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Six Steps to Make Sure Your Site Is Ready to Go Viral

This guest post is by Nancy Sathre-Vogel of Family on Bikes.

I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. Surely Google Analytics was confusing my site with another, way more popular site. There was no way my visitor numbers could be so high!

And yet they were. One of my posts had taken off and was spreading like wildfire. Those viral post phenomena that happen to others were now happening to me.

The first day, 17,000 visitors came to my website. The next day we topped out at 56,000. Readers were coming in droves.

It was exciting. It was exhilarating. My site, viral! Wow!

And then I took a moment to see what they were seeing. Oh my.

I, like so many other bloggers, had figured people would come to my site in the way I had designed it. They would enter via my homepage, then click on to individual posts. Everything was ready for that kind of traffic.

But the viral post, 50 Lessons I wish I had learned earlier, wasn’t following that pattern. Hundreds of thousands of visitors were pouring into my site directly to an individual post. When I took time to evaluate that post, I realized just how unprepared I was.

For the next few days, my husband and I scrambled to get our site up to snuff. We evaluated and planned and created images and installed widgets. Had we done all that before the spike hit, we could have captured more of that traffic.

Maybe it’s not too late for you. Here are six steps you can take to make sure your site is ready to capture new readers when one of your posts starts spreading like wildfire.

1. Create a new page with no text at all

You don’t want to be distracted by a post; you want to look at everything else on the page. Study your title, your sidebars, your footer. Look at the layout with no post there at all and see what kind of message it sends. Is it consistent with your goals?

2. What do you want your readers to know about you and/or about your site?

That one viral post may or may not be typical of your other posts, so make sure you’re crystal clear in terms of communicating what you’re about on every page.

Our site is about the lessons we learned as we bicycled from Alaska to Argentina, but nowhere on the viral post was that information to be found. Had the new readers entered through the home page, they would have read all about it, but they didn’t. So they didn’t! They had no idea what we’d done or what we were about. We quickly put together a brief bio to add to our sidebar.

3. What do you want your readers to do?

Do you want them to be inspired to take further action? Buy your book? Sign up for your newsletter? Make sure that action is spelled out on every page. Maybe you’ll take care of it with a widget on your sidebar, or maybe a popup. However you want to get the message to them, make sure readers know what you want them to do when they enter your site.

We had written some books, and wanted to direct attention to them. But that information was on the home page, not on individual posts. We scrambled to get that up on the sidebar too.

4. Can they easily share your post?

If your Twitter and Facebook share buttons are hidden away down in the gobbledygook at the bottom of the post, how likely is it that your readers will find them? Likewise, if the buttons appear only at the top of the post, what’s the likelihood that they’ll scroll back up after reading?

Don’t clutter your site with share buttons everywhere, but make it easy for readers to find and access them.

5. Are your RSS feed, signup, Twitter, and Facebook buttons easy to find?

If your reader likes what he sees, you want to make it easy for him to follow you.

6. Are your categories self-explanatory and detailed enough?

Put yourself in the shoes of someone coming to your blog for the very first time. Will they be able to find the info you’ve just encouraged them to look for?

Remember that you’ve got only a few seconds to capture a new reader. Whichever page they use to enter your site, that’s the page that needs to be prepared. Which means, of course, that every page needs to be prepared. If you’ve done everything you can to get key information in your sidebar, header, and footer, then you’re ready to go. Let it fly!

Nancy Sathre-Vogel is chief blogger at Family on Bikes. Together with her family, she spent three years cycling from Alaska to Argentina. Now, she back at home writing books and blog posts about their adventures.

Why You Should Create Your Own Graphics for Your Blog

This guest post is by Naveen Jayawardena of sleepWRITER.

When I decided to start a blog on sleep habits, I wanted to try something different. As any aspiring blogger, I was trying to stand out from the crowd. And I did it by creating my own graphics.

Now I run my blog exclusively with “home-made” graphics. My readers love it and I enjoy making graphics as much as writing posts.

The alam bully, who features on Naveen's SleepWriter.com website

I am not a professional graphic designer. So I can assure you that most people can learn how to make graphics with a little practise.

I am a self-taught amateur graphic artist. And I started out from scratch. And I will tell you how to do it yourself.

I use “home-made” graphics for each and every one of my blog posts. If you are wondering whether this is worth all the trouble, then consider these benefits you can get from using graphics:

  1. Graphics blend in with the blog design more easily than photos. I have limited my blog design to few colors and could not have achieved this without the use of graphics.
  2. It’s much cheaper than buying photos or graphics.
  3. It introduces your own, unique voice to the your posts via graphics.
  4. You can come up with the right picture for the posts every time.
  5. You can explain difficult concepts with infographics.
  6. Making graphics is fun. Drawing a few sketches after writing a post can help you relax and think creatively.

How do you start?

If you’re an absolute beginner, I suggest you start simply. Don’t worry about your graphics not being lifelike. The idea is to create your own style, with which others can identify your graphics.

You can draw something on paper and scan it, or take a picture of it from a digital camera. This is a very basic method of using graphics. You can draw cartoons and add lists in your own handwriting.

At some point you need to learn to use graphics software. I use Adobe Illustrator, but there are plenty of other software packages that can do a good job. I suggest you stick to one and learn it well.

You can learn from books, web tutorials, video tutorials and by attending classes. There is a range of brands under each category, and most of them cover the basics. I used video tutorials but I feel that having someone to show you the ropes can help you learn faster. Take time to learn the basic functions, and remember that learning keyboard short-cuts can save you a lot of time in future.

Once you have the basic skills in place, you can explore on your own. But if you are serious about graphics, then there are plenty of online tutorials that teach you, step-by-step, how to create advanced graphics. I use online tutorials to sharpen my skills and also to learn new “tricks.”

