Archive for the ‘Design, Usability, and Readers’ Category

Content And Usability Before Blog Promotion

Monday, September 8th, 2008

I occasionally come across new bloggers who are eager to generate traffic to their blog.  They become focused on blog promotion and SEO before their blog is ready. I applaud their efforts, but I think it’s a mistake to promote your blog to prematurely.

Photo by Kelly Asmodee via Flickr

A good web site should serves a purpose.  For instance, a commercial site’s purpose might be selling some sort of products.  Without a well designed site, catalog of products, easy-to-use navigation, and secure eCommerce system, there’s no point in promoting the site because all the effort will be for naught.  Likewise, your blog serves a purpose — may be you want it to tell your story, share your interest or your expertise.  The commonality is that all blogs need some kind of content; as such, you should have at least a few good posts on your blog before you even attempt to promote it. And don’t even worry about SEO until you have sizable number of posts.

In addition to content, you should also design the blog for usability.  In general, blogs are well designed out of the box, but there are a few things you could do to improve it further:

  • Choose a professional looking theme
  • Navigation is clear and consistent
  • Feed subscription button is clearly visible, preferably above the fold
  • Search box is available and easy to find
  • Archive is easily accessible (I prefer a simple link in the navigation bar that links to a full archive page)
  • There is no unfinished posts
  • All links are working

By focusing on your content and usability first, you are giving your visitors good reasons to become readers, and hopefully, they’ll come back in the future.

This article was featured in:

How To Add Image Thumbnail Using WordPress Custom Fields

Thursday, July 31st, 2008

Over the past few days, I have been toying around with the idea of setting up WordPress as the CMS for a web site directory. One thing I wanted to do with my personal finance directory is to show a thumbnail image of the featured site when I am on the main page, category pages, tag pages, and search result pages.

As you know the thumbnail feature is not common in free WordPress themes, so I had to do some work to get it working. You can see how the directory looks below:

How To Add Thumbnail Image To WordPress Template

Now, let’s take a look at what we need to do to enable this feature.

1. Modify the main page (index.php) to show image

Note you could make the same changes to archive.php and search.php to get the same result. Note, I added the following code right under the title inside The Loop:

<a href="<?php the_permalink() ?>" rel="bookmark" title="<?php the_title(); ?>"><img style="float:left;margin: 0 10px 10px 0;border:1px solid #000;height:90px" src="/wp-content/uploads<?php $values = get_post_custom_values("Image"); echo $values[0]; ?>" alt="thumbnail" height="90" /></a>

There are two parts to this code, the <a> tag and the <img> tag.

  • The <a> tag is the same as the one on the post title. I am adding it here so that users can click on the image to get to the full post.
  • The <img> tag has a couple of components:
    • The style attribute tells the browser to float the image to left, add some white space around the image, surround it with a black border, and make it 90 pixels high.
    • The src attribute tells the server to grab the image from /wp-content/uploads directory with the rest of path and filename information coming from a custom field called “Image”

2. Add custom field called “Image” to each post

Now, when you are writing a post, you need to add a custom field called Image to the post with a value that reflects the rest of image path and filename information. In this example, we will use the same image that is shown inside the post itself. To do this:

  • Upload an image to the post
  • Switch to HTML mode and take note of the image path (see image below) — note the image path is /wp-content/uploads/2008/07/annualcreditreport.png in this example.

  • Next add the custom field called Image. Note that we already defined some of the path information in the template — i.e., /wp-content/uploads. So you are adding the rest of the path information and filename in the value field — i.e., /2008/07/annualcreditreport.png. (see image below)

  • Save and you’re done!

That’s it! Your blog should start showing thumbnail image next to each post once you completed these two steps.

Things to consider

Right now, if the Image custom field is not defined, the template will show missing image error. With a bit of PHP programming using if-then statement to detect the if the custom field is defined or not, you could show the thumbnail only when the Image custom field is defined.

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How To Design A Usable Reader-Centric Blog

Thursday, February 28th, 2008

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:

How to Find the Right WordPress Theme

Tuesday, February 5th, 2008

Whoa, is there such a thing as the wrong WordPress theme? Sadly, the answer is yes. There are literally thousands of themes out there. There are some really good ones, and inevitably, there are some bad ones too.

Moolanomy Theme

Where to find WordPress themes

Before I show you what make a theme bad, I would like to share some resources where you can find WordPress themes:

10 Signs of Bad WordPress Themes

This is not a hard and fast rule, and certain flaws are worse than others — also, some could be fixed with relative ease. Note that my theme doesn’t pass all the tests either, but I know where the problems are and I am working on it. In other word, you may have a tough time finding the perfect theme that passes all these 10 points.

