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Creative Penn Blog Critique

Joanna Penn describes The Creative Penn as a site …

aimed at people who are interested in writing, self-publishing/print-on-demand and internet marketing for their books (in print/ebook or audio format).

That is a great niche, there are thousands of people struggling to get their book written, published and sold. I know the pull of books very well myself.

Joanna has self-published her print book using print on demand, and also e-books, along with marketing via clickbank, so she has practical hands on knowledge of what she writes about. She also has created an online course called Author2Zero which teaches people “how to use Web 2.0 tools to write, publish, sell and promote your book”.

You know already what I am going to say … yes, Joanna is an Authority Blogger :)

The content of the blog is great, and Joanna has a great personality that comes across very well in text (as you would expect!), audio and video. While the video is not “slick”, and on occasion lighting and audio suffer a little, I actually think the character of them is an asset and warms you to get more engaged rather than putting you off.

In terms of promotion, the site is currently No 6 on Australia’s top writing blogs. This score is based on Google PageRank, Alexa and Technorati scores. Essentially, if Joanna gets a bunch more links then she will be able to top that list.

First Impressions

Colours are fighting for attention

Colours are fighting for attention

My first impression was that the red dominates. Spend too long reading and you might get a migraine :) I guess this pushes people to subscribe to the feed, heh.

Noisy layout

"Noisy" layout

The layout is also very busy. There are literally hundreds of links per page – far too many choices without giving clear demarcation and some sense of content hierarchy.

Choose what you want the visitor to do next, then work your layout to support that focus.

As it stands the visitor might well get so confused they do not hang around, I imagine this is reflected in the bounce rate statistics.

You will want to guide visitors to

  1. Read
  2. Subscribe
  3. Buy

At the moment the clutter will cause the first goal to be hindered – prioritize the content, and put everything else to the background apart from your subscription box (providing a clear call to action) and also give your Author2zero product banners space to breathe.

Recommendations

I have three big recommendations for this blog, and combined they underscore a key lesson in any kind of market.

Packaging is as important as content.

  1. Change the colour scheme so red is used only to draw attention to specific focus areas rather than as a block colour. Right now the background dominates, and the colour combinations used in the content cause confusion rather than attract. If you look at my blog, I use spot red for very important locations, and orange as a general “look at me” colour. The rest of the scheme is very much in a supporting role. Make the content come to the fore, the background should, well, be in the background.
  2. Simplify layout and use graphics and HTML boxes to differentiate, clarify and segment the content to add more legibility and context. Right now the layout is “noisy”. When the visitor is given too many choices they make no choice at all. At the moment rather than being helpful the layout is inhibiting the visitor. You need clear sign posts, and remove the clutter. Reduce the categories down to seven as a maximum, lose the Tweets and the tag cloud.
  3. Build links by offering viral blog content resources and networking with other bloggers and writers. You already do a good job of networking, and offer some great free content. What you need to do is turn those around to your link advantage. Repackage some of your already written content and put those to work as series or big resource potsts, then promote promote promote in social media. Also create a writing competition where folks can win copies of your books. Anything to bring the links in to boost your link count and traffic, and in turn grow your PR, Alexa and Technorati scores.

As it stands the vast majority of your links go to the homepage, which is not going to help with your search traffic as you want topical, keyword focused deep links as well as general domain linking for good long term growth.

I would also grab the variation of your domain without “the” (“creativepenn” versus “thecreativepenn”) as some people will instinctively write it without as well as with.

You do not need to throw away your branding. In fact I would suggest the DIYThemes Thesis Theme for WordPress as your base theme, with your existing header would be an excellent evolution rather than a radical departure. This will also give you the advantage of an excellent framework that will make full advantage of the links you grow.

Summary

Right now the content is great but being let down by usability issues. These are easy to resolve, either with the help of a great designer or simply by moving over to a customised Thesis Theme install.

Any wannabe book writers should definitely check out the site!

What do you think? Please share your feedback for Joanna in the comments …

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Comments

  1. Nice critique! I’ve read Joanna’s blog often, but hadn’t noticed some design issues you pointed out in this review. I agree they would make the blog better. Your heirarchy of “Read – Subscribe – Buy” is of use too, will apply it on my blog as well.

