miketurco.com : tips, tricks and tactics

How to nail the structure of your blog posts

Inspect your blog posts carefullySo, the design of your site is awesome, right? And the content is killer, I’m sure.

But how does your post hold up under a magnifying glass? How do things look under the hood?

In other words, how good is the structure of your post from a technical perspective?

Today I’m going to tell you how to find out whether your blog posts are structurally sound, through and through. And how to fix any problems you find.

Is this a lot of hard/technical work?

The first time through, it does take time and effort. Once you’ve been through this process once, things become much easier. That’s because (a) most things on your blog only need to be fixed once, and (b) tasks like running a grammar checker, or organizing your post with headers, quickly become habit.

Here is a list of the five things you have to check on your page. Most of the steps are pretty easy. And hey, if you’re a blogger, you’ve probably got the know-how to get through everything here. So let’s get rolling.

Spelling and grammar

Most browsers have spell checkers but that’s not enough. You need to check your grammar as well. If you tend to write in a passive voice, for example, that can make your articles hard to read.

What’s the problem?

Maybe the bit with good grammar isn’t your forte. It’s likely, though, that a good-sized chunk of your readers are good at it. If they see a lot of errors they may look down on your writing.

Think about this, too. Google scores the pages on your website. I’m not familiar with the ins and outs of the way Google ranks individual pages. Logically, though, I have to believe the typos and so forth do count against you.

How to correct your spelling

First off, and this is pretty obvious, use your browser’s built-in spell checker. Don’t copy and paste back and forth with MS Word, or you’ll end up with a big mess on your hands.

If you see a word underlined with by a squiggly right line, right-click that word and correct it.

If that word was correct in the first place, right-click and add that new word to your dictionary.

Here’s what to do about grammar

Fixing your grammar sounds like a terrifying ordeal, but it’s not.

I use a grammar checker that’s easy to use and works very well. It’s called After the Deadline.

Another alternative is to hire an editor, of course. A plugin on your computer cannot compete with a good editor. Not yet, anyway.

Readability

This is something that’s really easy to miss. If you use big words and write long sentences, a lot of people will have a hard time understanding what it is you’re trying to say. The problem may be that you write a lot of run-on sentences. It may also be the way you put your thoughts forward is just too damn complex.

There are two ways to address this issue.

If you’re using WordPress, install and use the Yoast SEO Plugin. That plugin performs the Flesch Reading Ease Test.

The Fleshch Reading Score basically counts the number of words in each sentence and the number of syllables in each word, and then gives you a score. That tells you whether your article is easy to read.

There’s an online resource for readability testing as well, where you can just copy and paste the contents of your post. The grading appears automatically. The website to use is Readability-Score.com.

With me so far? Spelling’s good. Grammar’s good. Alright!

Get the HTML right

Just one mistake in your HTML can invalidate the structure of your entire page. Plain and simple. No ifs, ands or buts.

And the kicker is that if there are problems with your website template, you may be not be able to fix the problem yourself.

HTML is what tells your browser what to dispaly on your page and how that page should look. For example, where images are placed and the size of the text on your page.

But here’s the rub. If your browser finds a mistake, it tries its best to correct the problem. Nine times out of ten, when you look at a page with HTML errors, you’re not able to see any problems at all.

Your visitors, however, don’t all use the same browser as you. They may be viewing your page through Internet Explorer, or using some random browser on their phone. Therefore, if there’s a code mistake on your page, your page may appear to them as being totally messed up.

And, of course, the search engines don’t like looking at broken pages, either. If the search engine spiders can’t read your full page due to coding errors, they’ll simply read what they can read and skip what they can’t. In other words, your page will only be partially indexed, if at all.

How to check the HTML on your blog post

This tool is the industry standard. Its called the WC3 Markup Validation Service.

Simply go to that page, type in the link to the article you’re checking and press enter. And don’t be surprised if you see a very long list.

What to do if there’s a problem

The fact is this: some of the errors you’ll see are not errors at all. For example, there may be special code on your page for Facebook that isn’t a part of the HTML standard at all.

