Meta: Making your site user-friendly

I’m not an expert on blogging by any means, but I do spend a lot of time cruising the web, and I see the same minor but irritating problems popping up again and again. So I thought it might be helpful to toss some suggestions out there for comics bloggers (and creators) who want to build their traffic a bit.

If you’re blogging strictly for fun or personal expression, none of this will apply to you. This is just about how to make your blog more user-friendly for new readers and to other bloggers, like me, who might want to link to it. A surprising number of people overlook these basics, and fixing them will make it easier for me (and other bloggers) to find your blog, follow it, and link to it intelligently.

1. Identify yourself! I can totally understand not using your own name on your blog, but you should have some sort of a handle somewhere—on each post, on the About page, or somewhere on the home page. It’s hard to link to a blog if I don’t know what to call the author. It’s also helpful to have some indication of whether you are male or female.

2. Pick a clear title. Beware of names that are too clever—they may obscure your subject matter altogether. If you’re writing about manga, put the word “manga” in the title. That way Google knows you are there.

3. Make your URL easy to remember If you are serious about blogging, get a URL that is close to the name of your blog. Otherwise it’s too hard to remember. And the same advice in #2 above applies to URLs, only more so—keep it short and to the point.

4. Have an RSS feed! Yes, I know it’s hard to believe, but there are a couple of sites I don’t link to as much as I should because they don’t have RSS feeds and, well, I’m forgetful. And you should subscribe to your own RSS feed, because sometimes they don’t work properly and that’s the only way you will know. It doesn’t hurt to resubscribe occasionally, too, because sometimes they get hosed up.

5. Try to have your content line up with your RSS feed. This is mainly a problem with magazine-style themes, and it drives me crazy: I’ll see an interesting article in the RSS reader, but when I go to the site it’s nowhere to be found. I think this happens because the posts get categorized in different ways and not all of them show up at the top of the page.

6. Avoid obnoxious ads. I am linking less and less to Livejournal sites since they started putting up intrusive Flash pop-over ads (I think this is just with the free sites). I totally boycotted a mainstream comics site for about six months because they had an animated ad on the front page showing a spider crawling up a lady’s breast—I just couldn’t stand to look at it. And the worst case of all was when I was reading an all-ages webcomic on a big hosting site and a porn ad popped up next to it. If you can’t control your ads, pay a few bucks and get your own site.

7. Take advantage of widgets and other features that make life easier for other bloggers. I like to see a list of recent posts, because I can navigate quickly without having to go back to the home page. Time stamps are helpful as well. On the other hand, pop-up previews are obnoxious, especially if they pop up when I just move the cursor over the link. If you use tags, put a tag list or cloud in the sidebar so readers can use them as well. And every site should have a search engine and a way to look at older posts.

8, 9, … infinity: Have good content. Say something interesting. Don’t rant. Check your grammar and spelling before you hit “post.” Always re-read your post after you put it up—sometimes an HTML error can creep in there. Moderate your comments—nothing screams “amateur night” like obvious spam comments.

And don’t forget to have fun!

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Comments

  1. Thanks for the very salient advice.

    Quick question: do you think it hurts a blog if it doesn’t have it’s own domain name? For example, a wordpress or blogger site that retains the “.wordpress.com” or “.blogspot.com” in the domain name? I’ve been curious lately if it appears less professional to do that.

  2. I don’t think it matters that much, as long as the domain name is close to the blog name. Having your own domain is classier, but lots of people start out on free platforms and migrate to their own sites later.

    However, let me add one other opinion: As a user, I prefer WordPress to Blogger. I find the commenting interface easier to use on WordPress, and I like the fact that the usernames link to the user’s blog, rather than a Blogger profile.

  3. WordPress also offers an invaluable and easy to use Comments RSS feed right out of the box, making it easy to keep up with sites you follow regularly.

    These tips were really good, and even reminded me to add a Recent Posts widget to the sidebar.

  4. Jan Klump says:

    This seems like good advice for all bloggers – not just manga ones. I’m going to share.
    Thanks.

  5. This is an excellent list, and full of things I would have never thought of. I like chronological lists, but for some reason, using date and time stamps would never occur to me. I also didn’t even think about sites where the articles are unattributed.

    That’s a good point about the magazine-style layout. I tend to lose content on those pages too, when I’m looking chronologically for a story I remember and can’t find it. And one of my pet peeves for awhile were comic blogs with google ads that linked to places to get the content for free, like scan sites. I have to pay WordPress $30 a year so that never happens, but it’s worth it, because I feel like it makes the site lose credibility.

  6. Really didn’t expect this kind of blogging from you. Moar plz.

  7. I’m with you there on…well, all of these points!

    I especially agree with #6, though. I’ve made it a policy to stop linking to any site that pops up an OK/cancel dialog box when it opens or when you leave it. It’s not just a matter of annoyance, it’s actually a matter of safety. Clicking on OK — or even Cancel — constitutes a user action, which means that the software can do nasty things that it couldn’t do without your “permission.”

    Sure, it could just be some awfully-designed page and/or ad…or it could be spyware just waiting for a chance to install itself.

  8. Katherine Farmar says:

    Good advice! I would add to #4 that it’s not enough to have a link on your site that says “RSS feed here!” I can’t count the number of blogs, webcomics and other sites where I’ve clicked on the RSS link only to have nothing happen because the feed wasn’t set up properly.

  9. I can’t agree enough about point #2. Having a short, clear blog name/URL with the word “manga” brings a lot of traffic to my website and my Twitter feed. I also whole-heartedly agree with #7: make it easy to find stuff on your site! Tags, category lists, most viewed/most commented/most recent, archives, indices… those should be a part of every serious blogger’s website, as it allows readers many different options for browsing.

  10. Milo: When you’re starting to blog, it doesn’t hurt to start on a hosted service like Blogspot or WordPress.com, but over time once you’ve built up an audience and seriously consider taking the next step, you should consider switching to a self-hosted blog with its own domain name in order to be taken seriously across the wider internet.

  11. Excellent post, and excellent suggestions, some of which I hastened to implement. Even very old dogs can learn new tricks, apparently, or be convinced to conduct themselves in a sensible and reader-friendly manner.

  12. Since I work as an online editor, I can’t echo enough what you’ve laid out here. Thankfully, I found myself hitting all the right marks as I went through the list!

    One thing I’d add is posting regularly. While I’ve been known to get irregular on my posting, I strive to post every day. For others, posting every weekday, once a week or several times a month works. Whatever schedule you decide to go with, it should be a pattern that readers can expect. It’ll not only help grow your traffic, but it will help keep readers engaged.

    Also, if you’re looking to increase readership, be sure to get involved with the online community. When I started blogging earlier this year, I was astounded to find such a welcoming community of manga bloggers. I’ve not only participated in great online conversations and met some awesome folks in person, but I’ve had the opportunity to share my blog with others. Just remember it’s a two-way street and you need to keep others engaged– you’re not just “pushing” content at others every time you post; you’re helping create a dialogue and enhancing the body of online knowledge about manga.

  13. About #6, I’d like to point out something that’s helpful as a reader (and general web surfer): I highly recommend getting AdBlock Plus for Firefox (I’ve been told there’s something similar, though not quite as user-friendly, for Opera). The block list eliminates most ads on the English part of the internet, and you can add more filters for specific images or ranges to catch whatever it misses.

    Seeing how ad-filled the internet is on some friends’ computers, I can’t imagine browsing without it these days.


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