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Blogging Experiment — Community Consulting Summary

In this summary of Blogging Experiment’s community consultation you’ll find advice on:

  • How to bring important site elements above the fold.
  • How to get more subscribers.
  • How to sell a product through your blog.

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 Blogging Experiment was opened for critique.

Here are my and the community’s recommendations for the blog. Maybe you can take away some advice for your own blog?

Design and usability

A number of readers felt that the theme was too gaudy. I don’t actually think this is a problem with the color scheme (dark blue, white and orange). Instead, I think this is because of the stark color contrasts in the header. I have a suggested solution for this, which is influenced by some other points made by commenters:

  • The header is very busy and subscription elements get lost in the noise.
  • The header is quite long and pushes the content almost out of the ‘above the fold’ area. The length of the header also pushes banner ads into less valuable screen space.

If the big blue bar across the header could be removed, this would enable a few really valuable things to happen:

  • Content would be moved further into the ‘above the fold’ area, making it more attractive and gripping to social media visitors (particularly StumbleUpon visitors, for whom it’s less work to Stumble to another site than it is to scroll down!).
  • Advertisements would be moved almost entirely into the ‘above the fold’ area of the screen. This is more attractive to advertisers and will allow you to charge more for ad spots (because everyone who visits the site will see them).
  • The stark contrasts between the white and blue would be minimized.
  • RSS options could be moved into a zone that receives more visual traffic (i.e., the top of the sidebar).

There are a few ways Ben (the blog’s owner) could do this, but my suggestion would be to move the ‘About’ photo and blurb to where the subscription options are, then remove the rest of the blue bar across the header. I’d replace it with a much thinner colored bar to keep some visual separation between logo and content without the stark contrast.

I’d reintroduce subscription options to the top of the sidebar, using smaller icons. One thing bloggers often forget is that the size of your icons doesn’t correlate with the amount of new subscriptions you receive. Icons that are easy to find are more than enough. Trying too hard can make it seem as if you’re not sure whether your content is good enough to make people want to subscribe.

More whitespace between sidebar elements
At the moment, the different parts of the sidebar are squashed into one-another and can be hard for the eye to pick apart. I’d suggest adding a line break between each element.

Most commented –> Most popular
Readers tend to interpret ‘most commented’ posts as ‘most controversial’ when really what they want is the best. A most popular posts list is really important to have (it’s often stop #1 for new visitors) and I’d suggest adding it to the Blogging Experiment sidebar, under the Topspots widget.

Getting more subscribers

It’s great to see that Ben has allowed potential subscribers a number of ways to subscribe, both from the main page and beneath each post. While these little things help, ultimately, it’s the content that moves people to subscribe.

In my discussions with readers, the key question that determines whether they’ll subscribe or not is: “What does this blog have to offer me?” While the blog centers around Ben’s experiences trying to earn a full-time income online, I think a powerful way to get more subscribers would be to market the blog more explicitly in an outward-looking way. In other words, to focus on what Ben’s experiences can teach readers.

At the moment, a question some new visitors might be asking is: “I see that this blog is about the author’s experiences earning an income online, but how does that help me?”

One way to do this more explicitly would be to write a weekly post outlining what worked and what didn’t in terms of making an income online that week, and what advice Ben would give readers as a result.

I see another opportunity to attract subscribers in providing more content that other average bloggers can relate to: things like blogging-life balance, lighthearted stuff about what Ben bought with his blogging income and so on. If Ben can make readers care about him (and relate to him), they’ll be much more likely to subscribe and follow his journey.

Selling a product through the blog

Myself and a number of commenters saw problems with the way the blog’s theme is being sold through the blog. As part of the 125 x 125 banner ads block, it’s easy not to see the banner advertising the theme due to ad-blindness.

Because the theme has the potential to be a good money-maker, I’d suggest advertising it in the space between the first and second post on the main page. Readers are focusing on that part of the page because that’s where the content is. Just a sentence or image containing the words: “Like what you see? Buy the Blogging Experiment theme,” would probably be quite effective.

