When a visitor comes to your site, the first thing they’re looking for is content. They want to see what you’ve written and they don’t want to be distracted by confusing things. The more confusing options you throw out there, the less likely they are to feel welcome on your site and the less likely they are to stick around.
Simplicity is good; clutter is bad. Successful sites generally keep the clutter in the sidebar and out of the way of the primary article. Even clutter outside of the primary article can be bad if it’s unclear and without obvious purpose to the casual reader.
Quite often, the design intention is good: a blogger wants more things that are useful on the site. The problem comes in when a casual reader arrives and is overwhelmed by options that are less than clear. Here are several common mistakes that some bloggers make when designing their site.
Social bookmarking icons We’ve all seen the row of icons that covers the bottom of a post, each one linking to a different social bookmarking site, right? If you haven’t, here’s an example. For casual users, these are just plain confusing, even if you have a tool tip popping up that says “add to furl” or “add to delicious” … those statements make little sense to people who are just searching Google for a key piece of information. On the other hand, for experienced users, the icons are still a waste because most of us have our social bookmarking sites of choice already integrated into our browser toolbar. These icons don’t have an audience and they’re just distracting to most users.
Site metadata icons These include buttons that link to Feedburner and to other sites that aggregate RSS feeds, as well as to all sorts of additional sites. An example of this that doesn’t go too far into overkill can be found on the right hand bar of pfblogs.org. These are fine in small doses – one or two that link to something interesting can be fun – but some sites go into overload mode and the whole thing becomes distracting for the casual user.
“Gadgets” Many people have a penchant for including gadgets of all kinds on their site, often in multiples. For an example, see User Generated Content, which includes several such gadgets on his right hand bar. While these are all right for a personal site, if a casual user pops in, it’s basically information overload time and they back away slowly. I recommend never using more than one such gadget, and making sure that it aligns appropriately with the rest of your content.
The most important thing to remember at all times is that a visitor comes to your site to read the latest postings and nothing else. The more things that you throw at this user, particularly those that create a “busy” display, the harder it is for that casual visitor to read your post. Thus, it’s always better to minimize the extraneous material on your site and focus on your content above all.
Building a Better Blog is a month-long series at The Simple Dollar, outlining steps you can take to build a long-term healthy blog that will attract readers. Jump ahead to the next essay, Don’t Forget the Fundamentals, or back to the previous one, Talking to Other Bloggers.