To create good graphics, you need to be a good observer. Look at the graphics on stock graphic collections and libraries. What techniques are they using? Can you replicate them? Look at the graphics and cartoons that appear on newspapers and websites and learn.

Once you are confident in making graphics, then you can adopt your own style and technique. When I write a post, I also think of the graphics which can go with it. If I don’t get a good idea for a graphic, I finish my writing and visit again with a fresh perspective for a graphic idea.

What are the drawbacks?

It would be unfair if I told you only the good side of creating your own graphics. I have encountered few disadvantages of using graphics for my blog:

  1. Detailed graphics take time. This can affect your posting routine. But with practice, you can create them faster. You can recycle old graphics to save time.
  2. It takes time to learn to make graphics. It took me few years to master the art of graphics and I still learn. It is not a quick fix.
  3. It may not suit all types of blogs. But it is worth a try.

Graphics can be a nice addition to your blog. I hope I inspired at least a few of you to bring your inner artist to your blogs! Please do share your own experiences using graphics on your blogs.

Naveen Jayawardena is a doctor by profession and blogs during his free time. You can find plenty of graphics and sleep tips at sleepWRITER.

How to Use Images in Your Blog Posts

This guest post is by Karol K of ThemeFuse.

“A picture is worth a thousand words.”

I’ve always liked this adage even though it’s one of the biggest cliches ever. Pictures, photos, image—they are all great for visualizing your posts and making them more memorable.

I know that it’s the content of the book that’s important, but what would be a book without a nice cover? Okay, let me stop being poetic and get straight down to business.

Why you should use images in your blog posts

1. They help your written content to deliver the intended message with a bigger impact

There’s really no better way of doing this. If you want to really emphasize a strong point, you can do it by writing it in bold as a separate paragraph and then placing an image next to it. Of course, the image has to be of some relevance to the text, or it won’t work.

2. They make your post more memorable

We humans need an anchor of some kind to memorize things. Most of us tend to remember things in snapshots—by visualizing them. It’s not natural for us to remember something as text—a set of words and sentences. It’s difficult to make a snapshot of a piece of text. Images do this job a lot better.

(Quick note. Sorry, but a headline is still the most important factor for every blog post. Just wanted to make this clear.)

3. They break the text visually

In most cases, reading from a computer screen is not comfortable. Eyes get easily tired, you can’t be staring at a computer screen for more than an hour at a time, and let’s face it, sitting at your desk is not the most comfortable position either.

Images are not the magic-bullet solution to make all of these go away, but they do make it easier for the reader. If the text is long you—the author—absolutely must break it down into smaller chunks.

The first rule of breaking it down is to use short paragraphs, no longer than four to six lines. However, even if you’re doing this, you will still end up with a number of paragraphs, and they need to be broken down too. The solution: images.

When you place an image every six to ten paragraphs, the text gets really reader-friendly. Everyone can easily follow your way of thinking and do a little five-second break to look at an image. And then they can easily return to the place where they’ve left off.

I’m sure that there are many more reasons for using images, but I’m confident that the above prove my point well. And, of course, I’m not even going to discuss the situations in which a blog is totally image-driven, like all kinds of photo blogs, for example.

What’s the best place for an image?

I’m no guru here, but I think that the best place is the beginning of a post (somewhere near the headline). It’s where the reader looks first, so if we want to help them to memorize anything, this is the placement to use.

Of course, you can use more than one image in a blog post. So my recommendation is to use the first image at the beginning, and then spread other images evenly throughout the post so they do their job of breaking the post down visually. Which brings me to the next point…

Don’t use too many images in short posts.

Images should make reading easier not harder. If you break the text too much, the whole purpose loses its sense and turns into an obstacle.

The perfect number of images per post for your blog is for you to decide. It depends on the blog’s design, the average post length, and the content of the post as well. You can find your number by testing a couple of possible setups and deciding which one works best.

The size of images

The maximum size you can use is the width of the content block on your blog. So again, it’s design-dependent.

That being said, the most common approach is to use images that are smaller (except for photography blogs) rather than bigger. That’s because the image is just there to aid you in conveying the message; it’s not to be the message itself.

An image is an extra element. If it’s too big it becomes the main element. I’d advise you to use images that are either not wider than one-third of your content block width, or even up to the whole width but really small in height.

Now, there’s an exception to this rule—screenshots.

Screenshots usually work as main elements of a post, so they need to be bigger. Also, they need to be bigger for readers to be able to see clearly what’s on them. Another approach is to present a screenshot as a thumbnail along with a lightbox gallery link.

How to embed pictures on your blog

Before you stop reading, bear with me! I know that this is basic and everybody knows this, so there are only two things I want to tell you here.

  1. Upload images in the exact dimensions you intend to use: always resize your image to the exact size you’ll use in a blog post. Bigger pictures consume more space than smaller pictures, so there’s no point in uploading a large picture and then scaling it down inside of WordPress.
  2. Use an image optimizer plugin: something like WP Smush.it. I’m not going to go into technical details because, to be frank, I have no idea how it works, but what I do know is that it optimizes the size (the disk size, not the dimensions) of images with no loss of quality. And it’s free.

Remember attribution

There are basically three types of images you can use:

  1. your own images
  2. free images
  3. paid images (usually referred to as royalty-free images).

Attribution is a thing you need to have in mind when using free images. It depends on the license a given image is shared with, but what you usually have to do is to somehow attribute the image to its author or creator.

The most popular way of doing this is by placing a link to the original image in your post. Some image directories require you to do this, and some don’t.

Treat attribution as a payment for the image—which essentially is exactly the case.

