image by kennymatic
They say ‘don't judge a book by it's cover' but as fashion bloggers, we all know the importance of superficial beauty and structure. With all the blogs out there, and many of them using templates from free blogging platforms, it's easy for blogs to look the same-same. While developing a brand and design language is post in itself, here are some guidelines to increase your blog's usability…
Where am I?
It's helpful to developing a branding strategy that the readers can easily identify the name of the blog. I've noticed that many blogs have interesting headers, particularly in the fashion blog genre, the ‘collage header' is great but sometimes actual name of the blog is obscured. Even if a blog's name is prominent, there is a chance someone will miss it… so don't make it more difficult by obscuring the name.
The navigation is an important part to helping your readers explore your blog and spend more time on your site. It should be easy for your readers to locate your ‘about' page, ‘contact' page, your RSS feed. Most blogs don't have complicated structures, but a generally speaking, the page you want should take around two clicks, preferably less.
Where's the beef?
The content is the most important part of the blog, but over time, it's easy for the content to be visually obscured by clutter. Clutter accumulates by adding a link here, an affiliate badge there, a twitter widget on the sidebar, a list of useful posts… the ever growing blogroll. Some magazine formats coupled with ads and badges sometimes make it difficult to find the actual content. Limit the number of ads, badges, widgets on the home page and clearly separate from content. Content should be spotted ‘above the fold,' meaning one shouldn't have to scroll down past the header and several ads to get to the actual post. A reader will be turned off if they can't instantly see the content when they land on your page.
Keep the clutter to a minimum by moving some elements off the homepage. Over time a blog can build a lengthy blogroll, so it's perfectly fine to move it to it's own page, as well as other types of link lists that act as resources for your readers. Giving the links their own pages will give them space for your readers to really browse through them, and if the pages are easy to find in your navigation, nothing is lost. Links I've moved off my home page are my archives, fashion resource sites, my ‘about' page, and press mentions. This allows more room for advertising, popular post information, search and RSS to be featured prominently without overbearing the content.
To Register or Not To Register
Registration is a tricky thing, sometimes it's necessary, like for forums, if you have social media user profiles, services… etc. However, some blogs require a user registration to leave comments. In my four years of blog reading I haven't wanted to comment anything so badly I would register to say it. People generally don't want to give out their information, so don't require user registration unless absolutely necessary, and if it is absolutely necessary… make sure that your reasoning benefits the reader (not you), that it's easy to register, and the captcha is easy to read (if you must use captcha). I have literally not registered for things because of the impossible captcha.
Play that music?
Do not play music automatically. It's not respectful to the user who, a.) might be listening to their own music b.) be in a place where music is inappropriate like a library, cafe or work c.) may not like your taste in music or d.) may not be in the mood for music. There are all kinds of music players tapes out there which the user can opt to listen if they want to, but don't assume they want to hear it.
Listen to Your Readers
Your readers will let you know troublesome design flaws… constant emails wondering where the archives are, a distracting background, or if there was a search option. When I changed my blog template, I recieved these emails, and a background that worked on my computer didn't work on for a lot of other screen sizes, so I changed it… but I wouldn't have known if I didn't receive the emails and comments. So don't take these complaints personally, because they will help the blog evolve.
Most of all, it's important to know that usability isn't set in stone, it evolves over time, as your blog evolves, so don't be afraid to try new things, and don't be afraid of change. Most of all, have fun with it… as the experiments usually lead to new growth and new ways of relating to your readers.