Here are 5 ways you can improve your blog!

These are steps I’ve personally done to not only improve the appearance of my blog, make it reader friendly, but also encourage interaction as well.

1. Use WordPress

I can not stress this enough! WordPress is an amazing FREE publishing platform that is so easy to use, customize, and ENJOY that there is no reason to use anything else! I recently made the switch from Expression Engine and I’ve not looked back once. I will touch on various plugins throughout this entry.

Suggested Plugins

  • WP-Typography: helps your text display properly
  • WordPress Mobile Pack: I have a blackberry and it takes FOREVER to load “normal” sites. PLEASE get a mobile version! You could also use Mobify in which I was featured.
  • Defensio: I’ve found this to be a lot better at eliminating spam than Akismet.

2. Create your OWN design

I know I’ve mentioned this before, however it’s worth talking about again. Stop using free themes! A website with your own created images or NO graphics (pure CSS) is a hell of a lot better than a free theme that is seen all over the web. Using a free theme (that countless others are using or have used) lump you in with strangers, it doesn’t stand out visually, and does not create a memorable experience.

When I say “create your own design”, I mean that literally. From scratch. Taking a theme and changing a color or a few images is still using a pre-made theme that you did not design, create, or have any control over.

For me, I really enjoy sites where they have a specific header/entry/sidebar/footer type of design. Especially the footer. Otherwise it just looks as if something is missing.

Also, as an aside, get your own domain name and webhosting! It really helps! I am not fond of blogspot blogs because generally to comment you need a google or blogspot account which I feel I shouldn’t have to do to comment on ONE specific entry in a sea of blogs and having your OWN domain and hosting gives you ultimate control.

Layout and Basic Design

Inspiration and Resources

3. Use Photographs

Of course I would suggest this, but it’s been proven time and time again, readers are visual and nothing screams visual like a photo! I highly suggest taking the shots yourself, contrary to false popular belief, you do not need a fancy expensive camera to take good photos.

I generally try to take a photo that pertains to the entry I am about to write OR fit the entry around photos I’ve already shot recently.

I use for most of my shots my Nikon D50, 50mm f/1.8 lens, my Sigma 105mm lens, and lots of natural light.

Photography Resources

4. Write for Your Readers

When I say this, I mean it literally. If you want a personal diary, turn off the comments, make the blog private, or get rid of an online blog and go to paper.

Find a subject you’re strong in. Focus on a niche. Most people are not going to stay for long if your entry isn’t engaging to them. I tend to write about subjects that I am knowledgable in, for the most part anyway! My passions are attachment parenting, photography, and cooking, so I try to focus the majority of my entries around those three topics.

Post frequently! I aim to write an entry every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. A blog that goes weeks or even months without an entry is not one I will check up on or care about.

Resources

5. Improve Your Relations

At the end of the day, the majority of bloggers do so for the feedback, to be heard. You need to make it easy for people to comment on the entry you worked so hard on!

I try so hard to respond to each and every single comment, every email, every tweet… you get the point. Nothing drives me crazy than commenting frequently on someones blog only to be ignored time and time again. I feel unheard, a bit silly for thinking the person would even CARE that I put time and effort into reading and commenting on their entry, and generally I stop commenting after awhile.

How to Connect

  • Get rid of CAPTCHA. If I have to take yet MORE time to just fill out a form, I usually will give up. I don’t want to answer asinine questions such as “what is four plus five” only to be rejected when I answer “9” because it wasn’t in word format.
  • Respond to comments! Like I mentioned before, this is HUGE to me. Take the time to respond to comments via your blog entry, or email. Show respect that someone took time out of their day to not only stop by your blog, but read your entry, think about it, and come up with a well written response.
  • Go and comment on other blogs in your niche! If you want people to connect with you, you need to take that first shaky step. Read some entries, leave some well thought out comments, perhaps link to them on your link page or sidebar, follow a new person on twitter, make some connections yourself!
  • Make sure you link to your RSS feed often so people can use their favorite reader to stay updated
  • Add a subscribe to comments option so people can participate in the conversation

Promote Yourself

  • Use a tool such as TwitterFeed to automatically send a tweet when you’ve updated your blog
  • Offer to guest post on other blogs
  • Participate in blog carnivals, weekly meme’s, etc

Useful WordPress Plugins

  • TweetMeme: I love this plugin, it enables readers to quickly and easily retweet your post without having to go to Twitter directly.
  • Crosspost to LiveJournal: a lot of my readers come from LiveJournal so I enabled crossposting which encourages them to come back to OSN and comment on my entry
  • CommentLuv: when a person comments on your entry, it enables the them to select their most current entry to display and link to below their comment

I suggest using a good statistic software such as Google Analytics or Reinvigorate. It will give you a much more accurate measurement of visits, referrals, etc.

