One of the mistakes that most bloggers make is their continual addition of barriers between them and their readership. They might not even realize they are doing it, but these barriers can mean the difference between a successful blog, and an “okay” blog.
The first barrier I want to talk about is comments, or rather the barriers that bloggers place on their comments. To combat spam, we have done a variety of things, but in doing so, we could be killing the potential conversation on our blog. Nothing stops conversation faster on a blog than closing the comments. WordPress makes it easy to close comments, and doing so will protect you from spam, but creating a community around your blog is one of the best ways to make it successful.
The next worse offense in my opinion is forcing registration to comment. While this also helps with stopping spam dead in its tracks, it also turns off readers who feel over-subscribed. I have accounts on so many blogs, sites, and services, and I feel like if I have to sign up for one more site, I will go crazy.
I know I am not alone as a friend of mine, Mark, has noted that he hasn’t commented on the Splashpress Media blog, Performancing, because of the registration requirement, despite him enjoying the blog, and wanting to join the conversation.
I think this is where OpenID could really shine, as we continue to try to find a happy medium between fighting spam and allowing legitimate users access.
The last comment related issue that I see many blogs adding are complex CAPTCHA’s. These word images are becoming so complex and difficult that I can barely read them. I’ve written about CAPTCHA recently on Devlounge. Please spend time finding something better than CAPTCHA. Knowledge tests are much more preferred, but keep it simple to allow international readers a chance to “break the code”. If you ask something like “Who is the current President?” You’ll be putting up a huge barrier to those that don’t know, don’t understand the question, and the answer changes over time, making it more complex.
The second barrier I see bloggers creating is with subscriptions. If I enjoy your blog, and I want to subscribe, then you are gaining access to a piece of my mindshare. If you publish partial feeds, I will no doubt unsubscribe. Even worse, if I can’t find the subscription link on your blog, then I will move on as well.
For me, the biggest reason for bloggers to publish easy to find, full feeds is that they will be gaining access to my daily mindshare and attention. I will be exposed to their writing each and every day. Isn’t that worth more than the few pennies you will never receive by me clicking through to your actual blog?
I understand that blogs as a business need advertising to survive, grow and even prosper, but advertising can be a huge barrier to your users. If you lay on the advertising too heavily, some users will move on without really understanding your message, or reading your content. If you put all the advertising at the top, users will sometimes leave before your content even loads, and many will not scroll down to find your content, even after it loads.
If you use animated advertising, you might find yourself with a large distraction on your blog. Who can focus on content when they have a chance to win an iPod Touch if they just make the flash widget do more pushups?
Advertising can be helpful if used correctly, but it can also be a huge barrier if done incorrectly, and far too often bloggers are using it incorrectly.
Design and Typography
The final, and one of the largest barriers that bloggers put between themselves and their readers is their design and typography. If you have a poor design, especially one that has display errors based on the browser your audience uses, you could be putting up a huge barrier and not even realize it.
Just because you downloaded a WordPress theme, doesn’t mean it works in ever browser. There can be huge issues with typography. I’ve seen a blog that was very different based on if I was in Windows, Linux or OS X. It was completely unreadable in one operating system, while beautiful in the other, but because the font wasn’t installed by default on all of my computers, I was given a different experience on each computer.
There are many ways you can turn away users from your blog, and in this increasingly competitive world, standing out from the crowd and making as few mistakes as possible, is the smartest way to success. Keep the barriers as few as possible, and reap the rewards of a strong user base.