Have you noticed a lack of visits to your blog lately? Maybe a plateau in Google Analytics showing consistent visits, but an apathetic readership?
Why aren’t they responding?
Why don’t your readers care about what you have to say?
Maybe they do–but your design sucks.
Specifically, your design doesn’t do one of these things:
- Capture attention
- Ask for action
- Pique interest
- Promise something (that’s believably attainable)
…Or some combination of the above. Or worse, maybe your site design distracting, doesn’t offer enough professionalism to warrant action, or is just plain ugly.
These things, while certainly subjective to some extent are still key factors that go into driving–and keeping–traffic to and on your site. I’m no expert, but I’ve designed and/or started plenty of websites.
First, let’s look at some of the things that go into your site design that make people run for the hills:
No coherent brand/design scheme.
Not knowing where you’ll be in a few years is one thing; not knowing where you are now is entirely different. Your site design, whether you like it or not, is sending a message. Are you a business professional? Your design should be simple to understand, have comfortable, conservative colors, and elements of juxtaposition probably aren’t a good idea (Twitter logos that don’t match your Facebook logo, for example).
If you’re a designer, and the words edgy, quirky, and fresh are perfect words to describe your work, your site needs to say that strongly (notice I didn’t say “scream”).
And if you’re a classy, individualistic, deeply thoughtful writer, your site design should be reflective of your views without sending a cocky, better-than-you message.
Your brand is your message is your design.
Basically, don’t contradict your message.
Stick with that, and you’ll be fine. Don’t know what any of that means? You might want to look into hiring a pro designer. At the very least, consider WooThemes.com (the theme I currently use is a WooTheme) and Thesis (my previous theme).* Both of these options are great for SEO, design, functionality, and are also fully scalable and pretty much ready to go out-of-the-box.
*Note: I wholeheartedly stand by WordPress as a website/blog host. It’s strong enough to be a standalone CMS-driven website, simple enough to use as just a blog, and secure and functional enough to be used as a business/enterprise POS-driven e-commerce site. I prefer standalone, or self-hosted, sites, since you have much more flexibility and you actually own your space, rather than sites hosted by the provider, like Blogger or WordPress.com sites.
Not telling us what you’re about.
If I go to your homepage, will I immediately be able to get an idea for what I can expect to find on your site?
Are you going to tell me–either through banner images, a single bold sentence, or a “Start Here” page–what your website focuses on?
If not, you’re going to lose my attention fast. You’ll see, right there in my logo, “…on living and writing well.” This site, obviously, is focused on helping people live better, get more done, and write to the best of their ability. You’ll find articles ranging from writing better fiction to cooking the perfect steak recipe to tricks on learning things faster and more thoroughly than you ever thought possible.
You don’t need to have a drawn-out, lengthy description of what you’ll be talking about on your homepage (that’s what a “Start Here” or “About” page is for), but you should at least have a brief description box or headline (see Copyblogger’s homepage screenshot below).
And for all of you who are not trying to sell something, ask people for their email addresses, or don’t generally care about grabbing peoples’ attention–you still need to tell your readers what you’re all about.
If you’re a memoir writer, nonfiction journalist, or a psychology professor, it doesn’t matter–tell us why you are writing online.
No (or weak) call to action.
Marketing 101: you must have a call to action on your site if you expect people to do something.
Even if you’re a site offering rants, personal anecdotes, and free informational noggin nuggets, ask people to take action.
Asking people to take action can look like many things, but these days it usually is via an email opt-in form or some other “sign up here”-style offer, in exchange for a free downloadable e-book, video, or course.
Here are a few awesome examples–note that the calls are all front-and-center, match the branding and messaging style of the site, and aren’t so in-your-face they’re obtrusive or distracting:
You’ll see that they have a great design: easy-to-navigate, a strong headline explaining what the overall brand is “about,” and an attention-grabbing opt-in form that just begs your eyes to wander to it (thanks to that cool arrow, strategically placed in true designer-ninja style on the right third of the page), and it’s all above the fold.
Um, awesome. Well done, Brian!
Also, as the Copyblogger site has grown over time, there’s been a need to expand their offerings. Rather than direct people through layers of hierarchical navigation, their four main categories (Design, Traffic, Conversion, and Hosting) are easily accessible right underneath their headline.
This is not a website that allows people to get lost easily.
In continuing with the “blogging” category of websites, let’s look at one of my favorites, ProBlogger. Darren Rowse owns and maintains this huge repository of great “how to blog for profits” articles and resources.
You can see the opt-in form on the right, next to a 2/3-spaced “Featured” content box. Again, great layout and stylistic design, and a great idea for “flow” across the page. Use a design schematic like ProBlogger’s if your site is going to be content-heavy, rather than product-focused.
Pique my interest and give me something I want.
Part of a great design is the curiosity factor. What are people thinking when they get to your homepage? Do they want to read more, or do they subconsciously think to themselves, “yeah, okay, I get it–they don’t know what they’re doing”?
If they think that, you’ve lost–it doesn’t matter if you’re the world’s most foremost expert on dolphin behavior–if I see a couple dancing .gif dolphins surrounding your bright green Comic Sans header, you’re already going to have to play catch-up if you want my attention.
One great way to pique interest is to offer something free. This has been done and overdone, but a free ebook might be all you need to get people to sign up for your mailing list.
It can be a video, an .mp3 interview, or an entire 20-week free course. The key, of course, is to offer something that your readers would actually want.
When I first launched this site back in 2007, I had no idea who my readership was, much less what they wanted. I tried to get people to give me their email addresses by giving them a poorly-designed 10-page guide to blogging, when I clearly didn’t have a blog that anyone cared about.
Now, I have a totally free e-course that explains in great detail the things I struggled with and learned when I wrote my first novel. The results have been impressive, in my opinion, and the verdict’s still out.
As always, there are exceptions. But in my opinion, these are the exceptions that prove the rule. Just because a big-shot blogger and author uses a less-than-stellar blog design doesn’t make it okay for you to as well.
In fact, if there was a study done comparing the number of large, high-traffic sites that use great designs with those that reek of low-quality graphics and no concise theme, I would wager that most of the “best” would be well-designed.
I also understand that not everyone has the money to pay a professional designer to handle this. But everyone does have enough money to get a free WordPress site with a nice-looking theme, and install a great photo browser plugin for awesome images (hint: all of that’s completely free).
If you need help, or disagree, or want me to take a look at your site and ask for my opinion–leave a comment. I’m happy to check it out and let you know!