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Sourcebench Community Blog Consulting Summary

Problogger-Consulting-SourcebenchThe first ever ProBlogger Community Consulting job has been wonderful to watch this last week.

A quick recap on the idea – together we know so much more about blogging than any of us do individually. So together this week we’ve been critiquing and work shopping one blog – this week it was Sourcebench. You can read more about the why and how of the idea here and see the first community blog consultation here.

So how do we sum it all up and pull together some take home advice for the blogger behind Sourcebench? Over 80 varied pieces of advice were left – so it’s impossible to come up with a definitive list of things that Sourcebench should do – but here are a few of the main themes from reader comments:

Header and Whitespace

Perhaps the most overwhelming piece of advice was the size of the header and the amount of white/empty space. Here’s how Sourcebench looks when I view it on my laptop (what appears above the fold).

Sourcebench-Header

My first questions when seeing the page was ‘what’s it about?’ and ‘where is the content’? While a clean and minimalistic design can work well – I think most who left comments felt that this design was too clean and too empty – to the point where content was hidden and readers were confused over what the site was about. Perhaps on a larger screen there is more able to be seen – but on smaller screens it probably needs some reworking.

Branding

Most readers responded well to the little cartoon icons. Similarly – the response to the name ‘sourcebench’ was positive.

What’s it About

A recurring theme in reader’s comments was that their first impression was that they didn’t know what the site was about. While the title tags of the blog do say ‘building a better web’ – I wonder whether something that is more specific would work better as a tagline – particularly if it was repeated on the actual page in key positions. People make a decision about whether they’ll continue to read a blog in the first couple of seconds – part of this is based upon whether they feel the topic of the page is something that they have an interest in.

Mixed Objectives

Numerous of readers left comments that they were not sure what the main objective of the site was. Is it about promoting the company behind the blog (to get new clients), is it to make revenue from advertising, is it about building the profile of it’s author, is it to generate a community….. While a site can have more than one objective – I think it’s important to have a primary objective (particularly in the early days of a blog) and then to centre the design around getting a conversion around this objective. So if it’s about advertising – put ads in a key position, if it’s about getting clients or raising the company’s profile – put something front and centre that sells this etc.

Community

A number of readers pointed out that to comment on the blog it was required that people register and login. This will always decrease the participation rate on a blog. Also I noticed on the front page that there is no indication that there is the ability to leave comments – signaling to readers that they can participate. Lastly a few readers said that they wanted to see social networking tools – enabling readers to pass on the site or posts on it via bookmarking, emailing to friends etc.

Font Size

I wasn’t personally put off by the font size – but quite a few readers felt that it was at least 1 or 2 points too small. Perhaps this could be enlarged slightly. A number of others commented that they felt that the font style was difficult to read.

Tag Cloud

I’ll admit that I’m not really sold on Tag Clouds and rarely use them. To me they look messy and when I’ve tested them I’ve not found them to get much click action. However that’s just my prejudice. Others commented that the tag cloud didn’t work for them – some suggesting that the smallest fonts in it were too small to read.

Content

We’ve already pointed out that the large header and welcome pushed the content way down the page under the fold – a problem. A number of others suggested that content/posts needed to be highlighted more prominently – perhaps using some sort of a ‘featured post’ system. I mentioned above that people make a decision whether to stay on a site in the first few seconds. This is partly decided upon by the topic – but then reinforced by the quality of information that they find there. You need to give people a reason to subscribe – and on a site like this that reason will almost always be that they found something useful and think you’ll produce more that will help them. As a result it’s important to find a way to highlight the most useful and helpful content possible.

Visual Elements

I didn’t see many mention this – but it strikes me that despite the little cartoon characters in the header/welcome that many of the posts had nothing about them that were particularly visual. I find that posts with a visual point of interest tend to get more attention than others. Also break up the posts more with headings, styling etc.

About Page

There is information about Sourcebench on (or linked to) from the front page – however a number of readers pointed out that there was no dedicated ‘about page’. Web users are wired to look for ‘about pages’ if they want more information about a site – so I’d suggest creating one that has dedicated information for those wanting to know more. Call it something like ‘About Sourcebench’ – the more obvious the better. Position it prominently.

