I am a compulsive tinkerer. Must nudge and tweak. Must take it apart to see what’s underneath. Forcing myself to conform and focus enough to make forward progress is a challenge. Little things can take me forever. Washing dishes makes me wonder about how soap bubbles work. And dust – ever wonder how the connecting parts of dust bunnies look under a microscope? I have.

Seriously, it’s not that crazy between my ears all the time.

Being me does have its moments. :)

One really good and bad thing about being me is that I have to feel like I can re-invent the wheel. I need to feel authentic about a thing in order to feel peace about doing it. Following directions is never enough. Making it work is almost not as important as understanding how it might work.

Understanding – wow – understanding is a high like chocolate or the concept of childbirth or a really good sunrise in springtime. I can be like a vampire for what-makes-it-tick. I can sit with someone who is an expert at something about which I know nothing and, if they’re good at talking to a noob, absolutely inhale their wonder and logic around whatever it is they do. I can go on for hours, years even, as long as their mind is lively and in love with what they’re doing.

In between breaths, I’ll go to my “home” place and doodle with my own stuff. Doodling can take many forms. When I was baking professionally, a good dinner party conversation with an international investment banker (about banking) led me to re-assess what flavors I wanted to lay along side a dessert built on almond paste laced pound cake — there was something about a balance of relationships that needed to be communicated through cake. Now that I am involved with the web I see relationships in terms of links and usability. Like so much of the rest of life, the details are boring as dirt, but the workings are as wonderful as the great outdoors. There is poetry everywhere, laying along side the box models and elseifs… and here I am flirting with 1am looking at what I want to do with it.

At some point I need to make myself get linear and apply the poetry to productivity. It’s a balance thing. I want and need another kind of self-directed, public project with which to balance the soul searching.

Here it comes: split focus.

I think I’m going to blog my way through the WordPress Codex. Really learning the Codex will be good for me, and I might make a good resource for others. I like the shared learning experience atmosphere of Cre8asite Forums. Bringing that here feels like a good identity statement. Besides, I have this personality thing going on: I am first and foremost an artist, and perfectionism is my script kiddie.

What I mean by that last sentence will have to wait for another day. I will push the publish button before I get too far past 1am.

Self and Search

A few years ago someone who I respect very much suggested that only the egotistical would consider putting yet another page online about something that someone had already done well. I argued that there is a lot of room in the world for more of anything good. Otherwise, the last gothic romance would have been Wuthering Heights and any art after Guernica would be expensive wallpaper. Excellence would not be much of a goal – one good achievement and it’s all over for anyone who ever wanted to do something like it.

Nothing I said could sway him, and we proceeded to argue.

I was ready for a debate. I had a list of search results that I thought would be easy picking. Those were the just-pre glory days of SEO and frames were all over the place. Many, many sites often weren’t even using metas or Hx tags. I felt strongly that we could establish my friend as a leader in his niche, if we built quality content targeted towards the top three slots in about ten searches.

My friend was new to the web, but knew the organizations behind the authority sites. He felt that those organizations should be the ones to develop the content I’d suggested, full stop. He couldn’t wrap his mind around the idea that the authority sites I wanted to compete with could and should be competed with.

Lately I’ve been wondering if he was more right than I knew at the time. Part of his objection, back in the day, was that tooting his own horn in an effort to out-SEO established national leaders would be laughably self-involved. Today, there are hundreds of thousands of sites that exist primarily for horn-tooting, zillions of abandoned look-at-me blogs, and transitive shells generated to contain scraped feeds encrusted with adsense. Insanity.

Insanity and, in the good ones, self-expression.

Add glorious, self-published chaos, toss a stone into many search results, and you’ll hit someone with an ebook. Next year I may be one of them. The world is changing and I’m looking forward to blogging about it from my ringside seat. The inmates are running the asylum, and we’re not going to stop writing anytime soon.

And my friend? Ironically he, too, has a blog. :)

Kitty Kitty?

