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.
Note: This page is in the process of being moved over to a series of blog posts. You can find these here:
- Blogging Toolbox I: WordPress
- Blogging Toolbox II: Images & Design
- Blogging Toolbox III: Content & Writing
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.
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 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 Use Social Media to Promote Your Blog?
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. 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).
- 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
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: 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
- Ahrefs Academy has a free Complete SEO Training course
- 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
- SEMRush Academy offers free courses on SEO-related topics
- SEObility: a free site audit tool to check your technical SEO
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!