Sign up right now for email updates and get two free ebooks:

Search Results for: blog critique

The Importance of Standing Out in a Crowded Market – YoungPrePro Blog Critique

This critique will be useful to you if you believe you are doing all the right things but are still not getting the results you want. I get a lot of clients come to me with similar situations and many are on the verge of giving up due to this frustration. Fact is, you could […]

Blog Critique: Life on the Buy Side

Getting an outside opinion on your blog is always a good idea, but especially at the beginning, and especially when you have a great deal of expertise in comparison to your average target audience member. Why is this? A little thing called “The Beginner’s Mind”. When we start learning a topic there are all these […]

How to Sell More From Your Blog (Blog Critique: Steven Aitchison)

Steven Aitchison has a strong blog. Most people would regard his site as a success (in fact he claims it as the “biggest personal development blog in the UK) .. It looks good (using a slightly customized Thesis install) Steven is a good writer therefore the articles are excellent (in fact freelance writing is one […]

Medical Practice Trends Blog Critique

Learn how to marry your commercial goals with your reader’s mission in today’s blog critique for Medical Practice Trends.

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 […]

Everyday Guide Blog Critique

Wow these blog critiques have been popular lately – I hope you are getting as much out of them as I have fun writing them 🙂 This critique is for Althaf Ahmed who runs a site called Everyday Guide which he described in his email to me as “an online repository of mini guides”. He […]

Spiritual River Blog Critique

Patrick Meninga, aka skinnyninja to forum members, won this blog critique in the Blogger of the Month competition. If you would like to win a blog critique or Authority Blogger membership there is still time to win the June prize, you just need to participate in the forum by being friendly, asking excellent questions that […]

Free Pursuits Blog Critique

Freepersuits is a blog about “Lifestyle Design”, or How to Live the Good Life Without Being Independently Wealthy or Retired

  • Find the flexible career you were meant to have
  • Manage your career to maximize your happiness
  • Make time for and pursue the things that really matter to you

What this means for you is a blog packed with content guiding you towards living the life of your dreams. Of course what this means for Corbett as a blogger is he is pitting himself up against Mr 4 Hour Work Week, Tim Ferris and the fantastic Non Conformist, Mr Chris Guillebeau.

This is two challenges in one:

  1. Most people do not know what “Lifestyle Design” is (you need to do some keyword research to find what people are really looking for and build lots of content around those items)
  2. Those people who do know what Lifestyle Design is probably turn to the learned gentlemen mentioned above.

Now all is not gloom and doom because in Corbett’s favor he has a great blog. Let me briefly outline some of the good points:

  • Well set up (WordPress + Thesis)
  • Nicely designed and usable, if not a vast departure from the default Thesis look
  • The content is well written and clearly readable.
  • Good emphasis on reader benefits, including running a survey to get insights
  • Beginnings of some peer-outreach

In fact this all makes my job of critiquing much harder. You can’t see this but I am shaking my fist at the monitor, heh.

So the blog is on good foundations, what is the answer to the aforementioned challenges?

Differentiate!

You must move past the template, both visually in terms of Thesis, and also direction as compared to the rest of the niche. How are you different?

First with the design, while it looks great and a lot of people would love to have a blog that looks as good, the niche is competitive and dominated by strong, well positioned personalities. You need to stand out from the pack by offering something richer, more impactful and most of all, yours.

As always the strategy, once you have moved past infrastructure, is to decide, and to effectively communicate, your positioning. What is your uniqueness, remarkability, or brand?

When you are not the first, not the biggest, and not the most well known, in any niche, you need to find ways to stand out on your own and cut through the fog.

One way I like to approach this is by using the following fill-in-the-blanks phrase:

Unlike other Lifestyle Design Blogs, Freepersuits ___________, which means for you __________.

The first part of the phrase identifies how you are different, the second part answers “so what?”.

You could be different by painting yourself green, but that doesn’t mean anyone should necessarily care :)

After you can answer this in a compelling way, then you can translate that into action.

Audience Focus

Your first port of call when differentiating outside of yourself is your audience. After all it is these folks you are aiming to serve. At present the blog aims to capture pretty much everyone interested in lifestyle design. This could be a tough struggle, better to focus and grow outwards.

For example David Hobby writes a photography blog, but instead of all of photography he focused on photography lighting using inexpensive strobe lights. Now he is a world renowned photography rock star :)

So what part of the overall audience can you most appeal to and help?

