Monday, March 5, 2012

Blog Critique: Charity Bradford

In this series I give constructive feedback about the look and function of an author blog from a marketing perspective. As always, I rely on help from graphic designers Tom Barnes (my hubby) and Joe LaRue. To review the blog elements we look at or to submit your own blog for critique, go here.

Before we jump into today's critique I'd like to remind you all about my 300 Follower $15 Amazon Gift Card Giveaway. I'm taking entries through Thursday so be sure to enter.

Now, back to business. While last week we looked at a baby blog, Charity Bradford's blog is just the opposite. The challenges for newbie bloggers are somewhat different than more experienced bloggers. When Charity contacted me, she mentioned that she thought her blog was a little crowded. It makes sense. When you've been blogging for awhile, you accumulate stuff. Why don't you go take a look and we can discuss it more below? 


Okay, Charity, let's get right into it. I don't think you have a crowding problem (though, I have a feeling you moved some things since you told me about that issue). I do see a few other issues that might make you think you have a crowding problem:

  • You have no differentiation between middle and side bar. This is huge for me. It makes it hard to see where your posts end and where your side text begins. I would differ the background in both areas. Joe suggested a gradient for your sidebar like you have at your header. That would look really spiffy. Here's the problem though - I played around with your template on my practice blog (yes, I have a practice blog, does that make me a nerd?) and you can't differ the background on the sidebar from your posts. So you have three choices - mess with the CSS and override the code so you can make them different, leave it alone, or change templates. There are other templates that will give you the option of changing that sidebar. You could still put the same picture behind them. I suggest messing around sometime and seeing what you can come up with.
  • Another thing about that sidebar - I would like to see it be narrower. It has too much prominence in your blog. Your posts should get the top billing.
  • You have a lot of purple in your blog. Joe wants to see some more contrasting color. Try to add orange or yellow or green in your links or headers.
  • Joe also would like to see you use a font in your header with a curly apostrophe instead of a straight one. Straight apostrophes drive him crazy. That's a Joe thing, I'm sure, but it's interesting to know, isn't it? 
  • My own personal cringe is the split sidebar without filling the area evenly. Down where your labels are, you have your sidebar split in two columns, but you really are only using one side. That would look so much nicer if you clean that up.
  • I would move the story progress bars lower or to another page. You have room to move them lower, so that might be the way to go. I know they are important to you, but there are other items in your sidebar that are more important to your readers than your story progress bars, like...
  • Your "my other blogs" box. Move that higher. That's important.
  • You have a heckuva lot of labels to choose from. I am a firm believer in keeping your labels tight and to a minimum. If you have a ton of them with only one post related to them, they just become overwhelming to your readers.
  • What's the "things i need to remember" box? There's nothing under that heading
  • We caught you: The bottom of your blog is kinda like under your bed, isn't it? I mean, you just threw stuff down there that you didn't have a place for. I suggest organizing it and making it spiffy. Some people go down there. I did!
  • You have a lot of posts on one page (10). This isn't really horrible, but you don't have sidebar content to run all along that far, and it starts to look uneven. Plus you have that stuff at the bottom of your blog. I'd limit your posts to 5 per page. But that's just me.
  • I recommend having all of your links into another window. Particularly those links that actually take readers to another site. This can be confusing for a lot of us. Opening into another window keeps your blog open so we don't get lost.
I made a lot of suggestions, Charity, which makes it appear as though I didn't like your blog. This is entirely not true. I really like your blog a lot! You have great things going for you. Here's just a few of my favorite:
  1. You have your name in your blog header.
  2. You use pictures.
  3. You have your profile near the top with your picture. (When you aren't in the middle of a blogfest, move your profile up to top billing. :)
  4. You have depth (pages).
  5. You have an About Me page.
  6. You have a Contact Me page
  7. You're involved - you participate in a lot of different things on the web (blogfests, etc.). And you respond to your comments in a timely manner.
  8. You have connections to your writing! I kid you not: a woman in my Write at Home Mom's (WrAHM) group just got an email from an agent who read about her manuscript on her blog. She requested the query. I'm not joking. This is not the first time I've heard of this happening. Be prepared, folks! Charity is!

Okay, this has turned into a really long post. I think you are doing an excellent job, Charity. You have lots of followers and comments to prove it. Keep up the great work. I'm honored to have gotten to give you some of my suggestions. I hope they are helpful!

Any other feedback for Charity? (And don't forget to enter my 300 follower giveaway.)


