Blog Usability – How to Reach Your Blogging Happy Place

Congratulations! You’re a blog owner. It has a catchy name. After submitting a blog post, you’re amazed at the inbound traffic. The ads in your sidebar are paying your mortgage. People recognize you on the street as that “Cool Blogger”. Next year, you’ll retire to some tropical island because your blog success is like winning the lottery. Or not.

A focus on the usability of your blog can help create a happy picture much like the one you’ve just read. First, let’s begin with the vision for your blog.

Vision

What is the purpose of your blog? The ease and availability of blog software has made blogging an option for nearly every type of web site. You can entertain. Inform. Sell products. Offer opinions. Market your company. Perhaps you simply want to write from your heart and your personal blog is your journal.

What is the value of your blog to your readers? Are you writing for yourself, your industry, your business, or company? Sometimes blogs are so well written that readers become fans even if the topic raises eyebrows. One of the best written blogs I ever found was filled with hilarious stories by a male escort.

Will your blog benefit readers? If your blog is part of a resorts web site, do you offer personal reviews of properties that your readers can use to help them choose where to go? If you operate a news blog, do you check facts, go by press releases or have investigative blog reporters on your staff?

Who is your target market? If you’re an artist with a blog, you may hope to inspire someone to purchase your artwork. Perhaps you want to convince them that your next show is worth attending. What writing style can you use for art lovers looking to purchase good works of art? When blogging industry news, do you write in simple terms or use technical jargon? Who will be reading your blog? Professionals? Peers? Strangers? Friends? Customers?

There may be related goals such as “to teach”, “inform and sell my book”, “news and a bit of personal life”, etc. When you wish to combine topics, communicate your objectives to your readers in your blog description or About page. Attempts to hide your true purpose or “fake out” readers may injure the credibility of your blog.

Blog visitors determine the usability and purpose of your blog based on the layout and content. When considering your target readers, consider demographic information such as age, gender, computer experience, geographic location and education.

Requirements Gathering

By now, it may have suddenly occurred to you that your blog isn’t just for you. Gathering requirements is an exercise in organization and better planning for your blog. Try to do this before you spend hours searching for the perfect blog template. The end result is better overall usability because of your close attention to small details and greater understanding of what you want to create.
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On a WordPress Kick

I’ve been teaching myself new things lately and one of them is getting away from the Thesis theme I traditionally use, and trying out other blog themes.

That’s why this site looks different. So does Cre8asiteforums. The new forums home page is in limbo and not finished yet, but it looks far better than the previous home page did. Not only are themes interesting to get to know, but so are new CSS3 tricks.

Picture of flowerI’m not much a designer. Other people have artistic talent. For me, getting into the code and seeing what’s what and how to make something do something is the fascinating part. Things are looking different around this site (again) (after all these years) but as long as something loads, that’s a sure sign I haven’t blown up the place.

Yet.

A Nice Email

I received an email today that some folks might have been upset to get. It was one of those, “Do you know you have something in your teeth?” moments. Only this note was about a web site.

It was brief and to the point. I don’t think I know the person. They had discovered that some images on one of my web sites isn’t rendering properly. It’s my first attempt at table-less CSS and indeed, there is an issue with some photos and how they “sit” inside the content. The writer noted the issue, took a snapshot with arrows to show what the trouble was and then, gave me a suggestion for the solution!

Sure. It was unsolicited. I could have been snotty and deleted it. I get lots of junk in my in-box. But this email was short, polite, helpful and didn’t ask me for anything in return.

I replied with my thanks.

This is an example of how we can “talk” on the Internet. Be polite. Be unattached to the outcome. Be helpful. Be brief.

This is how it’s done.

Cre8pc Blog: Tank Not Empty Yet (Just Busy)

When I started the Cre8pc blog, in 2002, blogging was nowhere as popular as it is today. Back then, blogging was still related to diaries and journals and often of a personal nature. Mine has evolved as trends change.

Today, it’s the leading communication device that allows me to stay in touch with readers and friends. I used to post here every day and then a few days a week and now, if I’m lucky, a few times a month. In some ways, I’ve just run out of things to write about. Often, someone else has just done a better job of writing about something I find interesting and I leave it at that.

Blogs come and go. We’ve all witnessed this as the years go by. Some thrive by adding guest writers. In my mind, this blog was “Kim’s Place” and for my voice only. I do have another blog, Akesana, that has several writers. I’ve been too busy to nurture it. In fact, I’ve been writing for other publications, both online and print, and this has interfered with my own blogging schedule.

As a blogger, I’m out there learning along with everybody else. Last year was rough. A series of events created a bit of confusion and I lost the will to be so public. I learned, first hand, what it’s like to be the target of someone’s online wrath. Fortunately none of the bad experiences hurt my ability to do my work and I continued to thrive.

So where have I been lately? What is keeping me away from the Cre8pc so much this year?

Work. As the economy tanked, many people with online businesses wanted to go to the next step beyond search engine marketing. Suddenly companies wanted usability audits. Software developers wanted someone on their team to act as the voice of the end user, from the planning stage on through to roll out. Instead of writing articles, I gather and write requirements documents that specialize in usability and seo, in addition to more traditional business and functional requirements. I not only test applications, but write the user manuals too.

