The 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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.