  1. Ugly — I know beauty is in the eyes of the beholder. So you have to decide on this one. If it’s ugly, move on and don’t even bother.
  2. Doesn’t stand out — Another design problem is using a theme that looks the same as everyone else’s. Worse, you have a theme that look very similar to the more popular blogs in your niche. Your theme is an important part of your brand, so it’s worth investing a little time to make yours stand out.
  3. Bandwidth hog — Some themes have too many images, large CSS file, add-on JavaScript files, and large HTML files. Make sure that what you are getting is worth the bandwidth usage. To check your theme bandwidth efficiency, check out Web Page Analyzer from Web Site Optimization. If you use Firefox, try Firebug and YSlow add-ons combination (awesome!). Some tips on reducing bandwidth usage:
    • Reduce the number of images, scripts, and external CSS file (each image takes at least 1 HTTP request)
    • Optimize images to make them smaller
    • Reduce the size of CSS file — i.e., using Clean CSS — or you can do it on your own by stripping out comments, extra spaces, reduce long-hand coding to their short-hand equivalents, etc.
    • Eliminate unnecessary clutters from your blog — i.e., links, text, images, widgets, clicklets, etc.
  4. Database hog — Some themes can make a lot of unnecessary calls to the database. For example, Tigopedia Reloaded uses only 2 database calls compared to its predecessor that uses 30+ calls. Other than that, judicious use of plug-ins will also help reducing database usage.
  5. Invalid HTML — This is probably one of the easiest problems to fix. Unfortunately, some theme designers don’t even take the time to validate their code. To check if your theme validates, try the W3C Markup Validation Service. You can use the “show source” option to help you track down and fix problems.
  6. Invalid CSS — This is similar problem to the HTML validation. To check your CSS validation, try the W3C CSS Validation Service.
  7. Poorly optimized for search engines — There are many articles about how to optimize WordPress for search engines, but when it comes to theme, we are dealing mainly with location of content relative to other code, use of headings, and use of links. In general, good theme has the following characteristics:
    • Present main content first and sidebar(s) afterward
    • Use only one H1 heading for the post title (some may argue using H1 for blog title, but I think it’s more advantageous to use H1 for post title)
    • Use links sparingly and link directly to the post title
  8. Poor separation of content and design — Good theme should make good use of id and class attributes. It should have very little style declaration inside the template files itself. Also, CSS and JavaScript code should be in separate files and not included with the main HTML page.
  9. Inflexible (hard to modify) — Code should be clean, well formatted, and strategically commented. I have tried several themes in the past and there are some that are so hard to work with, I simply stop using them.
  10. Portable — One of the common problems I see when visiting blogs through a portable device (e.g., a blackberry) is bad rendering. Occasionally, I will see blog showing broken CSS code before I can get to the content. If you have an opportunity, check your site through a portable device and see for yourself. To get an idea on how your blog appears on text only or portable device, try Lynx Viewer.

I hope this post help you find your next theme. Before I go, I also want to share a really cool plug-in called Admin Theme Preview. This plug-in let your blog runs uninterrupted, while you can work on a new theme in the background.

Who Are You Talking To? Defining Your Target Audience.

Thursday, January 31st, 2008

I’d love to say “Everyone should read my blog.” Well, maybe everyone should, but not everyone will. Every blog has a target audience, no matter if they realize it or not. Defining who *is* interested and reaching those people is a key concept to your blog’s growth and development. Why?

Hitting the target

Photo via Wikimedia Commons

If I try to cater to a wide variety of interests, I’ll end up providing useful content some of the time for a wide segment of people, but the majority of the time, each individual will not find valuable information to them at my site. If a reader only finds my blog useful 10% of the time, the chances of them coming back diminish every time my content doesn’t provide them with value, until eventually they stop coming. Trying to be everything to all people is a recipe for disaster. Instead of fighting your core readership, embrace them and attract more of the same. This isn’t limiting your blog’s potential, it is strengthening it at the core and giving it the potential to flourish.

Before we can target our core readership, we have to define it. For some, this is a simple process, and for others, it is a little more confusing. Here are three steps to defining your target audience:

What do you write about specifically?

Even in a personal blog, there will be specific recurring themes. Your target audience consists of people who respond to and are interested in those themes. Knowing the topics that you consistently write about is the first step to understanding who reads your blog.

What topics bring people to your blog?

What posts get the most views? Which topics of the ones you write about seem to garner visits again and again? Knowing what you write about is key, but knowing what the reader wants is even better.

Which topics in your blog resonate with both you and the reader?

Which posts, even re-reading them, really resonate with you? What posts get people commenting and generate discussion amongst your readers? These are your core topics, and these are the things your target audience is interested in. And if they resonate with you, they’re topics you can continue to write about and expand on without fear of losing interest. Remember, if you don’t care about your topic, you can’t expect your reader to.


For me, I started writing a blog to create personal motivation and accountability within my own financial life. I found, as I wrote, and as readers started coming to my blog, that I was not only writing as an online journal of sorts, but as a resource and motivation for others in similar situations to my own. Although not all my readers are in debt, my target audience is those who are in debt and looking for emotional and informational support to free themselves from debt, as well as those who can identify with being in debt and going through the process of getting out. That doesn’t limit my audience – the number of people I’ve just defined is much larger than the current readership of my blog – but it does define what topics and conversations my typical reader will find of value to them.

