There is no one right way to blog, but it’s always good to have some tools to help us out. This blogging toolbox isn’t about telling you how you should run your blog; it contains tools and tips that will be useful to regular bloggers. Forget the rules; you do you is the best advice I can possibly give.
Not all of the tools contained on this page will be relevant to every blogger; for example, if you don’t know or care what SEO is, there’s nothing wrong with that. Take what works for you, and leave the rest. Your blog should work for you.
Blogging Toolbox Outline
Blogging Toolbox: The Basics
When you’re first getting started with blogging, you’ll probably hear other bloggers mention things that will puzzle you at first, until eventually, you figure them out. Here are posts I’ve done on some basic getting-started topics.
- About page
- Blog awards
- Categories & tags
- HTML anchors for on-page navigation
- Niche – should you have one?
- Pages vs posts
- Post length
- WordPress Plugins | Theme | WP Reader – love it or hate it?
My main piece of advice would be to ditch the shoulds, and you do you when it comes to your blog. That’s important for blogging sustainably and avoiding blogger burnout.
Everyone has a different style of planning/approaching their content. I schedule everything.
Some types of content, like diary-style posts, are relevant right now, but not so relevant a couple of months down the road. On the other hand, so-called evergreen content is the kind of posts that can continue to draw readers long after they’re published. It appeals to search engines and is also more likely to show up in WP Reader search results. My older evergreen content now makes up a substantial proportion of my daily traffic. Your mix of time-sensitive and evergreen posts will depend a lot on what your blogging purpose is.
- Do You Share Non-Original Content?
- How Do You Choose Post Titles?
- Is There a Finite Well of Blogging Material?
- What’s Less Popular, but You Publish Anyway?
- Why do some notifications link to sites that no longer exist?
This is often a Gravatar issue, and the person doesn't have their Gravatar connected to their current blog URL. They likely don't even realize this is the case. Here's how to check if this is an issue for you:
1) In the WP app, go to “Me” at the bottom of the screen, or in the browser version, click on your Gravatar image near the top right of your screen.
2) Go to “Account settings.”
3) Find “Web Address” (below this, it says “Shown publicly when you comment on blogs.”
4) Make sure the domain name listed here is correct.
- Why can't I like or comment on someone's blog?
Your comment may have accidentally got caught by WP's Akismet spam filter. It's also possible that the person has blacklisted you to prevent you from commenting.
The most common reason, though, is an issue with your browser settings—specifically, cross-site tracking and/or third-party cookies.
If you’re using Safari, go to the “Safari” menu > “Preferences” > “Privacy” tab. “Prevent cross-site tracking” needs to be unchecked.
In Chrome, go to the “Chrome” menu > “Preferences” > scroll down to the “Privacy and security settings” and click on “Site Settings” then “Cookies and site data”. “Block third-party cookies” has to be turned off.
- What's a pingback?
Pingbacks let other bloggers know you've mentioned them. If you include in one of your posts a link to someone else's posts (note: it has to be the link to the post on their actual website, not the version shown within the WordPress Reader), when you publish the post, they will get a pingback, which appears as a comment on whatever post of theirs you linked to.
If someone has disabled pingbacks, they won't be notified that you've linked to them. Some blogs (like mine) have pingbacks enabled for posts, but not pages.
- What's the difference between WordPress.com and .org?
WordPress.com offers blog hosting, and you have the option to select a free plan or one of the paid plans. They manage all the behind-the-scenes aspects for you. WordPress.org offers the framework to create a self-hosted blog (ie. a blog hosted by a different provider than WordPress.com). They provide the framework, but don't do anything in terms of managing your site. This means that you have complete control to customize, but you and your hosting provider are responsible for security and backups and other behind-the-scenes aspects.
You have a few options if you want to be not-so-public with your blog:
- Set your entire blog to private: Only people you invite to view your blog can see it. You can set this up under My Sites > Settings > General; in the privacy section, select “private.” Your current followers won’t be able to view your blog; you’ll have to invite them individually.
