Usability is something that can make or break a blog but it isn’t usually the first thing that people consider when they start blogging.
In this interview we talk to Jen Cardello, User Experience Specialist at Nielsen Norman Group about how you can make your blog more user friendly. Jen works with Jakob Nielsen who is the worlds foremost expert on website usability.
First of all, many thanks for agreeing to the interview. To start with perhaps you can explain a bit about Nielsen Norman Group and what you do?
We help companies and organizations understand human-centered design, so they can create more effective products and services.We conduct many user research studies each year to understand how humans behave and why. The knowledge we gain from these studies informs our research reports, conference workshops and custom consulting.
One of the most controversial points in your Blog Usability Alertbox was the statement about bloggers on hosted platforms not being taken seriously:
Having a weblog address ending in blogspot.com, typepad.com, etc. will soon be the equivalent of having an @aol.com email address or a Geocities website: the mark of a naive beginner who shouldn’t be taken too seriously.
Did you have any negative responses from the Blogspot and WordPress.com blogging community after the article was published? Do you still stand by the comments made in your 2005 Alertbox?
Of course, there are a few people who complained about the Alertbox, but there are always people who complain about anything. Bloggers should be familiar with that sentiment!
Yes, we stand by the earlier comments. User experience issues don’t change very quickly, because they are based on basic human nature. We base our recommendations on research with a broad base of users, not on the comments of a small vocal minority. This is not opinion.
While the statement above is controversial, what readers should pay more attention to are the two related points that followed:
1) “Letting somebody else own your name means that they own your destiny on the Internet.”
Hosted platforms are convenient, simple solutions for bloggers who want to get publishing quick and are not yet comfortable with the technical aspects of the job; it’s a fine place to start and even stay. However, the limitations can be frustrating. If you are looking to monetize your blog or remove ads your host posts on your pages, expect to pay additional fees (some may not even offer this as an option).
Spending the time upfront to buy a domain, download/install a blogging platform and customize to your heart’s content can be hard work, but it is empowering and the options are limitless. As well, installs are getting easier and easier everyday. Many hosting services include quick install kits and will gladly do some hand-holding.
2) ” The longer you stay at someone else’s domain name, the higher the cost of going independent.”
This is, by far, the best reason to steer clear of hosted blogging solutions. Blogging websites make money two ways: 1) fees (if they have them) 2) Advertising on your published content. They have no interest in making it easy for you to port your content over to another platform, away from their environment — reducing their page count and “stealing” eyeballs. If you plan on being a prolific blogger, realize that if you ever decide to move away form the hosted platform (maybe to generate revenue on your own terms or customize your look and feel) you’ll need a serious plan and some time to move content, images, media and comments (if even possible based upon your agreement with the host).
Many bloggers have debated whether to use full posts or excerpts on their homepage. What are your opinions on this? Do readers want to be able to read the full post or are they happy to click through to the story to read?
There are two factors to consider:
1) How often you post: If you post 5 or more posts per day, excerpts are fine. Users can quickly scan the content and click into the posts that most interest them.
2) Average length of your posts: If your 5 or more posts per day are a paragraph or two, then use the full post — no need to take the user to another page to read that last sentence or two.
And something else to keep in mind: Try both for a couple days and check out your stats (both on-site and RSS) — has anything changed? More/less reader comments? More/less time spent on the site?
Many experts, including yourself, have talked in the past about the importance of establishing a regular posting frequency. Is there a maximum and minimum posting frequency you would recommend? Do you think some of the larger technology blogs present a usability problem by posting 20-40 times per day?
Regular posting is important. Users will unsubscribe from blogs and feeds that either post more than they expected or not enough. Setting and meeting user expectation regarding frequency appropriate for your topic, your audience and your schedule is key.
As far as quantity, it depends on your topic and your audience. Some topics simply don’t require 20 posts a day. Some, like celebrity gossip and technology start-up news generate many, many stories. As well, some users don’t want to hear from you twenty times a day — they like reading your daily post first thing in the morning and then going on with their life.
Define a posting frequency that matches the topic and user needs/expectations.
RSS has gained significant adoption in the last 3 years and most blogs are read primarily in a reader rather than a browser. Are there any RSS usability tips we need to be implementing? Some bloggers link to categories and related posts in their feeds, is this a good idea?
The most important tip is to set up some RSS readers with your blog and check them on a daily basis to make sure the feed is working properly. So many things can trip up a feed – moving your blog host, updating the platform, RSS issues. Just be sure to check it on a regular basis across the different readers.
Categories and related posts are definitely useful since the RSS feed pulls your content away from any context supplied by your blog’s content or visual language.
The rise of web 2.0 sites has seen blogs and even the mainstream media adding a myriad of social bookmarking buttons below their stories. Sometimes the sheer number of buttons can be overwhelming. Are there any guidelines or recommendations you can offer to help bloggers decide which buttons to include?
Search the web for the most recent social bookmarking statistics and select the top three. Also, search for any social bookmarking sites that specifically serve your niche — it’s important to provide these buttons since it will significantly contribute to building your readership.
If you were setting up a new blog today what url structure would you choose? Should you include the date, category, post number or just the post slug like we do on Blogstorm?
Post slug is by far the most effective from both a usability and an SEO perspective. As far as search indexing on your blog, you may want to add the post number in case you are concerned about multiple posts with the same name. Otherwise, stick with the post slug.
Finally, what is your favourite self hosted blogging platform?
Sorry — I can’t name-drop, but I will say that my favorites are the ones that are actively improving their software from a usability perspective for both the bloggers and the readers.
Blogging is hard work and the platform needs to facilitate the task, not get in the way. Nothing slows a blogger faster than uncooperative technology.