Building Blog Relationships: Making a Good First Impression

There are so many distractions on the web, it’s hard to capture and hold the attention of anyone for very long. In this ongoing series on building relationships through your blog, I want to explore the first impression your blog makes, which is the stepping stone to starting a relationship. It begins with a first impression.

There are two types of first impressions, two chances you get to encourage someone to click through to your blog and stay there. The first impression comes from search engine search results, feeds, social bookmarking services, and what other bloggers have to say about your blog and blog posts. The second impression is what the visitor sees when they get there.

One Answer! Coming Right Up!

The first impression of your blog may not come from an actual visit. It comes from the introduction to your blog from search engine results, social bookmarking services, feeds, or through recommendation links other bloggers have written about you and your post.

Searching the web, a person gets two hints that you may have the answer to their question before they even visit your blog: The Post Title and the Link Excerpt Text.

In the search results, they see the post and blog title, and an excerpt of the post or content around the search term keywords. If the answer to their question is in these tiny bits of data, they will click through to get the whole story. If your post title and/or post summary or excerpt doesn’t provide enough clues, it’s likely you didn’t make a good first impression.

Post titles like “I found it”, “You think I should have figured this out yesterday”, “Links May 5, 2006”, or “Day 11” do not help build an immediate relationship or inspire anyone to click. They don’t say anything, and yet the answer may be within that post or blog.

If the title loses, the summary information may have the answer the person is seeking. Unfortunately, the search term “WordPress” is surrounded by “…I thought about upgrading WordPress, but I wasn’t sure I should. So I decided to put it off and thought about it for a while more and then…” Is the answer to the question there? Could be. Likely? How would you know?

Writing well with keyword-rich content, eliminating time wasting words, and being clear about the purpose of your post helps the searcher find more relevant information in those few seconds their eye scans down the search results searching for their answers. It gives your blog a fighting chance to make a good impression before the visitor arrives on your blog.

Once they arrive, then the first visual impression your blog makes will either reinforce their assumption that you have the answers, or cause them to click away immediately.

First Impressions

Most American and European style homes have a dramatic front door. You know it’s the front door because it’s bigger and features an entrance. It’s also often shiny and new looking. Why? Because it doesn’t get much use. Friends and family tramp through the back door, the one around the corner of the house, smaller, less dramatic, and certainly not shiny and new looking.

When most visitors arrive on your blog, they don’t enter through the fabulously styled front door. They come in through the back, landing on your blog posts.

Since you put so much work into your front door, and not your back door, what is the first thing a new visitor sees as they come through the back door?

Is it the header? The header art? An ad? Or a lot of ads? Is it the post title? Or sidebar? A photograph? Text? What is the first thing the visitor sees? Does it invite them in? Does it convince the visitor they’ve come to the right place with the right information? What catches their eye when they look at your blog’s page.

Is the first impression you want your blog to give? Is this the impression that will start building a relationship?

Recently, the Online Journalism Review published a summary of the research done two years ago in “Eyetracking points the way to effective news article design”. Blog Herald’s Tony Hung offered a summary of the study and how it should impact our blogging:

I found some of the results intuitive, and but one result not so much. To summarize…
* Short paragraphs, bulleted points, and lots of white space make for an imminently more readable design; headlines are important to help people scan material. Furthermore, use of these elements in your “copy” will help people will retain more information as well.
* A simple, concise navigational structure is best.
* Images are a waste of valuable online real estate, as most users ignore them UNLESS: they are directly relevant to the text, feature approachable (and regular-looking people), or feature images of people private parts.

It has long been believed that images will attract the eye faster than text. This study proves otherwise. While images are examined, more eye movement is found elsewhere, unless the image is large and the key focal point.

Where do the eyes go? To the text. To the words.

The web has changed our priorities. We aren’t surfing for pretty pictures. We use the web for information. We learn to dismiss images and ads because they don’t give us what we need. We seek the words to give us the tips, techniques, help, and answers to the questions we need answered.

To establish an immediate relationship, the first thing your visitor should see is evidence that you have the answers he is seeking. The only way to introduce yourself and make a good impression is by telling him you have what he needs.

What the visitor needs is:

  1. To know where he is.
  2. To know what he’s going to find here.
  3. To know if this is the answer to his question.
  4. If not, what other options are their to answer his question.

In order for the visitor to know where he is, he must be told. A clear blog title tells him the name of the blog and may contain information relative to his search. “How To Make Money With Your Blog” is a very informative blog title. It tells the visitor where he is and what he is going to find here. If his question is about making money with his blog, then the odds are that he’s in the right place.

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The blog title and blog tagline (subtitle) work together to inform the visitor of where they are and what content they will find here. “Alice’s Blog” doesn’t provide much information, but a subtitle of “Teaching You How to Write on the Web” does.

The post title is another area where your blog has another chance to make a good impression and provide information that let’s the visitor know if this is the right place for the right answer. A strong, clear, informative title will answer that question.

The first paragraph should also contain the right keywords and phrases to tell the visitor that this post is the answer to their quest. Reinforced with the strong post title and the blog title and tagline, within seconds the visitor knows the information is here.

If the information is not there, but close, providing lists of categories and related posts may help the visitor find the information they need. What about offering an obvious search form? Invite them to search to find the information they need on your blog.

When you can’t answer a person’s question, you will win their favor by helping them find the answer. That’s real customer service.

Take a serious look at your blog and blog posts. What kind of first impression does it make? Do you have a strong visual image that relates to your blog’s subject matter? Do the words in the blog title, tagline, and post titles reinforce your content? Do you offer other resources to help the visitor find what they are looking for?

When you get past the first impression, it’s your chance to grab their attention and hold it. By helping find the answers they are seeking, or at least point them in the right direction, they will remember you. We easily become loyal to those who help us help ourselves.

SOBCon07 Register Now for the eventAs I’ve been developing this series on building relationships on your blog, I remember back to the earliest days of developing my first website many years ago. In those days there were no great search engines. Finding any information was difficult, with phone book style directories and lists of websites the earliest options. Word of mouth was the best referral service. The urgency to keep a visitor on your site was critical to make a good first and lasting impression. Otherwise, how would they find you once you left?

Today, search engines rule our web lives. They offer the invitations and mini-billboards to potential visitors. We have to do our job to make our invitation clear and inviting. And once they step through that click, we have to work overtime to make sure we make a good impression, and then even harder to make sure they come back for a second, third, fourth, and hundredth look, to turn them into fans and friends.

As part of this series on Building Blog Relationships in conjunction with the Successful and Outstanding Blogger Conference in Chicago, May 11-12, 2007, dedicated to building blog relationships, Monday, I will discuss the issue of making those relationships last once the visitor as entered your blog. I call it “hook, line, and sinker”, the art of building a blog audience. On Tuesday, stay tuned for some fun as I explore the concept of “active listening”, how you can build a strong relationship with your readers by letting them do the talking and you do the listening.

Article Series on Blog Relationships

Lorelle VanFossen blogs about blogging and WordPress on .

View Comments (12)
  • Good stuff! I especially agree that navigation is key to a good online “relationship” and making it easy for the reader to figure out what a site is about and get the information they are looking for.

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