21 March 2008

A picture’s worth a thousand words: Increasing Your Blog Appeal, Part 2


From the feedback I’ve been getting, these posts are being useful to some bloggers, and that’s great. The only thing I want to stress is that nothing here is meant to be taken as criticism, merely as observation and suggestion.

Appearances are important with blogging. Most of us know of blogs we read in part because they are simply so beautiful to look at, with clean, interesting design, good use of photographs, and of course, good articles. What’s appealing to look at? Here are some pointers.

Limit the posts on your front page. If every post you wrote for the month of February loads when someone clicks on your site, some visitors are very unlikely to stay. For example, although we have highspeed, it’s sometimes a bit erratic due to our location and our provider’s business having grown faster than anticipated, and our speed drops to nearly that of dialup. For those on dialup, loading a page that is full of posts, each full of photos, is nearly impossible. In Blogger, you can adjust how many posts appear on your front page, and I’m sure it’s the same for other blogging sites. Likewise, if you post archives on the side of your blog, people can easily find earlier posts they may have missed or want to revisit. Personally, I limit my blog’s front page to 3 days worth of posts, which is normally 3 posts, though occasionally—like now—I’ll do more than one post in the span of a day.

Photo use: Photos are the eyecandy that can catch a reader’s attention, and if a fine photo or seven is backed up by interesting text, you’ve got a winner. Just bear in mind to scale your photos so they aren’t too large. Most people know this, but it’s really frustrating for someone on dialup to arrive at a favourite blog only to find dozens of images, each more than several hundred K in size, all of which take time to load. You don’t need to set your photos at more than 72 dpi for computer screen resolution, and a few inches wide and high will give perfectly fine photos at sizes that aren’t unwieldy.

Blog appearance. I love that so many of us are customizing our blog templates and making them totally unique. Two things to check: that whatever colour of text you’re using works on the background colour without causing eyestrain, and that your wallpaper is tasteful but doesn’t offend the eyes. There’s one blog I’ve stopped reading because the background pattern and colour combination literally makes my head hurt, and it’s a pity because it’s a nice blog.

Advertisements: I don’t mind a few Google ads or other ads that are related to gardening, but if a site is so packed with ads that I can’t find the actual post, I don’t go back. Plus I avoid blogs that are blatantly commercial, encouraging you to make money from some homebased MLM or hyping a score of products they’ve probably never seen. From years of reading, however, I confess to having an interesting talent—the ability to read around advertisements and be completely oblivious to them, whether in magazines, newspapers, or websites. I could go to any site right now and read a post, be able to say what it was about and what the photos were—but not what any ads were about. I do post reviews of books and tools that I can recommend, and so do others, and I really appreciate those who review items in a balanced way.

Accessories: Personally—and I stress this is my personal taste—I don’t care for music, dancing babies, flashing gifs, or most videos on blogs. When I’m reading blogs, I can actually switch from my usual music for working—Chopin, Bach, or Mozart, as a rule—to the more contemporary stuff I’ve loaded from my cd collection into iTunes. And strangely, audio files of birds twittering or the computer equivalent of Muzak clash rather strongly with Sonata Arctica, Steve Earle, Damien Rice or Within Temptation. (Yes, I am that eclectic). Videos don’t bother me as much—I like webcam feeds of birds, etc—but I have to switch browsers to look at them, as currently one browser is having a tantrum about some video files, and I suspect this is a problem for others too. Plus these can eat up bandwidth, and as noted before, the whole world isn’t on broadband/highspeed internet yet.

One Important Caveat: This comes from an associate of mine in the Royal Canadian Mounted Police: have a care just how much personal information you put in your blog. We hear warnings to be careful of what we post on sites like Facebook, but my associate reminded me about blogging, as did a discussion with a friend who is also a credit union manager. As sad as it is, there are unscrupulous people out there with nothing better to do than prey on good people.

Next time: How about those numbers?

24 comments:

  1. Jodi, thanks for writing this series. I'm looking forward to the next installment.

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  2. Good advice, Jodi. I think there is useful information in there for folks. I have to laugh, though. I think my blog is pretty simple, but that's just because I am such a tech-novice that I don't know HOW to add all the bells and whistles to clutter it all up. The design tips I know because I have a background in design myself. And, like you, I just can't read black background blogs or things too busy with ads. I do wish I could figure out how to post a photo behind my title! I've tried and tried. Maybe it's not meant to be!!! Happy Easter.

