Do you have a user-friendly blog? I know this question can be highly subjective. What one reader considers user-friendly may be a considered by another to be a complete pain in the neck (truncated posts on the home page and lots of options on drop down menus, for example). But there are some practical things you can do to make sure that your blog is generally user-friendly for the majority of your visitors.
It’s important to visit your own blog often, and try to view it through the eyes of a brand new visitor who doesn’t know her way around yet. Are things easy to find? Is navigation easy?
So take a few moments, visit your own blog, take a look around, and ask yourself these questions:
1. If a new visitor arrives on my blog, and wants to read straight through all of my posts in chronological order, is there an easy way for her to do this?
This question could also be: If a visitor only visits my blog once a week, or once every two weeks, is there an easy way for her to start with my most recent post and read straight through all of the posts she’s missed?
The bottom line is that you need to give your readers an easy and efficient way to navigate from post to post in chronological order.
This is especially important for those of us who use truncated posts on our home page, but even if you don’t use truncated posts, it’s still important that you make navigation between posts easy since your visitors still have to go to a specific post page in order to leave a comment.
So here’s what you need to do: Go to your most recent post. If you truncate your posts, just click on the “read more” from the home page. If you don’t truncate your posts, click on the post name on the home page so that you’re on the page that displays only that post with the comment section at the bottom. Now look and see if there is a clearly visible way for your visitors to move to the next post without having to go back to the home page.
For example, I have provided two ways for visitors to navigate between blog posts chronologically. First, at the bottom of each post, there is an area that shows the previous post and the next post, with links to each one:
And also on either side of my blog, there are arrows that can help the reader navigate chronologically from one post to another.
As long as you provide one clear way for your visitors to navigate easily from post to post chronologically, that’s sufficient. But if you make them go back to the home page each time they want to navigate to the next post, they’ll eventually give up, you’ll lose page views, and you may lose a potential long-term reader who would otherwise get hooked on your blog if only she could easily read enough of your posts to get hooked!
2. Do I have anything on my blog that starts playing audio automatically that might annoy (and scare) people visiting my blog at their workplace, in a library, or even in the peace and quiet of their own home?
Music on blogs is annoying for the majority of blog readers, and if you have music that starts playing automatically when a person visits your blog, I can almost guarantee you that your losing readers AND page views. The blogs that are actually enhanced by music are very few and very far between.
Consider this: A person is brand new to your blog. She’s arrived via a pin on Pinterest of your most recent amazing creation, and she’s eager to learn more about your blog and your projects.
Upon arriving, your music starts playing and startles her, but she’s too interested in your project to be completely annoyed with the music. After reading about that project, she’s anxious to see what else you’ve done. She clicks on “next post” (via your convenient and easy-to-use post-to-post navigation that we just discussed), and upon arriving at the next post, your music starts playing again…from the beginning… again.
Yes, your visitors can search all over your blog, find the music player, and turn off the music, but if they navigate to a new page, it’ll start playing again.
Yes, your visitors can mute the sound on their computer, but do you really want your visitors to have to jump through hoops to avoid being completely annoyed by your blog? I would think not.
This same thing also needs to be considered if you have any video ads that play automatically when the page is loaded. I know that we all want to be compensated for the hard work we put into our blogs, but sometimes the money isn’t worth the annoyance caused to our readers by video ads that restart every time a visitor visits a new page on our blogs.
3. Can my visitors easily comment on my posts by leaving basic information (name, email, URL), without being required to jump through additional hoops like logging in, typing in a word verification, etc.?
I don’t know how many times I’ve seen people write about word verification on blogs. Countless times, I’d say. And yet I still see people using word verification.
If you want comments on your blog, don’t make your readers jump through hoops. I can’t even tell you how many times I’ve tried to comment on a blog, and I entered the word verification only to be told I entered it wrong. So I tried again. Wrong again. Finally I give up, and I never try to comment on that blog again.
I beg of you, please remove word verification from your blog. If you don’t know how, Google it, and your sure to find one of the thousands of posts that have been written on this topic.
The same is true with WordPress.com blogs that require the reader to log in in order to comment. This login is in addition to the standard name, email, and URL requirements of WordPress blogs. It actually requires the user to set up a username and password on WordPress.com in order to comment on blogs.
