I haven’t been a book blogger for very long, so I won’t pretend to be an expert on that. But I am a web designer and have developed many sites for myself and for clients. So hopefully I can use that information to help some of my fellow bloggers have more attractive and professional websites!
Over the past few weeks I have seen a lot of blogs that don’t follow good web design practices. This isn’t just about being a web designer — it’s about using good design and development techniques to increase your follower count and not drive people away from your blog!
I guess I should include a little disclaimer saying that these tips are meant to help you please your readers and look more professional as a blogger. If you don’t really care about other people reading your blog and your priority is just blogging for yourself, arranging things however you want, and having a design that you love (even if it is hard to read), then these tips may not be for you. But if you do want to increase your followers, have a professional and user-friendly blog, and use some good standard web design practices, then keep reading!!
Make sure everything works
I always thought this would be a given, but unfortunately I’ve seen a lot of blogs that have features that just don’t work! It just looks unprofessional and can be annoying for your viewers. It’s not hard to just click on all your blog links, look at all your buttons, and make sure everything works as intended, leads to the right place, and displays correctly. Look at your blog like you’re a visitor. Try going through the motions to follow your own blog — does it work? Click on all your links — do they lead to the right places? View all your images — are they displaying correctly?
Here are two bad examples I’ve encountered:
One person had a poll feature on their blog. That’s great — I love polls! I entered my vote, pressed submit, and immediately something looked… off. It didn’t look like my vote even went through since the poll seemed to just flicker for a moment and it didn’t show any results. So I decided to hit the “View Results” button to check things out (plus I was curious about the results!) and guess what.. the button didn’t work. The poll just remained on the options page and wouldn’t show me the results at all. There was no error message — nothing. It just wasn’t working.
I visited another interesting blog and wanted to follow the blogger on Twitter. Luckily I was able to easily spot the collection of “follow me” buttons. I clicked on the Twitter button… just to be taken to the person’s Photobucket account where the Twitter button was hosted. All of the social media buttons led to Photobucket instead of the intended locations (Twitter, Facebook, RSS). So it was impossible to follow this blogger period. Not only is this bad web design practice, but it’s bad blogging! People need to be able to follow your blog! …which leads me to my next point.
Make it super easy to follow your blog!
A big part of blogging is gaining followers. Well if you want people to follow your blog, you have to make it super easy for them!
First of all, have as many follower options as possible. Different people like following in different ways. For some it’s via RSS, for others it’s through e-mail, some people just want to read Tweets, others may want to be friends on Goodreads, etc. As a blogger, you want to be able to connect with as many people as possible so you have to be accommodating. There are absolutely no reasons to not have at least RSS, follow by e-mail, Twitter, and Facebook. Those are, in my opinion, the bare minimums. So why are there no excuses?
The major blogging platforms come with RSS feeds built in. You can put your RSS feed through Google’s Feedburner, which will allow people to subscribe to your RSS feed or receive notifications of new blog posts via e-mail. So other than the setup time, this requires zero effort on your end!
As for Twitter, it’s super easy to set up! Then you can either write Tweets manually or have your blog posts automatically get sent to Twitter. Again, zero effort on your end! This just requires a plugin. One I’ve used for a client is Twitter Tools. It just adds a little option to your Create Post page asking if you’d like to publish the post on Twitter. Then it will create a new Tweet for you with the title of your new blog post and a link to it. Easy peasy!
There are a million and one ways to automatically have your content posted on Facebook. You can import your RSS feed to your Facebook page, or automatically post your Tweets to Facebook, or connect your Goodreads account to Facebook. The possibilities are endless! But once again, the key thing is that other than set up time, it requires zero effort and zero maintenance.
So now that we’ve addressed the different following options, let’s talk about how best to showcase your follow options.
Group ALL of your follower options together and place them at the top of the page. DO NOT put your follower links at the bottom or on an obscure page. Make sure they’re visible on every single page and can be viewed immediately. Here’s a bad example I’ve encountered:
I encountered a pretty good blog and I was interested in following it. The person had three columns (the main section and two sidebars — one on each side), so immediately I was like “Uhhh.. where to look?” Finally I did find the RSS and subscribe via e-mail on the left hand side, but what I really wanted was Twitter. So now I was thinking “Oh, the person must not even have Twitter.” But eventually I did find it all the way on the right hand side of the page. Why were they separated?
If you separate your social media, the viewers will see your first one and then automatically assume that you don’t have any others! Group them all together and put them in an obvious place close to the top of the page.
The bottom line here is that you should not make people have to go hunting to find your “follow me” buttons. If it’s too hard to find the subscribe option they want, they might just rage quit and not follow your blog at all. You do NOT want that!
Can you even read your blog?
Sometimes I visit a blog and the text just blends in right with the page. For example, a white background with light baby blue text. And I’m just thinking, “I can’t even read this so how do you?” Having a pretty and unique blog is important, but readability comes first! DO NOT sacrifice readability for your favourite colours or “something pretty,” etc. If people are struggling to read your blog, they won’t bother. Even stay away from the middle ground (“Well it’s kind of easy to read”). It should be VERY easy! Pick colours that highly contrast. Black and white, black and beige, black and light pink, black and light blue, etc.
