Learn to customize your own blog with confidence

Keep Your Blog Archive Fresh

keep your archive fresh

Third and final part of the "Get Your Blog Ready for Next Year" series.

Often, your readers' first introduction to you is through one of your oldest posts — you know, the ones in mothballs at the back of your archive. When readers find themselves in your back pages, they should see you at your best, just as they would if they landed on your newest post.

It's easy for the archive to get a little stale over time, but it's not hard to get it tidied up and fresh. Let's get started!

Delete Pointless Comments

Isn't it wonderful when you read a great blog post, then see that it has nothing but thoughtful, useful comments? That's no accident; the author is pruning out the pointless comments with no mercy.

With that in mind, I bet you already know which comments to cut during your year-end sweep. Yes, it's that rude comment that added nothing to the discussion. And yeah, delete that self-promoting-but-not-quite-spam comment from the e-commerce site that's kinda in your niché.

If you don't like it, cut it and don't feel sorry about it. It's your blog, you're in charge of the discussion. How you manage that discussion tells your readers a lot about you.

Remove or Correct Dead Links

Dead links are frustrating for readers, and search engines don't like them, either. So, clean them up for the new year!

There are many online tools for finding broken links in your blog, so I'm just going to recommend one that works for blogs on any platform. If you have fewer than 3,000 pages in your blog you can use brokenlinkcheck.com to find dead links for free (there's a premium version, too, if you have a larger site).

When you run your first broken link scan, your results may be startling. But don't panic, even if you have a lot of dead links. It's rare that a broken link is an urgent emergency. And, you'll probably have a few "false positives".

Give priority to fixing broken links that appear site-wide first. For example, if you discover that a link in your sidebar blogroll is dead, correct that first, then move on to dead links in your posts & static pages. Finally, move on to removing comments with dead links when you have time.

Refresh Your "Greatest Hits"

You probably already know which posts in your archive are the most popular, but if you don't, identify them in Google Analytics (Behavior > Site Content > All Pages) or in your blogging platform's built-in stats. Go back through those gems with an objective eye, and see if you can add a little polish to keep them relevant for the long-haul.

Think about how you'd write your best posts if you were writing them today. Has your writing style changed? Do you use different graphics now, or perhaps a little bit of CSS flair? Think about applying your newest styling to your vintage posts to help bring them into the present.

If you decide to give your older, popular posts a makeover, don't be shy about reintroducing them to your followers! Link to them in your new posts, and re-share them through social media. Followers who've seen it before won't hold it against you, and it gives your new followers a good reason to dig into your archives and see more of what makes you great.

What To Do With Obsolete Posts

Sometimes, a post is just not relevant anymore. Maybe it's a sponsored post from a defunct company, or a giveaway that closed two years ago. Or, maybe it just doesn't fit the theme of your blog anymore — that's common if you've been blogging for years and the focus of your blog has shifted over time.

An obsolete post does your blog and its readers no good. So, what should you do with it? Let's figure it out!

First, go through your archives and identify irrelevant posts. There's no exact science for rooting them out — you'll know them when you see them. After you've compiled a list of pointless posts, take a look a their stats, either in Google Analytics or in your blog's built-in stats.

Popular, But Irrelevant

If an obsolete posts is still getting a lot of views, consider rewriting it to bring it up to date, or link your readers to more up-to-date content at the very top of the post.

Unpopular and Irrelevant

Posts that are unpopular with readers and unloved by you are good candidates for deletion. If you use Blogger or self-hosted Wordpress, you can redirect the URL of a deleted post to another, more relevant post or page in your blog (see the Resources at the end of this post for more info).

I know the idea of deleting a post can strike fear in the hearts of bloggers. But, don't be afraid to delete something that is doing no one any good. The few visits your worst posts get may bump up your pageviews a little, but they're not going to help you grow. Focus your attention on creating new, great posts, and you'll quickly recover from any traffic loss that may come from trimming away a post that's truly dead.

Resources

  • If you use self-hosted Wordpress, you can use the Broken Link Checker plugin to find and repair broken links.
  • Blogger users can use the new custom redirects feature to redirect links from deleted posts to another post or page.
  • Self-hosted Wordpress users can use the Redirection plugin for URL redirects. It's also handy for identifying dead links, so it's a two-fer!

The "Get Your Blog Ready For Next Year" Series

This is the final post in a three-part series. Need to catch up? Here are parts one & two:

Lemon photo CC-BY-SA Sean Neakums

Improve Your Blog Navigation

Improve your Navigation
Part Two of the "Get Your Blog Ready for Next Year" series.

A blog that's easy to navigate is a blog that's easy to love. If your readers can find their way around smoothly, they're more likely to stick around longer and come back more often. So, as you get ready to sail into the new year, take a little time to review and refresh your blog's navigation!

