Blog Review and Feedback

June 2, 2010

As I shared in Refocusing this blog, I have been part of a gang of bloggers. We have been working through 31 Days to Build a Better Blog, which we simply call 31DBBB. Truthfully, I have not been able to keep up with the daily exercises, so I have not been getting the full benefit of receiving feedback on my posts and tweaks.

But today, they’ve come for me at last.

31 Days to Build a Better Blog

A quick introduction to my blog: I want to rock the boat a bit, for two reasons. One is to show people that they can begin to follow Jesus without “becoming one of those church people,” that there is room not to conform to church norms. Another is to prod people already following Jesus into living more missionally, to be willing to break out of the norms if it will help spread the gospel more effectively.

All right, give me your feedback. I can take it. Here are some touch-points to help guide the process:

  1. I hope to get a professional design someday, but for now, it’s what I have cobbled together myself. What are you impressions of the design? What would you emphasize, change or remove? Do the image and tagline work? (I tried to make something that communicated energy, motion, and a changing of time.)
  2. I notice more blogs using a three-column design with two sidebars on the right. Does my plain-old three-column design look dated?
  3. I want (in order): people to subscribe, people to comment, people to share posts, and to make a little income. Any thoughts on how my sidebar content (plus post content) do — or do not — help my goals? How can I improve the call to subscribe? Do the ads get in the way? …I know all bloggers dream of this. I guess what I wonder is whether the call to subscribe in the top-right corner is decent, and whether you find the ads bothersome.
  4. Except for “Subscribe,” my static pages linked at the top are new, put hurriedly in place before this review. How would you improve them?
  5. I have tried to keep my sidebars lean, and am wondering about moving my blogroll onto a static page to save space. I feel a little torn about this, because traditionally, blogrolls have served to point people to good stuff, and to establish a sort of pedigree: “It’s OK, these are the people I think are important. So you can trust me.” What do you think: Keep them in a sidebar, or move them to a static page?
  6. Given my desire to appeal to non-churchy people, are my posts too technical or church-focused?

I appreciate your feedback on any of these points, or anything else you would like to offer, especially in the area of form serving function. And you don’t have to be part of the 31DBBB to do this. Thanks in advance!

Jon Reid

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As an American missionary kid who grew up in Japan, I'm a child of two cultures, while not fully belonging to either. This gives me a sightly different view of the world.

18 responses to Blog Review and Feedback

  1. 1: very cool, I hope that you succeed with being a professional blogger (does that mean earning any amount of money or actually living off blogging?) The only things I don’t like is the many lists in the sidebars – it makes it feel dated.
    2: no sure about sidebar positions, I understand that people’s attention is drawn first to the left – if that means anything.
    3: getting people to engage with your blog, share etc is the ‘holy grail’ of blogging (in my mind) but everyone wants it and there aint too many grails around. If you get it right please tell me how. Otherwise – do it for others and they’ll do it for you.
    4: I would first of all centralize the static pages. For Contact I would use a form; cformsII is great. Your other pages are great, I’ll subscribe 🙂
    5: The blog roll on a static page might be a good idea then you could do categories and space it out better (and make it look better) otherwise most people (including me) just want their own link there but don’t click on the others much.
    6: sorry, can;t say right now – I’ll have to spend more time reading here.

  2. 1. I do prefer stronger contrasts in terms of color schemes – it always looks sharper. remember the first impression is often the most telling – although content outranks style, style is what they see before content and it is often the cue to stick around and look in, although its the content that will bring them back. I also advise you to use a color wheel to find the right color mix between the border and heading background colors – not sure salmon and brown do it. Also Don’t wait for a professional design – be professional from the outset and adopt that as a lifestyle. You clearly have all that it takes to do that, so don’t wait, go for it.
    2. Number of columns if not a critical issue – yours is fine.
    3. We all want subscribers – all I can say is just keep trying everything and be consistent in your outputs – be dependable. Its a journey not an event.
    4. Maybe banner is a bit blurred, but I like the heading – it is clear and concise.
    5. I moved blogroll to the footer – it can clutter a site.
    6. Perhaps you need to soul search what you want to achieve – if you really want to reach the un-churched, you may need to be more contemporary and deal with topical, everyday issues from a Christian perspective. Perhaps you should survey your target audience – ask friends, etc. The unchurched have very real needs – Jesus found a way to connect to them using everyday context like a well or a fish or bread or a storm or the Romans – we should be able to do likewise.

