Monday, October 1, 2012

Blog Critique: A to Z Challenge Blog

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.

I am super excited to do today's critique for two reasons: 1) I love the A to Z Blogging Challenge and am thrilled to contribute in return for all the team does for everyone else. 2) I have been informed that the A to Z blog is getting revamped! That means (I hope) that they are up for addressing issues that may involve big commitments to change. Without any further introduction, go check out the A to Z Blogging Challenge site and let's discuss below.

Though the A to Z site has never particularly bothered me, when I look at it with a purposefully critical eye and with the help of graphic designers, Tom and Joe, I see a lot of areas for improvement. The good thing is that these tips should be helpful for anyone starting or revamping a blog. Let's get started, shall we?
  • Unify your header style. Whatever you choose for next year's logo could have the potential to change your entire blog look. And that's fine if you are changing it from year to year - maybe you'll want to do that. If not, then it's important to create a header that will last from year to year and tie into your color scheme (more about that in a moment). Either way, make whatever is in your header uniform in style. Right now, your awesome logo for 2012 goes well with the font, but then you have an equally awesome looking design thing-a-ma-bob that doesn't go with your logo. The logo is more urban in look while the design thingy is more classic. This type of coordination isn't necessarily a skill of everyone - some people will not notice or be bothered by the difference in style - so ask around if you are unsure when mixing styles/logos/pics. Whatever you decide for your header, make sure it doesn't take up too much of your page. Along with the navigation bar (more later) we don't get to any posts without scrolling. Your header and navigation should end well before the fold (above the point where you have to scroll to go lower).
  • Clearly define your color scheme. We love the bold orange and green, but that's about all you got and you don't carry it further than your header. Whether you use those colors or pick new ones, choose at least three distinct colors and use them in your header and also in your posts. Change your title links to be a color within your scheme. Make your time stamp another. Put your links in your scheme as well. For help on getting exact colors to coordinate, visit
  • Make solid font usage decisions. Using a variety of fonts may seem like it adds personality to your blog, but it actually makes it feel chaotic and messy. It can be tricky to unify when you have several people writing posts, but luckily the clear formatting button in blogger can clear out all the formatting (imagine that!) and you'll be left with your default font. Now, you don't have to only use one font in your blog, but don't use too many (2 or 3 at most) and use them for distinct purposes. One font for your blog titles, perhaps, another for your main posts, and maybe a third for something like introductions such as the recurring one I have for my blog critiques (I use the same font but italicize). 
  • Declutter. Get your navigation to one line - two at the very most. You will need to shorten your menu items, but that's fine. People don't expect sentences for links. In a minute, I'll give you suggestions of what you could abbreviate to, but first, you could also consolidate. You could put all your Sign Ups on one page, for example, and just call that menu "Sign-ups". Or not if you're worried people will mix them up. Be very thoughtful and experiment with your menu so that it looks even across the line. The blanks at the end of the lines right now are not clean.
    • Home
    • What are we?
    • Participants
    • Video Rules
    • Video Sign Up
    • Videos
    • FAQ
    • Contact
    • Badges & Banners
    • Reflections Sign up
  • A bit of my usual comments:
    • Differentiate your sidebar from your posts with a different color or at least a line.
    • Order your sidebar items so the important stuff is at top. I suggest your top items be:
      • Followers list
      • Subscribe Buttons
      • Blog Archive
      • A to Z Navigation Buttons
    • Eliminate duplicate content. You don't need badges in your sidebar when you have a menu item leading readers to badges, for example. Get rid of anything you don't need in your sidebar to give your blog a clean look.
    • Advertisements are always a turn off. If you feel you really need/want the money, just realize you may potentially be turning away followers.
Okay, I think we totally tore you apart, but only because I know you are already revamping. Now's your chance to make the look of your site equal the amount of attention you get. Revamping with these items in mind will only increase your following. 

Any other suggestions for the A to Z team?


Jamie Gibbs said...

Solid advice :) I always thought that the header graphic was a bit large; it kind of took over the site. Might just be me though :)

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Thanks again for doing this, Laura! I suspected you would say that about the ads.

Matthew MacNish said...

I'm on this committee, so this is great to know! Excellent advice as always. Funny I didn't even know we had advertisements on the site. I wonder if I've never scrolled down that far? LOL.

jeremy [retro] said...

I am also on the A to Z team for 2012-13 and I enjoyed your advice and recommendations, it's funny I was unaware of ad stuff. We have a great team this coming year and your critique will serve us well as we will bring a great new look to April... if I have learned anything in designing, simple is better! Thank you for your sound ideas...

Tina Downey said...

Hi Laura,
Thanks so much for your critique. I was part of the 2012 team and will be here for 2013. A lot of what you said are the items that were bothering me. Nice to know I'm not alone in my opinion! Jeremy is a great designer and I know he'll create a unified look. He built my blog from scratch last year. Part of the problem with our current look is the too many cooks thing...which I think we will now have under control ;-)
Tina @ Life is Good

Susanna Leonard Hill said...

Helpful critique of a great blog!!!

Shannon Lawrence said...

As another member of the A-to-Z team, I wanted to thank you for the great feedback! I have complete faith in Jeremy, and am looking forward to seeing what he does with your feedback.

Shannon at The Warrior Muse

Arlee Bird said...

Appreciate the analysis and feedback. Changes are on the way and now we have some additional guidelines to work with. Thanks!

Nancy Thompson said...

Awesome advice as always. I utilized the elements after your critique & people compliment my blog now. So for a blog as important as the A to Z, it will impact all those who drop by for info. Can't wait to see the revamp!

D G said...

Great to have this feedback, as part of the AZ host team. This would help our design director shape things up better!

Tina Downey said...

Hi Laura,
Thanks so much for your critique. I was part of the 2012 team and will be here for 2013. A lot of what you said are the items that were bothering me. Nice to know I'm not alone in my opinion! Jeremy is a great designer and I know he'll create a unified look. He built my blog from scratch last year. Part of the problem with our current look is the too many cooks thing...which I think we will now have under control ;-)
Tina @ Life is Good

Southpaw said...

I like the idea of have a different look every year though I know that is a lot more work. I don't think there is anything more to add, but I agree with everything that has been said.

Southpaw said...

I think my comment disappeared so I''m test posting again.

Laura Barnes said...

I see both your comments! And I like the idea of a different blog every year too, but that can be a lot of work. They could set it up so that it's easy to change over, but it would still be some work.

Lauren Shearer said...

I agree with just about everything you've said here. These are all things that I've thought about the A to Z blog. It'll be great to see a newer, better design!

Callie Leuck said...

The only additional comment I have is that it becomes obvious quickly that it is a group blog, but it is frequently unclear who is speaking on various posts and on the pages. I *think* it's Arlee on most of the pages, but that's not explicitly said. And while the posts have a "posted by" stamp at the bottom...well, it's not exactly obvious and it's clear down at the bottom of the post. I'd like to see bylines at the top or something, just for clarity. Like an online magazine.

Laura Barnes said...

Excellent addition, Callie! Thanks for that!

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