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As an author of one or two blogs and a reader of, well, a whole lot of blogs, I started to think about readability. Things like font and background colors have an obvious affect on how easy – or hard – it is to visually read a blog. But there are other less obvious choices that we make as bloggers that may not come to mind.  Here are my thoughts on five ways to make our blogs more “reader friendly” – what are yours?

Make Your Blog Mobile Ready

With the proliferation of internet-capable mobile devices, a lot of blog reading is done on a rather small screen instead of a large computer monitor.  Therefore, help your readers out by making your site mobile ready!  What is the difference, you ask?  If your blog isn’t mobile ready, it appears on a mobile device the same as it does on a computer, which means it is either “squished” or you can only see a limited portion of text without scrolling horizontally.  Without the mobile ready setting, this blog is difficult to read on a mobile device:

When your blog is mobile ready, it will appear on a mobile device in a format that is easier to read:

How do you make a blog mobile ready?  WordPress bloggers can go to their Dashboard, Appearance, Extras.  Check the box next to “Display a mobile theme when this blog is viewed with a mobile browser”.  Click on “Update Extras” and you’re ready for the small screen.  Users of the Blogger platform must log on to draft.blogger.com instead of the usual Dashboard in order to see this setting.  Then under Settings, go to Email & Mobile and select “Yes, On mobile devices, show the mobile version of my template.”  Click on “Save Settings” and your blog is ready.  No matter which blog program you use, choosing the mobile ready option does not change the way your template looks on a “regular” computer.

Tell Them Who You Are

Sometimes I’ll find a new blog and want to send the author an email, but I can’t find any contact information! Whether you use your own name or a pseudonym, you’ll have more authority if you let your readers know something about you.  Most bloggers recommend using an “About Me” page to provide your readers with some background information or credentials.  For genealogy blogs, an “About Me” page can be useful to also provide information about your surnames and/or locations of research!  Most importantly, have an email address so that readers who are shy about commenting publicly have a way to get in touch.

Make it Easy to Comment

If you have a blog, you love to get comments, right?  Comments let bloggers know that someone is actually reading what they write!  Unfortunately, many everyday readers are not active participants or commenters because commenting can sometimes require too many steps.  To a computer-savvy blogger, using “Open ID” is no big deal.  Neither is word verification (although personally I find it rather annoying).  But to an ordinary reader, these steps make can make commenting not worth the trouble.  If you use word verification, review comments before they appear on the page, or don’t allow anonymous comments because you’re afraid of spam cluttering up your posts, consider using a spam catcher plug-in instead.  It solves the spam problem but let’s readers comment more easily. Recently there was a huge comment discussion after a great post by Amy Coffin at We Tree Genealogy called Genealogy Blogs: A Comment on Comments (psst – be sure to read the comments!)  Also see Amy’s follow-up post Genealogy Blogs Part 2: Readers Weigh in With Comments (this overlaps with my “Tell Them Who You Are” note above as well).

Give Feedback

Now that you’ve made it easier for readers to comment on your posts, don’t forget to respond!  It isn’t necessary to respond to each and every comment left on your blog, but responding does let readers know that you care about their feedback.  It is especially essential to comment back if a reader asks a question.  Taking the time to comment back to your readers allows your blog to become an open discussion forum – your readers will appreciate your feedback as much as you appreciate theirs.

Offer a Full Feed RSS

This can be a point of contention in the blogging world, but I think that providing a full RSS feed to your blog is more useful to readers.  The cons: 1) readers won’t actually visit your site, and 2) splogging or scraper sites will steal your content.  Let’s discuss the visitor issue first… Every blogger want readers to visit their site and see the hard work you put into your design or fancy widgets or other blog “bling”.  I love my site’s design and the header I designed, and I want others to see it.  But, the reality is – there isn’t always time to visit every blog, every day. Blog readers allow us to read a multitude of blogs without having to visit every one. Also, if you are reading blogs on a mobile device, it may be slightly more difficult to switch back and forth between a blog reader and a web browser.  My favorite reason for using full feeds is because my employer used to block all Blogger and WordPress sites, but Google Reader was allowed.  Every day at lunch I could get caught up on my blog reading, but I could only visit the actual sites if I bookmarked them for later. Reading blogs this way doesn’t mean that I don’t ever visit actual blogs – I do!  When a post captures my attention, I usually want to visit the site to comment.

As for the sites that turn Really Simple Syndication into Really Simple Stealing, they are out there and always will be.  There are a few things you can do to make it harder for these unscrupulous sites to steal your content, including adding a copyright notice at the bottom of every post and using Google Alerts to “find” your content online.  The genealogy community has been successful in going after splogging sites in the past.  But, if content theft is really a source of contention for you, then stick with partial RSS feeds – just realize you might lose a few readers along the way.   If you want to learn more about dealing with content theft, see Thomas MacEntee’s Resources on Blog Content and Copyright Theft and Lorelle VanFossen’s The Growing Trends in Content Theft: Image Theft, Feed Scraping, and Website Hijacking.

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