Posts Tagged ‘blogs’

Designing the Perfect Business Blog: Part (a)

Wednesday, June 18th, 2008

Photo: anonymous

Malcolm Gladwell in his book, Blink, talks about a phenomenon he calls thin-slicing; an almost instinctual way that human beings filter information in the blink of an eye, by sifting the very few factors that matter from an overwhelming number of variables. To run a successful blog, it is crucial you understand that first impressions count.

First impressions take into account a myriad of elements, but can be best understood if considered from your visitor’s point of view:

(a) What is your visitor thinking while your site/page is loading?

(b) What is your visitor thinking as the page loads?

(c) What is your visitor thinking while he or she is exploring your site?

Today, we’ll take a look at (a):

The impression your blog makes while it is loading

Nowadays, visitors arrive at your blog from a variety of places; search engines, social media sites, or links from other blogs. Usually, the first thing they will see is the URL and title. Very soon after that, if the page takes a long time to load, they’ll start thinking about that too. What about if the link they clicked on is dead? Will you send them to an error page that offers no value? Or will you hit them with a popup or sneaky pop under?

If your visitors are worrying about any of these things before the page they are after loads, they might just hit the backspace key and bypass your site completely. Let’s try and avoid that.

The Importance of Your Domain Name

While I’ve talked about the importance of businesses hosting their blogs on their primary domain in Creating a Blog Strategy, and the various ways you can do this. But, what about businesses that don’t yet have an online presence?

If you’re a business that is young or new, you need to establish your branding immediately. Register a domain name that fits in with your company name, or as close to it as you can.

As you can see with BlogWell, we couldn’t get the domain blogwell.com, and instead opted for blog-well.com. It hasn’t harmed us in search results; you can search ‘blogwell’ blog-well’ or ‘blog well’ in Google, and still find us quickly.

Domain names can include any combination of letters and numbers. The dash symbol (-) is the only other character allowed.

As for the top level domain (com, org, edu, etc.), do everything in your power to get a dot com; it’s what most people automatically think about when typing a URL.

And a final note on domains; make the decision up front whether you want your domain to include ‘www’. While this is not critical for your visitors, it will impact you over time with search engines and ranking in search results.

Once people start linking to you, if you haven’t made a conscious decision on which you prefer, some sites will link to http://www.yourblog.com, others will link to http://yourblog.com. This will just confuse the search engines; they’ll have to split ranking between the two, and this can result in neither receiving the best possible result.

Decide which one you want, and redirect the other to it by way of a permanent redirect (HTTP Status Code 301).

URL: Pretty vs. Ugly Links

As visitors now come from an assortment of places on the Web, there is a greater chance they will land on a specific page, rather than your home page. It then makes sense to ensure you have clean URL’s. By clean, I mean well structured, ordered, and descriptive.

While waiting for a site to load, you’ll notice a URL in the bottom left corner of your browser that tells you which page is loading. If the URL doesn’t correspond to what you were searching for or clicking on, and if you’re anything like me, a tiny alarm may go off in your head: Am I going to the site I thought I was going to, or am I being redirected somewhere sneaky?

Here’s an example of a pretty link and an ugly link; which is easier to understand?

Pretty Link: http://www.wisegeek.com/what-is-wimax.htm

Ugly Link: http://radio.about.com/library/bldef-138.htm

The easiest way to ensure you have ‘pretty links’ is by giving your posts relevant and great titles, using blogging software that automates the permalink process (like WordPress), and setting up your permalinks correctly.

Not only does this help your visitor feel more comfortable, but it is also useful to search engines, which will better be able to index your page if it has an easily identifiable title.

Load Time

Advertisements, widgets, and images all take time to load, and who has the time to sit around waiting – especially if you have a slower connection. Your visitors won’t like it, and unless you have a truly unique site that has traffic in the hundreds of thousands, keep these to a minimum to avoid alienating your visitors.

If you don’t know how long it takes for your page to load, visit the Web Page Analyzer for a quick examination. This free tool will let you know how long it takes for your page to load at various connection rates. It will also offer suggestions on how to improve load time if your page loads too slowly.

Bookmark the Web Page Analyzer and make a point of visiting it several times a year – your blog’s community will thank you for it with return visits.

Error Messages: Create a Custom Error Message

What happens when you visit a page that tells you “Error 404: Page Not Found?”

Most people will quickly go back a page to check whether they clicked on the right link.

If they determine that the link is correct, but your site displays an error page, they’ll either go to the next result (if they’re using a search engine), or, if they’re coming from another site that has linked to you, chances are they’ll skip your site altogether.

You don’t want to lose potential visitors this way, and there are a few things you can do about it.

First, create a specific error message page that is a little more gentle (and helpful) than the blunt ‘Page Not Found’ and second, check your site for dead links a couple of times every year.

While it’s easier to navigate around a blog than a website when you come across an error page, it is still worth your while creating a specific page to shows your visitors that you have thought about making their life a little bit easier.

A useful error page may include:

  1. An apology of some type explaining why the page may not be there
  2. A search box with some text encouraging visitors to try searching on your site
  3. A link to your site map that lists all the pages on your site
  4. A list of the most popular posts on your site
  5. A list of categories on your site

Take a look at the following error pages; you may find inspiration.

http://seo2.0.onreact.com/error

http://problogger.net/error

http://www.apple.com/error

Creating an error page is one thing; making sure it appears on your site is another. Once you’ve created your document, you’ll need to upload it to your server. If you’re unsure how to do this, read this post from The Site Wizard that explains the process in plain English.

If you’re using WordPress, take a look at their Creating an Error Page article.

