Websites and Blogs: Simpler Is Better

I just got off a website that had so many things going on with it that I could barely find the content I was looking for.  I’m getting increasingly frustrated with websites and blogs that seem like a maze.  I understand that people are adding flashy gimmicks to their sites because it looks awesome, but it’s gotten to the point where I am overwhelmed by almost half of the sites I ever go to anymore.  I am starting to unsubscribe now from these sites because I don’t have the patience to keep sorting through everything to get to what I want.

(And just to clarify, these aren’t just author sites I’m talking about.  These things are covered by a wide variety of consumer products like insurance, financial planning, and shoes.  My point is this: it seems to be everywhere.)

Just like in writing a story, I think simple is best.  When you complicate things, you make the reader (or potential reader) work harder to figure out what is going on.  Also, we’re in a global community now with a wide range of people checking out our content.  Some people may not be as “hip” to technology as we are.  Or English could be their second language, and it’s hard for them to sort through all the lingo we take for granted.   I like to think of a website or a blog is a place to say, “Welcome!  Thank you for stopping by.  Relax.  Take a look around.  Browse at your leisure.” The best way to do that, in my opinion, is by keeping things simple.

So here are my recommendations for keeping your site simple and easy to navigate:

1. Watch the text color and the background color.

White letters on a black background does look neat, but it’s hard on the eyes.  Also, keep in mind that someone might want to print out a post you write if this is on your blog.  I heard of a blog post that had red lettering on a green background.  This would be a nightmare to print out.  Sure, the person can select “black and white” print, but will they think to do it (or even know how?).

2. Font size and type.

You want something that’s both easy to read and neat.  Bigger font size is good for introducing a division in the topic on the post.  For example, “2. Font size and type” above can be larger.  It can also have a fancier kind of font if you want.  But for the regular text like what you’re reading here, I think it’s best to go with the default font size and type.

3. De-clutter the page.

On your website, your newest book should be the focal point, so this should be where the eyes first go to when someone stops by.  Past books should be on other pages.

You can point out other pages in your header (if it’s one that scrolls across like Joleene Naylor or Melanie Nilles does).

Or you can point to other pages in your site somewhere in a menu bar.  Stephannie Beman has her pages listed on a menu at the bottom of the header on her website, and Rami Ungar has his menu at the very top of his blog.

Any other things you want to point out (such as social media links) in your home page should be unobtrusive and to the side of the content that’s being featured.

On your blog, your main focal point is the text of your blog post.  If you want to add a picture, feel free.   I wouldn’t do too many in case it take someone with an older computer or slow internet longer to download the page, though.  Not everyone has the newest computer nor does everyone have the fastest internet available to them.  The more pictures you have, the longer it can take for them to access your post, and some may not be patient enough to stick around.

4. Make it easy to comment.

I’m guessing you want people to comment on your blog post.  If not, turn off comments.  If you do want people to comment, then make it as easy for them to comment as possible.  I have seen some blogs that require you to pretty much verify you’re an actual human being each and every time you want to leave a comment on the blog.  Some then proceed to make me manually subscribe to future comments via my inbox.  So not only do I click on the “notify me of future comments” box, but I then have to go to my inbox and verify that I want to be notified if there are future comments.   Another person had a pop-up menu asking me to sign-up for their newsletter before I could even leave a comment.

I don’t know if these techniques really work for the people using them, but I am not inclined to bother leaving comments anymore on those blogs.  (Unless the person is a friend.  I will only go through that kind of headache for a friend.  And this person has to be a really good friend.  If I was just a regular reader, I would not do it.)

5.  I’m on the fence about the pop-up box asking people to sign up for a newsletter.

It seems like almost every blog or website I go to lately has this pop-up box asking me to sign up for a newsletter.  This isn’t just authors.  It’s on a variety of products, and I think it’s the frequency of this method that has caused me to be annoyed with it.  I didn’t mind it so much when it happened once in a while, but now it seems to be all over the place.

Now, I almost didn’t add the “pop-up box” in this list because I know it’ll ruffle some feathers.  I know people who do this, and I understand why they do it.  I’ve even heard this method is effective.  But then I thought, “This is something that does annoy me as a potential consumer.  I have actually decided not to buy hats or software because of one of these pop-up boxes.