So if you look at these messages and can’t tell the top from the bottom, you’ll need to run your findings past a pro.

Include the meta tags

This is so important. Every article you write should have both a title and a description. Both of these items live in the “head” section of your page, and its easy to miss putting them in your page.

In fact, WordPress doesn’t even have fields for you to type this information in. You have to use a plugin. That free Yoast SEO plugin I mentioned above is great for this kind of thing.

The title appears up in the tab at the top of your browser. Many SEO people say that the title is the single most important ranking factor to search engines.

The description is just that — it’s a brief description of your post. Your readers will never see it, but the search engines will.

Check your CSS, too

CSS is the code that tells your browser how your page should look, in detail. For example, which colors to use where, the size of your headers, the width of your sidebars, etc. The CSS file(s) on your site works together with your HTML to make your page look exactly the way that it does.

There’s an online tool you can use to check the CSS on your site, which is the WC3 CSS Validation Service. Simply plug the URL to that page and press enter. In a heartbeat, you’ll see exactly where the errors are in your CSS file.

If there are errors, and you’re not a particularly technical person, its time to bring in a pro. CSS problems can sneak up on you and make a web page look very bad. There’s also the matter of how search engines look at you. If your CSS (or HTML) is problematic, your site will not look professionally done to the search engine robots that crawl the net.

Keep in mind that not every error you see on your page is an actual error. But unless you’re a pro yourself, it’s not easy to tell the difference.

How to use headers the right way

I’m talking about H1 headers, H2 headers, etc. Their purpose is to lay out an easy to read outline structure for your page.

The fact is that the majority of websites do not use headers the proper way. And that’s crazy, because headers are really easy to use.

How your headers should look

The header elements on a web page represent the outline of your document. Plain and simple. If you look at the outline of your page it should look something like this:

H1 Post Title
H2 Subject title
H3 Sub subject title
H3 Sub subject title
H2 Subject two title
H3 Sub subject two title
H3 Sub subject two title

etc.

Here’s the big problem with headers

I have to tell you the truth about this, and it’s not pretty.

Most of the website templates out there are crap. Not just the free/cheap templates you download. I’m talking about almost every template I’ve ever seen.

Many visual designers either don’t understand, or deal with, the importance of article layout. Instead of using headers only for the layout of your page, they use them as visual elements. And this is really, really bad.

For example, a lot of templates, WordPress and otherwise, use the H1 header for the site title at the top of your page. They use H4 or H5 headers over the top of all the widgets in your sidebar. And, well, basically, they use headers wherever the hell they want.

Literally, this makes it impossible to for you to structure your document in an outline format. (Read more about this issue, below.)

How to check out the headers on your page

Go back to the WC3 Markup Validation Service. (I mentioned this site, above.)

After you enter the URL to your post, click on the More Options link. Check the box that says Show Outline, and then run the test.

If the outline for your page is at all readable, you’ll find the outline of your blog post at the bottom of the page.

What to if your headers are a mess

First and foremost, you need to clean up the article you wrote. If you’ve made any mistakes when creating your headers, they have to go. Every one of them.

Visual editors tend to leave a mess behind when you edit your post. By the time you get through two or three edits, there may be a lot of code to clean up. Not just your headers, but your ordered lists, bolded fonts, etc.

In making corrections, it’s best to go through the HTML version of your document. The HTML is hard to read at first, but you get used to it. In fact, reading through your document in this manner is an easy way to start learning HTML.

As to the template itself, ouch. Fixing your template yourself is a heck of a lot of work. Assuming, of course, you’re a programming pro. Templates include more than just HTML. There’s PHP to deal with and sometimes JavaScript as well.

Bringing it all together

Figuring out where things stand with your existing articles is really straight forward, but some of the fixes are not. Every step forward you do take, though, does improve your blog. So now that you know what’s what, simply do the best you can.

Have you found this post helpful? Have you put it to use? Let me know which ways you’ve found to improve the posts on your blog.



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Article by Mike Turco.
Contact: mike (at) miketurco.com
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