When starting a blog, the online world is your oyster. You can craft and customize a blog and its content in almost any way you like — which may feel as overwhelming as it is liberating.
Knowing the essential characteristics of a blog can help point you in the right direction, though. In this article, I highlight the most fundamental features that every blog should have to provide value, maximize user experience (UX), and satisfy search engines.
This post is all about setting up a blog. If you want to learn about blogging best practices, check out this piece.
First, What’s the Goal of Your Blog?
Before any other task, it’s important to summarize the goal of your blog. Ask yourself: What are you trying to accomplish by starting a blog? Draw in organic traffic to promote the rest of your site? Or perhaps establish yourself as a thought leader in your industry?
Whatever your answer may be, the blog features you implement should ultimately support your goal and improve user experience. In addition to thinking about your goal, picture your ideal reader and think about what they might be looking for. How can the goal of your blog meet their needs? The answer all depends on you and your company. That goal can also help you determine whether to opt for a subdomain or subfolder for your blog.
Subdomain vs. Subfolder: Which Is Better for Blogs?
When building a blog as part of an existing site, you need to decide whether to structure your blog’s URL as a subdomain or a subfolder (also called a subdirectory).
A subdomain comes before the root (main) domain and looks like this:
While a subfolder (subdirectory) comes after the root domain and looks like this:
Search engines tend to treat subdomains as entirely different websites from their root domains, which can affect rankings, indexing, and the link equity earned from backlinks. For blogs, this level of separation isn’t ideal because clicks earned on a subdomain won’t necessarily benefit the root domain’s rankings and domain authority.
So choose a subfolder for your blog instead of a subdomain if you can. Not only is it easier since you can run it through your CMS, but your rankings will also thank you.
11 Must-Have Blog Features
1. Clear & Helpful Blog Taxonomy
It’s easier for search engine crawlers and users to navigate well-structured sites, and working from a specific blog taxonomy can help you stay organized as your company blog grows.
When we talk about blog taxonomy, we’re talking about how your site’s blog pages are grouped and the structures used to group them. For WordPress users, the type of taxonomy you’ll likely be dealing with involves categories and tags.
Categories are a way to broadly organize blog pages based on their chief subjects. (For example, some categories we use include SEO Reporting & Metrics and On-Page SEO.) Tags are more free-form and may be used to indicate when a topic appears in a post where it isn’t necessarily the main focus.
Both categories and tags should be clearly labeled on each blog landing page. The precise number of categories and tags you need will depend on your blog’s niche but aim to find the sweet spot between too few (making categories too broad to be practical) and too many (which can quickly become overwhelming or repetitive).
2. Easy Navigation
You’ve put a lot of effort into creating a neat blog structure — and now it’s time to make it easy for site visitors to find the content they want using that structure and visit other parts of your website.
Follow these navigation best practices:
- All pages should clearly display a menu of links to your homepage, blog landing page, etc. Use a consistent navigation bar, just like you see on this blog.
- All posts should be gathered on one blog landing page, which may be paginated or set to scroll endlessly.
- Blog categories and tags should be viewable on the blog landing page and sortable in some way. Furthermore, users should be able to see what categories or tags are associated with the post they’re currently reading.
3. Search Functionality
Search bars are an essential blog characteristic. Include one on the blog land page to allow readers to search for articles manually. The search function should display meaningful results according to the search terms used. (There are tons of search bar plug-ins and widgets out there depending on your CMS.)
4. Visually Appealing
Ah, blog design. Your blog landing page should be attractive and on-brand. Use brand colors in a way that doesn’t detract from the different elements on the page. Make use of icons and imagery to highlight information and features. At Victorious, our blog landing page uses cards to showcase each individual post. Other sites may list blogs in a continuous scroll or create a carousel of posts. Work with your web designer to create an attractive blog landing page that doesn’t limit usability or readability.
5. Meaningful Sort Order
As users browse through blogs, they should be ordered logically and helpfully. For the vast majority of sites, the default sort order will be reverse chronological (meaning the newest posts appear first).
Users should also be able to sort posts according to the categories and tags you defined while setting up your blog taxonomy. You may also want to add other sort options, such as by Most Popular or By Series (if you do multi-part tutorials, for example).
On the Victorious blog, users see all posts ordered reverse chronologically on our main blog landing page. They can also choose to see posts by category on separate category pages. Some sites choose to host a blog post archive sorted by month and year, while others focus solely on categories.
6. Easy to Read & Visually Accessible
Think about your favorite blogs. One thing they probably all have in common is that they’re easy to read. They likely don’t have 20 different styles of text and lots of bright colors.
When styling your blog, make sure the fonts and colors you use aren’t just attractive but that they’re visually accessible for most people. Keep the layout clean so there aren’t too many competing features.
7. Responsive Design
Mobile currently comprises over half of web traffic across the world. Add in the variety of desktop screen resolutions out there, and it’s practically impossible to design one static page that fits every possible display.
Response design and a good user experience go hand-in-hand. Google has repeatedly stated that designing responsively is the best practice, period.
Your blog landing page should automatically resize to fit a variety of screen sizes, as should each of your blog pages. Check that your fonts remain readable and your links can easily be clicked. Some mobile versions of blog pages omit certain features, like author photos or tables of contents. Work with your designer to find the solutions that will work best for your and your readers.
