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UsefulTools Critique

UsefulTools is described as …

… a web magazine for people who love web tools and apps. There are new and exciting applications being developed all the time. We sift through the abundance of technologies available to you, and help you find the most useful tools.

Right away you might be thinking this puts them right up against such web power houses as TechCrunch, Mashable, Scoble and every other tech blogger out there. And that is true to an extent.

The way that UsefulTools is differentiating is through focus. By sacrificing the news, gossip and editorial, and aiming just for the review slice of the pie, they will stand out. Also, and this is just my hope, they will avoid the echo-chamber and TechMeme chasing behavior of some of the other blogs out there!

On with the critique …

Cool Design

Sleek, modern design, but aimed at large screens

Sleek, modern design, but aimed at large screens

As you can see the design is very modern, very web 2.0, and therefore very niche appropriate. Perhaps this is an educated gamble, seeing as the audience will be skewed more high-tech, but as you can see from the above screen grab, the design is built for larger screens and 1024x wide monitor users will get an unnecessarily cramped experience without use of the scroll bars. Something easily rectified as the design does not need this extra space.

Again in the header, sidebar and all the above the fold navigation really, space has been wasted in the aim of achieving lots of luxurious white space. Now, designer types might disagree, but I am calling it waste from a marketing and audience perspective.

Alternative layout

Alternative layout

Using my mad photoshop skillz I mocked up an alternative layout that emphasizes for the visitor an answer to “where am I?”, and brings up useful navigation, without moving the ads further down from where they already are. In fact the whole thing is brought up because the header is now more narrow. You might find this too cramped but I am sure a compromise solution is possible.

Visitor Retention and Community

An even better use of space would be to show a more compelling sign up box. As it stands the RSS is almost timidly suggested along with an easily missable twitter follow button. Even though the audience is likely to be high tech, you should not overlook email as a subscription option, and for this kind of review site an email digest, perhaps weekly or less often, could well be popular. Email newsletters provide another advertising opportunity also, which should be investigated.

While we are on the topic of subscriptions, we should look at the fact that subscriptions are ignored apart from the top few pixels of the screen. If you want visitors to keep coming back then this is a mistake. Put a call to subscribe right under any content the visitor might read, especially under the reviews.

  • How can they subscribe?
  • Why should they subscribe?
  • What will they miss if they don’t?

It is good that comment subscription is offered. This helps create a discussion in the comments and return visits, rather than people saying their piece and never returning.

Right now though comments are not very inviting. Rather than “No Comments”, try a call to action again. Perhaps “What do you think? Make a comment …” or “Add your comments here”.

Also in the content, ask questions, invite feedback, prompt a response. Many of the articles are stated as review fact. It’s not, it is an opinion, and you can use your opinion to invite reader opinions. Is there a way that visitor opinions can be highlighted or even factored in?

While the site is purely about reviews, you should provide the opportunity for reader reviews, surveys, polls, and perhaps competitions (win application licenses?) – you need to work additionally hard to create community because you do not have the flexibility of different content options that your competitors do.

The twitter feature in the sidebar is very cool, but not immediately obvious and potentially a place for abuse – how will you stop inappropriate or spammy content appearing? Is it possible someone could push malware to your users via this?

I am expecting any trending topic will be a magnet for spam and worse. Perhaps beginning with Wolfram Alpha …

Traffic

Again, because your site is all about reviews, you need to focus your search keyword traffic toward that audience. This means as well as prominently (and repeated) mentions of the product names, you also need to mix in mentions of product categories, and especially well placed keywords in titles.

I notice the homepage does not contain much in the way of keyword content. You might be anticipating the reviews doing all the heavy lifting, but I would move your about box up with a sprinkle of well-chosen search terms, and put some keywords in the homepage title.

Do keyword research to see if there are apps that people are searching for a great deal. There is no reason why you can’t review “classic” apps to bring in traffic, you could even mark them as such.

Consider creating an award for the best examples, along with an attractive graphic. You can then offer press releases and such to get links back and a little buzz – this could even be placed on the winners site. If you ask for user input for an annual award there can also be traffic generated through nomination and voting.

You need to do a better job of interlinking your content. Right now you are relying on categories and tagging mostly, but you need to include a related content plugin, and use in-content links.

Links are going to be vitally important. Guest posting and linkbait ought to be good ways to get those links, with specifically product name anchor text being key.

While I understand the site has done pretty well in social media so far for what is a brand new site,  you can help this along by adding social voting buttons on the individual review pages. The biggest potential for a site such as this will be either scoops and exclusives, or bigger, more authoritative roundups of the best apps in a particular category:

  • Top 100 Best Applications for Small Business
  • 20 Must Have Blogging Tools
  • 97 Best Productivity Apps on the Web

With the cool thumbnail images and great design, I am sure you should do well with this kind of linkbait.

You already have all the ingredients so it would be a case of mixing them up and re-serving.

Usability

As mentioned above, you need to make it plainly obvious where the visitor has arrived, where in the site they are (the crumb trail navigation and numbered paging are good but inconsistent – to the point of vanishing and reappearing).

