How can I improve my blog?

As part of the blogging workshop (Blogging 201) I’m doing, we’ve been asked to audit our blogs. So I thought I’d you for some feedback. While in this audit we are particularly looking at our “branding” I’d welcome any feedback. In particular I’m interested in what you think about the layout and visual feel of the blog. Is it too cluttered? Would more photos be good? Can you find your way around it?

For the audit, we are to think about the reasons we blog and then examine our blog from “header to footer”.

Consider your theme. Look at every widget, page, and image and ask: does this clarify and reinforce my focus?  How will this help me meet my goal? Here’s a checklist to get you going:

  1. Does my theme match my blog’s intent? What about my font and color choices?
  2. What are my title and tagline saying? What about my post titles? My About page?
  3. Do the titles of my widgets and my calls to action contribute to my brand?
  4. Do I have a consistent visual identity? Am I choosing images that support my brand, both in posts/pages and widgets?
  5. Are there elements that are counter to my brand? Why have I included them? What role do they play?
  6. Does all this carry through in the other places my blog has a presence — Facebook, Tumblr, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, or forums/sites where I’m active?

What do you think? Any comments or suggestions would be welcome.

I have a bit of an uneasy relationship with the idea of a brand. In the notes for this task it says

Today’s assignment: audit your brand — look at all the ways you communicate information about your blog, and make sure they’re consistent, focused, and say what you want them to say.

That sits comfortably with me. I realise that how we present ourselves etc can be considered a brand. In Transition Newcastle we have been talking a bit about our brand and how we want to position ourselves.

At the same time I don’t want to become too brand focused. I don’t want to get into marketing myself and selling how “wonderful” the blog is. When I look at how some companies promote their brand and market themselves, it feels so hollow. For example some companies create a brand that makes them look environmentally friendly when really they are a major contributor to environmental problems. (A bit like the video about the “natural effect”.) But of course it doesn’t need to be that way and so I can see the value in thinking about the blog as a brand – just don’t expect too much from me!

Some of the things that I wonder about in relation to my blog:

  1. Is the photo in the header the best I can do? I quite like it, but suspect that if I keep looking I could find a better one. [I’ve updated the header since writing this. I think it is an improvement, but am still looking for some better pictures.]
  2. Is there too much happening in the sidebar? In particular I wonder if the Tag Cloud serves any real purpose? [I’ve updated the sidebar and got rid of the Tag Cloud.]
  3. How could I make better use of my categories? I think it is time to update them and make them more consistent.
  4. How much of the post should be on the front page? Some bloggers seem to only have a few lines and then a link to the rest of the post. I tend to put quite a lot of the post and only use a link to read more if it is a particularly long post. I wonder what the advantages and disadvantages of the various options are?
  5. How important are photos? Do they enhance the posts? (I didn’t add a photo to this post as I don’t think it would have added anything.)

Please tell me what you think about any aspect of the blog. I really am open to it. Of course, I mightn’t act on all the suggestions, but I WILL consider them and appreciate them.

If you liked this post you might want to subscribe to the blog (top right-hand corner of the blog),  and you might like to look at:

  1. Why I blog and some blogging goals for 2014
  2. Online community engagement – from tools to strategy
  3. 10 things I’ve learnt about strengths-based community engagement
  4. What is…? (posts about concepts/practices relevant to working with communities)

About Graeme Stuart

Lecturer (Family Action Centre, Newcastle Uni), blogger (Sustaining Community), environmentalist, Alternatives to Violence Project facilitator, father. Passionate about families, community development, peace & sustainability.
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12 Responses to How can I improve my blog?

  1. Bonnie says:

    Hi Graeme,
    I am definitely not an expert on blogs so I have mostly tried to focus on your post contents instead. Before I do that though, I would mention that I do like the feel of how you blog looks. Yes, pictures are highly important but only when they are engaging and they ‘fit’ into the context well. I actually really like your current pictures. I found them to reflect what I have as images of community engagement in my own mind – not sure if that is important for me to identify with your blogs but intuitively I suspect it might be. I used the the ‘most viewed posts’ and ‘recent posts’ links extensively to navigate around to see what you were up to and found them really useful. Yes, I agree with previous posts that a categories section might be really helpful but I also see your point that it would take some work (a bit of brain storming) to accurately reflect what you have here since different folks think differently about the meaning of content (but you also have a search function which could take care of those details too).
    In terms of your writing style – i love it. I find your language approachable and you honesty really refreshing (admitting to being scared at times about community engagement is real for most people and that really helps to make those reading your posts comfortable because it is realistic). I also like the fact that you are open with how you experience different events and reflect on what went well and what could have gone better. No matter how experienced we are in community engagement we can never expect to know everything and anyone who pretends to is doing exactly that: pretending.
    I am not sure about the question you had about ‘to link or not to link’. In my own very limited experience I have tried to make web sites very short so not much scrolling has to be done by the user but a blog is different. I get the feeling that you can’t expect a ‘conversation’ to be constrained like that without loosing the richness (especially if pictures are involved in the overall composition). So in the end I think I like that you have a mix of links and ongoing ‘conversation’ to browse through.
    Lastly, congratulations to you on this amazing resource (its a lot of hard work, I know, but it is clearly starting to do the work you want it to do). More broadly to you, Cathy and you two lovely girls who are amazing contributors to making our home a better place to live. Amazing!

