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9 Easy Usability Improvements for Blogs

One of our primary goals as designers is to constantly improve the usability of our websites and blogs.  Content, while very important, doesn’t help readers if they can’t easily get to it.  In this post, I’d like to outline several ways to quickly improve a blogs usability.

1. Work Above the Fold

We’ve probably all heard that statistic that viewers leave if they don’t find what they’re looking for above the fold (The view port seen on entrance without scrolling).  That’s so old, right?  We’ve got scroll wheels and bigger monitors now, so that rule no longer applies to all of my very interesting contentWrong. How are your viewers supposed to know that you have such brilliant content if they don’t see it as soon as they come to your site?  Is your Blog that much better than everyone else in your niche that viewers will feel inclined to stay longer looking for what they need?

Even from the point where I start creating mock-ups for my Blogs, I like to have a layer in Photoshop that shows me exactly what my users will see when they land on my site.  Having your top content above the fold will ensure that you send more viewers in the right direction – rather than away.

2. Track Your Blog’s Statistics

You can’t really design for above the fold until you know where the fold is for your viewers.  For this reason (and so many others) it’s very important that you know more about who your viewers are, and how they behave.  Statistics and Analytics programs can get you the data you need, and they’re very easy to come by.  Google Analytics is great solution to start out with, it’s free, and very easy to install.

Analytics programs like these can show you what content your users find most interesting, details about your viewers capabilities (screen resolution, browser, operating system, country, etc), where your viewers are coming from on the web, and much more.

3. Apply Those Statistics – Pareto’s Principle

Pareto’s Principle (Or the 80/20 Rule) basically states that anything in few (20%) is accountable for many (80%).  Now – that’s all very philosophical sounding, but it applies in Blog Usability too.  20% of the Blog is the most important to 80% of your viewers.Another way of putting it: Your viewers will spend their time and use 20% of your Blog, 80% of the time… or perhaps a more useful way to you as the designer – You should spend 80% of your time on the 20% of your Blog which viewers use most.  Sure – it’s not a perfect rule, and rules are sometimes meant to be broken, but it’s a great starting point.  If you see that most of your viewers come to your blog, and are immediately attracted to a specific page, make sure you spend lots of time making that page more helpful and usable.  Even use it to direct viewers to other areas of your blog.

4.Make Your RSS Feed Very Visible

We’ve talked about making your most important content very visible, and the same should apply to your RSS Feed.  Don’t rely on your viewers to spend their time searching for some fancy-schmancy RSS design you put together, and don’t think that they’ll check below the fold either.  Your RSS links should be prominent, above the fold, and sticking to the standard icon can help.

5.Make your Search Work Better (WordPress Users)

Wordpress’s search tends to suck by default.  While there aren’t any incredibly easy ways to fix that, we can at least make it suck less.  Denis Bernardy’s Search Reloaded Plugin for WordPress will at least make a few minor fixes that will list more accurate search results in a manner that makes more sense to your viewers.  Also worth noting is that most viewers expect to see a site search at the top right of your site.

6.Put Your Pixel Real Estate to Good Use

Don’t waste too much space on your Blog with nothingness.  While you should never confuse your readers with too much, it’s a good idea to put some of that white space to good use.  Try filling the gap with your most popular posts (as decided by your viewers), an extra search bar on the side of your blog, or extra links to your categories.  Be sure to get rid of elements that are unused based on your statistics.

7.Show Related Content on Individual Posts

Sometimes, Usability is a lot like herding sheep.  We want our viewers to act in ways that our desirable to us, so it’s our responsibility to lead them in the right direction.  We’ve given our readers direction from the home page of the blog, but what about the individual post?  Give your readers somewhere to go next.

A great plugin that can help you with this task is the Similar Posts plugin for WordPress.

8.Your Links Should Make Sense

You’re links should be easy to differentiate from the rest of your content, and should be plainly obvious as to what they do.  A link to a post should give a description or title of the post.  A link that says “Comments” should link to the comments of a post.  If your content is typed in black, make your links another color – and consider underlining them, or doing something else to make them stick out.

9.Test.  Test Again.  Repeat as Needed

Testing your site is probably one of the most important parts of improving usability.  Find a couple of friends that are interested in your niche, and give them the opportunity to see how your blog works.  After they look through it, ask them things like:

  • What was the site about?
  • What was the first thing you saw?
  • Did you see *page that you desire your viewers to see*?
  • Was the design hard on the eyes?
  • What was your favorite thing about the site?
  • Least Favorite?

