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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 content. Wrong. 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.