If you run a blog and you are concerned with its quality, chances are that you become wiser every day. Each and every day you learn new things, you discover better ways of organizing your content, in your wish to offer readers a pleasant and useful experience, hoping to hook them to bookmark your blog. Yet, how often do we forget that our readers don’t have the same experience as we do? We read a lot of blogs, we see them changing, evolving, most of them in the same direction, we got used to see lists of categories, tag clouds or RSS subscription icons, and we understand their meaning instantly.
Do you think you know how your readers behave?
Did you know that more than 300 million babies are born every year only in the US? Do you know what this means for your blog? At least 3 million fresh readers every year. Because most of those children will some day learn how to use the internet. Maybe babies born 10 or 15, or 20 years ago are using the internet today for the first time in their life. If your blog was the first website they found, how well do you think they would be able to navigate through its content?
I have this friend who yesterday saw a website for the third time in her life. The site was one of the blogs I run (which I thought to be perfectly clean, not cluttered, well-organized), and I was asking my friend for feedback. She is supplying all the content for that blog, I’m only functioning as a posting robot for her, because she doesn’t have an internet connection. Yesterday she has seen her blog for the first time.
This is how the front page of the blog looks like (first view and after scrolling down):
Well, the feedback was really striking:
The site appeared to have only one page, I couldn’t find the others. I’m sure they were there somewhere, because you said so, but I wasn’t able to find them. There was no button on the page I’ve seen.
- She didn’t imagine post titles are clickable
- She had no idea what “previous entries” mean, so she didn’t think to click there
- She didn’t click on anything because all she saw was text, and none of the texts were saying “Click here”
- This explains the very low click rate for the AdSense ads that run on single pages (probably not many readers thought to click on some headlines there, so they never saw the single pages)
I’ve never seen something more cluttered in my whole life. Everywhere I looked on the page there were words, so I could hardly focus to read the content because of that. Are you in such a hurry that you have to put everything on the same page?
- She was bothered by the left and right sidebars, because they contained “text” (actually that text were the Recent Posts and Archives on the left, and the Categories and a tag cloud on the right).
I explained what Recent Posts are, and I got the following reply:
Who can be so dumb to put the table of content on the same page with an article? Probably an engineer like you. All books have separate page for the table of content. If people want to see that table, they click on its correspondent button and go there. I want my site to be read like a book, I want to browse through the pages like if it was a real book. On the pages, I want only the content, with no disturbing texts on the edges, no matter how useful you say it is. If you are keen on keeping those sidebars, OK, but please fill them with pictures.
Because her initial brief was that the site should have a header with a photo, I just did it that way. Look what she commented on that:
There is something wrong with the header photo: it looks like a broken TV image. All I saw was a very narrow photo fragment. Did you do that on purpose? I remember I’ve seen the same kind of broken photo on another site. Please replace it with a normal, square picture.
Wow! Again I got the comment that only an engineer like me could chop a photo that way and believe the readers would like to see that on a site. It’s useless to say that I’ve spent about two hours to find those “horrible” pictures for her header (as she wanted photos from Paris, and I’ve never been there, so I had to find some royalty free ones), and to “chop” them in that style.
My point in telling you this story: niche blogs are different
If you are thinking to start a blog in a niche other than blogging, internet marketing or computers, beware at your audience: they see things in a totally different way than you do, so you’d better take a few testing steps before investing lots of work:
- If you want to know how readable your blog is, ask your grandmother to take a look at it.
- If you want to know how appealing your blog layout is, ask a 7 years old child to take a look, while you watch the process.
- If you want to know how to improve your blog, ask your audience for feedback.
- Photos are important. A magazine without photos would be boring. The same way, a site can be boring if the eyes have no support for relaxation. Use pictures. Your readers want them.
- Test, test, test. You have lots of free analytics tools, so you can test every move you make. I’m going now to change my friend’s cooking blog the way she wanted, and then I’ll compare the bounce rates and the number of page views per visitor. If they will improve, then she’s right. If not, we will ask for more feedback and test again.
- Think out of the box. How do your readers use your blog? When do they read it? My friend said that she would take the laptop with her in the kitchen while she would cook following a recipe she found on a website, so the text should be big, to be seen from a distance.
- Don’t be afraid of your readers. They can help you, but you have to ask them for help. Don’t get upset when you get negative feedback. Try to understand the reasons behind that feedback. Many times you’ll discover golden nuggets.
- Don’t bend your ears to everything. Lots of readers mean lots of opinions, and keeping everybody happy is impossible. I’m not going to listen to my friend and remove the Recent Posts and Categories from the front page, because I still think they are in the benefit of her readers. I’ll just move them in the header section, after I replace the header photo with a square one.
- Educate your readers. Newbies are excellent, as they are a source of fresh feedback, but we cannot stay in the Stone Age for ever. Even if your blog is not about blogging, you can still write some articles to let your readers know that what they read is a blog, that they can subscribe to it for free, that they can interact with you and with the other readers, also for free. Teach them how to use your blog. If your content is interesting enough, they will learn.
If you have the curiosity to test your blog with an internet newbie, I’d be very curious if you shared some insights with the rest of us. Thank you in advance, I’m waiting for your comments.