  3. I’m wondering about the on-page blogroll, too. I’d like to separate the blogs I follow into categories and haven’t found a way to do that succinctly on my sidebars. I think that people looking into following the people you feel are worth following will click on a separate page. I’m not sure how or whether that affects the link value to your friends. I’m guessing a special link on a special page is probably worth more, but really . . . that’s an absolute guess.
    As for the ads — I don’t like them and I suspect they may cause non-believers (and believers who don’t know you) to roll their eyes and move on. Google doesn’t know much about what Christ followers are likely to click on. Honestly, I’d be afraid that people would click on them, so what would be the point? Maybe you can find a way to sift them for yourself?
    What I’m seeing at the moment is 2 ads for online pastoral training, (sigh) one for a great program to attract people to your church (Dave Ramsey does a lot of good, but he didn’t die on the cross for me, and I’m not sure bringing people to the cross is his primary goal) and 3 free sermons for pastor (shouldn’t he be able to get those from the Word, Jesus — or did he use that on-line training thing and hasn’t yet met Jesus in person?) At least you’ve been spared the “beautiful gay Christian singles” ad that once showed up on our church’s free ning site. Anyway, I’m not a big fan of ads you don’t get to choose for yourself — not that all ads are bad. Ads for clothing shops or music stores or web design services, etc. would be completely fine and probably a lot more likely to be of interest to your readers.
    So, now for my non-rant. (sorry) I think your design looks good. I don’t mind the sidebars and your posts are succinct and to the point as well as being interesting. I like the pictoral links to articles on the top right, and for me, having the content in the middle looks better than having two sidebars. Just my opinion, which is worth what you paid, but two sidebars together look odd to me, and I’m not likely to read them.
    I guess that’s about it. You’re doing a great job here, and I look forward to reading more great posts. 🙂
    Blessings, Cindy

  4. I don’t have time to respond to your feedback during work hours, but thank you, keep it coming… I really appreciate this!

  5. This is a good one. However I wanted to follow you on facebook and twitter but could not see the link. I think it will be good for you to create link for people to follow you on this social sites

  6. Quick response (sorry I’m short on time here)
    1) Design is ok but it’s also very “safe.” Try some bolder colors and see if you can find something a bit more immediate for the header. The tag line is great and once you get the intersection part it’s fine, but what does it look like when a changing culture impacts a changing faith? A Las Vegas love chapel? The National Cathedral with Neon lights? (Just ideas)
    2) The three column design is the same as above, while I don’t really care about the ads and realize that they are just ads. I think if you can come up with a design or color scheme that’s a bit stronger the columns and what to change (if anything) will sort itself out. I would suggest making the blogroll shorter though, it seems kind of long, but I LOVE the idea of giving links their own page. That way it isn’t just a blog roll, but websites for organizations you love and support as well.
    3)Improve the call to subscribe by making it easier and more obvious. Can you make the subscribe box larger in your sidebar? Larger font text, bigger image, etc. Also include your FB and twitter links in the sidebar. I saw them on your contact page, but people will be expecting to see a form or an e-mail address on that page, not a link to your facebook account.
    4)Improve your static pages by getting some buttons for them to replace the plain text. Even if the button just has some strong font and a box around it that would make it seem a bit more professional you know?
    6) Your language isn’t churchy or overloaded with “christianese” but Peter is right, you need to really consider what you mean when you say “reaching the non-church.” do you mean non-christians? non-believers? christians without a church to call home? Once you figure that out, it’ll be easier to narrow in on changes you may or may not need to make to better reach them.
    On a different note, I love the heart you have for this blog, and I love what you write. I’ve been sharing it with my church every chance I get.
    Blessings, ~Seiji

  7. Hi Jon,
    I think you have done a great job in redesigning your blog. I am totally frustrated with trying to do mine. I am computer illiterate and do not speak “HTML”.
    1)I like your banner. It fits perfectly.
    2)The borders on the side have too much information and detract from your crisp clean look.
    3)I also agree that the colors could have a little more contrast.
    Will take a closer look later. Got to run.

  8. Philip,
    1. “Professional” made me smile. I am making enough to cover my blogging, let’s put it that way. 🙂 Thank you for pointing out the loads of lists — I knew there was something about that that felt old, but I couldn’t put my finger on it.
    2. I may move subscription stuff over to the left. We’ll see, it depends how I redesign the subscription thing.
    3. I’m afraid my question was rather vague (so thanks for pointing that out). I edited it to add, “I wonder is whether the call to subscribe in the top-right corner is decent, and whether you find the ads bothersome.”
    4. I’m not sure what you mean by “Centralize the static pages” — do you mean align them in the center so they’re over the main content?
    5. Yes, the category cloud is rather a mess, isn’t it. I’ll pull that off into a list somehow.
    6. In your copious free time! 🙂
    Thanks for the feedback, I appreciate it!

