12 Essential Elements of Style for a Successful Blog

A guest post by Carol Tice of Make a Living Writing

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 is my Elements of 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 on 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 key words in your headlines mean 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 key words 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.

Have I left out any important style elements for blogging? Leave a comment and add to this list.

Carol Tice is a freelance writer and blogger. Subscribers to her blog receive the free report, 40 Ways to Market Your Writing.

15 Responses to 12 Essential Elements of Style for a Successful Blog

  1. Cristian Balau September 9, 2011 at 7:11 pm #

    Regarding declutter, sometimes blogs with to less stuff might seem inactive or unpopular and people may bounce off because of this. Of course nobody likes sidebars and ads and lists all over the place but a blank page either.
    Great tips otherwise.

    • Carol Tice September 10, 2011 at 11:36 pm #

      In looking over just tons of blogs, I rarely find it’s too bare, but so often it’s a junked-up mess with double sidebars full of things that aren’t really important to the mission of the blog.

      Let’s face it, we learn how to add banners, and then we start doing it! Just because we CAN. And after a while it gets to be too much.

      I try and review my blog now and again to see if too much has crept on and cut back again. I know every time I talk to conversion experts, they make me take two more things out of my sidebar…and when I do it, my subscription rate goes up, every time.
      Carol Tice recently posted..How to Convince Prospects You’re a Pro Writer

  2. Stephan Hilson September 10, 2011 at 7:17 pm #

    I don’t have much stuff on my page since I tried to keep it more simple so decluttering seems a good advice. I chose the color, which is light and could make my site looked very neat.Your header looked very nice and simple. Maybe I should check COLOURlovers so that I could have more idea on what color I am going to choose for my site.
    Stephan Hilson recently posted..Forfait mobile le moins cher

  3. Sarah O September 13, 2011 at 1:00 am #

    Thanks for the bookmark-worthy reminder about the key element to remember when blogging.
    I definitely agree about keeping the look uncluttered, and it’s a good reminder to stay consistent with the look of each post. I do like to start many posts with a brief anecdote and I hope that’s not hurting my SEO too much. And I was just wondering if I should get rid of my tag cloud since the tags are getting so numerous. You’ve inspired me to make some design tweaks as soon as I get the chance!
    Sarah O recently posted..Mullein: Multiple Uses For A Common Wild Plant

  4. Krissy Brady, Writer September 13, 2011 at 4:17 am #

    I absolutely love this post! I’m going to print it out to make sure I’m incorporating all of these aspects on my blog. The points I am working on right now are catchy headings, catchy first lines, and especially consistency. Luckily I’m self-employed, so I am making big changes to my work schedule as we speak to create a consistent blogging schedule for myself and my readers. It’s hard work at first to juggle everything, but as you mentioned we’re creatures of habit, so I know that soon it will just be a part of my everyday routine. :) Thanks Carol! xo
    Krissy Brady, Writer recently posted..Writing Tips for September 12, 2011

  5. Pritam Nagrale @ Technocian September 13, 2011 at 11:50 am #

    Really inspiring stuff. All the elements you have mentioned are very much necessary for a successful blogging. Thanks for sharing this.
    Pritam Nagrale @ Technocian recently posted..FreeCharge.in – Review, Complaints and Benefits of Free Charge

  6. Cathy | Treatment Talk September 13, 2011 at 11:46 pm #

    Hi Carole,

    Great reminders for our blogs. I don’t have a tag cloud on my site, so that may be something I will add. I should also print out this list and keep it somewhere where I can see it as it easy to get sidetracked and let go of the basics. Thank you.
    Cathy | Treatment Talk recently posted..Alternative Support for Recovery at Next Steps for Women

  7. Jane Robinson September 14, 2011 at 10:02 am #

    Love the straight-forward, no nonsense tips. You practice what you preach. Now I must go and get to work on my blog design. Thank you.
    Jane Robinson recently posted..9/11 and my Freakin Closet

  8. Ciara Conlon September 14, 2011 at 4:11 pm #

    Some great tips to ponder Carol thank you. I am thinking about a blog redesign so this gives me some good food for thought.

  9. Tess The Bold Life September 14, 2011 at 10:23 pm #

    Hi Carol,
    Thanks for this, I need to work on 7,8,9. Oh my!
    Tess The Bold Life recently posted..Digital Nomad, Karol Gajda of RidiculouslyExtraordinary Interview #1

  10. J.D. Meier September 18, 2011 at 8:33 pm #

    > Put the important stuff on top
    This is so true, in life, and in blogs 😉
    J.D. Meier recently posted..Six Guiding Strategies to Build Up Your Self-Confidence

  11. Xeanne September 30, 2011 at 9:39 am #

    I love to read this post, the tips were helpful and so useful, Thanks for sharing!
    Xeanne recently posted..Getting Pregnant Faster

  12. hunterX0506 November 3, 2011 at 10:24 am #

    I definitely agree about keeping the look uncluttered, and it’s a good reminder to stay consistent with the look of each post. | 😛
    hunterX0506 recently posted..mario games kids

  13. Bernanda June 29, 2012 at 8:16 pm #

    Yes, I always loved clear simple designs, some even may get through with lots of colors and divs, but it needs to be done in professional manner.

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