Advertising

If one of the objectives of this site is to generate revenue from advertising then it’ll be vital to find more prominent places to display it. Ads in footers can work – but there are much ‘hotter’ spots on blogs – particularly above the fold and also (but less so) at the end of blog posts (around comments).

Footer

A few readers felt that the footer didn’t really fit with the rest of the blog. I don’t mind it – but when you compare it to the wide empty spaces of the top half of the blog it is quite full. If you’re going to put so much information in a footer it’s important to think about how to draw people down into that area.

There’s a lot more that has been advised by readers during this community blog consultation – so I’ll leave you to read the full comments on the introduction to this week’s consultation.

What’s next with ProBlogger Community Blog Consulting?

This first experiment with Community Blog Consulting seemed to go quite well. My theory that our community is wise and can produce excellent advice was proved to be true in my mind and I hope it was beneficial to the blog being critiqued (in fact it seems it was because they have announced a redesign as a result of it).

As a result community blog consulting will continue in the weeks ahead. I’m chatting with someone to help coordinate it and hope to share more about it in the coming days. In the mean time – if you’d like to be the subject of a blog consultation feel free to leave a comment below. No promises that we can use everyone who offers – but we’ll select one of the comments below to be the blog that we look at next week.

About Darren Rowse

Darren Rowse is the founder and editor of ProBlogger Blog Tips and Digital Photography School. Learn more about him here and connect with him on Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and LinkedIn.

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Comments

  1. Mun says:

    Check out my blog and I would like to hear from you guys.

  2. Thorsten says:

    Hi,
    first of all i would like to thank everyone who posted comments for my blog. I was really impressed by the quality of the feedback i got here. In the beginning i was more expecting posts like “your page sucks”, but what i got here will help me to improve the blog a lot.

    Also a big thanks to Darren for this great opportunity.

    You all made me think and gave me a good vision for the next version of Sourcebench which i am working on already. I also have already a couple of applications for new authors and i think the content will be the center of attention in the next version. I will have still some ad spots on the page and there will be also a section with partner links but the main goal is to create valuable content and have a repository of useful code fragments in one place.

    Later i might add some project space for registered users that allows them to create their own pages with a subversion repository, bug tracking and such.

    I hope once the new version is on we can make something like a resume feature to see the result of the consulting. As all of the people here helped making it better i think it might be good to present what came out of all the feedback. Something like a “before VS after” post.

    I am still gathering some results and will post a roundup later this week on Sourcebench.

    Regards
    Thorsten

  3. FitBuff says:

    I’d love to get a critique on my blog, FitBuff.com

  4. Starfeeder says:

    Yeah this will be a great series :)

    Looking forward to critiquing more sites, and possible have mine up for this kind of community review as well :D

  5. FitBuff says:

    A little background information:

    FitBuff is about 6 months old and traffic has been increasing steadily.

    It’s a health and fitness website, and we’re averaging about 500-700 uniques per day, more on days that certain articles get picked up by social networking sites.

    Any and all critiques to push the site over the “magic” 1000 uniques per day would be greatly appreciated.

  6. Nick says:

    The comments were really good to read and it’s always good to gain advice on how to improve your blog by listening to advice given to others. Glad to see (hopefully) that the blog consulting will be a regular occurance on problogger as I’m sure it’ll help me loads, as well as other bloggers.

    Cheers Darren, a great idea – I’ll look forward to the one next week.

  7. UltraRob says:

    I’d love to have my blog and site reviewed. I know I have a lot that needs to be done. My biggest problem is to know what should be done first. I have limited time to work on it so knowing what would make the biggest difference would be a big help.

    It started as more of a personal blog as I trained for the Race Across America which has been called the world’s toughest sporting event. Now I’ve shifted it to a more general cycling/outdoor blog but still somewhat personal. I’ve also added a cycling and outdoor gear search. My site feels like it’s half grown up and doesn’t know what it wants to be.

  8. sangesh says:

    This is a very informative article.

    Thanks.

  9. Adam Miller says:

    Loved this experiment and took a lot from it, especially still being in the first few weeks of my serious blogging experiment. I’d like to see if continue both for the info that I think we are all able to glean from the comments/feedback, and for the eventual chance that LiveWorkBalance might be the subject of one of these reviews.

    Great ideas all!

