- Friday, September 2, 2016

Bare Bones of a Kick Ass Blog

Checklist for starting a new blog, and a double-check list for existing blogs. These are the ideal bare bones of a kickass blog. 



I keep starting blogs. It's like an addiction. I'm more interested in designing a site than writing at this point, so this is going to be interesting in the future when I design a beautiful site that has no content. This is my go-to page on creating a blog, but not the planning aspect. The bare bones of a blog. The first things I must do, and must haves I should fulfill in blog design.

This is a great formula of things to include on your blog that are professional, useful, and at times, necessary. Most of this is for self-hosted wordpress blogs; however, any blogger can get use of some of these ideas for their blog. I mean the biggest difference is the plugins.

First Steps

The first steps are pretty self explanatory and require very little information beyond writer's fluff...

The main step is to decide the overall look and feel of your blog, and implement the first steps of it. What are your colors going to be? You should probably stick to 2 maybe 3 colors. Another tip, avoid dark backgrounds and light text because it's hard on the eyes. How do you want the overall vibe to be? How can you create that in design?

Think of the following things...

  • Color Scheme
  • Type of Blog Layout (magazine vs list)
  • Header and Logo
  • Images you want for each post

While thinking about the overall feel of your blog, you may decide to create a protocol of the images you'll be using with your post, both featured images and social media images. Maybe only use black and white images, or vibrant colors... Do you want images to be a photograph or one with the title in it? 

Some examples of a well thought out Blog Scheme include:


Katie Paul is a graphic artist. On her site, notice she sticks to pink and gray? Her blog post images are similar in style and design. She is so big on keeping themes, her Pinterest even sticks to the same scheme. If you want Katie's advice, she often posts in her Facebook group, Blogging Anarchy. 


This is my site, but I wanted to use it as an example. Obviously, Katie is a huge inspiration to me. She got me addicted to the watercolor look, and we both went pink around the same time. I started rebranding myself as a writer, so my overall color schemes on everything is starting to change to pink, white, and gray. Now I haven't gotten my post photos all looking alike yet, mainly because I keep forgetting what I'm doing, but my plan was to use photos by itself for the featured image, and the same photo with text for the Pinterest image. Usually I put text on all the photos, but it's time consuming, and difficult to line up when shared on Facebook. I'm slowly turning all my social media profiles to a watercolor pink and gray. 


This is a new site I'm working on, and some of the things I decided with it was a color scheme of black and white, and I'm thinking I'm going to make all the post images black and white. I decided this because the blog is informational, so I wanted to remove the fluff of color and look more professional. Plus, since most health and autism sites are blue schemed, I stand out with black and white. Since I decided a new thing with my michellegrewe blog, I went with that for this one where I use just a photograph for a featured image and add text for Pinterest. I wanted it to have a street trendy look, so I incorporated that into my logo. 

With all that said, the first steps for the bare bones are to...


  • Pick Theme Template
  • Customize Theme colors and layout
  • Design header (think logo use in the future with header) and upload
  • Design Favicon/site icon and upload

Plugins

Blogger blogs can skip this section. If you are new to blogging, you may not know all the essential plug ins everyone recommends for blogs. If you have been blogging for a while, make sure you got all these...

Basic Necessities

Subscribe

SumoMe

This is a great plug in for sharing pictures and providing a subscription pop up window or scroll window. It's highly customizable, one that is seemingly most customizable for the free version. 

Hello Bar

This is one of my favorite plugins. It puts a bar at the top of your blog for people to place their name and email to subscribe. It can forward the emails to most major email newsletter services including freebies like Mail Chimp and Vertical Response, as well as paid services like highly recommended AWeber. Actually, I found the plug in to not work well on my sites, so I entered the code manually. Just put the code they tell you above the /head part of your header. 

SEO

I have found SEO plugins to be pretty useless for SEO. Blogger doesn't do plug-ins, but my blogger blogs receive more organic searches than my Wordpress blogs, even the ones with the SEO plugins where I'm utilizing all the time-consuming data entry the plug in offers. I also noticed that I never see my keywords I enter into those plugins in my analytics and statistics that tells me what search terms bring people to my blog. Most newer SEO articles will tell you that Google is veering away from keywords and is looking for more naturally flowing posts and articles. 

Your best bet for SEO performance is to consider the things in my SEO Audit article that talks about link usage, site speed, and so forth.

I have played with a lot of SEO plugins, and these are the most common and the best of the bunch... Be careful. A lot of these plugins offer their own sitemaps which isn't as good as the sitemaps plugin I mentioned earlier. You may have to find a way to turn off these plugins sitemaps. 

