How to Run a Successful WordPress Blog (and the Tools to Help You Do It)

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As a Content Management System, WordPress makes the process of managing and updating your website’s content pretty smooth.

It certainly beats creating a static site or using a cheap website builder, and is designed to help you keep your site up to date and reach out to an audience.

But there are systems you can put in place and plugins you can use which will make the process of creating, publishing and sharing content much easier, and help you reach out to your community of readers.

In this post I’ll look at the main aspects of content management with WordPress and give you some tips to make it easier. I’ll cover:

WordPress
WordPress makes running a blog all the more easier.
  • Publishing regularly – which you need to do if you want search engines to find you, and attract an audience which returns regularly.
  • Sharing content – to gain traction with your audience, you need to share content outside your site and encourage others to share it, too.
  • Managing subscribers and comments – if readers are engaging with your content, you need to respond! I’ll give some tips to help you manage engagement without it taking over your life.

Publishing to Your Site Regularly

You’ve made the first big step towards being able to effectively manage your site content: You’ve built it using WordPress. Using a Content Management System like WordPress will make it many, many times easier to keep your site up to date than if you’d built a static site. In fact, almost half of the client work I get is from organizations wanting to move to WordPress so they can update their site more easily.

I’m not going to tell you how often you should publish content – it depends entirely on your topic and your audience. It will also depend on the realities of what you’re able to do. There’s no point in setting yourself an over-ambitious publishing schedule which you can’t stick to and which causes you to burn out and give up after the first couple of months.

Publishing regularly isn’t just about setting a date for each post and writing something on those days: You need to have a structured plan if you’re going to stick to your schedule. This will vary from site to site but will probably include:

  1. Setting yourself a publishing schedule
  2. Identifying ideas for posts in advance and scheduling them
  3. Drafting new posts
  4. Preparing assets such as images and video if relevant
  5. Editing posts
  6. Publishing posts
  7. Sharing posts and attracting readers to them.
The free Editorial Calendar plugin is a fantastic tool for scheduling posts. We even use it for our blog.
The free Editorial Calendar plugin is a fantastic tool for scheduling posts. We even use it for our blog.

Let’s take a look at each of these steps in detail:

Setting Yourself a Publishing Schedule

Successful sites which publish a lot of content have a well-defined publishing schedule. This will include:

How often posts are published (weekly, daily, on certain days of the week, at certain times of day?). For example, the WPMU DEV blog publishes new content every day, and posts are published at the same time each day to reach our audience most effectively.

What types of posts are published when. You may have a specific type of post that you always run on a given day, for example a Friday giveaway or a Monday thought for the day. When scheduling these, talk to your audience and look at your statistics over time to check that you’re publishing them on the best days.

Trello
Trello is a great organizational tool for keeping track of lists.

The process from coming up with an idea for a post through to publishing it (and beyond). For a personal blog that you don’t update every day, this will probably be very informal and you might not write it down, but for a larger site with multiple authors or even a single author site which is publishing new content every day, it pays to formalize this as you don’t have to think about it every time. A lot of blogs (including this one) use a tool like Trello to manage this process.

What happens if you don’t have a post to publish on a given day or if you need to add extra content (for example to respond to something that your readers will want to know about).

Details of how you’ll share your posts using social media, and who will do it. This might be the post author, the person managing the site, or someone with responsibility for your social media accounts. If you’re a lone blogger, it’ll be you!

When you’re working out your publishing schedule, the first thing you need to identify is how often you’re going to post.

When considering this, ask yourself a few questions:

  • Do you aim to make money from this site? There are three levels here: the first is a site which will generate its own revenue via advertising or subscriptions; the second is a site which will help you generate revenue by publicising your work or your business; and the third is a site which isn’t designed to make money at all. The first will likely need more regular content than the second, which will in turn need more regular content than the third.
  • What type of site is it? A news site will probably need one or more posts every day depending on how wide its focus; a revenue-generating blog will probably need new posts daily or at least three times a week; a blog supporting other activities will need new content every week if you want it to be picked up by search engines. If you’re blogging to record your ideas or musings on topics that interest you and don’t expect high traffic levels, you can post less frequently.
  • Who is your audience and what do they expect? On which days of the week and at what time of day are your audience online? For some topics (e.g. DIY, fashion) your audience is more likely to be online on evenings or weekends while for others (e.g. business) it’ll be looking at your site in the week. The good news is that you don’t have to write your posts on the days your audience wants to read them: you can schedule them in WordPress.
  • What’s your topic and does it dictate how often you need to post? For a news site, there will be events which you need to post in response to. For a review site, you’ll be expected to post when new products are released. Depending on the nature of your posts, you might not need to publish immediately: a feature, opinion piece or in-depth review can be published later than a news flash.

