There are basic questions that every blogger must ask themselves about their blog, and not just once. It is critically important for a new blogger, but as a recent event reminded me, even long time bloggers need to occasionally revisit these questions:

  1. Does my blog have a clear and well-defined purpose?
  2. Can a first time visitor easily get to the content?
  3. Is my blog about “me” or about the reader?
  4. Can my content be quickly and easily scanned?
  5. Do I have headlines, formatting and visuals that will cause someone to want to read my posts?

I’ve been blogging and writing for a long time but had not done any serious critique of my blogs in a year or two.  A peer review last week of one of my blogs was a stark wake up call that I had fallen into some lazy and ineffective habits. The content was still being produced but the “house” where it lived was in shambles.  It was an uncoordinated, “shoot from the hip” effort that stemmed from a subconscious mindset of “I already know what I’m doing”. It resulted in a blog that was hard for first time viewers to quickly and positively assess. Very few readers would have stuck around long enough to see there was some useful content hiding in there somewhere.

It was “subscriber genocide”. Why didn’t I see this? I’m experienced. I know the proven principles of layout, blog design and attracting readers… but you sure couldn’t tell it from that blog. What happened?

I have committed myself to a regular review of my blogs, asking the right questions with the goal of making sure I was not getting lazy, sloppy, stuck in a rut, developing bad habits or doing things without thinking or purpose. The peer review on my blog was embarrassing but it was priceless in that it reminded me to regular schedule a time to answer these five questions…

Does my blog have a clear and well-defined purpose?

We take for granted that our long time readers know what our blog is about and to some degree, lazy design can exist in that environment. However, if you wish to grow your readership and expand the base of loyalty around your content, a new reader must be able to (almost instantly) determine what your blog is about and why they should remain interested.  This can be accomplished by optimizing several elements:

  • Header/Logo – does the header content, verbiage and logo send a clear message about the purpose of your blog?
  • Colors and Design – do the blog colors, design elements and styles support the purpose of the blog? At a minimum, they should not hinder declaring your purpose. For example, if I have a blog about “peaceful living”, I”m not going to have some chaotic MTV them with harsh colors and lots of activity. I’m going to have lots of space, no clutter, soothing images, conservative font styles, etc.
  • Tagline – is there a short summary sentence in your header, near the top or in a prime location for new readers to quickly consider? It is simple, clear and powerful? If the visitor read nothing but this tagline, could they make an informed decision to stay or go?
  • About page – do you have an about page that not only gives information on you, the author, but also starts with a crystal clear restatement of what your blog is about?
  • Headlines and subheads – does a quick scan down your home page give the new reader irrefutable evidence of what your blog is all about? You have one shot as they scan your post titles and section headers for them to quickly answer, “this blog is about…., I think I’ll stick around”.

Can a first time visitor easily get to the content?

There are gagillions of blogs out there, each one competing for the same limited slice of time from each reader. If we make readers work hard to find our content, they won’t. Plain and simple. If we make it hard to find our content once they get to our blog, then we will have lost golden opportunities to present our best to them and build loyalty.

When a reader visits your blog, can they effortlessly:

  • Find the most recent content?
  • Find the last few recent content posts?
  • Find a list of your favorite posts? (this says to the reader, “here’s my best stuff, enjoy”)
  • Find a list or link to help NEW READERS get the foundational or basic content needed to get them up to speed with your community or topic?
  • Search your blog and see the results?
  • Peruse your archives scanning well written titles?
  • See a list of the “most popular”, “most read” or “most commented on” material?

You don’t have to have all those, and in fact, loading your blog with too many lists my clutter it up and defeat the purpose. You have to find the right balance of presenting the contents of your blog for the convenience of the reader, especially new ones, without “junking up” your blog with too many choices.

Is my blog about “me” or about the reader?

When you first see this question, “is my blog about me?”, you might think I’m simply talking about bragging or self-aggrandizement. While that is certainly part of it, what I’m really talking about is whether or not you have “you” in mind when you create content, or you have the reader in mind and what’s best for them. It’s an attitude, a motivation, a point of view, a purpose.  “Does my blog exist to benefit my reader, or to manipulate the reader into benefiting me?”

