Improving Your Blog Visitors' First Experience

A few weeks ago I wrote about several factors that influence the first impression of visitors to your website. Because first impressions are so powerful, you should always be trying to improve the experience for new visitors in a way that will encourage repeat visits. As a blogger, your visitors will come from all over. They’ll arrive through links from other websites and blogs, search engines, comments on other blogs, social media, etc. The majority of visitors will not arrive at your blog through your front page, but rather through a particular blog post.

It’s easy to sometimes forget about new visitors while you are trying to improve your blog by serving your subscribers, but in order to maximize the growth of your blog, you’ll also need to consider the needs of the first-time visitor.

What Will New Visitors to Your Blog Want to See?

1. What is your blog about?

Many first-time visitors will want to find an About page to learn more about the blog. Your blog should not only include an About page, but it should also be very easy for visitors to find. Using descriptive categories for your posts can also help new visitors to see the focus of your blog.

2. How can I subscribe?

Visitors should never have to struggle to subscribe. Make it as easy as possible by placing subscription links in prominent places and by using commonly recognized icons. Many blogs, including this one, also use a message included in each post to encourage subscribers (mine appears just above the post). You should also offer an email subscription as many visitors will still prefer to use email, and in non-technical industries readers may not even be aware of RSS.

3. What is your best work?


It’s a good idea to display your best or most popular content somewhere that will allow new visitors to easily find it. This can be done in a few different ways. This blog includes a “Popular Posts” section in the sidebar that I manually update with links to posts that are reader favorites. There are also a number of WordPress plugins that will automate the process for you, but then you won’t have complete control over which posts are included. I also like the method used at CourtneyTuttle.com. Court has 3 boxes that appear above every post that include links to several posts that new readers are likely to want to read.

4. How can I contact you?

Some readers will have a question or comment that they want to send to you privately rather than leaving a comment on a blog post. If this is the case, they will want to find a contact page that allows them to do just that. There are also a number of different plugins to accomplish this, one of them from Douglas Karr.

5. What else do you have to offer?

Many blogs now are more than just blogs. An example is Blogging Tips, which also offers forums and a marketplace that lets users post and search for services. Another example is the job board at ProBlogger, which is one of the best places for bloggers to find paid positions. Offering something in addition to the blog can be a great way to encourage repeat traffic and draw inbound links as you make your blog a more valuable resource to readers.

6. Is the blog regularly updated and current?

As you know, there are thousands, probably even millions, of abandoned blogs out there. Before visitors will subscribe, they may want to know that you add new content on a regular basis. One of the easiest ways to show that you are current is to include the date on your posts. Of course, if they come in through an older post they will see an older date, but if they are interested in the blog and want to see how up-to-date it is, all they will have to do is go to the front page and check out the publication date of your latest post.

7. Why should I care about you?

Try not to assume that your new visitors will be familiar with your or your blog. In many cases you will have to prove your worth. If you have a decent number of subscribers, consider displaying your numbers through the FeedBurner feed count. When a new visitor arrives and sees a large subscriber count they will often assume that your blog must be a quality resource if you have built that amount of subscribers.

Some blogs also display Technorati Rank or Alexa Rank which can also help to show visitors that they should care about you. Of course, if your rankings are poor and you display them it can have the reverse effect. Another option is to include a brief author bio on the post, which is done nicely at Devlounge in the “about this author” section.

Taglines and descriptions can also be used for a similar purpose. For example, John Chow uses the tagline “The miscellaneous ramblings of a dot com mogul.” This statement serves to brand John Chow as a dot com mogul, which will ultimately make readers value his information.

8. How can I find what I want?

Make an effort to keep your navigation as simple as possible. Displaying links to posts by category is done by almost every blog, and it is effective. The popular post links that were mentioned earlier also helps for this purpose. Sometimes visitors will not have a specific post that they are looking for, but they want information on a certain topic. In this situation it’s very helpful to offer a search feature. Additionally, links to all of your major pages (about, contact, etc.) should be easily found.

9. What type of environment does the blog have?

Blogging is very community-oriented and visitors will often want to see an active, intelligent community. Encourage comments on your blog so that so readers get involved and new visitors can see the activity to occurs. Delete spammy and rude comments as they can hurt the image of your community and turn off visitors. I’m not saying that anything negative or comments that disagree with you should be deleted, but there are some comments that are unnecessarily attacking.

What other factors do you think influence the first experience that a new visitor has at your blog?

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30 Responses

Comments are now closed on this post.

  • Evan Meagher, December 16, 2007

    This goes without saying, but be sure to visually design your blog for user experience, not visual appeal. Too many sites out there (still) look amazing, but aren’t very usable.

    The last thing you want is for a user to associate your site with lingering frustration.

  • Douglas Karr, December 16, 2007

    Thanks so much for the note! Many times I want to contact the owner of a blog but they have no way to contact them! I can’t wait for some time to enhance this plugin further.

  • Vandelay Design, December 16, 2007

    Evan,
    You’re right. The design should not hinder the usability. Thanks for the feedback.

    Douglas,
    You’re welcome. Thanks for stopping by.

  • Anna Vester, December 16, 2007

    Great post as always. You have just motivated me to start working on my blog realignment. Thanks!

  • James Mann, December 17, 2007

    It seems like I am always modifying my blogs to tweak them for better performance for both my visitors and also for the search engine. It’s great fun but sometimes I get myself into a big mess.