It’s been in the 20’s here lately. Our January average low is 32. My usual practice is to turn off the heat at night and pile on the blankets. Environmental awareness meets necessity: I’m both cheap and good. Sometimes mornings are very cold – under 50 degrees indoors. The colder it gets, the more likely it is that my cat Otter will burrow under the covers and sleep with me.

Otter is a small, rounded kitty, more like a hoagie roll than a heat vent mogul. With proper motivation he rises to the occasion. On cold mornings when the heat goes on he morphs from baby baguette into super-sized artisan loaf – or perhaps I should say he morphs from witty kitty into loafing artisan.

He knows to nudge aside the little hood thingy that normally directs heat into the room. Then, he can somehow spread his little body to approximate the rectangular shape of a heat vent and then some. And he lounges there, completely covering the heat vent, taking up the Really Important Space as a matter of course, not unlike sites made to take up as much surface area as possible on search result page #1.

See? You knew there was going to be a Search related reference in there somewhere. You were right, but let’s get back to Cat for a moment.

Despite the fact that I am the adult human with the hand that controls the thermostat and the keys to his kingdom, Otter rules one of two heat vents in the room where I spend most of my time.

Upon discovering what he was doing, my first reaction was frustration. My home was not warming up because the heat was not getting through. I like results and I don’t like being cold.

After Otter looked up at me with love on his face I decided that he can get away with heat-hogging, more or less. He has redeeming qualities and I already know that I like him quite a bit.

Also, it helps that I know he likes me for more than my heat vent.

Can the same be said for those made-for-clickthrough pages that loaf about at the top of search results? They sure look like they’re in it to monopolize as much Really Important heat map space as possible. Are they also prepared to love me back? Before I click on them, is it possible to have a sign?

Searchers want love, too. They want results.

Lots of exposure in the top spots increases click-throughs for advertisers, but if the destinations are sites that are trying to make themselves bigger in order to soak up as much click action as possible, might users want to have the same reaction to those sites that I did to my cat? Will they? Can they?

Kitty kitty?

Lessons From Otter the Cat

  • I make my own decisions for my own reasons. Your I-don’t-know-why-you-care is my Chosen Perch.
  • Though I can entertain myself, not everything makes good Kitty TV.
  • Ignore me and nothing else matters.
  • Prosperity consciousness uber alles. A full food bowl frees me to fall in love with other things.
  • I may not want your lap at this moment, but I do need to know it’s there for me.

Hat tip to Waiting for Your Cat to Bark?: Persuading Customers When They Ignore Marketing

A Little Forecast

Background bits:

  1. Even when there are very few actual visitors, blog posts that contain very specific terms get found via a search or two. It’s nice to be needed, and found. Search is cool.
  2. Some of the posts that were the most fun to write got the most attention from friends, especially when I kicked back and philosophized. I like this, too.

I see a parallel to the post where I asked readers to tell me what they want. My request got two responses right out of the gate, one from Dazzlin Donna requesting posts about using the Internet to build community, and one from Miriam Ellis who would like to see a tutorial about the WP ecommerce plugin. The community thing is my tagline, and I’d talked at one point about trying out the WP ecommerce plugin.

Does good tutorial plus active community equal content that rocks? I’ve got to say, in my ever so humble opinon, the answer is a definite maybe.

Come back soon and see what Donna has to say. I’ll be interviewing her about community in an up and coming blog post.

More Tutorials – Good and Good For You

I like tutorials. Making a readable record of what I am exploring helps me be remember what I did. The CSS float: left I will remember. I will have to look up the exact name of WordPress template tags that can make a blogroll, and I may or may not remember the parameters that go with them.

Not having to look up the parameter is not the biggest reason for writing out a tutorial for myself. If I write something out, I learn it better and wider ideas percolate. Things I may not need at the moment go into the idea hopper for later. For instance, when I made the blogroll footer tutorial I learned that I can use a parameter to order blogroll links according to how recently they were updated. At some point, if I want to add a short list of recent reads list to my sidebar, I can pull that list from favorite blogs and prioritize it by freshness. Nifty, huh?

Search is sharing is fun. Use a set of super targeted terms and get found by people who are searching for those terms. Will they “convert” and pave me a path to probloggerhood? Not the point, even if I decide to head in that direction. Money follows mission, not the other way around. Right now I’m at sharing, and sharing the process is a way of giving back to (you guessed it) the community.

