tricky to figure out where to start and what’s most important. It’s really easy to get stuck on details and not do the most important thing: share your content! Find a way to ignore the urge to tweak your site forever, instead of posting. You can change your blog anytime you want. What you start with on day one almost certainly won’t be what you have on day 100, and that’s not only okay, it’s great.
Whether you’re a new blogger or not, consider the five following suggestions to help your blog level up.
Register a Custom Domain
Instead of using a free site address with wordpress.com, blogspot.com, or similar in the URL, register your own custom domain name. It’s easier to start off with your longterm, custom URL, instead of switching later (and having your links change too).
Domains are a small investment and a great first step. (And you can even still host your site at WordPress.com if you want.) The key is: no matter where you host your site, or how you create it (with WordPress, Squarespace, Blogger, etc.) your readers will always be able to find you because they’ll access your site using your custom domain name, not an address specific to your host.
If you’ve got a Google account, I like registering domains with them from here: domains.google.com. (They’re affordable, easy to control, and include privacy — a must have!)
Edit Your Permalink Structure
If your site runs on a self-hosted WordPress install, your permalinks will start out like this: yourdomain.com/?p=123. It works, but it’s not great for describing your post to readers at-a-glance or your SEO. Instead, consider changing your permalinks to: yourdomain.com/post-title. Or if your content is time-specific, you could include the date: yourdomain.com/date/post-title.
To change your permalinks in your WordPress dashboard, go to Settings > Permalinks, then choose a new structure or create your own (just make sure it ends with /%postname%/).
For this blog, since the content is more evergreen and not very date-specific, I chose to use the post title only, so I’ve set it to the “Post name” option shown above.
Edit the post slug.
What’s a post slug, you ask? It’s “a few lowercase words separated by dashes, describing a post and usually derived from the post title to create a user-friendly permalink.” (Thanks, WordPress Glossary!) It’s the words (based on the post title) you see at the end of my permalinks.
Super-long slugs, like the one I automatically got with this post, are unwieldy and annoy search engines, so once you’ve got your title in place and your post is written, shorten the slug. Remove words like a, an, the, as, and if, or change it to something more likely to be searched, and leave only a few keywords as your entire post slug.
For this post, I started out with this post URL:
And after editing the slug, I decided on this post URL:
If you can get it down to two or three words, great! You want to find a balance between descriptive and simple.
Upload Your Own Favicon
The favicon is that little tiny icon that shows up on the tab of your browser next to a site title. Until you add your own, it’s probably blank or, worse, displaying the icon for your site’s host.
Since WordPress 4.3, you can add a favicon (called a “site icon”) right in your WordPress dashboard. Go to Appearance > Customize, then click Site Identity (or Site Title, Tagline, and Logo) in the Customizer. Upload your (512px square) site icon and save, then it’ll appear in your browser tab when you refresh.
Use Plugins and Widgets Carefully
There are a zillion plugins and widgets out there, so it’s easy to go totally overboard on both. But don’t!
For plugins, you should only add the ones you need and remove any that you’re no longer using. (Don’t just deactivate. Uninstall.) Each plugin is a potential security hole into your site and an opportunity to slow it down, so it’s best to limit them and use the ones that are well-reviewed, recently updated, and frequently installed. You can find all of that information to help you decide, by checking out plugins in the WordPress.org Plugin Directory. It’s not a guarantee that a plugin is 100% secure, but it’s a good way to minimize your chances of using a bad one.
Always keep your plugins to the ones you really need and make sure to update them anytime you see an update available. (Be sure to also keep your WordPress software updated too!)
Widgets are less of an issue in the security sense, but they can quickly clutter up your site and distract people from your most important content. When choosing your widgets, think about what you like to find in a sidebar or other widget area when you visit a site. Consider adding some of this information using widgets:
- a photo of you
- an about blurb to welcome readers to your blog
- social media icons
- embeds of your social feeds
- a search bar
- your most popular posts or links to your top categories
- a way to subscribe to your blog
And on the flipside, consider not adding: a stats counter, a list of recent posts (that are already showing in full on your front blog page anyway), that social media timeline for the account you don’t really use or doesn’t fit with your blog’s focus, and advertisements (or limit them a lot).
Add Formatting To Your Posts
First, be sure to avoid overly long blocks of text. As a new blogger, you’ve probably got a lot to say, but split it up. A paragraph should usually be between 3-8 sentences, with five being a good sweet spot. On the web, it’s important to consider the number of characters on a line, too. Try making your lines 50-80 characters in length, and your paragraphs closer to 3-5 lines.
Why? Because longer line length and more lines in a paragraph can make it difficult for a reader to move from line to line or to skim your post. And they will skim your post. So…
Make Your Posts Skimmable
Add headings, bolded text, italicized text, lists, images, infographics, links, and other variations in your formatting to break up big ol’ blocks of text. Use a large enough font in a dark enough color that it’s easy to quickly read. (The number one font problem I see happening lately? Small, light gray text on a white background.)
However, don’t change fonts or paragraph text color in the middle of a post, and please don’t randomly underline text (that’s used for links on the web so underlined text that isn’t linked is odd). I also recommend not centering your paragraph text. There’s a reason books aren’t center aligned. It’s hard to read for more than a few lines.
And don’t forget the white space! Posts are easier to read when your words have some breathing room.
New Blogger? Not anymore!
Questions? Send me an email from the Contact page anytime!