Blog Mistakes? Or Choices?

A closer look at “43 Web Design Mistakes You Should Avoid” from Daily Blog Tips.

Yesterday, while trying desperately to catch up with the feeds I follow, I found “43 Web Design Mistakes You Should Avoid” on Daily Blog Tips. Daniel begins the post with this:

There are several lists of web design mistakes around the Internet. Most of them, however, are the “Most common” or “Top 10” mistakes. Every time I crossed one of those lists I would think to myself: “Come on, there must be more than 10 mistakes…”. Then I decided to write down all the web design mistakes that would come into my head; within half an hour I had over thirty of them listed. Afterwards I did some research around the web and the list grew to 43 points.

His list of “mistakes” are pretty good. They include the usual bunch of design decisions that bloggers (or their template designers) make that could affect the popularity of a blog and/or its ability to generate revenue. But in looking through the list, I realized that I’m guilty of making a bunch of these “mistakes.” And although I understand the reason Daniel thinks they’re “mistakes,” I continue to do them by choice.

My “Mistakes”

While I encourage you to read Daniel’s post and get his point of view on all 43 items he lists, I’m going to take a moment or two to pick out the rules I break and explain why.

1. The user must know what the site is about in seconds.

There’s no better way to start breaking rules than to break the very first one. The majority of people who visit my site for the first time probably don’t know what the site is about within seconds. Why? Because the site is about so many things.

This is a personal choice. I decided about two years ago that I only wanted one blog. Following the rule that a serious blogger should post at least once a day, it would be impossible for me to post every day about five specific topics if I had five separate blogs. So I’ve taken the lazy way out and have just one blog with a lot of categories.

One of the ways I’ve gotten around this (or at least tried to) is by making good use of WordPress’s category feature and even going so far as to make it very easy to subscribe to a specific category feed. So if you only come here to read about blogging, you can just follow that feed (or category).

You do realize why everyone says this is so important, right? They assume that you’re trying hard to make your blog popular, probably so you can monetize it. Although I’d be thrilled if my blog started getting 10,000 hits a day, that’s not what I’m trying to do here. My goal is to journalize my life, share insight about the things I know or find interesting, and educate the readers of my books about things not specifically covered in those books. If those purposes aren’t apparent within seconds to first-time visitors — or even within weeks to repeat visitors! — well, that’s just the way it is. My choice, my decision. But I don’t think it’s a “mistake.”

5. Do not open new browser windows.

Guilty as charged. And I know that many bloggers and Web designers say this — including the usability expert, Jakob Nielsen. That made me think long and hard before I made my decision.

The rule I follow is this:

  • If the link is to another site or page on someone else’s site, I use the _blank attribute to open that URL in a new window — or, better yet, if the browser is set up to use tabs (as mine is), in a new tab.
  • If the link is to another page on my site, I usually skip the attribute so the URL opens in the same window or tab.

Why do I do this? Well, this is the way I like to browse the Web. When I see a link on an interesting site, I want to keep reading the site and check the links later. So I open the links in new tabs and, when I’m finished with the main page, view the links in their tabs — which are already loaded and waiting for me. (Understand that I access the Internet at only 512Kbps (on a good day).) This enables me to browse far more efficiently, without missing things I want to look into — and without dealing with the erratic behavior of the Back button when forms are involved. So I set up my site to work the way I’d like other sites to work.

Think about the branches of a tree. Each time you click an external link on my site, you’re going to a new branch. But the main trunk is still there. You can close the trunk and keep exploring the branch or switch back to the trunk at any time and continue exploring from there.

Well, that’s how I think about it anyway.

15. Do not break the “Back” button.

This is related to the previous item. Evidently, spawning new windows (or tabs) breaks the back button because those new windows (or tabs) don’t have anything to go back to. But I can argue that clicking an external link on my site takes you to another site and there’s no “back” on that other site.

It’s just the way I look at it, I guess.

24. Do not blend advertising inside the content.

I do break this one occasionally, but not very often. It’s usually with links to books or other products on Amazon.com (is that an ad?) or the occasional company-specific ad. I think it’s okay to do this once in a while, but the ad should definitely be related to the post content and there should not be an ad in the middle of every single post on the site.

