Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Blog Critique: Of Shoes and Ships and Sealing Wax of Cabbages and Kings

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.

How was your Labor Day? I labored all weekend on my romance novel. I'm on my final read through which, those of you who have written books know, is an exhilarating and (for me) obsessive time of a book's birth. In other words, I neglected EVERYTHING including sleep and my children and my Monday blog critique to work on it. 

I'm still not done. I need another few hours. Sigh.

So here is our Monday critique a day late. And it's PACKED with information which means I shouldn't have gone on so much about myself.(And seriously, I don't know why I'm all shouty capitals today. It's the book high I suppose.) First stop, of course, is our blog: Of Shoes and Ships and Sealing Wax and Cabagges and Kings. 

Our blogger, loverofwords, had some specific questions for us I'm going to run through my routine stuff quickly. 
  • I love your header picture. I know it's your own and it's just gorgeous and I think it fits the title.
  • I would probably suggest a more interesting background, but I love your picture so much that I'd be afraid a different background would pull away from that. Can you make your whole post area a little wider? Then the blue background won't be so dominant. Of course, I'm looking at your blog on a large screen. Maybe those of you who have smaller screens aren't so bothered.
  • A common suggestion I give applies to your blog: Give more separation between your post area and your sidebar. A darker color for the sidebar is the way I'd go. Especially because you're lacking a true color palette. 
  • Speaking of a color palette. Pick three or four colors and use them consistently. For example, pick one color for your sidebar, another for your time stamp. Another for your titles. And then always keep those colors the same.
  • You aren't trying to promote your blog as a writer so I'm not going to suggest the usual depth of pages. But it would be nice to know more about what you want your blog to be about. You can include this info in your About Me section. Is your main goal to share things you've written? Tell us that. We want to know!
  • You are inconsistent with your fonts. Pick the same one or two fonts and use them consistently in the same places.
  • I prefer five posts on a page. Otherwise it's just too far to scroll down.
  • Another way to add some color and interest is to add the LinkWithin gadget. 
Okay, there may be more we could talk about in terms of form and function, but I'd like to get to loverofwords question for me. I've actually received this question from others and I'm sure many of you have thoughts and opinions. The question is, can you use pictures and YouTube videos cavalierly on your blog.

A recent incident with romance author and Saturday Savvy Sensation Roni Loren  has brought this issue to light. Roni was sued for using pictures without permission on her blog. I have personally worked with a client who was sued for using pictures without permission on their website. Twice. IT HAPPENS. BEWARE.

There are many places you can find free pictures on the internet. Do a search for free images and you can find them. There are also places you can get pictures for free or at a very small cost. 

Now here's the big "but" I'm going to share with you. In this "but" I am not giving you permission to steal other people's pictures and I am not suggesting that you ignore that you can be sued for using pictures. BUT I am going to tell you what I've learned from my experiences in internet marketing:
  • People who get sued for wrongfully using pics are 99 times out of 100 people who make money from the use of the picture or in a related fashion. Roni Loren is a published author. Her books earn her money. I'm not saying she's wealthy by any means, but she is a prime example of who gets sued. Bloggers who are not advertising on their blog and who are not earning money from book sales or who are under the radar (not a lot of traffic) don't get sued. They may - and that's a very big may - get asked to cease and desist use of the picture.
  • If you are sued, you can negotiate any fines. If you are not making money with your blog or related to your blog, most lawyers will just require you to cease and desist use.
  • In general, YouTube videos are okay to share. Why? Because embedding or linking to YouTube is not the same as actually having the video on your site. If the video has a copyright, it is YouTube who will be in trouble. Generally, YouTube will remove these types of vids as they discover them from their site and your embed or link won't work anymore anyway.
  • If you are under the radar, and by under the radar I mean not published, not a lot of traffic, under 1000 followers, you're probably safe to use whatever images you want. Again, THIS IS NOT PERMISSION, this is just the facts. It's like speeding. It's against the law, but do you do it sometimes? Yeah, I know you do. The truth is, there are so many blogs and so many websites - there isn't any way to monitor all uses of image property to make sure it's legal. So the people who get sued are big guns - people who have the cash to pay or people who will make a good example for others. Only you can make the decision for yourself about using images.  
  • Now here's the big disclaimer: You are still liable for any picture you use. Even if you used the picture innocently. Even if you don't make money. Even if you say you read my blog and I said go ahead and do it (which I didn't!). 
Okay, did that sort anything out? I am officially not under the radar now that I posted this, by the way. 

Even with this information out there, I'm not excusing anyone from using pictures in their blogs. Pictures are too important. If you can't find a free picture, use some free clip art. It's better than nothing. (This totally should have been a separate blog post. Sorry to go so long!)

Loverofwords also asked how to drive traffic to her blog. Networking is the only real key. I've talked about it off and on throughout these critiques, but here's one source you can go to. 

That was a lot of info. Do you all have anything to add? Will any of you sue me for using pictures of your blogs in my blog critiques? Hope you had a great Labor Day!