Pop Ups/Pop Unders

According to Enrique De Argaez, the man behind Internet World Stats, Pop Ups and Pop Unders are rude.

I agree. Just Don’t Do It!


This post is (a) of part six in a series of posts designed to help you blog well.

Part 6 is spread over three sections due to the large amount of information we need to cover in designing the perfect business blog.

If you like this post, consider subscribing to our feed so you don’t miss out on the rest of the BlogWell series over the next few weeks:

If you’ve missed the first five, you can find them here:

Does Your Business Blog Have A Personality?

Friday, May 16th, 2008

When considering your blog design, the most important element – and the one too few people consider – is the personality, or the atmosphere of the blog. This is the key factor that determines the success of your blog; it is the also the first impression your blog will have on your new visitor.

If you’ve ever been on a guided tour, you’ll know that much of your experience, be it good or bad, is based on the guide. Some guides are boring, others are entertaining; some offer interesting and pertinent details, others offer such exhaustive information that your head starts spinning; others still, bore you to tears.

Much like a tour guide, when it comes to your business blog, you are the one that must set the mood and the character of your blog. You are the tour guide, and if you want to be considered a great guide, you must address the needs of your audience.

Fortunately, successful business blogs all begin with similar foundations:

Successful Business Blogs Meet Audience Expectation

Making your design appeal to your target audience is critical. Are you writing to a young, hip, techno-nut? Are you writing to a mom? Are you writing to a CEO?

While you don’t want your blog to be the same as all the others out there, being too different from your industry (imagine an engineering firm dressing up their blog to look like webkinz), will just confuse your audience.

I wish I could give you a template for every industry of the ‘right’ look, but there really is no such thing. You need to do the research to ensure you meet your audience’s expectations. Take a look at our recent post about using Alltop to give you design inspiration ideas.

Successful Business Blogs Are Reliable

A business blog, regardless of how aesthetically pleasing, or well coded it is, if it is not seen to be reliable, it will become useless as a tool.

A reliable business blog is one that is written by a reliable source. As a business owner, you are that reliable source. You’ve had industry experience, you keep up to date with industry news, and you can offer advice – not only about your product/service, but also industry trends. The caveat here is you must write in plain English. Your website can be filled with jargon and industry terminology, but your blog is where you need to use your voice in a way that is understood by everyone.

Another factor that affects reliability is how regularly you post. If you want your blog to be successful; to be represented in search engine results, and to build a community of visitors, you must have continuously updated and relevant content.

Visiting your blog and updating once a month is not enough, try and post at least twice a week; daily if time allows, especially if you want your blog to be used as a reference.

Successful Business Blogs Represent Your Brand Appropriately

When it comes to business blogs, it is not enough to focus on your name or logo as your brand; here, your entire site is your brand.

Everything you put on your blog, words, titles, images, logos, as well as the structure, arrangement, navigation and presentation, all make up the essence of your blog; they give your blog personality.

And the personality of your blog will tell potential clients and customers a lot about who you are, how you work, how credible you are, and what you are capable of. In what light do you want your future customers to see you? Are you a strange, disorganized, angry at the world unprofessional, or, a succinct, reliable, organized, and tuned in expert?

Successful Business Blogs Are Intuitively Usable

Your blog will only be successful if you ensure your target audience can intuitively navigate your site – it must be easy to use.

Visitors, especially first time visitors, don’t want to waste their time trying to work out who you are, what you do, and why you do it. You are the guide of this tour, and you need to guide well. Take their hand and gently lead them in the direction you want them to go, or show them the way to get to where they want to go. The easiest way to accomplish this is to forget using witty or clever words for your pages, categories, and titles; again, plain English is a must.

Successful Business Blogs Don’t Look Spammy

How many times have you visited a blog, only to be met by animated images, smiley faces, pop ups/unders, and loads of advertisements? What was your first impression?

A business blog will be successful if the elements listed above are only used when they fit in with the mission and the vision of the blog. In most instances, there is no good reason to use pop-ups, or flashy, animated, smiley things on a business blog.

I visit lots of sites every day, and each time I visit a site that flashes at me, my immediate reaction is “Where am I, and, is this site doing something horrid to my computer?” I usually leave pretty quickly. This is not the message you want to send to potential customers.

While there are various reasons businesses set up blogs, the majority don’t do it to make money. Mostly, it’s about creating a space for like minded folk to visit, or establishing authority in a specific field, or passing along knowledge. If you are starting a blog for any of these reasons, try to avoid putting advertising on your site.

However, if you do decide to use advertisements, try to keep them discreet and in line with your industry.

These blogs provide good examples of fitting advertising to subject, take a look:

On a final note, your business blog should offer different content from your website.

Leave all the sales talk and product pages on your website. Link to them of course, but use your blog to let people get to know you – the person – not your product/brand. Business blogs are all about putting a human face to your company.

If you can think of any fundamentals of great business blogs that I’ve missed here, I’d love to hear about them. I’d also love to hear your thoughts. Please consider leaving a comment below.

Next week in the BlogWell Files, we’ll tackle: Designing the perfect business blog and talk about layout, pages, categories and sidebars – the do’s and don’ts.

This is the fifth in a series of posts about how to blog well.

If you’ve missed the first four, you can find them here:

If you like this post, consider subscribing to our feed so you don’t miss out on the rest of the BlogWell series over the next few weeks:

Part 6: Designing the perfect business blog

Part 7: Developing an editorial calendar

Part 8: Creating unique content

Part 9: Optimizing for search engines

Part 10: Submitting your blog to blog directories

Part 11: Participating in social media

Part 12: Codifying your blogging guidelines