    All success
    Dr.Mani

  2. Nice critique! I’ve read Joanna’s blog often, but hadn’t noticed some design issues you pointed out in this review. I agree they would make the blog better. Your heirarchy of “Read – Subscribe – Buy” is of use too, will apply it on my blog as well.

    All success
    Dr.Mani

  3. Well, you can’t expect too much from a free template, you know? It’s good you told her to get a professional theme or at least go to someone who can help her customize it. But neither does your theme stands out :)

  4. Well, you can’t expect too much from a free template, you know? It’s good you told her to get a professional theme or at least go to someone who can help her customize it. But neither does your theme stands out :)

  5. Good analysis, Chris. I moved to Thesis just last week for my new car photo blog and the learning curve is not too steep.
    My first concern was that it would just look like all the other Thesis themes out there, but then I realised that’s not too bad a thing. After all, it’s probably the biggest selling WordPress theme out there and the designers have a lot of experience of ‘readability’
    Going for a radical website look can sometimes backfire, as you’ve pointed out and ‘conventional’ doesn’t always mean ‘boring’.

  6. Good analysis, Chris. I moved to Thesis just last week for my new car photo blog and the learning curve is not too steep.
    My first concern was that it would just look like all the other Thesis themes out there, but then I realised that’s not too bad a thing. After all, it’s probably the biggest selling WordPress theme out there and the designers have a lot of experience of ‘readability’
    Going for a radical website look can sometimes backfire, as you’ve pointed out and ‘conventional’ doesn’t always mean ‘boring’.

  7. Alex wrote “But neither does your theme stands out”.

    But for me, the theme shouldn’t stand out, the content should. Sure, if you were a website designer, selling website design services, then a cool, funky site would be fine. But for someone selling a product and engaging readers, the content should dominate

  8. Alex wrote “But neither does your theme stands out”.

    But for me, the theme shouldn’t stand out, the content should. Sure, if you were a website designer, selling website design services, then a cool, funky site would be fine. But for someone selling a product and engaging readers, the content should dominate

  9. Good critique. Everyone is going for Thesis or some theme. Personally, I like the message and don’t care about the theme except the theme in the posts. If a site is about writing, that is the theme I expect in the posts.

    Just my opinion.

  10. Good critique. Everyone is going for Thesis or some theme. Personally, I like the message and don’t care about the theme except the theme in the posts. If a site is about writing, that is the theme I expect in the posts.

    Just my opinion.

  11. Great critique. I’m a fan of Jo’s and I think your comments would help her improve a lot. Any chance you want to crit my site?

    :)

  12. Great critique. I’m a fan of Jo’s and I think your comments would help her improve a lot. Any chance you want to crit my site?

    :)

  13. I love Joanna’s content, but to be honest, I never loved the look of the blog. It’s just too busy for my attention span. I think your suggestions are right on target, great ways to draw attention her her awesome posts!

  14. I love Joanna’s content, but to be honest, I never loved the look of the blog. It’s just too busy for my attention span. I think your suggestions are right on target, great ways to draw attention her her awesome posts!

  15. AIDA ~

    It’s always the AIDA theory at work, back from Advertising Marketing 101 . . .

    ATTENTION
    INTEREST
    DESIRE
    ACTION

    Joanna has Attention & Interest down, “because she’s Joanna”. The folowing has not built for any reason other than SUBSTANTIALLY, this savvy lady of “the industry” is both content and genuine, genuine. I like the suggestionaries of showing the book or class offering to click on – as competition for attention is fast and frenzied in web’read scans … Likewise the good sensibility of the Alex guy just up above me there ^^ that content is king – or queen in this case – royalty holding courtside either way. So a place to rest the eyes welcomes ‘em on in a little more, a little longer and the easy click and follow desires to buy vs ‘bye’ brings it all home.

    Hearty congrats to you all.
    ~ Absolutely*Kate of RiverView Studios
    ~ currently launching HARBINGER*33 – promotional publishing sailing forth 33 stellar Authors, 3 stunning Artists and 3 scintillating Authenticators – hopefully, one may just be Ms Joanna . . .

  16. AIDA ~

    It’s always the AIDA theory at work, back from Advertising Marketing 101 . . .

