Food blogging... who knew it would ever reach the popularity high that it's on right now? Food blogs are everywhere and they cover every food topic imaginable, from recipes to restaurant reviews, to canning and food photography (with lots in between). So, with so much choice available to readers, what are you doing to make sure they stay awhile on your blog?
For a long time I made my living as a web and graphic designer who mainly worked with bloggers. One of my responsibilities as a designer is to make sure my clients' sites are what's known as user accessible - tech talk for "easy to use", among other things. Good web design is about SO much more than pretty design. It's about understanding how people interact with websites and making it an enjoyable experience for them.
Here at FBC I vet every single member blog that joins. That's right... I've checked out and browsed every single one of the 2200+ food blogs that have joined our fun community. That's a lot of blogs!
When I check out a new member's blog I do several things:
- I read some posts to get a feel for the blog
- I browse the site to see what else they have going on
- I look for some information on the blogger - who is this person? I want to know about you!
- I try to connect with them on social media
Now, I'm going to say this as nicely as possible: some of y'all make this really hard to do!!!
So here we go! 7 tips you can implement right now to make your blog a more reader friendly place to be!
1. Optimize Your Photos For the Web
You do not need to upload your full sized 3000 x 2000 pixel photo with a 300dpi. First of all, this makes your photos a target for theft. Second of all, it makes your posts slow to load - especially if you have more than 2-4 images.
Now I know most of us have some pretty skookum internet speeds in our homes but... not everyone is reading blog posts in their living room. Ever tried surfing the net in a hotel? A Starbucks? Or an airport/train station? Anywhere where internet access is shared? Or on your mobile device? Sometimes speed isn't great. One of the keys to good user accessibility is remembering that not everyone has the same setup as you do.
Resize your images to 72dpi and and a manageable pixel width/height before you upload them. Everything will load and run much quicker!
2. Don't Make Your Users Scroll...
and scroll and scroll and scroll...Does your homepage have 10 full length posts on it? Why? Combine that with the gigantic photo files you're uploading in tip 1 and you've got one slow to load home page.
More than that, once a user starts to scroll, it can be easy for them to miss when one post ends and the next one starts. Say you wrote a great post on Monday about banana cream pie (who doesn't love banana cream pie??). I go back to find it on Saturday but in the meantime, you've written two new, picture heavy posts. I just want to find that banana cream pie post because I'm about ready to start making it but I have to scroll through tons of photos and words to get there.
Learn how to create post excerpts in your blogging platform of choice. This is where only a portion of your post appears on the home page, with a "Read More" link.
Most WordPress themes will have this as an option for you to use so if your theme does, try it out. If not, you can learn about the "More" button in the WordPress editor. This will work for both WordPress.com sites and those using self-hosted WordPress sites
If you are using Blogger, you can easily create "Jump Breaks" without any coding.
Try it - no more scrolling! Yay!
3. Make it Easy For Your Readers To Connect With You
There are very few bloggers out there who aren't using at least one Social Media platform to connect with their readers and help drive traffic. If you're on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest or YouTube, make it as easy as possible for your readers to click on a button and follow you. (Don't forget the new kind on the block - Snapchat)
Gather up all your social media profiles and group them all in one easy to find spot on your blog's home page - preferably near the top in the sidebar. Make them big enough to easily spot (but not so big that they overwhelm things). If you have advertising commitments, you may need to put them below your first ad. Also be sure to give your readers a way to subscribe to your feed by email - or better yet get them to subscribe to your email list (you have one, right?).
This is very easy for WordPress users - you can install them in a sidebar widget manually or, you can try a very easy to use plug-in.
Blogger makes it a little trickier but it can still be done. Adventures As A Small Town Mom has put together a great tutorial on how to do just this.
Not long ago, I worked with a client using Blogger. All we did was create a set of custom social media icons (she didn't have any prior to that - her social media was spread out all over her homepage) and put them in a group at the top of her sidebar. She emailed me a few days later to let me know her twitter and facebook followers had increased by volumes in just a few days as had her email subscribers. One simple change that took an hour, including design, and it paid off big time.
