What’s on your blog? You’ve got a few posts of course. Maybe a sign-up box. But are there blog elements you’re missing? More importantly, are you leaving out anything that could be getting you more results?
There are a few basic components almost all successful blogs share. These are the widgets, share buttons, and other mechanics of the blog. They’re more grounded in tactics than strategy, except in one key sense.
The overall strategy is to keep people on your blog once they’re there. And as you keep them there, reading happily, you give them opportunities to know you better. That’s where the sign-up boxes come in. Where the white paper downloads and the calculators and all the other “let’s nudge you along the sales funnel” magic goes down.
In other words, your blog is a soft-sell environment. A very, very soft sell, but that is what’s going on in the background. It’s the very definition of content marketing, which is to provide content that attracts and engages an audience, educating them while entertaining them. So when the day comes that they need what you sell, they’ll think of you first.
All the little widgets and buttons on your blog should support that long-term goal. So let’s make sure you’ve got everything you need to make the magic happen.
1) A search box.
Please don’t make us go to Google.com and finagle with the “site:” operator to find information on your site. A simple search box makes life so much easier. In most WordPress setups, it takes about 15 minutes to add one. It’s free, too. J
Just make sure it works properly. Some search box installations don’t actually return the information they should. If that’s happening on your site, please scrounge up the time (or money) to have a developer look at what’s going on and fix it. Otherwise, people will be looking for content you’ve got, but they won’t find it. That’s a painful waste of a lot of work and resources, and a lost opportunity, as they go elsewhere to find what they’re looking for.
Of course, you don’t have to add a search box to the navigation column. Some blogs fit it into the header area, as SEMRush has done here:
2) Excerpts, aka “post snippets.”
These are used on the main page of your blog. They’re two or three sentences of teaser copy (sometimes the first two or three sentences of the post) that give people more information about what the post will be like. Some people copy over the post’s meta description.
Why use them? Several reasons:
- They make it easier for users to scan your posts so they can choose whatever is of most interest to them.
- They don’t force your visitors to look at a wall of text. The short bits of text give the subtle impression that everything here will be easy to read. In other words, they make your main page look more inviting.
- They don’t increase the amount of duplicate content you’ve got on your site. Having the full version of your posts appear on the main page, and then again on each post’s individual page is not a good idea. It’s not going to destroy your SEO, but it doesn’t help the cause.
3) A most popular posts widget.
First-time visitors to your blog are looking for a place to start. So give it to them. Put a “most popular posts”widget in the navigation column, like this one from MarketingProfs:
4) A recent posts widget.
This is similar to the most popular posts widget, but with an important difference. It helps visitors sort through all the information you’re throwing at them to find what’s new. A list of recent posts might seem a whiff redundant on the main page of your blog but keep it there anyway as a shortcut.
The recent posts widget is even more important on the individual pages of your blog. Why? ‘Cause most people won’t access your blog through the main page. They’ll come at it through the backroads – via the interior pages. So include a recent posts widget on every page of your blog. That way, no matter which page people see first, they can have someplace interesting to go to next.
5) Social sharing buttons.
These are the buttons with the share counts (except for the darn Twitter button, of course) that appear on each individual blog post’s page. Different blogs put these buttons in different places.
CoSchedule did an interesting study recently that looked into which social sharing buttons positions get the most results. They found the sweet spot to be above or to the left of the content.
This works mostly because it makes the sharing buttons prominent. It also works with the F-shaped pattern people tend to view webpages with:
6) Social follow buttons.
If you want people to share your content, you add social sharing buttons, as discussed above. If you want them to follow you on your social media accounts, that takes a different kind of button.
Social follow buttons tend to get put in both the header area and in the footer. You want them in both places so people won’t have to hunt around to find them if they decide to follow you.
Most sites just use the social platform icons and leave it at that. Some sites might add a bit of copy to encourage a few follows. Very few sites take it to the length that The Content Marketing Institute has:
This is a prime example of the psychological principle of social proof. What’s that? It’s basically that people are more likely to think something is good if they can see that lots of other people think it’s good. 153,091 email subscribers can’t be wrong, right?
Please don’t turn off the comments on your blog. They’re one of the core functionalities that make a blog a blog. If you’re worried about comment spam, use a WordPress plugin like Akismet to handle the deluge. Akismet can do the lion’s share of the work for keeping the spam manageable. It’s free for up to 50,000 spam comments a month.
