First impressions are so important.
Not just in the online world, but in pretty much anything in life as well.
The experts say that you only have about 7 seconds to motivate a new visitor to stick around, and start reading your blog (or a sales letter for that matter as well).
And 7 seconds might even be a bit generous really. It is realistic to say that you have only about 3 seconds for some people. As soon as the page loads, a decision is made quickly to decide if the page is worthy of attention or not.
There are many millions of blogs on the internet, and probably about 98% of them are garbage to be honest. And because there is so much choice out there, it is very hard to stand out – unless you can “WOW” a first time visitor with a great design, interesting content and also plenty of engagement.
Probably the best way to get loads of traffic and engagement to your blog is simply to have people make repeat visits, and come back on a regular basis for more.
Just like repeat customers make a business, repeat visitors create a community like atmosphere on a blog and it is your job to do your very best to turn them into loyal readers.
If you are going to create a blog and take it seriously, then make sure you avoid the common mistakes below.
1. Sidebars cluttered with banners, links, and other meaningless items.
This is where most people get it wrong. For a start only have one sidebar, as two sidebars make a blog look way too busy. In my opinion the best layout is to have the content section on the left with a sidebar on the right. Take a look at the layout on this page of Basic Blog Tips for a clear picture of what I mean.
I studied many of the big name bloggers out there, and almost all of them had a similar layout to this.
And the other thing about sidebars is that most people put far too many advertising banners on them. This just puts people off as everybody knows that you are trying to make money from these banners. The other amusing thing is that unless you are getting barrel loads of traffic, hardly anyone ever clicks on those sidebar banners.
I would limit it to only one or two banners in the sidebar, and only one banner for the header and content section of your blog.
2. Using bizarre coloured fonts and backgrounds
Some people disagree with me here, but in my opinion you should always use a white background and keep it simple. A lot of blogs use dark backgrounds with white text, and then there are others that use pretty colors trying to brighten the site up.
The professional bloggers all use white backgrounds with black text, and for good reason. People are used to reading newspapers and books with these colours, so it really should be no different with your website.
Use colors for your headings or links only.
3. Too many toolbars, pop ups, widgets or any other annoying special features
A pop up is ok for the first time a reader gets to your site (I use one myself at ScottDudley.net), but don’t install pop ups to appear every time they click on a new page – that is a sure way to annoy your reader.
With the huge selection of free plugins available, it is tempting for a newbie blogger to have things popping up everywhere and a few toolbars as well. But ask yourself, do you really think these gadgets impress your visitors – or contribute to more subscribers and sales?
I don’t think so.
The less distractions you put on your blog the better – remember the saying “keep it simple stupid”.
4. The visitor is confused about what the main blog topic is.
In the header of this blog you can clearly read “Basic Blog Tips”, which immediately tells readers what the blog is about. And above that the tag line is “Helping You Build a Better Blog”. There is no confusion here, people know straight away exactly what content to expect.
As soon as a blogger visits this website, they immediately know that they are in the right place for learning how to build a better blog.
5. The blogger has no idea what they are actually trying to achieve with the blog
Has the blog been created to generate you leads, sell your products, pay you via advertising or to improve your credibility? It may be a combination of these things, but the point is to be crystal clear on the desired outcome of the blog.
Once you are clear on what the primary purpose of the blog is, you can start to implement tactics and strategy to achieve these objectives.
A classic example is a blog that has been primarily created to generate leads. The idea should be to think of as many ways as possible to encourage people to opt into your list without going overboard.
Use clever tactics to motivate people to do what you want them to do, but make sure that you don’t cheat them or lie to them. Under promise and over deliver and you should not have any problems.
6. It is difficult to navigate around your blog and find things.
Some websites make it very difficult to find what you are looking for and have very poor navigation. It can get really frustrating if things don’t work the way they should, or if links are broken.
Personally, I prefer to only show a teaser of my recent blog posts on the home page as I am able to feature a lot more content on there – rather than just having entire blog posts shown one after the other down the page.
A well designed blog will always make navigation as easy as possible, and a great theme goes a long way towards improving your navigation. The two themes that almost all professional bloggers choose from are either Thesis or Genesis. I personally use Thesis because it is very easy to customize the blog to look exactly how you want it to look.
Another very important element of designing a great blog is to make sure that you put share buttons floating on each blog post, either on the left or right hand side. I use a plugin called Digg Digg and select the floating option on my website.
Digg Digg is very easy to set up and install and the floating option means that no matter how far the reader scrolls down, the share buttons are always visible. Look to your left now, and you will see these share buttons I am talking about.
7. Slow loading pages… (Yawn!)
Another important factor is to make sure the speed of your blog is not slow when clicking from one page to the next. Because if it is, you will more than likely lose a lot of readers.
People just don’t have the patience to wait for web pages that “hang” for long periods. I know I certainly don’t, do you?
Some people tell you to install special cache plugins to make your pages load faster, but after trying these myself I found that my site actually ran slower. And on top of that they were extremely complicated for the average user to understand what the settings were about.
They are varying opinions on cache plugins though, as some people swear that they couldn’t live without them. A popular plugin is W3 Total Cache if you want to give it a try, and see for yourself.
One plugin that I would recommend you to try is P3 – Plugin Performance Profiler which shows you which plugins are taking the longest to load, and also how long each individual one is taking. See the image below to see what I mean.
Another useful plugin that improves speed is WP Smush.it . This plugin reduces image file sizes and improves performance by compressing all of your images.
In conclusion keep your blog simple, don’t overdo it with advertising and become clear on what the primary purpose of the blog is, and you will be well on your way to create a great blog that people love to visit.
Here are some links to A-Grade blogs to give you an idea of how the professional bloggers set up their site. You should be able to see many things in common with all of these blogs if you look carefully. See how many you can spot.