Resistance is Fertile

I am a locus of blogville. My life as it has been is over. From this time forward I will serve the very verve of Stumble and ping.

Search is irrelevant. Social bookmarking is seductive. Resistance is fertile. I wish to improve myself. I will blog to live and live to blog. I will stalk the A-listers and add their organic and technique-oh-so-logicalness to my feed reader. My culture will evolve to make me a better blogger.

I am blogger. I will stay awake and write one more paragraph and read one more feed. Who needs sleep anyway? Caffeine creates voltage. Voltage equals current times resistance. Resistance is fertile. Resistance equals voltage divided by the urge to assimilate current events. I will lower my shields and surrender to googling. Google and count, count and google. Google and… thunk…


Skip To My Content

One simple feature can help users get into your site. Without this feature there is a barrier on every page. Some users will pass this barrier without noticing. For others, this barrier is a significant usability problem.

I’m talking about skiplinks.

Imagining Skiplinks

Look at the three links at the top right of this page: Skip to Content, Skip to Navigation and Skip to Footer.

Refresh the page, and without clicking anywhere put your mouse aside until the end of this section. I want you to pretend to be legally blind. You’ll be navigating via keystrokes. Using a mouse makes no sense if you cannot see.

To help un-visualize the process of “seeing” a web page visually, pretend to hear with your eyes. Imagine that your information comes in through hearing.

Push on the tab key, notice which link is now highlighted and imagine you’ve just heard a screen reader say the highlighted link text: Skip to Content. Push Enter and you’re at the start of the first article on the page. That is what a skiplink should do.

Let’s try this again, imagining that there are no skiplinks. Refresh the page, and without clicking anywhere put your mouse aside. Push on the tab key, again and again, noticing which link is highlighted each and every time. Imagine that each link’s link text is read out loud as you tab to it. You learn about the existence of that link as it is read aloud.

Your goal is to find and read the main article and any comments at the end of the article, by clicking on the permalink. In my blog, the permalink is the title of the post. You may or may not know that. In my current layout, if you are attempting to do this by waiting for a screen reader to read off all of the links on a page, you will need to listen to about 50 links before getting to the article. Imagine doing something like this on page after page, working your way through 50 or so links before getting to the article.

What a nuisance, eh? Through this very rough example, you’ve just scratched the surface of imagining something like the process of accessing a blog post with the help of adaptive or assistive technology.

Disclaimer – observing an expert screen reader moving smoothly through an accessible site is a completely different experience.

Three Points About Skiplinks

  • Skiplinks are also useful for people attempting to access a site on a mobile device such as a smart phone. Got skiplinks? Skip a whole lotta scrolling.
  • Power users who can make their screen readers dance on a dime still swear by the humble skiplink. Imagine what skiplinks could do for beginners
  • Skiplinks are easy to add. Easy.

Skiplink How-to Example

Make an unordered list of three or four items, starting with the most commonly sought item on the page. I like to start with “skip to content,” followed by “skip to navigation.” Other possibilities are the footer, a contact page, an accessibility statement, and a site map. Just like in any other navigation usability niceness, the fewer links a user needs to get through before arriving at their destination, the better.

The HTML – A framework

This goes in your header, right after the body tag opens.

<div id="skiplinks"">
<li><a href="#content">Skip to Content</a></li>

<li><a href="#navigation">Skip to Navigation</a></li>
<li><a href="#footer">Skip to Footer</a></li>

Next, you’ll need destinations for your anchors. If you’re using WordPress, you may need to add a “content” destination to index.php and single.php, and even archives.php. “Navigation” usually goes at the top of sidebar.php, and footer.php (of course) is a good place for a “footer” destination.

However, before adding destinations for those links, check to see if your theme already has them. My current theme for this site already had IDs named “content” and “footer.”

If you already have one of these:

<div id="footer"></div>

You don’t need one of these:

<a name="footer"></a>


You can make a quick check of your site by trying out the links in your address bar. Navigate to your site and add #content after whatever is in your address bar, leave the cursor in the address bar, and then press “Enter.” No movement, no #content destination on the page.

