We all know that the content of a blog post is the most important element of all, so I’m not even going to mention content in this article. Instead, I want to focus on the other elements that go into a blog post that encourage readers to stay on a site longer and share what they find with others.
Blogging is about more than delivering a message to your desired audience. It is also about invoking a specific reaction from that audience. While the preferred reaction is certainly different from one blog to another depending on a number of factors, there are several elements that will help you along the way regardless.
As a side note, I am going to assume that your blog is running on as a self-hosted WordPress install. That’s what I use and as you probably know, WordPress is pretty much the gold standard for blogs these days. I am going to recommend several WordPress plugins below, so that’s why this is important. If you’re not running on WordPress, I’m sure there are other options available to implement these same elements. You just have to do a little more research.
So, without further ado, here are 7 elements that I believe every blog post should have:
1. Social Sharing Buttons
This should be the most obvious item on the list. You should be encouraging your readers to share your articles through social media channels. The most important buttons to have, in my opinion, are the Facebook’s like button and Twitter’s tweet button. If you’re going for a minimalist design, at least allow room for those two buttons.
However, if you’re looking for something a little more robust, I’d recommend using something like Flare, AddThis, Digg Digg, or WP Socializer. I’ve used all four of those plugins on various sites and have never had major issues.
2. An Email Subscription Form
This is probably my biggest weakness when it comes to blogging, as I just started building my list. The more I read about marketing trends, the more I see this advice being put out there. You need to be building an email list! It is the holy grail of Internet marketing. Many marketers would argue that their blogs live or die by their list.
So read up on how to get started building an email list. It doesn’t have to be anything fancy. I just started using AWeber, which is an affordable way to collect subscribers and send out occasional email newsletters. So far their service has been outstanding and I strongly encourage you to check them out if you’re ready to get serious about email marketing.
3. A Comment System
Ah, comments. The original method of interaction on blogs. It seems like commenting on blogs has become less important in recent years, thanks to the proliferation of social media, but that doesn’t mean they are going away forever. The discussion is still happening, it is just more fragmented these days.
Several years ago, the primary way for readers to interact with a blog author was through the comments section of a post (or via email). These days, those same readers might comment, or they might tweet you, or send you a message on Facebook or post something on Google+, or interact on a number of other social platforms.
But at the end of the day, you want to encourage readers to stay on your site, since it is your hub. One way to do that is to give readers a quick and easy method of commenting.
I am using the default WordPress comments system on this site, but other options you might want to look into include Disqus and Livefyre. I’ve used and tested both and they both interest me because of their social interaction features. It’s just a matter of personal taste. Right now I just want to go with a simple comment system that loads fast and doesn’t take away from other elements of the page, but I might switch things up in the future.
4. Recommended Article Links
Once a visitor finishes reading your article, what are they going to do next? Hopefully they will subscribe to your newsletter via your capture form, or add a comment, or share the article with their followers. But what if they don’t do any of these things? You need to offer an option for people who still need a little convincing before taking the next step.
One way to lead such individuals along is with a recommended or related articles plugin. If you’re using a desktop browser as you read this right now, you can probably see that when you scroll down enough, a box flies out from the right that offers a selection of articles that are “Recommended For You.” This was done using a WordPress plugin called nrelate Flyout and it is free.
There are other ways to display recommended articles, using a static list or just thumbnails. Regardless of how you do it, the bottom line is that your goal is to keep visitors on your site as long as possible. Having a recommended or related articles section below each post helps you in this regard.
5. An Author Box
Here’s a simple one. You want your readers to be able to put a face to a name. Having a section below each post that displays a short biography about the author (and maybe a photo) will add a personal touch to your entire site.
Unless you’re going for a stuffy “corporate” feel, this seems like a must. Right now, I’m using a WordPress plugin called Fancier Author Box, but you really don’t even need a plugin at all if you’re ready to do a little coding. I just like the extra features and overall layout offered with this particular plugin.
6. Facebook Open Graph Tags
Okay, now we’re going to get technical. These last two elements might seem trivial, but they are super important.
If you don’t know about Facebook’s Open Graph Protocol, I recommend reading up on it now. The bottom line is that Facebook is on a mission to catalog pretty much the entire Internet, including each and every one of your blog posts.
In order to do this, they created a set of specific meta tags that helps pull specific information and images from your site. In order to assist Facebook in “scraping” this metadata from your page, there are a few tags that you should include within your page source.
If this all sounds super technical, please bear with me because it really isn’t that bad. To accomplish the task of adding these meta tags to all of my sites, I use a free WordPress plugin called NextGEN Facebook Open Graph. It takes a little trial and error getting everything to work correctly, but it is worth the effort.
Once installed, you want to make sure everything is working correctly by visiting Facebook’s Open Graph Debugger and plugging in your post URL. In a future article, I will get into more detail about this.
7. Google Authorship Markup
Lastly, we have something that very well might boost your click-through rate. Google Authorship is an option provided by Google to link content on your specific domain (i.e. your blog) to your personal Google+ profile and to have this association show up in Google search results. If you’ve ever wondered why certain Google search results contain photos of people and their names, this is where it comes from.
Setting up Google Authorship is very easy and once completed, you can pretty much forget about it, just like with the Open Graph tags above. There is no need to manually edit anything on a post-by-post basis once it is functioning.
That’s it for this list, which ended up being much more detailed than I originally thought it would be. Anyway, I hope you find at least some of these suggestions useful or maybe you disagree with some of them. That’s fine too.
In fact, feel free to comment below with your specific opinion on which elements a blog post should have. And of course, if you have any questions about this stuff, add a comment and I’ll try my best to help you sort it out.