5 Simple Ways to Alienate Readers: Layout Edition

How you arrange items around your page influences whether that visitor who is clicking through actually stays for a couple minutes and reads an article or two, or whether they run screaming on to the next blog on the list. While the actual layout of your blog is very personal there are some bad things that can be a turnoff for your readers… even if you love it! Heck, there might be a number of people who agree with you! This is just a general rule of thumb for things that I personally find annoying and/or frustrating when browsing around the blogosphere.

1. Commenting Is TOO Hard!

I find this complaint crop up most often with free blogger websites. It’s not that blogger is a bad platform (it’s not) but the default setting seems to exclude people who don’t have a specified account type. While I understand your desire to limit spam from inundating your site, allowing people to use the Name/URL option is a great way to increase the chances that people will comment… and come back. If readers can’t join the discussion, then they’re more likely to go somewhere else to read about the hottest class changes or greatest screenshots. Since I’ve never actually used blogger myself, if you’re unsure how to fix this problem, go check out the awesome information at Blog Azeroth and make your readers happier.

Now, say you’re not on Blogger, instead you use WordPress. They have this nifty feature that allows you to automatically hold comments for moderation if you’ve never seen that person before. This is a bad idea — especially if you’re new. There’s a certain amount of lovely instant gratification with seeing your comment enter the stream as you finish it, and it allows for greater cross-pollination of chatter between your readers and each other instead of solely with you as the blogger. If you’re using WordPress, pick up Askimet, and if self-hosted, grab Conditional Captcha as well. It’ll keep you safely protected from spam while allowing commentators to jump right into the conversation.

2. I Can’t Find….

When readers come to your website they tend to examine what’s above the fold. The fold is that area on your site where the user is required to scroll down, so anything above that point is considered above the fold. If it requires a user to scroll down, just assume that they’re not going to see it.

Things readers commonly look for when visiting a site:

  • Contact Information
  • Subscription Options
  • More about the player (or an armory profile)
  • Search function

When planning out your layout, make sure that things that are most important to your readers are easily accessible from a top menu or along your sidebar ordering in importance from top to bottom!

3. The Colors Make My Eyes Bleed

Lots of bloggers love playing with color — it makes things pop, and it can be a lot of fun. However, some color combinations are just designed to make our eyes bleed. I’ve been at fault myself with having weird color combinations that resulted in tough reading, and I can only tell you to use your best judgement (or the judgement of a few personal friends).

Some color combinations that tend to make readers whine:

  • Black background with any color text.

I’ve used it in the past, and I know a number of people like it. You should be careful when considering a black background to consider your post length. If you’re like me, and tend to be on the longer side, then you should probably consider a lighter background to save your reader’s eyes.

  • White background with pastel text.

Most websites you use black on white with good reason: it’s easy to read. Colored texts should remain in the darker ranges (think royals) in order to preserve readability.

  • Any other colored background

Use your best judgement. If it’s something with a zany pattern, your readers will likely complain. If it’s too bright, same thing.

If you’re determined to have an awesome eye-popping background, consider getting a theme that allows you to overlay it with a bland format on top. That’s basically what I use, and it allows people to read the text and enjoy the colors.

4. Flashiness Is Overrated

I like things that glitter and look neat. When websites first started using rotating banners, I thought it was awesome. And then everyone started using them, and I discovered what works for blogger A does not translate to blogger B.

Flash-banners can make a site look professional and all grown up… but only if you have enough content to warrant the flash. Otherwise, instead of your reader finding your last article as soon as they land, instead they get stuck watching the merry-go-round of banner rotations going “read that, read that, read that, sigh.”

If you have a number of different writers (think Matticus), provide content in very discreet niches (think Totemspot), or give multiple updates per day (I can’t think of anyone right off, but I’m sure they exist) then a rotating banner may just the right thing for you. However, if you’re like most hobbyist bloggers or frankly, you’re just too darn new, having a rotating banner just makes you look like you don’t provide much in the way of content. Most of us tend to blog anywhere from 1-4 times a week, and in all honesty, a rotating banner takes up too much of your precious above the fold real-estate.

5. Too Impersonal

Of course, you can take the stripping down of flashiness to the extreme, and end up with a very bare-bones presentation that doesn’t let the reader know anything about you except that you like to write… a lot. If you’re going for the super simple and clean look (think Righteous Orbs or 2fps) make sure that you have a rocking header. Don’t want to be bothered with that? Find an awesome screenshot of your character and post it in the sidebar. Don’t like that either? I know — awesome background! Still nothing?Take the time to provide a really good About Me or About the Blog block above the fold.

