I once hosted a #Bloggab chat on 17 specific blog elements and how important they are. I’m finally going to give my take on ‘Need It or Not’!
Are there certain blog elements you wouldn’t want your site to be without? Before you answer, think about it this way. Do you look for certain blog elements whenever you visit someone else’s blog for the first time?
This is my take on how important — or even necessary — such pieces might be. Your mileage, of course, may well vary. I’d love to hear which of these you think are “must-haves” and which you could do without.
So let’s jump into the list and I’ll tell you why I think they’re important or not a big deal.
1. An “About” Page
An About page is more than the place where the site’s owner posts his or her biography. It can also be the place you post the story of how your blog came to be and what you hope to accomplish. It gives a reader a bit of a behind-the-scenes look at the website.
READ MORE: 5 Questions A Good About Page Should Answer
When I read a post on a site I’ve never visited before, I will almost always look for an About page. I want to see who the writer is and what their goal is. It’s amazing what you can learn about someone’s motives through a well-done About page.
In my view, an About page is definitely a must-have.
2. Your Photo
Should you show your face on your blog? There are some people who insist that they won’t read a post if they can’t see the face of the author. Some of these same people, however, have no problem posting snarky comments while hiding behind a blank profile.
To the extent that posting your photo adds to your credibility, you should post one. If your job or career or if sensitive subject matter could cause you problems, I might suggest an avatar that at least resembles you. It might people a little less likely to embrace your content.
I would call it a must-have, but I understand there are situations in which it’s a nice-to-have instead.
3. Your Real Name on Your Site
I once received a rude comment from a woman who complained that I was attempting to hide my identity by only using my first name. Clearly, she didn’t bother to look at my domain.
It’s a credibility issue for some. I don’t necessarily need to know someone’s first and last name. If they’re able to argue a point effectively, the argument is what I’ll pay attention to, anyway.
For those who feel comfortable divulging their full name, I say go for it. But this one I’d call nice-to-have.
4. Your Own Domain
Your own domain need not be your full name. In my case, if patricksplace.com had been available, I would surely have used it because I think it’s more memorable. That domain was not available when I decided to buy my own domain. (It remains unavailable, in fact.)
So my name was a second choice that because the one I used.
But there’s a much bigger issue here: Having your own domain rather than relying on someone else’s platform helps you protect your content from someone else’s arbitrary editorial judgments. I’ve written before about a fellow blogger’s plight when the now-defunct AOL blogging platform responded to a complaint about a single “offensive” graphic by deleting that user’s entire graphics library in one move.
What’s worse, when they realized the reaction was an over-reaction, they said they couldn’t restore the deleted files.
When you have your own domain, you avoid third-party editors who might take their role a bit too far.
For me, your own domain — preferably hosting your content on a platform like self-hosted WordPress — is a must-have.
5. Open Comment Sections
Few blog elements get bloggers as fired up as comment sections. There was a time — and it’s been a while now — that bloggers could at least expect a few comments. Those days, I’m afraid, are long gone.
Some bloggers close their comment sections down. A few of them complain that they “don’t have time” to weed out all of the spam. I find that suspicious since there are WordPress plugins that are very good at spotting false comments when they detect them. I’ve always believed that’s more of an ego issue: the bloggers don’t want others to see how few comments they receive.
Honestly, if that bothered me so much, I would have stopped blogging years ago. I’m here for readers, not comments.
If a reader wants to add a comment, that’s gravy. I’d much rather they just read and not comment than not read out of fear that they’ll feel obligated to comment.
Still, comments can sometimes add to the discussion. It has happened here. For me, comments are definitely nice to have.
6. Comment Moderation
This won’t necessarily be a popular opinion. But if you’re going to allow people to comment on your site, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with moderating those comments.
Some will remove comments they think violate their terms. Others won’t allow comments to appear until they review them.
I choose the latter.
I didn’t always moderate comments, but over the past few years, people seem to have forgotten basic manners. So I have no problem moderating comments ahead of time.
If you can’t be respectful, your comment doesn’t appear here. It’s as simple as that.
Given our rude culture, I’d call some form of comment moderation — either before or after the fact — a must-have.
7. A Reply to Every Comment
I do try to respond to comments. I’m the first to admit that I don’t always succeed. But then most of the blogs I’ve left comments on don’t respond to mine.
So it seems to me that there’s a common practice that if there’s nothing really to add to someone else’s comment, it’s not viewed as a requirement.
I’ll go with the flow and call it nice to have.
8. Categories and Tags
It astounds me how far back this blog goes sometimes. It was 2012 when I started a project to fix this site’s categories and tags.
That decision came after I realized I had been using categories and tags the wrong way.
Your blog’s categories are like chapters of a book: You want to use categories for broad topics of interest. (You can also use them to narrow specific branches of interest within a single topic if you have a single-topic blog.)
Your blog’s tag, then, function like a book’s index.
Let’s say I’m doing a post about a new plugin designed to help you moderate comments on your blog. I’ll select “Blogging” as my category, since it’s the broad topic. I also have a “Blogging” tag, but I’ll add tags for “Comments” and “WordPress.”
If you run, for example, a food blog where everything has something to do with cuisine, and you write up a recipe for a great cheesecake, you might select a category like “Desserts.” You might select tags like “Cheesecake” and “Recipes.”
By design, categories are a wider topic. Tags get granular.
SEO policies suggest you’re better off with one category per post, but multiple tags.
Since each are searchable (see the links in the category and tag names above), they can help your readers find related content faster.
They’re definitely must-haves.
