Last week we talked about basic blogging tools and techniques you should pretty much always have.
But when you think of maximizing what your blog can do for you there are some other tools you'll want to make sure you have. Blogging can be awfully time consuming and I want to help you blog smarter not harder. While there are a many many ways you can get the most out of your blog, some ways are simpler and more universal than others.
Here are 13 of the simplest yet important tools and techniques you should be using to maximize the value of your blog:
- SEO support — if you are considering using your blog to boost your search engine rankings, make sure your blog supports all of the features that Search Engines want to see in your content. Things like explicit, unique title tags and good meta description tags. For a pretty complete list of the things you'll want to include in your HTML code see this post I did explaining how to optimize your site for Search Engines. Often blogs require a plugin to enable you to control/edit the items in the list I provided.
- Get stats on your blog. The same way you want to know how your Web site is succeeding, you'll also want to know what's working on your blog. How many page views and unique visitors are you getting? Where are visitors coming from? How do they find you in search engines? Which posts and categories are most popular? You can either use the analytics software your blog hosting company provides, or install Google Analytics. WordPress.com has it's own stats tool and self-hosted WordPress has a Google Analytics plug-in that makes installation relatively simple.
- Automated email updates. As with most marketing, you have to do it consistently in order to maximize it's value. But consistency can be awfully time-consuming. This is why we love technology! Feedburner and Feedblitz are two great tools to use that simplify your blog email marketing. They both will take care of two major tasks for you 1) enabling visitors to sign up to receive an email when you make a new post to your blog 2) automatically send the email each time someone posts to your blog. If you want to see how this works subscribe to this blog here Yes that was a shameless plug, but the point I make is no less valuable because of it!
- TweetMeme retweet counter. This little tool is a quick and easy way to get your posts retweeted and show their popularity. Note that it doesn't work so well if your title tags are not unique.
- Categories. Make it easier to find things on your blog. It's great to have things organized by date but this isn't particularly intuitive to a reader who is looking to find out what you write about or looking for help or answers on a specific topic. Use categories to help readers find what they're looking for and put the categories in your sidebar. Don't be afraid to put a post in more than one category. Remember the categories are for your *reader* so make them as intuitive as possible to the reader.
- Feed & email tool. Note that Feedburner and Feedblitz can also help you set up a feed and do all kinds of neat things with your feed. But most blogging software comes with an internal feed tool. If you're wondering what RSS is, here's a nice definition of RSS, but my explanation is basically if you're using myAOL or iGoogle or myYahoo and you have stories from different online magazines and Web sites appearing on those pages, you're probably using RSS. It allows you do see the most recent headlines from CNN or Inc. or the Economist without having to visit the site. The headlines are clickable. Click on the headline and it takes you to the article. Neat!
- (re)Captcha. Captcha is the tool that asks users to type in a set of letters or numbers before submitting a form. This tool is now available as a plugin for Web sites and blogs. (re)Captcha is captcha with a consience. While commenters are typing in the confirmation text, they are also helping to decipher text from very old books being saved by digitizing them. If you allow comments on your blog, you will definitely want some sort of spam defense. Even though it will not eliminate all comment spam it will help A LOT.
- Comment following. Make sure that people who make a comment will be notified when others comment on the same post. Taps into the voyeur in all of us. Super viral.
- Links to your clones. Make sure that if people like your style they have ways to connect with you. Enabling them to subscribe to your RSS feed and automated email update is great but how about you on Twitter? You on Facebook? You on LinkedIn? While you may not want to promote all three of these choose at least one and close that loop in the relationship with your reader.
- Comment moderation. If you open your blog to comments (which you don't have to do) you must review the comments. You will get spam. Spam looks silly on your blog. If you have some sort of captcha system the spam will be minimized but you will want to prune your blog of spam on a relatively frequent basis depending on how much traffic you get.
- Related Articles. I love this feature both as a blogger and a reader. It allows people to find other great content that they will probably want to read if they're reading the current article. Very easy to do and also viral.
- Your own domain name. Unless you already have a brand (or you're leapfrogging off of someone else's), I do recommend getting your own domain name. It shows dedication and seriousness. If you're just starting out can you have a successful blog without one? Of course! Is it harder? Of course!
- What now? Provide some indication of what you want people to do if they like your blog. Just read more? Consider hiring you? Buy a book? Come see you speak? Shop at your store?