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How Many Posts Should You Show On Your Blog’s Front Page?

@tcdzomba (on Twitter) asked me – “Do u have a post up about how many blog posts to keep on the front page of the blog?

It’s not a topic that I’ve written about specifically before so let me write on that topic now for you and open it up for some discussion (looking forward to seeing what others think).

I’ve never put a lot of thought into the number of posts on a blog’s front page before and think that it probably varies a little from blog to blog.

There are two main factors that I like to achieve on a blog’s front page:

1. Highlighting a variety of posts – my personal preference is to have more than one or two posts on the front page so that when new readers come to it they are more likely to find something that interests them to read.

While blogs with just one post on the front page are definitely ‘cleaner’ and can be quite visually pleasing I worry a little that they miss out on connecting with readers who come and don’t find that one post to connect with them.

2. Not too much clutter and length – I find this hard to achieve and it’s a balancing act with point #1 – but I don’t like to have my front page as being too long or too overwhelming.

As a result I try to use ‘excerpts’ on my front page – giving readers the title and a taste (a paragraph or two) of each article and the option to click a link to read more.

While I know some bloggers don’t like these excerpts/extended entries (some believe blogger do it to increase page views) I do it simply so I can highlight more posts on the front page and shorten the length of the overall page.

Another option is to use larger segments of your posts in ‘feature posts’ and to show shorter excerpts from other posts (or even just titles).

It’s a Balancing Act

As with many aspects of blogging – it’s something that you need to balance. Some blogs lend themselves more to featuring full posts on front pages, others can get away with excerpts more. Some blogs have 20-30 posts on the front page while others just have one.

I guess it’s partly personal preference and partly working out what works with your topic and readership.

What’s Your Preference?

How many posts do you have on the front page of your blog?

Do you use excerpts or full posts on the front page?

Why have you made the decision as you have?

The Importance of ‘Pause Points’ On Your Blog

Over the last week I’ve run some Crazy Egg heat map tracking on two posts on Digital Photography School (both of which got to the front page of Digg and got a lot of traffic) that both highlight to me a very simple method of increasing the number of pages that people view when they visit your blog.

Let me illustrate with a screen capture of the heat map from my post – How to Avoid Camera Shake:

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What you’re looking at above is the ‘hottest’ zone on the post. It is the most clicked upon part of the page. This section of the page was clicked on just under 2000 times over the duration of this test. The full page had just under 6000 clicks.

What stands out for me is that the section of the page you’re viewing above is a long way from the top of the post. While the general rule is that people click more on links at the tops of posts – this section of the page is only viewable once you’ve hit ‘page down’ 7 times!

The first two links in the section are links to my subscription page and a byline link to the author of the post – but the other five are all internal links to other articles on the blog. This means 1800 or so of the visitors to this page viewed at least one other page on the blog.

The ‘Further Reading on Camera Shake’ links were ones that I manually added to the post and the ‘Read more posts like ‘How to….’ links were automated links generated with a WP Plugin.

Lets look at another example

In this test (on a post on ‘Jowling‘) I’m showing you the same section of the page. This time I had to hit ‘page down’ 5 times to get to it. Again it’s low on the page and again I’ve got the automated links as well as two others in the ‘A Couple of other things….’ section.

Once again – this is the hottest part of the page in terms of clicks with around 1600 clicks (all internal) out of 6500 clicks on the full page.

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Why do readers click links so far down the page?

It might seem a little odd that links so far down a page would be clicked on at such a high rate – but the reason that it happens is quite logical. These points on the page are what I call ‘pause points’. They are parts of a page where readers pause and make a decision on what to do next.

These sections are all at the end of articles – a point where readers end one activity and look to do another one. Many readers simply hit ‘back’ at this point or head to Google to search for something else – however when you give them something else to do or read you have a decent chance of convincing them to stay on your site.