- Make your blog unsearchable: You can tell WordPress that you’d prefer that search engine bots not include your posts/pages in search results. This is done under My Sites > Settings > General, in the privacy section, and is shown in the screenshot below. Beneath where it says Public, you can tick the box for “do not allow search engines to index my site.” Note that this will also make your blog unsearchable in the WP Reader.
- Password-protect posts: You can require people to enter a password to view specific posts. This is done in the post settings under Status & Visibility -> change visibility to password-protected. Note that password-protected posts won’t show up at all in the WP Reader, so people who follow you in the Reader won’t see that the post even exists.
Every Sunday on MH@H there’s a post about blogging. Often these are blog chat-style posts, where I provide an intro to the topic, and people share their thoughts. Blog chats have covered:
- A Blog Post Journey from Start to Finish
- Do You Feel Impressed by Other Bloggers’ Abilities?
- Have You Ever Considered Doing a Podcast?
- To Instagram or to Blog, Is That the Question?
- What Are Your Blogging Insecurities?
- What Is Your Blogging Purpose?
- What Would You Change About WordPress?
- Where Will Your Blog Be in 5 Years From Now?
Comments & Interaction
Comments are one of the best parts of blogging, as they’re a great way to engage with the community. The post Does Your Blog Get Comments? talks about how to encourage commenting on your posts.
The post Dealing with Inappropriate Behaviour Online talks about how to protect yourself and your blog if you’re starting to experience harassment or other inappropriate behaviour.
Some commenting tips:
- Posing a question or idea to contemplate at the end of a post can help to encourage comments by giving people something to focus on.
- Try to respond to most comments left on your blog in a relatively timely manner. If you don’t really have anything to say, an emoji is still a more meaningful acknowledgement than simply a like.
- Some people choose to moderate comments, so that they need to approve comments before they show up. I don’t do this, as it would create extra work, and I’m online enough that I would catch problem comments quickly anyway. I don’t hesitate to delete inappropriate comments; other people might call that censorship, but it’s my blog to run as I choose and create the hate-free and stigma-free environment I want.
- When comments are mildly inflammatory but I choose not to delete them, my preference is not to respond, as I would rather not get into back and forth bickering on my blog.
If you’re getting inappropriate boundary-pushing or hate in your comments under My Sites > Settings > Discussion, under the “Disallowed Comments” heading. You can blacklist by username, URL, email, or IP address. Comments from blacklisted users go straight to your comment trash folder.
You can also blacklist by word contained somewhere in the comment, but be careful with this, as it will block out partial word matches as well (e.g. blacklisting “press” will also trash anything that includes “WordPress”). I use this for things that would pretty much only appear in spam, such as “proxies.”
WordPress’s spam filter is called Akismet. You have a comment spam folder; it lives under My Sites > Comments. Akismet catches a lot of the spammy comments left on your site by individual spammy visitors as well as spambots. It will also occasionally send legit comments there, so it’s good practice to check it regularly.
If you get spammy comments, flagging them as spam rather than just deleting them helps Akismet to continue to learn what spam looks like.
Sometimes spam comments are generic, like “great post.” If someone leaves a comment like that, check the website of the blogger that left the comment. If the URL sounds spammy, the comment probably is too.
You’ll sometimes hear bloggers talk about serial likers. This generally doesn’t refer to people who regularly read and like, but don’t comment on, others’ posts. I think of serial likers as encompassing two different groups of people:
- Meaningless Likers: These are people who scroll through the WP Reader and like posts without even opening and reading them. This can vary in level of subtlety, and tends to be a strategy used to try to get others to read and like the liker’s own posts.
- Rapid-fire serial likers: These are people who will like 20 of your posts within the space of 2 seconds, which is particularly obvious if you’re online and see all the notifications popping up at once. I’m not sure why people do this, because sure, it gets them attention, but not good attention. Spamminess is never a good look.
Copyright & 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) but it’s not required to establish your copyright.
The Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) allows copyright holders to submit a DMCA takedown notice to the website’s host, who can then take down the material that violates the complainant’s copyright. Trying to deal directly with the plagiarizer is annoying and unlikely to be effective; you’re better off doing a DMCA notice. However, most of the time, you won’t even be aware that your post has been copied unless you find it by accident. Several times, I’ve gotten pingbacks because the plagiarizer didn’t remove the internal links I had in the post.
For bloggers who are self-hosted or have the WP Premium plan or above, CSS (Cascading Style Sheets) is a great way to customize the appearance of your blog. It’s daunting at first, but it’s actually easier than it looks once you get used to it, and it’s really useful in making your blog look the way you want it to.
There’s more info in this post on customizing with CSS, and the site W3Schools is an awesome resource. If you’re trying to identify the classes of elements in order to style them, Google Chrome’s Developer Tools can come in handy.
Your theme/plan may or may not let you change colours for fonts or other elements of your blog. If it does, it’s useful to know about hex codes for colours, which consist of a hash sign and 6 hexadecimal characters. You can enter hex codes in the WP editor to modify the colour of elements like text, backgrounds, separator blocks, etc.
Have a graphic that contains a colour you want to use? The site Image Color Picker lets you identify the hex code for a specific area of an image. Wondernote is a good site for colour palettes with hex codes.
Growth & Stats
Time and effort—it’s the tried and true recipe for growth. Unless you’re one of the lucky few that manages to amass followers super-quickly, getting your first 100 followers may well feel like watching paint dry. Growth strategies will differ depending on where you’re trying to get that growth from.
Social proof is an interesting psychological concept that’s relevant to blogging. If people are ambiguous about how to act, they will look for social proof to help them decide how to act. If your blog has followers, likes, and comments, it’s likely to draw more of those things, whereas if there’s limited social interaction, it might make people wonder (without even realizing it) if there’s a reason for that. Tip: find a small number of bloggers that you can have frequent mutual interactions with; it can help others decide to join the party.
Blog growth & promotion strategies
The best way to boost your traffic from WordPress is to actively interact with other bloggers. Read other people’s blog posts, leave meaningful comments, and get genuine conversations going.
Your posting frequency also makes a difference. Regardless of a blog’s quality, posting more frequently will generate more traffic. If you have 100 followers who all read every post (which never actually happens), posting 5 days a week gets you 500 views, while posting 1 day a week will only get you 100 views. Your blog hasn’t gotten worse and your followers aren’t less loyal; it’s just simple math.
The WordPress Reader recommendation algorithms recommend posts based on:
- post title, content, tags, and categories
- total number of likes and comments, and who liked/commented
- total number of followers, and who those followers are
- how recently a post was published
- How frequenly/recently a site publishes new content
- the content of what you’ve liked/commented on
- whether posts have links, images, or videos
Some people will play the follow/follow-back game, but you certainly don’t need to. The larger a blog gets, the more spammy followers you’ll accumulate. These people won’t actually read your blog. That, combined with the fact that a lot of your older followers will have stopped blogging, means that your reader numbers will be significantly lower than your follower numbers.
Search engine traffic takes a while to attract. If this matters to you, you’ll want to be consistent with your search engine optimization right from the get-go, which we’ll talk about later on this page. Google isn’t going to fall in love with your blog quickly; it takes time and consistent posting.
Social media traffic will be very dependent on how much effort you put into the platforms you’re using. WP allows you to auto-share posts to Twitter and Facebook, but if you’re not very active on the platforms, you’re not going to get much traffic. Twitter comment threads are a popular way to promote blog posts. Pinterest can also be very effective, and it’s my preferred platform. You can read more about this on the post Do You Promote Your Blog on Social Media?
Email marketing is something lots of blogging sites will tell you to do, and do early. Tools that can help, such as Mailchimp, ConvertKit, and Constant Contact. For me, though, it just hasn’t felt like a good fit, and WordPress itself is the best communication tool I’ve got.
How often do you look at your stats? They can be hard to avoid, as WordPress tends to shove them in your face. However, getting overly preoccupied with stats can really put a damper on your blogging experience.