Personally,  I would rather find the sign-up form for a newsletter somewhere else on the site.  Like to the side of the main page or on a separate page entirely.  This way, it doesn’t interfere with what I’m trying to read.  I realize all I have to do it “click out” of the box, but that’s an extra step that I don’t always have the patience for, especially when I need something quick and the kids won’t leave me alone.

After conducting an informal survey of readers’ preferences on Facebook, I learned most of them don’t like the pop-up ads.  Some are okay as long as you can “X” out of the box.  But for those who browse blogs and websites on their mobile phones, they said they did not have the open to “X” out of the pop-up box.  I don’t surf the internet with my iPhone.  I use the computer for that.  I’m taking their word for it.

Again, I understand why authors do this, and I won’t stop coming to your blog or website because of it.  When an author is looking to build their list, this is one of the methods open for them to do.  But there are other ways to gain subscribers to your email list.  You can leave an option for people to sign up for your newsletter at the end of your books (which has worked for me).  You can run a giveaway or a free book in return for people signing up for your newsletter (which I heard is also effective, though there seems to be a high unsubscribe rate afterwards).  Or, as I mentioned above, you can have it to the side of the main page or on a separate page on your site.

But like I said, I’m not going to avoid your site because of it.

6.  Automatic videos or audio.

I’m not a fan.  It can be slow in loading if you don’t have fast internet.  It can also be distracting.  Sometimes I’m already listening to something while I’m browsing the internet.  To have something auto-play during that time is jarring.  Also, there have been a couple of times when I have the volume on my computer turned all the way up because of a low quality video on You Tube, and if there is something that auto-plays (the news is really bad for this), it’s jarring to have something loud suddenly play at you without expecting it.

****

I think when it doubt, keep things simple.  What tips do you have for keeping things simple on a blog or website?

23 Comments

  1. Very good advice. I know Blogger, for instance, has, regardless of what bloggers want, pretty much put Photo Captchas on everything after a given amount of time in a day.

    1. I used to have a blog on Blogger, so yes, it does have that. I don’t mind those because I know they are outside the author’s control. Good point!

  2. I have to agree with all your points. I too have stopped going to websites/blogs that are extremely cluttered, have pop up boxes to ‘sign up!’ or are impossible to read due to background/text color combo. You can still have an attractive site without all of the above — and auto audio/video — especially when it has nothing to do with the page content.

    1. When the audo/video has nothing to do with the content, it’s even more annoying.

      I’ve stopped going to those sites, too. Life is too short, and the older I get, the less patient I am.

  3. Good post, Ruth. For those bloggers who use white for their text, remember when you print this out on white paper nothing will appear. God bless.

    1. If you have white text and a black background, does the black in the background take over so the white letters don’t show up? I’ve never tried to print that format before.

  4. I think I’ve pretty much got my website set-up as you’ve talked about. I don’t do pop-ups for a newsletter, but have a sign-up form on the side bar, along with links to other places readers can go to contact or talk to me, as well as a contact form on the sidebar. I put updates on the home page of what I’m currently working on, as well as the latest release. My page doesn’t allow for a lot of information side by side, so most of it is scrolling down, and it’s mobile phone friendly (is it called ‘interactive’?), so I’m pretty happy with it. My menu is across the top with sub-menus for every book.

    Now here’s something to try to build up a newsletter following. Signing up and paying US $60 (yes, I know, but sometimes it’s worth paying money to get subscribers! It’s part of my promo). It’s simply signing up for a Book Sweep along with a number of other authors. I did it for my sci-fi romances and got about 1000 subscribers. Yes, there has been some unsubscribers, but so far most of them have stayed. I expected to lose over half, if not three quarters, but have been pleasantly surprised not to lose more than 100 so far. My sci-fi romances are pretty old, so it’s been interesting to notice that whereas I was lucky to sell 2 a month, I know sell about 1 – 3 of most of the titles a month (Mind you, I also changed the covers).