    ATTENTION
    INTEREST
    DESIRE
    ACTION

    Joanna has Attention & Interest down, “because she’s Joanna”. The folowing has not built for any reason other than SUBSTANTIALLY, this savvy lady of “the industry” is both content and genuine, genuine. I like the suggestionaries of showing the book or class offering to click on – as competition for attention is fast and frenzied in web’read scans … Likewise the good sensibility of the Alex guy just up above me there ^^ that content is king – or queen in this case – royalty holding courtside either way. So a place to rest the eyes welcomes ‘em on in a little more, a little longer and the easy click and follow desires to buy vs ‘bye’ brings it all home.

    Hearty congrats to you all.
    ~ Absolutely*Kate of RiverView Studios
    ~ currently launching HARBINGER*33 – promotional publishing sailing forth 33 stellar Authors, 3 stunning Artists and 3 scintillating Authenticators – hopefully, one may just be Ms Joanna . . .

  17. Great point about the ‘clutter’ and ‘noise’ distracting the buyer from even getting started on reading what they came for. So many blogs have all these extra distractions and often you leave a site not doing (or reading) anything – click, and you’re gone!

  18. Great point about the ‘clutter’ and ‘noise’ distracting the buyer from even getting started on reading what they came for. So many blogs have all these extra distractions and often you leave a site not doing (or reading) anything – click, and you’re gone!

  19. A very insightful critique – particularly to do with the clutter and the need to simplify the layout.

    A good designer, as you point out, could be valuable. The color scheme of red and logo do not reinforce the idea of creativity

  20. A very insightful critique – particularly to do with the clutter and the need to simplify the layout.

    A good designer, as you point out, could be valuable. The color scheme of red and logo do not reinforce the idea of creativity

  21. Totally agree with Neill Watson on this one. Joanna is mainly an author and speaker, so her content should dominate more. It really depends on what your blog/website’s goals are. If your a writer/speaker like Joanna you have to have great articles/content. If you’re a web designer, the theme/design of the site itself should stand out. What people see in your blog/website is already part of your portfolio.

  22. Totally agree with Neill Watson on this one. Joanna is mainly an author and speaker, so her content should dominate more. It really depends on what your blog/website’s goals are. If your a writer/speaker like Joanna you have to have great articles/content. If you’re a web designer, the theme/design of the site itself should stand out. What people see in your blog/website is already part of your portfolio.

  23. I quite like nice clean layouts. Our blog is a bit messed up at the moment – I’m not that good at modifying the layouts & find the template seems to mess up at the bottom when we add in pictures… It’s quite frustrating but I’m getting someone to take a look at it soon. Titles reading like keywords isn’t necessarily a bad thing – you still need the search engines to rate you highly so new people can find the blog/website. She probably had the title in H1 tags?

  24. I quite like nice clean layouts. Our blog is a bit messed up at the moment – I’m not that good at modifying the layouts & find the template seems to mess up at the bottom when we add in pictures… It’s quite frustrating but I’m getting someone to take a look at it soon. Titles reading like keywords isn’t necessarily a bad thing – you still need the search engines to rate you highly so new people can find the blog/website. She probably had the title in H1 tags?

  25. Thanks for all your great articles so far. I think TCP’s well laid out with great content but the colours don’t work for me. Colour is pretty personal though and easy enough to change.

    I’m just starting out with my blog and would love to know what you think of my humble site, In the Hot Spot. It has Inspiration, Information and Idiosyncrasies for Living Your Dream. Fingers crossed that you can swing by and give me some of your excellent advice. Thanks again! Annabel

  26. Thanks for all your great articles so far. I think TCP’s well laid out with great content but the colours don’t work for me. Colour is pretty personal though and easy enough to change.

    I’m just starting out with my blog and would love to know what you think of my humble site, In the Hot Spot. It has Inspiration, Information and Idiosyncrasies for Living Your Dream. Fingers crossed that you can swing by and give me some of your excellent advice. Thanks again! Annabel

  27. Writing anything in ‘red’ won’t look good .. for getting attention we can go for other colors or fonts.. anyways tips are good and really a simple look is needed for any kind of websites!

  28. Writing anything in ‘red’ won’t look good .. for getting attention we can go for other colors or fonts.. anyways tips are good and really a simple look is needed for any kind of websites!

  29. Very interesting post and wise comments

  30. Very interesting post and wise comments