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  3. jodi - another great post. i also dont care for music, videos or flashing stuff on blogs. i always have my laptop sound on mute because i hate going to sites with music. i also don't care for the ones where the sites have stuff crawling all over the screen or ones where the arrow turns to an insect. i theory i understand they seem cute, but i find them distracting. i have the attention span of a gnat so i can't have things that cause me to lose focus. and i have a big problem with the scale of my pictures. one thing i realize is that im only considering how they look on my blog, not how long they take to load.

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  4. Thanks jodi ... excellent advice from a first-rate teacher and now I must run (gulp) am guilty regarding limiting posts on my front page.

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  5. Jodi, I have too many post on my first page, I never thought about it because my high speed internet is pretty fast. I'll change it now.

    Sometimes music is slow to load and I've been scared out of my wits when it suddenly blasts out interrupting my complete silence.

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  6. Jodi, I want to say I am one of those people that can't read the tiny type that some use for their blogs. There a at least two I have run into that have fantasitc photos on their blogs and I can't read the accompaning script which is very frustrating to me.

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  7. Oh no, I have a black background, is it hard to read?

    Thanks for doing this Jodi, you are such a good teacher.

    Frances at Faire Garden

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  8. Good advice. My favorite blogs are very personal and let me get to "know" a garden and not just the pretty little close up pictures. Not too "magazine-y". But even with personal blogs, it is very important not to include personal identifying information (I don't even include my or my families names!)

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  9. Jodi, this is expert advice for all bloggers, not just gardeners. My blog will be taking a new direction this spring, so this series is very timely for me.

    The best to you and your family this holiday, and that includes the cat children.

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  10. Garden Girl, thanks for the feedback. I should have the last post up later today.

    Diana, I can't REMEMBER right now how I got a photo behind my title, but i'm sure someone like Crafty or some of the others who change their photos regularly can do it. Black backgrounds don't bother me, just a few colour combinations seem to bother my eyeballs.

    Gina, you're so funny! The attention span of a gnat? I don't believe that. You have problems with your photos? They always look great to me.

    Joey and Robin: After getting highspeed here, I never thought about the limiting posts before until a few months back, when I saw a post by a blogger who was so frustrated because he was on dialup and some of his favourite blogs just took too long to load. Then we started having irregularities here with our speed (hopefully now resolved) so it really brought it home for me. Mind you, if we click on a post via Blotanical, we only get the one post; it's when we go directly to a blog we get the whole front page.

    Lisa, in Macintosh computers we can increase the size of type in web programs and mail programs by using Command + (or Command - if we want to reduce typesize). This works for me in both Firefox and Safari, and I think it did in IE too. But I don't know what the PC equivalent of the Mac command (apple) key is. Someone else could tell you, though. There are also buttons for browser toolbars that will increase typesize on a site for you.

    Frances, I LIKE the black background on your blog, with the bright fonts--it's easy for me to read, no troubles at all.

    Wicked Gardener, always good to hear from you; I use my real name because I'm a writer in my 'real' life, but yes, unfortunately we do need to take care. I love the personal blogs too, and those who share the tribulations as well as the triumphs of their gardens.

    Sandy, I hope it's encouraging help, not preachy--that's all that I worry about. I love all the blogs I read, I think you're all marvelous. And now I'm curious about your plans for Gardenpath this spring. Looking forward to seeing what you do. The catchildren and we wish you a peaceful, (less wintry?) Easter, too.

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  11. All excellent and very thoughtful advice.

    I used to be much more considerate of dial-up constraints, including only one resized photo per post for example, because my parents were on dial-up. However, among garden bloggers, I find that the fewer the photos, the fewer the readers. So it's a bit of a balancing act.

    Like you, one of my own big pet peeves is legibility. I find even the green type on lavender background of this layout to be difficult to read--I almost always read you via my RSS reader, Bloglines, where I can read black text on white background. The Blogger template I find the most difficult on the eyes is the lime green type on black background.

    Thanks for reminding everyone that security is important. Never post something that you'd want someone to read if you were, let's say, applying for a new job. That goes for the comments you leave elsewhere, too.

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  12. I've taken steps to reduce the time it takes to view my blog, especially the home page. I use Blogger, and started using expandable post summaries Fall of 2006. This is especially important for my posts, which often contain lots of photographs. I limit the summary for each post on the home page to just one photo. I also break up big photo stories, such as garden tours, into multiple posts. I'm always keeping an eye on my stats and looking for ways to balance my blog's content and the interests of my visitors.

    There are several free tools on the Web which folks can use to check the performance of their Web pages. One is the Web Page Analyzer. It provides a detailed breakdown of everything on a page, the relative time it takes to download at different linespeeds, and "scores" the page for problem areas you might want to adjust or improve.

