I’ve been blogging for a very, VERY long time. I’m talking about back before anyone ever thought you could monetize a blog, before people began doing it for a living, and in fact back when blogging really meant posting a few sentences and a link to something interesting you read (which is kind of what we all do on Facebook and Twitter now). I’ve also been reading blogs since the beginning. Suffice it to say, I have been around the Blogosphere long enough to have compiled a list of 10 things that I’d consider bad blog habits.
If you are just getting started, or feel like you’ve hit a plateau take a look and see if you’re guilty of any of these habits. While these are totally subjective and may work fine for you, these are things that bug me and that others frequently mention as well. Sometimes the best way to figure out what to do with your blog is to learn what NOT to do.
10 Bad Blog Habits to Avoid
1. Dark backgrounds and light text.
This drives me bananas. I fully admit that my very first website was a dark marble background with light blue text on it. But it was 1998 and I thought it was super cool back then. It’s not. It’s incredibly difficult to read. Unless you have a very good reason to do otherwise (i.e. it just really fits your brand well), it’s better to reverse that and have a light background and darker text. It makes it much easier for people to actually read what you’re trying to share with them. It doesn’t necessarily have to be a white background with black text (and I prefer just slightly lighter than black for my text, but that’s a personal preference), just nothing that is too jarring.
2. Teeny tiny text.
Speaking of making things difficult on your reader, don’t use an itty bitty font size. If people have to squint they’re more than likely going to give up and click away unless you’ve really intrigued them with something fascinating. Also, keep in mind that people are reading your blog on their phone more and more. On a desktop, theoretically someone could increase the text fairly easily if they really want to read it, but increasing on a mobile device only goes so far and then readers are stuck scrolling side to side as well as vertically. That’s way too much effort and most people will go find something else to look at, leaving your blog behind forever.
3. Boring posts.
Again, remember this is subjective. If you’re writing about a topic then (hopefully) at least you are finding it interesting and you expect it to be interesting to everyone else too. But always think about what kind of value you are providing to your reader. If it’s your mom then she might be happy to scroll through a “what I did today” post but most people won’t feel the same way, especially if they’re pretty new to your blog. Adding value can mean a lot of things – tips, hacks, how-to advice, inspiration, entertainment, etc. If you are doing at least one of those in your post you will be more likely to make an impact on someone who will want to come back again and again.
At the same time, don’t discount personal stories. Not everything has to be literally valuable. You’ll notice that I added inspiration and entertainment. Those two things won’t necessarily teach someone how to make a killer lasagna, but if you inspire someone with a personal story of overcoming an obstacle or you entertain people with a hilarious catch-up post detailing all the crazy things that happened since you last had a chance to post, folks will remember you and will want to click over to read you again.
What’s the difference between all these different types of value? Here are some examples from a few of my own posts.
How-to advice: Meditation for Menstrual Cramps – I provided a step-by-step method to beat cramps using meditation. To date this is still one of my most popular posts I ever wrote.
Inspiration: What It’s Like to Have a Panic Attack – This wasn’t inspirational in a traditional sense, but a lot of people related to it and it still gets a fair amount of traffic even though I wrote it ten (!) years ago.
Entertainment: Don’t Talk With Your Mouth Full So You Don’t Choke to Death – If I wrote a list of the kitchen table rules in our family, that would have a lot of potential to be kind of dry and boring. Put a bit of humour into it, and people want to read it.
4. Endless scrolling.
No matter what you use for blogging – WordPress, SquareSpace, etc. – you should find that you have an option to use break up your post. In most WordPress themes now, you can choose to either publish an entire post on the main page or just an excerpt with a link to the full post. Other sites may have something that looks like “read more” after a paragraph or two.
This is something that has changed over the years. Once upon a time it annoyed the hell out of people to have to go to two separate pages to read a blog post. I firmly believe that part of this change is based on the fact that, as I said earlier, a lot of us are now reading everything on our phones or maybe a tablet. We don’t have time to sit down, tethered to a desk by a laptop or desktop computer these days, so we go mobile.
Well, imagine if you hit a new blog and you want to scroll down a bit to see what kind of topics they write about. But hang on, you’ve been scrolling and scrolling and you’re still on the first blog post because it’s an epic length and you have to get past the entire thing to see what else is there. Again, unless you are super emotionally invested, you’re going to get annoyed and click away. If you use an excerpt, a new reader can easily flip down a bit and see the last 3 or 4 posts you wrote and decide if you sound like a good read. Chances are though, you’ll lose someone who might have been interested if it takes them too long to get a glimpse around.
5. Spelling and grammar errors.
No one is perfect. I make a typo here and there, just like anyone. Or I’ll insert an extra word by mistake or miss a word and just not catch it on my re-read before posting. Using a phone has a double whammy. Sometimes you might misspell something because the keys are so tiny on a virtual keyboard, and other times you might have autocorrect “fix” something that wasn’t wrong in the first place. As for grammar, unless you’re writing for a big name magazine, you can generally get away with slightly more relaxed wording.
However, all that being said, it’s still a good idea to at least make sure you have a decent grasp on general grammar and give your post a once-over (or twice-over) before you hit publish to make sure you didn’t spell something totally wrong. While it would be nice if people would just take your message at face value and not nitpick your spelling skills, the truth is there’s a lot of judgment out there. If you have an occasional mistake here and there, most people will let it go and keep reading. If, on the other hand, you misspell something every second sentence, you’re probably going to turn your readers off and they’ll go elsewhere.
If spelling and grammar aren’t your strong suit, you can run a quick spell check using most blog editors. I’ve also tried out the free version of Grammarly and it works pretty well for catching questionable grammar issues.