The publishing schedule that works for you will be unique to you and your site. It will depend on your audience, your content creators, and your topic. Above all it must be realistic. Be prepared to tweak your publishing schedule as you go along: it’s much better than experiencing burnout and giving up altogether.

Identifying and Scheduling Content Ideas

You can’t publish any content unless you come up with some ideas. Anyone who writes regularly will tell you that ideas for articles, posts or even books can come to them at the strangest of times, so you need a way to capture your ideas wherever you are. I’ll look at some of the tools you might use in a moment.

The Groove blog offers some great advice on how to come up with ideas for your site.
The Groove blog offers some great advice on how to come up with ideas for your site.

However for most website owners, coming up with content ideas can be incredibly hard.

You’re busy managing your business, writing your posts, or working on your site’s code, and it just doesn’t feel like there’s time to think of ideas.

If ideas don’t just pop into your head unbidden, you’ll need to set aside time to generate ideas and flesh them out.

Tools for Recording Ideas

Whatever tool you use to record your content ideas, you’ll need to ensure that it’s something you can access quickly and can keep with you most of the time. Some people prefer a low-tech solution while others use apps and online solutions.

Examples include:

  • Paper and pen: Carrying a notebook around works for a lot of people: it won’t crash or lose data, but you do risk losing the pad itself and it’s difficult to share with colleagues who aren’t co-located.
  • Email: Some people like to send themselves an email with a new idea. This has the advantage of grabbing your attention next time you open your mail. You can take this one step further if you’re using an online tool like Trello or Evernote (see below) by posting an email to a predefined address which will automatically create a new card or note for you.
  • Voicemail or audio note: If no other tools are available, you might find that sending yourself a voicemail or creating an audio note on your phone works. Just make sure you check your voicemail when you’re back at your desk!
  • Post-it notes: If you’re working with a team in the same space, using a board with post-it notes stuck to it can work. You can put up a new post-it note for each idea and then move it to different areas of the board as it progresses through the publication process. You can then move it to a calendar to show when the post will be published. If you are using this method, I’d recommend taking regular photos of your board just in case!
  • Evernote: Evernote is a useful tool for recording ideas, links and notes. You can easily share your notes between devices and users, meaning that an idea you record on your phone can be accessible on a colleague’s desktop PC.
  • Trello: If you use Trello to manage your publishing schedule, it can make things easier if you record your ideas here too. Simply create an “Ideas” board and move cards to other boards once they progress past this stage. You can also give colleagues the option to vote on Trello cards, meaning you can vote on the best ideas.
  • Pinterest: If your site is very visual, or you generate ideas visually, taking or bookmarking a photo and uploading it to a Pinterest board may be good way to store ideas. You’ll need to consider whether you want this board to be private: after all, you’re generating ideas at this stage, not sharing content.

The list above isn’t exhaustive and there will be other tools you might choose from: but it gives you an idea of some of the possibilities.

Writing Your Content and Creating Assets

Once you’ve identified your ideas and know how often you need to turn one from a spark into a published post, you need to start creating content. Assuming your site has written content, this will involve writing the content as well as preparing any additional assets, such as photos, videos, infographics and more.

When writing your content, you may prefer to write straight into WordPress (as I do) or to write elsewhere, such as a word processing program, and import your content from that. Be careful when you do so that you don’t also import styling and from the word processing program, which will add unwanted markup and mess up the formatting on your site.

