There is definitely a lot to learn when it comes to blogging: social media sharing strategies, organization and marketing! It seems like one will never grasp it all. But with a little bit of patience and by doing things in order of impact, you will eventually get past the basics and onto enhancing and scaling your blogging results.
There are of course a myriad of ways out there to accomplish the same thing, and we must all pick which ones suit not only our styles best, but also our audiences'. But there are a couple of universal concepts that I would say the majority of “for profit” bloggers will implement as soon as possible into their blog. That is: the content of your blog index page.
What is the blog index page?
This is the page where people will land on if they want to see a list of all your blog posts. It sometimes happens to also be your homepage, and other times, it is a page inside your blog. This list is automatically organized by showing your readers your most recent posts bundled together and organized in descending date order. Usually only an excerpt of each blog post is what you will see and your readers will click on a “read more” button to read the full post.
A very common question asked is about the blog index page is:
What to include in your blog index page?
This is a recommendation that will maximize the success of your blog when placed ABOVE the fold (this is the area viewable by readers before they need to scroll down to see more of your blog).
A SUBSCRIBER FORM or AKA OPTIN FORM:
Every blogger's ultimate goal should be to build a list of subscribers with whom you can follow up with and start building a business relationship with. This relationship is best cultivated by providing them with valuable and relevant content. An optin form allows you to collect these emails in exchange for information, or valuable content from you that your user can apply to their own business or daily life.
An optin form can come in many styles and mostly provided by an email marketing service such as mailchimp (free account, great for starters, but note there is no automation w/free version), convertkit (one of the latest up and rising new email marketing solutions), or Aweber (which is who I use). Aweber has this really informative pdf you can download here: What To Write In Your Emails. Even if you choose not to use Aweber for your email marketing, surely the content will still be useful to you!
If you don't have any email marketing solutions set up yet, WordPress comes with a built in subscriber widget (under Appearances -> Widgets) that you can drag and place along the side of your blog. If you opt for this latter option, make sure you update to an email marketing service provider as soon as possible, for this will help you automate messages and also stay protected under ANTI-SPAM laws. You subscribers will want to see the option to easily unsubscribe from your emails if they wish to or they will consider your emails “spam”. So will email delivery services.
TYPES OF FORMS AND WHERE TO ADD THEM ON YOUR BLOG
There are a couple of different ways to display these forms on your blog and still keep them front and center.
1- Right or Left side menu bar, also called widget area (most common): You will either need a ready made widget, a plugin provided by the email marketing provider, or a tiny bit of code (also provided by the email marketing company) that you add via a text widget. These are fairly easy to add as widgets to your sidebars.
2- Horizontal forms along the top, or below your main image: These are really becoming very popular and handy from a user perspective (since they don't quite interrupt the reading). However, require a bit more coding knowledge to install. Not something I would recommend for a beginner to tackle on their own but certainly worth looking into later, or hiring someone (like a developer or maybe a web designer) to install it for you.
3- A link to a pop-up form right from your navigation bar: I had never thought about making my optin form a navigation bar option and I first heard about this from Melyssa Griffith. I might give it a test drive soon! You will need to configure a popup sequence and link action in order to generate this effect. I know that OptinMonster offers this option and also creates an easy clickable link for you to use. I use OptinMonster for all my popup forms, together with aWeber. OptinMonster creates the forms but does not maintain your subscriber lists or sends emails, that's what the email marketing companies do. Now OptinMonster is an extra business expense, and to be honest it took me a while before I bit the bullet and got it. BUT, it has saved me LOADS of time and frustration in trying to create nice looking forms on my own and figuring out the code to install. I believe ConvertKit may offer this option as well (pop-ups). I truly think the forms as much, much nicer looking as they offer more design flexibility through Optin Monster, but from a functionality perspective, either will work.
4- Last but not least, pop-ups: These are forms that automatically popup in your reader's face after they have landed on your site. They say these forms really increase the number of subscribers but I swear I have never spoken to one person who likes them, lol. I use the popup form feature thru OptinMonster. Installing these are usually done remotely via the email marketing area and adding a bit of code to a text widget as well. Typically these are used in combination with one of the above options.
I also recommend you add your Recent Posts widget at the top of your blog. Primarily because you want your viewers to stick around and read more of your content and hopefully engage (like, share, comment). This widget comes with your WordPress blog and limiting it to 5 or 8 of your most recent posts will be sufficient.
Although I would say not a must, having a short blurb on the side about you with your picture helps to humanize your blog and instantly connect with your readers. Seeing your face ads a personal touch and I think people rather be doing business with a human than a giant company (IMHO). I have been playing with this feature lately myself and it has increased the visits to my about me page :-). You can easily and without any use of code, add this by adding a plugin called “Image Widget” to your blog. Then drag this widget to the sidebar, connect it to a picture of you and add your brief bio in the “caption” field.
And that is probably about all you will be able to fit “above the fold”. You can include other things on your sidebar such as: image link to your services, an affiliate image or two, categories of your blog, a social media bar or links to your social networks. I tend to bury the links that take people AWAY from my blog because once I have someone on my blog, I don't wish to send them away again! Especially back to where they came from, typically Facebook or Pinterest. <– See? I didn't add links there? LOL.
I hope this helps you figure out your blog index page layout strategy and what to add there. If you are new, stick to a simple subscriber form on the side, that's truly the most valuable piece you can add to your blog.
Do you add something different to YOUR blog index above the fold that has made a difference to your goals? Feel free to share that in the comments.