9. A ‘Responsive’ Theme
When you choose a “responsive theme,” you’re choosing a layout specifically designed to display in an easier-to-read manner on smartphones and tablets than you’d see on a desktop or laptop. The theme “responds” when it detects the type of device on which it will display your content.
Some themes look great on a desktop or laptop computer, but may be difficult to read on a smaller screen. Once in a while, you might see a layout that looks great on mobile, but doesn’t look so hot on desktop.
When I check my analytics for the last year, I see that 54.43% of my views over the last 14 months have been on mobile. So if I chose a design that wasn’t “responsive,” I’d be cheating more than half of my audience of a better reader experience.
Some sites have a much higher mobile-to-desktop ratio.
Regardless, it’s clear that mobile visitors will only have a larger presence in the years to come.
No question about it: A responsive theme is a must-have.
10. Images on Every Post
This is a very subjective topic. Some blog themes I’ve seen are called “minimalist” and don’t use any images. The idea is the writing is what’s important. I can understand the focus on the writing. It is important, after all.
At the same time, we’re a visual species. I believe images add to a presentation.
For this blog, I rely on stock images to provide at least a starting point for the topic I’m writing about. Particularly on my front page, those images might help someone find content they’re interested in. Some people get bent out of shape about stock images. But I write about a wide-enough array of content here that having to go snap my own photos for every single post would be impractical beyond words.
I still think images are important. In fact, I specifically choose blog themes that put images right up front.
For me, images are must-haves. For others, I realize why they may be considered unimportant enough to be unnecessary.
11. Guest Posts
I have a love-hate relationship with guest posts here at Patrick’s Place. I love them when I want a post written by a specific person whose insight I want on my blog.
I hate them when someone I don’t know and have never heard of expects me to just take their words and post them.
I’ve written several times about the number of solicitations I receive these days about people wanting to write guest posts. They propose them even when they have to scroll past my guest post policy to reach my contact form.
I’ve allowed only a handful of guest posts on this blog over the years. In each case, I chose someone I knew and whose position and experience on a specific subject matter I knew.
I tried accepting a guest post from someone who offered me a trade: she’d write me “relevant content” for this blog and she’d get something I write added to a prominent website. She sent me content that had nothing to do with a subject I wrote about. Once I published it, she never did get my submission published on said site.
Don’t bother looking: you won’t find her guest post here.
Guest posts from people who can provide content that matters to your audience can be nice to have. Otherwise, they’re a waste of time and space on your site.
12. An Email Newsletter
This item and the next, while they may look similar, can be two very different things.
An email newsletter, for the purposes of this post, is a newsletter composed specifically as its own message to readers. It will contain links to recent posts, of course, but it also contains original content not necessarily published on the blog.
It may discuss what’s been going on in the blogger’s life that may have influenced recent posts. Or it may promote upcoming content that readers can expect. But it’s more than just an email listing of recent posts.
I’ve never attempted this type of endeavor because of time and the fact that most email newsletters of this type require a cost to send out.
They’re nice when you can commit to the time, so I’m calling them a nice-to-have option. But for those who can’t, the next item might be the better choice.
13. An Option for Email Subscription
An alternative to the more formal email newsletter is an email subscription option. This option does not require what essentially amounts to an additional blog post in the form of the email message. In fact, it shows up in your subscribers’ inboxes as lists of recently-published posts.
With no real effort from the blogger, it’s an easy way to allow your readers a chance to see what you’ve been doing lately (and hopefully not miss recent content).
I use FeedBlitz for my email subscription. There are plenty of other services out there.
If you don’t have time for the email newsletter, an email subscription option could be a really nice-to-have enhancement for your blog outreach efforts!
14. A Contact Form
With a growing number of bloggers deciding to eliminate comment sections altogether, the contact form becomes even more important. It allows readers to get in touch with the blog owners to communicate, suggest ideas or even point out typos or errors.
Unfortunately, contact forms can lead to a bit of spam, including unsolicited guest post proposals.
But I think having a contact form still fills an important role, so I’d call it a must-have.
15. Social Share Buttons
Everyone is on social media these days, so the idea of adding blog elements related to social media sounds like a solid winner. Several different social media plugins can add share buttons to your posts so readers can easily share your content with their network. Some blog themes come with social sharing options built in.
Generally, if I’m going to share content, I use Buffer, which has its own browser extension, so I end up bypassing any social share buttons a blogger might have added.
But not everyone uses a service like Buffer, so for those folks, I think it’s a safe bet that a fast, easy ability to share your content would be a must-have.
Confusion over new privacy laws made GDPR a definite four-letter word. The General Data Privacy Regulation had bloggers around the globe stressed out about what they needed to change — if anything — on their sites. With more concern growing about privacy and attempts to access personal information, we’re probably only going to see a greater number of governments making laws that will affect website owners.
Even if it still is an option, it may not be one for much longer. So you might as well get with the program and make sure your site has one, and the more detailed the better.
17. A Media Kit
Some sites actually do offer media kits. They contain information about the site, the author(s), and sometimes even downloadable photos and logos. Media outlets who want to cite content from the blog can download these elements if they want to include images in their stories.
Unless you have a really big site with a lot more influence than most bloggers will ever wield, this one falls into the unnecessary end of nice to have.
Well, that’s my take. I didn’t think I’d actually come up with 10 must-haves. But as I wrote up the abstracts on each of the blog elements, I tried to put myself in the reader’s role rather than the blogger’s role.
I thought about what I like — and what I feel i need as a reader.
That’s not always easy to do, but I think it’s critical that bloggers always take time to go back over their sites and make sure they’re doing everything they can to make the experience as great as possible.