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?