Another adventurous way to generate buzz around the blog would be to give the theme away for free to every subscriber in a one week period (probably via your feed footer). I imagine Ben could gather a lot of new readers and links through that method. Another great suggestion from among the comments was to launch an affiliate program for the theme. The one-week promotional drive could recruit quite a few bloggers who are interested in making affiliate sales of the Blogging Experiment theme.

A quick note: as pointed out by several commenters, it’s essential that there’s an easy to find link back to the blog’s main page from the Theme area. At the moment this appears to be missing.

The prize

This week’s iPod Shuffle winner is TzuVelli, who will be launching his blog about professional blogging on the 8th of February. The feedback given was incredibly detailed and original, so I look forward to the blog!

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Comments

  1. Patrik says:

    Am I the only one who likes big headers with content in it?
    I agree with most of the tips to him.

  2. uh…
    the layout pretty much sucks.

  3. Mr Munro says:

    Some valid points there. I quite like the theme myself although I do reckon that most of the text is a little cramped together.

  4. Dan Cole says:

    These are some good tip that were brought up by your readers Darren. I’d like to see a before and after, after he uses the suggestions. It would make a nice post on either Darren or Ben’s site.

  5. Buy Website says:

    There are a few CMS designs that might provide a better function for a community site. Working on one right now. Not design, site.

    I love testing projects, this is great.

    Michael

  6. You’re right Darren. I hope he’ll use your suggestions.
    The thing what i don’t like on the page is, that the site is pretty “overloaded”, well, it’s kinda “abhorrent”.

    Another thing is his pic, he should put in a more serious and more trusty pic in my opinion, this one looks kinda unserious.

    Just my $0.02.

  7. I will most definitely do a Before and After post and may even submit it here for ProBlogger readers to enjoy.

    The affiliate program for the theme is already in the works but I hadn’t thought a brief promotional period.

    I do like the idea of having Most Popular posts rather than Most Commented but does anyone know of any plugin that would be able to include my previous posts? All the plugins I’ve seen so far are based on views and only count after you install the plugin.

    Thanks so much for all the input everyone!

  8. Inhibitor says:

    This might help you out… http://alexking.org/projects/wordpress

    Popularity contest allows you to assign a point value to comments, views, etc, and then those values are used to rank your posts, giving you a “Top 5″ list.

    Of course, I do it the long way around…I have a section called “LagORama’s Greatest Hits” in my blogroll, where I manually link to the posts that garner the most attention. It’s not the easy way out, but I tend to try to stay on top of what’s working for my blog, and add to it whenever I put up a post that gets more trackbacks or views.

  9. My RSS subscription widget is way at the top of my blog. So far , my RSS subscriptions have picked up considerably. I read that it is best to offer full RSS feeds, but I have my doubts. I used to offer full feeds, but changed it to only giving intro’s. This is because I only have one kind of advertising in my RSS feeds, and I keep the main body of my posts free of advertising. Hits are more valuable to me at this stage.

    Check it out:
    http://necrofiles.blogspot.com

    Using comments as a measure for posts is a great idea. You know you are tackling the interest of your readers, which means returning hits, which means building loyalty.

  10. Domprofesor says:

    I think a clean separation between the sidebar elements and between the sidebars and the content will do the trick

  11. Good dear. really working. Thank you

  12. plonkee says:

    In this summary, it would be helpful to include a link to the original comment that the ipod winner made – it’s a lot of effort to go back to the original post and scroll through all the comments.

  13. Scott says:

    Nice tip on advertising. Can one tell me where to get the best template for blogging and advertising?

    http://www.24hourapartments.com
    http://www.roommatesville.com

  14. Rizzo Music says:

    Is there anyone that can offer consulting services for my blog? I need help with SEO optimization in Blogger. Is there anyway that I can optimize my home page so that it can be found in search engines based on all my blog posts as a whole, and not just my last 5 posts. Any help in any area on how to improve my blog would be greatly appreciated. Thanks!