How can I take my blog to the next level?

I’ve received a question from a blog writer by the name of Lorena.

Lorena has hit a stage that millions of blog writers hit around the world – that point where you’ve managed to get through the first barrier (of choosing to carry on with a new blog rather than let it become neglected) and you’re writing reasonably regular posts but you’re just not seeing the number of visitors and interactions that you think your blog deserves.

Lorena says:

I’ve hit a hard stage in my three year unpaid blogging career. It’s only within the past year in a half I’ve actually stepped up my game within the blog. I have an average of 100 viewers per day, a bit of a laugh – but, I feel as though I am wasting my time.

I love my blog, however I do feel like I’m getting nowhere with it. I have no sponsors or ads on my blog, and all the photographs on there are mine I have taken. Would you take a quick look at it and give me your opinion?

Lorena’s blog is titled i S c o u t and can be found at eyescout.blogspot.co.nz. In her words, it’s “a photographic journey of Cafe Culture and coffee people in New Zealand.”

Lorena Donaldson

Lorena of Taupo

In terms of content, it’s definitely a blog that has a lot of promise. Café culture is highly prominent in New Zealand and can be a focal point for a range of discussions around business and pleasure while also integrating some nice photography of café scenes, casual fashion, and local events. It also opens the door for plenty of café, coffee and lunch-time food reviews.

But hey, you don’t need me to tell you this – that’s why you started the blog in the first place!

So with a good subject that should be encouraging plenty of attention, the question remains – how can this blog be taken to the next level?

In answering your question, there are two key factors that I would address…

1. Content

A quick look through your blog shows that you’re content is actually pretty good. Certainly well above average to be honest. You have a great mix of more ‘visual’ posts (photo series, etc.) as well as posts that feature reviews as well as interviews with key people in the café industry. I particularly love your interview with Morgan West, representative of People’s Coffee.

So in terms of text and image content, you’re really hitting the mark. However, I think there are a couple of key things you can do to help the flow of your content and make your blog easier to read and navigate.

1.1. Blog Summaries

Blog platforms usually allow you to display your posts in a feed (i.e. on the home page or in a category view rather than just viewing the individual blog post) in one of two ways. These are:

  1. Full Text
  2. Summary

The first version, full text, means that your blog posts are always displayed in their full format no matter how the visitor is viewing them – i.e. whether they’re scrolling down your home page or on a category (label) view.

The second version, summary, typically shows just the featured image from your blog post and a short 3 or 4 line summary of the blog post’s contents along with a ‘Read More’ link to view the blog post in full. The summary is often either just the first few lines of text or a pre-set text description that your theme may allow you to set while writing the blog post.

While the first version can be good for either a blog that features very short posts or for people that come back to your blog regularly to read every new post (as they’re likely to have already read the previous posts and by displaying the new version in full there’s no need for them to click on the post title to read it) it’s actually a bit of a pain in the ass for new visitors as well as previous visitors that haven’t visited your blog for a while, especially as your posts can be very long when including all of the images.

If the first post doesn’t interest the visitor, they have a huge amount of scrolling to do before they see the next post.

Imagine this scenario – someone visits your blog and sees you have a category dedicated to ‘Cafes’. They want to browse that category and see if you’ve written about any cafés that they recognise. When they click on that label, they’re given a very long page with just two blog posts on. It would be much better to show them a page with at least 5 or 6 of your most recent café posts – that’s something you can achieve with a summary view.

Simply by switching to ‘summary’ view, you should find that the page is a lot more organised, easier to navigate and can help visitors to find content that would interest them. I’ve taken a screenshot of the ‘blog guides’ category of NZ Blogs to give you an idea of what I mean.

Blog Summary View

Blog Summary View

Looking at this – I need to do some work on my own blog! The info line should be one line, not two, the first summary text wraps under the featured image and the featured images themselves are off-centre and too large (that comes down to the featured slider on the home page but, no excuses!). But at least this shows you how easy it is to browse the content in summary view.

Really it all comes down to reducing effort undertaken by the visitor. What displays in the first ‘above-the-fold‘ view of your website (i.e. what displays on the monitor without the visitor scrolling) is key. Rather than a post title and one tenth of a blog post (the content of which might not interest the visitor), you could be introducing 2 or 3 blog posts and so increasing the chance of displaying an article that they would be interested in reading.