So Many Types of Navigation

When I say "navigation", I don't just mean your blog's main or top navigation. That's important, of course. But, there are so many other ways that your readers can find their way through your blog that are just as useful as your top navigation.

Let's first go through all the many self-directed ways your readers can navigate through your blog, then we'll tidy up your main navigation last. You'll see why once we get there ;)

Search

Your readers are used to searching online — it may be how they found you in the first place! So, it's natural for them to search inside your blog, too. An easy-to-find search box is the best gift you can give your readers who want to find their own way around your blog. Every blogging platform has a built-in search option, so if you haven't enabled it yet, do it now!

Tags

There's a common misconception that post tags are incredibly important for SEO. They're not. Search engines don't use them for ranking anymore — their attention is focused on the content of your posts.

The primary function of a post tag is to help your readers find more posts on the same topic within your blog.

With that in mind, take a look through your post's tags, and see if some of them can be trimmed away. Do you have redundant tags? Combine them! For example, the tags "pie" & "pies" could probably be combined into one tag. How about tags that only apply to one post? Are you planning to expand on that topic later, or is that just a bit of tag fluff?

While you're reconsidering your tags, you may realize that you forgot a tag on some posts. Add relevant tags to those posts and you'll help your visitors find more posts on the same topic. Yay, better navigation!

Archive

When I first started this blog, I hesitated to put up an archive, since I thought the "newness" of the blog might turn off readers. It wasn't until a reader gave me a friendly nudge via Twitter that I reconsidered and added an archive, which later evolved into the "Tutorials by Topic" page.

When I checked my Google Analytics stats at the end of that month, I saw that readers were leafing through my archive every single day. And, during that same time, my readers' time-on-site also increased. I realized it was a terrible idea to hide my archive from readers who wanted to see more!

If you've been shying away from giving your readers this navigation option, give it some thought again before you go into the new year. It doesn't have to be a whole page like mine — a footer's a great place for an archive too! Or, if you've got an impressive back catalog, you may decide it deserves its own place in your main navigation.

"Best Of" Links

Some blogging platforms give you an option to showcase your most popular content automatically through a gadget/widget. You can also manually create a selection of your best or most popular content to help your readers zero in on what makes your blog great. These links can go in a sidebar, your footer, or on a page linked in your top navigation. Giving this great content a place of prominence helps your readers get to know you better (and usually increases your pageviews, too).

Navigation for the Lost

What can be done for the lost wanderers who come in through dead or misspelled links? You want them to stick around and find out how awesome you are, right?

The best thing you can give a lost visitor is a useful "page not found" page (aka 404 page). It doesn't have to be fancy or complex — a friendly suggestion to use the search box, or a list of links to your most popular pages may be all they need to get back on track.

If you're on Blogger, you can use the "Custom Page Not Found" option to create a useful 404 page.

For self-hosted Wordpress, you can manually edit your 404.php file to customize your "not found" page, or you can use a plugin to customize it.

Other blogging platforms aren't quite as flexible with 404 pages. If you're not able to customize your 404 page, I recommend that you make your archive and search box easy to find.

Main Navigation

So now that we've covered self-directed ways your readers can navigate through your blog, let's take a fresh look at your main navigation!

Your main navigation is often the first thing your readers see on your blog. Search engines give it a lot of attention, too. But, it's also a major hotpoint for clutter. Too much navigation is worse than too little navigation — it can confuse and overwhelm your visitors.

There are no firm rules about what exactly you need to have in your blog's main navigation. But consider stripping it down to just the bare essentials. What do you want your readers to know right away when they land on your blog? What can't they find easily with the other navigation options you've made available to them? Put that in your main navigation.

Using myself as an example: I chose to put my tutorial archive, resources, and contact page in my top navigation so new readers can quickly see that they can get help and information from this blog. I also make heavy use of secondary navigation options: the search box and links to the most popular posts are featured in the sidebar on computer screens, and at the bottom of the post on mobile screens. This all works together to make my blog browse-friendly without overcrowding the top navigation.

When you're reconsidering your main navigation, take into account the changes and updates you've made to the other navigation avenues in your blog. If you've expanded or improved the other navigation options on your blog, your readers who want more will have an easy time finding their way. You can safely unclutter your main navigation.

Ah, now doesn't that feel better?

What's Next?

Move on to part three, Keep Your Archive Fresh.

Compass photo CC-BY Walt Stoneburner.

Back Up Your Blog

back up your blog

Part One of the "Get Your Blog Ready for Next Year" series.

I know it's not exciting or glamorous, but backing up your blog is essential to your blog's health. Think of it as good blogging hygiene! Now that we're coming up on a new year, it's a great time to back up your blog files and plan to make it a regular habit.

Why You Should Back Up Your Blog

One simple reason: if you have a backup of your blog, it's much easier to get back to blogging business in case of a calamity. Blogs can get hacked, templates can get mangled... stuff happens. And a backup takes a lot of the pain out of the recovery process when it does.

