Updated on 01.15.15

Building a Better Blog: Don’t Clutter It Up

Trent Hamm

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.

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  1. I tend to not want to clutter up my browser with bookmarking and social site icons, so I’m happy whenever a site gives me the option. Plus usually they are at the bottom of the article, so by the time a user has seen them, they’ve already read the content they came for.

  2. IAmSoOverMe says:

    The only debt you should have is mortgage and car. That’s it. Get rid of any consumer debt that you have.

  3. Court says:

    The point about the social bookmarking buttons is echoed by me, those things are beyond useless and are plain ugly, I can’t imagine actually using them. Besides if you really wanted to digg an article, or the like, wouldn’t you rather do it on Digg itself? Who knows what those buttons actually link to, or do?

  4. Hunter Nuttall says:

    I’ve been blogging for two months, and I’m not sure what to think of the social bookmarking buttons. In my linked post, someone left a comment that included this:

    “You have got to get a Stumbleupon button on your blog…I would have left you a review! Just yesterday, SU brought me 65 new visitors! Great tool for newbies like us!”

    I immediately added StumbleUpon and Digg buttons, and that person came back and Stumbled me. I’m all about reducing clutter, but I sure don’t want to pass up any opportunities for exposure either.

  5. Andy says:

    Great points – trying to figure out the balance between ads and clutter on my site. The debate is potential revenue vs attracting readers. Its like the Chicken/Egg syndrome, you need readers to get revenue, but you need ads to get revenue from the readers! Can you checkout my blog and just answer 1 question – Is it too cluttered/busy? Yes or No answer is fine.

    Appreciate this and I will be adding your site to my blogroll as it has great content.


  6. I know it’s been more than a year since the last comment, but I feel compelled to comment anyways. The fact is that as a blog reader, I hate it when a site doesn’t have social bookmarking buttons or links. Digg and other sites don’t make it easy to submit an article, really (except for StumbleUpon, which has a toolbar). If I’m going to submit an article to a social network at all, I’m going to do it via an on-site button.

  7. Lacie says:

    Hi Trent:
    I really sorta agree with you about most of the topics about blogging better. On the other hand; if lets say someone has only one post & nothing in there sidebar i’m gonna run quickly from that blog> now lets say that someone has 15 post & have 13 gadgets on sidebar that are really helpfull most people are gonna clck somewhere. Most important! if! you do-not know how to put put up a customize blog & you are using crappy plain free blog. You have to make the best of it! on that part i dissagree with you. It is very nice to have a pro looking blog, however when you have a free blog template you have to spice it up the best way that you can to traffic. belive me! if i new how to put up one of those fancy blog templates i would do evrthing that you recommend.

  8. rodgerlvu says:

    The only debt you should have is mortgage and car. That’s it. Get rid of any consumer debt that you have.

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