6. Nothing breaking up the text.
It’s a really good idea to use photos on your blog. It helps to break up large blocks of text, making it much easier to read. Obviously it’s great if you can use your own photos that you’ve taken yourself, but if that’s not something you feel you want to do, then there are a lot of sites that provide free stock photos. My favorites are Pixabay and UnSplash. They’re pretty easy to use and you aren’t required to give credit or pay for them.
Please do yourself a huge favour: Don’t just grab any old photo off the internet and use it. It’s copyright infringement and while you may not get sued, you’ll look really bad. And yes, you actually could get sued. Get your photos legally. You’ll feel much better.
Aside from photos scattered throughout your post (preferably photos that actually have something to do with the topic, but your mileage may vary), you can also help break up massive amounts of text by using headers and font sizes. Look at this very post for example. It’s a fairly decent length. Imagine if I had no images and all the text was the same size with no bold fonts or obvious headers. It would be tedious to say the least. Your readers will probably skim a bit instead of reading every single word (I know, I know, but we all do it) at least at first, so this is the best way to give them a better of sense of what you’re saying.
7. Cluttered or complicated themes/layouts
I have seen a lot of very interesting themes available free of charge for WordPress and they’re shiny and impressive. But all the blog bling in the world is not helpful to you if readers show up and have no idea where to find whatever they’re looking for. Confusing, complicated menus make it too difficult for people to navigate around your site. And using cutesy names for your categories and blog posts might be fun and tongue-in-cheek, but if a new reader doesn’t know you at all, there’s a risk that they won’t understand what you’re all about and they’ll leave before learning more.
Cluttered blogs are just as bad. Do you really truly need three sidebars plus your main content window? Do you honestly feel it’s necessary to have 50 un-matching, off-brand images filling up those sidebars with every single award you’ve ever gotten? Keep your site a bit on the minimal side and let your work speak for itself or it’s going to be shouting in competition with all the noisy clutter surrounding it.
8. Auto-playing video.
Auto-play should not even be a thing. It’s so annoying when you’re trying to read something interesting and someone starts shouting from a video embedded in the sidebar. If you must have it auto-play then at least set it to be on mute. But really, auto-play was annoying 15+ years ago when it was midi files playing “background music” on websites. It hasn’t become less irritating. Please don’t do it.
9. A zillion pop-ups.
Much like auto-play, pop-ups can be obtrusive. Sometimes they’re valid and helpful and I will actually fill them out. Still, be careful how you use them. I know, I know, you really want to capture email addresses and reach out to people so they can come back when you have something new to offer them. I get it. But give it some thought.
Having a window pop-up within the first five seconds is not going to have a good return on investment for you. Think about it – if you have just arrived on a brand-new-to-you site and you’ haven’t even read more than a few words, why are you going to offer up your email address? You don’t know anything about the author of the page or if it’s of any use to you. It’s too soon. If you’re going to use pop-up windows consider setting it so that it only comes up after a few minutes or after the reader has scrolled a certain distance. By then they at least have a better idea if they want you showing up in their inbox or not.
Personally, I really prefer to have embedded sign-ups where they’re appropriate as opposed to having it pop up, but they do work so don’t necessarily write them off. Just be cautious.
Also, please please please keep mobile users in mind. More than once I’ve had to X out of a site simply because a pop up covered the whole screen and I couldn’t close it. I’m not going to fight for 10 minutes to read something. If something is obstructing my view and I can’t get rid of it quickly, I’m definitely going to lose interest. If you’re using pop-ups make sure you test them on mobile devices to be sure people can still navigate.
10. No easy share options.
Imagine you’ve just read a great blog post. It was entertaining or it helped you with a problem you’ve been having. You’re so happy that you want to share it with your friends on Facebook or shout it out on Twitter. Maybe you’d like to pin it on Pinterest to help other people find this post. Oh, whoops. The blog you’re reading doesn’t have any easy share options! Well, that’s that. Off to something else to read.
Honestly, you can copy and paste the URL into most social media and share it that way. But most people won’t bother. Remember, we’re all busy, we’re all in a hurry, and the more steps it takes to do something, the less likely it is that anyone will make the extra effort. Whatever blogging platform you use, there are a ton of different free plug-ins that you can use that make it super easy to click and share across pretty much every single social media site on the planet.
I use Highlight and Share as well as Ultimate Social Media Plus.
Bonus: No about page.
Not everyone cares about this one but for me it’s really huge. When I show up on someone’s blog for the first time, their About page is one of the first places I’m going to hit up. Even if I followed a direct link to a post, more often than not I will read a paragraph or two, go read the About page, and then come back to what I was reading.
When it’s a big site like Forbes or some other magazine then I expect to just see a little promo blurb at the end – something that tells me who wrote the article and where I might be able to find more of their work. But when I go to someone’s personal blog I find it incredibly disappointing if there isn’t some sort of About section where I can learn more about who they are.
You don’t need to write your entire life story in there or anything. In fact, you probably shouldn’t. But a good rule of thumb is to include some details about who you are, what you offer on your blog (this goes back to describing the value we were talking about earlier), and maybe what got you started on whatever blogging path you’re on.
No matter what you’re writing about, people want to know a bit about who is living behind the words on their screen. It helps build trust and it also helps people remember you, especially if you include some fun details. For example a lot of readers would probably come to my blog and say something like, “oh right, Sherry. She’s the Canadian woman who loves meditation and wine and zombies.” Those are things you’ll figure out if you pop on to my own About page. These little details stand out about (especially the zombies, haha) and it helps people to remember me. Give people a little peek into who you are. Otherwise they may as well be reading a textbook.