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.