    Adam

  10. Wife Advice says:

    The Donkey, er-Husband is a bit clueless (like when he told his new bride that her looks score a 6 out of 10). The Wife is very patient (like when she let him publish that on his blog). Our blog is brand new, and just as we set out to refine it a bit, it was named as a finalist in a blogging scholarship competition. We need help and we trust the ProBlogger community!! You supply the blogging advice, we’ll supply the Wife Advice (and a few laughs).

  11. Lulu says:

    I left a comment on the previous post on this topic but I guess it was lost. I would love your readers to take a look at How I Save Money dot net.

  12. Nancy says:

    I love the idea of community blog consulting. I’d really like to be considered for a future critique — http://www.nancy.cc/. I know my blog could use some help, but I’m not sure where to begin (same as with UltraRob).

  13. Michael says:

    I would love my blog reviewed. My blog is only 2 Months old but my traffic is growing steadily. I really like the group consulting effort, more points of view. I know my blog could use some serious help. I have revamped it multiple times and finally settled on a design, but im not sure how well my design actually works.

    Data-Drop

  14. 2xKnight says:

    I’m still learning about blogging so I could really use some advice on what to do. Any advice would be appreciated.

    URL is linked to my name.

  15. AaronTN says:

    Darren, I would love for mine and my friends’ tech blog to be considered for being consulted. We are working to try and get a good reader-base, but our traffic varies heavily, so we need to figure out how to get consistency.
    I have other blogs as well that could be considered, http://featureconversations.com is one.
    But the one that is at the forefront is http://constantlythinking.com

  16. Jeffro2pt0 says:

    Nice to see your using your powers for good and not evil. I wouldn’t mind being a lab rat for you and your community. So, did the Problogger community take the terms “Wisdom of crowds” to a new level?

  17. Guillermo says:

    Non-English blogs fit well for the proposal? Think about mine then!

  18. Jason Tucker says:

    I wouldn’t mind a bit of free advice myself. My blog, http://www.brewbasement.com is a niche blog focusing on beer cellaring and aging.

    My goals with it right now are to establish myself as an expert while at the same time creating more awareness of my niche.

  19. Lea says:

    Hi all,

    Whilst I hate anything of mine being critiqued, I know it’s good for me! So would love to throw my blog http://www.lipliving.com into the ring for a critique.

    It started off as more of a hobby – diarising the journey my husband and I are since we left the UK earlier this year to travel permanently and run our business at the same time – aka working nomads aka location independent professionals aka remote workers!

    Since Tim Ferriss’s book, our concept seems to be more popular and so I re-jigged the blog (using Typepad currently, considering the switch to wordpress as I type) to appeal to the greater voume of traffic – and also to help launch my own book about our experiences.

    Any & all feedback welcome…

    Thanks, all!

  20. David Badash says:

    Hi,

    First, I just wanted to say ‘wow!’ – you folks have developed a great sense of community here, and the amount of quality information is impressive.

    I would be very grateful to see what you think of my blog, david in manhattan.

    http://www.davidinmanhattan.com/

    I am having a tough time getting traffic, so any thoughts there would be great also!

  21. I love this idea of yours. This is why I visit your site each day, to learn as much as I can about the blogging world.

    Unfortunately, even though I blog every couple of days, I’m still “technically challenged” when it comes to creating an original design or adding other unique features.

    For what it’s worth, you are always welcome to critique my blog. As always, thanks for the “free” advice, especially for us new bloggers.

  22. Max says:

    Throw my name in the mix.

    http://www.stpaulksw.com/blog

    The blog is about building a community for my Martial Arts style across the globe.

  23. Brian Auer says:

    I’m in need of some updates anyways, so it would be useful to have some feedback to help me do it right the first time.

  24. I would love to have the Problogger community take a look at my collections blog and help me figure out if there’s anything I could improve on with the site’s design.

  25. Daniel says:

    I would love to hear some professional advice for my site. The idea of a consulting community is great !

  26. Kirk Warren says:

    I’m glad we were all able to help the Sourcebench out with this community project. I look forward to seeing more from his site in the future.

    However, for future editions of these community projects, I’d like to see more “blog” oriented sites. Sourcebench, maybe unintentially, felt commercial and more of a website than someone’s blog on a particular subject.

    While Problogger is a site that helps everyone with tips and information that helps improve their blogging, it still remains that feel that it is just Darren’s blog giving us his opinion on topics.

