Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Top 10 Sins of Blog Usability


Linda Bustos had a great article on Site Pro News that talked about proper blogging and I wanted to share it out with the team (especially those with their own blogs). As more of an amateur I do the best I can with my non-technical background, but this article makes it easier to lose the excuses. (lol)


"Sinning" is an archery term, which literally means "to miss the mark." If you're blogging to establish a two-way dialogue with the world, the "mark" is the optimal reader experience. The following is a list of ten things that can hurt your blog's
usability.


10. Sending Mixed Messages
The focus of your blog should be decided before your first post and then committed to. Random blog entries about a melee of topics might work for a personal blog read by friends and family, but is not a good approach for a serious, professional blog. The lifeblood of any blog is in its loyal subscriber base. And readers are more willing to subscribe to blogs that talk about their area of interest on a consistent basis. If your blog's "personality" includes the odd personal entry, create a separate category for "fun stuff," "random" or other "personal," and think about each post's fit with your target audience before you publish. Or start a separate blog on that topic and cross-link your blogs.


9. Making It Hard to Subscribe
Because subscribers are such an important part of blogging success, you need to make it easy for users to sign up. Since not all users understand and use RSS feed aggregators like Feedburner (http://www.feedburner.com) and Bloglines http://www.bloglines.com) (also called newsreaders), offer both email and RSS options. Make them very conspicuous, preferably placing them at the top of your navigation menu and above the fold.


Don't be afraid to "ask for the subscription" at the end of each post as well. Chicklets are mini-icons that make it easy to add to feed aggregators and social bookmark sites like [link= del.icio.us (http://del.icio.us) and Netvouz http://netvouz.com) with one click. You can find more information on adding
chicklets to your blog with the Chicklet Creator (http://www.twistermc.com/shake/RSS-index.php). If you are using free blog software and hosting, it may not be possible to add these extra functions. So plan ahead when choosing your platform.


8. Inconsistent Posting
Now that you have a loyal fan base who are notified of every new post, don't disappoint them with time lags between posts. Pick a posting schedule that's realistic for your time schedule and stick to it. If you can't think of anything to post about, blog about someone else's post related to your topic and include a
link back to that post.

Will this hurt your own blog to send subscribers away to another blog? No, because you're still offering them something useful in lieu of you posting something. You can also leave a comment or trackback on the other blog that links back to your post
which can send traffic back to you. Bloggers often monitor their trackbacks or incoming links through Technorati (http://www.technorati.com), PubSub http://www.pubsub.com) or other services. They might end up blogging about you in return.


7. No Contact Info
Some blogs can pull off the mystique of an anonymous posting. But if your website is for business, it's hard to have a two way dialogue when you make it impossible to contact you. Transparency is fundamental to building trust on the web. And you don't want users to mistake your reputable blog for a "splog" or spammy blog that scrapes content from other sites. If you don't want to advertise your email address because of spammers you can still enable comments on your posts. Yes you'll still get spammed, that's the reality of the Web. Wordpress (http://www.wordpress.com) blogs come with Akismet (http://www.akismet.com) anti-spam which does a good job at
catching most spam. You usually have the option to moderate comments before they appear on your blog.

6. Not Moderating Comments
Allowing anyone and everyone to post whatever they want in your comments section is asking for spam. Not only is this annoying to your readers, but it really takes down the professionalism of your blog.


5. Excessive Advertising
It's fine to monetize your blog or use affiliate links, as long as they are not intrusive to users and overshadow useful content. When ads appear all over the page and even in the middle of posts, the user experience suffers. Avoid contextual
ads -- programs that highlight words in your posts to make them look like hyperlinks, but popup an ad when they are rolled over with a mouse. Just like having items appear clickable that are not has been a usability issue, so is tricking users into clicking on ads or viewing ads when they appear to be hyperlinks. And if your blog is very new, it's a good idea to wait until you've built up a history of useful posts before running advertising.


4. Not Linking to Posts
When you're referring to something that can be found on the Web such as a news story, another business, person or other blog post (whether on your own or someone else's blog), allow your reader to check out the background info. Linking back to
previous entries also builds page strength for those posts and can help you with search engine rankings. But don't be afraid to link off your site, this generosity can help you get noticed by other bloggers. And it's also nice to give credit where
credit is due.

3. Dark Background, Light Text
What's been a general usability rule for years certainly applies to blogs. Anything that makes your blog harder to read should be avoided. Remember, it's harder to read online than offline. The worst culprits for eyestrain are white text on a black
background, low contrast combinations like black with red and busy patterned backgrounds. And it's a good idea to avoid blocks of red text, even on a white background.

2. No Search Box
Returning visitors may not remember a post that's not intuitive to find through your navigation menu or tag system. Regular readers might also want to find their own comments, so make that possible by placing a search box somewhere in your layout.


1. Hiding Navigation
Most blog software comes with a variety of lovely templates to skin your site. But not all of these templates are optimal for usability. Templates that require users to scroll right down to the bottom of the blog to find navigation are not the best
choice. Stick to conventional left column or right column navigation.


One of social media's best gifts to the World Wide Web is the ability to "tag" posts by subject/content and automatically create navigation categories. Users can easily browse by subject, and hone in on all your posts related to a specific topic or microtopic. This also helps users find you on blog portals like Technorati.


You also have the option of displaying calendars, archives and tag clouds which may or may not be useful and can clutter up your page. Keep in mind that with usability and design, less is often more.


Conclusion
Taking some time to evaluate your blog, wearing the hat of your reader, can greatly improve the user experience. Considering what makes a user-friendly blog before you begin blogging helps you plan for optimal usability right from the start.
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Linda Bustos is the Marketing Director for Image X Media, a Vancouver web design (http://www.imagexmedia.com) and Internet marketing (http://www.imagexmedia.com) firm. She also writes for the Smogger Social Media Blog (http://smogger.wordpress.com).

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