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Fashion-Incubator – a ProBlogger Community Blog Consulting Project

Problogger-ConsultingIt’s time for our first Community Blog Consulting 2.0 project. Darren previously explained what this is and it’s worth reading that post to get yourself up to speed. Your participation in the project could see you win an iPod shuffle!

This week we’ll be looking at Fashion-Incubator. The blog is maintained by author Kathleen, with the help of a few other writers. Kathleen sells copies of her book through the blog.

Update: Kathleen has requested a revision of the blog’s description. It’s a blog written for those who manufacture items made with a sewing machine. In her words: “Think operations and engineering, not Heidi Klum and Project Runway.”

I’ll now throw it over to the ProBlogger community to provide your advice, suggestions and constructive critique. The commenter who provides the most useful feedback for the blog will win an iPod shuffle.

A summary of the community feedback (with my own commentary) will be posted in 4 – 5 days, so make sure to get your comments in soon.

A screenshot of Fashion-Incubator.

The key questions you’ll want to consider are:

  • What do you like about this blog?
  • What could be improved?

You might want to focus your comment on these areas:

  • Design — usability, visual appeal, readability, navigation.
  • Content — got an idea for a great viral post the blogger could write?
  • Promotion — how would you suggest the blogger promote the blog?
  • SEO — can you see areas for improvement?
  • Monetization — could this be done more effectively? Do you see any missed opportunities?

We’d love for comments to be as constructive, helpful and practical as possible. I’m sure Kathleen (the blog’s owner) is eagerly awaiting your advice.

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Comments

  1. Raj says:

    Your blog’s design is very simple and I like it but there is a lot of scope of improvement.

    Design – 1. This is the first blog design with 4 column layout I have ever seen. You may want to think of only 3 column.
    2. The home page is cluttered with tons of links which will deviate a visitor from the main content easily.
    3. You need a logo and some good caption along with it.
    4. The calendar is not adding any value in my opinion. Remove it or place it at the bottom of the post.
    5. The search box can go in the headmast area.
    6. Archives – Instead of list, use a drop down. That will save a lot of space for you to include something else.
    7. No social bookmark buttons. Install sharethis plugin.
    8. Subscribe form should show a RSS button, hard to find where your subscribe form is located(below scroll).
    9. Remove those tons of Amazon banners and place one on the right and at the end of the post just before the comments section where people will see it.
    10. Some of your sidebar content can actually go in the top headmast like a drop down menu and its submenu items.

    SEO – 1. Your headers should be in H1 tag and not H3.
    2. Your title tags are starting with your blog’s name, remove that part and just have the blog title.
    3. Your titles needs more optimization with keywords that people actually search for.
    4. The description tag is missing.
    5. Show only last 5-7 posts on home page.
    6. Install language translation plugins that will let people translate your content in other languages.

    Promotion – 1. Place ads on blogs that belong to your niche.
    2. Use more pictures in your posts.
    3. Talk about latest and upcoming events

    Monetization – 1. Use one square adsense unit on top of the post content and everything else at the bottom.

    My 2 cents :-)

  2. Kathleen says:

    Checking in again, clearing up some ambiguities and addressing question asked:

    Perhaps an edit describing F-I is necessary. My readers are annoyed that F-I has been described as a fashion blog, and me as a “fashion” author. I’m used to it but they have a point. I thought they’d be more open to the process of review but some are taking it quite personally. I guess that’s good, it means they’re loyal and consider the site “theirs”. My entry and their comments are here:
    http://www.fashion-incubator.com/mt/archives/overcoming_fear_of_exposure.html

    Anyway, F-I is a B2B *manufacturing* site for entrepreneurs who produce items made using a sewing machine. Most succinctly, it’s how to start your own line. Besides, most of the “apparel” or “fashion” industry is what’s called “sewn products” -not clothing. Sewn products producers are 55% of the industry, it’s about operations and engineering in apparel, not “fashion” per se which is why -in particular- they are annoyed that reviewers think I should have more fashion visuals. Think operations and engineering, not Heidi Klum and Project Runway. Fashion as experienced by consumers is only 3% of the industry. Visitors like F-I because it’s real life, about their businesses day to day operations, not the fashion industry as expressed in magazines and TV.

    Some questions that were asked:

    Out of interest, how many uniques per month does the site get?

    I get about 5,000 unique visitors a day now (150,000 monthly, about 3 million since I started it). Perhaps more importantly, my average visit is about six minutes. 20-25% stay an hour or more (it only tracks up to an hour). Average number of pages read per visitor, per visit, is almost six. Iow, it’s sticky (visitors have complained that links don’t automatically open in another window/tab. I don’t know what the coding is for that). There are +/- 1100 entries.