SEO Ultimate 

This one is probably my favorite of the SEO bunch because it lets you do the Title and Description for search, again in Open Graph for social media, and then it lets you do links and add meta keywords. It's the only one I found that provides both SEO and Open Graph.

Yoast

This one is the most popular among bloggers. I don't think it has open graph with it, so you will want to install something for that as well.

SEO By Squirrly

This is perfect for people who don't know SEO too well. If you know how to write for SEO, this is a great plug in to remind you to make sure you have everything; however, I find it in my way. 

Social Media

You really need something open graph if you want to provide rich pins, and you want something that provides Twitter Cards. Most of the free stuff tells you that you can dictate what goes on each social media, but they lie. They don't dictate any of it. It's still hit or miss. You'll have to pay for an open graph plug in that will actually let you choose what image goes to Facebook and what image goes to Pinterest. Now the Twitter Cards will turn all the links to your post on Twitter to however you set it up (like an image with a link, small or large). 

SEO Ultimate 

This one mentioned before has both open graph features plus SEO. 

WP Social SEO Booster

This is the best I can find for simple open graph. I haven't played with its Twitter Card capabilities because I use a separate plug-in for that (mentioned below). 

JM Twitter Cards

This lets you set up your Twitter shares the way you want it. It can convert any tweet of the article to a graphic plus tweeted message. You don't see it until you tweet it. 

Click to Tweet

Click to Tweet and Better Click to Tweet lets you make twitter tweets in your text where readers can click it to tweet that specific message. Make sure to watch the character limit once you add a link.

Facebook

Facebook has an official plug in for Facebook posting. I haven't found it useful for posting specific choices to Facebook; however, if you have this plugin, you can copy and paste a status or video from Facebook, and it will automatically show it as a linkable Facebook post (not viewable except in preview or once you publish). I think it's also required if you want to include Facebook comments. 

ShareAHolic

This is a plug in to make nice share buttons at the end of a post. Other plugins feature this sort of thing, but Share A Holic is so much nicer for it. Plus it can offer Related Posts at the bottom as well. This is the one that lets you put a message over it like, "Sharing is Caring." 

Comments

Comment Luv

This is one of my favorite perks to Wordpress. This plug in lets people enter the URL of their blog and links to their most recent post (or a post of their choosing). While it allows someone to shamelessly self promote, it's great for two reasons. One: It's awesome blogging etiquette to return comments from bloggers on their blogs. This makes it easier to do that without having to search for their content. Two: It advertises like-minded blogs to your readers. Most likely, if a blogger is enjoying your content enough to post a comment, their blog is similar to yours. 
This is a plug in perfect for adding Facebook comment options. Some people use both this and Comment Luv, but you can do one or the other. 

Downloads

I used to use Download Manager to provide free downloads, but Wordpress updated and that plug in didn't, so now I'm entering actual code for downloads. Here's the How to Offer Downloads tutorial for it (it's way easier than it looks).

Widgets

Necessities:

  • Social Media Icons to Your Social Media (link to my post on it)
  • A Newsletter Sign Up
  • One or Two things you are advertising as image and link (another blog, a shop, a book)
  • Search

Other things to consider:

Featured posts

This is great if you have a magazine or newspaper style front page. If category based, consider creating a special category just for that column so that it doesn't repeat new posts.

Author Picture and Blurb

People love to see the face of the writer, and a quick blurb can tell them what you and your blog is about.

Categories or Second Menu

This might be the easiest way to get people to navigate through your blog without getting lost in a lot of tags.

Pages and Menu

Necessities:

  • About Page
  • Contact Page
  • Thank You Page for Subscription (if applicable) 

Other Options:

  • A list of links or resources
  • Categories as a page
  • About Extras like resume, portfolios, media kits, etc. 
  • Shop (you can do an external link straight to a store or provide products directly on your site with a plug in)

Things To Do

Google Webmaster Tools / Google Search Console (name changed)

  1. Add Property (you want to add both www.yourwebsite.com and yourwebsite.com)
  2. Verify Site ... follow instructions on page
  3. You can find these individually, or check your messages for Improving Search Presence, or go back to the Google Search Console and find one of the sites. Click SEE DETAILS TO IMPROVE SEARCH PRESENCE.  Choose preferred site address (best to use preferred address as opposed to the unpreferred address), target country (if it will let you), and add a sitemap (see below for finding your sitemap). Repeat target country for the other domain. 
  4. Tip: If you are verifying via a tag before /head, in wordpress, that's usually under theme header. In Blogger, it's in Edit HTML. In both, you can click CTRL F and a little box should pop up in your upper right corner of your browser with a box and search button. Type in /head, and it will highlight where /head appears in your code. Then paste the snippet before the /head. 