    Sourcebench felt more like a code dump site with tutorials and code snippets, with few blog-like qualities in my opinion.

    As for offering my site for review, I’d rather keep mine out of it for the time being. I’m still using Blogger’s free hosting and, while I’m getting some okay traffic for a new blog (200ish per day), I’m still trying to find time to work on the base template while keeping up with my posts. I don’t feel I would be able to implement half the advice I would receive from the ProBlogger community at the pace I am currently adding template changes to my site.

    However, maybe some time in the future, if this project is still going and I have my own hosting solutions and time to implement the amount of suggestions the community would offer, I will throw my hat into the ring.

  27. Chris says:

    I would love for my blog to be critiqued. I am sure there could be many improvements as blogging is something I first tried 6 months ago. There is so much to learn.

    Maybe I am getting too used to my sites layout as there have not been many alterations over the last 6 months. Would like to make it look and feel fresh. Any feedback would be welcome.

  28. Armen says:

    It’s just my opinion, but, I think it might be an idea to concentrate on sites which have potential, but don’t seem to be pulling in the visitors, even though they have decent content.

    I also don’t think a site which is getting 500+ uniques, really needs much help in comparison to many others.

    It’s not mine, but my suggestion would be Dietriffic. I know the owner, and although the site has great info, it’s not driving great traffic.

  29. I would really appreciate a community review of my blog http://www.bicyclefrenzy.com

    I started the site back in February of this year using Drupal. I have since switched to WordPress in the last month. I have leared a lot from reading Problogger, Daily Blog Tips, John Chow, Yaro, etc. but I haven’t made the traffic or income break throughs that I had hoped I would by now.

    I think a community review would shed some light on some of the short commings of my blog and find new ways to improve that I haven’t noticed yet.

  30. I’m not blogging for money but I still read the posts here to learn and be a better blogger, because I need the readership.
    I’d appreciate it if you considered my blog for the next round.

  31. I’d love an analysis!

    It might be challenging because my blog is about writing, so it’s non-tech.

    This was a great project, by the way.

  32. Nick Ritar says:

    We would really appreciate our blog being examined. My partner Kirsten and I work one day a week on blogging at the moment, but we’d really like to be working on it more.

    We are really passionate about the message that we are trying convey – That you can live a positive life on a low income and change your habits to be kinder on the planet.

    We’ve put that to the test by giving up our jobs and moving to a very isolated block of land, with almost no money and no house!

    So far we are up to about 70 unique visitors a day, but it’s early days yet. I think we’ve probably made a bunch of classic beginner mistakes, but we are very keen to get this right, there are not many options for us to make a modest income out here, but blogging is one of them.

    Thank you.
    http://www.milkwood.net

  33. Craig says:

    The Indie Travel Podcast (www.indietravelpodcast.com) certainly needs some help…

    We’re trying to balance the audio and visual content well while still having something worthwhile to see onscreen.

    Avoiding issues of clutter while connecting and wooing visitors further into the site.

    Should we add more traditional “blog” features? And we need to find good monetising options too.

    We’ve been “live” since October ’06, posting weekly since February ’07 and, although the feed-readers at 450/day, site visits remain at under 100people/week.

    Would love to hear from the pro-blogger community.

  34. Penny Nickel says:

    Of course I’d love a consult from the ProBlogger community, who wouldn’t? I am very passionate about the issues I write about (connecting personal finance with your values and ethics) and I really want as many people as possible to visit, read, comment and keep coming back– my growth has been steady but *slow*…

  35. Doug says:

    I’d love for you to take a look at DadBloggers.

    DadBloggers is a collaborative blog that gives the male perspective on parenting.

    http://www.dadbloggers.com

  36. drhady says:

    I’d love an analysis!

    It might be challenging because my blog is about writing, so it’s non-tech.

    This was a great project, by the way.

  37. What a fabulous idea and a great opportunity. i am in the process of a redesign, so this would be a perfect time for me. Thanks for the chance!

  38. Shane says:

    I would be interested in what everyone thinks about my new blog titled “Hackosis”. I have been running it only for a couple of months now and have not seen the traffic that I was expecting.

    I am willing to take and would appreciate any constructive criticisms about my new blog.

    Thanks for the opportunity,

    Shane