In the world of blogging, there is definitely a danger of getting caught up in the “ooh shiny” line of thinking.
What I’m talking about is the
desire to add every little idea and widget that you come across to your blog, which can only benefit it… right?
Not only does focusing on every little detail and tool on your blog distract you from actually writing, but it has become quite obvious as of late that too many features is just plain bad for your blog.
So… what do you actually need?
Following the KISS principle, it might be much less than you expect.
In this post I want to get straight to the nitty gritty, so let’s cut the intro while we are at it, and focus on 3 big things your blog needs to drop.
1.) Widgets… So Many Widgets…
One thing that new bloggers almost always go overboard with is widgets.
Widgets… for… everything.
Truth is, your blog should have one objective: creating a sustainable traffic source.
You can’t rely on viral posts and social media buzz to grow a blog for the long term: people need to be coming back through a reliable medium that you can easily grow to accomodate new subscribers.
Hey, guess what the preferred medium for doing this is?
That’s right, an email list.
You’ve probably already heard this a million times over, so I’m not going to bombard your brain with another sound off on how important building a list it, so let me just say if you are not doing so already, get yourself on over to AWeber or MailChimp right this instant and get a list going… like, now.
What I would like to talk about is the importance of keeping just the good stuff in your huge options of widgets. I know it would seem like a good thing to give your readers a lot of options, but consider this: giving people more options often leads to less conversions.
It makes sense doesn’t it?
So what are the most important things that you should include? As in, what are the widgets that you really need to make your blog easy to navigate and easy to grow?
The Obvious Opt-In Form
Since we are all about keeping it to just the essentials in this post, let’s do your eyes a favor and skip through this explanation of the importance of a sidebar opt-in form, which you’ve probably heard million times, and condense it:
You need an opt-in form in your sidebar, make it stand out, don’t ask for a name, include a freebie via auto-responder, put one element of social proof by the opt-in.
I’ve also written an article on the 5 essential places to put your opt-in, if you are curious.
A List Of Essential Resources OR “Super Pages”
I’ve talked about the need for what I call “super pages” on my guest post for Problogger.
The other option you can use is to have a “essential resources” section in either your navigation bar or your sidebar, if you are going to include these in your sidebar, make sure that they don’t look like ads.
So what are these pages?
Essentially, super pages work as the starting point for your content in separate sections, and are much more useful than linking readers directly to an archive of categorical posts because they do a few things much better:
- They introduce readers to the topic (for instance, if you have a resource/”super page” called landing pages on your site, you would briefly introduce what a landing page is and why it is important)
- They can link right to your best content (keeping the landing page example going, you would want to include a link to your best posts on landing pages, no matter how old they are)
- They are extremely shareable and SEO machines (people will be much more likely to share your “landing pages” resource page rather than a link to your category of “landing pages” on your blog)
But don’t take my word for it, see it in action on a HUGE blog: Copyblogger uses this exact strategy on their landing pages section of their blog, which introduces the topic, lays out a few essential posts, and guess what, asks for you to get email updates.
And I’m sure that this page isn’t ranking too badly for the term “landing pages” either…
Don’t say I didn’t tell you!
List Popular Posts In Your Sidebar
One trend that you will notice a lot of the bigger blogs doing (and that’s because they know better) is including a list of “popular posts” in their sidebar, most noticeably right below the aforementioned email opt-in form.
But before you go doing the same, we have to ask why do they do this?
Generally speaking, it is because it is a logical follow up to a failed opt-in from a visitor.
Well, imagine for a second that a visitor sees your opt-in box, and says to themself: “Nah, not right now.”
What would you want to follow up with to convince them otherwise?
How about a few links to the most popular posts on your blog?
This is the best chance you have of convincing them to stick around, and if they are already browsing your sidebar and want to get a better feel for the content that you offer, I can think of no better place for a popular posts widget than right below my request for their subscription.
It acts as social proof without offering any: the proof is implied by calling the section “popular posts”, people will automatically think of the posts as having some clout, and will likely read them if you know how to write effective headlines.
Use this opportunity as a follow-up for your first failed attempt at getting a new email sign-up with your opt-in form (and don’t worry, it usually takes most people a few reads to decide to opt-in to your content anyway, it only makes sense.)
2.) Too Many Sharing Options
I’m looking at you Mashable!
Don’t get me wrong, I actually think Mashable understands their audience very well with their inclusion of so many social sharing buttons.