Comments are a good thing for several reasons. They add content to your pages, which supports your SEO efforts. They’re also an important way to develop a community and encourage dialogue. And they give you insights into what your readers think.
Neil Patel urges his readers to use threaded comments. He says they “will typically increase the number of comments you receive per post by 16% to 33%.” He also advises against using Facebook comments on your posts. That’s because Facebook – not you – will actually own those comments.
8) Header images.
This is more specific to individual blog posts than to the blog as whole, but it’s so important that I’m including it anyway. All your blog posts need to have header images. At the very least, do this so your posts will have a default featured image when someone shares them, like this:
Note the URL in the bottom corner and how the post’s title is clearly readable, even if it was compressed to an inch wide.
9) Calls to action.
Both your overall blog and its individual posts need calls to action. This is the #1 way to turn your blog from just a publishing effort to an actual lead generation and business generation machine. Don’t skip it.
Here’s an example of adding several calls to action, both in the header area and in the right column:
10) Related posts.
These are essential for blog stickiness. Otherwise, when someone has finished reading a post, they’ll have nowhere to go. So give them a suggestion for what to read next:
11) Gated content, aka “content upgrades.”
Here’s your lead gen driver. Whether they’re white papers, case studies, research reports, recorded webinars or anything else, gate your high-value content with a form and put it on a landing page that tells people who should read it and why it’s valuable to them. Sprinkle links to gated content throughout your blog. Use them as:
- Direct links from the text of your blog posts.
- Links from related content (with images) at the close of your posts.
- A full promotion (link the image and a bit of text) at the close of your posts (look for one at the end of this post, too).
- A stand-alone promo in the sidebar.
- Like content advertisements, in the middle of paragraphs within your posts.
12) An email opt-in box.
Don’t think this isn’t important just because it’s towards the end of the list. Your email list is a powerful part of making your blog profitable. Why? Because most of the visitors to your site will never come back. It’s sad, but true. Getting the email address of even a few of those visitors can be the difference between positive and negative ROI.
So get your email opt-in box on. I like to see them near the top of the page, in the navigation column, and then again in the footer area. If you want to add a pop-up that shows after someone’s been on your site for a few minutes, that’s A-OK. Pop-ups often get half of all email subscribers.
Please also follow email opt-in box best practices:
- Offer something in exchange for the sign-up. Or at least make a compelling case for why they should sign up.
- Embed the actual opt-in form into your promo. Don’t make people click through to a second page.
- Try something besides “Subscribe” on the opt-in button.
- Make your opt-in box stand out.
13) An RSS feed.
Plenty of people prefer RSS feeds to email sign ups. You should have both, just to capture that second group of readers. All it takes is a wee button, anyways:
14) A mobile-friendly design.
Sorry to harp on the mobile thing again, but it matters. There are more people surfing the web on mobile devices than on desktops. And yet, many websites are still not quite mobile friendly, as DemandWave revealed in their just-published 2016 State of B2B Digital Marketing:
This doesn’t usually make the list of “must-have elements for blogs,” but I think it should. The whole point is to get people to read your posts, right? So let’s be conscious about making it a nice experience.
There are several ways to achieve good readability. You’ll need a pinch of all of these to achieve it:
- White space. Give that text some air!
- A clear, legible typeface in a size large enough to be read… even by older readers… and even on mobile devices.
- Put your type in a dark enough color for it to be easy to read, and preferably with only a white background.
- Formatting for scanners. This includes subheaders, short paragraphs, and bullet points. Some blogs also bold key terms.
- Enough images for a visual break now and then.
Now you know which elements to add to your blog to support your long-term goals. Mix in some great content, a bit of promotion, and some SEO and you should be good to go – if you follow it all up with some careful tracking and tweak accordingly. That’s how the marketers who get results from their blogs make it happen.
What do you think?
Is there anything missing from this list? Tell us about it in the comments.
In this new digital landscape, writers and content marketers are key players in the search optimization equation, but most don’t yet know the rules of the SEO road. Act-On’s guide, “How to Make Any Content SEO-Friendly,” will show you everything you need to know to make your content SEO-friendly.