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18 October 2005

Blogging Mistakes

Jakob Nielsen via Problogger pipped me to the post in writing something about blog design and content. I'm not going to preach about this subject because we are in the process of redesigning our own problematic site from it's humble beginnings, plus this is a little off topic for us. However, having studied almost a 1000 blogs over the last 4 weeks I feel reasonably well placed to share some of my views on this matter. Jakob's main points are listed below in italics with my comments in bold:
1. No Author Biographies - I’m amazed that so many blogs don’t have any information about who is behind them. Not essential information but common sense in my books to be transparent enough to tell people who you are. This is a good point. It's important to give some authority and background to the topic you are discussing.
2. No Author Photo - for me this is not a must - but it does add something personal to a blog. Not essential but it can add some gravitas.
3. Nondescript Posting Titles - regular readers will know about my passion for post titles - enough said. Couldn't agree more on this point. We have been doing some quantitive analysis on our own posts recently and noted that a really punchy, descriptive title can make all the difference.
4. Links Don’t Say Where They Go - I agree - it also helps with SEO to use make links more descriptive. This is a good point but I'm not convinced of the necessity to describe in pinpoint detail where every link on your page ends up. Although on some of the blogs we reviewed it was often a case of clicking blind so to speak. Not ideal.
5. Classic Hits are Buried - So true - highlight your best posts or they’ll go unseen after dropping from the front page6. The Calendar is the Only Navigation - has anyone ever used a calendar to navigate a blog or is it just me who avoids them? Vital to highlight key posts. In my opinion calendars are a waste of time - in fact only a very small proportion of the top 500 blogs use them.
7. Irregular Publishing Frequency - again something I’ve written quite a bit about. It’s not about high or low posting frequency - but regular posting. Find your rhythm and stick to it. Probably most blogs we looked at posted on average 1 to 3 times a day. This amount largely depended on whether a blog was predominantly a link dump or providing original content. There are obvious time and effort issues as to why this is the case.
8. Mixing Topics - Stick to your niche. Forgetting That You Write for Your Future Boss - so true. Once you hit publish you loose control over who will ever see what you write. Be careful. This is true to an extent but I also believe you can put yourself into a straightjacket by sticking rigidly to your niche. There is of course a balance, too far off topic and your blog loses it's meaning, too rigid and you're in danger of becoming stale both as a writer and to your audience. It was apparent from many of the top 500 blogs that they often strayed far too often and you'd end up wondering "what the hell is this blog about."
10. Having a Domain Name Owned by a Weblog Service - the quote of this article is ‘Letting somebody else own your name means that they own your destiny on the Internet.’ So true. Interesting observation and one I hadn't really thought about until I read this.
11. Darren at Problogger quite rightly suggested no contact details as a common mistake. If you're serious about your blog I think it's important to have the abillity to converse off site so to speak. Comments aren't always an ideal place to strike up dialogue!
Here are some of my additions to this list.
12. A simple description of what the blog is about. It sounds ridiculous but I can assure you that I was astounded at how many top 500 blogs had no description of their principal themes. I can hear shouts of "it's in the title stupid". Well, just trust me, quite often it isn't. Alright, a life blog is likely to be eclectic but why not say so or at least give some hints as to what your majoring on. It makes it so much easier for someone dropping on your page for the first time.
Having spoken to many recent newcomers to blogs I was interested to hear a plethora of similar complaints. Quite frankly who has the time to read back months and months to find out what the author is driving at. A couple of simple sentences of description posted in a prominent place on your page can be tremendously helpful. Ideally not in some crypic, hidden meaning type way either.
This is a criticism that is symptomatic of the insular nature of the blogging community. We all assume too easily that everybody understands blogging terminology or understands immediately that your blog is about knitting or whatever. If mainstream blogging is going to open itself up to a wider audience we all need to make it more accessible to newcomers.
13. Cluttered pages. Quite frankly it is testing enough on the eyes reading from a screen so why make matters worse by filling it with every coloured button and graphic going. Less is more. If you look at the likes of Weblogs, Gawker et al, their pages are relatively simple and uncluttered.
14. Keep posts short and sweet. This is something I can be guilty of and am doing it in this very post!! However, I can honestly say that an interesting post can be spoilt by going on for too long. It is no exaggeration to say that in our research we actually came across blog posts or should I say diatribes that were almost 4000 words long! Zzzzzz. Keep it short and sweet.
So how does this all relate to blog advertising. Well, in a nutshell, if you can get most of the above right, then you're in a pretty good position to retain readers and increase Ad Revenues.


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