Friday, February 22, 2008

Is your blog easy to read?

For me, life before kids was spent in the graphic design field. Even as a kid myself, I had a good eye for what "worked" and what didn't. These days I have a friend who tells me that I'm good at knowing where things should go on the page when I scrapbook.

Several years ago I created a website for a business for myself. Later, I took the knowledge I had gathered creating my own website, and created one for CT Homeschool Network.

Now, as the list of homeschooling blogs I read increases, I'm finding that several of the lessons I learned in web design are also important in the blogosphere. Although there are lots of blogs that will tell you how to increase visits to your blog, and how important it is to have great content to bring people back, I have yet to find one which discusses how important the look of your blog is to bringing people back. Or more specifically, how the readability of your blog determines whether people come back. So I thought I'd discuss it a bit and point some things out that most people wouldn't think of if they weren't specifically in the design field. Because regardless of content, if people can't read your blog, they won't come back.

Type should ALWAYS be on a white or VERY light background. This is because it is very important to have enough contrast between your copy and your background so people can read the copy comfortably.

Here's a sample of poor contrast. I'm not providing any links here because some of these are from blogs of people I know, and I don't want to cause any hard feelings. If you click on the sample it will enlarge and you will see how difficult it is to read. Especially because the type is not black, but gray.

There is actually a cool website out there where you can type in your blog url and it will tell you whether your copy has good contrast or not. It's here. Scroll down to the bottom of the page and type your blog's address in to see whether your blog is easy on the eyes.

The body copy of your blog should NEVER be reversed. That is, white type on a black background. Or any light colored type on a dark background. Yeah, it might look cool, but only at first glance; it's really challenging to read. In the design industry it is rarely used for copy heavy work. Reversed type is strictly for headlines. It really bums me out to be only 1/2 way through a blog and have to give up because the type starts swimming before my eyes. So while black or other dark colors might be a great way to show off your photos, if you plan on writing much about them, and hope that visitors will actually read all of what you write, make your background white and your words black.

Use a sans serif font for your body copy. San serif fonts do not have the little lines on them, as in the type I have used on this blog, while serif fonts have the little lines on them, like this. (Here's a good photograph clearly showing the difference.) Newspapers and magazines use serif fonts because they are easier to read at smaller sizes in print. And although there has been some debate about it, the consensus seems to be that sans serif fonts are easier to read on monitors, with Verdana and Helvetica (Arial) being the easiest. Here's a sample of serif being used in a blog so you can decide for yourself. Keep in mind that if you are insisting on using a serif font, you should make sure it is pretty large. Smaller fonts start breaking up on screen.

Be careful of photos in the background. This one is self explanatory once you see it. And since I don't know this person, I'm posting the link. There is no denying this blog is difficult to read.

So now that I've covered the basics of readability, I thought I'd include a couple of other things, which are simply annoying and often cause me to leave.

Do not put music on your blog. First, it's really annoying. These things startle the heck out of me and if I can't find the off switch PDQ, I am so out of there. Second, and more importantly, you cannot put music on your website unless you are paying royalties to whomever owns it: "...people just don't understand the copyright laws. Period. At best, people think it's OK to play a MIDI version of "Stairway to Heaven" but wrong to play the original Led Zeppelin recording." Find this quote amidst an excellent, short, and very understandable article about music copyright laws here.

Easy on the cookies. I use Firefox to browse, and it's set up to ask me to accept cookies every time, and I'm always appalled when I find a blog out there which wants to place six, seven cookies on my computer. Excuse me, but why the heck does a BLOG want to follow me around? Okay, I'll accept a cookie from your visitor counter, but that's pretty much it.

And finally...Keep it brief. There are some blogs which ramble and ramble. Look at your stats and see how long people are staying on your blog. If it's only one minute then you have confirmed that no one read anything past the first line of each of your 30 paragraphs. Or maybe just the first eight in their entirety. If you want people to invite you back, don't overstay your welcome.

So there you have it. Ways to keep people reading your content. Do you think this will help you with your blog?


Barbara Frank said...

Wow! Great post from someone who practices what she preaches. I think I do most of the things you recommend here with my own blog (I reached way back into my memory to what I learned in typography in college). However, I don't know how to burden people with cookies or if I'm doing it :0

P.S. Found your post at the Carnival of Homeschooling

A Dusty Frame said...

I never enjoy music on blogs!

If I want to listen, I'll choose my own music thank you!

Elisheva Hannah Levin said...

This is an interesting post.
I found you through COH.

I agree about the music and have another point about that, for those of us who have Auditory Processing Disorder, the music makes it hard to focus on what the blog owner is writing about.

Also, you did not mention loading time. I have a high-speed connection, and there are still some blogs I will not go to because they have so much stuff on them that it takes too much time to load, and sometimes they even crash my browser.

Finally, on the length of posts, I have some disagreement with you. It depends on the blog and the writer. There are certain blogs that I go to specifically because they provide in-depth analysis of issues I am interested in thinking about. In cases like that, I am annoyed by superficial content. On my own blog, I have noticed that I get more comments when I post an in-depth analysis of an issue than when I post fluff. But I do not post long, detailed analysis every day. I do it only once every week or two. I guess the readers choose what they want, and those wanting only fluff do not stay on my blog.

Love 2B Homeschoolers said...

"Finally, on the length of posts, I have some disagreement with you. It depends on the blog and the writer. There are certain blogs that I go to specifically because they provide in-depth analysis of issues I am interested in thinking about."

Elishiva, this is something I hadn't thought about. There are times actually, when I have read a "how to fix such-and-such in Windows" post when I am grateful to have detailed information.

I guess I was just referring to general homeschooling ramblings, rather than specific information which people can then use themselves.

Thanks for your comment!

kat said...

Ditto what Elishiva wrote about loading time. My old computer just won't handle blogs with lots of "stuff", and it just freezes, leaving me having to turn the whole computer off and starting over, just to wonder, "that post title sounded so good, what did she post??" keeping me up at night! There are several great blogs I would read daily if only the extra junk didn't make my computer crash!