Important Features All Blogs Should Really Have

Oct 13 2010 by Jake Rocheleau | 21 Comments

Important Features All Blogs Should Really Have

Blogging is more commonplace now than ever before. It’s estimated that there are at least 147 million blogs[1] covering topics from technology to Japanese theme restaurants.

But regardless of the vastness of the blogosphere and the diversity of blog topics, there are a handful of site features that you’ll likely find in most of them. In addition, readers have come to expect these site features to be available to them when they visit their favorite blogs.

This article covers the standard features that all blogs should have. These features are meant to improve the user experience by enhancing community engagement, content sharing, findability of posts, and more.

Blog Post Archive

Typically, when site visitors first land on a blog’s homepage, they’re greeted with the latest blog posts sorted from newest on top to oldest at the bottom. This is what blog readers expect to see, but that’s not to say it’s all they want to see.

Many visitors will enjoy going through your older posts once they decide that they like what you have to say. Having a post archive — a web page or section in your blog that lists previous blog posts, customarily sorted in a logical fashion such as by date or by category — is an excellent way to draw in more page views and improves the ability of readers to discover content on your site.

A post archive can serve as a way to increase the conversion of first-time visitors to steadfast readers because it shows them what to expect if they choose to follow your blog. For existing readers, a post archive gives quick access to posts they want to revisit.

It’s not difficult to construct an archive of past blog posts either; most blogging platforms and good content management systems have the capability to display and list your posts. Take for example, WordPress. WordPress has core functions, a core template, and API hooks specifically for dealing with archives (e.g., wp_get_archives and archives.php).

Viget InspireAt Viget Inspire, a company blog, posts are listed and categorized per month in their archive page.

RSS Feed

RSS started out as a simple way to syndicate content throughout the web, though most people didn’t see the resourceful nature of the distribution medium until recently. With blogs being updated frequently, and with the vast amount of blogs out there, RSS has allowed readers to keep up with new content on their favorite blogs without having to visit them regularly to check if something’s been posted.

With free RSS feed readers such as Google Reader, it’s easier than ever for web users to stay current with their favorite blogs.

Having an RSS feed for your blog has become a necessity. Interested readers will actively look for that conventional orange RSS feed icon signifying that an RSS feed for the site is available. RSS also gives you opportunities to cultivate a loyal following and grow your community due to subscribers staying tuned for your updates.

RSS FeedVandelay Design Blog uses Feedburner for its RSS feed.

Most content management systems will have RSS capabilities built right in. If you’re looking for something more robust, you can use a free service like Feedburner that has tools for optimizing, checking, and analyzing the use of your RSS feed. If you’re a developer, build your own RSS feed using the SimplePie PHP class.

Comment System

The benefit of blogs versus old media like print and TV is that consumers of blogs have the unique opportunity to converse with the content provider. From a reader’s perspective, it’s enticing to leave a small remark or to push ideas and conversation topics further after reading a post they like. Commenting capabilities on your blog also bolster community building by allowing your readers to discuss the subject of a post not only with the blogger, but also with other readers. It empowers readers by making the reading experience engaging and interactive. Highly regarded computer programming blogger, Jeff Atwood, goes so far as to say "a blog without comments enabled is not a blog."

Comment SystemCoding Horror’s comments are interesting and adds value to the posts being published.

A good publishing platform like WordPress or Drupal will have a comment system built in. Services like Disqus and IntenseDebate can supercharge conventional commenting systems with other community-building features such as the ability to vote on comments, integration with social media/networking services like Twitter and Facebook, and the ability to view a commenter’s activity history.

Comment Spam Protection

Though this feature is primarily for site administrators and owners, it’s also a feature that benefits users. Shady internet marketers think (quite ignorantly, since most commenting systems will assign nofollow rel attributes to hyperlinks posted in comments) that link-spamming on blogs will give them a bit of link juice back to their sites for the benefit of search engine rankings. Without any precautions against comment spam, your comment system quickly decays from something useful to nothing more than additional page weight. Spam comments drown out legitimate comments and leave readers little incentive to read the comments on a post, much less to participate.

Comment Spam ProtectionDon’t let comment spam kill the discussions in your blog.