There are a number of Web sites I stopped following because there were just too many ads — especially annoying, blinking or flashing ones.

33. Make clicked links change color.

Well, the links do change color here, but the change is not very noticeable. I think I need to work on that a bit. The reason I’m not in a big hurry to fix this is that pages change often here so what was at a link yesterday might not be the same content at that link today.

39. Include functional links on your footer.

I put this stuff in my header. I don’t see any reason not to include it in the footer as well — except that it’s pretty obvious in the header.

40. Avoid long pages.

Hey, I have a lot to say!

WordPress can be configured to display a certain number of posts on the Home page and any “archive” pages. An archive page is a category page, a date page, an author page — any page that groups one or more entries by a certain variable. The trouble is, the number of posts that appears on the Home page must be the same number that appears on the archive pages. What should that number be? I settled on 8 after trying all kinds of combinations.

My posts vary greatly in length. Some are very short — only a few sentences or paragraphs. Others are very long — 1500 words or more, with photos. I want the content area of each page to be longer than the sidebar area. But I don’t want the pages to be very long. That’s how I settled on 8.

While I understand the reason for keeping pages short, I also want to avoid the tricks required to pull off this design rule:

  • Write shorter posts. Changing the length of your post to meet a design need is an instance of the tail wagging the dog. Writers, in general, don’t like to do this. It tends to indicate that layout is more important than content. Since writers are providing content, it’s rather insulting to insinuate that what they have to say is less important than the way it appears in a Web browser window (or on a printed page).
  • Use the < --more--> tag. This is a WordPress feature that enables you to break a post into two or more pages. It has its pros and cons, which I plan to discuss in a future post. (The sad truth is, I woke up this morning thinking of the < --more-->. A more normal person would wake up thinking about breakfast or what they were going to do today.) In general, I don’t use it because I think it’s an inconvenience to readers. Why should I give my readers extra work just to keep my pages short?

My Score

So I’ve made 7 out of Daniel’s 43 listed “mistakes.” You should now understand why. Whether you agree or not is something you need to decide.

Have any thoughts about this? Don’t keep them to yourself. Use the Comments link or form to share them with other readers.

3 thoughts on “Blog Mistakes? Or Choices?

  1. These rules can always be broken by choice when people, like you, have clear reasoning behind their choices. I think your choices work well.

    I can cast a bit of extra light on a couple.

    The ‘new windows’ thing is for three reasons:

    a] blind or sight-impaired people who may have no idea what’s going on with a new window because you and I can *see* it happen, but they can’t.

    b] I’ve sat beside plenty of ‘newbies’ who are just totally confused by a new window. They often have no idea what’s going on or how to deal with it. By the time they quit their browser they have 20 windows open and are totally bewildered.

    c] I haven’t had much opportunity to use ‘other’ devices such as cellphones etc, but as I understand it they might not handle the new window thing so well.

    The thing is that opening a new window is fine if you either tell the visitor that’s what will happen, or give them a choice somehow.

  2. The long pages is another thing. I’m with you about writing a blog for my own reasons and not as a means to generate income. Posts and pages need to be as long as they need to be, and I don’t like breaking posts with the more button because it means the RSS feed only has a partial post. And, as you say, it’s an inconvenience for the reader.

    On my Learning Centre though I always break the posts because I see that site as a reference. For me it just wouldn’t work to have loads of long long posts on one page. But then while I use WordPress behind that site it’s not a blog. I wouldn’t expect people to read every item, but instead to visit, find one item and read that.

    I think blogs are a bit different from more static sites.

    In general the caution is a good one – I’ve seen sites where they’ve tried to cram everything they want to say on to one single page and it can be a huge mess.

    Connection speed can also be a factor. If you have a fast connection it’s annoying to click through a dozen pages to read one article. If you have a really slow or expensive connection then that night be a better approach…

  3. I agree with you on #5, I too browse in tabs, and if it’s an external link… new tab… if it’s content within my own pages I use the browsers back button… keep breaking some of those rules, have to make it “personal” to you… after all it IS your blog.

What do you think?