Category Archives: Design
Now when I think about it, the mid to late eighties were marked by one feature – we actually read books to educate or entertain ourselves. My parents had a book subscription services, and boy did I enjoy it. I can still remember that books were delivered wrapped in a rough brown paper and often sealed with a wax stamp which would add a bit of mystery to them. Inside were novels by Walter Scott, Alexandre Dumas, Konan Doyle and many other marquee literary names. I could not wait for a postman to bring these books because I was reading them cover to cover. Back then, we did not have the high-speed internet with a gazillion of flashy web distractions. Back then, we could focus on content because we had all the time in the world to read it.
But it is no longer the case. Books are not the only medium to consume information. We also have the World Wide Web and cable networks now. We have HD TV sets, blazing fast computers, and convenient iPads to access them. Web browsers allow us to have multiple tabs open and dual monitors to view them. And each single medium is further capable to distract us. Cable networks have hundreds of channels; computers can handle dozens of applications at the same time, and iPads feature thousands of apps. In other words, our attention is diffused because we have too many – though some obviously disagree – substitution choices to give an unknown blog some love, a.k.a. a fair and extended trial.
People visit your new blog and skim over your content trying to find a keyword. And what if they don’t find it? They leave. Why? Because there are thousands of alternatives just seconds away. This is not a physical library where you would have spent considerable time browsing titles, pages and paragraph in search of information. And knowing that, readers are less inclined to read through your whole post (And God forbids if it goes over 1000 words.) I also get an impression that many folks are only looking for a keyword and a sentence it is used in. And as far as I know, a keyword is not a thesis – it might be a part of the much larger content and more interesting context. But it is the click-n-go culture where popularity of your posts is often measured in the time-spend-online metric. And it appears that we are talking about minutes here. How much content can you consume in just a few minutes?
Of course, there are notable exceptions. I know from running a blog that typically, people read the whole story when it is about some breaking news; if it is written by an authority in his/her field; or if it is recommended by someone who is popular among his/her peers. The problem here is that not every blogger is always in the epicenter of news; not everyone can be a renowned expert in his/her field, and we don’t know if a socially well connected person stumbles, reads, and recommends our blog.
So if you have been blogging and do not see much progress, stop for a second. It night be that your readers have not uncovered your ideas yet. Of course, you could simply suck at what you do, but there is a chance that the readers are not enticed enough to read past certain keywords. The World Wide Web gave us the unique opportunity to easily reach millions of people in minutes, but its popularity also made readers less willing to explore content beyond the front cover. They know that there are many other blogs vying for their attention and time. And it means that you should not take anything for granted. You have to fight to get noticed.
Sure, you might get lucky, get discovered by chance, and become famous without putting much effort in self-promotion. But it is luck. It is something that we can’t control. And most others should tinker and experiment for content presentation to help reader discover your content. It is totally up to you how far can you go, but often small changes make enormous difference (read “The tipping point” by Malcolm Gladwell on this topic.) What really matters here is your ability to make a web reader to make an extra step and follow your content to the end. Web readers might be a distracted bunch, but all it takes is a couple of socially well-connected and influential readers who push that single but awesome post to the tipping point of popularity. But unless you find the way to display and convince these few people to break that mysterious wax seal and unwrap your content, you might end up being the only who really reads it.
- Good content is king; but you need to make it noticeable.
- Identify your strongest posts and tweak their presentation.
- Your ultimate goal is to entice readers to read an entire post and not just keywords.
Starting a blog is relatively easy: come up with a blog idea, pick a publishing platform, and click a “publish” button. Bingo! You are all set to take on the blogosphere, but here comes the hardest part – earning your spot under the tech Sun. Unfortunately, the web-land is already carved up by a gazillion of writers claiming a piece of cyberspace. So if you have intentions of building significant web presence in this cyber-estate market, be ready to back them up with quality content and functional design.
I think that in many ways, building a blog is almost like designing and building a house: You need a thorough plan, desire to stick with it and skills to execute it. Once you find your own parcel of the web-land, you are ready to settle in your new cyber neighborhood. And the next step is to lay down foundation and pour in solid content.
I cannot stress enough the importance of thoughtful and original content. If you do not have one, or don’t want to spend time creating it, stick with poking or tweeting. Good content is not always synonymous with perfect grammar, maximum number of words, and a thesis statement in the last sentence of the first paragraph. Good content is a product of hard work and thorough research that you put into your topic. Sure, good grammar helps, but professionally proofread space-fillers do not stick around for long – eventually, they get dispersed and lost along vast vistas of the web.
The problem here is that when you have just a few posts, readers will have little troubles finding them. In this case, you simply need a basic Kubrick styled blog template to express yourself. But what happens once you grow your blog? You will need to build internal structures to keep your posts organized in a layout that makes it easy for visitors to find what they want. Unfortunately, not every post will have an overwhelming reaction from readers; not every photo will be memorable; not every video will be popular.
I have been running a couple of blogs, and I am pretty happy if 25%-30% of my posts get statistically significant readership. Most of the time, I don’t even know what post or image will have good pageviews. Sometimes, I spend hours researching and writing a post only to see it at the bottom of my website statistics while a substantially shorter post might generate multiple comments and record pageviews. I think it is impossible to pinpoint one exact reason why certain posts fail to generate positive feedback from readers. And as far as I know, the only solution here is to tweak, replace, resize and re-touch posts.
Lately, I have been experimenting with different site designs trying to find a layout that would push certain pageviews out of the web obscurity. So far, the results have been mixed; but at least I can get a slight sense what categories, posts, and pages have a better shot to be winners. If anything, it is a good start, and I suggest tweaking your own design if you have hundreds of under performing posts. In other words, put the winners on display; leave the losers dwell at the bottom. In this time and age, the internet readers do not have patience to sift through all categories and read every post. You can either catch their attention, or lose them. If you manage to turn unique visitors to returning readers, they will forgive your occasional writing blunders and not-so-good photoshoped images. But if you fail to grab their attention the first time around, chances are they will never come back to appreciate your late masterpieces.
I should note that not every blog needs to have a special design, rollovers, flash and dynamic photo galleries. For example, www.islanderspointblank.com is my daily fix for everything New York Islanders. This site has a very simple a la Kubrick theme design and frankly, it does not need any graphical or functional upgrades because it is the extremely popular on its own. How popular? Well, it had 1.5 million pageviews in January 2010 alone. But this type of a site is totally different because it provides time-sensitive information. In most other cases, good content needs to be filtered, separated, and presented in a clear way.
Let’s sum it up:
- You cannot afford to lose potential visitors just because hundreds of your posts are spread out across a site in a messy manner.
- Of course it does not mean that you need a layout stuffed with flash animation, rolling photo galleries, and glowing headers.
- What you need is a solid structure holding and displaying the top 20%-25%, or whatever your conversion is, posts and enticing readers to further explore your content.
- Those visitors might not only bring back additional traffic, comments and links, but also make that elusive spot under the tech Sun one step closer.