The beginning of every year is a time for reflection over your life, family, friends, career, and finances. It is also the best time to evaluate the past year’s performance and create a new list of goals. As a professional blogger or general internet entrepreneur, it is critical that you identify your strengths and weaknesses so that you may patch any gaps in your marketing strategy.
To help you holistically review your online business, we’ve created this blogger’s checklist. Whether you need tips on starting a blog or are a seasoned blogger in need of a refresher on the fundamentals, this list of design, content, and SEO tips is sure to improve your domain authority, user experience and monetization in 2016.
1. Take note of the goals you met, and decide whether they still have a place in your 2016 plans. For example, regular content development is obviously an ongoing need.
2. Look at the goals you didn’t meet. Analyze why you didn’t meet them, and make actionable plans on how to meet them in the coming year.
3. Identify your focus. Are you staying in your niche or do you want to branch out to related topics? Will the new subject matter conflict with or complement your blog’s current content and readership?
4. Set measureable goals: traffic targets, new reader acquisition, page views per visitor, search engine rankings for specific keywords, email subscribers – among others.
5. Is your keyword research comprehensive? Are your target keywords too competitive or low volume? Are you investing your time answering questions and developing content on topics that will get your blog found? Are there easier terms to target while your blog’s authority grows?
6. Plan out a publishing schedule, but be flexible enough to make adjustments when necessary.
7. Create time to read other publications, including your competitor’s, both for learning and leisure purposes.
8. Learn new skills that will make you a better blogger. Take a look at Coursera, Khan Academy, and other similar platforms. Becoming involved in a new community can provide unique insights worth sharing with your audience.
9. Is your hosting company and server up to par or are you losing visitors or productivity because of external factors? Invest in a reputable web host provider.
10. Make your site faster. Check out the tips from Google’s PageSpeed tool and leverage a service like CloudFlare.
12. Delete outdated or unused plugins. They pose security threats and possibly slow down the load times of your pages.
13. Update or find new plugins that will improve site performance and usability. W3 Total Cache is the industry go-to resource for WordPress sites.
14. Clean up your files. Delete duplicates of content and images and delete old backups.
15. Compress images to save bandwidth and increase page speed. Use the “WP Smush” plugin or create an account at PicMonkey to optimize images for the web.
16. Check and fix dead links with Google Webmaster Tools. If your blog runs on WordPress, install the Broken Link Checker plugin for immediate updates.
17. Strengthen your site’s security by regularly updating WordPress, themes and plugins, creating a backup on a weekly basis, avoid using “admin” as your username, and install the plugin “Limit Login Attempts”.
18. Research web design best practices before making changes. However, you don’t have to follow everything others are doing. Choose what is best for your blog, brand, readers, monetization strategies and goals.
19. Prioritize the user experience: easy-to-read fonts and sizes, white space, imagery, simple navigation, internal links, and content-focused instead of ad-focused. If you’re going to use ads, choose a design and placement that strikes a balance between optimizing CTRs and not annoying your readers. Sometimes it is better to forgo a monetization strategy if it is going to alienate your readership or come off as too aggressive and greedy.
20. Buy a new theme if necessary. Don’t hesitate to pay for a premium theme if you think it has the look and features that will achieve your goals. Just be careful that the code is not too heavy or your load times will suffer.
21. Don’t forget responsive design. Test your blog on different screen sizes, browsers, and devices to ensure it displays properly. This will also help you identify which pages and images are too heavy for mobile devices to load quickly.
22. Redesign a new, more interesting 404 page by linking to your most popular content. Hardcode links or randomize programmatically.
23. Consider a logo revamp. Ideally, you will have an image and text. The image should be able to stand alone for some of your social pages (e.g. Facebook and Twitter profile image).
24. Create an editorial calendar if you need structure and motivation to keep producing content.
25. Have a running list of topics, which you can pull post ideas from at any time. Researching competitors is a great way to find content you should produce for your own website.
26. Report timely news and developments within your niche, but make sure to add your own insights and not just echo someone else’s opinion. Becoming the go-to resource for news in your community can be a great source of recurring traffic.
27. Focus on developing cornerstone or evergreen content regularly. These types of articles offer the best opportunities to attract links from high authority publications.
28. Write for your audience first and foremost, not for Google. Write something you yourself would want to read. This means being personable, yet comprehensive and solution-oriented. Try to create the best guides in your industry – content that will answer every question a reader may have.
29. Invest the time to come up with killer titles. Obviously avoid link baiting readers, but you can start it off with the keyword phrase you want to rank for, add a colon or dash, and make a quantitative statement. You will also want to review Google Webmaster Tools to optimize your page titles.
30. If you have trouble writing or coming up with what to discuss on a topic, make a rough outline that will give your post flow. Research what the best in the industry may be saying and add even more information and value than them. This is especially crucial when you are trying to compete for high volume, high competition keywords.
