Yesterday, I started a new ongoing series here on the Blog Herald 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.
As a web consultant and educator, I’m often hired to review and critique a lot of websites and blogs, making recommendations on what works and doesn’t work, then working together to make it work better.
I recently ran across a website-that-wanted-to-become-a-blog hosted on a very limited web host published with HTML styles long abandoned in 1999. The web pages were written and “published” in Word, FrontPage, Microsoft Publisher, and other old WYSIWYG-but-not-really early web publishing programs, but not consistently. It was as if the site owner or administrator kept changing programs over the life of the site without ever stopping to consider that the site would work better if it met web standards established in 1999 rather than perpetuating the old.
As you can imagine, I had a lot to say about the old, over-coded, error-filled, and table structured site.
Over the years, I’ve heard myself repeating the same points over and over again with clients who didn’t want to learn about web publishing but went ahead anyway, using whatever tool they ran across – and are still using when there are better and more flexible programs around. Now that they want to move into WordPress, they are trapped by their own lack of foresight, ability and knowledge, but also the changing times of technology.
Over the next week or so, I’ll be covering some of the redundant points I make with these clients on improving their blog, as well as some tips and insights into web and blog design. I believe that if people listen, web reviewers and consultants might be able to stop being redundant on these points. Or at least have something they can point to and say “I told you so.”
My first point is on clarity.
When Web 2.0 first began with Google and Craigslist, one of the “innovations” was simplicity itself – empty, uncluttered designs that allowed users to get what needed to be done with a minimum of design elements.
I feel this basic concept has been forgotten recently, what with widgets, ads, videos, monetization, polls, spam, and splogs. Some blogs are so obscured with extra stuff that the content – the post itself – is nearly impossible to find.
It may be time to get back to basics. This week, I noticed several articles about clutter reduction, enough to say that excesses may be reversing and we’re entering a “clutter-reduction equals increased productivity” trend:
- Blain at Stock Trading To Go did a guest post at Zenhabits called Getting Productive, and a Clean Desk. He has some good suggestions, namely a daily task list (in order to avoid distractions), waking up earlier, and discipline to avoid procrastination.
- An article from The Consumerist suggests one way to feel richer is to remove clutter, suggesting that “unnecessary objects steal energy and attention”. This could be a reference to the wasted time cleaning, things, looking for things, or maintaining things – all time that could be spent being productive. Now imagine how visiting a cluttered blog is like entering a cluttered room.
- Newsweek: The Latte-Era Grinds Down: A sagging economy is goading people to refocus their lifestyles toward the essentials.
Since upgrading to WordPress 2.3 I’ve been on a quest to “declutter” my blog: cleaning it up for the specific purposes of increasing readability, removing distractions, and improving load time. Here’s a short list of what I’ve achieved so far:
I have to admit that I’m still a little stunned, and frustrated, when I can’t find the comments on a blog post, even though the comment counter says 11 comments. I want to leave a comment, so I click on the comment link and, boom, a popup comment window blasts in my face.
Is your blog still offering popup or hidden comments?
Blogger is the most notorious for this uncomfortable method of comment handling. Some of the blogs don’t show the comments unless you click the comment’s link, and then they are shown in a separate popup window or the page reloads so you can see the comments. Some Blogger blogs now include comments posted on the same page as the post, which does make it easier for responding to the comments when they are all connected to the post, but most still require the long wait for the popup window to load so you can leave a comment. SIGH.
The default Themes for WordPress also offer an option to use the popup comments form, though few bloggers and Theme designers choose that option.
Which makes me want to ask those who are still using popup comments on their blogs: why and is it working for you?
Are Popup Comment Windows Working for Your Blog?
I’m a firm believer in “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”. So if popup comment windows are working for your blog, why? How are they working? How do they help?
Are they helping? Or have you just gotten used to them? Or do you not know how to change them?
A lot of bloggers do not know how to change their blogs to stop popup comments or integrate comments back into their blogs. Check with your blog’s guide for how to fix that, or find a willing friend to help.
I know from my years of blogging and asking fellow bloggers what is working and not working on their blogs, they all agree that anything that gets in the way of the blog conversation hurts a blog. This includes CAPTCHAs, torture tests, quizzes, and popup comments.
While the rest of us have learned that they don’t work on our blogs and have stopped using them, I want to hear from those who are continuing to use popup comments.
Please, help us understand why you are using them and how they help your blog.
Typography can make or break a blog. You presumably are writing your blog so people will read it, so it is important to pay close attention to the typography so that your content is as legible and comfortable to follow as possible. Blog readers expect to be able to scan articles easily, and if you make it too difficult for them to read your content, they will become frustrated, and may move on to read a site that is easier to digest.
