In part five of our 10 step blog building guide we will cover how to make your site engaging and user friendly.
We will examine which features you might want to consider, and which features you absolutely must have.
We will discuss how to make your site attractive and appealing and how to ensure people interact and come back to it time and time again.
In the professional web building world we work with the well established concept of user experience.
If you are new to this then you may be interested to know that this is a career path in it’s own right! A “UX” professional will be charged with ensuring that a business provides the best possible service for its customers (budget permitting!). With respect to a website, user experience is a case of creating a design and layout that favours the user’s needs.
Build your website for the people that will use it
Always hold this thought in your head. You may at times be tempted to manipulate your site to force adverts in front of your visitors eyes, or to trick search engines into thinking your site is something that it is not.
This is not a long term strategy. Blogercise is all about building websites that you can be proud of, sites that others will want to use, sites that add something to the collective output of humanity. If you build a site that your users love then they will keep coming back, they will link to you, they will help you to build up your site naturally. This is ironically actually much easier than trying to cheat your way ahead and has the added bonus of working in the long term.
I’ll say it again: Always design for your audience
Theming Your Site
The modern content management systems all allow easy installation of themes.
Most CMS installations will come with one or two basic examples but there will be 1000s of community generated themes available to chose from on blog design websites. Finding the right theme for your site can be a time consuming process and will often involve you downloading dozens of themes at a time and testing each one out.
I’m afraid there is no short cut to finding the perfect theme, however it can pay to keep your eyes open whilst browsing around the web. If you see a good blog theme there will often be a link to the source website right at the bottom of the page. Follow that link and you’ll find out how you can use it too!
Paid versus free themes
The old saying goes, you get what you pay for! That said, the leading CMS packages such as WordPress and Joomla are actually given away free.
Unfortunately some of the better theme designers don’t share the same free software spirit and decide to charge, in some cases quite a lot of money, for their work. And actually sometimes they really are worth the investment. Whether you buy one or not is up to you, if you can find a decent free theme then there is no discussion here – use it! But often the theme that meets your needs is the one that cost a good £50 to £100.
WordPress Genesis Theme: This site is built using the Genesis framework from StudioPress. If you want to know how a Genesis site can look then have a good look round Blogercise.
Designing Your Information Architecture
What exactly is this Information Architecture? Getting your blogs information architecture right is all about:
- Ensuring your visitors have access to all the pages they’ll want to find within a few clicks of your home page
- Organising related information into categories that flow logically from one topic to the next
- Making sure readers can find and read your best content
This is good to get right from the start. Once the search engines begin to crawl and index your site each of the pages that are catalogued by the search engine begin to gain additional value. Replacing these at a later stage can set you back.
Think about the key information areas of your website. Your primary goal is to make these pages accessible to visitors so that they can find them and read them.
Deep Linking Archive Pages
A common problem with blog sites is that they can be hard to navigate. The front page often has the exclusive focus of the site meaning that quality historical posts are well burried to exploring users. Remember your goal is to get visitors to engage with your site.
This is where the sneeze page comes in. These pages will be strategically implemented around your site, they can be under the guise of an archive page or a key information page, or anywhere that you get traffic passing through.
The objective is to highlight the best site content and encourage visitors to explore deeper into your site. It often makes sense to group up content into categories and then link out to your best pages with concise descriptive text.
Know when to stay traditional
Of course we all think we are funky designers ready with an off the wall design concept. And these ground breaking sites have their place in advertising and new media projects. The downside is that they are usually very confusing to new visitors and your average day to day surfer who will make up the core of your traffic.
Stick to established practices:
- Make links look like links. They should be underlined and, if the theme suits it, stick to the familiar blue colour. If you want people to click on your links to explore other parts of the site then obscuring them is a very bad idea.
- Stick to recognised site areas. Have an “about” page which tells the visitor your background, have navigational links across the top of your site, use language that people recognise as website terms.
If you make people work to understand your site, they more often than not will surf on elsewhere. Don’t lose visitors before you’ve even started!
Now that you have considered your website’s layout, you now need to think about content creation.