Monday, March 26, 2012

Blog Critique: Damsel in a Dirty Dress

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.

We have a published author for today's critique. I love this because your site is a whole different ball game when you have product that you're selling. But, man, we have a lot to cover today so go check out Nicole MacDonald's Damsel in a Dirty Dress and meet below.
The first thing I have to get out there, Nicole, is that I really enjoy reading your blog. You are a completely enjoyable read. The problem is that I spent a good deal of time on your site before I could figure that out. There's a lot going on and, admittedly, I was overwhelmed when I arrived. That's not where you want your readers - or, when you are selling a book, your buyers - to be when they visit your site. So let's see what you could do to change that.
  • The first thing a reader sees of your blog is the above screenshot. Notice, I don't even see any content without scrolling. Rule of thumb for everyone: Make sure your header info does not take an entire screenshot. We'll talk more about ways to fix this as you go on.
  • On the screenshot, notice we don't see your name anywhere. I love your website title, but you need to add your name. Even if you had "Nicole MacDonald is a" above "Damsel in a Dirty Dress." Your name is crucially important. We need to know we are at the right place.
  • I love the Amazon widget. BUT here's 2 things I don't love about yours:
    • You have books other than yours in your widget. Confusing! I'd just keep your books in this widget.
    • Your widget is preventing me from seeing the rest of your site. It makes me feel like I'm on a book-seller's site or a MySpace page. I'd move it to run vertically on one of your sidebars.
  • The white of your navigation and sidebar links, and later the background of your posts, is too garish. Use a really light blue for the background of your posts. For your navigation, I'd use that awesome yellow you have lower on the left sidebar. It's a great palette, really. But you need to use that yellow more to punch it up.
  • The navigation links are confusing and they shouldn't take two lines. I don't even know who you are yet so menu items such as "Characters in the trilogy" mean nothing to me. Here's what I suggest for menu items (as long as they all fit in one line)
    • Home
    • About Me
    • My Books - include "Characters in the trilogy" on this page 
    • Tips for Authors - Put both the e-book formatting and the indie advice here
    • How to Download
    • Contact Me
And now we can finally scroll down.
  • When you are selling books, I want to see two things near the top of your blog: Your profile and your books. I should see both of these without scrolling down so this is when a double sidebar is effective. I would put your profile at the top of one side and books for sell on the other. This would be a good place for the vertical Amazon widget with only your books. Go ahead and keep that whole left sidebar for your products. 
  • I'd always put your newest book at the top of your book list. Otherwise, people returning to your site might stop looking when they see your first book listed. You want them to say, "Yes! The new book is available!"
  • Your main post section is too narrow. Another rule of thumb: Your sidebar space added together should never be wider than your main post section. You have a fair amount of space not being used on the sides so I would just widen your main area and keep your sidebars at their current width.
  • Your profile is a fun read. But it's buried and it's too long. Move it to the top. Then, I'd trim it here and put the long version on your "About Me" page.
  • Trimming will give you room to put your followers up higher instead of buried at the bottom. Followers are not as important now as when you don't have a book to sell yet. You always want people to do something when they visit your site - something the blog owner can track. For unpubb'd bloggers, you want people to follow and/or comment. For pubb'd authors, you want people to buy your books.  Everyone, keep these two things in mind and it will help you build your site. Make sure you always ask yourself, does my site make it as easy as possible for people to do what I want them to do? If there's other stuff getting in the way of that goal, it needs to go.
  • In the spirit of not being totally un-fun - I don't mind the fish at the bottom of your blog. Just keep them down at the bottom where they don't take up prime real estate.
I think I'm done. Nicole, you have a jewel of a blog. Unbury it, polish it up a bit and this site is going to shine.

FYI: Here are a couple of published author blogs that I think do a (pretty) good job of organizing their material:

Readerly people - do you have any thoughts for Nicole?


Nicole MacDonald said...

Awesome :) Thanks for all those suggestions Laura, I've been running blind with it for a while so it's great to have genuinely useful suggestions *grin* Looks like I'll have a busy weekend!

Kimberlee Turley said...

Love the title of the blog!

