Web usability for blog-based businesses: 5 problems

March 31, 2011

 

White mouse on a keyboardOver the last few weeks, I’ve been doing some test website audits as I develop my web clinic service.   Much of my professional work has been for large organisations who want to understand whether their users can successfully complete important transactions on the site.

In terms of the marketing funnel, a lot of this testing is focused near the narrowest part of the funnel, as prospects try to become customers. Poor usability comes with a high price:  it means no sales or disgruntled customers.

What does usability mean for business blogs?

Blog-based businesses typically use blogging to create an ongoing conversation with customers and prospective customers.  The business itself is usually (but not always) some kind of service, and the blog is key to engaging readers over time and drawing them into the business offer.

So in terms of the funnel, we’re looking at the wide mouth, not the narrow part.

I read a lot of blogs, and I can’t stop myself checking them out in terms of usability. As I go through, and work with my beta testers, I’m starting to notice certain patterns cropping up again and again.

Most blog-based businesses do get basic usability details right, thanks to the underlying platform they’re using.  However, their content and design can still stop prospects from ever turning into customers.

Here are my top five biz blog problems

(Note:  I’m not perfect. I do many of these things myself. It’s damned hard.  But I can see it VERY clearly in other people’s work, so let’s roll ;-) )

1. Mismatches between the blog and the core business

So, I land on your blog.  Let’s say it’s about gardening.  I want to get some garden ideas, so I poke around your site. And I become puzzled, because for every piece on planting a winter garden, there are at least three on your path to self-enlightenment, your advice on time management, and your thoughts on how to use Twitter effectively.

I’m confused.  You said you were all about gardening, but there’s precious little on gardening here.  Which leads us to problem number two.

2. Blogging about your personal business development journey

This is a delicate issue.  Some people do manage to fold their own journey quite successfully into a strong business that is heavily driven by their personality.  I see this quite a lot in the blogs of young seeker-types, and Gen Y mavericks.

Indeed, some of my favourite writers talk openly about their personal struggles (but note: I said favourite writers). Some hardcore business bloggers will occasionally write far more personal posts that get a huge response from loyal readers. It is doable.

It still feels like a risky strategy, though.    And it’s riskiest when what you write is constantly positioning you as a learner who is not that confident about their business.

And – why aren’t you writing for  the customers who want garden design ideas? Usually, because it feels easier to stay in the back room chatting to your colleagues than getting out to the front desk.

Get out there.

3. Other people’s stuff is far more prominent than your own

Take a look at your home page and half-close your eyes. What do you see?  If it’s a giant advert for a WordPress theme producer, or a load of affiliate buttons for the last 6 gurus you trained with, then open your eyes again and think carefully.

Where are you in relation to the stuff that you’re endorsing? Is your brand clear and strong, so that these things appear as wise recommendations from a trusted source? Or are they in danger of overwhelming your own presence?

I’m not saying don’t present these things, but you need to take care not to give away your own talents and powers by creating a look which (unconsciously) gives far greater weight to these elements than to you and your core business.

Which leads us to…

4. Not creating a strong enough online presence

There are various parts to this.  Sometimes, it’s a case of not writing enough, or using a design that doesn’t quite work for you.  Some popular blog designs can end up feeling very, very generic.

Your style might be OK, with no real problems, but it doesn’t set the world on fire.

Please-don’t-look-at-me blogs also tend to have very few visuals and hardly any photos of the business owner. (I fall into this camp.  My sidebars are shocking).

Take a look at your website as though you’ve never seen it before. Get a friend, or me, to take a look, and ask: would the casual visitor to this site really understand what I have to offer here?

You need to project yourself and your business.

5. Making poor use of past content

This is more minor, but it always bugs me.

Blogs are little rivers of content. The writer tends to be looking forward to the next piece.  The reader often wants to look back, and boy do some blogs make that hard.

If you have lovely content then for the love of little green apples, spend some time curating it properly.  Add categories. Tag it. Link it. Feature it. Make little lists.  Just add an archive, if nothing else.  But work that content.  Sweat your assets, as one of my bosses used to say.  (But don’t look like you’re  sweating).

Need inspiration? Havi Brooks of The Fluent Self is the queen of internal linking.

That’s my top five.

Caveat: Some brilliant blog businesses do break some of these rules.  But they don’t break all of them at once…

Thoughts? Additions?

(PS If you suspect your site is less than lovely, and you’d like some expert help, check out my web clinic service.  I am also launching a DIY mini-version soon, which will help you furtively check out your site in total privacy).

 

 

 

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