Make sure that your blogging platform has spam protection, not only for your sake, but also for the sake of your community. WordPress, for example, has Askimet. Drupal has the Spam module. TypePad has AntiSpam.

Automated spam protection systems will block blatant spam attacks but can’t always get everything, so you could combine manual comment moderation with spam protection features.

Search

Aside from visiting your archives, visitors won’t have many other options for finding content in your blog. They can use search engines to search your site’s indexed content (e.g., Google has the site: search syntax), but for convenience, you shouldn’t expect your readers to use another site to locate certain blog posts.

SearchImpressive Webs has a search feature at the top of its sidebar.

Having a search feature on all pages of your blog is a critical feature for a proper user experience.

Social Media Integration

Content on the web is meant to be shared. Make it easy for your readers to share your blog posts in their social networks by integrating social-media-sharing capabilities on your blog.

Social Media IntegrationMashable has plenty of social media buttons integrated in their blog posts.

Most social networking services have APIs that you can take advantage of. For example, Twitter provides buttons and widgets that you can customize and install on your blog. Likewise, Delicious, StumbleUpon, and Facebook have similar offerings.

Contact Method

You have to make it easy for your readers to make a connection with you. The ability to contact a blogger is important because the human element of a blog is what makes it appealing to many readers. Readers should be able to reach you for questions, to make comments they’re hesitant to share publicly, to report issues with the site, to share tips and ideas for future blog posts, and to offer collaborative opportunities to you.

Contact MethodSmashing Magazine has a contact form as well as instructions for communicating with them.

Publishing platforms may have contact web forms built in, or at least plugins available such as Contact Form 7 for WordPress and the Contact Forms module for Drupal. You can also consider using versatile third-party form builders like Formstack. Form builders make it easy to make robust web forms and they take the burden of dealing with incoming data out of your own web server.

And of course, email is still effective. If you’re not up for using contact forms, display your email address on the sidebar, footer, or contact page.

Conclusion

These features are things you should keep in mind when developing a blog design. If you’re stuck on ideas, take a look at successful blogs through Technorati’s Top 100 Blogs list to see what other features are prevalent in blogs. You will notice that many of the above features mentioned in this article are used in various ways and styled in different manners, but the purpose is the same: To give blog readers an optimal experience on your site.

References

  1. As identified by BlogPulse Stats on October 2010.

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About the Author

Jake Rocheleau is a social media enthusiast and an Internet entrepreneur. Having spent over 4 years working freelance web design, he frequently writes articles involving new-age design concepts and personal motivation. You can find him all around the web via Google Profile or on Twitter as @jakerocheleau.

21 Comments

James

October 13th, 2010

Have I just read an article that basically just lists standard features in pretty much every blogging platform written in the last 5 years?!

There’s no suggestion for modifying or improving on archiving or what your opinion of a best structure is etc?

J.

Scott

October 13th, 2010

It’s great most blogging platforms provide you with most of the essentials (archive, rss etc.) its really just a matter of optimizing them to suit. I would also say having a good about page or section also helps to connect you with your readers.

Daniel S

October 13th, 2010

Additionally, i would push these two things into your list:

- Pingback / Trackback system
- Legal Notices

Greetings from Germany,
Daniel

Chief Alchemist

October 13th, 2010

OK, so it’s a recap list of sorts. Not what I expected but good for showing to clients who are trying to get comfortable with using blogging as a tool. Thanks.

That said, I’m not 100% with you on the archive idea. I’d prefer to see: Latest Comments, Most Commented, Most Popular, Recommended, Staff Faves, 5 At Random, (on single post pages maybe even) Related Articles, etc.

My belief is, Archive just says, “Here, you sort it out.” It doesn’t invite them in into something they might be more interested in. It’s more like, “Good luck. Hopefully I’ll see you later.” A Monthly/Yearly archive list gives zero indication to the reader that there may or may not be something they’re interested in.

I’d also like to add Use Tags (aka taxonomies) to this list. They are very underutilized feature of most blogging platforms.

Lime

October 13th, 2010

I agree with Scott. A good about page definitely helps keeping those bounce rates low. This is a good read with a few nice resources. Thanks

John G

October 13th, 2010

From reading the comments I see I really need to get an “About” page going on my site.