But what I simply can’t forgive them for (okay, overreaction) is the trend they started with having almost every blog I come across including social sharing options for every site under the sun, when they actually don’t realize that too much social sharing hurts the sharing of their content, and makes their site look bad.
And I don’t mean aesthetically bad either, I’m not one to criticize site design with my minimal Photoshop skills.
No, what too much social sharing actually does goes back to what we were talking to about having too many options.
In a great look of the impact of choice in such publications as The Art Of Choosing, it is found time and time again that people, when given too many options, are less likely to actually act.
This same principal applies to social sharing: if you only include the essential sharing options, people will be more likely to share.
This has been discussed more and more as the topic of social sharing continues to heat up, and one of the bigger questions I see asked is just which buttons should be included.
While this is a little bit preference mixed with a little bit of common sense, I feel like you should only include up for 4 buttons for most sites:
- Google +1
- Big social sharing site (StumbleUpon, Reddit, Digg, Delicious etc.)
Again, not too surprising, and as noted, it is different for every site.
In the case of Mashable, the site is all about social networks, and the posts are heavily shared through all mediums, so it only makes sense to include a lot of buttons.
But think about your site for a minute: if you have too many buttons, then you will have the sharing of your posts spread thin.
This is bad social proof for your site.
Having 30 likes, 25 tweets, and a few +1′s will look better to readers than 2 of each on 30 different social networking platforms.
So consolidate your social buttons, not only will it increase the sharing of your posts on the most critical sharing networks, it will also help you speed up WordPress, as tons of different social buttons can cause a page to load a lot slower (you’ll notice that in the recent TechCrunch design, they went out of their way to fix this problem, it matters).
Lastly, excessive social sharing gets in the way of your blog’s main purpose: get email subscribers!
It’s the only thing that matters in terms to long term growth for your blog, so don’t worry about how many Facebook likes you can get on a single post: worry that your list is happy and steadily growing, and you will have a successful blog.
Note: Even on my music blog Sophistefunk, which is a site focused around a genre that relies heavily on sharing (all music sites do), I still only included my favorite three sites to share on, and for a while I only included Facebook, and yet I was still able to grow the site to thousands of visitors who keep coming back for more.
3.) Too Many Ads & Aff Links
How many times amd I able to repeat the golden rule before I start getting annoying (probably too late…)?
The golden rule of your blog: get subscribers.
To do this, you have to keep people on your site for extended periods, reading your content, convincing them that your site is one that they will just have to stick around to read more of.
But what do many bloggers do?
Post up ads everywhere, or write posts only to include affiliate links, such as review posts which are nothing more than “please buy this product through my affiliate link” posts.
And for what?
You are sending readers away and plastering your site with ads so that you might make a few dollars on a commission?
Unless your blog has successfully built a loyal tribe, you need to steer clear from all advertising.
Seth Godin once wrote that a successful tribe can be formed with as little as 1,000 people, although personally, I feel that in this day in age, that number needs to be raised higher (that post was years ago).
So, say we even quintupled that amount, that means that you really have a strong tribe building with 5000 members, or in a bloggers case, 5000 email subscribers.
Sound like a lot of work?
That’s because it is, but if your true focus is placed on gaining trust and building a strong and responsive list, I think that you will find it comes easier than you expect.
That’s not to say that you cannot monetize your blog in the meantime, throwing out an honest and objective affiliate link to a product that you use is not going to put people off.
What is going to do that is advertisements, and posting “reviews” and other such garbage posts that are constructed only to get people to buy something.
Even if/when you hit your 5000 large tribe, you should still treat them as you always have, but now if you place up a small 125×125 ad, you’ll know that you will get clicks and sales because people trust what you have to say, and know that you wouldn’t put up a product without actually using and supporting it.
Nobody will think this if you are a new blogger, in fact, I’ve found the only way to get clicks to anything early on is to include a great, objective description on it within a post that is about a much larger topic.
For example, in my post about the best WordPress toolbars, I have an affiliate link for the Attention Grabber plugin, because I use and really like it.
However, I give a lengthy description on its benefits and features, and it is apart of another post discussing WP toolbars, and is not a separate review post in which I try to get you to buy it specifically.
This had lead to sales for that product on that post, all because I just posted something genuine, and didn’t resort to the gun-ho tactics that most internet marketers take.
Think of the language of internet marketing & blogging sometimes; “targeting” subscribers, “dominating” the serps, “blasting” emails.
You need to be cultivating a brand, a brand focused on trust and objective reporting, and you will present yourself in this manner much better if your blog doesn’t look like a cheap billboard.
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