7 features every successful blog should have

A prominent subscribe button, category pages, and a thank you page are just a few ways to encourage visitors to show your blog some love.

It’s funny how clients’ needs evolve over time. For example, I’ve noticed that most clients who come to Outspoken Media for blog consulting services don’t ask whether they should take the plunge and create a corporate blog. It’s 2012—they’ve already done that.

What they want is to get more from their blog. They want to increase engagement, usability and the overall function of the blog. I’m lucky that many of these audits and strategy documents fall on my plate, because I get to look at awesome blogs and make them even more awesome. Who wouldn’t love that?

When I create recommendations for blogs, I look for the features listed below. There are obviously many more factors that go into a great blog, but the ones below have a high bang-for-the-buck ratio.

1. A prominent subscribe button

It makes sense to start here, right? If you invest time to create a blog, you do so because you want people to find, share and love your content. For that to happen, people need to know that new context exists.

One of the easiest ways to notify readers of new content is to encourage them to subscribe to your blog via a prominent call to action. Don’t hide a subscribe button at the bottom of your page. Put it front and center so people trip over it when they land on your site.

And don’t discriminate—make sure you give people the option to subscribe via email. Not everyone lives inside their RSS reader. I like how Jay Baer does it over at Convince & Convert:

2. Links to social profiles

Like most girls my age, I’m a very good stalker. I can find information about you online that would make your mother weep. But still, why make me work for it?

I want to see all the different ways I can find you in social media right below your subscribe button. I want to see your Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, YouTube, and any other social profiles you have.

If you’re active somewhere, I want to see it. Just because I can find it on my own doesn’t mean you should make me. The more ways we can hook up, the better. I appreciate it when people like Erika Napoletano not only give me the stalking materials I need, but they don’t judge me for it:

3. Social sharing icons in posts

Don’t forget to include sharing options on the post level. You don’t need to include a link to every social network—look at your analytics to see which sites bring you traffic and where your community hangs out. Include icons for those sites so readers can submit and share your content while they’re deep inside it.

For example, if you write a post about cool handbags you should add a Twitter button, the option to share on Facebook, pin it on Pinterest, etc. Pick the networks that make sense for your community. Sharing starts at the post level.

4. Category pages

No one reads through your archives by date. It’s a lot more likely that someone will want to check out everything you’ve posted about online reputation management. Or zebras. Or the benefits of self-publishing.

People search by topic and category. Get more from your archives and build category pages. If you’ve browsed the Outspoken Media blog, you may already know we use Thesis to create user-friendly category pages. Here’s a snapshot of our blogging category landing page:

From a user’s perspective, category pages help introduce a topic, provide resources, and list everything the site has on a subject. From a search standpoint, it’s another way to build links and help your rank. People just seem to like them.

5. Clearly displayed popular/recent posts

It doesn’t matter whether you display your most popular posts, recent posts, posts with the most active discussions, or a series of random posts—you just need to give users something.

Readers want instant access to a life point on your site. They want to get a taste of what you have to offer and the posts others have found valuable. Give people a taste of what you’re about, what riles up your community, and a reason to get to know you better.

These posts also immediately insert people into your site’s conversation. Once someone gets in, he or she may never leave. You want to keep people on your site.

6. A feature box

You’re always up to something, right? Whether it’s a new eBook, training series, or a list of events, there’s always something going on that you want people to know about. Create a feature box as a place to call attention to these types of things.

Chris Garrett does it in the form of a “free gift”:

Feature boxes don’t have to be a gift or free. If you’re selling something, feature it prominently on your blog.

7. “Thanks for commenting” pages

I don’t come across these pages often, which is why you should have one. At Outspoken Media we use our thanks for commenting page to shock and awe people, and it really does. It’s such a simple thing, and people like that we take the time to acknowledge them and say hello.

Like I said, the blog audits we produce for clients are far more in-depth than this, but these features will give your business blog some quick bang for the buck.

Lisa Barone is the chief branding officer of Outspoken Media, where a version of this article originally ran. She’s also very active on Twitter, much to the dismay of the rest of the world.

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