  9. Peter,
    1. Stronger color contrast: Interesting, thank you for pointing that out. I can see how it could make it more “grabby.”
    2. OK.
    3. I’m afraid my question was rather vague (so thanks for pointing that out). I edited it to add, “I wonder is whether the call to subscribe in the top-right corner is decent, and whether you find the ads bothersome.”
    4. I used an “outer glow” on the text in the image, but maybe I’ll try something that “pops” more.
    5. Yeah, I’m afraid the blogroll inadvertently contributes to the sense of “here are a whole bunch of links, and here are still more.”
    6. This is gold, thank you. I think what you see is my taking what used to be my #2 audience and deciding to give them more emphasis — but it’s not reflected in the posts yet. I linked a couple of posts in my new About page that fit better with my goals, but you’ve given me something to think and pray about.
    Thank you!

  10. Cindy,
    Thank you for being bold about the ads! You’re right, it’s tricky when you don’t control them. To experiment with moving away from Google ads in the sidebar, I studied my analytics and beefed up the ads in a couple of specific posts that have made the most. Then I can pull them out of the sidebar so they’re not site-wide.
    Good stuff, I appreciate it your not-quite-a-rant. 🙂

  11. Ohakosim,
    Good catch. I will highlight a Twitter link more.
    I’m a little more ambivalent about my Facebook link, because until recently I have tried to keep it to people I know. But I do plan to set up a Facebook page for this blog, so I will find a way to highlight that in some kind of “social sites” section.

  12. Seiji,
    1. Wow, thank you for calling out the “safe” image that doesn’t match my “not-quite-safe” blog. I like your ideas! I’ll poke around for inspiration.
    2. You reframed the blogroll, cool! I’ve really held on to it from the early days of blogging, and as you can tell was wondering what to do with it. Changing it from just a “blogroll” to a list of people and resources that will help others… that is gold.
    (And thank you for the challenge/encouragement to try a bolder design.)
    3. More obvious — ahh, you identified something that’s nagged me, but not to the point that I noticed it yet! And grouped with other things people commonly use to connect — got it.
    4. I really hadn’t thought of that, because my current level of TypePad guides people to a simpler navigation bar by default. But I bet I can tweak it (without jumping into full CSS yet).
    6. When I was making my About page, I dug up a couple of old posts to recommend that I think fit more what I need to aim for — especially to add practical exercises that anyone can do to grow spiritually.
    Man, you rocked this feedback. Thank you so much. And thanks also for your encouragement — I’d love to hear what you share, and how people process it!

  13. Janis,
    Thank you for pointing out the clutter. I guess it was starting to wear at me, like an itch I hadn’t quite noticed yet. I will try to make things bolder and simpler.

  14. Hey Jon,
    I did mean “align them in the center so they’re over the main content” but looking at it now, it may look silly directly over your “next-Main” links.
    one idea concerning all the list links is to apply a little CSS to them – making them look different, maybe without underlines, maybe with alternate background colors. I tried something like that in my own sidebar.

  15. Hey Jon,
    I haven’t read anyone else’s feedback so I don’t know if I’m repeating content or disagreeing with what has been shared.
    1) I like your image, but wish it spanned the width of your blog.
    2&3) I’m okay with the columns on the left and right, but I wish the ads were lower on the page. When the first thing I see on the page is purple cover girl mascara, I get distracted.
    4) I’d give the static pages a button look if possible. If not, maybe center them on the page.
    5) I don’t care where the blogroll is, as long as I’m on it 😉
    6) I’m glad you are sensitive to your audience, but I’d just focus on sharing your heart. You’ll get the right exposure and results that way.

  16. Philip, thanks for clarifying.
    Unfortunately, unless I make a jump up to the “pro” level of TypePad with complete control over the CSS, I’m stuck with the appearance of the “automatic” lists like “Recent Comments”. I’ll make that jump someday (it certainly opens up a world of possibilities), but not yet. But I suppose I can start playing with the other “manual” things I’ve added myself.

  17. Chad,
    1) I wish I could center it, but I don’t have control at my cheap level. Another incentive to upgrade, I suppose.
    2&3) Hmm. I take it the problem is mainly the uncontrolled content. AdSense has been a good way to get started, but I may have to rethink my use.
    4) I will give that a try!
    5) Well, now I have your blessing to move the list then. Going off of what Seiji (JustaPen) said, I will change it from just a list of blogs to something I want to promote to my readers. And you’ll certainly be there. 🙂
    6) I do want to rebalance things a bit, especially adding “suggested exercises” that people at different stages of their journey can try. But thank you for the encouragement just to open up and share my heart. It means a lot coming from you.

  18. I’d like to see the same … thingy at the bottom that you have at the top where one can choose to go back one blog, main, or forward one blog. That way I can skim down through the blog and comments and then move on to the next one without having to roll back up to the top. Easy to roll back up to the top, but it seems like a useful way to move between blogs or return to the Main/Home area. It could go right down there below … Post … Preview.