Building a Better Blog: Use The Senses

Suze Orman in frescoThe web is inherently a visual medium, and like any other visual medium, a big portion of success in the medium is sensory appeal. Many, many people recall things based upon imagery and visual impressions and blogs are no different: time and time again, we see that images help make for memorable posts.

Take, for example, the image of Suze Orman to your upper right. For those unaware, Suze is a well-known personal finance guru who uses a “trendy” personality to help promote her advice. Because of her prevalence, I occasionally post commentary on her, and so I use that image in posts about Suze.

Yet there are often times in which images are a negative. Serious sites that occasionally use highly goofy images are doing themselves a disservice. Poorly executed images are a great way to chase away your readers; instead, look for images that will intrigue your reader base.

There are several useful keys to consider when using images:

Photoshop is your friend. If you are unfamiliar with using Photoshop or GIMP, you should learn to use one of these packages at least well enough to do basic image editing and modification. These tools allow you to create and modify images to your heart’s content. This is particularly true if you relied on someone else to do the visual design of your site, as you’re likely reliant on other’s images for anything you might include. Don’t let this be the case: learn some Photoshop and let your imagination lead.

Make it visually striking, but not distracting. If you use an image that blends in with the rest of the post, it will be harder for the reader to become engaged with the picture. On the other hand, an image that flashes or blinks can actually distract the reader from reading. The goal is to find images that will attract the reader’s eye upon first visiting the site, but don’t restrict the reader from reading the article. The best choice is a visually attractive still image.

Ensure that the image relates to the article. People often post pictures that they find amusing in articles that have no relation to the image. As a reader, I get really confused by this: “Why is there a picture of Hulk Hogan in a story about fabric softener?” If you post an image, make sure it connects to the story in some way, either in an obvious way that doesn’t require explanation or in a less-obvious way that becomes clear upon reading.

eBay Jaded Assistance / Trading Assistants ParodyBe careful with humor. I usually try to avoid humor in image form simply because of the diverse audience. If you have a clear indication that your readership would prefer highbrow or lowbrow humor, then you’re much safer, but I’m less confident about my readership (while I feel pictures of celebrities with Photoshopped comments is too lowbrow, reprinted New Yorker cartoons might be overdoing it). My one recent attempt at a humorous image (see right) didn’t do so well.

Jim CramerIf you can use the picture for subtle commentary, do so! Recently, I offered up some commentary on Jim Cramer, a stock analyst who hosts a show on CNBC. Jim is known for being loud, fairly aggressive, and having anger management issues, which is actually part of his appeal. Seeing this, I tried to create an image of Jim that represented these aspects of his personality without creating an “evil” look. One glance at the picture to your upper right will tell you whether I succeeded or not.

Along with this, consider the possibility of using words that evoke the other senses: descriptive terms that relate sense, smell, sound, and touch. Some blogs may never have the opportunity to use these, but food, audio, and textile blogs are well-served to learn many adjectives.

One big recommendation: don’t force audio on your readers. If you choose to embed a sound clip, make sure that it does not play by default. If I visit a site that automatically plays noise, I will never return to that site as it is attacking my sense of hearing (and the sense of hearing of others around me) without my choice. Keep in mind how people in quiet environments (such as the library) might feel if bombarded with audio.

The more dimensions you use to engage the reader, the more likely they are to stick around and listen to what you have to say.

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, Write in Series, or back to the previous one, Don’t Know It All.

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