It’s time to finalize our review of Socialized Software and summarize the main recommendations given into an actionable plan for Mark’s blog.
Here are the blog’s key areas of improvement as determined by the ProBlogger community:
Doubling up of tags and categories. Displaying both tags and categories on the main page is bound to be confusing for visitors and creates unnecessary clutter. The tag cloud, in particular, should be removed. Interacting with a jumble of text is difficult and there’s already a usable categories list on the page.
Broken in Internet Explorer. I’ve had the same problem with my own blog and can definitely emphasize — a 3 column layout in which column three slips under column two in internet explorer. While it’s tempting to say that “People shouldn’t still be using IE, anyway”, people do use it (and depending on your niche, it could be 50% or more of your visitors). It’s important to work out the source of the problem and resolve it.
Ambiguous elements. There are a few ambiguous elements on the site, like the ‘Marketing feed’ (what is this?) and the ‘Share This!’ plug-in. I don’t think the ‘Share This!’ plug-in has good usability, because it doesn’t describe what it does. Share this by… email? On Digg? By carrier pigeon? Post it to a forum? Until you click on it, its function is a mystery — and that’s not good usability.
To my mind, the best option is to use specific links for specific services, so users know exactly what they’re going to get (making them more inclined to interact with the element). I will point out, though, that Darren uses the ‘Share This!’ plug-in — you can see it on this very post — and I’m sure he has a reason to do so, meaning there is clearly an opposing viewpoint on this. Just something to think about, anyway.
Readability issues. A number of commenters found the body text on Socialized Software too faint and too small. Increasing the font size and making the gray a little darker should help alleviate the problem.
Selling the book. Impressively, Mark is the author of a book that’s likely to be loved by much of his target audience. I’d suggest moving the book section of the sidebar into the ‘above the fold’ area of the screen to maximize attention and sales.
What do you have to offer? It’s great to see that the blog has an About page, but it needs quite a bit of work. The blurb on the main page contains biographical information, but this isn’t what new visitors are interested in. They want to know: what does this blog have to offer me?
Your About page is where you sell the blog to prospective readers. Someone who’s been on your site less than thirty seconds probably isn’t interested in the history of you as a blogger, but they do want to hear that your blog will provide useful tips, news and commentary on Linux, Open Source, Free Culture and social media.
A simple question to ask yourself is: would I care about this if I were a first time visitor at someone else’s site?
Adding value. While the content demonstrates a deep knowledge of the topics covered, I get a sense that the blog would have more social media success and inbound links if it made use of some value-packed feature articles. Resource lists, complete guides, advice columns, tips and tricks… anything that the blog’s target audience would find insanely useful.
A handy guiding strategy when creating content is to ask: how can I be as useful as possible?
More simplicity. A number of readers felt the design was busy and contained too much text. I think this is most likely the result of packed sidebars and lines interrupting whitespace. I don’t think there needs to be a black box around posts (because this means that the writing runs almost right into the line, without leaving any space for the eyes to rest).
Recent posts, Twitter updates, tags, online identity links and the Dopplr widget could all be moved to their own page or done away with, as they don’t really add any value for the first-time visitor. It might also allow Mark to simplify down to one sidebar.
I wish Mark the best of luck in implementing the changes he likes. I’m confident that will result in a pretty outstanding blog. Thanks for taking part!
This week’s iPod shuffle winner is Patrick Burt for providing holistic feedback on everything from colors to monetization. If you’d like to win an iPod shuffle, make sure to leave a comment on the next review launch (coming soon).