in Blogging

Build a Better Blog Experience

Your readers’ time is the scarcest resource they have. Think about your own day–how much time are you willing to waste on sites with irrelevant content and difficult or unrewarding interfaces? Not much. The same is true for anyone you’re trying to convert into a blog subscriber.

Every choice you make directly impacts your blog user experience. Inspired by Skelliewag’s blog usability checklist, I did a quick audit of Digital Alex and made some changes. Read through for some inspiration to improve your own blog and site.

Improve Your Blog Usability

For the purpose of this post, I’m defining usability ‘the ability of people who use the blog to quickly and easily to accomplish their tasks’ (adapted from “What is usability?” on the government site). Specific to Digital Alex, I’m defining the primary task as finding and reading relevant content.

You can make it easier for people to find and read your content with simple touches:

  1. Use Obvious Language – There is a common vocabulary among blogs. Sticking to this common language is not necessarily the most creative choice, but it does make it simpler for users to orient themselves.

    For example, I changed the name of the Explore page to Archives. The new name more clearly reflects that people can review old posts here.

    I also renamed “Buckets of Thoughts” in the side bar to the decidedly more boring, but much clearer, “Categories.” I’ll gladly sacrifice a little personality to make it easier for just one reader to find useful content and choose to subscribe.

  2. Adhere to Design Standards – People expect certain functions of a site to a.) exist and b.) appear in a standard location. One great example of that is site search. People expect to see an empty white field with a button and the word “Search” on a site and near the upper right hand corner.

    My WordPress template doesn’t have that feature (yet), so I moved search box up in the sidebar to get it as close to the standard location as possible. Don’t Make Me Think by Steve Krug is an excellent and simple discussion of standards and much more.

Improve Your Blog’s User Experience
I’m defining user experience as the entire interaction with a blog. A great blog user experience means people find valuable content easily, enjoy interacting with the site and leave enriched.

Creating a great user experience is often as much about what you edit away as what you put in. Careful pruning of obstacles or unnecessary distractions creates a more seamless experience.

One of the things I noticed on my blog was that loading time was surprising slow for a mostly text site. By watching the elements of the sidebar load, I realized my posts widget was slowing things down. I removed it and, judging from my own experience, the wait is half of what it used to be.

In addition to being slow, the sidebar was long and cluttered. I had a sneaking suspicion that the tag cloud was unnecessary navigation.

Rather than risk ditching a popular feature, I checked Google Analytics to see how often it was used. I searched for “tag”, the parameter used after someone clicked in the cloud, in the content report.

tag-cloud-metrics.png

It turns out that only 23 people had used it in the past 30 days, a small portion of the overall traffic. With solid data to assure me I wasn’t doing wrong by my readers, I ditched the cloud.

You Never Stop Optimizing
There is always room for improvement in usability and user experience on your blog. Constantly asking for, and acting on, feedback will keep your site fresh.

Here at Digital Alex, I have plans to use the Google Website Optimizer to run a simple a/b/c test on the subscribe button to see if adding a smaller image vs. an image with text vs. the control will boost subscribers.

Once I can learn a little graphic design, I plan to introduce more images to navigate to key areas of the site as well as popular posts, such as my white paper about starting a blog. I’ll also highlight popular content (now that I’ve written enough of it) with a top posts section of the sidebar.

Each of these changes is meant to streamline the experience for the user and make it simpler to complete his or her task. Think about your readers and what changes you can introduce to make life easier.

What Do You Think?

I’m always looking for feedback. What do you think makes a great blog experience? What changes do you think are most valuable to promote interaction and readership? How would you optimize this site or your own? Leave a comment and let me know what you think.

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  1. Personal Blogs do not obtain that many traffic hits do they? And if so I’d like to know how to maintain a better user readability apart from a basic template and clear navigation

  2. I suppose it depends on the blog. If you offer unique content, a new perspective and/or a compelling way of writing content, then you could gain extended readership.

    One quick thing I noticed on your site is that you don’t make it easy to subscribe to your RSS feed. I’m pretty happy with Feedburner.