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09 24 2007

Blogs have become the most popular self-publishing platform available on the web. While the weblog has been in the mainstream for a moderate period of time there are some conflicting user conventions at play between different software.

The real issue here is that the format of a blog is different from that of a conventional website and has generated a new set of user conventions based on its format. These have had a deeper impact on the web than is visible at first glance, many of these conventions have carried over to news websites as well as other areas of the web and mostly are expected of any site where the content changes frequently with a headline with an accompanying article format.

So, as I see them, I expect the following whenever I point my browser to a blog:

Why isn’t the Headline Clickable?

Simple enough, but this is the one that I find to be broken most often. While skimming down the page if I come across an interesting headline or snippet I will click the headline expecting to be taken to the full article. All too often I’m left moving my mouse about between the date of the post, looking around for a read more link, or something to take me to my destination.

The solution is simple, make your headlines take you to the article, and if possible, put some sort of hover effect on your headlines if they don’t look like a link in some other way, make it obvious. The most important links on your blog are likely your headlines, make it known.

Can I Comment?

People expect there to be a comment form at the bottom of the article, and while the placement of this form (such as to the right of the article) could be somewhat disputed, I believe the conventional approach is at the bottom. If comments are closed or you don’t allow commenting, make sure to make that known and prominent if possible.

Holy Wall of Text Batman!

Many times, blog articles or news articles carry on for sometime, use headlines to break your posts up and make them more readable. A popular format is the list format complete with a numbered list. While this format is a great way to create a more dramatic format, it really does make things easier to follow. Basic headlines are just as useful though, the essay format you learned in high school doesn’t apply to the web.

Is This Relevant?

Put dates on your posts/articles. Always. The web has been around for quite some time and there is a lot of outdated material on the web, without a date to go by it’s rather difficult to judge whether you’re wasting your time on old content.

On the same note, if you’ve posted an update to an article rather than editing it, or discussed the same point in more detail at a later date, link between the posts. Someone reading an article on a topic at your blog is most likely interested in what you have to say about it, so make sure they can read all you have to say on that topic. This can be easily handled through “Related Posts” plugins and the sort, but a manual link at the top or bottom of the article work even better.

Where’s the Older Stuff? Popular?

If someone truly considers you brilliant, they may wish to read your older content, or if they’re a first time visitor, perhaps your most popular posts. Make these links available. A blog doesn’t usually have much in the way of navigation, but some of the most valuable parts of your layout will be smart ways of helping users get around your blog. Related posts, popular posts, archives, are all great. And while I’m not a fan of the tag cloud, some would argue in its favor.

While overdoing it can be a drawback, careful thoughtful inclusions can vastly enhance the usability of your blog and increase your readership while keeping your users from becoming frustrated.

Also, include a search box in a prominent location. Pretty much every version of blogging software out this includes this by default, don’t remove it.


Oddly enough, even prominent bloggers have some odd inconsistencies when compared to most others. And even as someone who is hopefully “internet savvy,” I find myself stumped for a second or two at times when these conventions are broken. If you’re looking for some examples that follow these conventions, you needn’t look far. Some great examples include Ordered List, Slash7, and Elliot Jay Stocks.

There are plenty more conventions out there associated with blogs, and I’ve just scratched the tip of the iceberg, but I feel these are the core of the blog user experience. What do you think?



  1. Another in-depth, well thought-out article, Kyle. It really is amazing how often these conventions are broken, as you point out.

    It’s interesting to hear your comments on ‘related posts’; it’s something I’ve never adopted on my site, although I’ve often thought about it. I’ve always considered it unnecessary simply becauseI think that’s what categories are for, but you’ve thrown an interesting angle on it: a list of ‘related posts’ may well provide an implicit level of navigation and act as a promotional tool for seldom-read articles.

    Oh, and thanks for the link in the conclusion! :)

  2. Good article, but I wonder how much of this is still relevant? Why should a blog have to work like a traditional blog? If stealing conventions from the typical internet web site makes the blog more effective at its job, then why not do that?

    I expect all sites to have clickable banners, and break up their walls of text. If commenting is disabled, then is it really a blog? (Assuming you define blog as more than reverse chronological article listings). And should only blogs date their work? Even if the content itself is timeless?

    Looking at the examples you listed, Ordered List has a huge list of date archives, which are of no use to me (How can I tell which month is going to be useful?), and Slash7 doesn’t post dates on their articles. I like Elliot’s site the best, and its design would allow it to pass as an ordinary web site, as well as a blog. :)

  3. I think that a permalink coupled with a human- (and SEO-) friendly URL is a blog essential. It’s nice to look back and see something like “the-user-expectations-of-a-blog” rather than ”?post_id=21”.

    I often appreciate comment preview as well. Sometimes it’s easier to re-read one’s comment with the benefit of emphasis / strength styling, as well as to test links.

    Finally, sometimes I like to browse posts sequentially in order to gain a sense of context. It’s more difficult to keep a post’s content in mind when you have to navigate away from the post to the archives in order to navigate between neighboring posts that have since slid off the main page. Monthly archives partially solve this problem, but can be intimidating to browse on a prolific blogger’s site.

  4. Thanks for the great comments guys!

    Michael: A blog is still a website as you pointed out, and in my mind a blog is sort of a personal opinion area. Blogs are almost always recognizable when you arrive at them. While all of the typical conventions for the web apply there are a few that are more associated with a blog than any other type of website. I do believe you can have a blog without commenting. One of my favorite blogs, that of Andy Rutledge, never allows comments; but it’s still a blog in the sense that it is a regularly updated journal of Andy’s opinion and/or thoughts.

    As far as dating content, while it may seem “timeless” at the time it was written, it may no longer be so timeless ten years from then. Making sure that things have a date and/or time associated with them ensures that users won’t be confused. For instance, an article written about computer processors eight years ago will largely be irrelevant today. You are correct that Slash7 is guilty of omitting this, I included it for it’s great use of all the other conventions however.

    As for Ordered List, while you may not need to persuse each of the different varieties of archive listings, you can choose one that best suits you and use it from then on.

    Matt: You bring up a good point about comment previews, however, I think these are still rare enough that a user doesn’t expect it to be available by default.

  5. In your post you mentioned dating the content. I’m sure you didn’t mean it this way, but I want to point out that old content does not equal a waste of time. For techy stuff you definitely don’t want to follow outdated advice, but plenty of information holds true for quite some time.

    Either way, you’re right that it’s super important to have dates on your content. For me this goes back to the most important factor in creating a successful blog (and something you alluded to in your response above) which is that the content needs to be regularly updated. Even more important is that it’s consistently good content, but that seems to be outside of this discussion.

    With that said, thank you Kyle for regularly providing us with consistently good content!

  6. rett: You’re correct in that I didn’t intend to degrade older content, but without a date attached to such content it may be hard to judge it’s usefulness, granted there is content out there that is surely timeless but even books have the publish year stamped in them.

    In the context of a blog, if you’re browsing in a manner that is no longer chronological (through related/popular posts navs for example), then dates become even more crucial. While not in the sense of relevance in all cases, but context in others.

    Awesome point on regular updates and quality of the comment, a blog isn’t worth reading without them. :)