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Fashion-Incubator: Community Consulting Summary

Hi all — Skellie here. Our first foray into Community Consulting 2.0 has wrapped up. With 65+ insights shared, it’s time to summarize the main recommendations given into an actionable plan for Kathleen’s blog, Fashion-Incubator.

If you’re new to the project, you might want to read the Community Consulting launch post and take a look at the post where Fashion-Incubator was opened for critique.

Every inch of the blog was pored over and evaluated, which has helped build a comprehensive body of tips and lessons we can all learn from.

In what follows, I’ll try to summarize the key recurring themes from the feedback Fashion-Incubator received.

Width issues

The most frequently mentioned aspect of the blog was its 4-column layout. At a 1024 x 768 resolution — the resolution most visitors would be using — the fourth column did not fully fit on the screen. Visitors can’t be expected to scroll around horizontally to view the full design of the site.

A common solution presented was to simplify the design down to three columns — something I strongly agree with.

A number of readers also felt the information on the page was too compacted. The space freed up by removing a column could be used to add more whitespace between the columns remaining. This would make the page more readable and inviting overall, and help to make the content stand out from the sidebars.

More simplicity needed

Many readers also felt the blog would benefit from greater simplicity. The sidebars are filled with links, ads and information which many readers felt could be done away with.

De-cluttering is an important practice because for every inessential item you subtract, you’re allowing a bigger chunk of reader attention to go towards what is important. My suggestions for de-cluttering the blog are:

  • Remove the calendar widget and archives in the sidebar. As many readers pointed out, visitors are much more likely to browse by title rather than date. A separate archives page with post titles would be more useful, and would help de-clutter.
  • Move links and resources to a separate page. There are a lot of good resources here, but many readers found that it was too much information presented at once, and the overall effect was distracting. I’d suggest moving these links and resources to their own dedicated page.
  • Remove recent entries. The blog is only showing short post excerpts on the page, meaning it is already much easier for readers to scroll down the page than it is to pick out titles from a chunk of text. Kathleen will be able to free up a lot of space by removing this element.
  • Simplify Amazon advertising. Many commenters found the number of Amazon ads overwhelming. Kathleen has highlighted that these are important resources for her readership, but I would suggest offering affiliate links to the books on a separate ‘essential resources’ page, linked prominently towards the top of the sidebar. I’d also suggest cutting down the number of Amazon books advertised on the main page. Focusing more attention on less ads will lead to more click-throughs overall.
  • Simplify other advertising. Some readers felt that the amount of advertising overall impacted on their engagement with the blog. One thing Kathleen might consider is to assess her advertising strategy and retain only the ads that are performing well.

A more vibrant design

Another commonly cited issue was that some readers felt the design was too plain. A frequent suggestion was to add a logo or header image to the site — something that will not only make the blog more visually interesting, but will also help with branding and differentiating the blog from its competitors. Another simple way to liven up the design would be to add more imagery and formatting to posts.

A group of readers also suggested that post headlines be made larger and permalinked. As headlines are doorways into your posts, it’s important to emphasize them over the rest of what’s on your page.

What is it?

Throughout the review process a common question readers had trouble answering was: what is Fashion-Incubator about? Short of reading the content, there is no information available on the main page to introduce the blog to new readers.

Visitors are unlikely to invest time in reading posts unless they feel there’s something in it for them. That’s where things like tag-lines become important. As a new visitor, I found it difficult to work out what the blog was about and who its target audience was.

Some readers felt the blog’s About page was not easy enough to find and could be made more helpful. Though including author information is worthwhile, most visitors to your About page are primarily interested in two questions: what is this blog about and what can it offer me? It’s essential that you answer these two questions before anything else.

Emphasizing the book

Kathleen is a published author and sells a book she’s written through the blog. The book essentially forms a handbook to accompany the posts and is considered by many of her regular visitors to be required reading.

For that reason, it’s essential that the book is given greater emphasis. I’d suggest moving it into the top-left corner of the screen (where the calendar widget currently is) and making the image clickable — taking you to a page with more information on what it is and what it offers.

Subscription options

A group of readers suggested that the RSS icon should be moved towards the top of the sidebar. This is something I agree with, though I suspect only a small portion of the blog’s target audience would be using RSS, as the blog is not at all tech/internet related.

Those interested in subscribing are likely to do so via email. For that reason, I think the email subscription form needs more clarity. It’s quite vague at the moment and could prove confusing to some visitors.