    How much does it make?

    I prefer to keep earnings to myself but I am amused that people assume I’m not earning an income from it. F-I is no great shakes in the blog world but it is very popular within the garment industry. Some people are rabid about it.

    Donations: These go to me. I feel that if I’m responding to my readers, they’ll support me with donations. So, if I force myself to depend on reader’s donations as a source of revenue, I will be more proactive in meeting their needs. That said, I’ll be adding google adsense because I’ve heard it enhances SEO. I’ll be sharing those proceeds with my co-authors.

    Make the forum more accessible for guests.
    Like the main site, the forum is not intended for consumers or casual observers. The back end is private. Members share privileged and sensitive information about their businesses, comparing sources and suppliers as well as reporting of other businesses who may not be acting ethically or responsibly.

    Books: I have reviewed all the books posted. Imo, these are the best books in the industry. Most of my selections are not well known, beaten out by publishers with larger marketing budgets and the uninitiated usually buy the latter. Two books I recommended were out of print. It is rumored that my efforts are what caused them to be reprinted.

    My audience isn’t fashion students. Were that the case, I’d starve. That entry was for their professors (who do read the site) to encourage their students. Most of my visitors are business owners. Probably 50% have advanced degrees, many in the sciences. I got several emails and comments from disgruntled readers offended at the suggestion I should dumb it down.

    I have always liked the “Related Posts” widget at the close of entries on blogs but don’t know how to do that. I’ll make that a priority.

    I agree the archives can use work. However, I don’t like Problogger’s set up. I was trying to find an entry from last week here and it was too many clicks deep. Most of my readers are not avid blog readers (or bloggers) so I have to keep site navigation strategy simple if not formulaic. I liked the drop down list suggestion someone made.

    I also like the popular posts widget suggestion but wonder if I can manually edit it. It is embarrassing that the most popular entry on the site is about Camel Toes (an apparel engineering problem).

    There were a tremendous amount of useful suggestions here. I’ll put this in a database later along with values (assigning priorities) and post it for your review. I appreciate your input and look forward to implementing your suggestions. As some of you already know, I am thanking as many of you personally as I can. It sounds like a platitude but I sincerely thank you for your time.

  3. You know what’s really great about this project?

    When I look critically at other people’s blogs, I sometimes see things that I’m doing badly myself. For example, just now I was looking at the use of white space on Fashion-Incubator and when I tabbed to my site I said “Hmmm.. I could use a little more left margin myself..”

    And then of course I read other folks comments about thi, that or the other thing, and whether I agree or not (I’d say 99.4% agreement btw) I have often gone back to my site with the same thought in mind: am *I* making that mistake!

    So, while I had some initial sympathy for the folks who said “What’s in it for me?”, actually I think there is a LOT of value here and I hope Darran and SKellie do more.

  4. Shark Girl says:

    Kathleen, thanks for taking the time to respond to questions. Your answers clear up all the questions I had about your site, and especially the purpose of the site.

  5. Evan Hadkins says:

    To Skellie

    A meta-observation.

    The tone of some of the suggestions was a little terse and not exactly sensitive to the blog’s author.

    Next month is there a way of factoring in being respectful (or kind) in tone?

  6. Cathy Moore says:

    Kathleen, thanks for the link to the discussion on your blog. I understand that regular readers are offended that the audience here didn’t understand what the blog is about. I still maintain that it’s in a blog’s best interest to make its focus immediately clear to any stranger who wanders in through a Google search (or through a blog review). Adding a short, prominent blurb at the top of a sidebar or in some other constant place will only help pull new readers in and can’t hurt the existing blog.

    Also, while some commenters here clearly expected fashion photography, I don’t think we all wanted more photos out of a misguided perception that this was a fashion blog. I didn’t think it was a fashion blog but still felt it could use breaking up with some graphics, just as any big collection of text can benefit from graphics.

  7. Kathleen:

    To open in a new page, the “a href=” tag simply needs to add

    target=”_blank”.

    So:

    a href=”/somewhere” target=”_blank” title=”whatever” rel=”bookmark”

  8. Julie says:

    Well, maybe something is wrong with me, but I am a tad bit disappointed. Not that Kathleen has a successful blog. Way to go, Kathleen! It’s always encouraging to meet a successful blogger. But disappointed because I thought this was an opportunity to provide help to someone who is struggling with his/her blog. From Kathleen’s last comment, I’m guessing she is doing much better than most of the commenters here, including me.

