Many years ago I spent a couple of weeks with a friend in Halifax Canada. He had a very modern apartment overlooking Halifax Harbour and from his living room you could watch the daily happenings on that beautiful expanse of water. The view was captivating for a while but it wasn’t long into my visit that I stopped noticing it.
When I think back on that visit, the things that first come to mind have nothing to do with that view. The experiences I had are my fondest recollections; the food I ate (best wild mushroom soup ever), the people I met and the unique places I visited.
In some ways your blog is not any different for your readers. Your blog design is probably the initial reason a new reader will stay, but it’s the experience you create for them that will keep them coming back. How beautifully you craft your words, the wisdom and insights you impart, how easily they can move through your topics and how seamless it is for them to sign up for your email list – this is their experience.
It’s unfortunate then that so much advice and energy is spent on getting your blog design just right. Most design decisions, and here I’m talking images and colours, come from personal preference or your brand guidelines.
Have you ever stopped to consider the experience you are giving your readers that goes beyond design?
Below, in no particular order, are some tips for auditing your blog to enhance your readers’ experience and hopefully keep them coming back:
This is a case of do as I say not as I do. I am not good at writing, well not in the way that I would like. If you’ve got this under control then skip ahead. If you’re curious to know what level you are writing at, run your favourite (and I do mean your favourite not your most popular) post through the Readability Score website. This brings back a lot of data but my favourite measure is the Flesch Kincaid Readability Score. What grade are you writing for? Keep in mind a higher grade does not necessarily mean better writing. Oftentimes a lower grade means that you can be easily understood by many levels of reading proficiency.
This is how easy it is for readers to move through your blog. Do you require too many clicks for them to get to what they want? Are your tags and categories intuitive? Do your menu labels make sense? If you’re not sure, try this little test. Copy your menu labels (e.g. About, Contact, Downloads) onto post-it notes or small cards. Give them to someone who will give you honest feedback (a reason why friends are sometimes not a good idea for this task), one by one ask that person to tell you what kind of information that would expect to see under that label. You are welcome to set the scene for them and be up front about what you are doing and why. Try this again with a few more people – 5 should be enough. What did you learn? If what they expected and what exists is closely matched then you’re on track, if not you might want to rethink these labels and then test out the new ones. Rinse and repeat.
As an example, I once had a client that wanted three items on her navigation menu; food, art & life. Now, to me, food & art were easy to predict what I might see, but life? I had nothing. Was it about her life? Or mine? Or about living? It is such an immense word that each of us will think something different based on our own life (pardon the pun). In user experience design (and psychology) this is called a mental model. We all have them. If how you structure your blog matches your reader expectations, then you’re matching their mental model.
Remember that navigation is not just about that bar at the top of your blog, it’s how your reader moves around your blog – page to page, post to post. What opportunities are there to make that easier for them? What if they land in the middle of a post from a search engine, how well can they gain orientation in your space?
Your about page is so important. It is possibly the most visited page on your blog because people really want to know – who are you? Picture please. Add a little bio and only share as much as you want to share (read – please don’t overshare). How is it you came to be writing your amazing blog? Where are you in the world? Your story is the human connection your readers have with you so make it sing.
A way forward
In my day job as a user experience consultant I spend a large part of my time evaluating websites and apps. I have started doing this for bloggers as well but with a twist, not only can I evaluate your blog against a set of usability criteria but I provide a task list to help you prioritise your blog usability updates. Feel free to contact me to know more, or leave a comment.
Image by Bench Accounting via StockSnap – free high resolution stock photos