This is the second post for looking at the visual details that effect how we read a blog. Part 1: What to do with a visually noisy blog focused on the design of the template that was modified for the School of Thought blog.
Part 2: Ideas for visually simplifying a blog
First I want to acknowledge the blog we are talking about in this post is chock full of great information and resources. So the goal here is to make that come front and center in a way that isn’t quite so visually overwhelming.
When I started blogging there were so many cool widgets and things to stick in my sidebar that I wanted to try them all. Even being conscious of the visual impact, I still did it. Then I read Skellie’s 50 Ways to Unclutter Your Blog. It really helped me to think more in terms of the readers perspective and about what I was trying to do. I pulled a lot of stuff off my blog that day.
What are readers looking for when they come to your blog?
I think this may be really different from blog to blog, and perhaps from reader to reader. When I come to a blog, the first thing I look at is the tagline for an overall sense of what it is about. I want to see who the author is and something about them. I look for categories or tags so I get a general overview of the topics the person is writing about. Therefore, when I look at the visuals on a blog, my opinions are influenced by what I want to see. Ultimately what works for a particular blog is a balance between what the owner is trying to convey and their readers’ needs.
Customizing a template
The School of Thought blog uses a customized version of Stardust, which I talked about in part 1. The most obvious difference is that the two column design from the original template has been converted to three columns. In the last post we talked about how people read in an F pattern on the web. When there are three columns, the reading pattern is slightly different. The eye can go on several paths, which may become confusing.
Sue Waters wondered:
Based on how you have explained people read online I now wondering how whether a left and right sidebar change this reading pattern and are they competing for attention with the post?
And Sue Wyatt saw it like this:
I never thought about the way my template might be read – choices of colour, number of columns, left to right in F pattern. I went into Fred’s blog and immediately the black writing got my eye, but further down the page the red on the left drew my eye first. I don’t think I even looked at the right hand side.
The second thing is the decorative flourish that separated the post from the right sidebar, in the original template, has been removed. The flourish provided a visual diverter to keep the eye going back to the posts. Without it, the visual path leads the eye almost off the right side.
What else is affecting how the eye moves?
The picture of Fred helps lead the eye into the post. The description below the photo appears as a grey rectangle. There is nothing to break up the block. Therefore, even though the words are situated in a place which normally would get a lot of attention, they melt into the background. I wouldn’t normally read something in a block like this. The content is great; warm, welcoming, engaging. But you have to get people to read it to know that. Sue Waters noticed:
Fred’s image plus information on the left is dominating the blog dragging my eyes to the left. I don’t think that is a bad thing but feel that the wording needs to be shortened and broken up to make it more concise.
How might you do this? Break it up into shorter parts. Use some bold? Maybe a bullet? Use a shorter excerpt and lead people to a longer version on the About page? Lots of choices.
As you scroll down, there are long lists of red links in small type. To my eye, when I try to focus on reading the post, it feels like the red links are trying to pull my eyes in two directions. Since it is a flexible width blog, I can reduce this on my 23″ Cinema Display, but there isn’t enough room on the 17″ monitor on my Windows machine at home. It gets even more dramatic on my 12″ laptop.
Manish Mohan saw it this way:
On Fred’s blog I basically read through the middle column. The text was easy to read in the middle. The side bars (left and right) have very small font text. So even though the color is red, and like you say pulls the eye, I ignored it completely. Perhaps it is because unconsciously I know that the main content on the page is in the middle column, perhaps because the middle column is significantly easier to read with bigger font. Only after I had scanned through the posts content did I review the page again for snippets on the sidebars to see if there was anything interesting.
Prime Blog Real Estate
For any blog, the things that are most important to our readers should be in the most prominent places on the blog. This may vary from blog to blog, but I suspect for a large percentage of people the most crucial elements are:
- Name of the blog
- The tagline (what it is about)
- Something about the author
- Where to subscribe
- Categories or most popular posts
- Ads if you are blogging for income
The prime real estate on a blog are the header, the top of the sidebars and anything that is above the fold (meaning things that show without having to scroll).
Right now on Fred’s blog we have the name, tagline, how to search and a way to subscribe labeled RSS in the header. At the top of the sidebar on the left is a picture of Fred. On the right where the eye is being most strongly lead, there is a link that brings you to another site. Underneath it is the login area for the author.
There are lots of possibilities and a variety of reasons you might go one way or another. If there are statistics available, I would look at what people are clicking on. That would help me see what is important to my readers.
Here is one idea. It’s a sketch I created by taking screenshots and rearranging them, so it’s just to get an idea of how this might look.
I would select the most important links on the site to go in the left column. I usually put my categories here. Fred has a lot of link lists, and it’s not clear to me which ones he thinks are most important for his readers. I would identify what they are and put them here. Right now, categories are in a drop down menu, and there are lot of them. I’d think about shortening the number of categories and listing them out to make them more accessible. I would also place them as high up as possible on the template.
I moved Fred’s picture to the right since that is where this particular template naturally leads the eye. This has the added benefit of deflecting the eye back toward the posts. He could also enhance the visual path back to the post by breaking up the text underneath using bold letters, bullets, and/or paragraphs.
I’d add a Feedburner subscribe link, or some other one that uses natural language. Yes, there is an RSS link above, but I suspect many of Fred’s readers do not know what RSS is. Might also consider a subscribe by email. I have placed the subscribe link where most people expect to find it.
As you scroll down the current blog page, there are multiple link lists. I would move some of them to static pages. This way the offerings you most want readers to see would show up in the horizontal navigation where they can see them when they arrive on your site. There is a lot of great information for readers on this site, but I don’t know how many people are discovering all that is available to them since it requires so much scrolling. There is also the problem with red links on both sides of the page. By removing a lot of the links and placing them on a static Resource page, this would help reduce how much scrolling people have to do in order to get to what they’re after.
I’d move the meta section to the bottom of the blog. Something like this is only for the author, and we know where to find it. It’s just confusing to readers who aren’t WordPress bloggers.
What else might Fred consider?
What do you notice about Fred’s blog? He’s looking for suggestions, so I’m sure he’d appreciate hearing from you. Especially if you are a first time reader, those fresh eyes can often be the most helpful.