Do you have any strategies for using images on your blog you’d like to share? Feel free to share your opinion and advice in the comments.

Karol K. is a 20-something year old web 2.0 entrepreneur from Poland and a writer at ThemeFuse.com, where he shares various WordPress advice. Don’t forget to visit ThemeFuse to get your hands on some original WordPress themes (warning: no boring stuff like everyone else offers).

10 Of The Web’s Best Sidebars

This guest post is by the Blog Tyrant.

The sidebar is the second most important place on your site. It is where, after engaging with your content, people head over to subscribe to your list, follow you on Twitter, or buy your product.

It is vital that you get it right.

In this post I am going to show you some of the web’s best sidebars, and then talk about how you can improve yours with a goal to get more subscribers and conversions, and make more money.

NOTE: You might also like the best About Us pages and the best Contact Us pages.

Criteria for a great sidebar

So what makes a sidebar great? Well, I have come up with a few criteria over the years but, of course, I would love to hear if you can think of any others.

  • Above the fold: Do you know what I mean by above the fold? It’s everything you see before you scroll. Good sidebars have good stuff above the fold.
  • Eye-catching, but not distracting: The sidebar needs to be eye-catching in that it gets people to interact, but not so much that people forget about your content.
  • Takes readers deeper: The sidebar should take people deeper into your blog or site. It should get them to subscribe or convert them in some other way. That is the purpose of true navigation.

Of course there are more but these are the ones that really do it for me. After all, the whole purpose of the blog’s sidebar is to increase conversions.

The 10 best sidebars on the Web

Okay so let’s get into those sidebars. Here are the ones that I thought ticked the most boxes and really helped their users navigate their way towards a sale or a conversion, while still providing a fantastic user experience.

1. Tumblr Staff Blog

The Tumblr Staff blog is really cool because they show you the faces and personalities of everyone who works there.

Tumblr staff sidebar

Tumblr staff sidebar

Their sidebar is particularly useful because it advertises their product: Tumblr Blogs themselves. They give you a little form to start your own blog right there in the sidebar and then underneath have a very eye catching graphic on 30 reasons you will love their site.

This is a great combination—a sign up form and a list of reasons for why you should act. Might be a good idea for all blogs to explain to readers what they will get from signing up.

2. Copyblogger

Brian Clark of Copyblogger has totally redesigned his blog to appear more like a landing page that sends you off to his other products. The result? No sidebar. And that is something really brave and something that I had to include in this list

Copyblogger sidebar

Copyblogger sidebar

Sometimes the best thing you can do with a sidebar is get rid of it. If you are building a landing page that serves to get people to a sign up or purchase area, then a sidebar might just be distracting. Have a look at the way Copyblogger does things. It’s making money.

3. ViperChill

Pretty much everything that Glen does is amazing. He is a very talented guy. And his sidebars are simple but extremely effective.

Viperchill sidebar

Viperchill sidebar

The thing he does that I haven’t seen anyone else do is add testimonials from big players like newspapers and Fortune 500 companies talking about how good he is at what he does. This type of social proof really serves to solidify his brand and make him appear more authoritative.

4. Huffington Post

Huffington Post is the world’s most successful blog—it’s even listed on the Stock Exchange now. So following their lead is a very good idea.

HuffPo sidebar

Huffington Post sidebar

In my previous post on the best comment areas we saw that they used badges and rewards to “level up” their readers and make them feel invested in the site.

The sidebar takes that idea further by showing readers what’s hot on Twitter, Facebook, and in other sections of the site itself. The net result would be that they get more social shares and a lot deeper user interaction with their content.

5. Mashable

Mashable is the biggest social media news site online. And they get that part of it really right.

Mashable sidebar

Mashable sidebar

One of the best things you can do with your sidebar is get your readers to engage with your Facebook and Twitter accounts, and Mashable does this by getting people to log in with their accounts. Then, they show those users which topics are trending. It is a very clever way to mix both the social outlets as well as the site’s content. The result? They get a lot of viral content.

6. Smart Passive Income

Pat is a super-nice guy, and his sidebar lets you know right away. The first thing you see is a picture of him with his young son.

Smart Passive Income sidebar

Smart Passive Income sidebar

This instantly builds trust with the new readers and, aside from building his personal brand equity, it makes you feel at home and in a very personal space. Pat then follows up by offering his free ebook below, as a natural progression from his little introduction.

7. Digital Photography School

Digital Photography School, Darren Rowse’s other blog, is a gold mine of “how to do it right” information. It is one of the best blogs for user engagement and has a wonderfully successful and active community.

dPS sidebar

dPS sidebar

The sidebar is perfectly done for encouraging users to get involved—how to make money, how to write guest posts, how to start a weekly assignment, etc. Useing your sidebar as an advertisement for different areas and functions of your site is very important.

8. Youtube

YouTube, after Facebook, has the highest page views of any site in the world. Last estimates I heard were around 30 pageviews per person. That means that, on average, every time someone visits YouTube they end up watching 30 videos! The reason? It’s the sidebar.

YouTube sidebar

YouTube sidebar

By showing people related content with enticing screen shots from the videos, YouTube gets users to dig deeper and stick around longer than they normally would. All this browsing makes it more likely users will see an advert and interact with it.

9. Facebook

For some reason people always overlook Facebook when it comes to discussing excellent website and blog ideas. I think it is because it just seems to big and impossible to mimic. But the way they have designed sidebars is extremely indicative of what we as bloggers should be doing on our blogs.

YouTube sidebar

YouTube sidebar

It shows insights into the page, what your friends are doing, and any important notifications. All of these things, when applied to a blog, can serve to really make your readers more addicted to your site. And aren’t we all addicted to Facebook?