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  13. Thank you for this useful advice. I shall go straight to my blog and see how many posts come up. I have a very fast internet speed; but didn't think of this for others. (Not that computer savvy!) So your advice is heeded. And we all need a little advice from time to time. Some of us have not been blogging all that long! As for the music; I'm one of those weirdos who can't stand too much noise. I turn their music off immediately!
    Brenda

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  14. Oh, I wanted to add something else. I just figured out last week that I could change the font size of my text. It was right there in front of me and I didn't see it! (Isn't that ironic, due to the subject!) So I enlarged mine. Sometimes after I load a picture, it reverts back to the smaller type, and I have to go back and enlarge it! Just thought I'd share in case there's any other baby boomers like me who haven't figured it all out yet! Now, while I'm at it, will you look at my blog and tell me what I'm doing wrong, please! Your advice is great.
    Brenda

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  15. Jodi, thank you so much for these articles. And the color change on your backgraound is also very welcome. Curmudgeon is legally blind and struggled with the previous color combination.

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  16. Thanks so much for all the helpful hints. Now that I've got the pc up and running again after the crash, I'll try to be more mindful of posting more often.

    Still cold and windy here, but it looks like spring may be coming soon. April can't get here soon enough.

    Do you keep your houseplants in a room where the kitties can't get to them, or do you just have plants that are safe around them? Curious kitties want to know. Spike and Sluggo send their best to your cat family.

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  17. Hi Jodi,

    Another great post packed with advice. I hope mine's not the blog you've stopped reading because of the colour? However, I've suddenly remembered today that pink is not the best colour for colour blind people - ho hum, back to the drawing board.

    There's a website where you can test your site's speed (at least for Blogger people) - haven't got it to hand at the moment, but will be posting on it soon. Mine's coming out OK (less than a second)with 15 posts to the page plus my sidebar slideshow too. If your experience is different, let me know. I've gone for a single picture per post philosophy - something that sums up the post's theme, to help announce it if you like.

    Looking forward to the next installment and have a good Easter.

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  18. Me again; we may need to do an extra post of tips and comments.

    Ms. Zanthan (that's what I used to think your signature said when I didn't have my bifocals on...) Good to know about the lavender/green; I did force Blogger to let me in to do changes though the background is still not as light as I'd like. I also realize one's monitor affects colour. I have two monitors on my system, and one is a bit more yellow than the other. And you're spot on about security--including comments.
    Xris, you're a fount of wisdom--I wondered how you did what you do, and that's also very helpful about web page analysis. I'll add that to the next post (with credit to you for telling me).
    Brenda, it's hard to remember about the Net speeds, especially for those who have had highspeed for years. I hear you on noise--I want my own noise WHEN I want it, and the rest of the time quiet is my preference. And the type features exist in blog editors, but also should be accessible via whatever web browser you have. And web pages also display differently in different browsers; my fonts appear larger in Safari than in Firefox. Go figure. :-)
    Weed Whackin' Wenches, glad to be of help. I'd like to lighten the background colour more, but not go to white--just haven't found a colour that is web-savvy, not yet.

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  19. I'm enjoying your series on blogging better, Jodi. There are a lot of new bloggers who will be eating up your tips and advice.

    And if you don't mind me making a segue to the topic of the Garden Bloggers Spring Fling, I hope everyone who's coming remembers that Kathy Purdy of Cold Climate Gardening will be leading a discussion group about the technical side of blogging, while Carol of May Dreams will be leading another group about the social aspects of blogging. Both would love to have people send them potential topics for discussion in advance.

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  20. Plenty of good advise here Jodi. Thanks. I'm enjoying your series, and especially like the fact that it makes us think of our blogs from other peoples' perspectives, and needs.
    Reading the comments is enlightening too.
    (I did it again......!) See how much self control I'm learning? ;)

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  21. Jodi, so far so good. Actually great! Last night I was playing around with my template (I try to update it every few weeks) and I changed my front page to 3 days. I wouldn't have known it caused a problem except another blogger had stated she keeps her front page down to 5 photos for her dial-up Mom. That got me to thinking.

    As for wall paper, I have the same problem and could take a good guess at which blog you are writing about, I can't read it because of the wall paper. To add to that, there's another good blog that has a photo of the writer at the top that disturbs me. I just can't get past that opening photo to read the blog.

    Now I'm off to read your part three.

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  22. Great post, as usual, Jodi! I feel my blog has become too cluttery, and I don't like clutter. When i get a free moment, I'm going to remedy that, if I can.

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  23. Hi Jodi,
    I love reading your blog and really appreciate these tips!
    Cathie

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  24. Jodi - now I'm worried - is it my wallpaper? I know I'm a bit goofy with colors because I love playing with them so much.

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