Here are some basic guidelines to remember as you consider your site’s typography:
Competition is a good thing in any business. It drives up quality and often drives price down. Competition in the WordPress theme design business is good thing as well, and we’ve seen some great quality in the premium themes that have been released recently, as I mentioned last week. You can get a very professional site for a very reasonable price, and it has been great for the community of WordPress users. My question is, why can’t we keep this competition friendly?
Tired of combing through pages and pages of themes, looking for something super high quality that will work well for your niche? It might be time to consider purchasing a “premium” WordPress theme. The idea of selling WordPress themes is not a new one, but in the last several months the premium theme business model has taken off, with Brian Gardner’s release of the Revolution theme, which seemed to start the ball rolling, and other designers, such as Michael Pollock, releasing premium themes as well.
Why are designers suddenly selling themes, instead of giving them away for free?
Because theme designers spend many hours designing, coding and supporting their free themes, there is a natural desire to earn some return on the investment of their time and expertise. One way designers have attempted to earn some income from their themes is by selling a “sponsorship”. Because a good theme can provide a large number of backlinks to the sponsor via a link in the footer, it is an attractive offer and has been a decent way to earn a few bucks for each theme design for those who sold these footer links.
However, there was quite a backlash this spring against the proliferation of theme sponsorships and the end result was that many designers stopped selling sponsored link spots on their themes so they could continue to offer them in the main WordPress theme repository. As sponsorship loses it’s appeal for designers, the most obvious option is to create high quality, premium themes and sell them.
So, just what makes a premium theme “premium”?
- they tend to be targeted to a specific niche, such as sports, news, and magazine sites
- multiple page layout options
- special features and functionality
- some are geared towards using WordPress as more of a content management system than a blog, so while they’re running on WordPress, they don’t “feel” like a blog
- some have premium support options and tutorials
- most of them come with a price tag in the range from $49-$99 for a single use license to $149-$249 for a developer’s license. Curiously, Small Potato has chosen to release his premium themes for free, however.
Why would you want to buy a premium theme?
- if you have more to your site than just the standard blog
- instantly set your site apart from the myriad of vanilla blogs out there
- the price tag isn’t that high- much lower than getting a custom theme designed
- it can make managing your content easier, with multiple options for page layouts already set up for you
- extra attention to the details which will give your site a sharp, high quality appearance
- to take advantage of some of the niche specific focus of a premium design
As the popularity of WordPress grows, and owners of more traditional sites realize the value of using it as a content management system, the demand for niche targeted, premium themes is sure to escalate. The price tag is not that high and the benefits are great for both theme designers and users.
The footer is a too-often neglected piece of screen real estate that is actually the perfect spot for many of the things that are currently crowded into sidebars. But there is only so much space there, particularly if you’re only using a two column theme, and the more things that are crammed in, the more cluttered the blog appears. A cluttered blog can give a poor impression to the reader. Many themes have been released that include an extended footer, and it’s a good practice to put items down there that you don’t want to leave off the site completely, but could perhaps be put in a less prominent spot.
Since you can’t count on everyone seeing the footer, it’s not a place to put items that make your site stickier, such as your “flagship” content or most popular posts. (The exception to this might be sites that only display one post on the main page, as there is a higher likelihood that the footer will be seen.)
Instead consider the following items.
Performancing has announced its WordPress theme release for October. Dubbed Estranged the theme is one of the bolder offerings in the Performancing themes for WordPress collection, with generous use of strong orange and relatively large typeface.
Estranged is a two-column theme that features large, standout headers, and easy-to read body and link text. The color scheme involves subtle shades of grey and red, with a bit of orange, and these add to that simple yet eye-catching look. The proportions of the columns and the headers are just right, making ample use of the rule of thirds popular among those in the visual arts. Contrast is just right–having adequate readability, but not at the cost of being too much of a glare. The theme also makes adequate use of white space, so the blog doesn’t look cramped.
In the last of this series on converting a newsletter into a blog, designed for small businesses, individuals, and small group newsletter publishers who want to streamline their efforts and minimize costs, as well as modernize, here are the last lessons and discoveries that came up during the conversion process with the business women’s group I worked with.
Converting Old Newsletters
After much debate about whether or not to include the old newsletters, the newsletter team decided that they wanted to publish pertinent articles from past issues, but not the whole issue. These articles they wanted available to the public.
They copied, cleaned, and pasted the content into the blog as posts, but their review of the past newsletters found a lot of value that they wanted online and available to the members for reference. Now what?