Investing in Sophisticated Blog Layouts

The post today from Sue Waters about ‘Are You Getting The Most Out Of Pages On Your Blog?’ contains  good advice about blog page layout and continual auditing to keep the more static parts current. However it made me reflect about blog reading behaviour and my own experience in particular.

As I write I am subscribed to 97 blogs and have ‘read’ 1,270 posts in the last 30 days. So Google Reader informs me. I couldn’t subscribe to so many blogs without the help of such a feed aggregator which shows me only the content of each post contained in the RSS feed. It is the blog post content after all that interests me. There is simply no time to visit the actual blog pages, except perhaps to leave a comment, which in my case is about 1 post in 50 or so.

Professional bloggers and individuals who take pride in their blog pages spend a great deal of time adding supplementary material in the form of dynamic links to blog assets and many other types of widgets and external resources relevant to the blog. None of this no doubt excellent information is visible by default to a feed aggregator. This includes the adverts that many bloggers rely upon to sustain their blogs.

Sadly the supplementary blog material can deter a reader visiting the actual blog site. Switch on Firebug in your Firefox browser and note the download volumes. Visit one of my favourite blogs, Mashable, today and it results in 270 requests and over 2 MB of download for the main page. Sue matches this 2 MB download in only 63 requests. Another favourite, ReadWriteWeb, appears to take much longer to load but results in only 635 KB from 149 requests. Being aware of this blog bloat I have consciously simplified my own blog so it comes in at 240 KB in 39 requests.

Sue and I agree in opposing partial post contents in blog feeds. However with feed aggregators omitting ads it is easy to see why partial feeds are used to tempt readers to visit the actual blogs and be exposed to the those ads. Personally I prefer to have full feeds with small ads inserted in the content which will surface in feed aggregators.

My own advice on supplementary information in blog layouts is thus:

  • reduce media and widget content to a minimum
  • be aware of those widgets, apparently small in page real estate, that generate large numbers of additional download requests
  • concentrate on blog post content and incorporate links, perhaps repeatedly, to other static blog content
  • don’t invest significant time in blog page contents that readers using feed aggregators will never see

In my view the era of leisurely flitting from one blog to another, viewing blogrolls and other widgets, is over. Adjust your blog page design and layout to the era of feed aggregators and micro-blogging.

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About Michael Rees
Academic in IT interested in Web 2.0 and social media

2 Responses to Investing in Sophisticated Blog Layouts

  1. Sue Waters says:

    Thanks Michael for expanding this conversation and making me think more about the topic. I’m the same as you; most posts are read using my Google Reader. Bit of a shock when I saw how many I read in the past 30 days (that must have included some of the ones I mark as read?).

    How often people visit your pages probably depends on your blog audience. The Edublogger audience includes lots of new blogger and has high pageviews per day compared to my personal blog.

    Hadn’t stopped to consider load speed and would have thought The Edublogger is loading considerably slower than my personal blog. Which makes me wonder – what are the key components on the page slowing it?

    Unfortunately I often find edubloggers setting their feed to partial feeds not because of the ads.

    Question – How differently would you adjust your blog page design and layout to micro-blogging?

  2. Gail P says:

    This conversation has been helpful. I understand more about what is going on with the feeder. Not real clear on what “270 requests and over 2 MB of download” is all about but will be heads up when it comes by me the next time.
    Sue’s question “How differently would you adjust your blog page design and layout to micro-blogging?” is interesting. If by micro-blogging you mean the little bit the reader previews, I would say it makes a pretty good difference. Kind of along the lines of the Twitter 140 characters, you need to be more precise and set the hook in the first sentence of your post. My target audience is the parents of my students but what I am giving them is a newsletter post that is less than interesting. I think having the same newsletter graphic each week is a good idea but a teaser sentence following that would be better than just the link. Any thoughts or is this just all too obvious?

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