WordPress (logo)If you’re looking at creating a blog, here are a few simple things to keep in mind.

Post Length

An ideal post length is something between 400 and 1000 words. This helps your search engine ranking as well as being more friendly to the average visitor who does not want to scroll through very long posts. If you’re pushing longer than 1000 words and you really don’t feel like you can leave anything out, it might be worth considering breaking it into 2 posts instead. WordPress shows the word count in the bottom left of the main content box, so it’s easy to keep track of if you’re going too long or too short.

Use the More tag or Excerpts (WordPress)

There are essentially two different ways to define a shortened introduction to a post which you might see on the general blog feed as well as specific archive pages such as search results, a category, or a tag. Many themes allow you to choose which of these two options to display: the excerpt or the content. The advantage of the excerpt is that it is manually defined distinctly from the main content, so you can write something completely different. On the other hand, it is an extra step. For many blog posts, using the content combined with a More tag is sufficient. The More tag can be found in the toolbar above the main content and tells the theme to only show up to that point.

If you do display some form of “read more” link to the user, to help your accessibility, make sure it is more descriptive than a generic “read more.” One great option is to add the post title so it becomes “Continue reading [post name].” You don’t even have to know how to change the theme code yourself – check out the WP Accessibility plugin for a quick and easy fix to this and many other common issues.

Use Categories and Tags

Categories and tags help sort your content and link it together. As your site grows, it becomes more and more important to have a logical category and tagging system so people can quickly find what they are looking for. You want to create opportunities for people to be trapped in your site, continuing to find interesting things. Categories and tags are one way to do that, as visitors see the categories and tags as they’re reading one post, and can think “oh, I want to read more like this” and easily click to do that.

Categories and tags are not the same thing, although they function similarly in many ways. Exactly what is best to put in each taxonomy system might vary depending on your content. Generally speaking I would say this: you want less categories that cover broad themes or topics of the blog. You can have many more tags – as long as they still aren’t excessive or redundant like having a tag for “book”, a tag for “books”, and a tag for “book reviews.” That’s confusing and they won’t link together unless the spelling is exactly the same.

If you want some help cleaning up tags in WordPress, I recommend the Term Management Tools plugin.

Bold, Italics, Underline

I have read some posts where everything was both bolded and in italics. It may have been accidental – for example, if it was manually coded and they forgot to close the tag – but in the case of WordPress posts where that is unlikely, I’m guessing it was probably intentional. What it comes down to is that if you bold everything, you may as well bold nothing since the purpose is for some text to stand out from the rest as extra important. Actually, bolding nothing would be easier to read.

Underlining should never be used except for links. While the convention of underlining links is not as prominent as it used to be, most people will still see underlined text and assume it’s a link. Save the confusion for everybody and use bold or italics when you want to emphasize something.

Broken Link Checker

Install a plugin that automatically checks links on the site for anything that is broken. If you are linking to any external sites, they might take down their site or change URLs and they probably aren’t going out of their way to tell you. If somebody clicks on a broken link from your site, that looks bad on you and hurts your search engine optimization. My suggestion is to install something to automatically check periodically and let you know if a link from 3 years ago is no longer valid. Then you can change to a different URL or remove it entirely.

In WordPress, I recommend the Broken Link Checker plugin.

Accessibility

I’ll be writing more about common accessibility pitfalls, but if you want your content to be available to everybody – including those relying on assistive technologies like screen readers – then you will need to make sure your site is prepared in a way that works for everybody. Some of the details get technical, but you might want to begin by reading through the Web Content and Accessibility Guidelines.