Find something besides your eloquent post on the latest patch notes to allow the reader to connect to you on a visceral and personal level, even if it’s more text. If your readers don’t care a stick of fudge about you as a person, they’re probably not going to follow you through thick, thin, and the third guild implosion where you stop writing for a month. You need something that a reader can take in “at a glance” without digging through your entire personal archive. Grab their attention — at least enough to get them back for one more post — and you’ve got a reader.

And if you haven’t checked out the Content Delivery Edition, you should do that pronto!


15 thoughts on “5 Simple Ways to Alienate Readers: Layout Edition

  1. I love the “hold post for moderation” option. And I would suggest it to everyone… if they work a desk job with computer access. I’m *always* online (10 to 7 at work, 8 to midnight at home) so I always see comments moments after they’re posted. Unless I’m lazy, I approve them basically instantly. What I would suggest to everyone (even speedy people like me) is to display a text like “Your comment is currently held for moderation”, to let people know that despite it not being shown, their comment hasn’t vanished into thin air.

    Otherwise… a big YES to the background section. My eyes go wonky when I try to read white-on-black. Like, really wonky, I can’t see straight for half an hour afterward. I don’t know why that happens, but I tend to avoid blogs that use those colors, even if they have the most amazing content in the world.

    • I also prefer the ‘hold for moderation’ option. I do realize that it could cause a break in the discussion, but it’s worth it to me to weed out the spam that occasionally slips through Akismet, and any new trolls that should happen to drop by. I tend to approve the comments within minutes like Jen, and the only real issue occurs with commenters from other continents/timezones where I’m not awake. The commenters that typically engage in discussion on my blog are almost always repeat commenters anyways. I would definitely encourage other bloggers to think about the pros and cons of this design choice.

      Great advice all around though, thanks for putting these posts together.

      • I was sure someone wouldn't like something on this list ^^ I often am unable to monitor follow-up commentary (today being a perfect example) so the moderation tool is a serious handicap for new people wanting to get involved in the conversation. That being said, if you're NOT self-hosted and you CAN keep an eagle eye on your moderation queue, then feel free to keep that moderation button clicked! I just find it supremely annoying as a commentator to be held in moderation >.>

  2. (By the way, slightly unrelated but I just remembered: your blog posts don’t display a title in the browser bar. Must be a wonky setting somewhere…)

  3. Hey there!

    As I said last night, I really enjoyed this post. I have had a particularly hard time with #1 on this list, because it's just too taxing to leave a comment on certain people's blogs. Especially when I know that I have a WordPress account or one of the other qualifiers and it tells me that I don't or that it doesn't recognize my username, password, etc. That's really frustrating!

    I really like #5, because I feel that I enjoy a blogger more when I see them post more personal things and when I see that they're not just machines who theorycraft and write all business, all the time. I like hearing about their other hobbies or the wipes they have experienced. I feel like I can relate to them more, especially if they're doing better than me in progression and I don't feel like they're so above me.

    Again, great post and I will make sure to add your page on my Blogroll, when I update it tonight or tomorrow!

  4. Very good post for any blogger! 🙂

    As a reader, it's very nice to see sub-headers and/or images in posts to break the monotony and just make posts look a fair bit more accessible than a chunk of text does.

    Also, things going on in the sidebar (images/twitter feeds/blogrolls to see what they read/interesting social networking icons/some kind of colour/etc.) makes a blog look a lot more interesting and attractive, header or no.

    • Good point. I've seen some lovely clean websites that were still interesting and enjoyable because they made an effort to show that they're social creatures 🙂

  5. Good post! I especially agree with 1. I don't comment on blogs that won't let me use the name/url option. It's too much of a hassle.

    I love my black background though 😦 I find white backgrounds are harder on my eyes.

    • Backgrounds are a very personal choice, and I personally love your website because you've got a great blend of color. However, it is something that you should be aware of if you ever decide to do an overhaul ^^

    • I thought your layout was excellent from the first time I saw it! The single best tip I can give you is to go make lovely and thoughtful comments on other people's blogs and jump right in to the blogging conversation on twitter. Some of the best free marketing you can do is to have an established blogger give you that little bit of link love or have their readers become interested in what you're writing on YOUR site because your comments are so awesome 🙂 Best of luck!

  6. Thank you very much for this post. As soon as I finished reading it (and the previous one about content delivery you linked at the bottom), I went to my fledgling (five day old) blog and made a few changes. Larisa at Pinkpigtailinn had already mentioned to me that I should probably drop the brown background (with white lettering), and your comments about post moderation and where to put the subscription buttons I utilized right away. At any rate, this is a prize of a post, and I thank you for writing it.

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