With real estate above, below, and to the side of your blog posts themselves, your blog is a lot more than just the content you publish to it. But with so many different widgets, plugins, and other add-ons out there to choose from, it can be tough to know what to include and what to leave out. Choices, choices.
This can leave blog managers in a tizzy, and the result is usually a blog littered with a ton of unnecessary bells and whistles. An over-cluttered blog can look messy and unprofessional, and when you have a lot of widgets and plugins competing for visitors' attention, it can also dilute the performance of those individual add-ons. And no one wants that.
So how can you use add-ons to enhance, not inhibit, your blog's performance? Here's a rundown of the common blog widgets, plugins, and add-ons you should consider adding to your blog. We'll highlight which add-ons are must-haves for every blog and provide you with information so you can prioritize which ones make sense for your blog.
13 Common Add-Ons to Consider for Your Blog
1) Email Subscribe Form (Must-Have)
Converting casual visitors into dedicated email subscribers is a great way to build up your readership and generate a community of content evangelists who will go to bat for your content. Not only that, they'll likely share your content with other people in their networks through email and social media, exposing you and your blog to brand new audiences.
But you have to turn those visitors into subscribers in the first place, which makes an email subscribe form an absolute must-have for any blog. Make sure you have one in the sidebar (or somewhere else highly visible) in every article you publish. Considering their utmost importance, you might also want to consider these other ways to generate more blog subscribers.
2) RSS Feed (Must-Have)
While RSS subscribers tend to be a little bit more passive than email subscribers, there are many people who prefer RSS subscription to email, and they can be beneficial in the same ways as email subscribers. Make sure the RSS feed for your blog is also easy to find for visitors who are looking for it (a good place is right near the email subscribe form); otherwise, they'll get fed up hunting around for it and bounce from your site without subscribing at all.
3) Author Profiles
Do you have several people contributing content to your blog? Do you publish content from guest bloggers from time to time? If so, consider incorporating author profiles into your blog -- both at the end of individual articles as well as on separate author pages that aggregate content published by that author alone.
Author profiles are a great way to give credit to and promote the hard work of your contributors, provide readers with information about who's creating the content they're reading and allow them to connect, demonstrate the credibility of your writers, and attract additional guest blogging talent.
4) List of Contributors
Speaking of contributors, let's say you have some pretty big names in your industry who contribute to your blog. That might be something you want to showcase to new readers in an effort to emphasize the credibility of your writers. Or maybe you just want to let your readers sort through your content by their favorite authors.
If so, consider adding a contributors list to your blog and linking to the author pages of those authors you list, like Cracked does in its top navigation.
5) Social Share Buttons (Must-Have)
Why put all the weight of content promotion on your own shoulders? Let your readers do some of the legwork for you by providing social share buttons along with every post you publish. This also gives you the added benefit of exposing your content not just to those already in your network, but also to people in your readers' networks.
If you can, choose social share buttons that display share counts so you can take advantage of the benefits of social proof.
6) Comments Section(Must-Have)
There's a possibility I may get debated on the "must-have" stamp I gave this, but I figure you could all discuss it in the comments ;-) I firmly believe that a blog should encourage a dialogue between the author and the reader. And while there are definitely downsides to having a comments section on your blog (e.g. spammers, Negative Nancys, etc.), I think the pros definitely outweigh the cons.
Enabling comments fosters a sense of community among you and your visitors, makes your blog much more interactive and engaging, allows you to gather valuable feedback from your readers to inform your content strategy, and helps you come up with new topics for future blog posts. HubSpot users have a built-in comments engine for blogs hosted on our COS, and other popular comment engines include Disqus and Livefyre.
7) Search Bar (Must-Have)
Make it easy for visitors to find the content they're looking for by adding search functionality to your blog. This makes for a much better user experience and encourages your readers to stick around and check out some of your other content. And if you can implement a search bar that provides insight into what keywords visitors are searching for on your blog (e.g. Google Site Search, which integrates with Google Analytics), a bonus is that you can identify the types of content your readers are actively searching for and use that to inform your content creation strategy!
8) Topics/Tags List
In addition to a search feature, another good way to help your visitors discover more of your content is by showcasing a list of your blog's topics or tags. In addition to giving new visitors an idea of the types of content you typically write about, a topics list allows readers to further engage with your content by browsing only the topics that interest them.
Just make sure you have an actual tagging strategy in place that organizes your content into logical topic categories rather than providing readers with a laundry list of tags. In the image above, you see a list of the topics that categorize the Sales section of this blog -- so readers can dive deeper into just the sales topics they want to read more about.
9) Recent or Popular Post Widgets
Another great option for enhancing content discoverability on your blog is to include recent or popular post widgets, which display a list of either the latest or most popular posts available on your blog. This allows you to feature your freshest or best-performing content, enticing visitors to stick around for more.
Most blogging software, including HubSpot's, offer out-of-the-box widgets that enable you to feature your blog's most recent or most popular (usually based on most views) posts in your sidebar. To the right, you can see an example of HubSpot's Post Listing module in action in our Opinion section.
10) Related Content Plugin
While we're on the topic of content discoverability, this is a good time to talk about related content plugins. These widgets use algorithms to recommend other content based on the content a visitor has already viewed, improving content discoverability and encouraging visitors to read more articles on your site.
Check out vendors like Outbrain, Zemanta, and Gravity to evaluate related content widgets for your own site. (Above is an example of Outbrain's related content widget on Outbrain's own site.) To decrease bounce rate, ask them if they can limit the recommended content only to yours -- not other content from around the web.
11) Calls-to-Action (Must-Have)
If you're managing a business blog, chances are you're not publishing content just for the heck of it. You have other goals in mind. So, leverage top, side, and/or in-post blog real estate to improve the lead generation potential of your blog with calls-to-action (CTAs) for your marketing offers.
You can also use CTAs to promote upcoming events, encourage subscription, or support any of your other marketing goals. The CTA above, for example, is being used to promote the relatively new design of our blog homepage, which features new content daily from all five sections of our blog.
12) Social Follow Buttons
Although it's a more indirect way of subscribing to your content, following your company in social media is a form of subscribing in and of itself, since you're likely already using your social channels to promote your blog content (right?). Give your visitors the option to follow/connect with you in social media by displaying social media follow buttons on your blog as well. This also gives you a way to connect with readers through multiple channels.
13) Social Plugins
In addition to simple social follow buttons, most social networks offer a variety of different embeddable plugins and widgets you can add to your blog's sidebar -- or anywhere else on your site for that matter.
These plugins serve a number of different purposes. They can display tweets about a certain topic, feature which of the visitors' Facebook friends are also fans of your brand (e.g. Duct Tape Marketing's sidebar widget at right), or show which of the visitors' social connections recommend your content.