Update: For those who asked, here is how you open links in a new window - When you insert a link, this box pops up. Click the box that says "Open link in a new window" at the bottom of the box. See it? That will now become your default option.



28 comments:

mithrilwisdom said...

I agree about the lack on contrast between the main posts and the sidebar (it's something I'm guilty of) and that the sidebar should be narrower. It's tough to avoid all the clutter when we've been blogging a while, and prioritizing what should stay prominant is hard.

Charity Bradford said...

Thanks Laura! I did some tweaking. Quick question, how do I set it so that when people click on links it opens in a new window. I can't figure out how to do that.

Thanks!

Stina Lindenblatt said...

I want to know the answer to Charity's question too. That would make things easier for my followers when they click on the links for Cool Links Friday.

I wish blog template designers would listen to you, Laura. Most of them make the mistakes listed here.

AlexJCavanaugh said...

I've always thought her blog was clean.
Different sidebar color - definitely.
Charity, if you mean links in your post, I can send you the hyperlink html. For hyperlinks in the sidebar, you just have to choose the right widget.

Callie Leuck said...

"That's a Joe thing, I'm sure, but it's interesting to know, isn't it? " Bwahaha. This is like me and Oxford commas. But I'm actually with Joe on this one. The curled apostrophes just seem more flowy with the text, don't they?

Also, I second what Charity said. I also can't figure out how to fix it so hyperlinks open in another window. From what Alex says, I assume I may have to alter the actual code, as opposed to a hidden option in Blogger?

Nancy Wahler said...

New follower here. I still just have text on my page so I have no good ideas regarding blog presentation. I imagine I am going to learn a lot from your blog.

Laura Barnes said...

Yay for tweaking! Actually, the new window thing is really easy. When you insert a link, the box that pops up has an option at the bottom to open link in a new window. Just click that and it will become your default - things will always open up in a new window. I am going to update my blog post with a screen shot in case you don't know what I'm talking about.

Laura Barnes said...

Aw, thanks, Stina! It is frustrating that so many of the templates are like that. I guess they want to make people pay for the good designs.

I updated my post and answered the question about links so you can see a screenshot of how to do it. It's at the bottom of my post.

Laura Barnes said...

Thanks for the help, Alex! I updated the post to include how to open links in another window within the main areas.

Laura Barnes said...

LOL! I know, right? She changed it to the cuter apostrophe. Yay! A win for us!

You don't have to alter code to do the open link in a new window. I updated my post to explain how to do it. Just scroll to the bottom. See if that helps.

Laura Barnes said...

Welcome, Nancy! I hope the info is helpful!

Laura Barnes said...

It's a bummer so many of the templates don't allow you to change the color of the sidebar. :( Thanks for your comment!

Matthew MacNish said...

Hah! Funny about Joe and the typeface. I'd never thought about that. I hope mine doesn't have any straight apostrophes.

Laura Barnes said...

The funniest part is that I have straight apostrophes myself and Joe's never bothered to complain about it! Maybe it's time to change my default font....

Kimberlee Turley said...

Did not know you did blog critiques. I'm in the process of having someone redesign mine because I know it's too generic and lacking a catch navigation bar.

Beth Stilborn said...

My main comment is that I found it difficult to read the sidebar with the stars shining through from the background. I definitely agree about changing the color of the sidebar and narrowing it. Post content needs to be primary.

Beth Stilborn said...

Just a note about "open link in new window" -- that is an option when adding a link to a wordpress self-hosted blog, but checking that box doesn't seem to make that option the default.

Krista Snapdragon said...

I have tagged you on my blog

Freya Morris said...

Hi Laura, for a bit of fun - I've tagged you on the Lucky Seven Meme:
http://freyamorris.blogspot.com/2012/03/lucky-seven-meme.html

Charity Bradford said...

Thanks again Laura for all your help yesterday and everyone else for your comments. I'll get that link thing fixed too.

Melissa Sugar said...

Thanks, Laura for another helpful critique. I agree with all of your ideas. I visited Charity's blog and she has a lot of good things.working on her blog as you pointed out. Another useful and excellent critique. This comment posted from my kindle and stil having a hard time getting used to this keyboard .

Laura Barnes said...

I can't wait to see what the end product is. Good luck with it!

Laura Barnes said...

Great comment. I think it's better now.

Laura Barnes said...

That's a great note about wordpress. Blogger holds that choice and makes it default. At least for me, it does. :)

Laura Barnes said...

You're so welcome! It was fun!

Laura Barnes said...

Aw, thanks, Melissa! And good luck with that kindle keyboard, LOL!

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