If you would like me to expand on any subject or explain what I’ve done around OSN, feel free to ask in the comments. Also, please share what you’ve done to improve your blog!

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You can also follow me on BlogLovin or Feedly
posted on December 15th 2009 at 1:17AM CDT

I love blog improvement posts. I’m working on redesigning my blog (slowly – because life happens, you know??) and eventually moving from Blogspot to WordPress. I didn’t realize until recently that I could do that for free.

I would LOVE to do my own design, but I just cannot figure the stuff out. I have a friend who works in graphic design though who I am thinking about hiring to make a design for me.

Mostly though, right now I’m just tinkering with my blog, getting used to how things work and networking with people who write the way I would like to eventually. I’m trying to find my exact niche and in the meantime just writing whatever is weighing on my mind at the time.

Anyway, thanks for giving me a gentle reminder that perhaps I should throw a little bit more time to my redesign project.

posted on December 15th 2009 at 1:21AM CDT

Thank you for your comment! I probably could have written a larger entry but as it is, hard to get blogging time in lately lol.

I suggest making a list of what you want to achieve with your blog, is it finding a close circle of like minded friends, having supreme popularity, being a resource for others, etc and how you will go about doing so.

When it comes to the appearance of the blog, I also make a list of how I want to do the header, footer, etc otherwise I would forget quite easily.

posted on December 15th 2009 at 7:43AM CDT

I love this post! Very straight forward and clear.

I did have a question, though. For some reason I thought you could only use wordpress templates if you had the free account. Am I misinformed? I’d love to jazz things up a bit!
.-= {Dallas Ann´s shared blog entry… Our Tree} =-.

posted on December 15th 2009 at 10:43AM CDT

You are thinking of http://wordpress.com rather than the self-hosted software from http://wordpress.org. Most of my information when it comes to the design/template/plugin aspect is geared towards the self hosted, however the entries/connect with others is for all blogs no matter of the platform.

posted on December 15th 2009 at 4:10PM CDT

Ah, yes. That would be where my brain was befuddled.
.-= {Dallas Ann´s shared blog entry… Our Tree} =-.

Tom
posted on December 15th 2009 at 9:57PM CDT

Hey, the look and feel of your site is what I’m hoping to get my wife’s site headed toward very soon. Thanks for writing this post… it’s nice to see a “regular (but awesome) person” making something that doesn’t look like a tweaked theme. We’re running a tweaked Atahualpa theme currently, but I’ve been watching some screencasts on creating one from scratch, getting educated about what all is possible, etc. I’ll bookmark this page and refer back to it to make sure I’m not skipping anything.

PS – I like the link at the bottom that points to the #top… I’m curious how that’s done!

posted on December 15th 2009 at 10:02PM CDT

Thank you so much!! Really I think people are misinformed about “themes”. It’s really just coming up with your design, coding it, and THEN inserting the WordPress (or whatever the person uses) template coding into the appropriate areas.

For the “back to top” link, it’s a basic anchor. The first div in my coding is “top” so I point the anchor/link to that div to drag you back to the top of the page. The actual code is:

< *a href="#top"*>going back up?< */a*> Minus the asterisks of course!

Tom
posted on December 15th 2009 at 11:31PM CDT

I’m assuming you’ve got a variable in your footer to create that link with osn.com/%post_name%/#top – or something similar. fascinating.

I’d really like to design 100% from scratch, but creatively I’m empty right now, and I want to do it right. Still “digesting” screencast #26 and #27 on css-tricks.com – he has a photoshop mockup and starts coding his php and css from scratch… it’s a good primer, I am really happy I found it.

I agree that using someone else’s theme is ok to start (all I’ve ever tried) but now that i have ideas and more css/xhtml foundation I don’t even want to start sorting through someone else’s code.