  • Beginners
  • Advanced
  • Freelancers
  • Travelers
  • Wealth-focus
  • Spiritual-focus
  • Productivity folks
  • Cubicle escapees
  • Passive income dreamers
  • Silver surfers
  • Eco-living
  • Families
  • … the list goes on

You will find if you focus on a sub-group then you will have more content ideas rather than fewer, plus nobody will be in competition and therefore everyone will be much more willing to help, link and comment.

Multi-Author

Rather than fixate on one smaller group, you could go the other way and make your blog (and you have a great name for this) into a multi-author blog. Think of your blog as Techcrunch or BlogHerald for the lifestyle designers maybe?

You could even bring in the existing lifestyle design personalities for regular or guest posts.

Grow Your Community

Of course the logical extension of a community of bloggers is a community forum, membership site or social network. This kind of connection and interaction is practically designed for lifestyle design and nomadic lifestyles as very often the old face to face networks become strained and a virtual socialization takes its place.

Perhaps Freepersuits could be the biggest community for the lifestyle designer?

  • You need to drive more people to comment using in-content call to action
  • Post polls
  • Drive people to comment with questions in Twitter
  • Draw people over from forums and Facebook
  • Find out where people hang out and interact there

In particular you will want to look in social bookmarking sites for what was popular previously.

Once people are on your site you need to keep them around, and there are two main ways your site is ideal for this

  1. Build a real email list now, not Feedburner but with a service like Aweber – this will enable you to send out interactions and alerts, along with free reports and other exclusive content. It also allows people to reply and know they will get a human being.
  2. Create series posts on “big ideas”, and perhaps collect them into reports that you can give away

I also find conversions much better when I use an obvious email form rather than a sign up link.

Sell the Dream

Any lifestyle blogger needs to remember that the majority of the people reading will not make the full leap. You need to sell the dream, give vivid pictures, video, audio. The full multimedia life stream. Use flickr, youtube, twitter so people can live your life via proxy. Show Don’t Tell.

This is also

  1. An excellent way for your audience to get to know you better
  2. A way to introduce other prominent folks from the niche and network with them

Consider a blogtalkradio show? I imagine Webinars/Teleseminars would be a huge draw (and profitable if you wanted to charge)

Fix Real, Compelling Problems

So we have talked about how you can stand out, and we have briefly looked at community. Both of those are going to aid you getting more visibility and traffic, while branding your site.

The biggest impact you can make though is if you take the overall “dreamer” aspect of the niche and turn around and solve real, pressing problems for the people who really need to make a change.

Interact with your audience, on forums, in social media (particularly Twitter and Facebook) and find out the real challenges that people are coping with and can not find an answer to. Once your audience grows, make it obvious and easy for people to send you their problems.

Most of my best content ideas are from consulting clients or reader questions. You can not top the inspiration and good feelings that come from actually helping people with real issues.

A great example for how to gather reader issues is over at CopyBlogger … sometimes how people do something is more instructive than what :)

One of the problems with “Your guide to lifestyle design” (other than “what’s that?”) is the “That’s nice dear” effect. You know, when you tell someone something really cool and they just smile and say “That’s nice” rather than get as excited and passionate about it as you are?

So work out the real problem your blog solves on a macro level and for each post aim to solve a problem on a per-article basis also. A real problem that people can solve with your help. If possible use the exact phrasing that your audience uses.

Summary

Freepersuits is an excellent blog and has been given a great start, and is now ready to be taken to the next level.

Check it out now.

Over to you – what do you think about Freepersuits? What would you do differently? Do you disagree with what I have said here? Give the benefit of your thoughts in the comments …

Humbled Eyes Photography Blog Critique

This blog critique is for Rob Nicholson of Humbled Eyes Photography.

Photographers have the following main goals with their blog if they are going to be effective in attracting paying customers:

  1. Draw in visitors
  2. Generate interest
  3. Demonstrate professional ability
  4. Communicate personality
  5. Build towards action

As you can tell from this list, it’s not as simple as slapping a blog onto your site and watching the search juice kick in.

Rob has done a good job of putting his photography front and center, and his photographic ability shines out of his work. That said, there are a number of ways he can make his site work harder for him.

Design and Usability

When a visitor arrives you need to tell them where they are, why they should care, and what they can look at. You want them to know certain things, such as that you are a “Destination Wedding Photographer” (according to your keywords) and so on.

Make sure that you actually explain what those phrases mean. Not only will explaining help you with searchers, but you need to describe the benefits. Why should a visitor care? Is there any reason to pick you, or your category of photographer, over any other?