    I was one who felt that Darren was justified in charging the $250 fee. I still think that since he is an expert in the field. He definitely earns the fee, plus more, in my opinion. But now I see a clearer picture of the other side. If Kathleen has the visitors that she claims, than she already has a well established blog. And she is making money to put back into the blog to grow it even further. Nothing wrong with that. But I feel kind of foolish having participated in this blog review. It was a missed chance for someone who had low readership. Perhaps I misunderstood what Darren and Skellie meant by looking for someone who “was serious” about improving their blog and looking for a blog with “room for improvement.”

  9. Skellie says:

    @ Julie: The review service is open to anyone with a blog. You don’t have to be well-established or highly trafficked.

    Fashion-Incubator happens to be doing well, but we’ve had applicants from right across the spectrum — new blogs, old blogs, established blogs and undiscovered ones. Blogs that are making money and blogs that are making very little (but who would like to make more).

    It’s also worth noting that, as useful as the process is for the blogger who asked for the review, most of the lessons are also things we can turn back to our own blogs (as Anthony Lawrence pointed out above). It benefits everyone.

    I don’t think there’s any reason to regret taking part :-).

  10. Julie says:

    Thanks, Skellie. I did realize that when posting my last comment, but not during my review. After reading Kathleen’s last comment, the whole thing just seemed kind of silly and I felt like I had wasted my time. Kathleen probably should have been giving me advice. Next time I’ll just stick to reading everyone else’s comments. Thanks for your reply.

  11. 66tx says:

    A new layout would be nice, if not maybe get a logo, work on the current design to improve readability like nicer headers.

  12. Rinaldo says:

    After reading your answers and the comments in your blog Kathleen is more than clear that you do have a faithful audience with specific needs that might differ some from the typical bloggers but not as much as you think.

    I think that most suggestions have to do with the design because the content is already very good as several comments have noticed. When people talk about redesigning the site think of something more like Problogger that has a subtle design, very easy to read but still has “depth” and catches the eye. Same with the images, don’t need to put a model wearing some clothes in every post but an image to complement the subject along with headers of proper size really stand out and make the reading more pleasant.

    Oh, and a “Favicon” is the little icon that you see next to the URL and the name of the page in the Tab of your browser. Tiny detail but adds to the professionalism of the blog.

    Adding to my initial suggestions here are other suggestions that you might consider besides the ones already done:

    1) If you really like the idea of having all the archives, recent posts, etc in the sidebar, investigate a little about an “Accordeon Effect” for your sidebar. Is a nice Javascript effect where you turn the whole sidebar into a menu with dropdown lists. When one is selected the others hide. Here is an example (is a whole page using it, but imagine the effect in your sidebar with the lists as a content): http://moofx.mad4milk.net/#download. Excellent way to remove clutter and mantain the kind of navigation that your users like.

    2) You seem to have some badges of thinks that are important for you to recommend (Firefox, Co-op America, your own badge lost in the middle of the ads). Put those together as interests you want to share.

    3) When you rewrite your “About” page (I think you agree is a good recommendation) move the links of “My Delicious”, “Technorati Profile”, etc there when you are talking about yourself. That way we know about you and they gain more value since they are in a context.

    4) Might be a little detail but in the comments area it’ll be better if the comment author data were more visible, I would like to see better who said what.