You may never experience one of those blog-disrupting events. I hope you don't, they're no fun. But, it's better to have something you don't need than need something you don't have. And, it's so easy to back up, you really have no excuse not to!

Where to Store Your Backup Files

Let's talk about where you're going to put those backup files before we talk about how to get them. If you have your storage plan in place before you download the files, you're more likely to stick to it.

Naturally, you should keep a copy of your backup files handy on your computer. But, you should also keep another copy somewhere safe. A spare will save your blog if your backup files are corrupted or accidentally deleted (or if your computer meets an untimely end).

Here are three places you can stash your backup files "in the cloud", so you can be sure that your files will live on — even if you upend an entire latte onto your laptop.

  • Dropbox: Dropbox is my favorite cloud service. I find the interface intuitive and I love the desktop & mobile apps. Dropbox starts you out with 2GB of free space.
  • Google Drive: Formerly known as Google Docs. If you've got a Google account, you already have a Drive account with 5GB of free storage space.
  • Amazon Cloud Drive: If you're an Amazon addict like me, you already have an Amazon Cloud Drive account with 5GB of free storage space. If you need extra space, a paid Cloud Drive account costs less than Dropbox or Google Drive's expanded storage options.

How To Back Up Your Blog (By Platform)

Now that you know where you're going to put your backup files, you're ready to get started with your back up! Here's how to do it on the major blogging platforms.

Blogger

There are three easy steps to completely back up your Blogger blog.

  1. First, download your template by going to "Template" and clicking the "Backup/Restore" button in the upper right. Save the resulting file.
  2. Next, go to "Settings" > "Other", and select "Export Blog" under the "Blog Tools" menu. Save the export file. It includes all of your blog posts and comments.
  3. Finally, back up the Picasa album containing your blog's photos. Links to them are included in the .xml export file you downloaded in step 2, but this guarantees that you'll have your photos no matter what.

Self-Hosted Wordpress

The official instructions for backing up self-hosted Wordpress are in the Wordpress codex. But, as with all things Wordpress, there's a plugin for that! Lisa from Elembee has a quick tutorial on using a plugin for your backup in her post Blogkeeping: Backing Up Your Blog.

Wordpress.com

If you have a Wordpress.com blog, you can use the Export feature to save a copy of your content. You don't need to save a copy of your template if you use Wordpress.com.

Typepad

Typepad backups are not quite as streamlined as other blogging services. You can back up your posts using the built-in Export feature. If you have a Typepad Basic template, you don't need to back up the template; Typepad Advanced users should copy and paste their templates into .txt files — there's no direct download option.

Now, here's where it gets weird: there's no easy way to back up your photos. Typepad actually suggests visiting each page of your blog and copying the photos as a means of backing up (pardon me while I LOL to death). If you blog on Typepad and have a folder of photos from your blog on your computer, save a copy of that to a cloud service so you've got them safe, but keep in mind it could be time-consuming to restore them to your blog.

Tumblr

Unfortunately, Tumblr blogs are the hardest to back up. There is an official Tumblr backup tool, but it's a desktop application that only works on Mac. Also, it doesn't save submitted posts or any of your posts' notes. There is a web-based, third-party tool called Tumblelog Backup Tool, but it's not officially supported by Tumblr.

You're All Backed Up!

Not so hard, right? Now that you've done it, schedule your next backup session. I back up everything every three months, and back up my template separately anytime I make a template change. A similar schedule will suit most other bloggers fine, too.

What's Next?

Move on to part two of the "Get Your Blog Ready for Next Year" series: Improve Your Navigation.

Acorn photo CC-BY Edd Prince

Get Your Blog Ready for Next Year - A 3 Part Series

Get Your Blog Ready for Next Year

For my last tutorial series of the year, I'm bringing you low-effort, high-reward blogkeeping activities to help you get your blog ready for the new year. Nothing too complicated — you can squeeze most of these tasks into your downtime between dashing through the snow & decking the halls!

The Complete Series

  • Back Up Your Blog: How and where to back up your blog template and its content.
  • Improve Your Navigation: Simple strategies for making your blog's many navigation avenues (not just your top navigation!) more reader-friendly — and, incidentally, search-engine-friendly.
  • Keep Your Archive Fresh: How to keep your older content as fresh & relevant as the day you posted it (and refresh posts that have gone a little stale).

This will be the last new tutorial series on Code it Pretty until after the new year! After this, I'm taking a "long winter's nap" to rest my brain. I've got big things planned for the New Year, and I can't wait to share it all with you!

I want to thank each and every one of my readers for their feedback and encouragement throughout 2012, Code it Pretty's debut year. My favorite thing about this blog is that every day, I get to meet a cool new blogger. I seriously have the nicest readers in the world, and I'm so happy to have met you!

Holly photo CC-BY Albert Straub