Heya — Skellie here.
Our second community consultation has drawn to a close – this time we consulted for Hypebot. We’ve had a terrific response from the ProBlogger community (as always) with plenty of insights shared.
What follows is an overview of some of the main aspects of the blog that were highlighted by ProBlogger readers.
Lack of whitespace
The ‘whitespace’ of any website is essentially its empty areas. Without whitespace to frame distinct elements it can make your blog seem jumbled and make it difficult for the eyes to isolate individual elements (for example, separating posts from the sidebar).
While a number of readers thought Bruce’s sidebar was too wide, I think the real issue is the lack of whitespace within the sidebar and separating the sidebar from the posts. The edge of each post runs almost to the edge of the sidebar with very little padding, making the overall effect a little tough on the eyes.
To help alleviate this problem, I’d suggest narrowing the width of the third column and using the freed up space to add whitespace around the post column.
I’d also suggest adding an extra line of space below each post, to help make each content item distinct from the next.
Dark on dark
Some readers also found the contents of the sidebar difficult to read because the background and text are both dark. I’d suggest going with a much lighter gray instead, or any light color which looks good with the design.
A number of readers urged Bruce to add an About and Contact page to his site. While I agree that a Contact page should be added, there is already an About page available. For so many readers to miss it indicates that it needs to be made more prominent.
The ‘About’ page is the place where visitors decide to become readers. For that reason, it needs to be incredibly easy to find. I’d suggest moving links to the About and Contact page (once added) to the top of the right-hand sidebar.
It also seems strange to use a different layout for the blog’s About page. It’s important to maintain consistent branding across all your pages, so I’d use the blog’s existing layout instead.
It’s difficult to find a blog without an inch of clutter, but decluttering is a worthy goal for all of us. Taking away the unimportant elements of our site allow more attention to be directed at what is important.
Bruce could remove the following unimportant elements in order to create a lean and usable sidebar:
- Recent posts. Hypebot’s posts tend to be quite short so readers will find it quicker to scroll down than it is to interact with a list of titles. A recent posts list is only really useful on blogs with very long posts.
- Recent comments. While I don’t mind the kind of recent comments display which gives a preview of each comment, the widget currently on the blog won’t be of much interest to new visitors. If you were a new visitor, what would you rather read? The content, or (insert person you’ve never heard of) commented on ( insert post you haven’t read yet)?
- The tag cloud. If you’ll allow me to be a little opinionated, I think tag clouds are just one of those things designers started doing simply because they could! A simple list of categories is much more readable and usable, so I’d keep that and lose the cloud.
- Kudos for Hypebot. The About page is where you convince potential readers to pay attention, so the CNN recommendation would be more effective displayed there.
- Books clip-art. Clip art is good for Power Point presentations but doesn’t really make for good web design.
One common suggestion from readers was to increase the size of the links in the sidebar — something I strongly agree with. The font size should be equal to that used in each post.
To help distinguish links it might also be worth making them bold or underlined. Other readers also requested that the headlines on each post be left aligned rather than centered, for a more fluid reading experience.
News vs. Commentary: a common problem for bloggers!
Many readers congratulated Bruce on his writing style and content. I was also impressed with Bruce’s confident blogging voice.
One of the questions he asked was “Am I achieving the right balance of news vs. commentary?” I do have some concerns in this area (I suspect many bloggers do), and this is an issue I’ve personally struggled with in the past.
As a one person show, it’s incredibly difficult to break news. Unless you’re an industry insider, you’re essentially forced into a reactive role — reading about news elsewhere and posting it on your blog. The problem with this is that you’re probably going to be recycling news from other sites in your niche — sites that your target audience are most likely already reading!
The original source of the news will always get the links and mentions, making news aggregation a very difficult growth strategy to pursue. Without the ability to break news, I think commentary is a much more viable option. People will still go to other sites to watch the news break, but they will come back to read your unique take on it.
I think Darren’s approach is illustrative of how best to do this. While there are regular news posts at ProBlogger, they’re almost always accompanied by a reflection on what the developments mean, and its impacts.
People will still read the posts even if they’re already familiar with the news because they’re interested to hear what Darren has to say.
Bruce is an expert in his own niche and I have no doubt that readers would love to read his commentary. My suggestion to Bruce would be to focus on commentary more so than he is currently doing.
It’s impossible to compete with well-resourced and staffed music news sites when it comes to being the first with news, but they may never be able to offer the kind of insight Bruce is capable of.
Sheesh, you guys don’t make picking a favorite comment easy, do you? Fortunately we have a few more prizes to go around, thanks to Bruce’s generosity.
This week’s prize-pack winner is Anthony Lawrence. I was impressed both by his attention to detail and his respectful approach to the review process. He’ll soon be the new owner of an iPod Shuffle and 5 CDs courtesy of Bruce’s booking company, Skyline Music.
Stay tuned for the introduction of blog number three.