Writing straight into WordPress is a lot easier than it used to be,. especially since the release of WordPress 4.1. You can switch from the regular editing screen to a distraction-free writing screen which lets you focus on what you’re doing:

WordPress distraction free writing mode

Try to identify the assets you’ll need as early as possible in the process. If you need to commission these or find them elsewhere, this could take time. If you’ll need to create them this could take even longer. Recording and editing a two-minute video to accompany a blog post can take anything from half an hour for an informal face to camera video to many days for a professionally recorded and edited video, especially if you want to incorporate graphics and/or animation.

Once you’ve drafted a post and incorporated visuals and other assets, it’s a good idea to pause for a day or two. Take a break from the post, do something else, and then come back and edit it with a fresh mind. Alternatively, assign a member of your team to edit posts or edit each others’ posts. It’s much easier to spot ways in which someone else’s writing can be improved than it is to do this for your own writing. If one of your team members is a grammar guru, make sure he or she gets a chance to check all of your content before it goes out: errors make you look unprofessional and will distract people from your content.

Once you’ve created your posts, added assets and edited them, it’s time to publish.

Publishing Posts in WordPress

I’m not going to go into a lot of detail here about how you publish your posts in WordPress – that’s a topic for another post –  but I want to mention one WordPress feature which can help you manage your publishing schedule and that’s the ability to schedule your posts for a future date.

Instead of publishing your post right now, you can specify a date when it will be published. This can be in the future or the past. If it’s in the past, WordPress will publish the post immediately but give it the date you assign and possibly display it below your latest posts on your home page, if they were published since the publication date of your new post. I use this for sites where the publish date corresponds to the date on which an event happened and I’m adding a summary of that event or a gallery of photos.

But if you select a publication date in the future and then click the “Schedule” button (which is what the “Publish” button will change to after you change the date), WordPress will keep your post until the date and time you’ve specified it and then automatically publish it. So you could be asleep, or watching TV, or even sipping Martinis on a yacht in the Mediterranean. Your readers will think you’re working away at your desk, even on Christmas Day!

You can be even more future-proof and combine this with scheduled tweets or Facebook posts so that links to your new post will go out as soon as it’s published, without your input at the time.

Sharing Your Content

So, your blog or site is full of engaging, well-written, professional content. People still aren’t going to see it unless you tell them about it.

Your strategy for increasing traffic to your site will most likely include SEO but it also needs to include broadcasting – you need to get out there and tell people about how great your site is.

The most popular way to share your content and tell people about it is using social media, but it’s not the only way. Here are some of the tools and strategies you can use:

Mailchimp is a great service for organizing your mailing lists.
Mailchimp is a great service for organizing your mailing lists.

Social media – including twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Pinterest, Reddit and many more

Email – subscribers to your site automatically receive a notification when you publish new content.

This is very reliable and direct but you need to be careful if you’re publishing frequently that you don’t annoy people with the frequency of emails.

RSS feeds – WordPress will automatically generate an RSS feed for your posts as well as for comments and custom post types. Including a link to this in a prominent place on your site will make it easier for people to subscribe.

Newsletter – use a mailing service to send out summaries of your content to subscribers. This gives you more control than automated emails but is more work.

Deciding on the Channels You’ll Use

I by no means recommend using all of the above: if you do, you’ll spend more time sharing your content than you do creating it, with diminishing returns the more channels you add. To identify the best channels for you, you simply need to ask yourself one question?

Which channels are my target audience using?

This is more important than the channels you or your friends or colleagues are using, or the ones you’re familiar with. You have an audience to reach so you need to find out where you’re going to be able to find them. So how do you find out? Here are some places to start:

  • Ask them! Contact your current readers and ask them how they want to learn about your new content. Don’t do this if your current audience is different form your target audience.
  • Look at where your competitors are sharing their content. Don’t assume they’re getting it right, but if you find that an audience is engaging with them, this is probably a good place to look.
  • Get advice. Find an expert on social media or content marketing and get their advice. This may cost you money, but it could be worth it in the long run, especially if you’re considering spending money on advertising.
  • Test your advice or theories. Try out the most relevant channels and see if they work over a period of some months. If not, review your strategy.

Remember that the effectiveness of your content sharing won’t just opened on whether you’ve chosen the right content, but on how you’re sharing it and how you’re engaging with your audience.

