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12 Tips to Improve Blog Usability

August 27th, 2009

bloggingBy no means do I consider myself an expert in the field of blogging.  In fact, after I began blogging a little more than a year ago, I did a lot of searching around for tips and advice.  Unfortunately, a lot of it comes off as preachy or condescending.  It also often is about how to maximize the number of readers you can pull in to maximize your revenue.

I’m not super concerned about that.  I know the readers will come if the content is there, and revenue?  LOL.

So I’ve compiled my own list of suggestions based on the past couple years of both reading and writing blogs. These tips aren’t really about what you write, because that’s totally up to you.  It’s about usability.

Content

Let’s face it – the most important part of your blog is the content of the posts themselves.  If you write it, someone will certainly read it.  But there are ways to make that process more enjoyable for everyone.

1. Use images. Having some sort of visual representation of your post, even if it’s a vaguely related stock image (see above) or screenshot will help catch the eye and keep your blog from feeling like a book.  If I visit a blog and all I see through the last 5 posts are walls of text, it will make me less inclined to read it all.

2. Use whitespace. Line breaks and paragraphs!  Break your content down into smaller segments to help people who only have time to skim the article, and to avoid overwhelming readers.

3. Use links. Referring to previous posts you’ve written will provide references and allow people to see your previous work.  Linking to other people’s related posts is how the blogosphere got it’s start.  Don’t be afraid to link multiple times for one reference!  For example, I might want to tell you about the new podcast by @Brigwyn of The Hunting Lodge!

4. Don’t post for posting’s sake. Ok, so I said I wouldn’t tell you what to write.  This is my exception:  Quality over quantity.  Don’t post purely “Sorry I didn’t post yesterday!” posts.  If you normally post every day and miss one because you had no time or inspiration, just let it go.  Your readers will not disappear because of one slip up!

Navigation

This one gets me a lot.  If I read an article I really enjoy, I may want to see what else the author has done… but sometimes that’s not as easy as it should be.  When choosing or creating a theme, try to incorporate multiple ways for a reader to navigate to your previous work.

1. Provide links to popular/favourite posts. A link section with the posts you are most proud of or ones you think are most useful will help showcase what your site is really about to exploratory visitors.

2. Use categories and tags. Tag clouds and category lists help users to find posts related to their interests.  If I want to find all your posts related only to your podcast, it should be pretty simple to do from your menu.

3. Have a search box. Yeah, we all know how to use Google.  But if I know there was an article on your site that I’d like to find again, I should be able to use your site to find it, rather than having to go through Google’s interface.

4.  Use previous/next links. Believe it or not, some people just like to browse.  Supply “Previous Post/Next Post” links on single post pages, as well as “Previous Page/Next Page” links on multiple post pages.

Display

1.  Display the publish date/time. It drives me crazy when I read an article and can’t find anywhere that says when the post was written.  Is the content still relevant?  Should I bother commenting on it?  The answer is different if the post is 6 months old or 2 days old.

2.  Provide contact information. It should be easy to reach you from your website.  Displaying your e-mail address or providing a contact form will allow people to avoid the frustration of trying to find a way to get in touch.  (How else will they tell you you’ve just won £750,000?)

3.  Make your RSS feed easy to find. I hate having to search around a page to find that little orage square.  Sometimes there isn’t one at all!  Many people prefer to use RSS readers to view blogs, and if you don’t provide a good link to your feed, some might not bother to follow yours.

4.  Don’t truncate posts within RSS. I understand you want people to come directly to your site instead of reading it purely through a reader.  Maybe you want to get some additional hits on your ads, maybe the formatting just looks better that way.  But this is not the way to drive them to click through!  It will just cause your content to go unread.  Unless you can somehow convince me the post is going to be worth a click through in those first 3 sentences, I probably will just move on.  Make your site very visually appealing and provide other services on it if you’d like to make sure people always click through.

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21 comments to “12 Tips to Improve Blog Usability”

  1. 2. Use categories and tags.

    Do I HAVE to? Half the stuff I post is nigh-uncategorizable. >_<
    Rilgon Arcsinh´s last blog ..The Blueberry Workshop Podcast, Episode 1: Sandy Days My ComLuv Profile


  2. Thanks, these are all sound advice :) For those of us slogging through the process of getting a new blog up to speed it helps to read articles like this. You get so wrapped up in your own site and ideas that it’s nearly impossible to see how it looks/works/feels to the random visitor who comes across it.
    Shawn´s last blog ..WTF Monday – Mammoths My ComLuv Profile


  3. There’s some solid advice for new bloggers, indeed! Nothing wrong about that.

    But yet I feel that I’d like to add some thoughts, from my experiences as a blogger and reader.

    You say that “it’s up to you what you write” and yes, it is. But be aware that the impact your blog will have on the community is much more about the quality of the posting, the originality and personality of the blog, than about the looks of it. Some bloggers put WAY to much effort into adding fancy pictures while neglecting their writing.

    Look at two of the most succesful WoW bloggers there are right now – Tobold and Gevlon. Both are breaking a ton of your advice. And still they’re discussed, commented and present in the Blogosphere like quite few other bloggers are.
    Larisa´s last blog ..Tobold being funny My ComLuv Profile


  4. You’re completely right, Larisa! The content is what really matters, and what will keep people coming back and get people interested in the blog in the first place.

