12 Essential Elements of Style for a Successful Blog

Ever wondered what million-dollar bloggers have got that you don’t?

When you visit their blogs, perhaps you have the sense that something makes the blog especially inviting…but you can’t quite put your finger on what it is.

What creates that feeling? It’s the blog’s style.

Great bloggers don’t just have amazingly useful content, they present it in an appealing way.

In building my blog into a Top 10 Blogs for Writers winner, I’ve learned a lot about effective blog style.

Here are my Elements of a Style guide for creating a blog that makes visitors want to stick around:

1. Declutter.

 Most great blogs don’t try to jam too much stuff onto a page. If you’ve got more than one sidebar with more than a half-dozen items in that sidebar, it’s time to cut back. Too much stuff on your website and it becomes just like your messy desk, or your messy room. It’s uninviting and drives visitors away. Low-value items to chuck include a listing of your blog archives by month, large graphics of everyone following you on Facebook, long blogrolls with links to other blogs, and ‘recent posts widgets.

2. Think about color.

 The colors on your blog set a mood. You don’t want too many of them, and you want to think about their impact. Having a black background can make a site feel very gloomy, for instance. I recently got feedback that the brown color in my blog’s header was unusual and offputting, so I eliminated it, substituting a crisp white background and tones of gold and brick red. I was amazed at how much more I liked hanging around my own blog! And my subscriber count has zoomed since making the switch. COLOURlovers is a great resource for thinking about color.

3. Put the important stuff on top.

What’s the one action you want visitors to take on your blog? Usually, it’s either to subscribe to the blog by email or to contact you. Whatever your one action is, put it right up at the top of your sidebar or even into your header. Make it nice and large and put white space around it, so it stands out. Speaking of headers:

4. Make your header clear.

Readers should be able to glance at your header and know immediately what your blog is about. Can they tell?

5. Make it easy to share.

I’ve reviewed hundreds of blogs, and I’m always surprised at how many have no social sharing buttons, or only just the TweetMeme. Even if you aren’t very active on social media, your readers may be — so make it easy for them to spread the word about your post to their friends.

6. Keep your best stuff on the home page.

 I consider the Most Popular Posts widget one of the greatest inventions since sliced bread. With this feature, it doesn’t matter how long ago you wrote that killer post — readers will continue to find it. I have one post from ages back that still gets about 800 views every month, thanks to Popular Posts.

7. Flash more details about your topic.

 A tag cloud or categories list helps visitors quickly see more detail on what’s discussed on your blog, and helps them decide to stay. Keep it short — 8-10 topics at most. A list of 50 things you talk about on the blog is overwhelming and unhelpful.

8. Work hard on headlines

 Your blog post headlines are critically important. Readers glance at them and make an instant decision whether to stay or go. Also, the lack of keywords in your headlines means Google can’t send you any readers searching for information on your topic. Learn how to write strong, informational headlines and your traffic will grow.

9. Word hard on first lines.

 The first sentence or two of your post also has SEO juice, too — ever seen how those show up on Google searches? If you start the post with, “I remember a story Uncle Joe told me once…” you may have lost your reader. Eliminate the ‘throat-clearing windup and jump right in with the meat of your topic, using keywords that let readers know what you will cover in the post.

10. Learn the technical basics.

 Do you know how to enliven words with a link, rather than printing out a URL that isn’t clickable? How to put photographs with posts and provide proper credit for free images you use? These are skills you need to create a blog post that’s attractive and useful.

11. Make your posts scannable.

 People read things differently online. They’re mostly scanners and skimmers. So make your post easy to browse, with bold subheads, or bulleted or numbered lists…like this one.

12. Be consistent.

 Think of how comforting it is to pick up your local newspaper. You can count on it to come out each morning. It’s always got that same big headline on top, and then a big photo on the left, and perhaps a smaller one on for a story going down the right-hand column. You want your blog to be reliable like that, too. Even if you’re posting once a month, do it on the same day of the week and time of day. Put your photos in the same spot and make them a similar size on each post. This repetition is comforting to repeat visitors and helps them get hooked on visiting your site. People are creatures of habit, and your consistency makes readers feel they can rely on you.

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