Your stats are influenced by a lot of factors that have nothing to do with you and the quality of your blog, so if you can, try not to take them too personally. People with really high numbers may engage in not-so-pleasant strategies to get them there, like serial liking.
I find that stats are most useful if you look at them over a longer time frame, such as the past quarter or the past year. This gives you a better view of patterns than you’d get by looking at time frames of days, weeks, or even months. Take a look at the posts/pages that are doing well, and take the time to make those the best they can possibly be. Add plenty of internal links so that the people who are drawn to those posts can easily find your other content that they might also be interested in.
Using images effectively can make your blog more user-friendly and search engine-friendly. This post on using images has more details.
Alt text: This is used to describe what your image looks like. This allows visually impaired readers to know what your image is, but it also helps search engines to know what the image is about.
Image title: When you upload an image in WordPress, it will automatically assign a title for an image based on the file name of the image. Having a descriptive title rather than IMG1234, it’s more search engine friendly, plus it will make your life a lot easier if you’re trying to search through your media gallery.
Image size: A large image will slow down your page loading, which isn’t good for users or for search engines. If you’re on a WordPress plan with limited storage space, larger than necessary images can also eat up a lot of your storage space. Find out how to deal with this in Making the Most of Your WordPress Media Storage Space.
Copyright and Images
It’s great to use images on your blog, but you don’t want to violate someone else’s copyright. This post on images & copyright goes into more detail.
Creative Commons Licenses allow others to use a creator’s work in a certain way based on the type of license.
A common copyright mistake comes from using Google Images. Google Images is a search engine, not a source of images, so they’re not free for the taking.
Free Image Sources
- CleanPNG: graphics with clear background
- Clipart Library
- DeviantArt: creative artwork, some under a Creative Commons license
- Dreamstime: mix of free & premium photos
- Freepik: must attribute all free images
- Gratisography: unique, quirky photos
- Pexels: photos
- Pixabay: photos and other graphics
- Unsplash: photos
- Wikimedia Commons: has all the images used on Wikipedia
Some other useful image tools are:
- Canva: create your own graphics by combining words, text, and other elements
- Remove.bg: remove the background portion of an image
- WordArt: this site lets create word clouds
Maintaining your blog
If you’ve been blogging for a while, you can easily start to accumulate posts (including reblogs) 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.
For those older posts that have evergreen appeal, going back and editing to spruce them up can help them continue to draw traffic. You can also refresh older content and republish it, as your current readership may not have been around when older posts were originally published.
It’s also sometimes nice to do a major blog refresh to either clarify or reorient your blog’s primary purpose.
Some ideas for regular maintenance include:
- Clean up your categories and tags: It’s very easy to accumulate massive numbers of these. If they’re not helping you to organize 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 an 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.
- Delete old reblogs or promotional posts: These kinds of posts are unlikely to have ongoing usefulness, so chop them unless they’re legitimately adding something to your site.
- Image maintenance: Make sure your images have alt text, and if you’re particularly keen, make sure that large images are resized so they’re not using up unnecessary space.
- Link-building: Create internal links between your old and new content. This helps readers to find useful related content on your site.
Are You Trying to Earn an Income from Your Blog? A lot of people are, but it’s not easy, and anyone who tells you that it is probably isn’t being very honest. There’s nothing wrong with trying to monetize, but it’s best to do it in a way that doesn’t make for a worse experience for your readers.
- Ads: Google Adsense gives you a lot more control than WordAds does, but regardless, you won’t make much unless you have massive traffic.
- Affiliate marketing: Amazon’s affiliate program is one of the more common ones, and what I use
- Buy a coffee sites: Buymeacoffee.com and Ko-fi.com let people give you donations, become regular subscribers, or buy digital content
- Selling products/services: sell on your site, or try to drive traffic to Etsy, Amazon, etc.
- Subscription-only content: do this on WP, Patreon, or coffee sites
Considering upgrading to the WP business plan? You can read my reflections on upgrading. It’s an expensive option compared to going self-hosted, but there’s the reassurance of knowing that if you break something, WordPress will fix it.