Other Things to Do at Pause Points

There are of course other things that you can do in these ‘pause points’ on a blog including:

  • Advertising – this is a ‘hot zone’ in terms of CPC ads
  • Affiliate Programs – I don’t find they convert as well as CPC ads here but they can work
  • Social Bookmarking – many bloggers run social bookmark buttons in this spot to encourage readers to vote for the post
  • Subscription Invitations – this is a great place to get conversions from first time readers to subscribe to your blog

Really any key conversion goals that you want to achieve can work in a ‘Pause Point’ – although when you put too many options in that point for readers you probably dilute the conversion rate. What else do you put in ‘pause points’?

On Making Your Blog Design Work For You

I’m doing most of my linking out to the great posts that I read over on Twitter these days but today a post by Chris Brogan got my attention that I’d particularly like to highlight. You can read it at:

Make Your Blog Design Work For You

What I like about the post is the intentionality that Chris emphasizes in his post. He starts the post with the key in my mind:

“Everything I’ve done with my blog design is intentional.”

He goes on to emphasize that everything on your blog needs to come back to the goals you have with your blog.

I think this is really important to get your head around. I’ve chatted to many bloggers who get sucked into designing their blogs to be ‘cool’ or ‘look great’ – but who fail to consider how their blog’s design takes them closer to reaching their goals as a blogger.

How Do I Get a Professionally Designed Blog?

In this post Daniel Scocco answers a question from Reader Mar Joseph who asks:

I would like to have my site professionally designed as my lack of code knowledge is really holding me back. What are the best avenues to find designers?

First of all let’s identify the goal behind this question: to have a professional looking design. The reader is specifically asking about avenues to find designers, but that is not a necessary step to achieve the goal.

There are several ways to obtain a professional looking design for your blog. Some of them will cost you nothing, some will cost you a couple hundred bucks, and some may even cost thousands of dollars.

How much you should spend and when you should do it are question that you will need to answer by yourself. If you are just starting a blog, for example, a free solution could work well for the first months. After this initial period you will be in a better position to evaluate the potential of the blog (in terms of audience and revenues), and to decide how much you should spend in the design.

If you have a clear business plan for your blog and know where you are going to take it, on the other hand, you could invest $100 into a premium theme right from the start.

Part time bloggers might also want to wait the blog to generate some revenues, and then to reinvest that money into the design. This method would not touch one’s personal finances.

Once your blog is established and healthy, you could consider hiring a professional web designer to create a unique look for it. This solution will cost a significant amount of money, but it should be worth it in the long run.

Obviously the more you spend, the higher the quality of the final product, but the idea is that there are solutions for all pocket sizes. Below we will cover each of them.

Free solutions

Provided you are using WordPress, you will have literally thousands of freely available themes to choose from. You might need to spend some time looking for a professional looking one, but I am sure you will be able to find a theme that looks clean and professional, and that matches the content or niche of your blog. Here are some places to get started:

Even after finding a professional looking theme, however, you might want to learn the basics of HTML and CSS. In a matter of hours you should have enough knowledge to customize and tweak the selected theme a bit, as to make it different from other blogs that might be using it as well. Here are some resources that will help you with that goal:

Low cost solutions

If you have some money to invest into the design of your blog, you could start by purchasing a logo. A logo can be easily integrated into any theme or design, and it will give a unique look to your header and more strength to your brand. If you don’t want to spend a lot, head to the contest section of online forums like Digital Point or Sitepoint (now called 99Designs) and create a contest. You should already get some entries for a prize as low as $50.

If you have more money to spend you could consider hiring a professional logo designer or a company. Prices will be higher, but most of them offer several mock logos where you can choose from, and they will revise the work until you are 100% happy with it. Here are some places where you can get a quote.

An alternative low cost solution is to purchase a premium WordPress theme (which could also be used combined with a custom logo). Those themes are created by professional designers, and they sell anywhere from $30 up to $100 in some cases. Other people might purchase the same theme that you will be using, but this number should be significantly smaller than with a free theme. Secondly, most premium themes are high quality, bug free, and they come with some support from the designer. Here are companies and designers that sell premium WordPress themes:

High end solution

If your blog is already running strong, or if you have a clear business plan for it, you might want to get a professional designer to create a custom theme. Tailor made designs tend to cost at least $1,000, and this figure can jump to $5,000 and more in some special cases.

