5 ways to improve your blog posts without touching the content

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I read quite a few blog posts in any given week normally, but I sifted through a couple hundred posts over the last week or so while compiling a huge list of Raspberry Pi resources. Whenever you do 10x more of something than you normally do, you're bound to notice a few things.

And what I noticed was that some of the posts I read annoyed me. Even when the content is good, a few missing items get under my skin. If you're in control of your blog and the theme it uses, here's a few suggestions I'd like to humbly make that could improve the experience.

Include a full date near the title

If you ignored everything else that follows, please accept this first bit of advice.

Add a full date to the top of your technical posts. Quite a few posts I read had no date, or a month and day but no year. Certain "soft skill" topics, like what makes for a good employee or team member, are more evergreen in that it takes a long time (if ever) for them to go stale. But it's different with technology.

Technology is modified, upgraded, and replaced so fast that it can be really difficult for someone to know whether they're about the latest and greatest or something terribly out of date. And it's 100x worse if the reader is completely new to the subject. Quite a few times this week I realized half-way through an article that it was referring to the original Pi from years ago, or a version of software from 2012.

Including a date near the top of the post gives visitors a quick heads up that this may not be the post they're looking for.


Make effective use of tags / labels

Once I find a post on someone's site that covers a subject I'm interested in, I look for hyperlinked tags at the top or bottom of the post (it's nice if they're at the top). That way, I can quickly see if they've got any other posts on the same subject.

If you don't add tags, or your theme doesn't support them, consider fixing that. Even better, some blog engines like the one I use (Ghost) actually generate a separate RSS feed per tag, so visitors can subscribe to just that tag.

I think it's an easy win-win - your visitors find useful material and you get more visibility.


Add an ID attribute to all headers

Technical posts can get pretty long, and I find myself frequently wanting to share a particular section of one post with others, versus the entire thing. It's cumbersome having to tell people, "Here's this great link, but scroll half-way down, near where it says 'some relevant info'".

If your theme can auto-generate an ID (or Name works too) attribute for each header, then someone can inspect the code at that point and copy the value for that attribute into the URL before they share it.

I actually got so sick of having to inspect code before sharing a link that I wrote a Chrome extension to do it for me. You can check out the extension in the store if it sounds interesting - it just adds a small floating icon next to the header when you mouse-over it. (Also available for Firefox.)


Enable comments and disable auto-closing

I know people could have all kinds of reasons for starting their own blog - maybe it's just a creative outlet, maybe it's one more selling point when it's interview time. And I'm sure some people have had a bad experience with commenting systems and have just written them off.

For me though, it's exciting to understand something enough to be able to share it. And the only way I know for sure that I'm not just talking to myself is when someone reaches out - asks a question, makes a correction, says thanks. The small interactions are great.

I don't always leave a comment on posts, but I do from time to time. And more than once, I've gotten to the end of a particularly enlightening or inspiring post only to discover... nothing. No way to say thanks.

Consider enabling comments. And when you do, check that your blog doesn't auto-close them for posts that are so many days or weeks old. Just leave them open and see what people have to say - the experiences I've had have all generally been positive.


Include a short bio near the bottom

Okay, this one is totally optional. But along with wanting to leave a comment, I sometimes find myself getting to the end of a post and then scrolling all over looking for the author's name. Then I try their name on Twitter and elsewhere to see if I might want to "follow" them.

You can make all of this easier by adding a small profile, or choosing a theme that supports it, to the bottom of your posts. When someone gets done reading your great content, they can read a little more about you and potentially follow you for more great content.

If you have any of your own tips, I'd enjoy hearing more about them! Is there anything you've had good luck with on your own blog, or that bothers you when it's missing on someone else's?


Grant Winney

I write when I've got something to share - a personal project, a solution to a difficult problem, or just an idea. We learn by doing and sharing. We've all got something to contribute.

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