Some themes use #content for a wrapper that goes around both a sidebar and an article area. Make sure that your “content” skiplink’s destination is really the start of the article area in your theme.

If you anticipate needing a “return to top” link, consider use “top” as the name for the skiplinks ID, to give a built-in destination for those links.

CSS – A place for everything; everything in its place

The styling I’m using on this site right now is one way to go.

#skiplinks {
          width: 100%;
          background: #fff;
          clear: both;

#skiplinks ul {
          width: 750px;
          margin: 0px auto;}

#skiplinks li {
          list-style-type: none;}

#skiplinks li a {
          margin: 0 .25em;
          text-decoration: none;
          font-weight: bold;}

#skiplinks li a:hover {
          background-color: yellow;
          color: blue;}


As always, your mileage may vary. Fine tune styles and html placement to suit your site.

Hat tip to Jeffrey Zeldman – The no access road

A Few Blog Navigation Plugins

What do the top search marketing blogs not have at the top of their sidebars? More often than not, they don’t list just exactly what I’m going to tell you about here: lists of recent posts, popular posts, recent comments, top commentators…

Of course there are exceptions, but the top spots are more likely than not reserved for advertisements. Scroll a bit and multi-author blogs show a list of authors, a list of categories, and maybe individual links to something in particular. Much of the navigation stuff in the top blogs is not generated by a stack of plugins, and as often as not sidebars contained fewer deep links than I expected.

This kind of thing makes me curious, which leads me to a topic or three for another day. Today I’m going for the beginner nav, plugin variety. I’ve gone foraging through pluginland and installing a few of the blog navigation biggies, described below. As a value statement, I’m making a choice to start where I am, and leave off trying to look like the big boys. If this blog ends up having navigation like theirs in the future, it will get there because of what happens in this blog and with my own sensibilities.

After a while, if (more like when) I make changes, I’ll give you a peek at stats and feedback. If you don’t want to wait until then to chat about blog navigation evolution, feel free to leave a comment on this post.

I Like Site Maps

A well done site map is first my choice of how to find something quickly on a site I don’t know well. Though I’ll give a site search a try, I appreciate that a site map can show me all there is, not just what pages are chosen in a search result.

Dagon Design Sitemap Generator

The Dagon Design sitemap generator is one of those set it and forget it plugins you’ll wonder how you ever lived without. There’s even an option to include a link to your XML site map. It works, it’s configurable, and the output is not bad to look at, either. You install, make a page named whatever you want to name your site map, and paste in one line of code. A minor sticking point for users who are not used to doing WordPress without the WYSIWYG will be getting the code to stay as-is. The answer is simple. Don’t try to use the WYSIWYG for that one page. Click the “html” button to get to the code view.
By Dagon Design
Configure at Options > DDSitemapGen

Generates a fully customizable sitemap

Plugins for Blog Sidebar Navigation

Displaying recent comments and the most popular are the two that seemed most basic, so here goes.

Get Recent Comments

I tried a few and decided to keep Krischan Jodies Recent Comments widget, because it displays the author name, links to the post and lets me choose how much of a snippet I want to show from the comment. Some others link to the author of the post, or do not show a post snippet. The options and instructions available with this plugin are remarkably complete and thoughtfully written. Kudos. One disappointment is that it includes a function for showing Gravatars, but not MyBlogLog avatars or favatars or whichever version is found first. Krischan, if you see this and have time on your hands, consider yourself nudged by a dedicated avatar junkie.
By Krischan Jodies
Configure at Options > Recent Comments

Display the most recent comments or trackbacks with your own formatting in the sidebar. Visit Options/Recent Comments after activation of the plugin.

Popularity Contest

Popularity contest is one of many carefully crafted plugins by Alex King. This plugin will tally up points and assign a percentage value that compares each post with the blog’s most popular post. The most popular post gets a score of 100%. If my most popular post has 1,000 points and this one scores 100 points, this post would get a popularity score of 10%. That percentage is installed at the end of each post. The stats-curious who install this one should not forget to take a look at the “popularity rankings” link at the top of Options > Popularity. Coolness. Wait a few weeks and see it change. More coolness.