31. Identify your voice or tone and be true to your personality. As they say, “there already is a [famous person’s name] in the world, but there is only one [Insert Your Name].” The easiest and simplest way to differentiate yourself is to share your own experiences, opinions, and expertise.
32. Keep your sentence structure and vocabulary simple. Don’t use “big” words to impress. Use good grammar, but don’t write overly complicated or long sentences merely to show off your grasp of the language.
33. Break up your text into paragraphs that are 2 to 5 sentences long. Use headings, sub-headings and bullet points freely.
34. Always include a featured image or one near the top of your page. Imagery entices readers to click and is much more welcoming than a block of text.
35. Leverage infographics, graphs, charts, and visually whenever possible. People absorb more information through images than text, and images also make your post shareable.
36. Always proofread your post to check for grammar, spelling, and typographical errors. This is often optimally accomplished a day after you’ve finished writing. This gives your mind time to percolate ideas in your subconscious and come back with a fresh approach. Sometimes what you wrote one morning just doesn’t seem as great the next. Nevertheless, done is better than perfect.
37. Do keyword research and identify a keyword to target for each post. The importance of keyword research can never be overstated because investing your time writing great content that will not rank for the next year or two is the quickest way to burn yourself out. Start with low competition, low to medium volume terms and build up your domain’s authority.
38. Use your keyword and variations naturally in headings and sub-headings (H1, H2, H3…). One article can be optimized for multiple closely-related keywords.
39. Use your keyword in your text and image alt tags, but don’t be overly aggressive with your keyword density and placement. Remember that your title is the strongest SEO indicator for that page so you don’t need to repeat yourself 10 times within a page to rank.
40. If you have multiple images, use multiple relevant alt tags. However, don’t do alt=”keyword”. Focus on a phrase that is descriptive.
41. Shorten your permalinks to focus primarily on one keyword phrase. Be mindful that you can always change your title later, but your permalink is more burdensome because it requires a redirect.
42. Make internal linking a practice. Link to related posts within the body, especially to evergreen content, but just to be safe, don’t over-optimize your anchor texts. Use variations to avoid linking to the same internal page dozens of times with the same phrase.
43. When starting a blog, focus on building branded links. This means using your URL, brand name or your own name as anchor text. For example, “StartABlog123”, “Start A Blog 123”, “StartABlog123.com”, or “Gary Dek”.
44. Always prioritize quality over quantity for link building. If you are evaluating a publication you may be interested in guest posting for, review their keyword rankings, social media engagement, site structure, etc. Analyze a site holistically – Moz’s DA is terribly unreliable in terms of gauging domain strength because, for one, it does not take into consideration whether a site has a penalty or not.
45. Invest time to build at least one strong social media account. Start with one, learn what works, and move on. But don’t waste time on platforms that don’t work for your niche or readership. B2B blogs can ignore Pinterest and Instagram, but invest heavily in LinkedIn and Twitter. B2C blogs, particularly ones that rely on imagery such as fashion and food blogs, can expect strong engagement and CTRs with Pinterest, Facebook, and Instagram.
46. Optimize the location of your social media buttons. Top, Bottom, and to the left are common places, but A/B testing can guarantee optimal placement for your specific website.
47. Identify the optimal times for you to share your content on every platform. Read studies and gather your own data to determine the strategy that gives you optimal results.
48. Reply to tweets and comments. Thank others for sharing your content. Engage with social media users. Social media may be one of the easiest ways to build loyal followers.
49. Reciprocate the social love and share other people’s content. Being an expert at recognizing great useful content and sharing it with your followers can help you become an influencer in your niche.
Blogging is like anything else in life – you get what you give, and I don’t just mean in the sense of helping fellow bloggers and building relationships, although that’s very important. In this world of immediate results and feedback, we are trained to feed off of instant gratification – to do something and immediately be rewarded.
Blogging, by virtue of being a part of the internet and connected to the fast-paced world of technology, gives people the impression that quick success and money is possible. It isn’t. Ask most successful bloggers and internet entrepreneurs, and they will tell you that they toiled day and night for at least a couple years before hitting it big. The ones that didn’t are anomalies and likely had established relationships before even starting.
The point is – blogging is like playing with Legos. It takes time, effort, consistency, and a long-term investment of your resources to build anything meaningful. Each of the tips above and every step you take towards growing your blogging business is a building block or stepping stone to the next level. It isn’t complicated nor does it require an advanced degree. It is simply a matter of doing hundreds or thousands of things right over time. And if you ever feel beat down, do what I do and read famous motivational quotes to remind you that the path to success is challenging but worth it.
Note: The opinions expressed in this article are the views of the author, and not necessarily the views of Caphyon, its staff, or its partners.