This is a guest contribution from Ali Luke.
Are you unintentionally sabotaging your blog’s chances of success?
It can be really tough just to keep your head above water when you’re blogging. There’s so much great advice out there – and so many things you could be doing.
It’s also easy to get things wrong. That’s a perfectly natural part of learning, and one that every blogger goes through. (I cringe to look back at my earlier, now abandoned, blogs.)
It takes time to build a successful blog. But you don’t want to end up taking years longer than you need to.
What not to do on your blog
Here are eight critical mistakes you need to avoid:
Mistake #1: Posting at Very Irregular Intervals
Do you go through phases of posting daily … only to exhaust yourself and run out of ideas after a couple of weeks?
This is frustrating for readers. They never get to know what to expect from you. One minute, they’re being overwhelmed with hastily written content – the next, you seem to have disappeared.
There’s no rule about how often you should post. Some successful blogs have daily posts, or even multiple posts per day. Others publish once a week (like Boost Blog Traffic) or even less. What matters is that you’re consistent.
I’ll admit that, after the best part of a decade blogging, I’ve been through a rather patchy spell of posting over the past three years. (I do have two very good reasons why. They’re small, cute, noisy, and have a tendency to wake me up in the middle of the night.)
If you also have or are about to have very young children, consider taking some time away from your blog. Let readers know that you’ll be gone for a few weeks or months. This gives you a breathing space to focus on family life – and to build up a stock of blog posts for once you start blogging again.
Mistake #2: Having a Broken or Amateur Design
When you’re taking your first steps into blogging, you may well use whatever default design comes with your blog platform of choice, or a free one that you like.
As you start to grow your blog, though, remember that the way your blog looks will affect whether or not readers trust you – and your content. You may well be a fantastic writer, but if your posts are hard to read and your blog design looks sloppy (or doesn’t even work properly) then readers won’t stick around.
The way your blog looks, what it makes people feel, what it calls people to do is vital, and it has a huge impact on your blog and how it’s seen.
Chances are, you’re not a photographer or designer. It’s worth saving up so you can get some professional design work done – and as your blog grows even bigger, you might want to consider a professional photo shoot.
Some of the key areas where blog design goes wrong are:
Sidebars: get rid of any widgets that aren’t pulling their weight, and fix any that are broken or look weird. See Mistake #7 for more on this.
Font types and sizes: I’m no expert here, but I’ve learned to avoid Times New Roman, Comic Sans, and Papyrus (thanks, designer pals!) and to make sure the font size is large enough for comfortable reading.
Headers / logos / banners: if you pay for one thing, make it this. You might be able to do a trade or find a talented friend to help (my fantastic sister created my blog’s new header, in return from the Game of Thrones season 5 box set).
Mistake #3: Forgetting About New Readers
We spend a lot of time trying to get new readers, but at the same time, we tend to forget to help them find their way around.
New readers will want to know:
What your blog is all about – a tagline in your header can help a lot here.
Who you are – make sure you have an About page, and consider an About widget in your sidebar.
Where to find you on social media – include this somewhere prominent.
How to find their way around your blog – a “Start Here” or “New Here?” page is really handy.
There are other, subtler ways to make sure you include new readers. For instance, include links in newer posts to older ones where relevant, especially if you want to cue readers into something that’s been a long-term project (like a series of posts, or a book-in-progress).
If someone leaves a comment for the first time, welcome them to your blog! (Many people will say something like “this is my first time commenting…” or “I’ve just found your great blog…”.) You might even want to drop them an email to thank them for commenting.
Imagine you’re coming to your blog for the first time: open it up in your browser. Is it clear who the blog is for? Can you easily find pages like “About” and “Contact”? If possible, get a friend who’s not familiar with your blog to take a look and give you their first impressions – and tell them not to hold back.
Make a list of things you want to change, e.g.:
Update the About page – and keep it up to date.
Create a “Start Here” page that links to my most popular posts.
Make an easy-to-use archive.
Schedule some time to get these done, during the next few weeks.
Mistake #4: Not Having an Email Newsletter
I launched my email newsletter early on in my blogging life – but I see plenty of bloggers kicking themselves for not starting theirs sooner.
There are plenty of reasons why you might not have set up an email newsletter yet. The most common ones are “It will cost too much,” “I don’t know how” and “I don’t know what to write about.”
Just as with learning to blog, learning the ins and outs of email newsletters takes a bit of time – but both MailChimp and AWeber take you step-by-step through what you need to do to get your email list set up. There are also tons of written and video tutorials that can help you.
In terms of content, you can simply send out your blog posts by email (as Michael Hyatt does) or a teaser with a link to your blog post (as Jon Morrow does). Or, if you prefer, you can write content that’s exclusively for your newsletter subscribers (as K.M. Weiland does). You’ll also have the flexibility to send out other emails (e.g. promoting a product or service).