Jacqueline howett said...

Great post. Thanks for the tips. Off to check out the links!

AlexJCavanaugh said...

I remember the first time I saw Nicole's blog - it's changed a lot since then.

Beth Stilborn said...

It may be just me, but I found everything too hard to read with all the black background. The things in the sidebar are difficult to read, and I found it hard to concentrate on the blog with so much on either side. (Perhaps I have an attention problem!) I honestly couldn't focus properly on any of it, because there was so much stuff and so much black.

Also, moving things like the slideshow make me woozy, so if I hadn't been going to the blog to check things for this critique, I would have moved on and would not even have tried to read, which is a shame, and doesn't do the writer's writing justice.

Southpaw said...

I highly recommend adding a link to your rss feed as well. Not everyone (like me) follows via Google.

I was thrown off my the widget in the top too. At first I thought they were all yours - cool, but then I saw some that weren't and I thought maybe you were a book reviewer.

Laura Barnes said...

Thanks so much for that input, Beth. It's important to know how different people view things. I didn't mind the black - it fits her book style. And I think the sidebars would look cleaner if they were wider. What a great comment about the moving widget. I think if it was at the side and not so prominent that might help.

Laura Barnes said...

No problem. I think we all run blind most of the time unless we ask others. :) I didn't include my usual, "Only you know what's best for your blog," but I do mean it. Don't feel obligated to address all or any of my suggestions unless you think it will be best for you and your readers. Good luck! I really enjoyed meeting you through this process!

Melissa Sugar said...

Good critique, as always. I am not sure, but I believe she has already made some changes since your critique because I did not see all of the things you mentioned. I did find the scrolling widget at the very top distracting and I agree much of her site made me a little dizzy. I also agree that a published author does not have to work as hard as some of us to gain followers, but I am still not a fan of Google Friend Connect or "Follow me" being at the very bottom of the page. I think she must have already widened her actual post area because her sidebars combined are not wider than her post area, but I still had a difficult time viewing anything on either sidebar. It might just be me or my computer, but I had to scroll left and right to view the content on each side.

I agree with Southpaw about adding a link to your rss feed. I am guilty of this. I have tried to do it, but I am so not computer savvy enough to figure out even the simple things. I am working on it.

I hated to read that you don't like so many labels on the navigation bar. I am in the process of updating my blog design (I mean someone is updating it-Tenille at The cutest blog on the block) and one of the items I told her I wanted updated was this. I want to add several labels that link to stand alone pages. I initially thought of this after reading your suggestions to have a separate page for blogfest/awards etc. I have many items I wanted to place on a stand alone page. How do you suggest we do this without adding labels to the nav bar???

Laura, notice how some of the people who comment show up in pink and you can link to their blog & those who do not belong to DISQUS or do not sign in with a link to their site show up in gray. I don't mean the easy ones like Alex, I can always find his blog, but the others who do no link to their own blog: How do you read their blog or get to it if you cannot link to it in your comment section? I hope that made sense. That is my biggest problem with DISQUS and just wondering how you handle it.

Brooke R. Busse said...

I think what Laura is trying to say with the pages is that, it's good to have pages. It adds depth, but make sure that you don't have too many unnecessary ones. Also, make sure your pages names are not too long or complicated. Notice how Laura combined two of the above things onto one page, but she also trimmed down the name to one.

Laura Barnes said...

Great advice. I even looked on my blog to make sure I had one. :)

Laura Barnes said...

Oh, goodness, Melissa. You make me have to think! LOL. It does look like she's widened her post area - a little too much now because we have to scroll sideways (at least we do on my laptop).

An RSS feed is simple on blogger. Go to Layout, then Add a Gadget. The RSS gadget is easy to find in the list.

Brooke answered for me very well (thank you, Brooke!). I don't mean that you shouldn't have links on your navigation bar, several pages is good. But make the titles short and group anything that you can so that your navigation bar only takes up one row, not two. Two bars is confusing and too much. Make sense?

I think I answered your last question in another email, but let me know if I didn't. :)

Laura Barnes said...

You nailed it, Brooke. You totally get me :)

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