10. Men with Pens

Like some of the others, Men With Pens uses its sidebar to promote the variety of services on offer.

Men With Pens sidebar

Men With Pens sidebar


One thing I really like about this sidebar is that it is totally consistent with the rest of the design. It goes a long way towards keeping the site true to its brand. But, as always, the best thing about James’s work here is the copy. The way the calls to action are written in this sidebar are second to none.

Which is your favorite?

Leave a comment and let me know which sidebar is your favorite. It doesn’t have to be one on this list, either; if you know a good sidebar that I’ve missed, please drop the URL below. Lastly, will you be changing anything in your sidebar as a result of this post? Let us know.

The Blog Tyrant is a 26 year old Australian guy who plays video games at lunch time and sells blogs for $20,000 a pop.

Principles of Effective Blog Design

This is a guest post by Peep Laja, CEO of Traindom.

People judge books by the cover, and other people by their looks.

Take a look at these two men:

Two men

Now answer these questions (you can’t choose “neither”):

  • Which one would you rather ask investment advice from?
  • Which one would you rather have babysit your children?
  • Which one would you rather have cook your dinner?

… and so on. You don’t know anything about these men. Yet you make assumptions and can even take decisions based on their looks.

What does that have to do with your blog? Everything!

“As aesthetically orientated humans, we’re psychologically hardwired to trust beautiful people, and the same goes for websites. Our offline behaviour and inclinations translate to our online existence.”—Dr. Brent Coker

Dr. Brent Coker studied the impact of attractive websites on human behavior. Websites that are more attractive and include more trimmings create a greater feeling of trustworthiness and professionalism in consumers.

People judge your blog based on the design

If somebody knows you well, they don’t care about your looks that much. If they see you for the first time, looks matter a lot.

The content of your blog is always more important than the design, but you need to woo people with your design first. You draw them in with design, and keep with content.

“Design is not just what it looks like and feels like. Design is how it works.”—Steve Jobs

The following advice will help you design a better blog and this in turn will help you sell more (whether you’re selling free sign-ups, coaching sessions, products, or whatever).

Make it easy to find stuff

Who is your site for? What are they looking for? Value function over aesthetics: 76% of people want it to be easy for them to find what they want.

What kind of blog layouts are they used to using? Remember, people spend most of their time on other websites, not yours. Avoid totally new and never-seen-before layouts. Your car isn’t unique, and your house might not be either.

For return visitors, search is vital. Make sure your search box is clearly visible (above the fold), at least 27 characters wide and that the search can actually find relevant stuff. WordPress’s built-in search is very poor, and it lists the results by date, not relevance. Use a plugin like Relevanssi to improve it tremendously.

Less is more

Use plenty of white space. Don’t fill every possible space with banners, messages, or whatever else. The more breathing room there is, the easier it is for visitors to consume the information you produce.

Here’s an excellent post on using white space.

Rule of thirds

You should never publish a blog post without an image. A visual communicates your ideas much faster than any text can.

The best images follow the rule of thirds: an image should be imagined as divided into nine equal parts by two equally-spaced horizontal lines and two equally-spaced vertical lines, and that important compositional elements should be placed along these lines or their intersections.

The rule of thirds

Image licensed under Creative Commons

See how the image on the right is more interesting? That’s rule of thirds in action.

Clarity matters

Content and clarity are important parts of the design.

What is this place? What can I do here? How is it useful? First-time visitors need to get answers to these questions within their first seconds on your blog.

Make sure it’s possible to clearly understand what your blog is about and who’s it for—no matter which page the visitors land on. The better you build a connection between your reader and your blog, the higher the chances they will stick around.

People start reading your website from the top-left corner. The fixations go in order from left to right. That’s where you want to place the most important information.

Readability and typography

The text on your blog should be beautiful and easy to read.

Use large fonts (at least 14px), short lines (see the width of Tynan’s blog posts), and lots of white space. Create a new paragraph every three or four lines, and a subheading after every two to three paragraphs.

The best blog typography lends a meaningful purpose to the content while triggering emotions in your readers in the process. Besides picking a beautiful web font, make sure that different text elements have a different look and feel (main headings, subheadings, regular text, italic text, quotes, lists, and so on).

Here are 10 Examples of Beautiful CSS Typography and how they did it. Also take a look at Space, a WordPress theme designed for reading.

You can use TypeTester to test and compare different fonts, sizes and so on.

Invite repeat visits

Over 95% of people won’t buy anything on their first visit. Hence you should not even try to sell to your first-time visitors. Instead, try to get them to come back so you can build a relationship and add value before you make them an offer of any kind.

How can you do that?

  • Invite them to subscribe to your RSS feed (and state how many people already do as a type of social proof).
  • Use a lead magnet to attract them to sign up to your email list.
  • Invite them to subscribe to your blog posts over email (Feedburner is a good tool for this).
  • Ask them to follow you on Twitter or become a fan on Facebook.

Make sure you focus on one of these options most (email list is best), but give a choice of up to three options.

This is how aext.net is doing it:

aext.net follow invitation

The aext.net follow invitation

Signup forms

The best signup forms:

  • put the form labels above the input box (not next to it)
  • give clear reasons to take action
  • have the submit button say what’s coming next
  • ask for as little user data as possible—an email address is enough in most cases.

The more fields people have to fill in to subscribe, the less likely they’ll be to do it. Email personalization by name is not working as well anymore anyway, so you might as well not ask for those details.

The One Question, a site helping people find their life purpose, has 30% of new visitors sign up via this form every day:

The One Question subscription form

The One Question subscription form

Why is it so effective? The form offers the exact thing people search for on Google to come to the site. If you offer people what they want, they are happy to sign up.