8. Post Publication Dates
Be sure each post has a publication date visible on the page and is included in the schema markup if appropriate. This is important for two main reasons:
- Users and search engines prefer sites that post fresh content.
- Users and search engines also prefer when sites have a consistent publishing history.
If you’re refreshing old content, change the post date so the article appears more recently in your archives and include a note that the article has been updated since its original publication.
9. A Relevant Internal Linking Strategy
Internal linking is the practice of linking between pages on your site. Internal links help search engine crawlers paint a picture of how your site is structured, and they also improve user experience by encouraging readers to explore relevant content.
Create an internal link strategy to promote your other content and provide value to users who may be interested in related topics. Check our guide to creating an internal link strategy for full details.
Tip: Use your blog taxonomy to help identify internal link candidates! Highlighting thematically-related posts is an excellent way to include internal links, whether that’s by inserting them into a blog’s body content or a “Related Posts” feature box.
10. Engaging, Relevant Content
Once you have the backbone of your blog set up, you can start publishing content. Content is the heart and soul of a blog — and the way you’ll rank for keywords and bring in readers.
Our team has written extensively about how to fill your blog with useful and educational content. Here are a few guides to help you find inspiration for topics and craft blog posts that appeal to people and search engines:
- A step-by-step rundown on conducting keyword research
- Understanding and leveraging search intent to boost an article’s value
- An easy-to-use blog post template
- How to write a blog post that actually generates traffic
- Tips for optimizing existing content (in case you’re not starting from scratch)
11. A Strong, Clear Call-to-Action
A good blog ultimately aims to provide useful, valuable information to the reader — but don’t forget that your blog is also a marketing tool at its core. A clear call-to-action (CTA) ties in your content to your larger business goals and encourages passive readers to convert to active customers.
A call-to-action could be anything from asking readers to fill out a contact form or encouraging them to sign up for an account — but whatever it is, it should be a logical next step and provide continued value to the reader in some way.
Here are a few other suggestions for making persuasive calls to action:
- Choose only one or two primary CTAs. Readers will be overwhelmed if they’re asked to do too much. Keep things simple by picking one or two pertinent CTAs per post to focus on.
- Wrap up blogs with a final CTA. Visitors should come away from your article knowing exactly what they should do next. If you browse the Victorious blog, you’ll notice that all of our posts end by suggesting the reader schedules a free consultation or download our free SEO ebook.
- Make performing the action easy for users. Don’t instruct readers to do something and then make them hunt for a way to do it. If you want them to check out your YouTube, don’t forget to include a link to your YouTube channel! Do as much of the work as you can for your readers by removing all possible barriers to engagement.
Tip: I recommend that you choose call-to-actions that are measurable in some way. You can set up Google Analytics events to track button clicks, form submissions, and other engagement events to determine if your blogs and CTAs are effective at driving conversions.
6 Nice-to-Have Blog Features
To further optimize your blog, consider including these features.
1. Highlight Important Blog Posts on Landing Page
Showcase critical blog posts by featuring them in a different way on your blog landing page. For example, on the Victorious blog landing page, you’ll see that we have a static post at the top that’s larger than all the other blog cards. That’s because it’s a lead driver for us, and we want to make sure it’s easy to find.
You can highlight your most visited posts, top-ranking posts, or posts on a particular topic. Consider what you’re trying to achieve before selecting the highlighted posts.
2. Table of Contents
An interactive table of contents gives readers a preview of what’s covered in an article and allows them to jump around to the sections that capture their interest.
Notice the sticky table of contents on the left side of this blog? All of the Victorious blog posts feature one. We find tables of contents are particularly useful for long-form blogs where a ton of scrolling may be cumbersome.
Here’s a guide from HubSpot on how to create a table of contents manually or by using a plug-in.
3. Author Info for Each Post
Attaching an author name or byline adds a level of authority to your blogs for both readers and search engines and can help build trust.
Whether or not your blog should feature author information depends on the kind of content you publish. I recommend including author details if your site deals with what Google calls “Your Money or Your Life” (YMYL) topics, such as current events, health and medicine, tech, finance, or law.
Here on the Victorious blog, we place our authors’ names and photos right at the top of each post to create a credible impression from the get-go. Our authors also have their own dedicated author pages to let readers view their other articles.
4. Social Buttons on Posts
Who doesn’t like a free promo from a satisfied reader? Make it easy for readers to share your content across social channels by featuring social media buttons on each article.
I consider social buttons a “nice to have” feature rather than a strict necessity. Chances are, if a reader really wants to share your article, they’ll simply copy and paste the URL into their tweet or post. A button makes the sharing process just a little easier, which can make all the difference for some.
5. Comment Section
In most cases, a comments section won’t boost SEO. It can, however, be a boon for user-generated spam. If you think a comment section may benefit your blog, speak to your SEO agency. They can help you decide based on industry standards. If you opt for a comments section, make sure you have a way to actively monitor the comments to limit spam.
6. RSS Feed
An RSS feed is one way to syndicate your blog. It can also be used to automatically populate your blog posts into a newsletter on certain email platforms. Depending on your content marketing needs, an RSS feed may or may not make sense. And, good news, if you choose to use WordPress, RSS functionality is already built in.
Don’t Forget To Optimize for Search
Your blog is a powerful opportunity for capturing organic traffic and providing value to potential customers. Make sure it’s optimized for search and well-integrated into your site. Schedule a free consultation with our team to learn more about optimizing your website.