By Alex King
Configure at Options > Popularity

This will enable ranking of your posts by popularity; using the behavior of your visitors to determine each post’s popularity. You set a value (or use the default value) for every post view, comment, etc. and the popularity of your posts is calculated based on those values. Once you have activated the plugin, you can configure the Popularity Values and View Reports. You can also use the included Template Tags to display post popularity and lists of popular posts on your blog.

JAW Popular Posts Widget

The Popularity Contest plugin above gives instructions and code examples for how to put top posts links in a sidebar, but it does not come with its own widget. As my other sidebar stuff is widgetized, I was glad to see that Thomas Steen has provided a nice, simple Popularity Contest widget.
By Thomas Watson Steen
Configure at Presentation > Widgets

Adds a sidebar widget that shows the most popular posts. Requires the Sidebar Widgets plugin from Automattic and the Popularity Contest plugin by Alex King.

Blogrolling My Footer

A couple posts ago I wrote about at-a-glance features that help me get a quick sense of what’s going on with a blog. For the next few posts I’m going to chip away at adding some of those features to my own blog. My first target will be some sidebar links devoted to comments and commentators. In order to shoehorn them in, more widgety sidebar space will be required. I’ll either need a second sidebar or a smaller blogroll.

I don’t want a smaller blogroll. I think that having a generous-sized blogroll acts as a resource base for readers and gives insight into my values by showing sites that I admire. If anything, I want room for a bigger blogroll, without losing any more sidebar real estate.

One solution is to move the blogroll into the footer.

Bigger Footers Are On The Rise

  • BBC UK Beta has an extended footer area that contains a site-map style directory.
  • NetSquared, an entity that helps nonprofits utilize the Internet’s community-building power, also uses an extended footer area. NetSquared uses the footer to repeat the header’s horizontal top level navigation links, with the addition of sub links. There is no blogroll.
  • also forgoes a blogroll. Blogging Experiment reserves most of the sidebar for ads, using an extended footer for “Recent Comments,” “Most Commented,” and “Top Commentators.”

What I have in mind is a little different. Even when I add advertisements and more “static” content I’ll be keeping the blogroll.

Moving my blogroll to a larger footer area won’t just open up some sidebar elbow room. It will also give some separation between on- and off-site links, something that may be a kindness to users like myself who are wary of mixed on- and off-site links.

On the other hand, a footer blogroll may not be recognized as a blogroll, because blogrolls are traditionally expected to be vertical and appear in the sidebar. Also, when I see a lot of links in a footer I expect spam. I’ll need to make sure that my footer-blogroll is clearly labeled and neatly structured – unlike spam.

Moving a Blogroll From Sidebar to Footer

A trip to the WordPress Codex taught me that there are two non-depreciated template tags that will make a list of blogroll links, get_bookmarks and wp_list_bookmarks.

The template tag get_bookmarks has lots of yummy features that allow the user to retrieve the bookmark information directly. I went with wp_list_bookmarks, because it seemed more convenient to leave categories and whatever up to the various possibilities available at Dashboard > Blogroll. If I want to later, I can change the way my blogroll links are sorted by adding configuration to wp_list_bookmarks.

Using wp_list_bookmarks is as simple as it gets. Pick a place to put it, in my case within footer.php, just above existing footer links. The output will be list items. Surround the list items with ul tags for an unordered list, and assign an ID to the ul for styling the whole kit and kaboodle. I named my ID “blogroll.”

<ul id="blogroll"><?php wp_list_bookmarks(); ?></ul>

This is the output:

<ul id="blogroll">
<li id="linkcat-2" class="linkcat">

<li><a href="">Link</a></li>
<li><a href="">Link</a></li>

<li><a href="">LInk</a></li>

Styling a Footer Blogroll

In my current theme, applying clear: both to previously existing footer content was the best way to keep my new blogroll container ID from squeezing to one side. Your mileage may vary, depending on how your theme is laid out and your css defined.