I’d title the form ‘Get new posts emailed to you’ and provide instructions to ‘type your email address here’. Being clear about what subscription involves will only help increase subscriber numbers.

Positives

While focusing on what could be improved is more useful for the blogger, I think it’s worth acknowledging some of the things readers were impressed with.

The response to the blog’s content and writing style was generally very positive. A number of commenters also highlighted the engaged and active community of loyal readers and commenters Kathleen has built.

Many other aspects of the blog were mentioned by individual and smaller groups of readers — too many to mention here. You can view the full break-down of feedback in the comments on Fashion-Incubator’s introductory post.

The prize!

The quality of the feedback was outstanding overall, making it hard to choose a winner. That being said, there is only one iPod Shuffle to give away!

This week’s prize winner is Cathy Moore. Her feedback spanned everything from design to content, it clearly outlined some key areas for improvement and it was delivered with a lot of respect. Congratulations!

What’s next for ProBlogger Community Consulting?

We’ll be kicking off our second review in a few days, following the success of this one. Another blog, another prize, and hopefully many more lessons to be learned!

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Comments

  1. Alex Sysoef says:

    I think your point on more vibrant looks is perhaps the most important. “The Look” is what makes people to decide if they even want to stay, considering the niche this blog is targeting – I think it becomes even more crucial!

    I know we are not supposed to make evaluations based on first impression but in my personal experience it makes big difference on retention of your first time visitors.

    Alex

  2. I enjoyed the way you made the information not only helpful for Kathleen, but when I read it I found ways I could apply the information to my own blog. I agree with the part about removing the calendar. Whenever I view a calandar I never click on it, because I don’t know what kind of posts are on each day and if I will be intrested in them. It seems like a waste of space and top is such a prominate spot to be wasted.

  3. Max Powers says:

    I love this because it’s easy to compare everything mentioned about Fashion Incubator to my own website.

    What could be better than getting free input and learning from others comments on how to improve your blog.

  4. johnCard says:

    the design still needs tweaking.

  5. I think it would be pretty cool to revisit these sites in a few months or longer and re-review them or maybe you could interview the blogger to see how the feedback they received here helped them. You could find out if they made more or less money and find out how they implemented the suggestions.

  6. Live Crunch says:

    I think it needs still SEO.

    N’ways good overview. Am I next? :)

  7. Sorry to change the topic, but I just looked back at the previous consulting summary and noticed that the Sourcebench guy hasn’t updated his site in over a month. I wonder if him wasting everyones time was one of the reasons this now costs money.

  8. Skellie says:

    @ Paul: It was a factor, definitely. You get a certain level of seriousness and dedication when you need to give something in order to receive.

  9. MG says:

    I like it, maybe needs more SEO, but it’s good.

  10. Great coverage and overall review. I really liked how you took your own ideas and mixed it with the communities.

  11. Caitlin says:

    I found it somewhat amusing how most of the commenters on the Fashion-Incubator side of things were so against any of the comments made here at ProBlogger. Many of them were annoyed that people here did not instantly know what F-I was about, and so urged Kathleen to discount any advice from the people here who didn’t know what it was.
    To me, the fact that people could not tell right away what F-I was about is a huge problem for F-I itself, and I think the “What is it?” point above should be taken very seriously.

    I’m glad Cathy won; I felt her comment was very insightful and helpful.
    Sure, the people who read F-I every day know what it’s about, and know where to find things, but what about the poor newbies who could just be getting frustrated and leaving? I don’t understand the resistance to trying to help them figure you out when they first reach the site.

  12. Brock says:

    I’m not really a “pro” blogger but I started reading ProBlogger recently and have found it very helpful and relevant to my blog. This consulting series (this being the only post in it that I’ve read) is a great example.

    I think you made an important point about the Amazon books. I can understand her reluctance to change that since she views them as important resources. But I think the current layout is doing them a disservice. Having a separate page with bigger pictures and book titles, and maybe a 1-2 sentence description or opinion by Kathleen would be very helpful to me if I was considering buying a book. Sure, you can look at that information on the Amazon page, but I would rather see it in a condensed form side by side with the other books she is featuring. She could still link to this page with a prominent link on her main page.

    Also, I couldn’t agree more about the styling of the post headlines. The combination of date, title, and then subtitle (for archive posts) made me a little dizzy.

    A good site, and I’m sure it will be amazing when all of these recommendations are implemented.

  13. 66tx says:

    I think it needs still SEO.