4. You Want Comments? Make It Easy!
Ditch the Captcha. If you're worried about spam then moderate comments before they're posted. If you're using WordPress, install Akismet to catch your spam (I find it's about 99% effective at catching spam). You can use it for free or donate. If your blog is an actual business, you will need the business licence. At $5/month it's a bargain. WP also allows you to moderate the first comment by a new visitor and lets all subsequent comments by that person be posted without moderation.
If you're on Blogger, make sure you enable the Name/URL option for commenting. So often I have typed out a comment on a Blogger blog only to discover there is no Name/URL option and so I leave. I'm not logging into any third party accounts to comment and neither are a lot of other people.
Some blog plugins for commenting require the commenter to put the the "http://" before their URL name. Most people don't expect to have to do that so it becomes another impediment to easy commenting. Be wary of third party plugins for commenting. They often make the process more complicated than the built in comment system. You're looking for ease of use.
5. Are You An Advertisement or A Blog?
There is absolutely nothing wrong with adding ads to your blog.
BUT...your blog's advertising should NEVER overshadow or interfere with your content.
Content is king. It's the reason people come to your site. I never read a blog because they run great ads. But I've left lots of blogs where the ads are so prominent that they distract from my ability to read your words or enjoy your photos. And I'm not the only one. Take a look at your blog with fresh eyes - would you stick around? Maybe you need to tone it down a bit or remove some of those Google ads in the middle of your posts.
6. Clean Up the Clutter
Sidebar bling, header bling, baubles, bells, whistles... they're just a distraction. Lately, I've worked with a lot of bloggers who want to take their blogs to the next level and every single one of them has asked for a cleaned up, streamlined site. Double sidebars are on the way out, as are numerous widgets and badges. Clean home pages are the trend.
The problem is, the more of that stuff you have in your sidebar, the less people pay attention to it. Edit yourself. Do you have one or two causes or projects you're involved in that are really important to you that you want people to notice? Put those in your sidebar and get rid of everything else. Create a new page and menu link and put your blogroll on that. Create another page where you post links or badges to all your other work on the web or places people can find you, like your tastespotting, foodgawker, yummily, etc profiles.
And remember - those sidebars are valuable real estate - use them to direct people to other parts of your blog. Don't send them to somebody else's site!
7. Tell People Who You Are
Create an About, Start Here or Bio page telling people who you are. Why do you write what you write? What can we expect to find on your site? Where are you blogging from? You don't need to delve into the depths of your private life but at least let your readers know a bit about why you blog and what they can expect from you.
Are you interested in working with PR firms or sponsors? Create a page outlining the types of things you're willing to do or write about, your food philosophy (if you only believe in eating locally or in avoiding processed foods, you may not want to work with packaged food companies, etc, if you're a restaurant review blog, you might not be interested in coming up with a recipe for ABC Food Company's fruit or veggie), whether you're willing to attend events (and what kind of events) and anything else a PR person might be interested in. Don't forget to make your contact information easy to find.
Taking It to the Next Level
As a web designer, one thing I've found in recent years is that the line between a small business website and a traditional blog has blurred. Quite frankly, they've become the same thing in most cases. Most small businesses are including blogs and social media connections on their site and more and more blogs are including full menus and magazine style home pages.
But what I've also noticed is that not very many bloggers have realized that what they are, in fact, running, is a small business website. If you are making money or compensation from your site, if you are trying to increase your traffic, build your brand, and grow your social network reach, you are running a small business. And that means treating it as one and investing in it. You have an obligation to your readers to make your blog as user friendly as possible. For some of you, that may mean moving to WordPress, for others it may mean upgrading to a paid theme, and for still others, it may mean hiring a web professional to help you out.
Blogging 101: 7 Tips to Instantly Make Your Blog More Reader Friendly, was written and designed by FBC Managing Editor, Melissa Hartfiel. Melissa is a designer, writer and photographer and writes the blog Eyes Bigger Than My Stomach. Being from Vancouver, she does indeed like walking on the beach and puppy dogs. And who doesn't like warm cookies?
Connect with Melissa on Twitter or Instagram at @mhchipmunk or on Facebook: Eyes Bigger Than My Stomach