If you have the budget, however, it should be worth it. First and foremost because you will be able to make your design work around your goals and priorities, improving greatly the user experience in your blog. Secondly, a custom design will also fit your monetization strategy, probably improving your revenue streams (sometimes even creating new ones).

Here are is a list of renowned blog designers that you can consult with:

Should I Have a BlogRoll on my Blog

Speed-Posting@SalesBlogcast asks – “What’s the difference between haveing “links” vs. a “blog roll?” Benefits? Chosing wisely?”

Ultimately the word ‘blogroll’ is just a different term used to describe a list of links, usually on the sidebar of a blog. It’s just a different label for the list of links I guess.

When I first started blogging everyone had a blogroll but these days I don’t see as many. One of the problems with them when your blog grows is that they can become quite political to maintain. I ended up giving up on having one on ProBlogger as I had so many requests to be on it – now I just have one with my b5media co-workers.

The other thing about blogrolls is that I hear people trying to get on them because of the SEO benefits of doing so. I’m sure there is some Google juice passed from blog rolls but suspect it’s not massive. Google seem to have more of an emphasis on links in content rather than links that appear on every page on sidebars/footers from what I can see these days.

I’d be interested to hear whether others have blogrolls, why they do (if they do) and how they decide who is on and who isn’t?

Blog Design – Does it Matter?

Speed-Posting@mattpacker asks – how important is the design of your blog and how hard a decision do you think it would be to develop a new theme for it?

There will probably be a little debate over this one in the comments on this post because every time I see someone write about design there are two opposing arguments.

On the one side are some blogger who argue that design is secondary and not that important as that it’s content that is what draws people to a blog and keeps them there. This camp often argues that with a lot of people reading blogs these days through RSS that design is less important as people rarely see it.

On the flip side we have the argument that design is very important because it creates a first impression in the mind of potential readers and that it’s around this first impression that many readers base their decision about whether they will subscribe.

My own theory fits more with the second argument – although it’s not absolutely everything in my mind. There are some fairly standard (and even ugly) looking blogs (and many with default/free templates) going around that have big readership so it is possible to ‘make it’ without a custom design.

Lastly – in terms of how hard a decision is it to change design. I personally find it a difficult process. While I appreciate good design I’m not a designer at heart so finding someone that I connect with to do it for me takes time, then deciding what direction to take can be a bit of a heart wrenching process, as can it be to convince your loyal readers that it’s the right thing to do when you launch the change.

Further Reading:

So what do you think? Does Blog Design Matter?

Top 5 Ways to Improve Your Blog’s Usability

Skellie is a regular writer for ProBlogger. Check out her new blog Anywired if you’re interested in earning an income online.

Usability.

Yaaawn, right?

Think of it like this: the art of making it as easy as possible for your blog’s visitors to do exactly what you want them to do.

That simple, super-effective tip on putting your feed icon high up in your sidebar is usability at work. So is putting social media buttons at the bottom of your posts. So is putting popular posts in your sidebar. In fact, some of the coolest, simplest things you can do to get more subscribers, links and loyal readers come from usability.

Setting aside an hour or two to re-arrange your layout with usability in mind will pay long-term dividends for your blog’s growth. Here are my top 5 tips to help you get started.

#1 — Be predictable

When we want to know what a site is about, the first thing we look for is an ‘About’ page.

When we want to contact the owner of a site, the first thing we look for is a ‘Contact’ page.

When we want to leave a comment, we usually look to the bottom of a post.

When we want to subscribe to a blog, we look for the subscribe button at the top of its sidebar.

These things are so common that they’ve become standards — things we expect. When we can’t find the standard, we look for the next most similar thing.

By adhering to these predictable standards you’re actually making it as easy as possible for your blog’s visitors to do exactly what you want them to do. Sometimes being predictable is not a bad thing!

#2 — Be obvious

Look down at your keyboard and you’ll probably be able to spot at least one key that you’ve never noticed before, either because you have no need for it or you don’t know what it does. It could be the most useful key ever, but our hesitation when confronted with the unknown has probably stopped you ever pressing it before. What if it deletes everything you just wrote?