Don’t know if you or your readers have heard of this, but the “theme” used in those screencasts is called “Starkers” and it’s a “cleared out” theme – everything is reset, and when you activate the theme initially your site looks like the internet circa 1993… it’s begging to be styled! I will use that once my brain devises a design.

Starkers can be found at:

.-= {Tom´s shared blog entry… Toddlerese 6} =-.

posted on December 16th 2009 at 8:27AM CDT

Nope, the code literally is going back up? minus the asterisks, because every single part of the site has the “top” div layer, I don’t need to do anything other than an inter-site link if you will.

I would start with a basic framework before throwing myself into the graphics, you can do a very impressive site, all CSS, with creative use of color and typography. Ah!! I’ve only recently been watching the screencasts at CSS Tricks, very awesome.

Oh fabulous, thank you for sharing Starkers, I hadn’t come across that yet surprisingly!

posted on December 16th 2009 at 9:10AM CDT

This is helpful! I’ve been looking at your lovely site and thinking that I need to learn about WordPress, but I wasn’t sure where to start. I’m bookmarking this post so I can refer back to it when I start my journey (hopefully during the week between Christmas and New Year’s, when work should be almost non-existent).
.-= {Cheryl´s shared blog entry… The Time is Now} =-.

Tom
posted on December 16th 2009 at 9:12PM CDT

So, I’m curious what method you use when writing posts? Visual or HTML (or do you compose the body elsewhere then copy/paste and style it in a new post screen?)

Also, how much styling do you do once you have your content written? (aka – how much styling do you specify on a post-by-post basis?)
.-= {Tom´s shared blog entry… Homemade Wheat Pizza Crust} =-.

posted on December 16th 2009 at 9:53PM CDT

@Cheryl, thank you so much!! I can’t wait to see what you come up with!

@Tom, XHTML, and it really depends, on a basic entry I don’t do anything, on an informative entry I tend to use more headings and lists. Most everything is already coded into my CSS.

TheFeministBreeder
posted on December 16th 2009 at 10:07PM CDT

The one huge benefit to having Typepad was that they had a “reply by email” feature. So anytime I got a comment notification, I could just hit “reply” in my Outlook, and send away. It also nested the comment, so it looked sleek and perty.

Now that I’m on wordpress, I don’t respond to comments NEARLY as much as I used to. It’s just cumbersome to me. I try, as long as the comment seems like it needs a response (whether it’s a direct question, or it’s something I need to set straight). But you’re right. I should do a better job of responding point-by-point. I am running a blog after all… it’s part of the business.
.-= {TheFeministBreeder´s shared blog entry… The Case of the Mysterious Necklace} =-.

posted on December 16th 2009 at 10:09PM CDT

What a fabulous idea! Here is a plugin to do that!

You can do nested comments within WP, I personally don’t do so but depending how you do your comments.php file, it is native in WP to do nested commenting.

Amanda
posted on December 17th 2009 at 7:34AM CDT

Sarah, how do you reply to comments directly? I’ve tried a few plugins and can’t get anything to work for me. It’s frustrating!
.-= {Amanda´s shared blog entry… Gracie’s Christmas pictures} =-.

posted on December 17th 2009 at 5:47PM CDT

What do you mean by, “Responding to comments directly” ? Do you mean the type of nested/threaded comments?

Amanda
posted on December 17th 2009 at 6:57PM CDT

Yeah but I finally found a plugin I got to work. Thanks though!
.-= {Amanda´s shared blog entry… Gracie’s Christmas pictures} =-.

posted on December 18th 2009 at 9:09AM CDT

Oh you don’t need a plugin, it’s already built into WordPress.

posted on December 19th 2009 at 1:16PM CDT

Great advice!
.-= {Domestic Diva´s shared blog entry… New Nora Jones album The Fall} =-.

Lynda
posted on December 19th 2009 at 11:01PM CDT

This is a great article!

I used to do my own design and wouldn’t DREAM of using a theme. It still irritates me to use someone else’s design, but I don’t have time to design. I tried to customize my theme until I felt comfortable with it, but I just can’t do the full design part anymore!
.-= {shared blog entry – In the Year 2010} =-.

posted on December 20th 2009 at 2:46AM CDT

@Domestic Diva, thank you!