Search Engine Optimization (SEO)
Search engine optimization (SEO) refers to making your site more appealing to search engines so that you will show up in search results and people will make their way to your blog. Some SEO work requires a plug-in like Yoast, which is only available for self-hosted bloggers or bloggers on the WordPress.com business plan. However, there’s still a lot you can do to up your SEO game even on the WP free plan, both on-age (on your site) and off-page (people sharing your content, links to your site, etc.).
Some on-page basics;
- Image alt text: fill this out for each image, and try to match what your post is about
- Use headings: these make it easier for search engines to understand what your post is about, and also make posts easier to read
- Slug is what shows in your post’s URL once it’s published. You can change it under the permalinks section in the editor. These should be short, sweet, and to-the-point, with each word separated by a hyphen.
Keywords are the terms by which you want people to be able to find your post/page. Keyword research to optimize your posts is big in the SEO world. I don’t think that’s useful for regular bloggers who write primarily to write; there’s no need to constrain your writing that way.
The one exception I would make to that is using long-tail keywords for post titles. Often people enter phrases or questions into Google rather than just a word or two. If your title matches that phrase/question, your post will likely show up pretty high in the search results. The more specific you get, the less competition there is from other pages using those same terms.
Generic title: Aromatherapy and Mental Health
Long-tail keyword title: Does Ylang Ylang Help with Depression?
Creating links, both within your site and to other relevant sites, is a major component of SEO. Links show search engines that your site is connected rather than stranded off on an island somewhere. There are three broad types of links:
- internal: links between posts/pages on your site
- external: links on one of your posts/pages that point to a different website
- backlinks: these are links on other websites that point to your site
Internal links: These show that your site is well-integrated, including new and old content. Just as importantly, they help readers to find additional related content that they might be interested in. Even if few or no people click on your internal links, that’s okay; it’s having the structure that really matters.
External links: The internet is all about connection, and using external links helps to establish that your blog isn’t alone on an island. You might link to other bloggers’ posts if you’re mentioning them, or include links to sites where you get information from for a post. Creating relevant links to high-profile sites (e.g. Wikipedia) helps your site to appear more authoritative.
A broken link checker like the one on Internet Marketing Ninjas can pick up links that have changed since you created them.
Backlinks: Backlinks are harder to get. One way to see how your site is doing in terms of backlinks is by checking your DA (domain authority), a metric developed by Moz. It’s heavily impacted by how many people are linking to your blog and how much DA cred they have.
- Blogger Outreach: Why Random People Want Your Links
- Dofollow & Nofollow Links (and why you might care)
- Generating Backlinks & Boosting Domain Authority: DA matters for working with brands
- Ahrefs backlink checker: shows which sites link to yours; also has an extensive site audit tool
- Check My Links: a Google Chrome extension that checks all the links on a page
- Moz’s link explorer: shows backlinks to your site
- Neil Patel’s SEO analyzer: gives feedback on several SEO areas
- SEMRush: gives info about backlinks and does a 50-page site audit
- SEObility: a free site audit tool to check your technical SEO
Webmaster tools allow you to see how often your posts are appearing in searches, what search terms are sending people your way, and various other bits of information about how search engines see your sites. To set these up, you’ll need to:
- sign up with Google Search Console, Bing Webmaster Center, and Yandex Webmaster
- verify that you own your site, which you can do from your WordPress editing dashboard
- click marketing (in the tools section) and then the traffic tab
- scroll down to site verification services, which includes a link to a WP article explaining how to do the setup
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: Chrome plugins
- Grammark | GrammarCheck | Hemingway App: copy and paste text into their website
- OneLook Thesaurus: input single words or phrases
- Have You Thought About Writing Outside Your Blog?
- MH@H Books page: has book-writing resources
- My Anti-Rules for Writing
- What’s Your Writing Process?
And finally, remember, it’s okay to blog your way. Blogging should be fun, so enjoy it!