Late in December we ran a Community Consulting project for a blog called WifeAdvice. I invited Nancy Clark (one of the bloggers behind the site to come back and give some thoughts on the process and show us some of the changes that they made to WifeAdvice as a result of the consulting. I’ve always been fascinated to see how blogs take on the advice given so I hope you enjoy Nancy’s reflections. (by the way – here’s a small screen shot of part of how it used to look).
Be Sure Your Blog Design Communicates Your Voice
As bloggers, we are always being told to have a unique voice–to be ourselves and let our personality come out in our blogs. You’ve heard it before–if you’re not different or if people can’t tell who you actually are, they won’t see any reason to stick around. But what happens when you are being yourself and have a unique voice and people don’t like it? Or worse–what if they just don’t get it? These were the big questions on my mind after our blog was spotlighted in the Problogger Community Consultation Project a few months ago. We received great, constructive feedback, but we also received a fair amount of criticism–not only about our blog design, but about our personalities and our marriage. I kept wanting to comment back–to justify ourselves, to explain our style, to make people realize that they just weren’t getting it–as in, “Hello people?! We are just joking around here!”. My husband convinced me that we didn’t need to justify anything–luckily he’s one of those people who simply does not care what people think about him (then again, maybe that’s not so lucky, because I’m pretty sure he’ll be wearing sweatpants when he takes me out to dinner tonight).
Once I got over feeling defensive and self-conscious, I was able to see that all the feedback we received was valuable, even those negative comments that didn’t even attempt to be constructive–in fact, those kind of comments ended up being the most valuable. It finally dawned on me: If first-time visitors to our blog can’t understand what we’re saying or how we mean it, then we are not doing a good job communicating. And in our case, a poorly designed blog was to blame. Yes, I know… it could be argued that our content is the problem; but in this case that would mean our blog–or even our marriage–should just cease to exist, and we were not too thrilled with that alternative. Instead, we set out to redesign our blog to match the style and tone of our writing. And here’s how we did it:
There were quite a few quick changes that we implemented right away:
- Removed the Blogger navbar
- Changed from a three-column to a two-column layout
- Added a bit of color
- Wrote a more descriptive tagline
- Featured our subscription options more prominently.
We saw an immediate, dramatic increase in our subscriber numbers, and now our blog looked a bit more professional. Incidentally, before our consultation, I wanted our blog to look decent, but I wasn’t convinced that it needed to be “professional” looking. My mindset was, “I don’t care if it looks a little unprofessional, because I want to give the impression that we’re really just a guy and his wife writing a blog” The obvious logic I was missing out on was that we can communicate who we are with our content, but nobody will read our content if our design doesn’t invite them in. Fixing up these minor issues helped us sit tight with what we had while we worked on something bigger and bet
Our old homemade, clipart logo got the most negative feedback in our consultation, we hoped that a new logo would be the key to correcting things. A friend of a friend showed us a blog by cartoonist, Shane Lewis, and we knew we had to hire him to design our logo. We simply emailed him, asked if he was interested in doing it, worked out the details, and watched him work his magic. The new logo drove the rest of the site design; we wanted to match the colorful, cartoon look, again to communicate that our site is all in fun.
We hired web developer, Richard Worth to help us make the switch to WordPress (we always knew it was inevitable) and design our new blog theme. You know you’re working with a great programmer when you say, “wouldn’t it be cool if we could…” or “it’s too bad we can’t…” and his response is always: “I can do that.” (It also helps if he’s your brother and will stay up late into the night helping you fix broken feeds, forward outdated urls, and implement last-minute design ideas before you go live.)
Quite a few people suggested we make the move from Blogger to WordPress so that our blog would look better. We have always planned to make the move (luckily we’ve always blogged under our own domain name), but it wasn’t just to make the blog look better.–Blogger blog templates can actually quite easily be customized to the point of not being “blatantly Blogger.” We made the switch to WordPress because we wanted more flexibility and function. Our programmer would tell you about how it’s open source, you own and control your data, customize it with plugins, and can basically just make it do whatever you want, etc. From a blogger’s perspective, I especially like the ability I now have to post static pages, get trackbacks, differentiate categories vs. tags, and require email addresses in the comment form.
Unique Challenges, Unique Solutions
By strategically and creatively redesigning our post headers we were able to implement feedback we received about confusing categories and titles. Also, because we have two authors, and because we write different types of posts, we needed a way for readers (especially new ones) to know what in the world they were reading–who wrote it and what kind of post it would be (i.e., serious, or satirical). We customized our header to visually show the author and the category. Our post header design also solved the age-old problem of whether we should write descriptive, SEO-friendly titles OR fun, creative titles (this is especially challenging on a humorous blog). Now we put our (boring, descriptive) post title up above the header, and then have a fun, creative “subtitle” down near the content. Everyone’s a winner!
So, now that we’ve cleaned and brightened things up a bit, I can rest easy. I feel much better about the fact that a few ProBlogger readers didn’t like our blog. That was what it took for us to realize that our blog wasn’t speaking for us–or at least, it wasn’t saying what we wanted it to say. Now that we’re making ourselves more clear, I don’t mind so much when our visitors disagree with us or give us their own advice.
Think about it. What does your blog say to your visitors, even before they’ve read a word?