Text logo: 1% pain, 99% gain

You don’t need to hire a fancy designer and pay top dollar for your logo. Even huge budgets might not make much difference here.

You can create a beautiful logo using text. Pick a beautiful fontand a background color you like—and voilà! A designer from Edicy took just 15 minutes to create this logo for an imaginary company (Tajo Oja):

Edicy's text-only logo example

Edicy's text-only logo example, by Tajo.ee

Careful with stock photos

Stock photos seem like a good idea, but 90% of them are utterly fake and cheesy. Have you googled “women laughing alone with salad” recently?

How can you expect to be taken seriously if you feature suits shaking hands and half-naked women measuring each others waists?

Some people advocate that given the proliferation of low-cost cameras and smart phones, your own photography should be used rather than stock.  I agree.

Can’t decide on the color scheme?

Let’s say you like the color red, but can’t decide what other colors match your favorite shade of red.

You don’t have to guess or ask your friends. You can use online color matching tools for this:

How often should you revamp your blog design?

That’s actually not the right question to ask. You should only change it if there’s a real need behind it. What’s not working for you today? Put the goal first, and the redesign second.

Will the new design help you get more clicks to your ads? Increase pageviews or signups?

Ideally you’ll see your blog as a living, breathing organism that never stops evolving. Constantly A/B test your most important pages and design elements, and measure the improvement. You can only improve what you measure.

Peep Laja is the CEO of Traindom, online software for building online courses and membership sites.

Boost Your Blog #6: Optimize Menus and Sidebars

Continuing our discussion of things you should be doing right now to improve your blog, today’s tip is:

6. Optimize your menus, navigation, and sidebars

One task that I think many of us could benefit from on a periodic basis is a critical review of menus and navigation areas on our blogs.

I include myself in this—recently it hit me that on my photography blog I wasn’t promoting my ebooks in my menus. I just had one menu item pointing to a very dated page that was no longer relevant. I swapped the photography ebook sales page link in and again saw an increase of traffic to that landing page.

Ultimately, it’s about working out what actions you want readers to take when they visit your blog and then making sure that you’re calling your readers to those actions in prominent places on your blog.

Are you doing this? Can you optimize your menus and sidebars further?

5 Simple Font Changes to Boost Readers, Comments, and Shares on Your Blog

This guest post is by Bnonn of Attentionthievery.info.

You may not realize it, but the font settings on your blog can have a huge effect on how many people read your content.

And how many people read your content has a huge effect on whether a post goes viral.

How huge? Well, by some accounts I’ve read, just one common mistake with colors could reduce readership by a factor of five. And if you’re not making that mistake, you’re probably making at least one of four others. So in this article, I’ll give you the five most important best practices for presenting text to keep readers glued to your content, and away from the old back button.

Font size—16px minimum

At the very top of the the pile of legibility problems is font size. Back in 2005, Jakob Nielsen reported that in a survey of web design problems, bad fonts got nearly twice as many votes as the next contender—with two-thirds of voters complaining about small font sizes.

Sadly, nothing has changed since then. A random sampling of new blog designs at SiteInspire (a web design gallery showcasing the best of the best designs) shows that the average font size for body copy is 12 pixels. Some as low as ten pixels. None over 14 pixels. Similarly, if you randomly sample offerings from the popular Elegant Themes or ThemeForest, you’ll find that every single theme sets post content at 12 or 13 pixels.

And of course, other theme creators tend to follow the lead of the bigwigs.

But as usability and typography expert Oliver Reichenstein of Information Architects points out, 16 pixels is the font size that browsers were intended to display by default—and it is not big. 16px text on an average screen looks about the same size as 12-point text in print. That’s the default size for most magazines, as well as all word processors, because it’s the size people find most comfortable to read. Many people—especially those over 40—find it very difficult to read smaller text. As Reichenstein observes:

There is no reason for squeezing so much information onto the screen. It’s just a stupid collective mistake that dates back to a time when screens were really, really small … At first, you’ll be shocked how big the default text is. But after a day, you won’t want to see anything smaller than 100% font-size for the main text. It looks big at first, but once you use it you quickly realize why all browser makers chose this as the default text size.

Use dark on light text—reversed is no good

Fortunately we’ve pretty much moved past the days when content authors thought that fuchsia on blue text was cool. But white on black text, known as reversed type, is still pretty common. As are variants like white on some other dark color.

Reversed type reduces not only the number of people who’ll bother to read your content, but also their comprehension of it. This is because it strains the eyes. Staring at reversed text for an extended period tends to create a kind of “glare” effect, where you feel like the letters are too bright to look at. Depending on what research you consult, studies show that light on dark text reduces your readership between 50% and 400%.

Why risk losing so many readers? Black or very dark gray on white looks clean, and there are plenty of great themes that use those colors.

Line width—45 to 75 characters

Here’s another little-known rule that a lot of blogs break. In order for your eye to easily follow one line to the next, you want no more than 75 characters in each line. This is called the line measure. Beyond a measure of 75 characters, it’s hard to track the end of one line to the beginning of the next without getting lost.

On the other hand, if you have a measure of less than 45 characters your eye will get fatigued quickly, because you’ve barely started to read one line when you have to jump to the next. You feel like you never get a chance to rest.

For this reason, your ideal post content area will have lines of text about 60 characters long. Of course, you do also have to take aesthetics into account. On many blogs, the “ideal” measure leaves a huge gap on the right margin, or makes the text seem squished into a tiny area. I use a measure of around 70 characters on my own website for exactly that reason. But if you’re pushing past 80 characters, you’re reducing your readership—guaranteed.

Line height—130% or more

Fortunately this is a less common mistake. If you’re using a professional theme, you probably don’t need to worry.