I gave the container ul, #blogroll, a width that allows for a little space to the left and right. Floating #blogroll to the left allows however many columns of list items will fit inside to line up next to each other.

#blogroll {
          width: 760px;
          float: left;
          text-align: left;}


Assigning width:100% to #blogroll ul spreads the inner ul to the full width of the outer #blogroll container. Using margin:auto for both left and right margins assures that the left and right margins of #blogroll ul will be the same and meet the outside edges of the 100% width, without needing to apply a specific pixel value.

#blogroll ul {
          width: 100%;
          padding: 0;
          margin: 5px auto; }


Now that we’ve laid out our containers, applying list-style-type: none to #blogroll li will get rid of the bullet before each list item. Next, give a consistent width to all list items under #blogroll ul li, set them to display: inline and float them to the left.

#blogroll li {

          list-style-type: none;
#blogroll ul li {
          width: 25%;
          display: inline;
          float: left; }


Fine Tuning

I didn’t include most padding and margins above because everyone’s theme and preference will be a little different. I’ll add that using a little margin and padding between the bottom of the blogroll and the top of the footer links will create a natural space for a divider line. I used a two pixel border that is the same color as the border between my sidebar and text content.

Coordinate the look of a footer blogroll with that of sidebar links is a nice touch for headers and links

#blogroll h2 {
          color : #ce0000;
          font-size : 1.6em;
          font-family: Times New Roman, Sans-Serif;
          font-weight: bold;}

#blogroll ul li a {
          color: #507AA5;
          text-decoration: none;}

#blogroll ul li a:hover {
          color: #507AA5;
          text-decoration: underline;}


End result: a pretty new blogroll and lots of wide open side bar. Next up I’ll get widgety in my new side bar space.

Blogging Is The Devil, Or Not

Yesterday I spent a couple hours getting to know StumbleUpon better. I had entirely too much fun sorting and clicking and searching. I added some interests to my profile, including blogging, of course.

Blogging Tally 666

How could this be? Blogging: 666.

I heard a lonely meow-yowl, looked over my shoulder and saw that my cat had tipped over my desk-side wastepaper basket, spreading bits of paper everywhere. He’d obviously been at it a while. I’d been clueless, absorbed by the Internet for how long I do not know.

We locked eyes, I meow-yowled back at him and he did a joyful little prance, an invitation to partake in what I’ve come to call the caffeinated kitty cat tango. Sometimes when we play we face each other down, pretending to be very fierce, before another little ritual known as “peek-a-boo chase.” Cat owners know what I mean – great fun indeed.

This time, I didn’t tango or peek-a-boo. I did “one more thing” online, and when I was finally finished he wasn’t in the mood any more. Sad.

I thought of a nation of people like me, wanting to be at-home parents while working like that with our toddlers or teenagers in the house. I thought of how for hours on end of our kids’ childhood they see the backs of our heads as we sat at our computers, doing “one more thing.” Very sad.

Though I love what I am doing, has this work made me less of a person in my off-line life? I have no answer.

Passionate Workaholics?

The passionate worker is busy blogging on vacation… because posting that thought and seeing the feedback it generates is actually more fun than sitting on the beach for another hour. The passionate worker tweaks a site design after dinner because, hey, it’s a lot more fun than watching TV.

Seth Godin’s Blog – Workaholics

TV? What happened to interactive multi-player board games, or creative activities that involved teaching each other skills? Or sewing, carpentry, gardening, making pancakes, hobbies, going camping, pitching in around the house or even just going for a walk together after dinner? And, this pot can’t call the kettle black without admitting that I don’t miss non-computer activities as much as I used to. There’s something wrong with that.


Workaholics have little time for activities outside of work. They lose touch with the joys of their non-work lives. Workaholics lack balance. Workaholics are obsessed, not passionate.

Passionate workers revel – in work and not-work.

Passionate workers should check to see if they recognize themselves in some of these lists and quizzes. I flunked, but it’s not the end of the world. I *do* love what I’m doing, after all.

PS: Blogging Is Not The Devil

This morning I checked in on StumbleUpon again and found that the “Blogging” tag tally is no longer 666.