In short, your objective can often times be amounted to leading your viewers in a specific direction — and more importantly, a direction that makes sense to them.  Use statistics to see how your viewers are browsing your site, and constantly make improvements to make those numbers reflect how you want your viewers to be browsing your site.

In the long run, that’s what Usability is really all about: Directing your viewers to the parts of your site you want them to see.

71 Comments

  1. Add point Subtract point
    ScottysWeb (3 Points) February 10, 2011 at 11:18 am

    Great information especially for those first starting out.

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    Photoshop tutorials, from beginner to advanced. photo manipulation, icon design, text effects, interface, layout, painting, photo effects, psd tuts, maxon cinema 4d, designing.
    give you joomla templates,joomla extensions,wordPress theme,web templates.
    http://alophotoshop.co.cc

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  3. Add point Subtract point
    Brett Widmann (0 Points) December 21, 2010 at 10:32 pm

    These are really helpful tips! Thanks for sharing.

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    Internal Linking is very good source for generating user interest towards a website. if a user visits the website for reading the post then he must not leave the website without viewing any other page. For Improvements in a Blog one should try to Use killing Headlines and Unusual Appealing Site Logo that will stimulate User Interest towards a Blog.

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  5. Add point Subtract point
    Ben Lacey (2 Points) July 29, 2010 at 11:05 pm

    Good list of improvements!
    I might have to add one or two of these to the lacey tech solutions blog

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  6. Add point Subtract point
    José Mota (0 Points) March 9, 2010 at 5:15 am

    The fold is important for usability in blogs. But using it the other way around is not wrong. In fact, it is a tremendously engaging way of driving your users’ curiosity and lead them to explore more of your blog. But again, this post concerns usability.

    Good post, David.

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    So how’s the “photoshop” link link to articles about Photoshop? When you talked about the Photoshop layer I thought I might actually have a cool link to a handy .zip. Linking to Photoshop articles is silly… Think user-centric. Why would a user reading this article want to link through to Photoshop articles mid-text. It would make more sense to link to the wikipedia page for Photoshop as it’s logical SOME users might not know what PS is and read the definition. To link to unrelated articles supports a non-existent use case.

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  8. Add point Subtract point
    โหลดเพลง (2 Points) February 4, 2010 at 10:46 am

    Thanks for the tip.

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  9. Add point Subtract point
    เพลงใหม่ล่าสุด (1 Point) February 2, 2010 at 11:21 pm

    its very nice. Great post38

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  10. Add point Subtract point
    เพลงใหม่ล่าสุด (1 Point) February 2, 2010 at 3:26 am

    its very nice. Great post25

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  11. Add point Subtract point
    โหลดเพลงmp3ฟรี (1 Point) February 1, 2010 at 5:09 am

    wow thanks so much.150

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  12. Add point Subtract point
    แจกเพลง (1 Point) January 30, 2010 at 11:23 pm

    great tutorial . Thanks

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  13. Add point Subtract point
    Gary Parenti (1 Point) November 8, 2009 at 10:32 pm

    Hellooooooooo,

    I found your site from Blogussion.
    They have a post that’s points
    here.You have a great looking
    Blog.

    CYA,Gary

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  14. Add point Subtract point

    Hi! I was surfing and found your blog post… nice! I love your blog. :) Cheers! Sandra. R.

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  15. Add point Subtract point

    Thanks for the tips on tools as well!

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  16. Add point Subtract point
    Saad Shaikh (1 Point) June 24, 2009 at 4:51 am

    Real good suggestions there.. thanks.. :)

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    GuruShare (1 Point) June 18, 2009 at 11:47 pm

    This is a really great tutorial and thank you for creating it. If you feel like creating a video of this tutorial we have a $1000 USD contest running for the best video tutorial. We are a social learning network and we would love to have great work like this displayed for everyone to learn from. Check us out @ http://www.gurushare.com, but regardless, thank you again for a solid tutorial.

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  18. Add point Subtract point
    fullbirdmusic (1 Point) May 13, 2009 at 7:14 pm

    Really enjoyed reading this article. It’s always interesting for me to read what techniques others use to make their blogs better. I’m going to definitely add the RSS button above the fold; I didn’t even realize it wasn’t there!

    I’m also going to add a search feature in the very near future, as I’m writing more posts. That will be very convenient.

    Taking the “above the fold” rule in web design is very, very smart. I would also suggest using larger text and less of it. Thanks so much for sharing!