    I don’t want to tell people what to write in the content though, I don’t feel like I have the authority to do that… There are plenty of posts around that try to tell people how and what to right, and generally I’m not a fan of those posts. Blogging is about your own personal writing style and opinions, and most blogs I read do a great job already. Like you said, Tobold and Gevlon both write great things, and I wouldn’t ask them to change their posts at all.

    These are simply tips for the other side of blogging, suggestions on how to be courteous to your (already existing and interested) readers by making browsing and viewing your site easier on them. Following these suggestions isn’t necessarily going to increase the number of people who are interested in you or follow you, but it will make people feel more welcome.


  5. Noob comment – how do I stop my blog truncating in RSS? I’m sure it didn’t used to but now it does for me. I switched from Blogger to WP, but I think it’s changed since I’ve been using WP, so was not because of the move. Thanks! Seph xx
    Sephrenia´s last blog ..Messing with the Mind My ComLuv Profile


  6. Brajana wrote, “Don’t post for posting’s sake.”

    But… but… Wow.com does this all the time. Oops… I said it. lol. (To be fair though, it isn’t the “sorry I didn’t post” but just a lot of fluff and rehashing at times.)
    Leiandra´s last blog ..Report on Blizzcon 2009 My ComLuv Profile


  7. Sephrenia – In WordPress, under the Reading settings, make sure the “For each article in a feed, show…” option is set to “Full Text” instead of “Summary”. Hopefully that will help you out!


  8. Hey – thx for the reply – it is currently set as Full Text, which is partly why I got confused! Thanks for trying though.
    Sephrenia´s last blog ..Messing with the Mind My ComLuv Profile


  9. @Sephrenia: Are you using any addons that mess with your feed? Consider switching to FeedBurner, although that shouldn’t really make any difference.

    @Brajana: Really good stuff here, and something bloggers need to be reminded of periodically! :)
    Kestrel´s last blog ..Wrapping Up The Week: Recommended Reading My ComLuv Profile


  10. Oh…and let me add one more tip: Get rid of comment moderation (especially if you’re using WordPress!). Instead, use the supplied Akismet. It will catch 99% of spam, even “first comment” spam, and not frustrate first-time commenters by having their comments rendered irrelevant due to the time lapse of moderation.
    Kestrel´s last blog ..Wrapping Up The Week: Recommended Reading My ComLuv Profile


  11. That’s a great suggestion Kestrel :) I totally agree! I’ve had maybe 2 spam comments get through, and only about 2 more that were not spam, but needed to be seriously moderated.


  12. Cool tips. I agree with most of them. What bothers me is “Don’t truncate posts within RSS.”.

    Personally I think that post should be read as it is written. With all the pictures, links, videos. Also when truncated the feed file is smaller and it downloads quickly and creates less traffic on the net.

    I guess I have to write compact, small abstracts to convince everybody to “click-through”. :)

    Tnx for the tips.
    RRunner´s last blog ..Starcraft 2 – Wings Of Liberty Solo Campaign Trailer My ComLuv Profile


  13. “Use categories and tags”

    I can’t agree more with this, the amount of times I’ve seen posts that could easily fall into a decent category but end up being labeled as “uncategorized” is shocking.

    Nice list, one of which I’m sure will help those both setting out into blogs and veterans. I know it’s reminded me to go and get my previous > next tags set up.
    Plague´s last blog ..Movie: Cataclysm Zone Tour My ComLuv Profile


  14. So many things to do! I’m hoping to clean up the site over the next week or two. I really need to lasso a designer to create the theme. I think I’m going to bribe some co-workers…
    Errun´s last blog ..Cataclysm of Alts My ComLuv Profile


  15. Excellent tips, Brajana! I definitely agree about not truncating posts in RSS… especially if I’m trying to sneak some reading in at work… much easier to view the entire post in a reader (and less obvious if someone sneaks up to my cubicle).
    Syrana´s last blog ..BlizzCon 2009 – Wrap Up & Review Part 2: Loot My ComLuv Profile


  16. Braj, my blog sucks!
    I dont follow a lot of your advices.
    Especially the one about walls of text.
    I would like to post pictures, but I just dont have the time. It takes me too much time to search or make a good one, and I dont have screenshots or anything like that from the game itself.
    I do think it’s important though and I should fight for the time to do it soon, even if it makes me post once a month lol!
    And my regular wordpress template does not let me use blankspaces, it just deletes if I push ENTER twice.
    So, sorry about the wall of text crits!
    I’ll try better. :P
    Wangari´s last blog ..Does it burn when you PVP? My ComLuv Profile


  17. Lovely post ^^ my blog’s fairly new so a few pieces of advice I can take there :) though every once in a while those “sorry I didn’t post yesterday” posts can become a decent post, depends how you go about it, though I am a little guilty :p


  18. Hey good stuff…keep up the good work! :)


  19. Excellent advice. Thank you.
    Chillyhollow´s last blog ..Guide to Writing Forum Comments My ComLuv Profile


  20. Hey, I found your blog while searching on Google your post looks very interesting for me. I will add a backlink and bookmark your site. Keep up the good work!


  21. Your site was extremely interesting, especially since I was searching for thoughts on this subject last Thursday.

    I’m Out! :)