Sunday, October 28, 2012

Blog Critique: Change the Topic

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.

Quick, go to Stay awhile because it's a pretty awesome read. Like them on Facebook too if you want entertainment in your daily feed, because, Change The Topic is pretty dang entertaining. And then meet below for a critique.

Let's just get this out of the way: I love The Real Birdman and his entourage and would read Change the Topic every day just because. Funny, crass, original, and actually there's some social responsibility too even though The Birdman would like readers to think otherwise. This is one of those blogs that wins with personality. Personality blogs can fail everywhere else and still be awesome.

I'm not saying that Change the Topic fails everywhere else. I just want to be perfectly clear that anything I say by way of suggestion is a bit of take or leave it. Because, Birdman, you got it going on already.

But if you'd like to hear what I'd suggest, just for kicks, read on.

  • I like your header, but I wish it was wider. Right now there's more focus on the Royal Flush book. This would be totally fine if Royal Flush was your book, but it looks like it's not. 
  • If you do want to keep promoting Royal Flush, and by all means do, just make sure it doesn't get top billing on your blog. Also, I'd have that open in another window so that people don't get away from your blog when they go to look at it.
  • We'd like to see more color. Though your blog is really clean, it's really monotone. Adding some variety in your colors will really make you stand out. Three or four total colors would be awesome. Like, you could keep the red for your blog titles, then add a coordinating color for your authorship and date stamp and another color for your Read More. Your sidebar titles could be a different color. 
  • Another way to add some color to your blog would be to put a background color on your sidebar. This would also help separate it from your posts. Right now it sort of runs together.
  • Your navigation bar to your other pages is just a bit buried. It took me a few minutes to find your About page. 
  • Okay, I love your Cerebral Cortex picture, but having it repeat on all your posts bugs me because of it's size. It also makes me feel like I'm seeing a post I've already seen and I almost skipped some. I don't know the answer. Maybe shrink it down and put it in your sidebar. Or put it below your header. Something so the same photo doesn't show up when people are reading your posts in Google Reader.
  • I think you could lose the word "here" in your "Sweet Jesus!" line. I hate how it wraps to the next line and it still makes sense without the word. Actually, I'd suggest cleaning as many of those links as you can so that they don't wrap. You could use a "&" instead of "and" in the "it's super easy and fun". 
  • The blogroll next to your tags is muddy. I'd prefer to see them in their own column.
All right, that's all I got. If I missed anything it was because I was enjoying reading your posts too much. Hope this critique was helpful.

Anything else you'd like to add, readers?

Monday, October 22, 2012

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.

Later, I have to tell you about my fabulous last week when I got to celebrate my CP and good friend Gennifer Albin's debut of Crewel with her in Kansas City. What a blast! And I feel a contest might have to accompany that post.

But now, it's critique time. Head on over to Stephen Tremp's website. And meet below to discuss. Cool? 

There's much I admire about your blog, Stephen. Particularly I admire that, according to what you've told me, you have gone through several looks trying to find the right one. I appreciate your courage to experiment.

I also like the clean separation of your sidebars from the main area. It's easy to read and pretty organized. Most importantly I want to give you kudos for having easy to find links to your books. RIGHT ON! (I'd like it even more if your links opened into new windows so that people didn't have to leave your site to purchase.)

But there are also several things we'd like to see you change:

  • We'd love to see your blog have a title not a "Welcome to". In other words, make it simply: Author Stephen Tremp's Website.
  • Your title also uses a color and font that is not used anywhere else in your blog. Make it uniform.
  • The picture choice is also unclear. You write sci-fi, but I don't feel like your writing or blog posts exhibit enough sci-fi to warrant the picture. If you still want your blog to say sci-fi, add more to make it clearer.
  • I'd like your blog header to line up with your navigation bar. Right now the header extends past it. Also have your sidebars line up under the navigation bar.
  • I'd like to see your post section widened. I do have a big screen but there's an awful lot of dead space. 
  • I don't like the gray bar that extends all the way across your top. I think that's part of the template. This template is one of my least favorite because of its restrictions like that. Play around with it some more and you may be able to make it work.
  • That blue that you use as your main title color confuses me because that's the traditional color for links. So I want those to be clickable, and they aren't. We recommend changing that color.
  • While you're at it, pick a more distinct palette. Right now it's sort of blue and red and white and pink and gray. It's a little dull. Instead pick maybe the blue or the red as your main color and build around that. Use if you need help.
  • I'd like to see your Followers higher on your blog so that it's easy for people to follow.
  • I'd also like to see your Welcome to my Website box with your pic with Dean Koontz go to a story about the event. Or else changed all together. Right now it feels like it's going to link somewhere and it doesn't.
  • Since your post section is so small, five posts makes the page go on forever. You could limit to three. Especially when you have your blog archive at the bottom too.
  • I'd like to see you use the Link Within widget. I think people would enjoy clicking through your past posts with it. 
Okay, Stephen, I think I'm finished with you. Did you survive? Thanks for your willingness for the torture.

Anyone else have any tips for Stephen?

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Blog Critique: From the Desk of Laura Stephenson

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 can you go wrong with a blog that has Laura in the title? Well, that's what Laura Stephenson wants to know and I am delighted as always to tell her. (That makes me sound a little bit mean and evil, and frankly I'm in a snarky mood so I'll embrace it. Don't worry, Laura, I won't be too harsh.) Go check out her blog and meet below, please!

I'm only going to give a few quick cosmetic/functional suggestions today because Laura has specifically asked me for help with another issue. 

Ready, Laura? Here's some suggestions:
  • We recommend a more broad color palette. Right now you've basically got two shades of blue. Find at least two other colors and work them in places such as your date stamp and your titles.
  • When you work on your palette, pick your correction color (the red you use in your critiques) to fit in with your other colors. Right now the red makes me a little uncomfortable because I don't like how it goes with your blues.
  • Move your profile up to the top of your sidebar. Thank you for having your writing schedule! But I still want your profile first.
  • Under your profile put your Follow Me box. Make it easy for people to click it. The rest is good as is under those two things.
  • Yay! You have depth! I love that you have your critiques and samples on your navigation bar. Since there is so much space on your navigation bar, I think it would look better to increase the font here. Also, go ahead and get us a contact info page and an about page. We'd love to know more about you.
  • You could add some nice color and variety by using the LinkWithin widget. Just a personal preference. :)
That's all I'm giving for function and cosmetic since Laura wants to know how to drive more traffic to her blog. Gees, don't we all want to know that? All right, I've given most of this before, but bear with me as I repeat. It's been a while. 
  • Participate in blogfests.
  • Run contests for followers. To enter they must tweet, facebook, or blog about your blog.
  • Search your peeps out. Find the blogs that have the people you want to draw in - people who are interested in the things you post about. On those blogs, leave comments and always make it easy for people to link back to you.
  • Respond to your comments. This is a great way to build relationships and get people to return.
  • Have guests. Guest bloggers can really build your numbers. Invite people from those blogs you found that your peeps frequent to post. 
  • Steal followers. It's not really stealing, but what I mean is go to those blogs that have the people you know would love your blog and get them to follow you. Like if I were going to "steal" your followers, I'd start clicking on pics in your follower box and first, follow their blogs, and second, comment on their blogs with your website address.
Now here's the addendum to all those suggestions - it takes time to build this kind of following. Lots of time. You have to decide you want the following to get it and then devote yourself to it.

When I began blogging, I was mostly a stay-at-home mom and had more time to devote to it. Now, my husband is the stay-at-home parent and I work several jobs with only one day off a week - sometimes no days off. With those time constraints, something was bound to fall apart, and I didn't want it to be my writing, so it's been my blogging. I do not get to visit other blogs like I once did. I don't post often anymore. And I don't respond to comments as often as I like. My readership has gone down, and I have to live with that. In other words, if you want followers, you can get them. But you may have to prioritize your life differently to get there.

Okay, I'm done. Any other suggestions for Laura? I love the things you guys add. You always have at least one brilliant thing I hadn't thought of.

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?
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