When it comes right down to it, a website is like an employee. An employee who works 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, never asks for vacation time, and religiously keeps track of every transaction it makes with your customers. But that’s not really where the analogy ends. If your website is abused, it might just quit working for you.
What does it mean for your website to quit?
Oh, it’ll still be there (maybe) – hangin’ out on the internet, showing off for the occasional visitor – but not really invested in your company. It will continue to be a part of your company – but instead of helping you increase your business profile, make sales, find qualified leads, or gain readership it will just be a leach on your finances. How does this happen?
- You only care what it looks like, and don’t bother making certain it can really get the job done. It’s a very stereotypical sexist scenario in which the boss hires a secretary on the basis of her legs (or other body parts), but it sure seems to apply to websites. An incredibly complex Flash animation with doohickeys and gewgaws may be an incredible looking website – but you better have made sure it can also give your visitors what they need.
- You’re asking it to do things it might not like to do. Sometimes, an employee might be asked to do something unethical. They might quit. If you’re expecting your website to invade people’s privacy by collecting personally identifiable information, or by automatically adding them to mailing lists, etc., you might find that behavior to backfire. Visitors don’t always like your service enough to put up with the hoops you make them jump through: and unless you’ve got something really great, they’ll just stop coming.
- You’re not providing the right tools for the job. If your employee is working with a sad old Windows 95 machine which just barely stays running when they’re trying to type out meeting minutes, they will probably be a bit dissatisfied with their lot in life. Similarly, if your website doesn’t have the hosting package it needs, the bandwidth it requires, or a secure certificate to keep your customer’s data safe you might be screwing yourself. Don’t host your business site with a free service: remember, you get what you pay for. (Well…usually. Don’t just jump on the most expensive hosting out there, either.)
- Don’t explain what it’s supposed to do. If your new employee doesn’t get any instructions, they’ll just be doing random things trying to keep busy. Is that what you want from your website? If you’re developing a site, make sure you know what you want from it. Don’t just add new features willy-nilly, and don’t just throw up your brochure because you think you need to have a web presence. Your website won’t really accomplish anything for you if you don’t have any clear intentions behind it.
- Don’t change things too frequently. If you throw new job instructions at your employees every six months, expecting them to learn a new filing system, a new business process or a new shipping procedure they might well rebel. And although your site isn’t going to literally fight against your changes, it’ll certainly suffer: if you’ve reorganized product categories, you might cause search engines problems in finding your pages. You can protect against this, so it’s not an argument against ever reorganizing. However, those robots take some time to catch up – if you go through a reorganization too frequently, they’ll never arrive where you are. Your visitors might struggle, too. Some people like change and others don’t. Nobody will rebel against one redesign: but everybody will struggle with too many of them. Change can equal improvement: but not every change will.
Don’t be a bad boss – invest in your website just like you would an employee. And if it’s not doing the job – fire it and get a new one.
Hey, I can’t count! I’ve added another one…
Christian Montoya recently posted his Top 10 Ways to Uglify Your Blog. I take issue with most of his points – and so I’m setting out to refute his opinions. It’s clear to me that Christian is writing primarily from the perspective of a designer, so I’m going to make a point to address the issues from a usability and marketing perspective. I’m not disagreeing with every point; let me make that clear – but I will address all 10 points, regardless.
- 10. Orange XML/RSS Buttons
Christian protests the fact that these buttons don’t match
any layouts. Regardless of the overarching simplification in this reasoning, there are many reasons to keep to a basic orange RSS button. First is the fact that this is, for better or for worse, the accepted standard for this type of button. From a usability standpoint, this equates to delivering the user what they expect – you don’t want to force them to search for anything on your site – and especially not for an RSS feed which might keep them coming back! From a marketing perspective, there’s a distinct advantage to making this feature stand out. Keep it visible, and people will be interested.