If you blog on WordPress.com, I can almost guarantee you that you’ll get more comments if you turn off this requirement. If you don’t know how, again, Google is your best friend for this kind of info. But I promise it’ll be worth the trouble. In fact, I’ve visited several WordPress.com blogs that have this login requirement in order to comments, and generally those blogs have almost no comments at all. There’s a reason for that.
Make commenting easy for your readers, and they’ll reward you with comments.
Note: If you only ever view your blog while you’re logging into your account, you may not be aware that your blog has these additional requirements for commenters since it won’t require these things of the blog administrator. To see what your visitors see, first log out of your account, and then visit your blog and try to comment.
4. Can my visitors easily find posts related to a specific category?
If you’ve been blogging for a while, you have probably noticed that your posts fall within certain specific categories. I encourage you to use these categories to your advantage and provide a clear and easy way for your visitors to view posts related to these categories.
This can be done in many ways: drop down menus on your main menu with specific categories, category listings on the sidebar, a dedicated page with category listings, a drop down menu in the sidebar under the heading “Categories”, etc. You can even utilize two or three of these methods so that if your reader misses one, she can see another one. Also, if your blogging program allows you to show categories at the end of each post, this is an easy and convenient way for your readers to find more posts within that category if they’re interested.
5. Can my visitors easily find my most important posts?
Is there one category of posts that you would consider the most important? The “meat” of your content, so to speak? If so, you need have that info in one easy-to-read, and easy-to-find spot, and then provide a clear way for your readers to find important that information, and then to navigate to those posts easily.
If you’re a decorating/DIY blogger, I personally believe it is imperative that you have a DIY Projects Gallery.
Again, put yourself in the shoes of a reader who has just found your blog via a pin on Pinterest featuring one of your amazing projects. After she reads the initial post, she’ll want to see more of your awesome projects. Is there a clear and easy way for her to find them? Do you have a label on your menu that says “DIY Projects”? Do you have a button on your sidebar that says “Click here for more great DIY Projects”? Do you have linked pictures of other projects that you’ve done in your sidebar?
You don’t have to have all of these, but just have something. Give your readers a clear and easy way to find the important stuff.
6. Can readers easily learn about me and contact me?
I’ve touched on this before, but giving your readers a way to learn more about you and contact you will make them feel more connected to you, and connected readers are more likely to return.
This starts with letting your readers know your name. Put your name in the “About” section on your sidebar. Sign your blog posts with your name. Create an “About” page with your name clearly stated in the very first sentence so that it’s easy to find. You don’t have to do all of these, but give new readers a clear and easy way to learn your name without having to search your blog top to bottom to find it.
In addition, create an “About Me” page to give your reader some insight into who you are, what your blog is about, and what motivated you to start a blog. Also give them an easy way to contact you.
7. How do links from my blog open up in my browser?
We might be getting into a subjective topic here, but let’s talk about links. Chances are that you’ve written blog posts that contain links to other content on your site, as well as external links to other sites. There are a couple of key things you can do to alleviate frustration for your readers when it comes to how your links open up in their browser.
Have you ever visited a blog where each and every link you click on to other pages on their blog opens up in a new tab? When you get through visiting the blog, you’ve got fifteen tabs open in your browser, all to different pages on that blog.
That can be very annoying to your readers, and it’s possible that some will stop clicking on links just to avoid the hassle. However, there are times when you definitely want your link to open up in a new tab. Here is my rule of thumb:
- Internal links within blog posts – If I’m linking to another page on my own site, I determine how that link opens up based on the link’s position within my blog post. If it’s very high up in the first portion of the post (especially within the first couple of sentences), I’ll have the link open up in a new tab. That way the reader can open the link, while being able to continue reading the current post. If the link is located towards the bottom of the post, I’ll have it open up in the same tab.
- External links within blog posts – If I’m linking to another blog or website, I always have that link open up in a new tab. That way if the reader wants to hop over and view the source, and then they want to view a few more pages on that site, they still have my blog open and can easily navigate back to it without hitting the “back” button in their browser a hundred times. Basically, you don’t ever want to send readers away from your blog.
- Internal links on menu, sidebar, and footer – I always have these links open up in the same tab. If readers are looking in these areas, more than likely it’s because they’ve finished reading the current page and are ready to move on.
If every single link on your blog (menu, sidebar, footer, and every link within your posts) opens up in a new tab, that’s way too much.
Those are my top seven ways to make your blog more user-friendly. Do you have anything to add? What makes a blog non-user-friendly in your opinion? What are some of your favorite ways you’ve seen bloggers make their blogs user-friendly?