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 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?
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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
- The header – Does it tell you where you are and why you should bother?
- Headlines – Do they stand out and interest you?
- 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
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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
- Where you have subscribe by email, consider adding the actual form, you might see more signups
- 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
- 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
- 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!
- In the “about” sections try to find ways to make it answer the “so what?” question – what should the reader gain?
- 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 …
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.
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 …