To give you an example, I’ve set this paragraph at the default line height (also called leading, after the strips of lead used to separate lines of text on old printing presses). It feels cramped and uninviting to read, and it’s hard to follow the lines from one to the next because they blend into each other.

On the other hand, this paragraph is set with a line height of 200%—equivalent to double spacing in a word processor. I’m sure you’ll agree that the lines here feel way too disconnected from each other, and unless you’re submitting a research paper this is not the way to go.

Finally, this paragraph is set with a line height of 150%. That means that for every pixel of font size, there’s one and a half pixels of distance between the lines. This turns out to be pretty reliable sweet spot for most fonts you’re likely to use on a blog—but feel free to experiment between about 130% and 160% to see what works best for your own content.

The left margin—don’t break it

This last tip isn’t exactly a font issue. But it fits into the same general category. Bloggers routinely include images in their posts. Whether or not that’s really a good idea is a topic for another time—but for now, let me just give you one piece of advice.

The left margin is sacred. It’s how we track text down a page in the Western world. It’s the “ground” out of which the lines grow (often to quite different lengths), and it’s the foundation for our eyepath as we read down the page.

But if you break the left margin, that all goes to hell. Your eye has to scan around to try to pick up the new margin, so you can keep on reading.

In other words, every time you left-align an image, you put a speed-bump in your reader’s path. And you’re compounding the problem by dragging his attention away from the text with your visually dominant image. Needless to say, readers who keep being distracted and having to relocate the left margin often don’t read to the end of a post—so they often don’re share it or comment on it.

Bonus tip: drop caps increase readership

By “drop caps” I mean initial capitals, where the first letter of the first word of your post stands out much bigger than the rest. According to research conducted by Ogilvy & Mather, this increases readership of a piece by an average of 13%.

Drop caps aren’t built into most blog themes, and they can be tricky to do on the web, but if you’re up to a little coding, check out this tutorial on how to create them.

Five mistakes: which ones are you making?

Now is the time to head on back to your own blog and see which of these five important best practices you’re not practicing. Then, fixum! But don’t forget to share the changes you’ve made in the comments below!

Bnonn is the author of 25 free video lessons on how to turn visitors into customers—part of his conversion-optimization course ‘Attention-Thievery 101’. Known in the boroughs as the Information Highwayman, he helps small businesses sell more online by improving both their copy and design. When he’s not knee-deep in the guts of someone’s homepage, he is teaching his kids about steampunk, Nathan Fillion, and how to grapple a zombie without getting bit.

Blogosphere Trends + Improving Readability

Hello again, fellow bloggers! Last month, we talked about how to find and interpret your blog’s readability score. If you weren’t happy with what you found, don’t worry: there are plenty of ways to improve readability and we’ll look at a few today.

Some, such as using shorter sentences, may actually improve your readability score. Others, like font choice and adequate white space, won’t impact your score but are every bit as important. As I said last month, it’s not the score that matters, it’s whether readers find your blog useful and engaging. This month’s tips will help you connect with readers … even if you have no interest in your numerical score.

To give you some examples of these principles at work, we’ll use blog posts about the past month’s most-blogged-about stories (rankings provided, as always, by Regator. (They are, in order: Bin Laden, Memorial Day, Donald Trump, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Lady Gaga, Oprah Winfrey, Cannes Film Festival, Rapture, Tornado, and Dominique Strauss-Kahn.) Here’s how you can start improving your readability right away:

1. Use fewer links

Some studies have shown that links in text reduce comprehension, even if they’re not clicked. The theory is that each time you are presented with a link, your brain pauses, ever so briefly, to assess the situation—to click or not to click? Those little decisions break your concentration and decrease comprehension.

The problem with eliminating all links is that linking can provide additional information, promote your old posts, support your opinion, and build community, among other things. So what to do?

Nicholas Carr suggests putting relevant links at the bottom of your posts rather than within it, which is a valid option. My advice would be to continue to use links but to do so sparingly, with the awareness that they do impact readability. Make sure each link you choose to use serves a purpose.

Examples:
Compare CPJ’s “After bin Laden, a warning to foreign journalists,” which is less distracting because of its lack of links with the ACLU Blog of Rights post “The CIA Weighs In: Torture Did Not Help Find Bin Laden,” which features links that provide context and additional information.

2. Use clear language and avoid jargon

Avoiding jargon and using language that is as simple as possible will increase your potential audience. Even if your blog focuses on a niche that uses a lot of jargon or technical terms, such as business or the scientific community, consider whether saying the same thing in another way could help you expand your reach and readership.

Example:
Storage Bits’s “Memorial Day 2011: defending the 9th” breaks down the U.S. Constitution’s ninth amendment into simple language and, in doing so, increases readability.

3. Proofread carefully before you publish

Nothing decreases readability like typos or grammatical errors. Everyone makes mistakes (mentioning typos in a post always scares me because that’s inevitably when something sneaks past you), but endeavor to make as few as possible because once you hit publish, your errors stick around on the internet.

Example:
Bossip, which, it should be said, is a good blog that makes very few errors of this type, had a typo in its headline “Wait A Damn Mintue: Palin and Trump ‘Palling Around’ In NYC … Are They Joining Forces?“ and though they corrected the error, dozens of sites had linked to the incorrect version before it could be fixed and those links live on in Google.

4. Put thought into your font choice

The serif vs. sans-serif debate has been raging for as long as typography has been studied. (Alex Poole wrote a brilliant post based on his review of more than fifty studies.) Historically, serif fonts have been considered more readable in print but many argue that sans-serif fonts work best online.

