How to clean up your blog

Blogging gets messy quickly. Successful bloggers update often, working at a rapid fire pace. Images, tags, links and titles whirl around in a flurry, and land in a backend heap that lacks any sort of organisation whatsoever. Good bloggers dedicate themselves to their passion, sticking to it for years, which only adds more mess to the pile and exacerbates the problem.

Here's my overarching advice when it comes to cleaning up your blog: Learn where and when to let things slide. Strategically letting go is just as important as knowing when to stay on top of your organisational efforts. Think of cleaning up your blog in terms of efficiency and payoff, rather than end result. There's no sense in trying to reorganise your blog solely from the backend if it doesn't help your audience find content or entice them to return to your site.

The tips and blog clean-up checklist here are meant to guide you towards fixing up your blog in a way that will result in the biggest payoff. You don't need to systematically trawl through every post you've ever written. Instead, focus on the posts, structure, and other pieces that, when cleaned up, will actually result in more traffic to your site.

Clean-up checklist

1. Design

Every blogger wants a beautiful blog, but few can afford to hire an experienced graphic designer to create one. I am not a graphic designer. I have an opinion about what looks bad, but I do not have the skills to design something that looks good. If you're like me, let someone else do the hard design work: Use templates, which are also sometimes called themes.

Before you change your existing look and feel, make sure you download and save a copy of the template you have now, just in case something goes wrong and you need to revert to your old design.

Most blogging platforms offer plenty of free template options. The image shown is from Tumblr, for example. Blogger lets you tweak existing templates, so if you want to give your blog a unique design without having to start from scratch, fiddle with colours, typefaces, and layout slightly.

2. Settings

Check out your settings while working on the design. These two pieces often go hand in hand. For example, if you tinker with how comments are displayed in your design template, you might as well review other comment settings, such as the moderation process.

Check on any auto-promotion tools you use, such as RSS, email or newsletter updates, and any automated "post to Facebook/Twitter" settings (as in when you publish a new post and it automatically appears as a status update on your own Facebook account, not to be confused with share buttons, which I discuss in the next section). Do your settings work? Are images showing up as they should?

3. Page elements

In addition to the overall look of your blog, your post template should contain a number of page elements. The essentials are:

Author (if multiple writers contribute to your blog)

Date

Share buttons (post to Twitter, post to Facebook, +1 in Google+, etc)

Comments

Of course there are other page elements that you can add, but these four are the most crucial. Customarily, the first three elements live at the top of the page, clustered around the post title or headline. Comments usually appear at the end of a post, although a jump link to the comments and a number indicating how many comments there are usually shows up at the top, too.

4. Bio and other pages

How annoying is it when you find a great blog and try to email the author, only to find an outdated email address that bounces? If only bloggers updated their bios and contact information with the same dedication that some people update Facebook. So take a moment to update your bio. If you've written a bio recently for another purpose (professional opportunity, social network, cover letter), I recommend riffing off what you’ve written there to save some time.

I also recommend recycling your blogger bio across all your social networks so that readers see some consistency. The bio doesn't have to be precisely the same everywhere (you wouldn't want all your bios to be as short as the one on Twitter, for example), but it should reuse keywords that describe you and your interests or profession. Do you refer to yourself as a "blogger," "writer," "columnist," or something else? Use that one important and defining word across all your bios. On sites where the length of your bio is limited, link to your blogging bio, like so: "For more about Jill Duffy, see her complete bio here."

After you update your bio or "about" page, give your other pages a read through to see if they need a refresh as well.

5. Tags and categories

Most blogs – and by "most" I really mean all – should clean up their categories and tags every year or so. New words enter our cultural blogging lexicon, or become more prevalent than they were previously and should be used to describe the content bloggers write. Who would have known six years ago that "cloud" would replace "remotely hosted Internet-accessible?"

The trick with tags and categories is not having too many, but using the appropriate ones. Make a list of words you would use to describe your blog to another person (heck, you can probably lift them from the pages that you updated in the previous step). Add to that list topics typically covered in your blog. When you reach 25 or 30 words, stop. Look through your list. See if you have any near-duplicates. For any idea that you have more than one word, turn to Google Trends, a free service that can tell you which word has more draw on the web. To attract more readers and increase your pageviews, you need tags and categories that match the words people search. For example, in the image above, notice how "social media" is much more popular than "social networking."

6. Images

With images, there are two angles to tackle. First, there's the problem of missing images. If you add images from other sources to your blog by linking to them, chances are some are now missing. Hey, it happens. And if you blog frequently, there's just no way you're going to be able to check that all the images are still intact.

What I did to check for missing images is revisit the top 10 posts on my blog according to traffic, and the top 10 according to referrals (links from other sites). I decided not to worry about posts that don't get much traffic. But I do care about posts that are popular or that other people have recommended. I'd look bad if people were recommending my blog, and readers found it full of missing images.

I found one post that had a slideshow embedded from Flickr that wasn't working on multiple browsers anymore. Rather than troubleshoot the problem, I replaced the slideshow with one large image. But then I noticed that there was a comment referring to the now missing slideshow, leading me to remove the comment so as not to confuse anyone. If you make any substantial changes to your posts, be sure to watch for comments that refer to the old content!

The second angle from which to approach images is in regards to how they're tagged. File names, captions, and descriptions all matter for SEO. While it's probably not worth your while to update your backlog of images, moving forward you should give your images file names that contain keywords. Use hyphens instead of spaces between words for file names. Add keywords to the description and caption as well. Depending on the amount of traffic your blog receives, you may want to rename and re-upload images on popular posts with stronger file names. Again, focus on the high-hitting posts rather than all your content.

Just as linked images can expire, so can URLs. I don't think there's a quick and easy way to check across your entire site for broken links, other than by trial and error (if you know of one, please share it in the comments), but you can focus your efforts where it matters most: On the homepage. Click through everything linked on your main page. Keep a particularly close eye out for blogroll content, where links may be active, but the blog could be defunct and stale from a content-updating point of view.

Better blogging

After you've cleaned up your blog, which might be a slow process paced over many days or weeks, help out your future self by keeping your blog cleaner and more organised as you work going forward. Re-evaluate tags and their weight while you're blogging, rather than doing an annual sweep. Name your images appropriately when you first upload them to your computer, rather than when you move them to the blogging platform (here’s a hint – keeping a copy on your machine is a form of backing up).

Bear in mind, though, that neither you nor your blog have to be perfect. Focus on the clean-up efforts that have a real payoff, rather than those that simply make the backend look tidy.