Improving Your Blog: Clean It Up

Filed as Features on December 4, 2007 8:16 pm

Yesterday, I started a new ongoing series here on the about Improving Your Blog, beginning with blog clarity. The next item on the list of redundant advice I give to my clients is to clean up their website act.

Sure, there is a lot of talk right now about decluttering your blog, but let’s go further.

Cleanliness

When a friend stops by unannounced, what’s the first thing you say?

Typically, you apologize for the condition your home is in, no matter how clean it is, right? Why?

Have you ever stopped to really ask yourself why you say that? I think it’s because you really want to pass on a deeper message.

A clean blog is ? graphic copyright protected by Lorelle VanFossenMaybe you really want to let our visitor know that you’re busy, working folks. “I’ve just been so busy, I’ve let the place go a bit. Sorry.” Or “I’ve been working such long hours, I’m hardly home to get anything done.” That sends a message about how productive and hard working you are, doesn’t it?

Maybe you want to hide the fact that you are really lazy. Or that you don’t care what your place looks like to others, since you don’t care what it looks like yourself. Covering up that with a “Oh, well, sorry, haven’t had much time lately” is as good an excuse as any.

Your blog is no different. Just like the cliché that a cluttered desk is a sign of a cluttered mind, a cluttered blog sends a big message. Many messages. And excuses for not cleaning it up.

Anyone can stop by your blog home at any moment, so stop making excuses and sending messages and clean it up now, before the next visitor comes knocking.

The Core Design Elements of a Blog

Most web consultants start with a removal list. That’s too easy. I want you to work harder for your blog and your blog readers.

The core design elements for a blog, the elements a reader depends upon finding quickly and easily are:

  • Blog Title
  • Post Title
  • Byline/Author
  • Post Content
  • About Page
  • Categories
  • Site Search
  • Feeds and/or Subscriptions
  • Next and Previous Links (on all pages, especially multi-post pageviews)
  • Most Recent Posts
  • Related Posts
  • Most Popular Posts
  • Comments
  • Tags

Anything else is superfluous. Accessories. Eye-candy.

Put your readers first. What else do they need, really need, to use your blog, to make it useful to them, to encourage them to dig deeper into your content, to stay a while, to return often?

Do they return because you have ads? Not. Do they return because you have a shout box? No. Do they return and dig deeper into your content because you have site submission links? Do they even use them to submit your site’s content? Rarely. Do they glorify in scoring highest in a comment scorecard? Maybe, if they are under the age of 25.

What else can you add to your blog beyond the basic core elements that your readers rely upon to help them use your blog?

Eliminate Distractions or Balance Them

Anything that gets between the reader and the content must go. Or, it must be balanced so that it is no longer a distraction but an addition to the whole.

It’s that simple. If the visitor has to scroll past many ads to get to the post content, you lose. If you have unrelated photographs within the content or on the page, people spend more time wondering about why those pictures are there and the message they are sending than reading the content. If something is blinking or flashing at them, you lose focus from your content. If a visitor has to work hard to get the information they are looking for, you’ve lost a reader, someone who will come back for more and tell their friends.

Look at your blog’s design. What is the first thing you see on your blog’s pages? Is it the overwhelming header art? A big, bright, blinking ad in the sidebar? The picture of yourself wearing a bunny outfit in the sidebar? Funky background patterns or colors? The extremely narrow content area with big spaces on either side?

Whatever is out of proportion with the rest of your blog’s design is a distraction. Find them and remove or adjust them to be more balanced within the overall design.

The best designed blogs put all of the focus on the content and the elements that define the purpose of the blog. You only have a split second to make a good impression on the visitor, so make it a powerful visual one. Let them know this is the place with the answers by eliminating everything that doesn’t support that fact or toning them down.

Make your content be the center of your blog design’s bull’s eye.

Too Clean Versus Comfortable

Just as a busy blog design can turn visitors away, since the competition for their attention overwhelms them, so can a sterile blog lose.

Aim for balance in your web page design. Remember, the page has to look immediately like the place with the answers to the questions, so start off right by making the look be inviting and comfortable.

When you sit in a home that is filthy, you are usually uncomfortable, as you are in a pristine, museum-style show place. Sit in one with a “lived-in” feeling and you relax and enjoy the company, allowing them to be the center of attention. The same holds true for your blog’s design and content. Let the content rest comfortably within the design so the content comes first, design later.

Look closely at what messages your blog’s design is sending. And the excuses it makes for you and your content. And clean up your blog’s house.

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  1. By Andy Merrett posted on December 5, 2007 at 3:57 am
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    I’d suggest that an easy method of contacting the blogger is an essential requisite.

    Conversely, I’m not convinced that every blog needs to have “most popular posts” or tags. Depending on readership levels and where visitors primarily come from, a lot of people won’t care what your most popular content is. They only want what’s relevant to them. A list of popular posts *can* be useful, but it can also be a clutter.

    Similarly for tags. Not every blog needs or warrants visible tags. A lot of implementations of tags (tag clouds, for example) are messy and do little to enhance the “average” visitor.

    A lot of the stuff bloggers add to their blogs are things that only other bloggers really understand or use, so while they may work very well on a blog about blogging, they tend to work less well on non-tech/non metablogs.

    Reply

  2. By Lorelle VanFossen posted on December 5, 2007 at 12:29 pm
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    @Andy Merrett:

    I agree about the most popular and tags issue, however, many readers look for those for two reasons. First, they expect them to be there, whether or not they use them. Second, while they might not use them, the words in the most popular and tags provide information about the purpose of the blog, adding to the culmination of “first glance” information to help them make a decision to stay or leave.

    Not every blog needs these two, but readers expect them, and this is about what the readers need, not about what the blogger “thinks” they need – a huge gap I’m trying to close.

    Reply

  3. By Blog Angel Team (Joanna) posted on December 6, 2007 at 10:54 am
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    Lorelle, thanks for the suggestions about what the reader is looking for – it’s easy to become blind to this stuff as bloggers (even though we’re readers too…)

    I also like the metaphor of blog as space or house – when it’s working best for me that’s how it feels, and I often catch myself thinking about heading over to someone’s “place” to spend some time. Thinking about that balance between comfort, welcome, lack of clutter and cleanliness is a useful way of thinking about how things look when a new reader first pops their head round the door.

    Joanna

    Reply

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