The items in the article I pretty much have on lock already, but I’m still glad I read this.

Maria Malidaki

October 13th, 2010

Liked the article as a synopsis of the basic blog elements :) Thanks for the post!

It’s not bad covering some “implied” issues. Not everyone is an expert on the matter, on the contrary there’s lots of readers that have just taken their first steps on the web, and should be able to read lists like this for starters.

Johnboy

October 13th, 2010

@James to be fair it does take at least 3 clicks to install a social media plugin on wordpress even if the rest are all standard features.

Ryan

October 13th, 2010

This list of stuff is pretty standard for anyone who is familiar with blogs. However, I really liked the reasons why, because I think sometimes we just use stuff because someone else did and don’t really think about why our readers would want that feature.

DixHuit

October 13th, 2010

You missed out:

- bland stock photography
- over-inflated sense of importance
- hosting that can handle high traffic spikes in case you ‘hit the big one’

TechYogi

October 13th, 2010

I think if you have mulitple authors on your blog then having dedicated author page with their profiles is also very important as at one hand it encourages more readers to becomes and on others hand it make your blog more loyal and effective.

Johnny

October 13th, 2010

Eh, sort of common sense really.

Dreb

October 13th, 2010

This is nice for beginners, i guess that includes me, but i have read one article that when you just start to blog it would be better to disable the comment feature to avoid giving visitor the idea that the posts have not yet read by anyone. And once you establish strong connection with several or many visitor then commenting is very much needed.

But i believe to have comment right when you start to put up blog is appropriate.

Jacob Gube

October 13th, 2010

@Dreb: Why would you want to misrepresent the site activity though? If there’s low activity in the site, don’t hide/obfuscate that fact. In fact, you should be transparent and genuine when it comes to blogs. If you look back in the early posts of Six Revisions, you’ll see that there might not be a lot of comments, but the comments were well thought-out and very encouraging and drove me to keep going.

But if you were really insisting on hiding the fact that no one’s commenting on your site, then just remove the comment counts, but still give the readers the ability to leave a comment. Imagine this scenario: You just read something that really connected with you. So much so that you’re willing to spend a few minutes of your time to leave a comment for the writer and other readers. Maybe the comment is to add your own tips or offer up an alternative viewpoint or raise intriguing questions. In essence, you wanted to add value to what’s being presented. Then you find that there’s no commenting system. If that was me (and it’s happened to me before), my positive feeling would just turn into a negative one (frustration or disappointment).

Home of cats

October 13th, 2010

Oh yeah, I forget about CAPTCHA plugin :).

Kaushik

October 14th, 2010

I agree on all but one – “social media integration”. Don’t get me wrong, social media is as important as SEO, but do we really need all those fancy buttons cluttering the page? If a page is worth sharing, a user will share irrespective of whether you have those buttons or not.

Jeprie

October 14th, 2010

About page should also be available. First tiem visitor always want to see the blog’s owner. We, visitor, don’t want to receive information from anonymous person or someone who has no reputation.

Izdelava strani

October 14th, 2010

Search is a must, but what if search doesn’t do the job it supposed to be done. I haven’t found free blogging platform that would deliver proper search results without installing some additional plugin.

benedetta.s

November 3rd, 2010

Really interesting post, and useful too. I think even a profile section with biographic information should be helpful. thanks for sharing the article!

Daquan Wright

February 19th, 2011

I think most of these tips are spot on. ;)

I frequent many blogs and if you think about the biggest sites, they usually have a great deal of user interaction.

Think youtube, facebook, twitter….that social interaction is a vital part of the new web age. People want to be collective and share data. People naturally like to contribute as well, so blogs are an amazing solution in that regard. I myself need to establish my blog and portfolio, so these tips will help. ;)

Michael

April 4th, 2011

I enjoyed most of your article. I was reading your article because I am working on a blog app for django and wanted to see some opinion as to the scope of a blog. I agreed with the first few opinions but the last two in my opinion are outside the scope of a blog. Typically I use social media in my comments section where “profiles” link names, pictures, etc.
Otherwise it seems like something most any website might need but not something that should be included in a blog.

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