December 22, 2005
Liz published this at 6:54 am
Guest Writer: James Shewmaker
I’m delighted to present this article on Blog Usability, written at my invitation, by James Shewmaker.
If you’re a regular reader at Successful-Blog, you’ve seen James’ insightful comments throughout our discussion threads. James is a visual branding consultant in Atlanta, GA. His business, which he began in 2001, is Qwerty – “Helping Businesses Become Unforgettable,” and his business blog is Qwerty.us/blog/.
Blog Construction–What”s Your Function?
Design is more than decorating. Design has to do with functionality. The form of whatever is designed needs to serve the purpose or function for which it was made.
Many bloggers are more concerned with article writing than they are with the functionality of their blog. There are a number of design factors which these bloggers overlook. However, readers are affected by how they experience your blog, and the reader’s experience is a result of how well the blog functions. If a car looks great on the outside but its engine has no power and its steering feels like driving a motor home, buyers are going to avoid this car. The same is true of the functionality of your blog.
Here are five suggestions for improving the usability of your blog.
1. For the visitor who does not have your web assets in her browser’s cache, how long does it take for your blog’s main page to load? The visual aesthetic of your blog must be balanced against load design. This balance is determined by the purpose of your blog. If your blog is devoted to visual design such as MocoLoco or CoolHunting, then you will sacrifice speed for visuals, but if your blog is devoted to the discussion of philosophy, you should sacrifice the aesthetic for the reader’s speed of access.
To test the load time of your blog, first erase your browser’s cache. In most browsers this can be done in the preference settings, or you can use a utility such as iClean by Allume to erase your browser’s cache. Next use a LOW speed internet connection. Just because you have broadband does not mean that your readers do. Now using a stopwatch (or a watch which tracks seconds) see how long it takes for your blog to load into the browser.
2. Are your graphics fully optimized and have you chosen filenames and alt tags which will aid your visitors and improve your search relevance?
Optimizing your graphics refers to using a graphics program to reduce the file size (kilobytes) of your graphics to the lowest size possible for the reader to see that which is being shown. Again the size of the file is determined by the purpose of your blog. If the purpose of your blog is not graphical, then a good target size to aim for is approximately 10 kilobytes.
Unless you are a professional photographer, a jpeg in a blog should never have an optimization setting in the 80s or 90s. This refers to the quality of your jpeg. The best quality and largest size jpeg has an optimization setting of 100, while the lowest optimization setting is 0. In most general purpose blogs, an optimization setting somewhere between 50 and 75 should suffice. If you are producing your own images using a digital camera, it is usually advisable to take the best quality picture and then use a graphics program to optimize the quality.
Image file names should use words from your posting separated by underlines where spaces would be.
Alt tags not only provide text for broken links. Alt tags also provide rollover feedback in some browsers. In some browsers. placing your mouse over an image causes a small rectangle to appear which displays the content of the alt tag. This is what is meant by rollover feedback.
Alt tags also are used by some search spiders. Search engines use programs known as spiders to index the content of websites. Different spiders use different criteria for determining web page relevancy. Alt tags are used by some spiders in evaluating the relevancy of a web page.
3. Are you using redundant code instead of using CSS? Redundant code refers to code which contains unneccessary duplication of the code declarations. The longer you blog, the more the updating and archiving of your blog is going to be affected by bloat code. Try to eliminate table coding and font declarations as much as possible. CSS reduces the source code necessary to display your blog to a minimum.
Using HTML to define your blog’s fonts or using tables to create your blog’s layout is the main cause of redundant code. Bloated code is often created by WYSIWIG editors, such as Frontpage, Freeway, and MSWord. If you are importing code from one of these editors into your blog’s editor you are creating bloated code.
Another reason for avoiding redundant code and bloated code is that it can overtax the servers on your webhost. If a webhost’s servers become overtaxed it can either slow down the access to all the blogs on that server or even cause the blog service to crash.
4. Minimalistic design in blog templates is more effective than attempting to dazzle with the exception of visual creatives, such as photographers and graphic designers. That which distracts irritates readers.
Allow me to illustrate this by contrasting the main article page of the Wall Street Journal’s Startup Journal Online with the print article page of the same article. The print article page removes everything which might distract the eye. I am not advocating that you strip your blog’s design to this degreeÃ¢â‚¬â€?even the navigation system is eliminated from the print page. Instead I am illustrating the difference between a complex page layout and a minimalistic page layout. The complex layout distracts the eye from the article content. While the minimalistic page layout, makes the text of the article more accessible and important.
5. Always keep in mind that a large percentage of your audience will be reading your content off RSS or Atom readers and syndicatorsÃ¢â‚¬â€?design your blog so that the textual content can stand on its own whenever necessary. For example, do not reference something in your blog’s sidebar without providing a link in the article text.
If you would like more suggestions on improving your blog’s functionality, Jakob Nielsen writes excellent articles about Web Usability.
And for a construction connection of another kind. If you are nostalgic about ABCÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s Schoolhouse Rock, here are the words and the site connection to Ã¢â‚¬Å“Construction Junction.Ã¢â‚¬?
I know I couldn’t have said that better.
James will be back again soon with more.
–ME “Liz” Strauss.