Laura Stephenson said...

I've been trying to do all the things you talked about in the linked blog about driving up traffic to my blog (other than guest posts...yet), but I'm starting to spend way too much time blogging and not enough writing, with very little progress in readership to show for it. Honestly, participating in GUTGAA is the biggest thing that's made a difference.

Beth Stilborn said...

I am glad you mentioned fleshing out her "about me" section -- I think that would help in getting the traffic that happens upon her blog to stay. Knowing who is writing, and what their intention is, is important these days when there are literally thousands of blogs to choose from (thousands is an understatement) and so people become choosy about what they follow.

When I first started reading the posts, I thought "oh good, a blog about autism!" but as I scrolled down, I read that she doesn't usually share personal stuff on her blog, and the posts about autism were a one-off thing. If she told us what her blog is about, even if it's "random thoughts" which the title would suggest, it would help.

That said, I found her posts about autism very interesting, well-read, and helpful. I love that photo of Alaska. But I'm not sure how any element of the blog relates to any other element.

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

I don't think I fly under the radar anymore.
Good points, Laura!

Susanna Leonard Hill said...

That is a gorgeous picture in her banner!

Lexa Cain said...

Thanks for presenting the full picture (no pun intended) of the image-suing controversy. It's kinda scary. I've taken care of all my blog images, but haven't tackled the Page ones yet. There's only so much stress I can deal with...

Southpaw said...

I love the photo on the blog. Generally, I prefer a smaller logo. I hate to have to scroll down to begin reading.

As to the image message. Thank you. I've had to notify a few people who "innocently" took my photos and used them. It's actually stressful to send out cease and desist letters.

Callie Leuck said...

The image thing is scary, for sure. I took all the images off my archives, and removed them from the Blogger image gallery, but people still are getting to a few posts via image searches for the removed images. I can only imagine there must be some kind of backlog beyond my control, but at least they were mostly film screencaps.

Mina Lobo said...

That header image is gorgeous, but I agree with someone else who prefers the headers to be a bit smaller.

For color palette, pulling stuff out of that header pic could work: the steely blues, silvery grays, white, charcoal, and the rich chocolatey brown of the deck.

I'd also like to know more about who she is/why she blogs/if there's a specific theme or point of interest in her blog.
Some Dark Romantic

Gerald Blose said...

a very entertaining blog, and also the pictures are good! looking forward to read your romance novel of these days. i will be keeping in touch, and i hope we can touch bases one of these days from scottsdale seo.

Gerald Blose said...

these are wonderful pictures here! headers are quite a bit bigger but other than that its almost perfect! we could certainly make a difference in the world wide web by these posts, same as seo company phoenix has been changing the seo competency since early 90's!

Gerald Blose said...

a very
entertaining blog, and also the pictures are good! looking forward to read
your romance novel of these days. i will be keeping in touch, and i hope we
can touch bases one of these days from scottsdale seo.

Arlee Bird said...

Maybe I don't have a well trained eye about these things, but I actually like the way whats-her-name loverofwords uses fonts in her posts. There is a consistency within the posts and each post stands out in having a different font.

I do have a problem when bloggers use almost unreadable squiggly or cursive or some other fancy font especially when they start adding colors. I go to blogs to read content and not to decipher or admire word art through decorative fonts.


A Faraway View

natalie said...

(Natalie) I do like, for me, simple fonts, but I do like to play around with colors. Will have to rethink more consistency. Thanks, Lee

Natalie said...

I miss scanning beautiful photos, but I still don't understand why using the photos when we are not selling anything can be a legal issure.

Natalie said...

But now, reading this, I understand. Thanks, Southpaw.

Natalie said...

So true, but now I have to be more creative on my own, sigh.

Natalie said...

Thank you. It looks so peaceful, blue is magical, I think.

Natalie said...

I agree, Alex, but it was so much easier before.

Natalie said...

Thanks, Beth. I am scattered as far as a theme goes. Will have to work on it. I did explain on an earlier post about my grandson Joshua who has autism.

Natalie said...

I have traffic, but the visitors do not comment. Russia is second to the US. (What is GUTGAA?) This is what I have learned from all of you: polish up the layout, which I will do, perhaps with the help of a high school kid who can help me manipulate the blogger; and I need to really think about themes. That will be hard since I am interested in many things, with my ADD thinking. And of course, better writing. I would appreciate more comments, critiques, anytime, as I learn and progress. Thank you all.

Brooke R. Busse said...

See it this way. How would you like it if someone copied and pasted one of your posts into their blog? Even if you weren't getting money from that post, even if they didn't claim it was theirs. People would still be going to that other person's site to see it instead of yours and they would be getting the traffic that you deserve.

Natalie said...

Hi Brooke:
Yes, I do understand. I have this promoter point-of-view and enjoy telling others about a fabulous restaurant, book, etc. etc because I admire their work. But, yes the intellectual property thing can be used in a negative way, for other's financial gain at the expense of your creativity. And from now on I use my own photos and thank you for writing back.
Natalie Roesch

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