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The Blogging Toolbox: Tools for Regular Bloggers

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

Some tips on getting the comments flowing:

  • 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.
  • If you have a few regulars with whom you regularly exchange comments, that can help to create an environment where others feel comfortable commenting.

Comment moderation

Some people choose to moderate comments, meaning they need to approve comments before they show up. n “My Sites”, go to “Settings”, then click the “Discussion” tab. Scroll down to “Before a comment appears.” You can then select “Comment must be manually approved.” The other option that’s listed is to moderate comments left by commenters that you haven’t already approved comments from.

You can also simply delete unwanted or offensive comments. While some may argue that that’s “censorship”, it’s your blog and you get to decide what you are or are not willing to allow on it.


Blacklisting

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.”

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.


Spam

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. Similarly, if legit comments go to spam, approve those so Akismet can learn.


Likes

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.

While you can blacklist someone to keep them from commenting, there’s no way to stop them from being able to click the like button. You can remove the like button altogether and/or remove the comment like option from your site by going to My Sites > Tools > Marketing, and then clicking on the Sharing Buttons tab. While this removes the like options from your site itself, people can still like posts and comments within the Reader, so it really doesn’t accomplish much.


Content

These posts have tips related to the content you create for your blog:


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.


Blog Posts

Length

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. Writing for your readers will probably serve you better than trying to write for search engines.

Titles

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.

Generating Ideas

I get a lot of ideas from other bloggers. It might be the main topic of their post, or it might be some little tidbit that I mention. Copying someone’s work is plagiarism, but borrowing a topic and writing your own spin on it is inspiration. When in doubt, credit the blogger for the inspiration. For me, this is 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.

A few other sources of ideas:

  • prompts organized by other bloggers
  • articles from elsewhere on the web
  • the news
  • social media
  • favourite quotes
  • Google Trends shows you search terms that are popular
  • Hubspot has a blog ideas generator—just enter between one and five nouns, and it will come up with five potential blog post titles for you

copyright symbol

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 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 will 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.


Design Customization

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.


CSS

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 and change the way different elements on the page are displayed. 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. 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 your theme is calling an element so that you can style it.

Colours

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. If you want to get the hex code for a specific area of an image, Image Color Picker is a useful tool. If you’re looking for colour ideas, Wondernote has lots of colour palettes with hex codes.


Growing Your Blog

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. You might be interested in reading about social proof, a psychological concept that influences people’s actions.


WordPress

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 that week, 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 engines

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

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 Use Social Media to Promote Your Blog?


Images

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.


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. You need to go to the site where the image came from and see if they’re giving permission for others to use the image.

If you come across a watermarked image, chances are that using that image will violate someone’s copyright.

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.

Fair Use

In the U.S., the fair use doctrine allows certain copyright-protected material to be used without it being considered a copyright violation, mostly for the purpose of parody or commentary and criticism. This is based on four factors:

  1. The use must be transformative, in the sense that new meaning is added, such as through critical commentary or parody
  2. The nature of the work (e.g. factual vs. creative work)
  3. The amount and substantiality of the work taken
  4. The effect of the use upon the potential market (are you depriving the copyright-owner of income?)

For example, using an image of the cover of a book you’re reviewing, or using brief quotes from the book in your review, would be considered fair use.


free images - background of pencil crayons in rainbow colours

Free Image Sources

Some other useful image tools:

  • Canva: create your own graphics by combining words, text, and other elements
  • Remove.bg: remove the background portion of an image
  • WordArt: 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 & 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 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.
  • Delete old reblogs: 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 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.
  • Update old posts: Create new graphics, improve the organization using H2 & H3 headers, and add internal links to your newer relevant content.

Monetization

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.

Blog monetization options, including ads & affiliate marketing

Monetization Options

  • Ads: Google Adsense gives you a lot more control than WordAds does, but regardless, you won’t make much unless you have massive traffic. Too many ads can be a major turnoff and may lead to losing readers.
  • 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).
  • tc.
  • Sponsored posts: connect with brands on sites like Get Blogged and Influence.co
  • Subscription-only content: do this on WP, Patreon, or coffee sites

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, but there’s still a lot you can do to up your SEO game even on the WP free plan. This post has tips on easy SEO basics.


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
SEO basics – links: Internal, external, and backlinks

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.

Building backlinks: Writing, listing your blog, and other ideas

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:


SEO Tools

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: 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 often what slows pages down the most
  • SEMRush: gives info about backlinks and other SEO areas, and does a 50-page site audit
  • SEObility: a free site audit tool to check your technical SEO

WordPress Tips

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.


FAQ

  1. 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?

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

    If you get a pingback show up on one of your posts, you can delete it as you would any other comments.


Plugins

Plugins offer functions that you can plug in or out of your WordPress site without changing anything else about the site. Only bloggers on certain paid plans have access to these. If you are able to use plugins, these are a few you might want to consider:

  • Header Footer Code Manager: allows you to easily add code snippets to your site without having to go in and make changes to your site’s html yourself
  • Redirection allows you to set up HTTP code 301 redirects, so that if someone enters a particular URL for your site, they will automatically be redirected to a different URL.
  • WP-Optimize: does various things to improve your site’s performance, including image compression
  • Yoast is a popular SEO plugin. It allows you to enter “meta descriptions” to tell search engines what your posts/pages are about, and it gives you a variety of tips on how to make each post more SEO-friendly.

Privacy

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.

The WordPress Reader

  • To show excerpts only in the WP Reader (note that this may lose you some readers who are very attached to the Reader): My Sites > Settings > “Writing” tab > scroll down to “Feed settings” > toggle “Limit feed to excerpt only”
  • Certain block editor elements (like media+text boxes) don’t display in the Reader the way they do on your website.

ink pot and quill

Writing

There are a number of tools available that can your blogging life a little easier.

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!