Getting Back To Basics: Blog Decluttering

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:

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Does Your Blog Still Offer Popup Comments?

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.

The Ten Commandments of Blog Typography

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:

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Friendly Competition: Not So Friendly Anymore

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?

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How to Instantly Increase the Quality of Your Blog

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.

12 Ways to Make Better Use of Your Footer

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.

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Performancing Announces Estranged Theme for WordPress

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.

Estranged was created by Thord Daniel Hedengren and produced by the TFS Travel Journal. A live preview can be viewed at the Performancing Themes blog.

Newsletter-to-Blog: Converting Old Newsletters and The Benefits of Conversion

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?
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Best Way to Design Blog Network Blogs?

Over at Free WordPress Themes, I recently wrote a post about how to best design blogs within a blog network. I whipped up this article based on my experiences having been part of blog networks for the past couple of years. The options are:

  • A similar design across the entire network, with color scheme variants;
  • Entirely unique designs for each blog; or,
  • Unique design for each blog, with each with familiar elements that can identify the blog with others within the network.

Using a single design across many blogs can be a real cost-saver (do you know how much it costs to commission a really good WP theme design these days?). And you get to establish your branding in terms of design–since all your sites look the same, your readers will be quick to identify sites as belonging to you.

However, the tradeoff here is that your sites will lose their individuality. They will look like boilerplate dseigns stamped on blogs, just to make a forced fit. It’s sometimes awkward.

Then again, having entirely unique designs for each blog might make the network look non-cohesive and un-networked.

In my opinion, a good balance between individuality and similarity does the trick.

I’ve realized that it makes better sense to design and conceptualize each site uniquely, but keeping something in common across the network, to retain that familiar feel. (I know this sounds–and actually is–very non-technical.) This way, things don’t get boring because of that all-too-similar look and feel across an entire network of sites.

Having unique themes for each blog makes it exciting for readers and us editors and contributors alike. But keeping the familiarity is also the challenge, because we want each of our sites to be closely identified with the network.

Do you agree with me on this? Any design gurus out there who would like to pitch in their two cents’ worth?

Newsletter to Blog: Converting to Blog Posts Part II

WordPress Rich Text Editor Bullet button

As we proceeded with the conversion from newsletter to blog, I became more and more confident we’d made the right decision in manually transferring the data from the newsletter to the blog.

As covered in Part I of this section of the series, the newsletter team and editor learned “how to blog” while copying and pasting the content. It also helped to clean up all the things that would have needed cleaning anyway, going from Microsoft Word and Publisher, as well as “print”, into a blog.

The biggest challenge in the process came with the Treasurer’s Report. The team needed to be introduced to HTML tables.
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