  13. Sue says:

    I wasn’t going to take part in this discussion, but all the above comments, plus the thread with your readers discussing this review have made me decide to throw in my two cents.
    I think the comment that bothered me, as well as Kathleen’s readers, was the recommendation to “dumb down” the articles. I think Kathleen knows her readers, and there is no way I’d ever say anything like that. These aren’t your typical 13 year olds.
    What I will recommend on the redesign, Kathleen, is based on your own statement that your readers aren’t technologically savvy, and the fact that some of them never have visited/used another blog before. I have somwhat of the same type of audience, so maybe what I’m trying to work out with mine will help yours.
    Ideally, you want to make your site look professional and as much like a static site as possible. So…
    Ditch all the obvious blog related stuff in the sidebar. I’m talking about all those little images to subscribe via rss in the admin one. You don’t need the technorati thing either. Your audience will probably not be using them. If they are, switch to using Feedburner’s Feed Flare, you can add things in text at the bottom of each article, especially the “email this” and maybe a few others that you can pick and choose. They have over 100 you can add (but of course I don’t recommend using the all). Your site will probably never be “dugg.” It’s not the type that will. You don’t appeal to the 14 year old tech weenies. :)
    Oh, and change the admin heading to something more descriptive. Admin is for you alone, nothing the readers would need (see forum mention below).
    I’d recomment cleaning up the links in your sidebar. It would be best to have that large number of them on a separate page.
    Dump the stats tracker at the bottom, go with Google Analytics instead. The one you have right now is breaking up your page.
    Use only three columns. Most people are on 1024×768 resolution, and your fourth column creates a scrollbar at the bottom. I never scroll to the right, and the fact you have ads over there means I, or a lot of people will never see them.
    I’d also recommend a wider header, with your blog name proportionally a bit larger. It just seems to not fit.
    You have too many entries on the page. I would recommend no more than 5, especially since you have the archives, categories and recent posts and the calendar in the side bar. By the way, that’s kind of redundant. I’d ditch the calendar (yeah, I know you’re fond of it and so are some of your readers) and the archives and stick with recent posts. While it may seem useful to some of your readers, it’s just way too many. Too much clutter. Oh, and change the header from Recent Entries to Recent Articles as that is more descriptive of what you offer.
    Your subscribe button at the top, I would add a little more info on that. By that I mean “Subscribe to this site by email” Or better yet, something like “Receive these articles by email.” Or even “Subscribe to updates by email.” I think that’s going to be the best for your readers. Everyone uses email, ya know. :)
    I would really recommend you to switch to using WordPress. It would allow you to use plugins like the sitemap generator, which dynamically creates a table of contents page. I think that would be best for your readers. And page creation is a breeze with it, and your site would benefit from having more navigation choices at the top.
    Speaking of the sidebar, in the admin area, you really need to change that and put the Forum link more prominently. It’s an active forum and it should be a little easier to find.
    On your posts, a lot have recommended using images. While I also do, to a limited extent, I think the site would benefit best if you could delineate the posts a little. You need to have a larger headline to make them stand out. Generally, an H2 heading works best. And perhaps subheadings to break up the text. It’s hard to tell that each post is different, and it will make it easier for your readers to find the articles they haven’t read, or at least where one ends and the next begins. This is a definite fix you need.
    One other thing, as mentioned above, if you can bite the bullet and switch to WordPress, you’ll find many attractive yet professional looking themes. Ideally you’ll use one that has all the content on the left, two sidebars on the right, one wide and one narrow, and plugins to make your site more accessible and attractive.
    About your book, it needs to be at the right top to highlight it, along with a little more beyond Buy Now. You need a little marketing language up there with it, right now it looks like the only thing your’e going to be buying is a mannequin. :)
    And the Make a Donation. Please add what you’re donating for…is it a charity, or what? Specify it’s for you, to help in the costs of maintaining your site. You have a dedicated reader base, and they’ll be more likely to pull out their purses and donate if they’re reminded it costs you money for maintaining it.
    I don’t know how well-versed you are in these little tweaks (and that’s all you need) to your layout, so my advice to you is, if you’re staying with Movable Type, to hire a designer to do these little things to your layout. Or, the cheapest solution of course, which is to change to WP.
    One other thing, if you could add another page to put all your book reviews on it, along with the books you recommend, that would help in making everything in one place. I think the main problem is your site is hard to navigate, and to find the info someone would need. Organizing the site would go a long way towards usability. And that’s what we’re all about, trying to make a site experience that suits our readers’ needs and makes it easy for new readers to find the info they want.
    Okay, that’s it for now. I may come up with more before this closes. Good luck. You have a very valuable readership base, and have pinpointed a need and fill it very well.

  14. ChrisB says:

    My strongest reaction to the site is that it seems cluttered. I think the 4-column design is just too much — especially on a fashion site which should strive to be pleasing to the eye.

    I just found an interesting article: 23 lessions from eye tracking studies. It’s worth a look. Some of the common advice that gets thrown around is apparently not necessarily true.

  15. Re: Skellie and Julie above

    Aside from everything Skellie said, let’s remember this too:

    Doing well is relative.

    For someone making a couple of dollars a day, making fifty bucks might be a fantastic goal. But if the person making fifty bucks a day is spending eight hours typing to get it, well, that’s not so good, is it?

    Anyway, I think this was all great stuff. I know I have made several improvements (I hope they are improvements!) to my site as a result of the discussions here.

    I’m looking forward to more.

  16. Kathleen,

    I would first like to say that you have done a wonderful job at creating a blog filled with quality content. That is something few are able to accomplish because it takes hard work and dedication. Congratulations.

    Now comes the part you won’t want to hear. I’ve been there and know how it feels. A talk similar to this one is what caused me to just launch a brand new web design. So here it goes.