I think you need to select a theme that better shows off your photographs. As they are currently displayed your beautiful pictures practically need a magnifying glass to appreciate them. Remember blog readers will initially skim, make an impact. Even better, get a custom design that really prioritizes and displays your work. You might want to consider incorporating some sort of gallery + post combination so your most recent work is always displayed, magazine style.

Content

There are some important pages you really need to have at a minimum, either create them or pull them out and put in your navigation:

  • About – Right now your about isn’t about much at all. Who are you? What do you do? Is that important? Necessary? Valuable? Why would someone choose you over someone else? What do you have to offer and why should we believe you?
  • Contact – Your current about is more like a contact, but I prefer to provide a contact form rather than an email address. If you are going to show your telephone number, have a think about what it is you have missed off. I will give you a clue. I live in the UK, how do I call your number? When should I call you? You might think you are only looking for local business, and that is fine … until a journalist from the BBC tries to get in touch and gives up in favor of your friend down the road who lists his country code and time zone ;) List your country code and say what times and timezone you are available in.
  • Services – Where do you describe what you do? How much does it cost? How do you go about booking you? Remember many people are going to land deep in your blog, they are not going to even see your flash based site because there is no way to get there, especially if they have clicked a link or arrived via a search engine.

As I always always say, allow your readers to subscribe with email along with RSS and explain why someone would want to! Right now you have tucked away an RSS button, while 90% of your visitors won’t know what that represents.

Use categories sparingly, in fact both for your users and your search rankings you are normally better off one category per post. Make them meaningful to visitors, don’t prioritize search phrases over usability.

SEO Tweaks

First SEO tweak is the old favorite, www and non-www URLs both work. Redirect one to the other.

Next, because the commercial site is flash and popups, neither of which are particularly search friendly (I will leave the discussion for if those tactics are human-friendly), the SEO last-resort has been brought into play …

Destination Wedding Photographer - Jamaica wedding photographer - Delaware wedding photographer

Instead of a block of keyword-laden copy, instead create actual content intended for humans on that page. Search engines are designed to do a good job of promoting good stuff and downgrading the less useful stuff, so if you build for human beings you don’t need this kind of thing.

While we are on the topic, don’t let others do the same thing and leach off your comment area either!

When embedding photographs, describe them well. Think like a stock photographer, what could you tag your photographs with that both explains the picture for non-sighted users and search engines, but would also attract people in using, say, Google Image search. Currently Prince Charles is called “wedding photography”. Now, I am not a monarchist, but even I see the celebrity value in these pictures. Be proud of them, show them off, you don’t often get credibility building content like this!

Finally on the SEO side, and also thinking about usability, connect your site and your blog with links. Right now to both search engines and people the two are separate sites. I recommend putting a link in your main navigation, but don’t hesitate to deep link to important content both ways.

Summary

Rob has a talent, and the blog is an excellent start. I think the main thing to take away from this critique is that the emphasis has to come back to the human needs, what will most please, benefit and assist human visitors. How can you meet their needs and encourage a deeper connection? Right now the bias seems to be on SEO?

Find some friendly non-webby people, print off the blog and site homepages, and ask your volunteers to describe what they see, how they would navigate, and what they would do if they were interested in your services. You might gain some insights into the sorts of welcoming content and navigation you need.

The Art of Nonconformity Blog Critique

Chris Guillebeau is one of those people who absolutely lives his philosophy. His blog is about travel and “Nonconformity” and you can believe he follows his own advice 100%. Recently Chris and Reese Spykerman worked up a fresh design and asked me to provide some feedback, so here is their critique.

Note on Blog Critiques

If you don’t have the funds right now to buy one of my critiques, you can still win one by filling out the survey. Also you can pick up tips for your own blog right here. While reading any of my blog critiques, see if any of the advice could apply to you. I find that many bloggers could make the same improvements, and it is amazing the difference even small changes can make.

The Critique – Initial Impressions

The first thing I always do when looking at a blog for a critique is to note my initial impressions. This is useful because a visitor to a new blog is going to give you seconds before deciding to move on or look further. Consider a visitor arriving through stumbleupon, what is going to hold their attention before hitting the stumble button once more?

I find overall the blog looks very nice, clean, clear, professional while still friendly, if a little “shy”.

