The Exchange
SafeHouse Web
Your Online Presence Matters

A Different Kind Of Sinning

Ten Sins of Business Blog Usability

In some circles, Sinning is an archery term which literally means to miss the mark. If you’re blogging to establish a two-way dialogue with your audience, the “mark” is the optimal reader experience. While not being much into archery, myself, the title verbiage here is sure to catch the attention of bowmen and common men, alike. And so it’s hoped these “don’ts” will be of use to the business bloggers amongst us.

Here’s a quick list of ten things that can hurt your blog’s usability.

10. Sending Mixed Messages

The focus of your blog should be decided before your first post and then committed to. Random blog entries about a melee of topics might work for a personal blog read by friends and family, but is not a good approach for a serious, professional blog. The lifeblood of any blog is in its loyal subscriber base. And readers are more willing to subscribe to blogs that talk about their area of interest on a consistent basis.

If your blog’s personality includes the odd personal entry, create a separate category for “fun stuff,” “random” or other “personal,” and think about each post’s fit with your target audience before you publish. Or start a separate blog on that topic and cross-link your blogs.

9. Making It Hard to Subscribe

Because subscribers are such an important part of blogging success, you need to make it easy for users to sign up. Since not all users understand and use RSS feed aggregators like Feedburner and Bloglines (also called newsreaders), offer both email and RSS options. Make them very conspicuous, preferably placing them at the top of your navigation menu and above the fold.

Don’t be afraid to “ask for the subscription” at the end of each post as well. Sharing widgets and other mini-icons that make it easy to add to feed aggregators and social bookmark sites like del.icio.us and reddit with one click are invaluable. When we talk to our clients about social media integration, this is a prominent topic.

If you are using, or plan to use, WordPress you are set! Many options are available.

8. Inconsistent Posting

Now that you have a loyal fan base who are notified of every new post, don’t disappoint them with time lags between posts. Pick a posting schedule that’s realistic for your time schedule and stick to it. If you can’t think of anything to post about, blog about someone else’s post related to your topic and include a link back to that post.

Will this hurt your own blog to send subscribers away to another blog? Not too much, because you’re still offering them something useful; this is a balanced give-and-take, we believe. It’s not a good practice to link people away from your blog, but in these cases of being able to smartly use that outbound link, we think it’s worthwhile. You can also leave a comment or trackback on the other blog that links back to your post which can send traffic back to you. Business bloggers often monitor their trackbacks or incoming links; they might end up blogging about you in return.

7. No Contact Info

Some blogs can pull off the mystique of an anonymous posting. But if your website is for business, it’s hard to have a two way dialogue when you make it impossible to contact you. Transparency is fundamental to building trust on the web.

If you don’t want to advertise your email address because of spammers you can utilize comments on your posts. Yes, you’ll still get spammed, that’s the reality of the Internet. WordPress blogs come with Akismet anti-spam which does a good job at catching most spam. And with optional use of CAPTCHA and detail-oriented measures like blacklisting, you can come close to eliminating this annoyance. You also have the option to moderate comments before they appear on your blog.

6. Not Moderating Comments

Allowing anyone and everyone to post whatever they want in your comments section is asking for spam. Not only is this annoying to your readers, but it really takes down the professionalism of your blog.

5. Excessive Advertising

If you read much of what is posted here, you know there is an underlying emphasis on monetizing your website as it becomes stronger and more popular over time. But when ads appear all over the page and even in the middle of posts, the user experience suffers. Avoid contextual programs that highlight words in your posts to make them look like hyperlinks – this is just one of the many gidget-gadget doodads that annoy most people. While there are many less-annoying options for outright monetization, we recommend the old fashioned and simple customized sidebar ads. If you haven’t yet built up enough peer partnerships to make this viable, we feel the next best option are the least obtrusive GoogleAdsense or other low-key programs like Project Wonderful.

If your website or business blog is very new, it’s a good idea to wait until you’ve built up a history of useful posts before running advertising.

4. Not Linking to Posts

When you’re referring to something that can be found on the Internet such as a news story, another business, person or other blog post (whether on your own or someone else’s blog), allow your reader to check out the background info. Linking back to previous entries also builds page strength for those posts and can help you with search engine rankings. But don’t be afraid to link off your site, this generosity can help you get noticed by other bloggers. And it’s also nice to give credit where credit is due.

Peer partnerships, as mentioned above in the Advertising point, can be critically key to your business’ development. Seek them, cultivate them and keep them!

For example, participating in the local Hollister economy is an important part of SafeHouse Web’s business goals. To that end, we gleefully (yes, people still do act gleefully at times) do business with our friend Rob Campbell at Cartoon Thunder (he does great, affordable logo work and is a published biker cartoonist extraordinaire) and also have a nice relationship with the computer repair folks at Rx-TEK.

See, it’s that simple; not spammy – just sincerely related information about two of our business relationships that may also be of benefit to our readers.