@Lynda, thank you so much! I think to start, it’s easier to do a purely CSS design instead of one with graphics, as it is my own designs tend to lean in that direction more and more.

Caity
posted on December 20th 2009 at 3:22AM CDT

I think I have almost all of these covered except for “use your own layout.” Most often I take another layout and customize it to be my own. I have tried making my own from scratch recently, though. I’m hoping my January layout will be completely from scratch.

posted on December 20th 2009 at 3:36AM CDT

I know I say this too often, but really, people make it so complicated! I hardly think my current design is all that special or complicated, but I just can’t deal with the lack of control over my own site so I’ve always designed my own… even if it sucks lol.

Damita
posted on December 20th 2009 at 6:19AM CDT

Hey Sarah how did you go about adding your picture and writing to your rss feed? :)

Thanks :)
.-= {shared blog entry – Digsby} =-.

Tom
posted on December 21st 2009 at 10:18PM CDT

I assume you have a div set up in your single.php to bring in all your social links and your twitter score, etc.

(nice adjustments to your comments styling, btw, very subtle, very tricky!)
.-= {shared blog entry – Healthier Holiday Snacks} =-.

posted on December 22nd 2009 at 1:37AM CDT

For the social links that is a combination of hand-coding them in plus the Sociable plugin. For the number of twitter followers/rss subscribers, that uses 2 separate plugins to grab the number without taxing out the twitter API.

Aww thank you!! I really wanted to make the comments are a bit more spiffy.

@Damita, I use a plugin called RSS Footer to add info to my RSS feed.

Logan
posted on January 03rd 2010 at 1:29PM CDT

So I’ve been following you religiously enough that when I finally made My own blog, I linked you on the “Links.” page. I guess one could say you’re inspiring. ;)

But I just can’t help being intimidated by the thought of making My own WP theme. I mean, I’m not daft by any means, and I’m pretty good at grasping the concepts of coding, but WP is its own engine and that’s where I get thrown. I’m just learning how to use WP as it is.

I’m used to teaching Myself things, but sometimes I wish there was some kind of mini-class that I could attend where someone would interactively show Me how to do it. It probably would cause Me a lot less headache, but I suppose the headache comes with the territory sometimes. :p
.-= {shared blog entry – G’morning.} =-.

posted on January 04th 2010 at 1:21AM CDT

That is so sweet Logan! When it comes to doing a wp “template”, I’ve always said, do the design/coding of that design FIRST, then work in the WP templating codes. Makes it fast/easier.

Logan
posted on January 04th 2010 at 8:23AM CDT

Now that I think about it, that is a very sound idea. I would make a metaphor for it but I can’t quite think of the right one, haha. Thanks for the advice, and the helpful post in general. :)
.-= {shared blog entry – Goals.} =-.

Laura aka LaLaGirl
posted on January 07th 2010 at 12:40AM CDT

This post is fabulous – and just what I needed to read right now. You’re awesome!
.-= {shared blog entry – Who would have thought this would bring me such joy?} =-.

Kristi
posted on January 13th 2010 at 10:29PM CDT

I am literally making the switch to wordpress.com to wordpress.org and self-hosting in a matter of days. I’m changing the name of my blog as well. I plan to import my current blog posts, comments, etc. Any suggestions as to how I can make the transition run smoothly? You have so many great ideas. I’ve been revisiting your posts often. There’s so much great content! :)

posted on January 14th 2010 at 6:42PM CDT

@Logan and @Laura I am glad you find my post helpful!

@Kristi since you are going from the .com to self-hosted it should be a smooth transition of just exporting from the .com and importing into the new domain. I am SO excited to see what domain/site you have come up with!! Feel free to contact me if you need any help!

lizzie
posted on June 01st 2011 at 12:17PM CDT

Oh. my gah. i just happened upon your blog today and i am freaking out just a bit. we started with thesis as our theme because both of us have extremely high standards for taste and ended up giving up with a MILDLY okay looking result…i want to design our own but it’s so overwhelming to get started when you don’t know css at all.

i’m really excited to dig through your archives and learn more about this…you are fantastic for sharing your knowledge.

Lynn
posted on June 15th 2012 at 5:30PM CDT

I agree with having to sign up somewhere else just to leave a comment. I tried to leave a comment on a blog but couldn’t because I needed to signup a another way to connect even though we’re connected on google+ and twitter

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