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  19. Add point Subtract point
    huwaw69 (1 Point) April 23, 2009 at 9:09 am

    Thanks for the guide, im gonna write soon my first blog, and this really helped me….

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  20. Add point Subtract point

    hi! Really nice post. This is the first time I’m hearing about the application of pareto’s principle to web. Good one.

    Well… I’ve a crib about the design of subscribe box in your site. Doesn’t it look like an AD? I mean… I was actually searching for the “share” buttons totally ignoring the one that was present taking it for an ad (a case of banner blindness I suppose).

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    Artboredom (1 Point) February 15, 2009 at 9:31 am

    This is a great post! These are all points that need to be considered with every website build. I wish I could say that I do all of these 100% of the time. I really have to start working the “related posts” into my designs.

    The only thing that bothers me here has nothing to do with your post. It has to to with Denis Bernardy’s Search Reloaded Plugin. While I think that those putting in the hard work creating plugins should be compensated I think it’s disgraceful for Denis to add it to some sort of “secret weapon” $295 SEO package. $295 – are you kidding? WordPress is free and Open Source and promotes that spirit. I truly hope that WP can implement something similar into their code to render his plugin useless.

    I usually don’t rant when I comment, but I can’t stand this behavior. I recently ran into this problem with a client’s site that needed a more directive search only to discover that submitting to the “secret weapon” was the solution.

    Oh, and the new site design rocks! Keep it up.

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  22. Add point Subtract point

    Great list, I wasn’t aware of the search plugin, will definitely download it.

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  23. Add point Subtract point

    Sound advice. What are you using for “What now” section with thumbnails? The Similar Posts plugin, plus custom fields?
    Thanks.

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  24. Add point Subtract point
    Fish Tank Aquariums (1 Point) February 2, 2009 at 3:58 pm

    Thank you for this content, it should be awesome for building all of my blogs.

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    Great suggestions. Regarding #9, if you want to get testers from your target market instead of your friends, check out http://www.EasyUsability.com, a website I launched a few months ago. It’s a extremely fast and inexpensive way to usability test your website or blog. Everyone gets their first test free (no CC required). Shoot me an email at doug at easyusability.com if you want a bunch of discounted tests.

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  26. Add point Subtract point

    a few days after fining this post I added the related posts and random posts plugin to my blog and added some other improvements and I’ve seen my bounce rate drop 5%. Great Advice.

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    lawton chiles (1 Point) September 12, 2008 at 12:41 pm

    Thanks Dude! Will try it out

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    @Jonathan Drain’s Dungeons & Dragons Blog: Well, I think it actually works well for some blogs, but not as well for others. Discussions here are almost ALWAYS based around the “How-To” article, whether it be questions asked, or answered.

    Other blogs present more broad, open ended articles that can be just as effectively answered from other bloggers on their own Blog. In that sense, trackbacks might make more sense within the normal comment hierarchy. That’s my thoughts anyways :P

    @lawton chiles: Do you mean in the address bar? If so, you’ll need to add some code that looks like this (between your <head> tags):

    <link rel=”alternate” type=”application/rss+xml” title=”Feed Title” href=”http://feedurlgoeshere” />

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    lawton chiles (1 Point) September 11, 2008 at 3:13 pm

    how do i (might be a coding issue), get my RSS feed into my header like your is?

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  30. Add point Subtract point

    Hey David, I’ve just come here through 9rules and I like your site! Congrats for the also joining 9rules! :)

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  31. Add point Subtract point
    Jonathan Drain’s Dungeons & Dragons Blog (1 Point) September 2, 2008 at 6:14 am

    For WordPress blogs, I also recommend splitting comments from Tracbacks, as has been done here. There’s no point to reading trackbacks as if they’re real comments. I’ve heard the WordPress developers defend their decision to do this, but I don’t agree.

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    David at AffiliateDragon.com (1 Point) August 30, 2008 at 11:03 am

    Hi David, from one David to another! Excellent article and I really like your website design. The usability factor is something I have had trouble with on my own company site for a while but hopefully I have got it right now!

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    That is a great list. I see a couple I need to revise on my own projects already.

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    Clara Mathews (1 Point) August 29, 2008 at 10:29 am

    Very informative post. I recently started blogging and will put your advice to good use. I found your blog from the Killer Titles contest on Problogger.