I’m also on the road. It’s getting expensive to outsource search engine optimization services, which has forced many companies to want to train in-house SEO’s. I visit 4 cities in November, spending 50% of the month training employees for a large firm. It’s been incredibly rewarding to teach techniques that empower them to help their company’s web sites perform better for both search engines and searchers.

One of the most common complaints I’ve heard this year is that SEO’s are charging far too much for their services. I’ve been contacted several times a month by people who have contracted big SEO firms, only to be frustrated and upset at the lack of attention or worse, broken contractual agreements. They don’t know who to trust in the industry. And, they don’t want to pay someone who has no expertise in user experience, information architecture, accessibility, mobile use and usability. For the money they pay out, they want better skills. For that reason, I expect to be doing more training in the months to come. If there are no multi-skilled people for hire, some companies are willing to invest in their own existing employees.

I write today from a hotel in Tampa. It’s my son’s 16th birthday and I’m not with him. It’s something I, a very “mom” oriented mom, has had to work through. Working away from home was something I put off for years because I had no desire to be a working mom who was never home to be with her kids. Now that they’re older, I’m learning that it’s okay to leave the house. It’s good for them. Good for me. I get the remote all to myself. I can hog the entire bed. And housekeeping makes the bed. What mom doesn’t dream of such things?

The year wraps up with me speaking in Chicago. Shari Thurow and I are creating a fresh approach to the topic of usability and its relationship to SEO. Our research and work experiences indicate that search engine conference attendees are ready for some new ideas and even advanced practices in search usability. These developments are because of you, the people we support.

So don’t let the lack of posts fool you.

I’m still here.

Teetering on the Blogger’s Ledge

As a consultant on Search Engine Marketing and Web Site Usability, one of the suggestions I often make to companies who want to establish their online presence is to create a blog. Is this still a good idea?

The seeds of blogging began in the late 1980’s when early adopters of the Internet used bulletin boards to find people and talk with them. Chat rooms and topic focused email lists came next, followed by “groups”, forums and now, blogging and social networking sites. The constant theme is our desire to talk about ourselves.

When there were less people doing all the chatting, it felt more intimate. For a few years there, I could dial up (yes, dial up with a cranky modem), and in due time (after the bagel was toasted), I could easily find all sorts of people that I “knew”. They hid behind their user names, but it was fun to picture what “Italian Stallion” or “TechGod” or “RedPen” looked like. Today, with Facebook, pictures and real names, the thrill of guessing is gone.
Cliff
I loved the innocence of the early days. And the danger. Oh, the stories I won’t tell you! And still, there was the time during my single mom years that I chatted somewhere about being alone, again, on New Years Eve. One of my online friends, whom I’d never met but had chatted with online and via the phone for hours, flew out to stay with me and the kids and spoiled me rotten with good food and a fun trip to the local King of Prussia Mall. For years, while the kids were young, he sent a box of goofy kid gifts and something pretty for me. The kids adored him. I think he adored me, but I couldn’t return those feelings. Still, he was a loyal friend and he always made me relax, which is not an easy to do. We lost touch…sad to say, because I got so busy with my Internet-based work that I stopped maintaining off-line friendships.

Most of my off-line friends will tell you, if asked, that I’m impossible to reach and even harder to spend time with. One friend wanted to throw me a birthday party and stopped talking to me when I refused to go along with it. I really hate all that attention. It’s a testament to my friend, Li Evans, that she managed to pull off a huge party for my 50th party and got me to come to it.

I’ve noted my own behavior on the Internet over the years. Sometimes I wonder if I’m alone in my feelings and observations. With the gigantic emphasis on social conversation and networking today, why have I slowed my blogging input rather than take advantage of this Big Blogging Thing?

Talk Talk Talk

Blogs were once online diaries of personal heartfelt posts that weren’t generally targeted to anybody in particular. The outflow was therapy. Some people are natural storytellers and were a blast to read. Some were tragic, such as the blog I once followed that was all about the death of a father’s young daughter. Those types of blogs helped us understand that we’re not alone and other people have feelings like we do. Comments weren’t really the big thing. The human outflow was the juice.

Today, there is far far less writing from the heart. Blogs are used to house articles, share industry news, sell products and services and draw enough attention to get other sites to link to your site. My blog has fallen into that trap as well. I don’t write from the heart nearly as much as I once did.

Baring Soul

Why? Because of two things. One is I have no ego. I don’t think for a moment anyone cares what I have to say or that what I write here is anything spectacular. I do think the articles I write for OTHER web sites, such as Search Engine Land’s Just Behave, are really good. I write better for other people or sites because I feel it is my responsibility to do my best for them.

Sure, a shrink will tell you I lack self confidence or something related to that. I’m confident in my skills. I do lack the “Here I am! Aren’t I great?” gene. I think that to sustain a blog year after year, the blogger has to truly believe they are hot, in demand, and people want to grow up and be just like them.