Do a little spring cleaning
Do not clutter up your blog with a billion things in your sidebar, 50 adverts, and 100 slow moving laggy buttons of your favourite blogs.
Sidebars are awesome. We love them. We want to snuggle them and be best friends forever. I get it — I really do. But DO NOT go overboard! I hate it when I go to a blog that’s so incredibly overflowing with crazy stuff in the sidebar. Images are everywhere, you have 4 columns, I can barely find your social media buttons, etc. It’s just… overwhelming. And of course, the more images and crazy flash elements you have, the laggier your site will be.
Pick up the pace!
Is your blog slow? Could I pick up and read a book while I’m waiting for your homepage to load? As I said before, the more images and animations and flash elements you have on your blog, the slower it will be. Sometimes I visit a blog, I scroll down, and it’s like my computer has to stop and take a huge breath before slooooowly moving the page down. Honestly, if your website is that slow, I immediately leave. I feel bad, I don’t like doing it, but I can’t wait 5 minutes to get to the bottom of your page so I can leave a comment. In general, people have very little patience with slow websites.
How can you improve your blog loading time?
- Don’t use animations.
- Don’t use huge those animated countdown widgets (or at least limit your use and only have one).
- Cut down on your amount of images, or at least reduce the size/quality of them.
- Do not load up your site with a million buttons of your favourite blogs. It’s great to support your friends and favourite blogs, but if you have more than 2 or 3 use a text list instead. Alternatively, have a dedicated page to showcase all the blog buttons instead of putting them on the sidebar. That way they won’t load on every single page.
- Similar to the first point, don’t use marquees or any other kinds of moving/rotating text or images.
Why are you Flash-ing me?
Don’t use Flash on your blog. If you absolutely have to, only use a tiny bit and make sure it’s not an important or vital part of your blog. Why? Not only can it be slow, but Flash will not work on iPhones or iPads. Professional websites are all about accessibility. You want your blog to be viewed by as many people as possible and on as many devices as possible. Let’s use my mom as an example. She uses her iPad for all her web browsing. If she goes to your blog and it’s 100% Flash, she won’t be able to view your blog at all because iPads and iPhones just don’t support it. Many times she has called me to say “Why isn’t this feature/website working?” I take one look and just say “It’s flash, it won’t work on your iPad.”
Do not limit your fanbase by using flash!
Turn off that music!
I get to a website with music and what do I do? Mute.
You may think you have a great song to go with your website, but odds are, there will be plenty of people who don’t like your taste in music or are already listening to their own music. Think of it like this: you have your own classical music playing, then suddenly someone else jumps in front of you with a huge speaker playing vulgar rap music. Not only is it not your style but it’s just rude and annoying. You don’t want people cutting into your own music!
Do your viewers a favour and just don’t include music. If you must, at least set it so that it doesn’t play automatically and has a pause/play button.
Say no to comment CAPTCHA
CAPTCHA forms are ANNOYING! Period. They take up time, they can be hard to read, and nobody likes doing them. Try turning off comment CAPTCHA for a week or so and see how much (if any) spam you get on your blog. If it’s none or at least the same amount as before, there is absolutely no reason to keep it enabled. It just turns people off and may even stop them from commenting.
If you’re still concerned about spam, there are a number of plugins you can install (speaking to WordPress users here — I don’t know about Blogger) that will help stop spammy comments. I use Akismet (here’s the WordPress Akismet plugin page). Here’s a brief description of the plugin:
Akismet checks your comments against the Akismet web service to see if they look like spam or not and lets you review the spam it catches under your blog’s “Comments” admin screen.
Basically it filters all your comments. It checks to see if the IP/website URL is from a known spammer or if the comment itself looks like spam and if so, it automatically unapproves the comment and keeps it in a “spam queue.” You can then review that queue if you want and permanently delete the comments or approve them (if Akismet made a mistake and it is not spam after all). It’s an excellent tool that is a “must have” plugin for any WordPress users!
I personally do use a CAPTCHA form on my Contact Me form but not on my comments section. The one on my contact form is there just because I really don’t want any spam sent to my e-mail. But that CAPTCHA is very easy and I consider it acceptable to have one since people don’t have to e-mail me as often as they would comment on my blog. But people often go on mass commenting sprees on a “meme day” and it can be super annoying if they have to fill out a CAPTCHA one very blog they visit!
If you want to boast to the world that you’re CAPTCHA free and help spread the word, consider using an awesome graphic made by IceyBooks!
For more graphics, check out this post on IceyBooks: The Notorious Word Verification and Why You Shouldn’t Use it. Plus Free Graphics!
Next up: Good Web Design Practices for more Advanced users!
My next blog entry will focus on some more advanced web design topics. This particular article really caters to beginners. The ideas presented here don’t require any kind of HTML or coding knowledge. But my next post in this series will cater more towards people who know a little coding or are even designing their own layout!