Tools for Sharing Content

Once you’ve decided on the channels you’re going to use, you’ll need to make this as effective as you can, automating it where possible. Plugins can help you automatically update your social media accounts when you post new content, send emails to subscribers, or add subscribers to your mailing list. Online tools can help you better manage your social media channels. Here are some ideas:

Ultimate Facebook widgets
Ultimate Facebook helps you integrate your site with your Facebook profile.

Identifying the tools you’ll use is the first step: you then need to work out how you’ll use them, based on your social media strategy. This will include how often you’ll share via each channel, what you’ll share via each channel, what time of day and the language you’ll use. You also need to set aside time to respond to people who reply to your posts and engage with your audience, or identify someone in your team who’ll do that.

For more detailed analysis of some great tools for sharing content with your users, see this post on 16 plugins for communicating with your users.

Managing Subscribers and Comments

If you want to build an audience through your site, and particularly if you’re posting regular content which you want to generate an income from, you’ll need to engage with your readers to ensure that they keep coming back, that they share and recommend your content and that they talk about your site with their friends and colleagues.

Using social media effectively will help you do this. But the best way to build a community of readers and encourage people to feel loyalty to your site is to use comments.

Using comments isn’t just about checking the box to enable them and then leaving it at that. If you’re going to use comments effectively, there are a few things you need to consider:

  • Will you let anyone post comments without approval? This can be risky – if you adopt this approach, make sure you’ve got Akismet configured to stop spam!
  • Will you let people who’ve already had comments approved leave new comments without your approval in future? This is the approach I take on my blog as it gives me a balance between saving time, giving my readers a better experience, and avoiding spam.
  • Will people have to subscribe and sign in to comment? If you want to encourage subscriptions or your site is a membership site, this may be the best option for you, although it will limit engagement to some extent.
  • Will you use a third-party tool such as disqus to manage comments, or let readers use their social media accounts? This can be more familiar for users and help them to share your content, but takes away some control.
  • How often will you read and reply to comments? Try to avoid responding to each and every comment as it comes in, and set yourself a schedule and a defined time for dealing with comments.
  • To what sort of comments will you reply? Will you reply to everyone or have a set of criteria? Your criteria will depend on the content of your site and the nature of your audience but might include answering questions and corrections but not comments of the ‘yay! I loved this post’ kind, at least not once your site’s well established.

Encouraging Comments

It’s also a good idea to actively encourage comments. At the end of your blog posts, ask for people’s opinion on what you’ve written or for their experiences. For example:

  • If you’ve reviewed something, ask people what they think.
  • If you’ve provided a list of resources, ask readers to add their own to the list.
  • If you’ve written a tutorial or guide, ask people about their experience of doing this.
  • If you’ve written an opinion piece, ask people for their views. Be prepared for the fact that they might not agree with you and beware of trolls!

WordPress Discussion Settings

In the WordPress admin, you can define how commenting will work. You can specify whether people will need to be logged in to comment, whether comments won’t be published until you approve them, or whether commenters with prior approved comments can comment again without your input.

WordPress discussion settings

You can amend these settings over time but beware: if you turn commenting off, you can only do it for new content. To turn off discussion for existing posts, you’ll either need to edit each of them manually or use a plugin like Disable Comments.

Plugins to Help with Comments

If comments are an important feature of your site, you want to make it as easy as possible for users to post them and for you to manage them. Here are some plugins which can help:

It’s also advisable to test how comments look in your theme, as when you first install the theme you may not have any comments to check. Check multiple levels of comment replies to be sure they fit nicely on the screen and are easy to read. If your theme is responsive (as it should be), check how comments look on smaller screens as this can often be overlooked.

If you don’t have any comments on your site to test your theme with, either create some dummy ones or download and import the theme unit test data to test comments along with lots of other content types.

Managing Subscribers

If you decide to only allow logged in subscribers to post comments, you’ll need to make the process of signing up to your site and logging in as simple as possible. Use a widget like Nice Login Widget or customize the login page using a plugin like Login Message. Alternatively, you can code a login form anywhere in your theme template files using the wp_login_form function.

