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.
- Comments & Interaction
- Design Customization
- Growth & Stats
- Maintaining Your Blog
- Search Engine Optimization (SEO)
- WordPress Tips
Comments & Interaction
Comments are one of the best parts of blogging, as they’re a great way to engage with the community. You can read more about getting comments here.
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, meaning 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. I think of this as encompassing two different groups of people: rapid-fire serial likers, who will like 20 of your posts within the space of 2 seconds, and meaningless likers who will scroll through the WP Reader and like a bunch of posts without even opening and reading them. Serial liking is typically used to try to get others to go and read the liker’s own posts.
These posts have tips related to the content you create for your blog:
- Blog post ideas
- Categories & tags
- Niche – Should you stick to a single niche with your blog?
- Sharing Non-Original Content (e.g. reblogs)
About Page and Other Pages
Besides your posts, your blog can have pages, which don’t show up in the WordPress Reader when you publish them. Some bloggers display their blog posts on their home page, while other bloggers (like me) display their posts on a separate blog posts page. Some pages you might want to consider including are an “about” page and a “contact” page. Using a contact form rather than giving your email address on your contact page can help to cut down on the potential for getting blasted with spam.
Your About page should be purely for your readers, unlike your blog posts, which are likely written at least part for you. For some readers, 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 worth coming back to it every so often to freshen it up and make sure it still applies to you.
How long should your posts be? That depends on a number of things, including your writing style, your readers’ preferences, and what you’re writing about. In terms of readability, breaking up longer posts with headings and short paragraphs makes it easier for the reader to follow along.
For SEO purposes, longer is generally better, but short posts can still do well in search results. Search engines try to give searchers the information they’re looking for, which isn’t always in-depth information. Writing for your readers will probably serve you 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, 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.
Overall, I find that titles containing questions tend to do well. As for length, it’s good to have a Goldilocks territory of not super-short but not super-long.
Clickbait titles can range from catchy to completely misleading. They may be list-based (e.g. “X Reasons Why…”) or reveal something shocking or exciting (e.g. “You Won’t Believe…”). Pinterest is full of things like “8 Morning Habits that That Will Change Your Life.” Depending on your target audience, clickbait titles can be a draw or a turn-off.
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 (you can read about doing a DMCA notice here). 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.
Self-hosted blogs allow a lot more flexibility when it comes to customizing your site’s design, although a certain amount of knowledge is required to actually take advantage of that. For WordPress.com blogs, your flexibility is constrained by both your theme and the plan you have.
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.
If you want all of a certain element (e.g. H2 headers) to look a certain way, CSS allows you to do that all in one place rather than having to edit each of your posts and manually change the settings for each instance where you use an H2 header.
CSS also allows you to change the way that things display by adding padding, outlines, shadowing, and other features.
W3Schools is an awesome resource to learn the CSS syntax.
Once you start playing around with CSS in a WordPress.com blog, these tips might save you some headaches:
- Your custom CSS is entered in your site’s Customizer.
- Custom CSS classes can be created in the Customizer (for example, I could create .fancytext). To style an individual block in the block editor using this custom CSS class, I would go to the block settings, scroll down to the Advanced section, and enter fancytext in the Additional CSS Class(es) field. You don’t write the CSS syntax in the Additional CSS Class(es) field, and you don’t use a “.” in front of the class name.
- The Inspect Elements Tool in Google Chrome’s Developer Tools can come in handy if you’re trying to figure out what WordPress is calling an element so that you can style it.
If your theme/plan allows you to change colours for fonts or other elements of your blog, 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, etc.
- Image Color Picker lets you identify the hex code for a specific area of an image.
- Wondernote has lots of colour palettes with hex codes.
Growth & Stats
Time and effort is the best way to achieve genuine 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 frequently/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.
Getting really caught up in stats can really detract from the blogging experience. Some numbers aren’t particularly meaningful; for example, follower numbers can include a whole lot of spammy followers that never actually read or interact with a blog.
Here are a few things I find stats useful for:
- it’s fun to look at things like what countries readers are coming from and what search terms led people to your blog
- referral sources can help you understand how people are getting to your blog
- seeing what posts are getting the most traffic or steady ongoing traffic can help you to decide which posts are worth sprucing up (e.g. proofreading again, cleaning up headings, creating new internal links)
Using images effectively can make your blog more user-friendly and search engine-friendly. Note that any media you upload to your site (images, videos, pdfs, etc.) will be findable by search engines (unless you’ve made your blog unsearchable). Even if you don’t use the file in a post, it will still have its own URL and be in your sitemap for search engines to find.
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 through image resizing and compression in the post Making the Most of Your WordPress Media Storage Space.
Copyright and Images
Sometimes bloggers will accidentally violate someone else’s copyright. 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. This post has tips to avoid copyright violations.