    Ryan Zee runs the Book Sweep. On his site you can see the list of Book Sweeps and sign up to the one that suits you. Apart from the fee, you have to send one free ebook to the grand prize winner and runner-up. Ryan Zee gives you the graphics, dates, links and even the wording to use on Facebook, Twitter and newsletter. I can’t recommend it highly enough. This is the website addy. I’m doing another book sweep soon, and have booked in for 2 more. http://www.RyanZee.com

    My only complaint is that this could send my newsletter list out of the freebie zone into the paying zone…Never thought I’d hear myself say that LOL.

    cheers
    Ang

    1. I love your techniques, Angela! That is perfect.

      I heard of Book Sweep, but I wasn’t sure about it. Thank you for mentioning it! You’re the first person I’ve run into who’s said anything about it. I’ll have to check this out.

  5. Ron Fritsch says:

    I couldn’t agree more: simpler is better. Website designers who use a lot of bells and whistles and pop-ups that only result in visitor confusion are losers. I pride myself on having websites for my novels that are probably the most basic and straight-to-the-point on the Internet.

    1. Basic and straight-to-the point is what I LOVE. I like being able to go to a site and find what I’m looking for right away.

  6. Excellent post and information Ruth….much appreciated!!

  7. Meka James says:

    Great post. I always close out of that pop-up box without signing up. I don’t want my email flooded. I also get annoyed if I have to jump through a bunch of hoops to leave a comment. I’ve been overhauling my blog and plan to do my website as well. These are all very good points for me to keep in mind as I work on them both.

    1. I hear you on being flooded with emails! My inbox is already overwhelming as it is. Sometimes I feel like I’ll never be able to clear it out.

      Good luck on the overhaul. I know it is a lot of work to do that.

  8. I agree, simple is best. I went with a WordPress page I could update myself (I’m not tech savvy at all). I have no patience with any blogs or websites that require a lot of effort.

    1. I have a WordPress page I can update myself, and I did pick one that requires little effort to maintain. I had a friend who paid someone to maintain her website, and every single time she wanted to update something, it was like pulling teeth to get the person to get around to making the changes.

  9. Some bloggers really aggravate me when I’m bombarded with numerous pop-ups before I can even read the post. And when I can’t find the contact or follow buttons, what’s the point?

    Great post, Ruth.

    1. Oh, I agree! If I enjoy a blog, I want to follow future posts or find a way to connect with the author on social media. Putting up somewhere for people to find you is a smart move. I’m surprised how many authors don’t do that.

  10. I agree with all points and yes! Those pop ups annoy me, especially the ones you have to close before you can access the page. I’ve skipped sites over those, or because I couldn’t find how to close them.

    1. I don’t think I’ll ever be a fan of pop-ups, no matter how many people say it works on building an email list.

  11. Ondeane says:

    Hi there,

    I wonder if you can assist me. I showed interest on a website to have my poetry published and they called me to inform me of how they work.

    The problem is that I’m a very sceptical person when people start asking me for large amounts of money and ask me for my credit card details. This company is in the UK and it’s called AuthorHouse Publishing. I live in South Africa.

    I wonder if you wouldn’t mind telling me if you’ve heard of them before and if you think I could trust them?

    I would really appreciate your assistance.

    Thank you and I hope you have a lovely day further.

    Kind regards, Ondeane Lourens

    ‘Life is full of serendipitous moments…enjoy them’

    On 17 Feb 2017 11:03 p.m., “Self-Published Authors Helping Other Authors” wrote:

    > Ruth Ann Nordin posted: “I just got off a website that had so many things > going on with it that I could barely find the content I was looking for. > I’m getting increasingly frustrated with websites and blogs that seem like > a maze. I understand that people are adding flashy gimmi” >

    1. I’m sorry I’m getting back to you so late. I wish I had seen this sooner. The kids were sick, and I wasn’t on the computer much. Avoid this company. You can publish your own poetry for next to nothing by self-publishing it. Poetry is not a big money maker. I don’t know how much an author can expect with poetry, but consider this: genre fiction sells the best. If you are publishing for the love of poetry, then I advise you to do is yourself. Are you familiar with Smashwords? I don’t know if Amazon KDP is open in South Africa, but that is another place you can publish. I would not give over money to have someone publish something for me. Now, I can see paying for a cover artist, a formatter, and an editor. But if you wish to publish the book with a publisher, go with someone who does not ask for money. The rule of thumb “money should flow to the author” is still sound advice when dealing with publishers.

      1. Ondeane says:

        Hi Ruth Ann. Thank you very much for the advice, I appreciate it.

Comments are closed.