- 9. Neutral Submit Buttons
I won’t claim that neutral submit buttons are necessarily beautiful – but they are intuitive. Unlike most graphical buttons, they provide changing states on :hover, :active, and action. It is possible to create a button which will provide all these states without using the default settings – but most designers don’t go to this kind of effort. I’d advocate CSS modification or even plain, standard buttons. Again, it’s giving people what they expect.
In this case, I don’t protest the issue of creating custom buttons. However, the method and practice must be considered very carefully in order to keep the level of usability which exists by default.
- 8. Long Blogrolls
One blog I read regularly has a very long blogroll. Christian suggests that this many links is a usability problem and continues to suggest displaying only groups of 10 links at a time in your blogroll. Well, I disagree. In my opinion, supplying a small subset of your blogroll links on each visit is a serious usability problem. How am I going to find that one link I remember seeing on Bill’s blog if I have to refresh his page a dozen times to find it? With AJAX or iframes this could be avoided – but what a pointless use of the technology.
To me, a long blogroll is just fine. It’s not about providing a link to these sites, giving them added value, or advertising for your friends. It’s about giving an indication to your readers about what else you are interested in – they can browse them if they wish, or leave them.
- 7. Tag Clouds
All right. I don’t like Tag Clouds either. I’m not certain I agree that they’re ugly, nor do I believe that they’re useless – they do provide an interesting visual insight into the topics a blog tends to cover. But then, so do categories lists. My problem with tag clouds is that they provide no useful information for non-visual browsers. They usually provide no link separators and no indications of importance (the main point of their existence) to a non-visual user.
- 6. Social Bookmarking Buttons
Is he right? I don’t know. Personally, I don’t use them at all. On my sites, I generally use the Socializer, which greatly reduces the clutter – as well as not requiring me to monitor whether my links are current.
- 5. XHTML/CSS Buttons
Do any of my readers care about the doctype my site uses? In fact, yes. It may not be important in every industry, but if you promote yourself as a standards-based, accessible web developer, it’s actually pretty important. Now, whether I’d use those buttons is a different story – the default W3C buttons are actually pretty ugly. Using plain text indicators or small buttons is much preferable!
- 4. 80×15 Buttons
Wow, now that’s a sweeping generalization. I tend to think of this type of button as a badge. These are indications of support you give to particular institutions or memberships you hold in them. Perhaps they don’t "match your design", but they may well match your personality. Blogs are about personality. Christian says
nobody cares about your support for Wikipedia or Greenpeace. I simply don’t agree – some of your readers care about your opinions are your viewpoint. Some of them care who you support and who you don’t. That may be one of the reasons that some of them read your blog at all.
- 3. Feedreader Buttons
Okay, I’ll agree here. I think that having a list of Feedreader buttons is a major waste of space. Give me easy access to your RSS feed (or your Feedburner subscription, if that’s what spins your beanie) and I’ll take care of it myself. Now, I may be biased, since the feed reader I use is never on the list.
- 2. Ads, ads, ads
I’m not entirely clear that Christian is actually condemning advertising on blogs, actually. It sounds more to me like he’s criticing the use of ugly advertising. Well, so be it. It depends on the circumstances, to me – good testing will determine whether an ad, beautiful or not, will create income for you. But, if your blog isn’t really about creating income – then certainly, skip the ugly ads.
- 1. Your Picture
Well, that’s just not very nice. I disagree. Putting your personality to your blog can be greatly aided with your picture. Later comments on the blog imply that what Christian was actually referring to was using your picture as part of the core design – reproduced throughout every page. That, I agree, is probably overkill.
Now, I’m sure I’ll receive criticism on this post because this site is not the most beautiful creation in the world. Before that starts, I just want to point out that beauty is not my first priority in creating a site – usability and accessibility come first. I’ve written this post with no intention of demeaning Christian’s perspectives – the design purist has a very different perspective than I do, sometimes. However, to me, the most important issue from a blog is personality – it’s all in the writing. The design is purely secondary, and these "top 10" elements are, for the most part, ways of personalizing your blog.