What I mean by that is I feel it is a touch restrained. Everything feels polite and quiet, from the colors to the navigation. The fonts are small, even in the header. Never be afraid to spell things out, never over estimate the reader, make everything simple and plainly obvious. Your audience will no doubt be clever, but that doesn’t mean they have the patience to figure stuff out. So buttons with clever little pictures? Put captions with them that SAY “Travel”, etc. Right now the tooltips say the same thing by the way, which is confusing until you see the URL changes.

Rather than a closeup picture of Chris there is quite a long shot. Perhaps replace with a more intimate picture showing head and shoulders? Right now we feel at waving distance, let’s see what you actually look like so we can feel more connected to you?

Usability

The Art of Nonconformity Critique
Blog Usability Advice [Click to Zoom]

What do you look for when you see a site for the first time?

Where am I?
What is here?
Why should I care?

Any blog should quickly and simply answer these questions, using for example

  1. The header – Does it tell you where you are and why you should bother?
  2. Headlines – Do they stand out and interest you?
  3. Navigation – Is there anything of further interest or should you move on?

In this case I think we get a good overall impression but until you work further down or dig into the content, it’s a little self-referential. I would suggest a small tweak to the tagline. Currently it says “Unconventional Strategies for Life, Work and Travel”. Perhaps alter that to something about the reader benefit, such as

“Learn Strategies for a More Unconventional Life, Work and Travel”

I’m sure with some thought you can improve on that, my point is purely to make it an active promise showing a reader benefit, not a passive content description or statement.

We also will look around the blog looking for cues of interest, read down the sidebar, skim the article after looking at the headline, and so on. There are certain conventions too, like having the subscription options top right, categories and more posts to the right, and about and contact in the top navigation.

Chris’ blog succeeds very well in several areas:

  • Site Summary – In the sidebar there is a nice summary of what the site is about
  • Buttons in Nav – While the header doesn’t speak “nonconformity” or “travel” to me, the buttons do represent the categories
  • The content – Read the content, it is excellent, and is presented well with basics and most popular

Tips for Improvement

  1. Make the header bolder and consider adding something visual that says “travel” etc. If you sent your header to 20 people who had never seen it before, could they tell you what the site is about? Yours is better than most, but consider taking it up a notch.
  2. Add text to the button icons in the top navigation and fix the tooltips. Never be afraid to be obvious. Obvious works better than cute or clever every time.
  3. Make headlines and the very top navigation text links bigger and more obvious, right now they are too easily missed. Imagine your reader has bad eyes and is in a rush.
  4. Move the “What would Seth do” box (“If you are new here”) to above the content. Readers want to go headline/skim, intro, content. Do not break the reading flow. Also consider removing the line that splits the headline from the article content
  5. Where you have subscribe by email, consider adding the actual form, you might see more signups
  6. Make articles skimmable, a good tip when you use images is you can add a caption underneath your pictures that both describes the picture and draws the reader in like another subhead
  7. Swap the globe picture in the “Summary” as a background image so doesn’t take up as much vertical space? Above the fold is still the most visible, even though now readers do scroll more than they did
  8. Put a link to most popular content up with (more visible) top navigation as well as sidebar – don’t be shy about promoting your best stuff!
  9. In the “about” sections try to find ways to make it answer the “so what?” question – what should the reader gain?
  10. You don’t monetize, which is fair enough, but is there a way that grateful readers can help you in some way? Donations? Freelance work? A place to stay? Readers can and do give back if you provide the opportunity.

Get More Subscribers and Traffic

Before I mentioned that the email subscription box should be made into an actual form, but then I noticed as I browsed around the box disappeared on certain pages? Subscriptions should be visible on every page unless that would mean duplicating them in a distracting way (eg. on a dedicated subscribe page).

My last tip is about a prime piece of real estate that is not being used to the full …

The Art of Nonconformity Blog Critique
Your Best Chance at a New Subscriber

Right after a reader has enjoyed your post is the best opportunity to get them to do something, send to friend, subscribe or vote in Social Media, but you can’t just “ask”, you have to make it as easy as possible.

So while you have the right idea, use Sociable or another plugin to put in social buttons, and links to your subscription options for RSS and email, and so on. It’s the law of reciprocation, get them while they still feel the warm glow of gratitude.

Summary

Don’t take my suggested improvements as a knock, this is a great blog and is now a fixture in my RSS reader. As I say in the introduction, it is clear Chris really lives this stuff and that shines through in the excellent content. Make sure you subscribe today so you too can learn to be more unconventional!

Have you got any tips for Chris? Do you agree/disagree with any of my advice or anything to add? Please share in the comments …