12 Tips to Improve Blog Usability

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By no means do I consider myself an expert in the field of blogging.  In fact, after I began blogging a little more than a year ago, I did a lot of searching around for tips and advice.  Unfortunately, a lot of it comes off as preachy or condescending.  It also often is about how to maximize the number of readers you can pull in to maximize your revenue.

I’m not super concerned about that.  I know the readers will come if the content is there, and revenue?  LOL.

So I’ve compiled my own list of suggestions based on the past couple years of both reading and writing blogs. These tips aren’t really about what you write, because that’s totally up to you.  It’s about usability.

Content

Let’s face it – the most important part of your blog is the content of the posts themselves.  If you write it, someone will certainly read it.  But there are ways to make that process more enjoyable for everyone.

1. Use images. Having some sort of visual representation of your post, even if it’s a vaguely related stock image (see above) or screenshot will help catch the eye and keep your blog from feeling like a book.  If I visit a blog and all I see through the last 5 posts are walls of text, it will make me less inclined to read it all.

2. Use whitespace. Line breaks and paragraphs!  Break your content down into smaller segments to help people who only have time to skim the article, and to avoid overwhelming readers.

3. Use links. Refering to previous posts you’ve written will provide references and allow people to see your previous work.  Linking to other people’s related posts is how the blogosphere got it’s start.  Don’t be afraid to link multiple times for one reference!  For example, I might want to tell you about the new podcast by @Brigwyn of The Hunting Lodge!

4. Don’t post for posting’s sake. Ok, so I said I wouldn’t tell you what to write.  This is my exception:  Quality over quantity.  Don’t post purely “Sorry I didn’t post yesterday!” posts.  If you normally post every day and miss one because you had no time or inspiration, just let it go.  Your readers will not disappear because of one slip up!

Navigation

This one gets me a lot.  If I read an article I really enjoy, I may want to see what else the author has done… but sometimes that’s not as easy as it should be.  When choosing or creating a theme, try to incorporate multiple ways for a reader to navigate to your previous work.

1. Provide links to popular/favourite posts. A link section with the posts you are most proud of or ones you think are most useful will help showcase what your site is really about to exploratory visitors.

2. Use categories and tags. Tag clouds and category lists help users to find posts related to their interests.  If I want to find all your posts related only to your podcast, it should be pretty simple to do from your menu.

3. Have a search box. Yeah, we all know how to use Google.  But if I know there was an article on your site that I’d like to find again, I should be able to use your site to find it, rather than having to go through Google’s interface.

4.  Use previous/next links. Believe it or not, some people just like to browse.  Supply “Previous Post/Next Post” links on single post pages, as well as “Previous Page/Next Page” links on multiple post pages.

Display

1.  Display the publish date/time. It drives me crazy when I read an article and can’t find anywhere that says when the post was written.  Is the content still relevent?  Should I bother commenting on it?  The answer is different if the post is 6 months old or 2 days old.

2.  Provide contact information. It should be easy to reach you from your website.  Displaying your e-mail address or providing a contact form will allow people to avoid the frustration of trying to find a way to get in touch.  (How else will they tell you you’ve just won £750,000?)

3.  Make your RSS feed easy to find. I hate having to search around a page to find that little orage square.  Sometimes there isn’t one at all!  Many people prefer to use RSS readers to view blogs, and if you don’t provide a good link to your feed, some might not bother to follow yours.

4.  Don’t truncate posts within RSS. I understand you want people to come directly to your site instead of reading it purely through a reader.  Maybe you want to get some additional hits on your ads, maybe the formatting just looks better that way.  But this is not the way to drive them to click through!  It will just cause your content to go unread.  Unless you can somehow convince me the post is going to be worth a click through in those first 3 sentences, I probably will just move on.  Make your site very visually appealing and provide other services on it if you’d like to make sure people always click through.