Good blogs retain and illuminate the personality and event the life of the author. There is a fine line between the blog benefiting from your experience, personality and writing style, to the blog becoming about you.  There is one primary question to ask yourself:

When a reader finishes a post, or concludes a visit to my blog, do they leave feeling “this blog did something for me” or “this blog just wants me to do something for it”.  For the latter it may be an overemphasis on getting readers to subscribe, to donate, to view advertising or leave comments.

The former will have the reader thinking “I’m glad I came across this blog. It really was worth the time.”   Ironically, the harder we try to get something from the reader, the less chance we have of getting it.  On the flip side, the harder we try to benefit the reader, the more likely it is they will want to give something back without even being asked or prodded (ie. subscribe, comment, purchase a product, etc.).

One of the best methods for answering this question is to get some trusted friends and readers to give you an honest opinion. Ask them to tell you “does my blog seem like it written to benefit the reader, or promote what I want the reader to do?”  Have the courage to accept the truth. It was a real sting to hear some negative feedback on this question about one of my own blogs but it caused me to make some necessary changes that I otherwise was unaware of.

Can my content be quickly and easily scanned?

We talked a little about this in the first question but it goes further.  As you look down the page of your blog do you require the reader to labor through long sections of text and “mine” the subject matter for themselves? Do they have to read an entire post before finally discovering they may or may not have cared about what you were saying?

With the exponentially growing amount of free content, TIME is becoming the valuable and scarce commodity we are competing for. Readers make ongoing choices about whether or not your content is worth the investment of their time.  Headlines, subtitles, callouts and captions can give the reader what they need to quickly determine “should I invest my time?”.  If you simply present 1200 words in neatly formatted paragraphs you are more than likely answering the question for them “no, it’s not worth my time to read this whole thing just to see if it is something I really want to read.”

By using an informative headline and breaking up the content with defining subtitles, callouts and hightlights, the reader can spend a few seconds and quickly determine “yep, this is for me, I’m going to invest my valuable time reading it”.  Even if the readers decides against reading, you have still increased loyalty and honored the reader by implying “your time is valuable, I don’t want you to waste it reading something that doesn’t interest you.” You can loyalty point for allowing and trusting the reader to choose, and giving them an easy way to do so.

On a side note, the same structure that allows the readers to quickly scan, also help search engines, researchers, casual visitors and new readers to digest the purpose and topics of your blog resulting in more exposure and a wider audience.

Do I have headlines, formatting and visuals that will cause someone to want to read my posts?

Typically, you have just an instance, a few seconds to convince someone to read your content. In conjunction with everything we’ve already covered, the elements of a given post are vital to grabbing a reader and providing the motivation to stick around and read more.

  • Headlines – headlines either hook or repel the reader. The headline must not only declare honestly what the content is about, but must do it in an attention getting manner that compels the reader to want to dig deeper. Consider a headline for this post you are reading right now: “Important Things about Blogging”. Yawn… does that do anything for you?  No urgency, no importance, no emphasis, nothing to make you care. “Five Questions You Must Regularly Ask Yourself About Your Blog” gives you something definitive (five questions), urgency (you must), importance (something you should do regularly), and makes it personal (ask yourself, your blog).
  • Formatting – does the formatting of your blog content lend itself to easy readability? Are the font sizes easy on the eyes? Do the colors used enhance the reader experience and make it comfortablet to spend the time necessary to read? Do you have short sentences and paragraphs which lead the read from thought to thought logically? Do you employ bulleted or numbered list to help organize the content, making it easier to digest and remember?
  • Visuals – are your images professional and enhance the content? Do your visuals distract, clutter or confuse? Are the images obviously there to support and illuminate the content? Or do they just appear to be there as eye candy?

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Evaluate your blog with these five basic questions. If you are new to blogging, the benefit is obvious. If you are a seasoned blogger, then it may reveal some bad habits or laziness that has crept in. I would even recommend you have some of your blogging friends do an honest evaluation of your blog for you. We are very good at putting blinders on.

While it was extremely uncomfortable, and professionally disappointing, I was incredibly grateful to get “hammered” by a peer evaluation. It resulted in a total reworking of that blog and quickly dissipated the sting of the criticism. It renewed my commitment to these five questions, and routinely evaluating my blog in light of them.

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