If you haven’t yet set up an email newsletter, make this a priority. Select a service (MailChimp and AWeber are both popular and reasonably similar in how they work) and place the sign-up form prominently in your sidebar.
You might also want to create a landing page where readers can find out more about your newsletter, and sign up – this gives you a chance to “sell” them on your newsletter.
Mistake #5: Not Offering a Sign-Up Incentive
I made this mistake for ages after launching my blog. I figured that my newsletter itself should be the incentive: I didn’t want people signing up just to get a freebie.
However, people often need do an incentive to hand over their email address – and something like a free ebook, ecourse, checklist, cheat sheet, or video can really help.
Once I started offering free mini-ebooks, sign-ups quickly increased – but my open rate and response rate didn’t drop much. My new readers were still engaged with the newsletter.
A sign-up incentive also gives you a great way to promote your email newsletter elsewhere – such as in the bio of your guest posts on other blogs. “Join my newsletter list here and get exclusive writing tips to your inbox” might get you a few people, but not as many as, “Get my free mini-ebook Time to Write when you join my newsletter list here.”
Brainstorm some ideas for your sign-up incentive. Keep it short and simple – an entire book might seem really generous, but it will take you forever to write, and people may not even bother reading it.
A checklist, mini-ebook, short guide, worksheet, or similar can work just fine. You could even create a bunch of different incentives to use as “content upgrades” on relevant blog posts.
Mistake #6: Forgetting to Include Calls to Action
During my years in the blogging world, I’ve reviewed a lot of blog posts for a lot of different bloggers. The most consistent mistake I see is people leaving off the end of their blog post entirely. They don’t have any conclusion – or, if they do, it doesn’t contain a call to action.
A “call to action” is simply you asking your reader to do something. You might invite them to leave a comment, share your post, move on to read another post … or even buy one of your products.
Some bloggers worry that this could come across as a bit needy or pushy, but in reality, readers will often welcome a bit of direction. For instance, they might want to comment but not know what to write: if you ask a specific question, this makes it easier for them to engage.
Every time you write a post, ask yourself “what do I want readers to do after reading this post?” You might even want to consider this when you’re planning the post, as ideally, the call to action should follow on logically from the rest of the piece.
You could also go back to older posts and check that they end with a clear call to action. Those posts will still get read – by people coming from search engines and by people digging into your blog’s archives or following links from other posts.
Mistake #7: Having a Cluttered Sidebar
Even blogs with gorgeous designs can end up with cluttered sidebars, over time. You begin with a bunch of widgets that (initially) make sense, and occasionally, you decide you need to add in something new.
The end result looks incredibly cluttered: new stuff keeps getting added, but old stuff never gets taken down. Worse still, some widgets may become outdated and stop working altogether.
This doesn’t do anything to add to the visual appeal of your blog … and irrelevant widgets will distract readers from the actions that you actually want them to take.
Go through every widget on your sidebar and ask yourself whether you really want it. Some good culprits for removal are:
The WordPress meta widget – this comes installed by default: remove it! Having it in your sidebar marks you out as an amateur, and could confuse readers. If you have it there so readers can get the RSS link for your blog, make a separate widget just for that link and make it much more prominent.
A tag cloud – fiddly to use and with a tendency to look messy. Thankfully, these seem to have gone out of fashion over the past few years.
A calendar of posts – also fiddly to use. (These tend to show the days of the current month, with hyperlinked numbers for days when you posted.) If you’ve ended up writing few / no posts recently, it makes that more obvious to your readers than you might like.
A list of categories – OK if you have a smallish, sensible set of categories; less useful if you have a huge number of old ones that have a couple of posts each in them.
Mistake #8: Over-Promising in Your Blog Post Titles
While I’m a huge fan of writing compelling titles for your posts, I’m not a fan of posts that have hyped-up titles or that are “clickbait”.
If I come across a post titled “The Ultimate Guide to Guest Posting: A Huge Round-Up of Expert Advice and Links”, I’m obviously going to be a bit disappointed if it’s a basic list of tips by someone who appears not to have ever written a guest post in their life, with a couple of quotes from posts by their friends, and a handful of affiliate links to dubious-looking products.
I’m sure you’re not going that far with hype vs reality in your titles and posts, but do make sure that you’re living up to the promises that you make.
Spend longer on your posts, if you can: it’s normally better to post one really good piece every week than to rush out three or four half-hearted ones.
When you’re coming up with a title, keep an eye on your adjectives. By all means use them, but make sure they’re not going to give the wrong impression. If you’ve written a short, basic post for beginners, “Ten Simple Tips…” will reflect the content better than “Blogging Secrets Revealed: Ten Little-Known Tips…”
Of course, all bloggers make mistakes. It’s the only way to learn. What matters is that you do keep learning – that you take an occasional step back to look at what you’re doing with your blog, and to adjust course or make tweaks where necessary.
What’s the biggest mistake you’ve made in your blogging – or the most common mistake you see other bloggers making? Share it with us in the comments!