Given the lack of a truly conclusive answer, I’m not going to advise you to definitively go with one over the other, but I will advise you to give it some thought. It not only impacts readability but also the general feel and aesthetic of your site. Consider not only serif vs. sans-serif but also line spacing, font size, and the aesthetics of specific fonts. Try timing yourself reading the same text in several different fonts with various spacing options and sizes to see which is fastest and easiest to read.

Example:
There are countless font size/spacing/type combinations but start by comparing Gawker’s “Schwarzenegger Son Didn’t Know the Truth Until This Week,“ which uses larger, airier serif fonts, with LAist’s “Oops, He Did it Again: Schwarzenegger Not Being Investigated by Attorney General,” which uses smaller, more tightly spaced sans serif fonts.

5. Use active rather than passive voice

To remind the non grammar nerds among us: In sentences written in the active voice, the subject of the sentence is doing the action. For example: “Wombats write gardening blogs.” In the passive version, “Gardening blogs are written by wombats” (please note that the accuracy of these sentences cannot be guaranteed), the target of the action becomes the subject. So why should you avoid passive voice? Because in most cases, it will tighten your writing and make your sentences clearer, thus improving readability.

A recent Northumbria University study found that less educated readers may struggle to understand passive sentences when compared to active sentences. That’s not to say there isn’t a time and a place for passive voice. It’s useful when you either don’t know or are trying to avoid stating who performed an action (e.g., “The bank was robbed”).

Example:
PSFK’s “Lady Gaga And The Future Of Music Albums“ uses active voice throughout the first paragraph but switches to passive for the second paragraph’s first sentence because it would be difficult to accurately list all of the individuals involved in arranging Lady Gaga’s products, events, deals, and appearances.

6. Write to communicate, not to impress

I’m not advocating for the dumbing down of language, but I am encouraging you to use the words that do the best job of communicating your message, regardless of whether you know a longer, fancier way of saying something. Don’t say “utilize” instead of “use” just to try to sound impressive. A writer’s goal is to communicate effectively. We’d all do well to remind ourselves of that every so often.

Example:
PopWatch’s “Oprah gives her email out to everyone in the free world!“ uses straightforward language without sounding as though they’ve attempted to dumb it down.

7. Don’t justify text

Text with a ragged right margin is generally considered to be more readable than fully justified text. It provides more consistent spacing between letters and words, increases white space, and allows the eye to keep its place more easily. Unless you have a strong opinion about using justified text for its aesthetic appeal, go with flush-left text with a ragged right margin for readability.

Example:
Compare Film School Rejects’s justified “Who Should Have Won Cannes 2011: The (Unbelievably Prestigious) FSR Awards with 24 Frames’s flush left “Cannes 2011: A spell of conflict, and then (some) resolution” to see how justification impacts readability.

8. Use colors that are easily readable

For visual appeal, you may choose another palette, but for contrast and readability, black text on a white background is your best bet. If you’re going to use colored backgrounds and text, be cautious. Color combinations from opposite ends of the color spectrum quickly fatigue the eyes causing color “vibrations”, as do colors that don’t provide enough contrast.

Keep in mind that certain combinations also make your site less accessible to your colorblind readers. There are a number of sites that show you how your site would look to colorblind visitors—it is estimated that as many as 10% of men are colorblind so it’s not an insignificant concern.

Example:
Though opposite, Good’s black on white “’I Don’t Understand’: How Rapture Believers Are Taking It” and Geekologie’s white on black “That Nutjob: Rapture Happened ‘Spiritually’, Apocalypse Still Slated For October 21st are both high-contrast and accessible.

9. Use as many words as you need, and not one more

Example: Need to Know’s “Twisted logic: What tornadoes don’t have to do with global warming” is a good example of concise writing.

10. Keep sentences and paragraphs short

Reading from an illuminated screen is more taxing on the eyes than reading from a printed page and slows reading by as much as 30%. So avoid large blocks of text whenever possible, keep text scannable by using short sentences and subheadings, and allow for ample white space.

Example:
The Two-Way’s post “In Goodbye Note, Strauss-Kahn Denies Accusations” illustrates a number of the points we’ve talked about here by featuring high-contrast text with a ragged right margin, short paragraphs, ample white space, and a large serif font.

Will you be making any changes to improve readability based on these tips? Tell us about it in the comments!

Kimberly Turner is a cofounder of Regator.com, Regator for iPhone and the brand-new Regator Breaking News service for journalists and bloggers. She is also an award-winning print journalist. You can find her on Twitter @kimber_regator.

8 Strategic Blog Home Pages that Draw Readers Deeper

This guest post is by The Blog Tyrant.

One of the hardest tasks a blogger can face is getting readers to stick around. In actual fact, its one of the most important things you’ll ever learn to do. Why? Because unless those visitors delve deeper into your site you are essentially wasting your time with all that amazing content, social media effort, and SEO work.

Bloggers often forget that we need to use things like design, layout, colors, format, and so on to help visitors delve further in to our sites.

In this post I’m going to show you eight blog home pages that make readers click deeper. Hopefully it will give you some ideas for your own.

8 Home pages that draw readers deeper

I wanted to start off by letting you know that each of these pages was chosen for a different reason. Now, I’m not saying that these are the best blog home pages in the world. What I am saying is that each one does something extremely well that encourages new visitors to become more loyal readers.

1. Mashable

Mashable is one of the world’s biggest blogs and has a massively high page views. The main reason they are able to do this is through social proofed elements of their layout. Let me explain.

Social proof is where you provide some kind of assurance that other people have used your service. Testimonials, for example, are a common form of social proof. These things reduce anxiety in the reader but also serve to encourage a group mentality whereby people want to be involved in what other people are doing. It’s just human nature.

