This instalment of the blogging toolbox series covers the content we publish on our blogs, including copyright issues and writing tools. The other posts in the series are:
- Blogging Toolbox I: WordPress
- Blogging Toolbox II: Images & Design
- Blogging Toolbox IV: Growth & Search Engine Optimization (SEO)
Table of Contents
Besides your posts, your blog can have static pages, which don’t show up in the WordPress Reader when you publish them. One of the reasons that I decided to move the blogging toolbox from a page to a series of posts was that it made more sense to have this kind of content accessible within the Reader.
Some bloggers display their blog posts on their home page, while others (like me) display their posts on a separate blog posts page. If your blog is simply a blog, then I think it works well to display your posts on your home page, whereas if you’ve got other things going on as well that you want to let visitors know about, having a separate blog posts page can be a good way to go. You can change this in My Sites > Settings > Reading.
While your blog posts are probably written at least in part for you, your About page is there for your readers. I’ve come across some people who say that the About page is the first thing they look at when checking out a new blog, and they’ll decide based on that whether they want to follow your blog, so it’s your chance to make a good first impression. You can focus the About page on you, the blog, or a mix of both.
It’s easy to forget about your About page, but it’s worth coming back to every so often to freshen it up and make sure that it still applies to you.
If you want people to be able to contact you aside from just commenting in your posts, using a contact form rather than giving your email address may help to cut down on the potential for getting blasted with spam. You don’t have to have a separate contact page for this, but having a dedicated page and including it in your site’s menu can make it easier for people to find.
If you’re able to use plugins on your site (i.e. if you’re self-hosted or on the WordPress.com Pro or Business plans), the CoBlocks plugin includes a form block that lets you add a Google ReCAPTCHA. This can cut down on the bot spam you get through your form. To implement this, you need to register your site with ReCAPTCHA. The downside is that using it slows down your site – not just the page where you’re using the form, but the whole site.
Privacy, Terms and Conditions
Most blogs don’t need a privacy or terms and conditions page, but you might if you’re using affiliate links or if you’re using Google Analytics to collect data about people who visit your site. You can also use this kind of page for things like a blurb about copyright, a disclaimer that you’re not providing medical advice, or a commenting policy.
There are lots of templates you can find online. My own page is a bit of a dog’s breakfast of bits I’ve pulled from a few different places.
How long should your posts be? As long as you want them to be, really. Some people don’t like reading long posts, but it’s your blog, and you can write as much or as little as you want.
The longer a post is, the more important readability becomes. For me, short paragraphs are key to being able to read a post. If a 1000-word post is crammed into a single paragraph, I’m not going to even try to read that. Breaking up longer posts with headings and/or images also makes it easier for the reader to follow along, and headings make it easier for readers to skip over chunks that are less relevant to them.
For search engine optimization (SEO) purposes, longer is generally better, but short posts can still do well in search results. Writing for your readers will probably serve you a lot better than trying to write for search engines.
The best title for a post depends on who your main target audience is. If the focus is on your existing readers, creative but not particularly descriptive is just fine, as is a title that you reuse for every post in a series.
If you’re trying to bring in new readers, particularly if you’re trying to draw traffic from search engines, it should be clear from your title what your post is about, and you might want to consider what people might type into Google if they’re searching for a post like yours. If you have a Silly Sunday series and each post is Silly Sunday Week 1 through Silly Sunday 50, those individual posts with basically the same title aren’t going to do well in search results.
Overall, I find that titles containing questions seem to do well. I’ve read that titles containing numbers do well, although I’m not generally a fan personally. Perhaps it’s because I find it rather tedious looking at Pinterest and seeing 5 gazillion pins linking to posts along the lines of “8 Morning Habits that That Will Completely Change Your Life.”
I get a lot of ideas from reading other bloggers’ posts. It might be the main topic of their post that inspires, or it might be some little tidbit that catches my attention. Copying someone’s work is plagiarism, but borrowing a topic and writing your own spin on it is inspiration. If I can remember, I like to credit the blogger for the inspiration.
There are also plenty of prompts out there in the WordPress community that you can use, and these can be a good way to meet other bloggers.
For me, other blogs are probably the steadiest source of ideas, and I would guess that I get inspired by tidbits more often than the main topic. Unless we all crash and burn at the same time, I see this as an idea source that keeps perpetually renewing itself. Other ways to get ideas are Google Trends, which shows you search terms that are popular, and Hubspot’s blog ideas generator, which will come up with potential titles based on 1-5 nouns you enter.
More posts on blogging
- How Do You Use Tags and Categories on Your Blog?
- Should You Stick to a Single Blogging Niche?
- What Are Your Blogging Insecurities?
- You Don’t Need External Recognition to Be a Good Blogger
Copyright and Plagiarism
You automatically have copyright over the content that you produce. If you want, you can put a statement on your site asserting your copyright (e.g. © 2020 YourNameHere, all rights reserved), but it’s not required to establish your copyright.
If you’re willing to allow sharing of some or all of your content under certain terms, you may want to check out Creative Commons. One of their licenses might be a good fit for your site.
The Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) is a piece of American legislation that allows copyright holders to submit a DMCA takedown notice to the website’s host, and then the host is able to remove it. For sites hosted on WordPress.com, you can find out how to do a DMCA notice on Automattic’s Copyright Page. For sites hosted on Google, visit their Removing Content From Google page. If you’re unsure of where the site is hosted, you can use a tool like the DomainTools Whois lookup of Hosting Checker.
