There are many things businesses need to consider carefully before launching a blog, not least the reasons for doing so in the first place – defining objectives and drawing up a plan on how to achieve and measure said objectives should be the first step in any blogging journey.
There’s also a number of logistical questions that need to be answered before committing to a blogging plan, like who’s going to be responsible for creating and publishing content, what exactly is that content going to be, how frequently is it going to happen, and so on.
If these questions remain to be answered, it’s probably not the right time to be launching a blog – by failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail, as the saying goes. However, for the purpose of this post we’ll assume all of the boxes above have been ticked and focus more on the practical side of blogging, namely some of the key features that every blog should incorporate to deliver a positive user experience, and ensure maximum return on effort.
1. Date stamps
I’m pretty sure I speak on behalf of the internet when I say that landing on what appears to be a relevant piece of content, only to discover there is no evidence of when it was published, is incredibly annoying. Not knowing whether, say, a piece of research was released yesterday or 2 years ago renders the information all but useless.
“Basically, timestamps are like food expiration dates — they arm your readers with the information to decide if they want to consume your content, and “absolve” you of any misinformation if the content is old.” – Hubspot
So why the resistance? There is a belief that date stamps can have a negative impact on search traffic, due to the fact search engines will devalue content over time. This is simply not true in my experience; as long as the content is good enough to warrant a decent SERP position in the first place and is backed up by the right signals – links, social shares and all that good stuff – there’s no reason why a date-stamped piece of content can’t perform well in SERPs, even years after being published.
Category pages allow publishers to organise content, which in turn makes it easier for readers to find the information they’re most interested in. This is a particularly important consideration for blogs that cover a diverse subject matter, or for corporate blogs that act as the umbrella for various brands or departments. Categories also allows users to subscribe to specific categories via RSS feed, which can increase signups and views.
A number of publishing platforms – WordPress being the most obvious example – also allow publishers to ‘tag’ content with specific words or phrases. Tags can be a good way of segmenting content at a more granular level, but can also create problems if not managed carefully. Further reading on blog categories and tagging best practices here.
3. Search functionality
As blogs develop over time and the depth of content becomes greater, navigation can become more of an issue for users. While tags and categories help with this, often a user already knows exactly what it is they’re looking for and in such instances probably won’t want to wade through pages of content to find it. This where a search bar can help.
In addition to helping users find the information they are looking for quickly and easily, search functionality offers a number of secondary benefits to the publisher, including:
- Tracking site searches provides insight into user intent – if users are regularly searching for terms or topics that currently aren’t featured on the blog, it could be an indication that something needs to done to rectify that.
- Site search can provide insight into blog usability and navigation issues – if users frequently search for a term that already exists as a category or tag, for example, it may be that these need to be made clearer on the page.
- Site search can provide new keyword ideas.
While this is by no means an exhaustive list of blog best practices, it should provide a good starting point for businesses thinking of launching a blog in the near future.