Mashable is all about social media and you see items like the “most shared this week” and the number of Facebook “likes” featuring prominently. The “buzz” this creates gets people to go deeper in to the site—people want to read articles that hundreds of others found interesting.

2. Digital Photography School

Digital Photography School is Old Man Rowse’s biggest blog. It has hundreds of thousands of subscribers and is one of the most heavily community-based blogs you’ll ever read. The activity in the comments and the forums is really quite wonderful.

I remember when Darren first released the new DPS design; I was blown away by how efficient and enticing it was. The old site was a straight up one column blog but this is a multi-level blog that divides the areas up by different sections of interest. Want to read about photography? Just go to that section. Want to read about equipment? Go over there.

This is a fantastic way to ensure photographers find areas of interest at the home page. It gives very little room for people to get bored and move on.

3. Huffington Post

Huffington Post. The blog turned worldwide news source. Sigh. Whatever you might say about the quality of the news that comes out of the site, the layout is extremely captivating. And it’s not because it’s pretty. Here is an example of a site on which the visuals aren’t necessarily pleasing, but they are very effective.

The area of the home page above the fold is dedicated to the most shocking current story as well as a pop up bar that asks you to get involved. It also uses a series of highly placed headers to show you what news is trending at the moment. Again, this is done to capitalize on people’s need to know what other people are interested in.

Scroll further down the home page and you see more engaging items like author profile photos to build loyalty, huge comment counts on featured articles and a mix of featured articles from different topics.

4. Zen Habits

Leo from Zen Habits is one of the nicest guys in the world. A few years ago he gave me some free advertising space and helped me launch a new blog. His new design is totally minimal and fits in extremely well with the branding of the site. Lots of space.

This type of strategy works extremely well for a blog with amazing content. Why? Because it is entirely focused on that content. You read that first amazing article and you feel compelled to delve deeper.

This is a brave design that takes a lot of courage because if each and every post that appears on the homepage is not amazing, you will see a lot of people drop off.

5. Smart Passive Income

Speaking of nice guys, Pat from Smart Passive Income is one of the nicest. Recently when I was setting up my podcasts he gave me a lot of time-saving tips. And that is a big theme in Pat’s design: help.

See the top level of menu items? Each one has a sub heading that gives you more information about what to expect inside. I remember the first time I visited Pat’s site, I spent ages clicking through each menu item to browse the contents. That is something I don’t normally do. The navigation is extremely “sticky”.

Similarly, there is a little space below the menu where Pat gives little random messages or tips. This takes the “tutorial” vibe of his site even further and definitely makes the experience feel more personal and intimate.

6. Tumblr

The guys at Tumblr are extremely good at design. In my article on the 12 Best About Us Pages I confessed that I thought theirs was the best one of the lot. And while the blog homepage isn’t right up to that standard, it is still worth a look.

The reason I included Tumblr in this list is because they use simple graphical elements to draw the eye down. Each post is very simple and usually only includes a picture or a bit of text. And each alternating post has a different background. Mixed with the fact that the emphasis is on showing which staff member wrote each post and you have an extremely addictive blog home page.

7. Fail Blog

Fail Blog, in case you have been living under a rock, is part of the LOL Cat empire. These guys build sites with funny pictures of cats and dogs and people getting hurt and make a small (read: large) fortune out of it.

Again, the homepage design is not beautiful, but it is extremely addictive. You can navigate through all their sites from the top as well as getting in on the action by voting for the best fails. They also have a little “random fail” generator, which is the kind of gimmick people on this site love to use to waste more of their day.

One of the cleverest ideas here is the fact that every can have a go at re-captioning the fails. This builds on the community in a massive way by getting everyone interacting with each fail multiple times. People write new captions and then come back to see what other people are saying about it.

8. The Onion

The Onion is quite literally one of the funniest websites on the Internet. And aside from hilarious content, great titles, and a home page that lets you see a plethora of content all at once, one thing they do really well is have an interactive and changing header that gives you access to new information.

Normally blogs just have a static header but this one moves and changes based on what’s going on at the blog. Sure, they still have the same logo and colors to keep the branding recognizable but they also use the variation to get people involved in new areas. Very clever.

Lessons to apply to your own blog

So what are the take-aways from these eight blogs home pages? What are some concrete things you can apply to your own blog today to increase the amount of pages people view?

  • Focus on social proof.
    Make sure your homepage always has elements that relate to social proof. Use testimonials, popular articles, high comment counts, and social media followers to show that your blog is busy. This is something that you should never underestimate.
  • Know your audience.
    It is really important to know who is coming to your home page and why. Are they coming for this topic or that topic? Do they want to read articles or listen to podcasts? Make sure your navigation allows them to find what they want instantly.
  • Let your story show.
    Make sure you use photos or text to tell your story. Let people become loyal to you and your message. Tumblr does this with staff profiles, Pat does this by showing himself with his baby, etc. You want to make sure people feel like you are different from everyone else they’ve seen today.

As I mentioned in the post about the best about us pages, it is a really good idea to occasionally take a look at what the big guys in the industry are doing. Quite often they are doing it for a reason. The most important thing, however, is to make sure you don’t leave it as an idea but apply it to your own blog right away.

What draws you in?

I’d like to open up the floor now and find out what parts of a website’s home page draw you in deeper? Is it something to do with the layout, the content, the colors—or something totally different? Please leave a comment and let me know.

The Blog Tyrant hasn’t revealed his name yet but we know that he is a 25-year-old guy from Australia who works from home and has sold several blogs for around the $20,000 mark. Now he’s teaching you how to dominate your blog. Subscribe by email to get his free eBook on capturing 120% more email subscribers overnight or follow him on Facebook.