Four Tell-Tale Signs of an Amateur Blog (Are You Avoiding These?)

By Ali Luke

Does your blog make an instantly good impression on visitors?

Or do they get the impression, within seconds, that you’re an amateur?

While there’s nothing wrong with being a hobbyist blogger, you probably want to be taken seriously (even if you’re not trying to make money blogging).

We all make snap judgements, though, and if your blog doesn’t look like a reputable, high-quality read, visitors won’t come back.

They may even be put off linking to you (despite your great content) if your blog looks particularly amateur.

So what can you do to give a better impression? Simply avoid these four mistakes:

Mistake #1: Leaving the “Meta” Widget in Your Sidebar

When you set up WordPress, by default it includes certain widgets in your sidebar. One of these that I’ve never seen on a large blog is the “Meta” widget. It doesn’t add much value to you or readers.

It’s incredibly easy to remove a widget:

  • Login to your WordPress Dashboard
  • Go to Appearance à Widgets
  • Drag the “Meta” widget from your sidebar into the “Active Widgets” area

Tip: Make sure readers still have an easy way to subscribe to your blog (the Meta widget includes your RSS feed link). We recommend promoting email rather than RSS subscriptions. Of course, you can still give the RSS link too.

Mistake #2: Using the “Uncategorised” Category

All WordPress posts have to have a “category” – normally a word or short phrase that covers an aspect of your topic. For instance, on DailyBlogTips, our categories include things like “Domain Names,” “Social Media” and “WordPress”.

(You can see a full list of our categories in the left-hand sidebar.)

WordPress comes with one default category, “Uncategorised”. Remove or rename this. Many bloggers use something like “General” as the default category, in case they forget to add one when posting, or in case they create a post that doesn’t really fit anywhere.

Tip: When naming categories, it’s helpful to give them all names of a similar length. You’ll see that all ours are one or two words – we don’t have any long phrases. This looks neater in your sidebar or any other place where you list your categories.

Mistake #3: Allowing Spam Comments to Infest Your Blog

All blogs – even ones with very little traffic – attract spam comments. If your posts end up with lots of spam comments after them, readers will get the impression you’re not maintaining your blog. Worse, you may even lose a reader who clicks on a spammer’s link.

The best way to avoid spam is to install the Akismet plugin, which will weed out most spam comments before they ever hit your blog. You’ll also want to review new comments regularly, ideally on a daily basis, to delete any that are spam.

Tip: While you’re at it, you’ll probably want to turn off comments on pages (e.g. your About page and Contact page). You don’t want these pages to become cluttered – plus it doesn’t make a lot of sense to have comments on pages that are likely to change over time.

Mistake #4: Sticking with the Default, Unmodified Theme

While WordPress’s default themes look good and may well be a good fit for what you want, using an unmodified theme means your blog will look like any other new blog out there.

A little customisation – perhaps adding your own header, tweaking colours, or even choosing a different free theme that’s less used – will help your blog stand out.

Tip: Premium themes cost anywhere between $10 – $200 and often give you greater functionality and more options to choose from. They’re a good half-way point between a free theme and a custom-made theme, which could cost you thousands of dollars.

 

Have you spotted any other giveaway signs of an amateur blog? Let us know in the comments…

 




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16 Responses to “Four Tell-Tale Signs of an Amateur Blog (Are You Avoiding These?)”

  • Kevin Duncan

    Hi Ali,

    These are great tips for new bloggers. More I would include:

    1. Leaving the default “Just another WordPress blog!” tagline. Update it or remove it.

    2. When using a WordPress theme with a customizable header image, make sure you use the dimensions suggested by your particular theme. If it suggests a 700 x 300 image, don’t upload a 400 x 400, unless you want your theme to look funny.

    3. This is a writing tip, but make sure your posts aren’t a collection of super-long paragraphs. If you write 800 words, and you only used 2 paragraphs in your post, it isn’t going to be easy for your readers. And they will know you’re probably an amateur.

    Keep up the great work, Ali.

  • Michael Robinson

    I’m not so sure about the Uncategorized category. John Scalzi’s blog (http://whatever.scalzi.com/) gets millions of hits every month, and every single post is in the default category. It’s also rocking the default theme.

  • Ryan Biddulph

    Hi Ali,

    All solid points. As I’m more discerning in the link-to department these days I find myself leaving sites which each of these errors. Agreed with Kevin’s points too; chop up those paragraphs!

    I’d say even good sites with helpful content get das boot from me if I see ad after ad. Sometimes I’m surprised that such respected bloggers would go overboard. They may be making money but the ad frenzy is a turn off, because the content to ad ratio is too high for it to be a full professional, reputable blog, even if the blogger and content are top shelf.