    I love the blogs, like yours, that teach useful tips that help those bloggers that really want help. Keep those blogging tips coming.

  • Monika @ The Writers Manifesto, December 17, 2007

    Hi Steven,

    Your post is a great guideline to polish up our blogs for better user enjoyment. Reading it I found a couple of hints to tweak some things myself. Thank you :-)

  • Wayne Liew, December 17, 2007

    Nice points to remind those like me who don’t have a few of the elements that have been listed.

    I have a few things to add on such as a blog’s design and unlucky happenings.

    Everyone knows how good design and bad design of a blog can make a reader loyal or drive them away. As for unlucky events, maybe a server glitch when you are having a social media effect could be the example… :lol:

  • Justin Dupre, December 17, 2007

    “Improving Your Blog Visitors’ First Experience: Vandalay Design is quickly becoming one of my favorite blogs because of their articles. This one will tell you how to improve impressions from those who have never seen your blog. I could certainly use these suggestions!”

    http://www.moneyandblog.com/2007/12/blog-links-of-day-december-18th-2007.html

  • Vandelay Design, December 17, 2007

    James,
    I think constant work to improve is a good thing. You’ll always be learning more effective ways and what works and what doesn’t can change from time to time.

    Monika,
    I’m glad there was some practical info for you here.

    Wayne,
    Yes, a server problem would definitely affect the visitor’s experience. I’ve been through that myself.

  • Matthew Griffin, December 17, 2007

    I’d like to point out that you’ve done a great job of following your own advise on the Vandelay Design blog. I’ve read a lot of articles about blogging wrapped in content that the article disparages. Keep up the good work.

  • Vandelay Design, December 17, 2007

    Matthew,
    Thanks for the compliment. I try to follow my own advice, and often writing a blog post will help my to improve in one way or another.

  • Michael Aulia, December 17, 2007

    Thanks for the tips. I’m new to blogging as well (2-3 months now)

    I’m just a bit confused why not many people want to put comments on my blog even though an article has 20-50 view hits :

  • Xbox 360, December 18, 2007

    This is a really great post and one I would recommend for every blogger that is starting out, because when you are starting out, just about all your visitors are new visitors.

  • Vandelay Design, December 18, 2007

    Michael,
    I’ve read in a few places that on average only 1 in 100 visitors will leave a comment. If you’re struggling for comments find some other new blogs in your niche and start commenting there. If they are in the same position as you they will appreciate the comments and most likely return the favor at your blog.

  • Tay - Super Blogging, December 18, 2007

    Thanks for the great post, Steven!

    I like to think that I’m doing a lot of the things you listed to help out my new readers and improve their experience on my blog, but of course I do have plenty of work to do.

    I particularly like #5. Currently what I have to offer is a blog, but so many other sites have forums and top lists, etc. Maybe I should try to think of something unique to add to my blog.

    Thanks for the inspiration! :)

  • Not John Chow, December 19, 2007

    Great Blog. Many today spend too much time on monetizing and also tweaking the appearance only to forget the basic purpose of the blog: to share content. A blog should also be easy on the eyes and encourage the viewer to follow a natural path from one feature or post to another.

    I am still struggling with some basic design issues and have a long way to go to make notjohnchow.com more first experience friendly.

  • Vandelay Design, December 19, 2007

    Tay,
    #5 is one I need to work on as well. It takes time to develop another useful resource. I’ve thought about maybe creating WP themes, but we’ll see. As far as forums go, they can be great, but of course they need to be active. It’s pretty difficult to start a new forum and get people to actually use it. There’s plenty of possibilities. I guess it’s just a matter of finding and implementing the right idea.

  • SearchSAHomes, December 21, 2007

    I am currently starting a new blog and all 9 would be a good foundation for me. Thanks again and keep the great content coming.

  • Andy, December 21, 2007

    Great stuff. What about having too much/too few ads on your home page?

    Andy from financeviewpoint.com

  • Tay - Super Blogging, December 21, 2007

    Steven,

    “#5 is one I need to work on as well. It takes time to develop another useful resource. I’ve thought about maybe creating WP themes, but we’ll see. As far as forums go, they can be great, but of course they need to be active. It’s pretty difficult to start a new forum and get people to actually use it. There’s plenty of possibilities. I guess it’s just a matter of finding and implementing the right idea.”

    I think designing WordPress themes is a fantastic idea. I’m not too skilled in that area, even though that is something I have always wanted to be able to do. There are so many advantages to designing themes because plenty of people will link to the theme, and you can also add your link to the theme’s footer. I need to start educating myself a bit more in that area. :)

  • Vandelay Design, December 21, 2007

    Tay,
    I’ve seen a few blogs recently that have asked for WordPress designers to create a theme for them. Your blogs audience is growing, so maybe there would be a possibility to work with a designer that would be interested in getting some promotion from your blog by releasing a theme through you. Just a thought. Daniel at Daily Blog Tips is doing this now. He’s offering to pay designers (I have no idea how much), but who knows, someone might be willing to do it for free or in exchange for something else.

  • Vandelay Design, December 21, 2007

    Andy,
    I wouldn’t say you can have too few ads on your homepage from the perspective of a new visitor. Too many can definitely be a problem and make a bad impression. Thanks for your feedback.

  • I think having a poll on your blog will also increase your visitor experience. They also help visitors to feel part of a community.