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Improving Weblog Usability

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Website usability guru Jakob Nielsen published his top 10 weblog design mistakes, and the list plus his commentary are interesting reading.

Weblogs are often too internally focused and ignore key usability issues, Nielsen says, making it hard for new readers to understand the site and trust the author.

You can read Nielsen’s detailed commentary, but I’ll summarize here my own top 3 worst sins from Nielsen’s list:

  1. Useless headlines. To me, that’s about the worst one. I don’t visit many blogs to read the posts – I read the RSS feeds. So I scan the headlines of posts in my RSS reader. With hundreds of feeds to go through, I simply ignore headlines that give little or no clue as to what the post is about. But a catchy headline (undoubtedly a subjective opinion as to what ‘catchy’ means) will get my attention and so I’m more likely to read the post.
  2. Sloppy linking behaviour. You know what I mean – “I was reading Bill’s great post on the new widget…” or “For info on that widget, go here.” For someone new to your blog, how on earth will they know what ‘here’ means without clicking and going there? Or who Bill is? Don’t assume every visitor knows your intimate circle or is willing to just click on something that says ‘here.’ (I’ve been guilty of this myself, so noted for the future.)
  3. Post lumping. This is what I call blogs that don’t have categories – all posts are just lumped together. So if you want to find what a blogger writes on a particular theme, you can’t. A definite driver-away of visitors. If you’re using a hosted blog service that doesn’t have a categories feature (Blogger, for instance), sign up for a third party service that enables post categorizing. Better still, switch to a service that integrates categories in its offering such as TypePad.

On the subject of hosted services, read what Nielsen has to say about using such services:

[...] Having a weblog address ending in blogspot.com, typepad.com, etc. will soon be the equivalent of having an @aol.com email address or a Geocities website: the mark of a nave beginner who shouldn’t be taken too seriously.

I think he’s right, although I’m sure such a view will lead to an outbreak of indignant posts by some business bloggers who do want to be taken seriously and do want to continue using such hosted services. Nielsen’s advice for that is simple – get your own domain name which you can use with many hosted services. TypePad, for instance, enables this through domain mapping.

In sum, it’s all about making it as easy as possible for visitors to your blog (or subscribers to your RSS feed) to find information and make use of it.

Weblog Usability: The Top Ten Design Mistakes

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Neville Hobson is the author of the popular NevilleHobson.com blog which focuses on business communication and technology.

Neville is currentlly the VP of New Marketing at Crayon. Visit Neville Hobson’s blog: NevilleHobson.com.

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