    While it may sound ironic given that you have good content, your biggest problem is communication. Visit your Web site from an outsider’s perspective. What does it say to you? Within three seconds your visitors will form an opinion about your site, and right now it’s not good. Here is the uncensored version of what I thought:

    “It’s a generic, uncredible site that would never have quality information.”

    Had I come in through a search, I would have immediately clicked back and looked for another site. So why did I have such a negative reaction? It’s simple: You didn’t tell me what you do. Your Web site could be any other Web site, and typically, Web sites that look generic and have no identity are Adsense play Web sites that steal other people’s content.

    Now in this situation people typically go out and hire someone to create a flashy new Web design that looks like a “credible” Web site. But that won’t get you anywhere. The secret behind good Web sites is that they tell you what they are and what to do. It is your job to lead your user through your Web site. If they have to do any work at all, they will leave.

    So here’s what you need to do first:

    1. Create an elevator pitch. In 12 words or less, what is your Web site? That pitch will be the guiding force through your entire redesign. It will give you the answer to every decision you make — from colors to layout to content navigation. If you want me to explain this point further, please contact me through my Web site: http://www.askthedecorator.com/Contact_Meghan.shtml.

    2. Write down what you want your user to do on your site, and then rank those actions in order of importance. For example, buy my book, read my posts, click my advertisements, make a donation, subscribe to my rss feeds and leave a comment are all actions you may want your user to do. But your user has limited time and will only do a few of those. So you must rank them in order. A Web site that decides it is most important for their users to click the ads will look very different from a Web site that wants their user to read the content. Why? Because your entire page layout will be based around the actions you want your user to take.

    Once you have done those two things, it’s time to apply them.

    Design: Your design should be based on a combination of your elevator pitch and your list of desired user actions. The elevator pitch will give you the information you need to create the “feeling” of your Web site. So if you are the “hip, fashion entrepreneur’s guide to product manufacturing,” then the colors, textures, fonts and pictures on your Web site better communicate that to me in 3 seconds. I should have an idea of what you are without you having to say it in text. As for the layout of your Web site, that’s what the list of actions is for. The actions highest on your list should be the easiest for your users to do and placed in the most prominent locations.

    Monetization: You monetization will depend on your priority of user actions. You will need to rank your pattern making, consulting, classes, book selling and advertisements in order of what is your most important revenue stream. Then you must find a way to communicate to your users that those services are available or that those advertisements are useful resources. Darren just wrote a great post about this exact topic that I would recommend you read: http://www.problogger.net/archives/2007/12/04/6-steps-to-making-money-because-of-your-blog/ The post should help you decide which type of monetization is most important to you.

    Content: Just as you must communicate clearly through your design, you must also communicate clearly in your content. Make sure your headlines are easy to read and tell the users exactly what they are about to read. Don’t forget that photos are an excellent form of communication. You should be able to communicate each post’s topic in one way or another through a photo. Sometimes getting a photo can be difficult, but it will help your reader to scan your articles and generate interest about the topic. One of the best things I ever realized was that I am the biggest fan of my content. Everyone else is just mildly interested. Once you accept that, you’ll understand how to market to your audience. Plus, don’t forget to put a call to action at the bottom of each post. If you want your users to social bookmark you, give them a way to do it. If you want your readers to leave a comment, tell them how.

    SEO: This is a touchy subject. Everyone has a different opinion of what works. One resource that may be helpful to you is http://www.bruceclay.com. But honestly, the best advice I can give you is not to buy links.

    Promotion: When it comes time to promote your redesign, you’ll be very happy you created an elevator pitch and a list of desired user actions. Those will be invaluable when creating advertisements. Plus, once you have Web pages that communicate clearly, any Adwords campaigns you have will be much more successful.

    I hope that helps. If you would like any resources or to have me explain anything further, please let me know. I am more than happy to help!

    Best wishes,

    Meghan

  17. Skellie says:

    @ Evan Hadkins: I do think reviews have a tendency to come off as terse sometimes because they focus on areas that the author feels need improvement, rather than areas that are already working well. I’m not sure it’s always deliberate.

    That being said, the tone of comments will be an influencing factor in who Darren and I select as our most valuable commenter for this Fashion-Incubator review. We’ll be looking for someone who’s made an effort to be as respectful and constructive as possible, in addition to providing useful feedback.

  18. Sue says:

    A slight addendum to my previous post. I wrote it without having had my share of coffee. :)
    When I said this:
    “I’d also recommend a wider header, with your blog name proportionally a bit larger. It just seems to not fit.”
    I meant:
    a taller header
    It would just seem to work a little better.