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  2. Thanks for all your replies. I’ve started work on a new photo/header (sorry Margaret!) and hopefully we will be looking at using photos and visuals in the rest of the workshop. If not, I will follow it up elsewhere. I think the biggest message I’m getting is think more about the visuals.
    The idea of doing videos is scary Kim – but makes a lot of sense. Videos could also be very useful for my students.
    You will see some changes, hopefully by mid next week.
    Thanks again
    Graeme

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    • Kim says:

      Graeme, Yes videos seem a little intimidating to produce, but you don’t have to be some amazing actor. In fact, the more you’re NOT that and you’re just yourself, the more people will be attracted to what you have to say. You’re a regular person like everyone else is and people like to see that.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Kim says:

    Graeme, Good statements from the repliers above. I am a part of a leadership and blogging service myself that has TONS of ongoing information, training and support about developing and maintaining a blog. The one suggestion I have that comes to mind immediately is, yes, increase your visuals, as dzynr2 says above. More photos. On social media, posts with photos attract more traffic than any other type of post. Also, consider posting some videos, not only of yourself talking about your vision for your blog and for yourself (e.g. What’s your dream?), but of your community engagement activities. People connect with people and if you have real life footage of you and the communities you work with in action, readers will be drawn to it. I’m just starting with my own blog and it’s fun! I’m going to check out the Blog training you refer to in your original post. Thanks!

    Kim

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  4. dzynr2 says:

    I like a blog to be a little more visual and for a community engagement concept i do think the header could be a just a little more friendly. You certainly seem to have your concepts well under control, personally I suffer from a scatter gun mind that finds so much interest in so many ideas that I despair!

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  5. Margaret says:

    I like the photo, but I remember when the event happened and you had a series of photos. I don’t look at the side bar. I like that I click in and get the whole current blog entry in full. Glad to see you are using Creative Commons. I have been doing a course on copyright, you may find that your uni owns the copyright of your writings when you are writing for your students.

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  6. Anonymous says:

    Hi Graeme, yours is one of the few blogs that I read consistently so you must be doing something right. I agree with the first respondent about the header photo. It actually appears too staged and corporate for a blog which is about communities pulling together. I also think you need to have something about where you are in the header/strap line. I only realised you were in Newcastle when I read your biography and then only realised you were in Newcastle Australia (as opposed to Uk) after I’d read a few posts. Finally…. I’d get rid of the ideas cloud and think more about your categories. To me sustainability is about food, water, energy, shelter, education, waste, business/employment, care, governance etc.. Most things fit into those categories. Oh… And photos are vital – even if they are slightly off message. Good luck! J

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  7. Kate says:

    I like the feedback from Dee and would love to see a more direct indication of the blogs targets in the header. I understand that perhaps it is about more than TT but something on resilient communities would suit me. As engagement is in the title perhaps you could consider “Community Resilience” in the tag. I love your work so keep it up.

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    • Thanks Kate (or is it Mark?) Yes it isn’t just about the Transition Network, it’s more broadly about community engagement and environmental sustainability. There does seem to be more and more debate about the term sustainable. One of the issues is that sustainability means so many different things. It’s too hard to change the title of the blog, so changing to resilient is hard. I tried to make the theme a bit more obvious by having what the blog is about just under the header. Thanks again for the feedback.

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  8. deebrooks says:

    Hi Graeme,
    I have personally questioned your header photo – because I know you, it fits but for ‘sustaining community engagement’, I’m not so sure… one that comes to my mind, that might be a better fit is one of your pics of people sharing lunch at a school working bee…
    The tag cloud is long but, I like it as an ‘overview’ and a quick jump into a potentially interesting read…
    I think you could use more colour – not like an over-blown rainbow, but something that adds emphasis to certain things, alongside the blue text…
    Maybe you could brainstorm the categories with someone?!?
    I’ll let you know if I think of anything else!
    See you soon!
    Dee…

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