A Lesson In Planning Ahead
Most Saturdays, I spend time with my kids once they get up in the morning, and until they go down for their afternoon nap. But before they wake up in the morning and after they go down for a nap, I spend my time writing.
That’s my ‘personal time’ each week. Unless we have a road trip or significant outing planned, I get to devote several hours out of my Saturday diving deep into whatever topics and questions strike me. It’s one of my favorite, most relaxing times of the week.
Unless, of course, I have to spend hours and hours cleaning out my basement and garage.
Since moving into our home in 2011, our basement has never been anything more than a convenient storage unit. Filled to the brim with college books, Christmas decorations, old computers and unused (and unwanted) wedding presents, it had become a mass of clutter and disorganization.
Which was fine, really, right up until we were told that there was going to be a community garage sale in two weeks! An opportunity for us to de-clutter, organize, and get rid of whatever we no longer wanted or needed. Making a few bucks on the sale itself was just gravy.
The problem, of course, was that no only did we need to move everything up from the basement into the garage that we wanted to sell, but that also meant moving anything out of the garage that we wanted to keep into the basement. Or at least out of the way.
That includes the 52 boxes of 50 lb. vinyl plank wood flooring we had stacked in the garage waiting to be installed.
So I sacrificed a Saturday to the God Of Disorganized People and spent trip after trip carrying boxes of planks into the basement, and boxes of unwanted treasures up to the garage.
I wonder how much time and effort I might have saved had we organized our basement from the beginning, instead of treating it like a garbage chute on the Death Star?
Measure Twice, Cut Once
There’s an old saying among carpenters that goes something like this: “Measure Twice, Cut Once.” If you haven’t heard it, the idea is that if you have something you need to cut, like 2 x 4 wood planks, they need to be cut for a purpose. Which means they need to be cut exactly.
The guys who will be installing my wood flooring will need to trim planks to go around corners and up stairs. If it needs to be 32″ long to go on a stair step, they need to cut it exactly 32″ or it’s going to be too long or too short. (Incidentally, that need for precision in installation is exactly why I’m hiring professionals!)
To be completely sure about a cut before that cut is made, the smart carpenter measures twice. They might, for instance, use a tape measure to go from the end of the plank 32″ in, and then mark it on the underside. Then measure it again and ensure that they get the same mark both times. If not, measure again.
Once the cut is sure, they’ll saw the plank and go install it, trusting that their measurement and cut were perfect. And it had better be. Once you’ve made the wrong cut, you might not be able to go back. And even if you can correct it, you’re going to waste a lot of time and materials in the process.
You don’t like to waste time, do you? Whether we’re talking about carpentry or blogging, time is money.
RELATED: The Ultimate Blogging Planner to help you organize your blog & blogging business.
Over the years, my blog has evolved, as has yours no doubt. There are topics I no longer write about, and others I cover in more detail. Techniques and styles have come and gone. And while my brand has changed and improved, so has my overall skill and expertise.
Like anything else, Blogging is a skill which improves over time with practice and exposure to other excellent bloggers.
You know what else has evolved? My sense of what’s required for each individual blog post. In the early days, it was just a Title and Body, right? Just get your ideas out there and start developing an audience, as some might say.
Over time, I’ve discovered and added additional requirements, like:
- A great, branded featured image (landscape format)
- A second image for Pinterest / Google+ (portrait format)
- A third image for Instagram / Facebook (square format)
- Proper taxonomy (category and tags)
- A proper summary (description)
- Links to other articles, both internal and external
There are other, more general blog requirements, like having an Author Bio or Social Sharing buttons, but those can usually be applied retroactively to all posts, and are less of a concern.
No, it’s those individual post requirements which are particularly important, and which gnaw at those of us who have been doing this for a while, and have accrued hundreds of old posts before coming to these conclusions.
I’m not exaggerating. I wrote an earlier article about Spring Cleaning Your Social Media and one of the topics I touched on was making sure that you review all of your “evergreen” content and make sure that it’s still share-worthy. As I went through that process myself, I looked at my 500+ archive of content and identified just 245 articles that were still relevant today.
But as I went through those posts, some from as far back as 2011 when I moved into this house, I discovered just how blissfully ignorant (or plain lazy) I had been.
While every article since I started blogging had ad least one image, I hadn’t settled on my current brand style and image format until 2015, which left me four years of unbranded, incorrectly sized images.
And of course there were no images for Pinterest or Instagram. While I didn’t foresee sharing too much archived content to Instagram, having Pinterest-sized images is a big deal. (I use a hidden field to upload the taller image so that when you click the Pin button, you can see and choose the taller image. If you use WordPress then make sure you have Social Warfare installed which handles that more elegantly.)
If you aren’t a PhotoShop pro, consider using a style template within Canva for Work. I use that for all of my blog images, and can then easily create copies of the image and resize them to suit Pinterest and Instagram. A style template will ensure that you have consistent logo placement, colors, font choices and styles, while still giving you the freedom to change some elements on each graphic and make it unique.
Every post had a category and tags, but some things have changed over time so those needed to be revisited.
