This weekend I had one of my periodic orgies of blog maintenance. Now it  happens that 14 hours of software upgrades, plugin installs, widget testing and css tweaking is my idea of fun, so giving my blog a weekend of tech love is also a way of giving myself a weekend of delightful relaxation. But you don’t have to be a hard-core geek to see that giving your blog some occasional tech attention — in addition to your ongoing content creation — is part of keeping your site functional and useful.

A successful blog relies on an effective maintenance routine.  Here are 8 secrets to a smarter blog maintenance routine:

  1. Set a maintenance budget. Dedicate a specific amount of time (or money — i.e. someone else’s time) to your blog’s tech maintenance each month. Figure on spending at least 1 hour on tech for every 10 hours you spend on content: if you spent 50 hours a month writing for your blog, replying to comments, and promoting your blog on Twitter, you should spend at least 5 hours on tech maintenance. If you love the geeking out, you can spend as much as 35% of your blogging time on the tech side: if  more than a third of the time you dedicate to your blog goes toward playing with the box it came in, you should probably shift your energy back into creating actual content.
  2. Know your goals. As with everything, your blog tech work will be most constructive if you keep an eye on the prize. Are you trying to increase your traffic? Get people reading your best work? Land a certain kind of business opportunity? Whenever you make time for tech maintenance, start by thinking about those goals, and ask yourself which fixes or upgrades will do the most to move you towards your goal. Just as important, think about how you’ll know if you’re making progress towards those goals: Will you see more conversions? (Customer inquiries, RSS subscriptions, book sales.) More overall traffic or more new readers? More pages per visit?
  3. Track your changes. If you know what you’re trying to accomplish, you’ll be better able to set priorities for each bout of upgrades. But how will you know what paid off? Your best bet is to keep track of all your changes in the same place you track your site metrics. I do this with the annotation feature on Google Analytics: whenever I fix or enhance some aspect of my blog, I make an annotation noting what I’ve changed. So if I’ve made an adjustment that I hope will increase my RSS subscriptions, or bring in more traffic to a section of the site, or lead to more page views per visit, I can later compare my traffic before and after the change, and see if my tweaking paid off.
  4. Keep a queue. I have a separate notebook in Evernote for “Alex blog tech”, where I keep notes on plugins I’ve tested, code snippets I’ve implemented, and tweaks I want to undertake. Inside my tech notebook is a single document where I keep a (roughly prioritized) list of all my tech maintenance needs: the glitches I’ve noticed and intend to fix, the improvements I’d like to implement, the structural changes I want to consider. When I have a window available for tech work, I can take a quick look at my list and tackle the top-priority items.
  5. Shoot your work. One way to help track your  changes is to take screenshots of your site’s before-and-after states. Use Skitch to take screenshots of your site before you start experimenting, and then take a shot afterwards that captures what you’ve accomplished. Store your before-and-after shots side-by-side in Evernote so that you can see what you’ve accomplished.
  6. Follow your bliss. When I’m working on a client site, the top of their queue is the top of my queue. When I’m working on my own site, I get to follow my bliss: if the to-dos at the top of my task list are too boring to tackle, I work on whatever catches my fancy. There’s no point short-circuiting my tech maintenance urge by trying to force myself to undertake a routine job I can’t bear to plow through.
  7. Multitask. One secret to undertaking those boring tasks (as well as the more enjoyable parts of tech maintenance) is multitasking. I do my tech maintenance while watching multi-taskable TV shows, and I often pair a fun tech job (like adding a new sidebar block) with a boring tech job (like backing up my database) so that I can get through the routine stuff and have some fun.
  8. Blog your tweaks. When I implement an upgrade that requires me to customize a plugin, write or modify a code snippet, or combine off-the-shelf elements in a creative way, I try to turn that into a blog post. The more challenging the fix, the more effort I put into the blog post, because I figure I’m working out a solution that others will find useful too — like how to choose the right widget control plug-in, or how to create a category-specific teaser box. Some of these blog posts have become consistent traffic-drivers on my site, and they help ensure that when I next feel like hacking on my site, I remember what I’ve done!