This is why corporate blogs and blogs set up for the purpose of getting links are so bland. They lack a personality. Their writers are called “Admin”. Their content is stagnant and most often unoriginal. These blogs are not blogs. They are more boring web sites that are slightly more powerful than an About Us page.

The other reason I write less is that baring my soul became gossip fodder. You’ll recall some of the debates where new people would ask if it’s okay to combine business with personal stuff. My blog was sometimes referred to as an example of a successful combo for both. I did pull it off for awhile, but I’ve shied away this past year from the personal stuff.

I noticed that when I share anything “real”, its when I’m miffed at something. I don’t have a temper. I just get ruffled. When I get really mad, I don’t talk to anybody and go hide in my cave until all the bad feelings are tucked safely away. Really unhealthy way to live…but I have a personal code. Don’t get mad. Don’t cry. Just learn something and don’t judge.

Unless I bring my blog into the cave, there’s really nothing that exciting to write about. So what is left is just the professional business writing.

ReBoot

So now I feel as though I’m standing on the blogging ledge, looking down at all the little blogging people below, with their honking ads and rushing from street to street trying to be the first one to get a news story out. I no longer feel the desire to be first and I have no desire to toot my horn.

I suppose I’ll still recommend blogs to clients, and offer suggestions for how to make them worthwhile investments in time and money. There are some blogs that rock because the folks behind them figured out how to provide information with personality, news with creativity and serious commitment to quality writing. They kept some of the magic, which is writing for readers, not sales.

With blogs becoming more or less just regular web sites, I wonder where the next human to human outflow will be. Will it be found in the niche social sites that target certain demograhics? Is it user generated feedback on sites that ask for reviews and ratings? Does the creative community, such as writers and artists, have anything new up their sleeves? Is the next cool community gab thing on the Internet at all?

Will the transparency fad fade? Have we grown tired of knowing what everybody looks like naked, how much they drink or what meds they’re on? Maybe personal blogging is petering out because they shared too much intimate information. Perhaps there is a push back on voyeurism.

Maybe, in my case, I just miss real people.

With Social Networking, Above All, Be You

When someone sets up a web site, blog or online business, meeting the Web for the first time can be perplexing. How do we go from face to face interaction to techno-keyboard, static image, wordsmith-dueling communicators?

Lately I’ve had a group of folks coming to me for web site rebirth help. Their old web sites have grown old, grumpy and forgotten. A few have chosen to add blogs, sign up for Facebook and try out Twitter. Each of them had the same question:

“What do I say”?

Between the line of that one line is the real question, which is, “How can I get noticed or making money REALLY fast?” Related to this are concerns for linking, popularity, how to get conversations going, where to find friends, where to find discussions on a topic, and how to look like they know what they’re doing, when they really don’t.

First off, don’t whine. If this is you, don’t be you. Unless your web site is about being miserable, in which case, have at it. Misery loves your company and I’m fine if you keep it all in your corner of the planet.
Edie Weinstein Moser, LiveinJoy.org
Next, let people see you. A video is great for showing site visitors what you look like. I know first hand how incredibly difficult this is to do, which is why I don’t use Skype or have a web cam. My best suggestion, unless you’re convinced you’re perfectly perfect and the world can’t possibly exist without seeing your face, is to get completely smackered first and blame the slurred words on your computer equipment or their bandwidth.

Add quotes to your blog, Twitter or social networking sites you belong to. This offers an idea on where your head is at. If you only quote from movies, this is a nice clue about you. God love ya for having so much time on your hands.

Twitter is this finicky little thing that will drive you crazy and you’ll scream for more. Or, you will feel completely overwhelmed because everyone is talking so much and you can’t possibly get in a word edgewise. Or, you tried to get in a word and everyone ignored you, which really feels blechy. You can Twitter your latest blog posts, but leave a teaser too. Even movies have trailers created to try and get you to go to see it. Same thing with Twitter links. Include the love scene or part where the cell phone turns into a gigantic transformer. Grab attention.  Get them at the “AH COOL!” moment.

Ask questions on Twitter and your blog. Be sure to respond to those who answer, even if it is just one person. If you treat that one person with respect, they will remember you. Suggest on your blog, Twitter homepage or social networking site that you’re happy to meet folks. Make is easy to find and contact you. An authentic blog is one where the person writing in it is accessible via email, phone or address and NOT a contact form as the only possible way of making contact. Forms are not friendly. They are a task. Making new friends and web contacts should never feel like a task.

What do you talk about? Begin with what you know really, really well. If you’re going to fake it, you’re only robbing yourself of real experiences. Link to books, products and sites that backup your niche in a positive way. Describe why you linked to these sites, especially if the links are affiliate links. Links don’t sell themselves. They’re powerless little things until put them into the right delivery mechanism, such as persuasive call to action button or expertly crafted landing page.

And finally, if you are anti-social in real life, chances are good you may find yourself singing in your own web site bathroom as well. I was just telling someone today on the phone, to be patient. Be consistent. Always be dependable. Write when you have something to say and if what you have to say is not that great, fine.

You are growing and learning.
We will wait.

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