Membership Pro
With Membership Pro you can easily set up recurring payment subscriptions, a multi-level membership system (including freemium), dripped content, protected forums or put courses behind a paywall in WordPress.

If you want to charge for subscription, maybe offering some content for free and some to paid subscribers only, a plugin like our WordPress Membership Pro will help you manage that process and give your subscribers a user-friendly interface. Alternatively the Pay Per View plugin lets you sell individual items of content on a pay-per-view basis.

Moderating Comments

If you choose to moderate comments, it gives you a chance to read through your comments before publishing them, and to filter out any spammy ones which haven’t been caught by Akismet (you have activated Akismet, haven’t you?). Decide on what time of day you’ll moderate comments so that you’re not tempted to leap straight in every time you receive a notification of a new one – this will eat up your time and distract you from other work. Once your site is well established, many comments will be from people who’ve commented before so you can choose to let those be published without moderation if you’d like.

Don’t reject all critical comments, as long as they’re not personal or inflammatory. Being open to criticism or dissent from your community of readers shows that you value their opinions and will engender more trust in your content. But it’s your blog, and if someone is insulting or uses language you don’t like, you can always block them!

You’ll sometimes get some comments of the “I think your blog is the best blog in the world, thank you so much” variety. It’s tempting to let these through but they are probably spam and including them in the published comments will make you look a bit gullible. If the comment isn’t specific, it’s probably spam. Hopefully Akismet will catch these anyway!

Responding to Comments

In the early days, reading and responding to comments won’t be too arduous. But if your site gains more traffic and a more engaged audience, you could be receiving hundreds of comments a day. I’ve heard comments from a lot of successful bloggers that they spend more time reading and responding to comments than they do creating content. Given that the only person really interested in your response to a comment is the commenter, you need to think about whether this is the best use of your time and whether you should define which comments you’ll respond to.

However if you want to engage with your commenters (which I hope you do), replying to at least some is a good idea. You might want to respond to:

  • Comments raising an issue / asking a question which a lot of other commenters have raised or asked;
  • Comments which constructively point out flaws or inaccuracies in your post. Don’t take this personally – thank them for the contribution and edit your post. You might be more reluctant to respond to snarky comments though!
  • Comments which add useful information or answer a question you’ve raised in your post;
  • Comments asking a question which lets you add to the post content and demonstrate your expertise;
  • Comments which give you an idea for another post – thank them and add a link!

Remember that comments are part of your site’s content. They will be read by your visitors (sometimes more than your own content), they could affect your search results and they will contribute to the way people perceive your site. Use them wisely and they can be a huge asset.

Comments
Responding to comments helps create a sense of community on your site.

In my experience, one of the best ways to manage comments is to leave them for a short time to see if someone else replies. This starts a discussion between members of your audience and helps create a community of readers on your site, which is a great thing! People may be able to answer each others’ questions or even start a debate, which will encourage them to keep coming back to have their say. If no-one replies to a comment after a day or two, leave a reply yourself.

Whatever you do, don’t let reading and replying to comments take over your life. I’ve followed popular bloggers who have had to give up blogging because they didn’t have the time to deal with the hundreds of comments their posts got. Remember: all of your readers are reading your posts, while only some will read your reply to a given comment. If you don’t have time to deal with comments and create new, engaging content, then focus on the content. Put a notice somewhere on your site to tell people how you deal with comments and warn them that they might not get a reply, and why. If they like your content, they’ll understand.

Summary

Developing and sustaining a successful blog or site based on content is hard work. You need to be constantly generating ideas for new content and publishing engaging posts that your readers will keep coming back for and will share with their friends or colleagues. And it’s not just about creating content either: you need to share your content so that people know about it, and you need to manage your audience and your engagement with it, either through commenting or subscription.

But if you get it right it can be hugely rewarding activity. If your site generates income or supports a business, a successful blog will help you boost your income, while if it’s your hobby you’ll have the satisfaction of engaging with an audience of people interested in the same things as you and of contributing to a community.

If you follow the advice in this post, you should be able to develop a popular, high quality blog over time with a loyal audience of followers.

What’s your experience of creating and sharing engaging content? Do you have any tips for making content management easier? Share your ideas in the comments.

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