Keep in mind what the site will be like when you have hundreds of reviews, perhaps start planning a better search, more granular categorization. Most frustrating, for a review site, you have no sorting. People will want to rank the search results with the best to the top.

The bigger Twitter image further down the sidebar does not click through to the site’s twitter account, many usability studies have shown big images get clicked a lot, so try to not have a big image that might be confused as a button that goes nowhere.

Make it easier to find the place to submit sites for review. A simple solution would be to have an about page and contact page. It’s odd to find a site that lacks these. You also do not have an advertiser page – how does someone get in touch to place an ad?

Summary

This is an extremely focused niche play, in a highly competitive area. A great deal of effort will be required to truly break through and stand out, but the design and content so far suggest that UsefulTools has a good chance of achieving a good slice of the audience.

Over to you, dear reader. What do you think of the site? Would you visit? What would you change? Are there elements you particularly like? I know you have opinions, so please share in the comments 🙂 …

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Comments

  1. I hope other people take the same thing from this review as I did – “hey, I should do that”

  2. I hope other people take the same thing from this review as I did – “hey, I should do that”

  3. Chris,

    I would agree that it isn’t immediately obvious where I am if I land on the site, and I think that is still the case in your modified mockup. I think it is partly because the strapline is too small and inconspicuous.

    I think that it is fine to go for this size screen width but it probably needs a more fluid layout to avoid some of the scrolling problems. I imagine this would be pretty difficult to use on a mobile phones which probably accounts for a significant part of the target market.

    Not sure about your observations about the white space. I think it works quite well but does need rearranging to include a clear call to action.

    Richard

  4. Chris,

    I would agree that it isn’t immediately obvious where I am if I land on the site, and I think that is still the case in your modified mockup. I think it is partly because the strapline is too small and inconspicuous.

    I think that it is fine to go for this size screen width but it probably needs a more fluid layout to avoid some of the scrolling problems. I imagine this would be pretty difficult to use on a mobile phones which probably accounts for a significant part of the target market.

    Not sure about your observations about the white space. I think it works quite well but does need rearranging to include a clear call to action.

    Richard

  5. Thanks for the great insight of reviewing this site, It’s nice to get different viewpoints. I think the site is pretty well laid out with images for this kind of site prominent as they should be. As for the RSS it could be better represented.The site overall for me… It’s clean and well laid out, but it could do with a splash of color for the background. The navigation could do with sprucing up with perhaps drop down tabs above the fold.Tag fans will appreciate the position on the top left sidebar. I think by being less cluttered it has its own appeal, for me any way.

    Thanks for the read.

  6. Thanks for the great insight of reviewing this site, It’s nice to get different viewpoints. I think the site is pretty well laid out with images for this kind of site prominent as they should be. As for the RSS it could be better represented.The site overall for me… It’s clean and well laid out, but it could do with a splash of color for the background. The navigation could do with sprucing up with perhaps drop down tabs above the fold.Tag fans will appreciate the position on the top left sidebar. I think by being less cluttered it has its own appeal, for me any way.

    Thanks for the read.

  7. richard becks says:

    Hi,

    I’m a new blogger, and i think this is such a cool web for people interested in creating blogs. I have found another very cool site, it’s called Vismo Media (www.vismomedia.com) there are some very nice tips for hosting videos, and by the way make some money. So i thought it would be nice if I share it with all of you guys.

  8. richard becks says:

    Hi,

    I’m a new blogger, and i think this is such a cool web for people interested in creating blogs. I have found another very cool site, it’s called Vismo Media (www.vismomedia.com) there are some very nice tips for hosting videos, and by the way make some money. So i thought it would be nice if I share it with all of you guys.

  9. After reading this I realize just how useful it is to have an outside person review your website or blog.

    When you are working on it up close it’s easy to miss things.

    And it also reminds me to check with my readers and listen closely to their feedback.

  10. After reading this I realize just how useful it is to have an outside person review your website or blog.

    When you are working on it up close it’s easy to miss things.

    And it also reminds me to check with my readers and listen closely to their feedback.

  11. shad0wr1ter says:

    i read the article out of respect for you and found that i enjoyed it . I didn’t want to leave this comment without reading you blog. My true purpose is to tell you that i read your pro blogging book that you have out with Darren R. Unbelivable. All my questions were answered. Your “about the authors” section drew me in. Great little peice of writing that made me feel like i could like both of you guys. It was follow by a outstanding introduction that was equally well written. I didn’t mean for this comment to turn into a book review but i wanted you to know that i appreciate it. The book i mean. Hey it got me to chrisg.com didn’t it. And i’ll be back!

  12. shad0wr1ter says:

    i read the article out of respect for you and found that i enjoyed it . I didn’t want to leave this comment without reading you blog. My true purpose is to tell you that i read your pro blogging book that you have out with Darren R. Unbelivable. All my questions were answered. Your “about the authors” section drew me in. Great little peice of writing that made me feel like i could like both of you guys. It was follow by a outstanding introduction that was equally well written. I didn’t mean for this comment to turn into a book review but i wanted you to know that i appreciate it. The book i mean. Hey it got me to chrisg.com didn’t it. And i’ll be back!