Help Your Readers: Reduce Virtual Clutter

As I reassess my own blog designs, I have come to the conclusion that clutter is a state of mind that doesn’t just stop at your desk. It is virtual too, and it has a big impact on how I as reader perceive other writers’ blogs. I have begun studying other people’s blogs for design ideas and I have come to the conclusion that there are 3 main culprits for blog clutter. I’m probably not sharing anything new, but the following often detract from my reading experience:

  1. widgets
  2. long posts
  3. too many ads, or ads in the wrong places

Keep in mind that I’m not perfect and I’ve often been guilty of the first two. It is by making these mistakes that I am learning to be a better blogger.

1. Widgets

I don’t have a problem with widgets as an idea. Some of them are quite useful and I understand that WordPress, for example, is so strong partly because of its range of useful add-ins. However, it’s all about the context. If the widgets don’t help the story your blog is trying to tell, should it really be taking up valuable real estate? For example, if you have a tech blog, do you really need a widget keeping everyone up to date with your latest Jaiku or Twitter micro-post?

2. Long, long, posts

Use expandable post summaries. Please. I know not all platforms use them (Blogger for one doesn’t, unless you are prepared to have a half-useful XML hack-around), but if your chosen platform permits it, use them. Large chunks of text make it very difficult to scan the front page looking for relevant material. Post summaries allow the casual reader access to a wider range of your content, which can only be a good thing.

3. Too many ads, or ads in the wrong places

Ads are fine, but place them nicely. If you want them in the sidebar, that’s fine. If you want them between each post, okay. If you want them in the header or footer, go for it (although if your page goes off the screen, I may not see any in the footer), sure, why not. What clutters the screen is when all of the above options are exercised. I understand why you have put the ads there, but I’m here to see your content, not to have third parties try to sell me something.

While I’m on the topic of ads, if the ads are too large and intrude on the reading, I’m just going to switch off. If you look like you’re trying to sell me something I didn’t come to buy from you, I’m switching off. If every post is divided with ads, splitting up the content inside a post, ruining my reading flow, I’m probably going to surf away. Keep the ads simple and relevant and I’m much more likely to click through on a couple. Flashy, intrusive and all over the place is likely to just push me away.

What pieces of virtual clutter distract you?

9 thoughts on “Help Your Readers: Reduce Virtual Clutter

  1. Follow-Up: Better Design: Cleaning Up The House

    Comment about your article: “The short and easy version of a ‘clean up’ article.”

  2. If i want excerpts, i’ll subscribe to your feed and set partial-text. I go to a site’s home page to see full-text. I find it more impactful. Just a few hundred words for every story is unimpactful, and I stop reading websites that do this.

  3. I’ve had a couple of WordPress gurus tell me that it has become very easy to shift from Blogger to WordPress. I’ve been mulling over my options the past couple of weeks and once I settle on a few technical issues (domains, hosting, format etc the usual biggies) there’s a good chance that at least one of my blogs will do just that.

  4. I just use the Evermore wordpress plugin so every post on my front page is identical .. either 2 paragraphs or 200 words. That’s for readability and scrolling down. Then, everything is a full feed or full post. I think that’s the better way – because some are using their excerpts and ‘more’ button too much or, in too annoying locations i.m.o. Except to shorten the frontpage, or to avoid spoiler results … I just think that people who use that button for drama only .. well –more–

  5. As I mentioned, some platforms don’t have an easy way to have teaser posts. As an example, my blogs are currently hosted on Blogger (a function of history, really) which does not have an easy solution for teasers. It’s possible apparently, but I could never get it to work and it involves a lot of template hacking which is definitely not user friendly. This poses problems for people who like me who like writing longer posts.

    I guess the short answer is, choose a better blogging platform

  6. I hate ads right inside the contents. Now if you have some static sort of ad that stays in its place that is still fine with me. I hate the ones that use DHTML to pop when you mouse over a links.

    Someone also said that general links also dsitract you and may take you stray from a topic. I wrote a post here regarding some way to minimize that distraction. That might not be practical for all the articles, but at least a good food for thought.

  7. good point about long posts – although what I’ve learned is that a lot of people also don’t like to click-through so prefer long ‘teasers’ on the front page.

    It’s one of those things that people will always argue about, but I think you can find a balance by having your ‘teaser’ short but captivating enough to draw readers in to click. If it’s not that great / attractive, you might want a bigger teaser so that readers can read more of it, get hooked and click through.

  8. Ads are often very annoying and distracting, when they are placed inside the content. I also don’t understand why so many blogs have ten or more full posts on their front page. I prefer teaser lists and full posts on individual pages.

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