If some random sketchy site publishes one of your posts and identifies your site as the source, then it may not be plagiarism, as they’re not claiming to be the author, but it’s still a copyright violation.
Copyright also applies to “derivative work”, meaning altered versions of your original content. I was looking into this recently when a site was publishing my content after running it through some kind of automated rephrasing tool (turning Mental Health @ Home into Psychological Well Being at Dwelling). I had wondered if it would still be considered a copyright violation given that it had changed a lot of words, but it turns out that yes, it is.
In terms of finding out when your content has been stolen, if you have internal links in your post and the content thief doesn’t remove those links before publishing, you might get a pingback. If you use any backlink-checking tools, you might also discover stolen content that way.
Unless your blog is set to private, it generates an RSS feed that allows it to be read in feed readers like the WordPress.com Reader, Bloglovin, Feedly, etc. If you only want post excerpts to show up in your feed, you can set this up under My Sites > Settings > Reading. Just change “For each post in a feed, include” from “full text” to “excerpt”.
The issue of copyright seems to be a bit murky when it comes to feed readers. Your content is still copyrighted even if you publish an RSS feed, but I think there are a few differences between what would be acceptable use of your content by a feed reader and copyright violation by a site that’s scraping your content. A legit feed reader will only show an excerpt if that’s how you’ve set up your RSS feed, it will be very clear that your site is where the content lives, and it won’t show up in search results and compete with your original content.
Maintaining Your Blog
If you’ve been blogging for a while, you can easily start to accumulate posts and media that aren’t adding anything to your blog on an ongoing basis. It can be nice to do a clear-out every so often.
Some ideas for regular maintenance include:
- Clean up your categories & tags: It’s very easy to accumulate massive numbers of these. If they’re not helping you to stay organized and/or helping your readers to navigate, get rid of them.
- Check for broken links: Websites move or shut down, and having a link pointing to something that’s no longer there doesn’t do any good. Internet Marketing Ninjas has a handy online tool, although it has a limit on the number of pages it will check. If you have a Mac, Integrity is a free downloadable tool that can check your entire site.
- Link-building: You can create internal links between your old and new content. This helps readers to find useful related content on your site, plus it’s good for SEO.
- Update old posts: You can create new graphics, improve the organization using H2 & H3 headers, and add internal links to your newer relevant content. If you have older posts that are already getting a stream of visitors, that’s probably a good place to start with your updating project.
It’s also a good idea to take a look at your pages on your actual site every so often rather than just looking at them in the editor, to make sure nothing unexpected is going on.
There are a number of tools available that can your blogging life a little easier.
- Cliché Finder: paste in text, and it will point out any parts of it that are highly clichéd
- Grammarly | ProWritingAid | Ginger (thanks to Renard for mentioning this): Chrome plugins to check your text
- Grammark | GrammarCheck | Hemingway App: copy and paste text into their website
- OneLook Thesaurus: input single words or phrases
The Grammarly plugin for Google Chrome doesn’t play nice with the default view of the WordPress.com block editor. For it to work, you need to use the classic wp-admin view. In the browser version of WordPress, when you’re looking at your posts list, near the top right corner, you’ll see “View ▾”. Click that, then select “classic view”. Then when you open individual posts you’ll be able to see Grammarly suggestions.
My Anti-Rules for Writing
Write every day
Apparently, this is something you’re supposed to do in order to grow as a writer. That’s fine if a) you’ve got free time on your hands, b) have boundless creativity, and/or c) you don’t have a mental illness. The reality is that for some people writing every day is not going to be realistic or desirable. We all have our unique writing process, and whatever works for you is just fine.
Have a writing ritual
If a ritual or a certain writing environment helps you, that’s great. But no matter how wonderful the ritual, it’s not going to help you avoid the occasional writer’s block, creative burnout, or flare-up of illness. Try to be flexible and allow yourself to go with the flow, even if sometimes that doesn’t seem to be getting you anywhere.
Write consistently within your niche
Your blog is your space to write about whatever you want; niche down if you want, but you certainly don’t have to. Sure, maybe not all of your readers are going to be interested in reading all the different topics that you cover, but that’s okay. They’re perfectly capable of picking and choosing what they want to read. You do you.
Write about the topics that generate the most traffic
Some people will say that you should write based on what your readers want to read, and which of your past posts have done the best. To me, that sounds like a crappy way to approach blogging. It would be one thing if you had a business-oriented site and the blogging was just a side thing to draw people in, but if you’re actually participating in the blogging community, you’re better off being your genuine self and letting that shine through in your blog.
If you write about what you’re interested in and what you care about, that’s going to show up in what you write. The more you’re interested in and enjoying your topics are, the easier it will be for blogging to be sustainable for you over the long haul.
Make sure your writing is fully SEO optimized
There’s nothing wrong with trying to boost your SEO, but letting it dictate your writing makes for a not-so-nice writing experience. Write what you want to write, and tweak for SEO afterwards.
Revise until it’s perfect
You can fuss over a post until the cows come home and chances are it still won’t be perfect, because there really is no perfect. I say just go right ahead and publish it, mistakes and all. As long as it’s not such a dog’s breakfast that it’s unreadable no one is going to get worked up over it. And if they do, that’s their problem, not yours.
And finally, remember, it’s okay to blog your way, and you don’t have to follow anyone’s rules.
Are there any tips or tools that you’d like to share?