How To Improve Your Blog Usability And Why You Want To Do It
Usability of your blog is one of the most important factors of how successful and popular it is. Yet, it is often neglected.
Read on to find reasons and motivation for improving the usability of your blog, and once you feel totally convinced, I'll show you some of the best tips to greatly improve your situation, listed along with instructions and links to respective online resources.
What is usability?
Speaking of web, usability is a term used for showing how easy (or hard) it is for your visitors to browse your online resource. Usability applies to all kinds of online resources: it can be a regular website, an electronic library or a personal blog – it doesn't really matter. What matters though is how easy it is for people to move around your collection of resources, and how comfortable you make this experience for them.
In general, usability indicates just how easy it is for people to use a particular tool in order to achieve a certain result. When you project it into the world of blogging, this makes your blog a tool. It is both a tool for you to share the information and for users to receive it. So improving your usability means making both primary uses of your blog a pleasant experience.
Why improve usability at all?
With millions of blogs updated daily, the pressure is growing every day for every one of us to raise the standards of our blogging. Demanding visitors expect increasingly more, and this means that the basic level of usability has to be maintained by every blog, including yours.
Unless you're a selfish genius who writes posts for himself, you would really want to make sure your visitors get what they expect to see when they arrive at your blog, and it's therefore absolutely vital to make them feel comfortable browsing your pages. Especially so, if you hope for some of them to come back to your blog again and again.
How To Improve Your Blog Usability
As with anything else, in order to improve your blog usability you need to find out reasons for doing so. After you understand all the reasons, you can focus on one particularly beneficial usability feature or another. Essentially, you want to define and write down the following:
- Your purpose for having a blog
Why do you blog, really? What are the main goals you have? What is the purpose of your blog?
You need to ask yourself all these questions to have eventually a list of pretty general goals of your blog, and make sure you can align your blog usability against such a list.
Here are just a few examples of how you would align your usability improvements against your blogging goals.
If your blogging goals are:
- to provide visitors with useful information
- to develop your skills and knowledge in relevant subjects
- to gain more readership
- to participate in blogging community
…then your usability improvements should be respectively aimed at:
- both increasing and simplifying ways to access information on your blog pages
- encouraging your readers to leave comments and provide feedback
- providing multiple means of reading your blog regularly – RSS feeds and email subscriptions
- making sure you link to other blogs and get them to link to you
- Purposes your visitors might (should) have
Why should anyone want to read your blog? What would your regular readers keep coming back for? What would a first-time visitor notice or discover first? What would your visitors be looking for? These questions are aimed to help you understand what kind of the first impression your blog is going to make. Imagine yourself to be a visitor to your blog. Open it up in your browser and look closely – what do you see first? Is this an important piece of information or just an accidentally highlighted design feature which bears no value?
Again, here is a list of most obvious reasons you might have:
- your blog contains genuinely interesting information of educational nature
- you're an expert in your field, and visitors will come back for more information
- your visitors are likely to be so interested that they will want to browse your previous articles
- you are so brilliant that some people will want to read your blog regularly
And they would mean the following directions in your usability enhancement:
- highlighting the most recent information, notifying blog search sites about new posts
- showing a list of most recent posts to make navigation easier
- providing links to monthly archives of your posts and list of categories of posts
- making RSS and email subscription options visible
Now that I've got you interested in usability enhancements, I offer you the following list of WordPress articles and plugins which I believe you will find useful:
- Blog posts archives pages
It is very important that you give your visitors an option to access every previous post of yours with just a few clicks. Blog archives pages serve this very purpose.
Consider using Justin Blanton's Smart Archives plugin, which will provide you with a very quick and effective way of showing your blog archives – with monthly sections and links to every individual post of each month.
To see this in action, check out Perfect Blogger Archives page.
- Category lists
Most themes for your blog would have a built-in and probably enabled by default functionality of showing a list of your categories somewhere on a sidebar.
One of the easiest way to increase usability of such lists is to provide a total number of posts found in each of the categories. This will make it easier for your visitors to decide what category to read next, by helping them realize what categories of yours have most posts.
To achieve this effect (you can probably notice how it looks right here on this blog), you need to use the list_cats function of WordPress:
<?php list_cats(FALSE, '', 'name',
'asc', '', TRUE, FALSE,
TRUE, true, FALSE,
TRUE, FALSE, '', FALSE,
'', '', '',
- Tag cloud
This is a brilliant way to improve usability of your blog. Effectively, you will allow visitors to pick only specific topics of their interest as oppose to limiting them by your own list of categories.
Tags are more specific than categories by their nature, so don't be surprised to end up with a long list of tags in your tag cloud.
The idea of tag cloud is that it's going to highlight (using different font sizes) the most popular tags of yours (the once set for most number of posts), once again highlighting the most talked about topics of yours. The working example is found on this very site on the left sidebar.
Ultimate Tag Warrior is the best plugin for this purpose. It's rather complicated, but well worth the time it requires to be properly setup.
If you prefer doing everything yourself, you might like this Building A Tag Cloud in WordPress article.
- Blog feeds
When people like your blog, they usually want to read it regularly. And since the easiest way to do this is by receiving your blog feeds, there is definitely something you can do to make their life easier.First of all, make your feed button (or text link) visible.
Don't expect people open up a separate window with HTML code of your blog to find the feed link manually (although that's exactly what I do for far too many blogs simply because it's impossible to find their feed button on the page). Most people won't be like me, they will just wonder where your feed subscription might be, decide to come back to your blog, and eventually forget to do it.
A bright visible feed button is the least you can do for your future readers.
Another usability improvement here is to install a Feedburner Feed Replacement plugin and get all the various formats of feeds (RSS is only one of them) redirected to your one and only public feed, which you need to configure at FeedBurner.
Setting your FeedBurner account is easy enough, and having a single blog feed will make your life easier in many ways: not only will FeedBurner automatically show the feed in expected by a client program format (for instance, your feed aggregator might expect your feed in Atom, RSS or RSS 2.0 format, or it could be just a regular browser opening the feed URL – FeedBurner will show a nice looking page with your posts in this case), and most importantly it will allow you to effortlessly track your readership.
Open this page in your browser to see my FeedBurner feed in HTML: PerfectBlogger.
- Comments on your blog There is a whole array of various plugins to make your comments management and representation better for you and your readers.
- Related posts
This is another great way of improving usability of your blog.
By interlinking (providing links to relevant posts of your own blog), you will make visitors stay longer on your blog. You will also help them explore more on the topic of their interest.
I prefer specifying relevant topics myself, and for this purpose I suggest you use a Terong Related Posts plugin. It simply adds a link to your post editing window in WordPress, and allows you to select the relevant posts from a global list of all the posts. Selected posts will then be given as a neat list of links at the bottom of your post.
You should find these resources interesting and relevant to this article:
- Usability @ Wikipedia
- Online documentation on WordPress
- Blog Design – a very useful category of posts on ProBlogger