Creative Commons Licenses allow others to use a creator’s work in a certain way based on the type of license. For example, some may require attribution or non-commercial use.
Free image sites like Pixabay and Unsplash have licenses that allow you to use their work without attribution, although crediting the image creator is the courteous thing to do.
Free Image Sources
- Pexels: photos
- Pixabay: photos and other graphics
- Unsplash: photos
- Wikimedia Commons: has all the images used on Wikipedia, which either have a Creative Commons license or are in the public domain
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.
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.
- Update your static pages: If you haven’t looked at your “about” page since you created it, it may be a little out of date. Also check 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.
Refreshing Older Posts
For those older posts that have evergreen appeal, i.e. they’re relevant well past the publication date, going back and editing to freshen 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.
A good place to focus your efforts is those older posts that are already getting a little dribble of traffic.
Some ideas for refreshing older posts:
- Create new graphics.
- Improve the organization using H2 and H3 headers.
- Add internal links to some of your newer relevant content.
- Remove any bits that are no longer relevant, and add a bit of new material.
- Proofread and tidy up the writing.
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. You can read more in this post on monetizing.
- 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 it’s what I use
- Donations: Sites like Buymeacoffee.com and Ko-fi.com let people give you donations, become regular subscribers, or buy digital content. You can also set up one-time payments on your site using a tip jar plugin or the WordPress.com payments feature (available for personal plan and above).
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.). This post has tips on easy SEO basics.
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
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.
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.
There are two types of external links: dofollow and nofollow. Dofollow links tell search engines that you’re giving some of your credibility to the site you’re linking to (this is sometimes referred to as link juice), whereas nofollow links tell search engines not to take the link as an endorsement. If you’re linking to a dodgy site for some reason, you might want to make it nofollow.
When you create/edit a link in the block editor, there are three toggle buttons; the second is “Search engines should ignore this link (mark as nofollow)”, and you can toggle that on if you want to make a link nofollow. WordPress automatically marks links left in your comments as nofollow.
Backlinks are harder to get. One way to see how your site is doing in terms of backlinks is checking your DA (domain authority), a metric developed by Moz. It’s heavily impacted by how many people are linking to your blog and what their DA is.
Some posts related to backlinks:
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
These are some more tools you may find useful:
- Ahrefs backlink checker: shows which sites link to yours; also has an extensive site audit tool; you can find the sign-up for a free account on their webmaster tools page
- 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
- PageSpeed Insights from Google: this shows you if your posts/pages are slower than they should be (Google Search Console will automatically flag them); you may not be able to do much about a lot of details it gives you, but big images are typically what slows pages down the most
- SEMRush: gives info about backlinks and does a 50-page site audit
- SEObility: a free site audit tool to check your technical SEO
Structured data helps search engines to better understand the information on your pages. This is most commonly done using Schema.org markup, and you’ll need a plugin to add this to your posts/pages. Schema specifies certain types of data, and you add the data in a structured hierarchical format.
Yoast allows you to do this to some extent, and the Schema & Structured Data for WP & AMP plugin allows you to use a broader range of types. I don’t use a lot of structured data, as it’s not a good fit with most of what’s on my site.
You can also use Google Search Console’s data highligher to help it recognize certain types of data. I use this to show it what the different pieces are in my book reviews.
For all its quirks and bugs, WordPress is a great place to find and build a blogging community. There’s a lot to learn along the way, and hopefully this section will address some things you’re wondered about.
One thing that a lot of bloggers get confused by is the difference between WordPress.com and WordPress.org, and what it means to be self-hosted. This post on WordPress.com vs. self-hosted explains what the differences are and why one might be preferable to the other.
- Why do some notifications in WordPress 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.
There are more tips in the post How Easy Is it for People to Find or Follow Your Blog?
- 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.
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.
Some people upgrade their plan to get more media storage space. Before doing that, try taking some steps to manage your image and get the most out of your storage space. You may find you can get away with not upgrading.
If you want to customize the look of your site, the premium plan allows you to use CSS (cascading style sheets).
The business plan lets you install plugins to perform specific functions on your site. You load the plugin onto your site, tweak the settings, and then let it do its thing. Some of the commonly used plugins include WooCommerce, an e-commerce plugin, and Yoast, an SEO plugin. Being able to use an SEO plugin will give you the opportunity to draw a lot more search engine traffic to your site.
The plan also allows you to use certain HTML code that you can’t use on cheaper plans, and it allows you to serve up Google AdSense ads on your site.
There are some changes in the way your site operates to allow for use of plugins, etc. This includes quirks like the loss of the WordPress follow button and the reblog button, and changes to the comment form. The comment form change has upsides (you’ll get significantly less spam) and downsides (some of your readers will have technical issues and be unable to comment).
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
Places to write outside of your blog:
There are more possibilities in the post Way to Share Your Mental Health Story.
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. Blogging should be fun, so enjoy it!