Once again, thanks to Kim for bringing this to the forefront of my thoughts!
There’s an interesting tendency amongst both the techno-literate and the less technologically savvy to look at the "blog" as a separate creature from a website. I’ve heard a wide variety of perspectives; ranging from clients trying to decide whether they wanted a blog or a website to experts discussing blogs in a separate quantification than so-called normal websites.
Just look at the titles of articles – Programming your Blog or Website, Collect Data on your Blog or Website, or How readable is your blog or website?. All of these articles convey valuable information, but they also all suggest that a blog and a website are separate entities. I’ve always been frustrated with this perspective.
In my mind, blogging is an activity you perform on your website. It is in no way separate; it is simply a different way of maintaining a site. A blog is a website which is (usually) updated fairly regularly, which allows some form of communication with it’s readership, and which is normally organized in a chronological fashion.
If you are operating a blog, you do have some unique considerations to take into account – concerns which a website without a blog doesn’t require. However, the very first consideration you need to contemplate is the fact that your blog should include every critical piece of information included on any other website.
I started thinking along these lines after reading a post by Kim Krause Berg on her usability blog. The title of her post is Blog Usability for the Considerate Blogger. Her advice is great. It does distinguish between blogs and websites, but primarily on points which actually are differences between blogging activity and non-blogging web activities.
So what types of information are COMMON between blogs and non-blogs? What is UNIQUE to a blog?
Common Information Between Blogs and Non-Blogs:
Information about your company or your business. Every site needs to inform the visitor about who is behind it. The way you go about it may be different, as blogs commonly have a more personal, intimate approach than a company website. However, the presence of this information is critical.
Contact information. You need to enable visitors to communicate with you. The article comments inherent to blogging are not sufficient; since visitors may not wish their business proposals to be made public. Provide an e-mail address or a contact form (both is good), and a physical address if that’s important in your line of business. Provide a phone number as well – talking to somebody can be the best way to firm up a business relationship.
Original content. Yeah, this may seem obvious – but believe me, there are enough sites (blogs and non-blogs) which are just scraping content or changing names that it’s not always clear this is important. Regardless of the type of site you run, you need to supply your own unique perspectives and your own thoughts to your pages. Even in a basic product catalog, if you’re using identical product descriptions to every body else in the industry, you’re losing out. Write your own material!
Good navigation. Great navigation in a five page brochure site is pretty easy to accomplish. The challenges presented by a three-year-old blog or a large corporate site are much greater – but equally important. Like large corporations have numerous branches, departments, and functions, a blog has a wide variety of topics, types of content, and is spread out over many months of content. Providing access to your valuable information is equally important for both.
What’s unique to a blog?
Is anything really unique to a blog? Perhaps the chronological organization of information; but this is part of how I’ve chosen to define a blog. I’m not sure I believe there is anything completely unique to a blog – instead, I’m looking at features which are, in my opinion, critical to providing unique value to your blog.
User contribution. Most websites (wikis excluded) don’t require a great deal of audience participation. This is gradually changing, with the advent of social networking tools, but you could argue that sites such as Digg or MySpace are more web-based applications than they are websites. They don’t serve the same fundamental purpose. Blogs, however, are greatly enriched by the presence of a good commenting system. If you build a good user base, the conversations spawned in comments can be more valuable than the original articles.
Personality. A non-blogging website doesn’t necessarily require a unique personality (although it’s helpful). A blog, however, can’t really function without a unique voice and personality behind it. This goes beyond merely informing your audience who you are. It means revealing yourself – a blog is somewhat an exhibitionist activity. Let your readers know something about you. This doesn’t mean talking about why your wife just left you – but your humorous anecdote about your cat could become your most popular article.
I don’t perceive a great difference between blogs and non-blogs. When you come right down to it, a blog is a means to make a personal connection with your site visitors. As such, public communication with those visitors combined with a willingness to expose some piece of your personality to the public are the critical differences between blogging and other website formats.
Thanks to Kim for spawning these thoughts!