Bing Webmaster Tools

  1. Sign in with Microsoft Account (create one if you don't have one)
  2. Add Site
  3. Get XML address from your blog (see below for finding your sitemap)
  4. Verify Site... follow the instructions
  5. Tip: If you are verifying via a tag before /head, in wordpress, that's usually under theme header. In Blogger, it's in Edit HTML. In both, you can click CTRL F and a little box should pop up in your upper right corner of your browser with a box and search button. Type in /head, and it will highlight where /head appears in your code. Then paste the snippet before the /head. 

Finding Your Sitemap XML Address

To add a site map for Wordpress, just enter the address for your sitemap and click add. If you are using Google XML Sitemaps, go to settings on your dashboard on your blog, choose XML sitemap, copy the address, and enter the last part of the address and test or submit. Most of the time, it's webaddress/sitemap.xml. For Yoast, go to SEO and find XML Sitemap there and you can find the address from there. 

To Add a Sitemap for Blogger, type in 
after the url for your site. Such as https://mysite.com/atom.xml?redirect=false&start-index=1&max-results=500

SEO Ultimate Has A Place to Enter the Meta Data

If you decided to go with this plug in that I recommended earlier, you can enter the meta data into the plug in. Go to SEO on the left. Click Miscellaneous. At the bottom, you can enter the meta data.

Analytics

Go to the Analytics website. Click the Admin tab. Under account, scroll down to click, "New Account." Fill in the information, and click "Get Tracking ID." Agree to the terms of service.

For Self Hosted Wordpress, some plug ins allow you to enter the tracking ID in the plug in; otherwise, you can copy and paste the universal code into your theme header above the /head.

For Blogger, copy the UA number. Go to your blogger dashboard, go to settings, and click Other on the left. Scroll down to Google Analytics, and then enter the UA number in the box on the right. Save settings.

You'll need to wait a couple days for tracking to start, but check back and make sure it's tracking your account. If not, you'll need to troubleshoot.

Rich Pins

Signing up for rich pins is easy for Wordpress blogs. I'm not sure how to do it with Blogger blogs or free wordpress blogs, but for Self-Hosted Wordpress, you first need a plug in that has an open graph. Once you are sure you got open graph on your site, go to Pinterest's Validator, and enter a page to your site (one blog post, not the site's main address), and then validate. If it works right, then you can click the request for rich pins. If not, you're going to have to troubleshoot your open graph. 

Paid Services to Consider

I'm not getting any money for mentioning these. This is just what I'm learning is worth buying... 

Newsletters and Email Marketing

I use AWeber  for my email sign ups because it does what I want it to do for an affordable price, but ConvertKit looks very promising, though more expensive.

A paid email marketing service gives the following more than using a free service... 
  • The main reason I sought paid services, to provide free downloads for your email
  • More design options for your email sign up form
  • Embed code for the designed form (not just the fields)
  • Automated Emails to be delivered after people sign up (in addition to campaign emails)
  • More insights and ability to control insights
  • Opt In and Opt Out for a lot of things like confirmation email requirements
  • Thank You page and other pages a link to your site as opposed to their thing
The free service I used most was VerticalResponse because MailChimp lost my entire list forcing me to start over. Back up that list. 

Social Media Scheduling

I pay for both Tailwind for Pinterest and Buffer for all others. 

Tailwind is just slightly better than Buffer for Pinterest as it lets you schedule multiple boards instead of just one board. The Pinterest Experts really recommend it if Pinterest is a place you wish to really penetrate. They have a free trial that does not expire, and paid services start at $10 a month. 

Buffer is a low-cost scheduler that does all you really need it to do. If the picture is social media share friendly on any site, a little buffer button shows up when I hover over the image making it too easy to share on social media. Just make sure if you're wanting a link on Facebook to enter the link in the description as it only uploads the image on Facebook. 

CoSchedule is more expensive than Buffer, but I really dig their blog that if my blogs actually made enough money to cover the expense, I'd opt for this instead. 

Graphic Design List:

  • Header
  • Site Icon
  • Author Bio and Blurb
  • Newsletter Sign Up Form (special to the blog's design)
  • Ads for my things
  • Slider Pics if Sliding anything that isn't article based

REMEMBER IF YOU CHANGE YOUR THEME

Every time you change your theme, you're going to have to re-enter your snippets you pasted before /head. This includes Hello Bar, Webmaster Tools Verification, and Pinterest buttons.

Go ahead and Pin This

Bare Bones of a Kick Ass Blog: The essential plug ins and to do steps for starting a blog. If you already have a blog, check these out and make sure you did them all.