How To Design A Usable Reader-Centric Blog

by Mike Holman

One of the most common design issues associated with web sites, and especially with blogs, is clutter. It’s so easy to fill the sidebar with links, widgets, and clicklets. So easy that even the most ardent minimalists have to stop and unclutter their sites from time to time. So, how do you decide if something should be displayed on your blog? Here is an easy to follow process to help you unclutter your blog.

Look and appeal

Photo by Kelly Asmodee via Flickr

Four steps to design a more usable reader-centric blog:

1. Look through your readers’ eyes

Put yourself in your readers’ shoes by visiting a few blogs. For each, go through a few pages and answer the following questions:

  • Which elements did I interact with?
  • Which elements did I ignore?
  • Which elements did I find helpful?

Do you see any common theme emerging? Are you consistently interacting with the same elements, but not others? Most likely, your readers are doing the same. Another great way to do this is to invite a few friends over and watch them interact with your blog (better turn off AdSense while you are doing this).

What is the purpose of this whole exercise? It’s designed to desensitize you. You are different from the typical blog readers. Things that you take for granted are not as obvious to them as it is to you.

2. Review you blog with reader-centric mind

Now that you are more sensitive to what the readers are looking for, take a look at your own blog. You should be able to put each element into one of these 4 buckets (your classification may differ from mine):

  • Essential – the blog wouldn’t work very well without them. For example:
    • navigation bar
    • link to individual posts
    • search box
    • comment box
    • etc.
  • Valuable for readers – these are things that are useful for readers, but your blog would function fine without them. For example:
    • Content
    • Related posts
    • Popular posts
    • Archives
    • Categories
    • RSS feed links and logos
    • etc.
  • Valuable for your blog – these are things that the majority of readers ignore, but may be useful for your blog. For example:
    • Advertisements
    • Stat counters
    • Blogroll
    • etc.
  • Useless – these are things that don’t help your readers, you, or your blog. Why is it even there in the first place?
    • WordPress meta links
    • Calendar
    • Advertisements or affiliate links that doesn’t make you any money
    • How much is your blog worth? widget
    • Spam counter
    • You comment, I follow logo
    • numerous other widgets and clicklets

3. Unclutter!

Now remove anything that you marked useless. Then give your elements some white spaces, or lines of separation, to make it look clean and organized. For text blocks, you can use justified text alignment make them look clean. While you are doing this, there might be some opportunities to shorten, reduce, or eliminate unnecessary text, headings, and graphics.

If you are looking for specific suggestions to unclutter your blog, I highly recommend Skellie’s 50 Tips to Unclutter Your Blog.

4. Rearrange for Optimum Placement

Congratulation you completed the first step toward cleaner better blog. However, there’s still room for improvement.

Based on your judgment in step 2 you should move essential elements toward the top of the page; follow by most important and/or most frequently used items; and least important and/or least used should be toward the bottom.

Moreover, you can utilize heat maps like the one from AdSense, or ones that customized for your site — e.g., Crazy Egg, Google Analytics, etc. — to further optimize your blog. You may find that certain things perform better on the right side of the page as opposed to the left or the middle. You may find that elements you though we’re important or frequently used by your users are really aren’t.

For more articles about uncluttering your blog:

{ 3 comments }

1 PT

Great complilation, Pinyo. Thanks for sharing.

2 Adam Snider

Good tips, Pinyo. I definitely agree with most of your “useless” items, although I do actually use my WP Meta links a lot, so they are of use to me (though, not to my readers).

3 Pinyo

@PT — Thank you.

@Adam — I understand, or you could simply append /wp-admin to the end of your home page URL. Alternatively, you could bookmark it.

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