If you’ve looked around your blog settings and haven’t found a summary option, it could be worth changing your blog theme (more on that later).

When it comes to above-the-fold optimisation, you should also be looking at the post structure itself. That brings me onto ….

1.2 Image Positioning

You have some really great photos on your blog. That’s perfect – a lot of good blog writers are let down by the awful photographs they take. However, your blog post format could be improved to help show-off those photos and encourage a visitor to read on.

Basically, your format is currently:

Text
Text
Text
Photo
Photo
Photo

Instead, you should be looking to blend the two into more of a complete article, i.e. something more like…

Text Photo
Text
Photo Text
Photo
Text
Photo

Again, this comes down to what displays ‘above-the-fold’ as well as helping the reading flow of your blog posts. Here’s an example from your Birds of a Feather post.

 

Blog Post with Text-Only Above-the-Fold

Blog Post with Text-Only Above-the-Fold

As you can see, the visitor is greeted with a lot of black text. Visually it could be a little off-putting. There are no photographs to introduce the blog post and the text is one large solid block.

Alternatively, try breaking up the text with more paragraphs and including a photograph at the top of every blog post alongside the text rather than on its own above it. With a bit of photoshopping, here’s what I mean:

Blog Post with Image Introduction

Blog Post with Image Introduction

So the same content but slightly re-structured to help draw the visitor into the blog post.

How do I do this?

It’s possible that your theme allows you to set a ‘featured image’ for the blog post while in the ‘new post’ screen. Some themes then use this image for the summary view and also within the first part of the blog post itself. Like this blog post! The first image in this post hasn’t been manually placed by me, I just upload it as the featured image.

Failing that, you should find that there are options when first adding your image. In Blogger, upload and then insert the image, click on the image and choose from the various options – set your image to display on the left or right and reduce the image size and you should achieve the above result.

I use WordPress for this website but jumped into Blogger to make sure this could be done. I couldn’t set a featured image but I could change the size and position of a new image:

Setting Image Position in Blogger

Setting Image Position in Blogger

 

2. Blog Set-up and SEO (Search Engine Optimisation)

Ok this one’s a big one and can be more complicated but personally I think it’s pretty important for anyone wanting to take their blog to the next level.

I could go on about this for hours but I’ll try and break it down rather a lot to save boring you! Don’t read too much into the specifics of this because I’m going to try and talk in very broad terms.

Ok so, using Google Analytics’ own terminology, people find your blog in one of a few ways (I’ll go for four off the top of my head):

1. Direct
These people enter your website address into their browser so tend to already know what it is – i.e. through word-of-mouth, through seeing your website address in print, etc.

2. Referral
These people have clicked on a link to your blog on other websites – e.g. other blogs, news websites, company websites, or even within Social Media (Facebook, Twitter, etc.).

3. Organic
People have used search engines, like Google, to search for keywords. These keywords have returned your website amongst the results and people have clicked on those results to view your content.

4. Paid
Typically this is when you’ve paid for advertising, like Google Adwords, and people have clicked on those ads to view your content.

The trick is to maximise your presence in each of these areas. At this stage, I don’t think you need to worry about ‘Paid’ – you said that you don’t have any income-generating sponsors or ads on your website so there would be no way to make that money back – so instead you’d need to focus on the other three.

While your blog in its current format can encourage more views from the first three sources with a few tweaks, to take your blog to the next level, you’re really looking at a move away from Google’s free blogging platform to a format that is much more your own.

Basically the problem is that you don’t have your own website. You actually have a presence on Google’s website – www.blogspot.co.nz. Because it’s not your own, you’re entirely limited by Google’s own parameters. Anything you write or any images you upload are all stored on Google’s own servers and so, as far as search engines are concerned, all of your ‘SEO strength’ is going towards helping blogspot.co.nz rank in search engines rather than your own blog (again, very general terms here).

When you have your own website, stored on a web server that you’re paying for through web hosting, all of your content is directly associated with your website.