Blogging Tally 665

Blogging: not quite 666. Now somebody else gets to see the 666 and ruminate about what makes their world go tilt. As for me, I have a couple half finished articles to work on, and then the machine gets turned off. So there.

Caffeinated kitty cat tango here I come.

Blog Love, at a Glance

I often look at up to 100 blogs a day, many of which I have never seen before. That’s a lot of skimming. I don’t read all that I see. What makes the difference between reading and not reading, subscribing and not subscribing? It depends. Here are some of the at-a-glance things that make a difference to me personally.

Basics at a glance

  • Nothing is broken at a glance, especially images. Text that overlaps because of a lack of cross browser compatibility a kiss of death for web dev or design oriented sites.
  • Formatting makes content more digestible. No mammoth bricks of text without line breaks, no walls of all caps or squishy tapestries of all italics.
  • Spelling says the writers respect the readers. Perfection is nice, but not essential. Lots of really bad spelling is not excusable.
  • Navigation pays attention to my convenience. The site provides easily spotted labels for things I might want. It’s organized and not too cluttered to see.
  • The site is secure enough to self promote, but does it with some grace. They give me content before ads. If there is a big block of AdSense at the top of the content text my first suspicion is that I’ve landed on a scraped site. Another bad sign is ads that are formatted to look like they could be navigation links – instant lack of trust.
  • I trust them. Trust is a holy grail. Required reading – Stanford University’s Web Credibility Project.

How long have they been around?

Show me a dated archive. A yard of months and years in the sidebar feels like a waste of precious space. On my own blog, I’d rather have another slot for a blogroll link than a link to yet another month, because a blogroll supports a feeling of community and provides more insight for readers.

Site maps are a handy way to quickly see how long a blog has been around, and how often it has been updated. XML site maps are nice for spiders. I’d like one for me, too, please.

How often is it updated?

Give me a way to see at a glance how many posts are recent, and if the site has come back from previous breaks from blogging. Something important once a month is better than frequently posted dribs and drabs.

Can I tell what they think?

Annotations of what others have written will not keep me on a site, no matter how smart or well connected the writer was to pick up on the topic.

What topics are covered?

Show a category list. I may or may not use it for browsing. A blog category list that I can browse as a new reader gives me a chance to be tempted by topics beyond the last few posts that are visible on the front page. A category-based archive is more helpful to me in frequently updated blogs where front page material cycles through quickly. If this is SES recap week and I have other interests, give me a way to see what else the blog is about, and what the writers care about.

Should a category list show how many blog posts there are in each category? I used to think that tucking those numbers after this, that and the other looked cluttery. After browsing a few hundred blogs I’ve changed my mind, in the case of category tallies. Numbers show a pulse at a glance.

Am I reading a current post?

The date should be readily available on each post. Don’t make me hunt for the “permalink” in order to find out that a post about last year’s search rank shifts is not about what’s going on with me this week.

Is there a committed readership?

Readers count. Lately, I find myself attracted to recent comments widgets. A most commented widget would give an idea of what posts have been hot with readers. Showing top commenters could be a way to encourage readers to compete for the top of the heap, though quantity doesn’t necessarily mean quality.

Things I Thought Would Matter, But Don’t

  • Looking official can be a disadvantage if “looking” like the real deal makes it look like every other site that’s trying to do the same thing. Bloggers should consider using a custom theme.
  • Displaying credentials is nice, but not essential. If the people behind a site have mad skills but can’t write, I’m not going to read them. Sites with a first rate pedigree and third rate bloggers are better off not trying to fake it.
  • Avoiding personal content on a business site may be a mistake, within reason. I *want* to see enough to make it personal, especially in a blog. As a customer, I’d want to know the site’s bloggers have a clue about what is important to my audience. Go ahead and get personal. Just don’t whine, tell me about your bunions, or alienate me with political or religious rants that indicate that you as an individual would not respect me and my different views — unless you’ve got a site about politics, religion and bunions, in which case, farewell and I wish you luck. Stick to what helps me understand what is connected to your message.