The Summary is where I was, frankly, lazy. My site has the ability to use the first few lines of the article as a summary. I could insert a “Summary Break” after the first paragraph or so and that’s what would be used. Unfortunately, you’re almost better off having no summary at all at that point.
You see that summary is what gets put into the Description tags, and that’s what gets displayed whenever someone shares a link to your article to Facebook or LinkedIn or Google+ or Pinterest… what gets displayed under the Title in search… so yeah, it’s pretty much everywhere.
And without an optimized description, you’re just trusting your first couple sentences to be interesting enough to get someone to click. Instead, you need to make that field about your content overall. What are you trying to accomplish? What’s the reader going to learn? What question are you answering? Make it descriptive and include a call to action to get that person to click.
Needless to say, I had hundreds of articles to update.
Finally, there is the link issue.
It wasn’t that my old articles didn’t have any links at all. It’s simply that they were outdated in both link content and strategy.
First, since I’ve been blogging for years, there are no doubt newer articles that older articles could link to. I call it Forwardlinking. If you don’t regularly go back to your old posts and insert links, where appropriate, to your newer content, you’re missing opportunities to further engage your readers.
Second, always linking to at least one external website has never been a requirement of mine, personally. And yet, I see many bloggers no only swear by it, but insist that the more external links, the better your posts will perform. It helps, of course, if you use those links to fuel an influencer marketing and outreach campaign, but that’s a topic for another discussion.
And third, I used to use too many internal links. I saw sites like Mashable linking to internal categories and tags whenever a common word came up, like “Social Media” or “Facebook.” Which meant that many of my articles might have 10 or more links in the first couple of paragraphs as I linked out to relevant terms. Apparently, Google thinks that kind of activity is automated and considered it spammy! So boo to that.
Cleaning Up The Blog House
So I started by exporting a CSV of all my current posts and imported that into a Google Sheet for ease of use.
I deleted every article row that was no longer relevant or evergreen. I added columns for each of the things I wanted to do for every remaining article:
- Create A New Branded Image
- Create A Pinterest Image
- Write A Good Summary
- Check Category / Tags / Links for SEO
And then I took it a step further.
Part of the whole point of this exercise is to make sure that I’m only sharing truly evergreen, good content to my social profiles. So that meant that each time I updated an article, I needed to either queue it up to be shared or update it if it’s already queued.
The good news is, I only 2 tools these days! (This article used to list FIVE!)
While my primary use for AgoraPulse is monitoring Facebook, Twitter and Instagram comments, it’s also very useful for posting and scheduling updates to social networks, including LinkedIn profiles and company pages. I set up sharing queues within AgoraPulse for my LinkedIn accounts, Twitter profiles, Facebook Page and Google+ Page, and fed each updated blog post into those queues. (Here’s my full Agorapulse Review.)
I use Tailwind to schedule shares of content to my Pinterest boards. And what I love about Tailwind is that I can queue up multiple boards at the same time and space out pins so that I’m pinning to my own relevant boards, as well as relevant group boards I’m a member of, without spamming them all simultaneously.
Measure Twice, Cut Your Blog Once
So I added two more columns to my spreadsheet: Tailwind and AgoraPulse. As each piece of content is updated, I can make sure that the ongoing social shares are also updated and check it off the list.
If part of your monetization strategy is affiliate marketing, add another column for Affiliate Links and check every old blog post for links. Make sure that you’re not linking to affiliate products you’re no longer connected to, and look for opportunities to mention new relationships you’ve developed since that article was originally published.
Clearly, all of this would have been easier had I been doing it from the start. Instead of being in a hurry to publish more and more content, I might have taken the time to see what else I should have been doing and do it.
This has become a chore, not unlike cleaning and organizing a neglected basement. Fortunately, there are bright sides on both points. After that weekend, my basement was cleaned up, organized, and an entire living space was recovered and repurposed as a playroom for my kids. And after this update project is finished, all of my best blog posts will be optimized and going through a renewed set of social shares.
Even better, each update sends positive signals to Google that the content hasn’t been abandoned. I am already seeing increased social referral traffic as a result of the updates and shares, and increased organic search traffic won’t be far behind.
Going through your past posts is definitely worth the effort. If you’re not sure whether an old post has been successful enough in the past to warrant the work, check the URL in your Google Analytics as well as BuzzSumo. That will indicate traffic to the article as well as social interest.
Your To Do list on old posts may not look exactly like mine, but whatever it is, creating a spreadsheet of all posts and using that to check off what you do is a necessary step. My guess is that you’re going to need at least a few minutes to update each article and that could take hours, maybe even days. You’ll need a way to track where you left off and what you accomplished.
Building a spreadsheet will also give you a way to conveniently generate a CSV for your posts. Bulk scheduling may be an option for you, though in my experience, it’s not ideal. The resulting scheduled shares are usually just the title and link with a link preview for networks like Facebook and Google+. But you should, instead, be sharing images with the title and link, or even a custom snippet of introductory text. Again, something that takes a little longer to set up the first time, but that extra time ensures that every cut, er, share, is perfect!