To put it into a working example (and this roughly can be applied to everything on your blog rather than just your images), take a look at the images within this blog post. Right-click on an image and view its properties and you’ll see that the website address for the image itself is stored on the same address as the website – i.e. a website address which is entirely mine. It’ll look something like:

http://www.nzraw.co.nz/images/blogger-image-position.jpg

 That address – including the file name itself – is entirely designed to help search engines a) find the image (for people searching for those keywords) and b) understand what the blog post is about once the search engine has put all of the images and text together.

Now let’s look at an image on your blog:

http://3.bp.blogspot.com/-VfIxo3IoeSw/UCMqN08Es5I/AAAAAAAAEss/92IC9qZ5ZZE/s640/01-DSC_0180.JPG

This website address is one used for Google BlogSpot to store images uploaded by its users. Looking at it, it has nothing to do with your website (it’s not even stored on eyescout.blogpost.co.nz) and it uses a long stream of random characters. This website address tells Google and other search engines nothing about the image itself and nothing about the blog post it appears in.

To begin to optimise this, you would first use keyword-centric file names for your photos before uploading them to your blog – in this case you would replace ’01-DSC_0180.jpg’ with something like ‘westbrook-family-home-interior.jpg’. That would help but you still really need to store this content on your own website rather than on Google’s random image server.

How can I move away from a free blogging platform and set up my own website?

To switch to a complete website that is effectively you’re own property, you need four things:

  1. A domain (your website address, e.g. www.nzblogs.co.nz)
  2. Web hosting (this is where all of your content will be stored)
  3. The blog platform itself (e.g. WordPress, BlogSpot, etc.)
  4. A blog theme

It can be easier and cheaper than you think. You can register a domain like ‘www.eyescout.co.nz’ or ‘www.iscout.co.nz’ right now with a domain registration company. I personally use Domains4Less – it’s currently just $19.95 plus GST a year for a .nz domain and once you’ve bought it it’s very easy to add email address redirects (you could instantly make ‘info@eyescout.co.nz’ redirect email to ‘name@gmail.com’ for example.

Once you have that set up, you’ll need to arrange web hosting. Again, Domains4Less have a good set up and start from $6.99 per month. They’re also New Zealand based. Alternatively, you could try Discount Domains (NZ based – hurray) or GoDaddy (overseas – boo).

With that in place, you’ll need to install a blog platform on your web hosting server and then choose a theme. The first part usually entails downloading the platform from the provider, fine-tuning it to your account details, and then uploading it to your web hosting platform. WordPress.org have a great guide on this here.

With the platform and web hosting in place, you’ll just need to log in and choose a theme. There are plenty of free themes around but they’re often very restrictive and a bit crap. Instead, pay for a theme from places like Woothemes or Elegant Themes. It’s cheaper than you think – with Elegant Themes you just pay $39 US and you have access to all of their themes for year for no extra money. Once the year runs out, you get to keep whichever theme you chose for no extra money.

Full disclosure – I have an ‘affiliate’ account with those two so if you click on either of those links and then buy a theme I get a small percentage of the sale. However, I can confidently say I’ve used both of their services and they’re worth the money. This entire website is currently based on an Elegant Themes theme, as is my other website, NZ Raw.

The other reason to have your own blog/website is that you open the doors to heaps and heaps of plugins and customisations to help you maximise your blog – e.g. at the moment your social sharing buttons are in a grey box at the bottom of the blog post and hard to see. Instead you’ll be able to add the button code from each social network wherever you like – I’ve added them to the top of these blog posts as well as the bottom, plus I have links to my Social Media accounts in the sidebar of each blog post.

Well, it’s about time I got some lunch so I hope all of this has helped you, Lorena.

Please feel free to comment below if you have any feedback or further questions or if you struggle with any part of the process. I may not have the resources to directly help you but I can give you some tips or point you in the direction of people that can walk you through the process if required.

Have fun!

  • Lorena responded by email:

    “Wow, thank you very much for taking the time to critique my blog. I cant tell you how appreciative I am, I’ll be implementing your suggestions in all I do. Thanks again Mark.”

    Thanks Lorena! I hope the changes go well. Good luck!

  • … and I see the blog is already starting to look fantastic! Nice work! 
    http://eyescout.blogspot.co.nz/

  • Karen Brown

    Great advice Mark. If Lorena goes to a wordpress theme, she could also choose one that has a built in advertising module so she can have advertising on the blog as well.