We don’t like not knowing what the result of our actions will be, and so it goes with your blog. Non-obvious links and buttons will very rarely be clicked. In my experiments with private advertising, there can be as much as an 800% difference in click-through rates between ambiguous banners and ones which make it obvious where the reader will be taken when they click on it. Scour your blog and ask this question of every element: would a new visitor know what this does, or where it leads?


Photo by Davichi

#3 — Subtract the unimportant

By hiding important elements (your most popular posts, your feed icon, your comment button) amongst a dozen other unimportant things (widgets and recent comments) you’re making it harder for readers to do what is truly important to you.

#4 — Limit options

A category list with 10 categories is a lot more usable than a list with 50 categories. Too many options creates overload which leads to deferral: a visitor will not engage with that element at all. Your list of 5 most popular posts will get clicked more than your list of 20, and so on. Simplified options make it easier for the visitor to decide where they want to place their attention. Too much choice will actually hurt your blog’s usability.

#5 — Do the little things

A usable blog, aside from the above, is also made-up of many little touches that make your visitor’s browsing experience easier.

  1. Does your header image link back to your main page?
  2. Does your blog have an about page?
  3. Does your blog have a contact page?
  4. Do your headlines match with your content?
  5. Is it clear where your links will lead?
  6. Do you use frequent paragraphs in your posts?
  7. Do you have comment links at the bottom of your post?
  8. Do you use sub-headings?
  9. Are your posts less than 2/3 screen length wide?
  10. Are you making your best posts easily accessible?
  11. Are your links easy to pick out?

Points to review

  • Predictability is a good thing for usability.
  • Be creative with your posts, but obvious in your layout elements.
  • Subtract obstacles to your most wanted actions.
  • Simplify options to make your elements easier to use.
  • Pay attention to little touches that your visitors will find useful.

Blog Design Competition Winners

Last week I ran a little competition here at ProBlogger asking readers to nominate their favorite blog designs to put them in the running to win one of five copies of Web Design for ROI: Turning Browsers into Buyers & Prospects into Leads.

This has been one of my favorite competitions to watch because the 113 entries unearthed some wonderfully designed blogs (if you’ve got a spare half an hour it’s worth reading through the comments).

I’ve picked the following five winners:

Adam Teece, JamieO, linkerjpatrick, UzBlogger and Jeremy Wilkins. I’ll pass your emails onto the suppliers of the books and they’ll be in touch to get your postal address.

Thanks to everyone for your entries – you’ve given me a great morning of discovering some great blogs.

Win a Copy of Web Design for ROI

One of the books that I’ve been enjoying lately is Web Design for ROI: Turning Browsers into Buyers & Prospects into Leads. It might surprise regular readers who know that I’m a self confessed web design dummy to know that I’ve been reading (and enjoying) a book about this topic – but I was lucky enough to receive a review copy of it in the mail a month or so back and it is a topic that I’ve enjoyed learning about.

This isn’t a book about designing sexy sites – it’s a book about designing profitable ones (although sexy can be good too and this book will help with that too). It’s not a book about designing blogs – but a lot of what you read in it will inform decisions that you make about your blog’s layout and design also. Whether you’re designing your own blog or hiring someone else to do it this book is a worthwhile read.

I won’t review the book here (to be honest I’m still only 70% of the way through it) but if there are some good review of it on it’s Amazon page if you’re interested.

What I am happy to announce though is that I’ve been given 5 copies of this book to give away to ProBlogger readers.

How to Enter

To enter this competition you need to do 2 things:

1. In comments below leave us a comment telling us what blog’s design you love the most and why. Feel free to leave a link to the blog but do include some thoughts on what you find attractive about the blog’s design and why you admire it.

2. Your comment needs to have the keyword ‘web design’ in it – this will help us make sure comments don’t get caught up in our spam filters.

On Saturday (at midnight my time) I’ll end this competition and choose 5 of my favorite comments (ie comments that stand out for their value) to win a copy of the book. I’m also keen to see what blog designs you love and hope it’ll help provide many of us with some inspiration on that front.