Are you making these design mistakes on your blog?

11 Mar 2023 | ~6 minute read

This is a list of design mistakes that I think too many blogs make. I've made some of them myself over years, so I'm speaking from experience here...

What a click-bait title, right? Honestly, I couldn't think of a better one, so please don't judge me too harshly. This is just an opinion piece, there's none of the cliche listicle bullshit here. Hopefully you will find it useful/interesting. 🤷‍♂️

OK, enough of my waffle, let's get on with it...

I read a lot of blogs; some I read regularly, others I just come across while I'm out in the wilds of the Internet. The problem is, I'm seeing more and more blogs that fail to meet what I think is the minimal standard for blog design, readability and accessibility.

This is my rant list of the 5 design mistakes I see most often with blogs.

1. Hiding the post date

Gah! I can't say how much not having this annoys me. So much so that I've written about this in the past.

By not having a date on your post, it's impossible to tell if the details are fresh, or years old. This is particularly important for blogs that post technical information.

What's the point in posting something like "How to update Windows" if the post is 20 years old and talking about Windows XP?

It also gives visitors really useful information, like whether the blog is still maintained, and how often content is published.

It's literally a single line on the page. It's not going to detract the reader in any way, shape, or form, but it will provide them with very useful information.

2. Not allowing people to subscribe

At the very least, you absolutely need to have an RSS feed - they're very important. If you don't have an RSS feed on your site, you're probably losing readers.

Look at it from the reader's perspective. They find your informative blog post via their search engine, social media, whatever, and then have a peruse of your other posts. But there's no way for them to subscribe. So they go on their merry way and in five minutes flat, your blog and all its wonderful content will be a relic of the past, never to be seen again.

If you had a way for that reader to subscribe to your blog, they would be able to add you to their feed reader and would (hopefully) become a long term reader of your prose.

I personally went one further and recently and added a way for people to subscribe via email too. Some people don't know what an RSS feed is, let alone how to subscribe to one, but everyone has an email address.

If you're thinking about doing something similar, I'd strongly recommend Buttondown. It's a great service that uses RSS feeds to pre-populate email newsletters. It's cheap too.

3. Not publishing contact details

Blogging is cathartic, I think. Some people do it for themselves, just to arrange their thoughts. Others do it because they feel like they have something to say or share. Many are in both buckets, myself included.

But, if I'm going to share something, it's really nice to have a way to converse about what I've put out there into the world. That could be a commenting system, if you're running WordPress, or a simple email me button.

Personally, I have a "reply via email" button at the bottom of every post, and on my RSS feed. My email subscribers receive their email from an address that comes right to my inbox if they reply to the email.

Aside from all this, I also have a dedicated contact page that lets people know how to contact me for anything else, or find me on social media.

My readers don't have to go hunting for ways to contact me. It's all very easy, and it's all email. They don't have to sign up, or login. They just tap a link. Because of that, I get lots of engagement on this site, which motivates me to write more.

Ipso facto, it's good for everyone. I got lots of great conversation, and you get more of my drivel. 🙃

4. Not being content focussed

I love web design. I don't think I'm very good at it, but I enjoy trying new things in terms of design. If you look at the evolution of this very site, it's clear I've tried lots of different designs over the years to see what works and what doesn't.

One thing I've always tried to do, however, is keep this site content focussed. I really don't like it when design overtakes function on a blog. When there's multiple sidebars on the page, with links to other posts. When the font is difficult to read, or when the typography is just off. It all detracts from the singular, most important thing on a blog.

The content.

I get that people want to cram as much of their posts onto a single page as possible, but when that comes at the expense of being easy to parse the post - the entire reason people visit your blog - your blog has failed.

I also hate those silly fade in and fade out animations that people do as the sections of the page load. It's annoying as fuck, please don't do that.

If you do come across a blog that isn't content focussed, enable reader mode on your browser so you can (hopefully) read the post without distraction.

5. Displaying all the popups

This one is kinda related to being content focussed, but it goes one step further. This is also the most egregious, and most prevalent, of all the mistakes in this list.

It often goes something like this:

You visit a blog and get a HUGE cookie banner before you even start reading the post.

Then you accept the cookies, because there's no way to actually reject them (even though that's illegal in some EU countries), and you start reading the post.

Your middle finger hovers on the scroll-wheel and THE SECOND that wheel moves, you get a popup asking to subscribe to a newsletter.

You dismiss the popup, then 5 seconds later a video ad starts playing, with sound, from some random spot on the page. Problem is, the page has so much shit on it, that it's hard to find and you have to go hunting for the source to switch it off.

Sound familiar?

If you're lucky enough to have never come across one of these sites; I dunno, if you've not used the Internet for the last 8 years? Then this parody site is a great example of what I'm talking about (thanks to @bbbhltz on Fosstodon for reminding me of the link).

It's annoying and it detracts from the content. But most importantly, it's losing you readers. Please don't be tempted to implement the advice on those "10 ways to make a successful blog in 2023" (yeah, I get the irony of this post 🙃).

Final thoughts

I implore you; add a published date. Let people subscribe to your posts. Let them know how to contact you. Be content content focussed. But above all else, lay off the modals, ads, cookie banners and all the other shit.

No one wants to see that. They want to read your words, so let them speak for themselves.

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