    I’ve seen blogs with pop up ads, 730 wide ads spanning the top and bottom of the blog, and close-in style ads, from both left and right…..all on the same blog. It’s kind of funny in a way, almost like a parody or joke, but it’s not funny when respected bloggers won’t link in.

    Other amateur errors include no way to contact bloggers or having no About Me page. These don’t seem as glaring on the design front but if you want to bump up your game, and be seen as a pro, you must be able to be reached and also, you must be transparent and tell your story, because before people trust the advice, they need to check the source.

    Thanks for the helpful roundup Ali.

    I’ll tweet it.

    Have a great weekend.

    Ryan

  • Stephen Norton

    Hi Ali,

    Thanks for your list I am starting out with a blog and I found these steps very helpful. Many of the signs on this list are easy to forget to change or do by listing them out helps tremendously.

    Thank you

    Steve

  • Iftekhar Bhuiyan

    Great article indeed. However, I personally think “uniqueness” and “branding” is something very important as well. Using the default template should be your last resort if you are running really low in budget. If money is not your “big concern”, you really should buy a template. Definitely, you can spend little more to get a custom designed template which I think is the best idea.

    My personal suggestion is, please start learning HTML even if you are new to blogging. You would need it anyway. Thanks.

  • Indu jain

    Hi Ali,
    Here are some more mistakes which amateur bloggers make.

    1. Not focusing on the right keyword
    2. Not including the alt-tag in their images
    3. Not using header tags and just bold the headings
    4. Not using responsive designs

  • Tejwinder

    Well, the mistakes you’ve ,mention in the article are common when someone is installing WordPress for the very 1st time. I hope your article will help them to learn what not they have to do. Keep writing such informational articles.

  • Mathias

    Thanks for these tips! Feeling a bit ashamed seeing how I had to fix a few of these problems on my blog, but at least it looks a bit less amateur-ish now ^^

    Thanks!

  • Ali Luke

    Thanks everyone for the great additions!

    Kevin, excellent tips. Long paragraphs look really off-putting, and it only takes readers a split-second to decide not to bother with your post.

    Ryan, great point about ads. I’ve no problem at all with blogs running a few ads, but I won’t stick around if they’re really intrusive or make it difficult to read the content.

    Indu, I like your additions, particularly about using header tags correctly. It’s ever so simple to do yet many bloggers don’t bother.

    Michael, that’s an interesting counter-example! I think the value of the content is strong enough that the default design isn’t a problem there, and the “Uncategorized” category isn’t very prominent. (This is more of an issue when the category appears in the sidebar, in a list of categories.) But of course it just goes to show that some bloggers do just fine despite breaking some of the “rules”!

  • Vinodh

    yeah !
    Using Askmet is saving lots of my time in filtering the spammy comments on my blog. Previously i used to review each and every comment individually, But the sad part about the askmet is , it occasionally trashes the genuine comments too :\

  • Jayme

    This is a great list as I am just getting my blog started!

    QUESTION
    I was hoping to get feedback from Ali, or the group- is it sort of a red flag for people that you’re still an amateur if your blog has no comments?

    I just started mine within the past weeks, so I’m not totally expecting a downfall of visitors- but I’m sensitive of it because when I’m on other peoples blogs I love seeing how many comments there are and reading through them all because I find marvelous hidden gems!

    What do you guys think? Am I making too big a deal of comments?

  • Miles Austin

    All good tips to remember and act on. One additional tip I will share is to figure out if your target readership will be reading your blog on a laptop screen or a smartphone/tablet. If mobile – make sure your site is responsive.

    Always look at your blog on a mobile device to see what they will see. If your site is not responsive, or at least built with the small screen in mind, you will be loosing readers and links before they have a chance to read your wisdom.

  • sangeetha menon

    Ali, your post is an eye opener. I never knew about the meta sidebar widget and uncategorized ones.. Gonna implement these in my blog now.

  • Kemila

    Thanks. I just changed “uncategorised” into “general”. Very helpful advice.

  • kumar dhakal

    Nice post. But instead if highlighting only the wordpress blogs, could you please give some insights on blogger blogs as well.
    Thanks

  • Ali Luke

    Jayme, I completely understand how you feel because I felt just the same when I started my blog! If you don’t have any comments, it gives the impression your blog is quite new (though not all readers will even notice whether or not there are comments).

    A couple of things you could do:

    — Switch off comments until you have more traffic — that way you won’t have a “0” on each post! (The drawback to this is that it may well put off readers who *do* want to comment.)

    — Get to know a few other bloggers in a similar position, and comment on one another’s blog posts. You don’t all need to comment on every post, of course, but a few extra comments could be enough to “break the ice” and encourage lurking readers to interact.

    Kumar, we tend to focus on WordPress since the majority of DBT readers use it, but I take your point! Several of these principles will apply to any blogging platform, e.g. rooting out spam comments.

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