The design and functionality of your blog should be determined by your blogging targets and goals. Not all blogs will look the same or require the same functionality. Getting exactly the right blog for your business takes careful consideration.
How will my visitors look for my content?
How people find content on your blog is call “navigation” and numerous common methods are used:
- Order of presentation. Some vistors will simply read the content in the order it’s displayed on the screen.
- In full. If you achieve a large following, your most recent article should always display in full on your blog home page. This is because visitors have already read your previous entries and they will usually want to read your recent article and then leave.
- Most recent. It is nice to include the most recent (10 or so) articles on the home page, this encourages new visitors to read on. This is not suitable for blogs using lots of images as the page could become bloated and slow to load.
- Excerpts. You may choose to include only excerpts on the home page. These are small summary paragraphs which click through to the full article. But beware, the excerpts need to create interest.
- Category search. Posts can be assigned to a category. The number of categories you decide on will depend on your business and the frequency of your post. Ideally, if you have more than eight categories you should consider sub categorising and so on. Using categories as the main navigation method is useful for larger blogs with lots of content and blogs with many contributors. It is not relevant if the content is date sensitive. For example, technology articles might be out dated quite quickly and therefore it’s not important for people to be able to search via category.
- Archive/date search. Visitors are usually able to find content based upon the published date. I prefer to read personal blogs in date order, it brings me closer to the author and I like the time line. If your blog is being used for news & events, a date search is really important.
- Blog search. It’s always nice to include a search tool, however, visitors will only use this as a backup if the main navigation is not adequate or they are looking for a specific post. Ensure that it is easy to find but it does not need to take up a lot of screen space.
- Browse. First-time visitors like to browse. To encourage browsing you should include as many options to find content as possible including: internal links and next/previous options.
- Active posts. Many blogs include a recent comments section which link through to blogs with recent activity.
- Integrated menu. If the real goal of your blog is to drive traffic to your main website then you should consider integrating the main website menu into your blog. This means that users can easily find your main website and don’t get “trapped” in your blog.
It’s fine to encourage all methods of navigation but it’s useful to decide on one method for the primary navigation. A useful exercise is to rank the different types above in order of importance.
Where should the main menu live?
Your primary navigation (menu) should be easy for visitors to spot, higher up the page, more prominent and allocated enough space. Your menu will usually be placed across the top of the screen (horizontal menu) or down the left hand side (left hand menu). I often see the menu on the right, which is acceptable, but remember that will be the first section of the page to be hidden on smaller monitors (and therefore visitors might need to scroll to reach it).
- Horizontal menu. This type of navigation is fixed in size and can only accommodate a small number of categories (I’d say 8-12 max). It’s possible to use drop down menus for sub categories, but these are harder for people to use, not useful for people with disabilities and don’t always work on all browsers or devices (such as iPhones and Blackberry’s). I would recommend avoiding a drop down menu if at all possible, at the very least offer a text based alternative.
- Left hand menu. By far the most appropriate place to position a larger or expanding menu is down the left of your content. This options allows for many more options including larger menus with sub categories.
How often should I post and how long should they be?
I often hear that the magic number is at is at least three times a week. However, the truth is the frequency of posts should be calculated based upon your goals and the return on your investment (time).
- Frequent posting. Posting three times a week (or more) is great if you require lots of repeat visitors or if your goal is to build up lots of content for SEO purposes. But remember to measure the return on your time and to avoid publishing low quality content. Generally, if you are posting frequently you’ll want to keep your articles short and snappy.
- Less frequent. If the goal of your blog is to simply demonstrate an authority on your topic (valid where you are selling large value items to less customers) you do not need post quite so often. High quality and low quantity content is also perfect for encouraging back links. Your posts can be longer, more technical and more in depth.
- Not Frequently. If you do not intent on posting very frequently, there is little point in featuring the date in your posts. Leave it out and avoid putting off visitors.
How personal does the blog need to be?
- The personal blog. If you are the owner of a small business then you may opt for a personalised blog. You may personalise with your photo, the style of your writing and use of graphics.
- The company blog. For larger companies you may have a team of individuals posting on the blog, the blog may even be used more for PR, News & Event – in which case it can be more corporate. If may be useful to include a bio for each contributor so that visitors can meet the authors – but this will depend on your business goals.
How much interaction should I encourage?
One great blog features is the ability to allow visitors to post comments on your posts. But don’t just use the feature because it’s available. Comments can be subject to abuse and you’ll need to monitor them closely. If you do want to encourage lots of comments, then remember to ask for them and always respond to people quickly. Alternatively, you might not want to allow comments or you may choose to turn them off for some articles only – all up to you and your goals.
To summarise – As with all marketing, there is no “one size fits all” approach. The way you manage your blog will depend on your goals, your company and the resources available. Your blog and your approach to managing your blog should be as unique as your business.