31 Days to a Better Blog--Day 11: Dig Into Your Stats
31 Days to a Better Blog--Days 12 & 13: Introduce Yourself to Another Blogger and Find An Affiliate Program

Site Redo

I spent several hours this afternoon working on a site redo. I'm not entirely sure how I feel about it, so any feedback is welcome.

I took into account the many great comments I got from readers in deciding how to declutter my sidebar. I

  • Took out my monthly archives and my tag cloud. Both were used infrequently.
  • Created a list of my most frequently visited topics, based on what I saw with the Google site overlay of where people were clicking in my site. This also gives a decent sense of what I'm writing about here, I think. Let me know if you think I should add or remove any topic areas.
  • Added a list of the Challenge participants to the "Join our Challenge" page, as this was getting the most action. I also created a separate page of links to the participants with the heading "Visit our Participants and Win Some Chocolate," hoping that it would make more people want to click through, rather than just seeing a list of the participants.
  • Got rid of my blog roll--I discovered (again with the site overlay tool) that no one was really using it. As a few people pointed out in comments, you're more likely to visit other bloggers through the links in a blog post than you are via the blog roll, so I'll just have to make sure that I link a lot to everyone I like!
  • Got rid of the least visited "Best of Bamboo" articles. I debated about moving the whole list to a separate page, but saw that there were a fair number of click throughs, so I decided to keep them up front for now.
  • Made the sidebar links bigger. I think they were harder to read before, which made it seem more overwhelming--all that tiny print.

Obviously the biggest change I made was going to the three-column right side look. I'm not sure if I'm going to stick with this or not, especially as Laura has kindly offered to help me with a redesign. But I got sort of carried away in my sidebar project and started playing around with things. Kind of like moving furniture. So I thought I'd leave it this way for a while and see what people think and if the look grows on me. As always, comments welcome.

One thing I learned in this project was how useful it is to use data and feedback from users in making choices about what to do with your site. The Google site overlay tool gave me great information to help me deconstruct what happens on my site and how people are using it. And I also got excellent reader feedback because I asked a lot of specific questions about what I should and shouldn't keep. Most of the decisions I made were based on the Google data and my reader feedback. Without that information, I would have really been taking a shot in the dark. Another reason to always use data .

Comments

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Hi Michelle
This is a snapshot, first impressions only response because I think they are vital. A bit like the 'close your eyes, now open them. What is the first thing you notice?' game we used to play.

OK, I think the light green colour coupled with the small font size in your sidebar makes it harder to read. That's it!

I'm a green fan like you, and this beautiful colour is difficult to handle at the best of times. I wonder whether a darker shade would assist. My 2c worth. Oh, and yes, I do like the new, more compact look in the double-sidebars on the right. I'm not reading in 'wide-screen' as I was before.

Hi Michelle

You poor thing...Each of us are going to have different opinions. My response to the double side bar is not for me - however I don't like change and also my blog has a left and right sidebar.

I think the two sidebars next to each other make it more cluttered. I love the green of your site, however it is not letting your section of parts on your sitebar - whereas as my does. That probably is not an issue.

Sue

Most 3-column layouts seem cramped and tend to force the articles into a claustophic space that doesn't do justice to the quality of the content.

It is for this reason precisely that I chose to go with a single column design - yup, just one lonely column.

While yours is not nearly so cluttered as many I've seen, I sure would prefer to see one less column so your excellent blog posts have plenty of room to breath. But then again, I usually follow your posts via RSS feed, so I only pop in over here on the site to add comments...

Michle,
I'm going to respond from a visual perspective. You have a beautiful header which gracefully leads the eye to the top left with the shape of the bamboo. Opposite that your photograph is also visually prominent, particularly because the background is dark relative to the surrounding white. Not too far below that you have the subscribe box, which has a yellow field. Yellow almost always pops forward due to it's lightness relative to the rest of the spectrum. On my home screen it also falls just above the fold, which further increases it's emphasis.

The main post in this instance is text, which visually reads as gray. The middle column has wider bands of white between the rows, which almost creates horizontal bands.

This all combines to visually lead me to the right side of the page. Now depending on what you want the focus to be, this might not be bad. If gaining subscriptions is your focus, you have successfully lead the eye there.

As you scroll down the page, the right bar continues to hold all the elements that have brighter color, and are visually denser. So my eye continues to be drawn right and off the page.

In your last design, the main posts were the visual emphasis of the page. If you wanted to gain that back, you might use a long thin image of bamboo flush left, or always include strong images, or maybe play with the spacing/font size of the middle column. It might also help to knock out the background on the left side of your photo. The remaining diagonal line would nicely direct the eye back toward the center of the page.