So, now that I know who I’m writing for, how do I find my audience? Look for future posts on strategies to attract your target audience, including using carnivals, social networking, guest posting, and other ways to get your content noticed by your potential readers. Stay tuned!

Compelling People To Subscribe

Thursday, January 24th, 2008

I write a blog about personal finance – specifically about my family’s specific and personal approach to how we handle our finances. It isn’t meant to be a blog with the most up-to-date cutting edge personal finance ideas, although my hope is that every reader learns a little something along the way they can apply to their own situation, but it is a blog with a unique hook that anyone can copy yet no one can duplicate.

My blog is honestly and authentically about me and my own approach to personal finance. And that is a topic I have an undying passion for and can speak with absolute authority on. It’s a very simple concept yet a very often overlooked one. The personal engages the reader on an emotional level that straight information simply cannot. In the past seven months, I have grown my blog to just under 1000 RSS subscribers, which is not definitively large by any means but is very solid and rapid growth in a fairly saturated niche. The personal aspect of my blog is what compels people to subscribe, so they won’t miss the next step in our journey.

Now you may read this and think, “Well, that’s nice for you, but my blog isn’t about my story, it’s about x, y, or z, so why am I even reading this post?”. Not every blog is going to tell a story, but I contend that every blog can benefit from injecting a little of the “personal” into their subject matter, no matter how information-focused their topic is.

Here are three key ideas on how to interject relatability and personality into any topic:

1. Why is what you’re blogging about important to you?

If you’re posting about something that you don’t have any interest in and has no relevance in your own life, I invite you to reconsider why you’re posting it. Successful blogging involves commitment, and commitment can be driven by passion. Be passionate about your topic! Care about what you’re saying and who you’re saying it to. Make sure that your own interest in the topic comes across in your writing.

2. Do you have personal experience with the topic at hand?

How does what you’re posting relate to your life and experiences, past or present? Injecting a bit of how this affects you, has affected you, or the ways you see it playing out in your life can bring the driest of information to life and engage your reader. Engaged readers delve deeper and eventually become loyal readers and subsequently subscribers. Expose yourself – write dirty (in a good way)!

3. Can you relate the topic to the average person on their level?

Why should anyone be interested? Know your target audience, and write to them. If your target is off the mark, your words won’t resonate in the way you intend. Relating your content to your audience provides value and translates into repeat visits. Repeat visits translates into loyal readers and – you know the rest.

What makes you unique is your own perspective

Any blog can report news or happenings, your insight and personal spin is what creates compelling content that people want to come back and read again and again. An information-rich finance blog that strikes this balance exceptionally well is The Digerati Life. Her posts are packed with information and value and news to learn from, and she not only interjects personal perspective throughout her posts, at the end of many of her posts, she relates the topic discussed back to her personal experience or explores the common themes that run through the information that can be applicable to anyone.

Don’t neglect the most unique aspect of any blog – the author’s viewpoint. That alone can make you stand out in even the most saturated of niches.

Welcome to Blogthority — the Beginning

Wednesday, January 23rd, 2008

Writing the first post for a blog is never easy — it is an art in itself. For me, this is an opportunity to say how it came to be, what the blog is all about, and why you should read it.

So why did we start this blog?

My friends at the M-network and I have been blogging for various lengths of time, but most of us started sometime in 2007. We got together about 6 months ago when one of us decided the best way for a newbie to succeed is to band with other like-minded bloggers. So the network was formed.

Since then we collectively grew our combined subscribers base from less than 500 to over 5,000. And we saw our traffic increase dramatically. I can’t speak for the other members, but my readership went from 1 reader (me) when I started to over 75,000 page views this month.

What’s the point of all this? The point is, as a group, we’ve learned a lot in the past 6 months and we want to share those ingredients of success with you.

What is this blog about?

Since we don’t write about blogging on our main blogs, we have decided to create Blogthority as an outlet where we share the lessons we have learned about blogging. We will be writing about blogging topics such as:

  • blog design,
  • marketing,
  • search engines optimization (SEO),
  • converting readers to subscribers
  • monetization, and
  • networking

We will also write about important soft skills like interacting with readers, other bloggers, advertisers, and others in the field. Occasionally, we will discuss hard skills, such as programming, site maintenance, database maintenance, and other technical issues.

Why Should You Read this Blog?

We recognize that there are a lot of good meta-blogs out there — actually, the web is over-saturated with meta-blogs. However, most of these blogs are run by one person with a singular view about the topic. And the honest truth is that many more meta-blogs are run by someone who has never experienced success with blogging.

We feel that as a group, we can provide you with more well-rounded information. We are also writing based on things that have worked for us, so you know the information we provide is not just some last minute rehash — it is actually useful and applicable. Also, we are gearing our information to people who are new to blogging, so most of the concepts presented will be actionable and easy to understand.

In the end, I am sure you will find this blog useful. Please be sure to subscribe to our full feed (which we provide for free of charge). Alternatively, you can subscribe via email and get the newest articles delivered to you on the same day we post them.