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    @Janko: Thanks for that tip Janko! That’s a really good point (something we had been missing for a long time here at Tutorial9 actually). I think the real key is to show your viewers exactly what your site provides as quickly as possible. The about page is usually the second place they’ll go to find out, but very important.

    Darren Rowse put together a really good article a while back for writing a good about page.

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    Great article! May I add one more – About page is also very important. Personally I often look for author’s personal details if I’m interested in blog content. But many, many times there isn’t “About me” page which doesn’t do any good for a blogger.

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    @Laurie/Halo Secretarial: I was happy to participate in ProBlogger’s Contest — I’m bound to learn something from it :) Thanks!

    @Tom Ross: Messaged you specifics Tom. But it’s important to consider traffic varies a lot depending on the audience. A website covering a popular subject matter would probably see much more viewers than a tiny niche blog.

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  38. Add point Subtract point
    Tom Ross (1 Point) August 28, 2008 at 11:27 pm

    Great tips David. Out of interest, which of your blogs are getting 300,000 uniques per DAY?? Unless you meant that amount per MONTH that seems pretty damn incredible.

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    Laurie/Halo Secretarial (1 Point) August 28, 2008 at 11:11 pm

    Good title, and a really fabulous post!! Not to mention your own site design really makes me take your comments seriously, as your design is really great. Thanks for sharing in the contest and take care!

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    Krissy (1 Point) August 28, 2008 at 6:47 pm

    Great entry! I learned a lot. I found my way here through the ProBlogger contest. Nice to meet you. I learned a lot from this entry. Keep writing, David!

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    @Paul: :P Ironic, but hopefully folks get the idea that viewers won’t always know where to look for specific elements on a website if they don’t see them on first glance.

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  42. Add point Subtract point

    Ironically #1 “Work above the fold” appears below the fold thanks to your Google ad block.

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    NaldzGraphics (1 Point) August 28, 2008 at 1:28 am

    nice tips david. your number 4 is very true and effective.its better to make the rss icon very visible .

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    cheezitimposter (1 Point) August 27, 2008 at 7:05 pm

    sorry for that repost.

    Whats the HTML code for detecting multiple comments?

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  45. Add point Subtract point
    cheezitimposter (1 Point) August 27, 2008 at 7:03 pm

    If a tutorial writer, like Tyler comments, you (the user) should be able to click on their name to see all the tuts theyve written, kinda like PSDTUTS.

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    @liam: Yeah, I truly believe that making that little orange icon visible makes all the difference in the world. I’ve jumped the readers up quite a bit on many blogs with a standardized icon highly visible (orange seems to work best in most cases — could be what folks look for, or just the fact that it’s a very lively color draws people to it). Definitely suggest adding one, though your content does speak for itself ;)

    Most of these tips have are tried and proven ways I’m managed to enhance my own blogs, some with as many as 300,000 unique viewers per day. You won’t get anywhere without content in the first place, but once you prove the value of your sites materials, these tweaks can make the difference between an ordinary site, and an extraordinary one.

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    adelle (1 Point) August 27, 2008 at 2:53 pm

    some great things to think about here that you can often easily forget. Nice one!

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    Grant Friedman (1 Point) August 27, 2008 at 2:32 pm

    Great Post! I will keep this post in mind the next time I redesign my site.

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    Sid Savara (1 Point) August 27, 2008 at 2:04 pm

    Nice article. On a related note, I think bloggers do spend 80% of their time tweaking 20% of their design anyway – but I’m not sure they always tweak the 20% users care about =)

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    Andrew Houle (1 Point) August 27, 2008 at 1:30 pm

    Great tips, thanks for the article. There are so many small usability tweaks I have planned… if only I could find a way to make more time :)

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  51. Add point Subtract point

    Great post, will definitely be useful to your readers that blog!

    @Liam:
    I’m quite sure you’ll see an increase in readers if you place the rss button in a visible spot. It happend to me when I switched themes. Readers are still nothing stellar but they have nearly two-folded in a month or 2.

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  52. Add point Subtract point

    Great points with some solid reasoning behind them. Brilliant post. The point about keeping your RSS icon visible is very true. And something I thought I’d leave out on my own blog, but I might be adding in one that is more visible very soon as a bit of an experiment to see if RSS readers increase.

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    styletime (1 Point) August 27, 2008 at 10:52 am

    Man I just finished some tweaks to styletime and now I’m told I have to do some more ;) Anyone up for redesigning it! ;)

    Thanks for the advice, the knowledge certainly shows through in the clean cut layout of your own site!

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