3. Dark Background, Light Text

What’s been a general usability rule for years certainly applies to blogs. Anything that makes your blog harder to read should be avoided. Remember, it’s harder to read online than offline. The worst culprits for eyestrain are white text on a black backgrounds, low contrast combinations like black with red and busy patterned backgrounds. And it’s a good idea to avoid blocks of red text, even on a white background. Black and other dark colored websites make for great photo gallery displays, video focus, or themed sites with minimal text.

2. No Search Box

Returning visitors may remember a post that’s not intuitive to find through your navigation menu or tag system. New visitors may have found your website on a tangent and be searching for something they know only fits in that little search box that all real websites have…

1. Hard To Use Navigation

Most blog software and website themes come with a variety of lovely templates to skin your site. But not all of these templates are optimal for usability. Templates that require users to scroll right down to the bottom of the blog to find navigation are not the best choice. Stick to conventional top navigation or, secondarily, left column or right column navigation.

Taking some time to evaluate your website wearing the hat of your reader can greatly improve the user experience. Considering what makes a user-friendly website or business blog before you begin blogging helps you plan for optimal usability right from the start.

And it may help you refrain from sinning! We stand ready to help.

4 Comments


  1. Carolyn Higgins
    Nov 12, 2010

    Scott – great post – thanks for it! A few of my pet peeves are certainly on the list (the biggest being light text on a dark background… that peeve runs back to my days of selling advertising).

    It also made me look at my own blog and realize there are a few changes I need to make.

    thanks!
    -Carolyn Higgins
    http://FortuneMarketingCompany.com


    • Scott
      Nov 12, 2010

      Carolyn, thanks for your comment. Introspect is something I, too, gained while researching and writing this short piece. There are a few things on the to-do list for this blog, namely #9: Making It Hard To Subscribe.

      I’d realized that I always preach the benefit of having a “subscribe to comments” or “notify by email if somebody comments on my post” button or checkbox at the end of client business blog posts, but I had not put that preaching into my own practice. Shortly, I will be adding a nice, simple plugin from the WordPress.org Plugin Directory to solve my oversight.

      Glad to see you here – you always add great insight!


  2. Jaelyn
    Nov 18, 2010

    While blogging became viral from the moment of its inception, I personally abhor blog style sites, especially when searching for content specific information. I am probably the only 20-something to hold such a position. I much prefer clean-cut, well organized and executed websites to blogs which in my opinion are merely a website’s equivalent of a run-on sentence. I feel much of the content, which may in fact offer valuable insight to its reader, gets lost in the expanse of continued downward scrolling.

    Having said that, I might as well go for broke and mention that I prefer the exact opposite in regards to background color and text color. I almost didn’t finish reading your article for that very reason. I am plagued with extremely light sensitive eyes – to the point where I often find myself needing dark sunglasses in many indoor retail environments which feature a multitude of blinding fluorescents, in addition to anytime I venture into the great outdoors before sunset. For that a white background makes any text appear slightly blurred and forces me to squint. Might I suggest a light grey background as a viable alternative? This would greatly reduce the glare and strain for people like me, while still preserving a fresh, clean appearance. A perfect example is this comment box which offers a perfect amount of color contrast. Needless to say I am okay with black backgrounds and white texts, which for me present a much welcomed relief to the stark white that is the norm across the Internet.

    I also disagree with your theory of “sending mixed messages”. The very essence of a blog is to create a public venue to write about whatever strikes your fancy, professional or otherwise. The very word “blog” is defined as a personal journal containing thoughts, opinions, and reflections (Merriam-Webster dictionary). Therefore by definition, a “business” or “professional” blog is a bit of an oxymoron in that most “professionals” strive to separate their personal and professional pursuits. Given that, it is perfectly acceptable to go from praising/bemoaning the clean-up efforts following the oil spill disaster to fashion trends for toddlers, in addition to your professional presence. To require a “fun stuff” label is akin to apologizing for personal preference in the face of oppression. While this may be a bit off topic, I had to add that it is exasperating how much people are willing to hide from public view in an attempt to be “politically correct”. This leads to modeling behaviour that is not genuine, perpetuating further conformity in an effort to emulate those admired. This is of course only a statement on expressing genuine interests and personality and does not include showcasing behaviours which are based on hate, immorality, etc.

    Those points aside, I agree with your position as a whole :) I apologize for my long-winded response. I guess I got a little carried away.


    • scott
      Nov 18, 2010

      Jaelyn, you’ve made some good contrasting points here. Thank you! The issue of dark background/light text versus the opposite are, indeed, a matter of personal taste. And, as you noted in your own case, your particular eye sensitivity lends itself to a preference for the dark background.

      I’ve found the dark backgrounds are great for websites that act primarily as showcases for photographs, videos and other visual arts. Again, to the point of the blog post — not missing our mark, or “sinning,” has to be a matter of understanding our particular target audiences.

Leave a Reply