If you step back from the screen and squint this all becomes more evident.

So as Beth asked in her great screencast about Google Analytics, what are your conversion goals and is your visual design assisting you in meeting them?

Hi Michele,
Your main articles stand out abit more now, plus I can finally read the links better - a big improvement! What I'd advise, is a bit more space at the right of your main content, and the headings of your link sections to be in a stronger colour or put an underline on the headings to they differenciate.
Maybe on your about me section, you could just use some very faint hint of background colour on the photo and text below (like a box) to life that section abit.

I have to bring up accessiblity, imagine someone with sight difficulties trying to find your links. There's not enough colour change, or text transformation on the links (ie - when you hover it appears underlined etc)...Other than that, I think it's a good first step forward. No doubt we'll all be tweaking our sites now, and get behind on posting (I have!)
Well done though!

Hi,
I like the new layout. But I've always been a fan of the two columns-one side look. I agree with some of the above comments about the green font. I love the green theme but I think that maybe you should darken either the side-bar font or the main post font. It blurs together a little bit.

Also, I would put your picture in the first column, right about 'what this blog is about'. Just my 2 cents.

Wow--a girl goes away to a dinner party and look what happens! :-)You guys are fabulous!

OK--the one thing I hear loud and clear is that I need to use Black in the sidebar items. Some of the other changes, like playing with spacing, etc--that may be challenging on a technological level because I'm not sure I can get that deeply into Typepad. I know it's possible; I just don't know if I can do it.

So I'm going to play around some more and see what I can do.

Thank you everyone for the great feedback--I appreciate it.

Looking good. Cleaner, easier to get a sense of what is there. I like the 'some things I write about' title. The background color helps to separate the different intentions of the two sides.

I agree with Christine. The grey makes it stand out more. Love your widget - some things I write about - that is cool idea - may have to borrow it. One day might get used to sidebars on right :)

Sue

Thanks for the positive feedback, Sue and Christine. I had to give up my love of the white, which was hard for me to do. But I have to say I like the gray to break things up. And I've grown to like the sidebars on the right--maybe I was just tired of my old layout. You know--moving the furniture around a little.

Hi Michele! I saw the new layout and was going to email you, but yay for this post being here in my aggregator, just waiting for a comment!

I still need to overcome my desire for things to look pretty and fix up things like font size and colour on my own site (just setting up my glass house here), but here's what struck me with your new design:

- The width of your content section balanced with the width of your navigation - they're pretty much the same. I like to try and make the content the main focus, with the navigation still striking enough to locate and identify. Especially with the type of posts you make (more 'articles' than updates), I would like to see more space given to the content. Have you considered setting width with percent instead of fixed pixels?

Eg. Width of all content (nav & cont) = 80% of user's screen; within that, content=70%, navigation menus= 30% (or somesuch). That way, the layout is dynamic and changes to fit the space depending on the user's screen/resolution (eg. I have an uber-widescreen, and right now more than half of it is blank space background, with seemingly little width given to the actual text!)

- Second thing - the links in your navigation. For me, I feel their formatting resembles too much the main text of the page. i.e. there's nothing to indicate that these are, in fact, links!! Personally, I think they could be a point or half a point smaller, or even bold or underlined or a different colour or slightly different font (to the main content text). I think this important especially for the "some things I write about" section, as it would be much handier to see that those items are actually navigation links!

As well as the formatting not indicating they are links, I think visually it's important to delineate the navigation from the content (See above comment about navigation needing to be striking and identifiable, while not taking over the stage from the actual content). Especially with the navigation taking up the same width as the content space, I find the two different sections warring with my gaze as to what section is for what etc.

And hmm, reading the above makes me realise how much more tweaking I need to do on my own site! I'd be happy to discuss any of this more with you, if you like.

Emily

Oof, and now I feel bad for not telling you the things I LIKE about it!

I am very happy you added the Google search. Frequently, I remember something you blogged about days or weeks after you did so, and end up googling "bamboo project" "keyword keyword" to find it again! Your custom search will very much come in handy.

I also like the different colours you've picked to delineate the content from the nav from the background, and love the way the white helps readability and makes the content pop out.

I like that your current focus is up there at the top next to your photo (the 31 days, at the moment!).

I really like the "Some things I write about" section - I wish more blogs had this, so I could get a snapshot idea of whether I'd find them interesting or relevant, rather than toiling through a few weeks of aggregated posts before I realise I'm wasting my time!

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