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 The web has been around for quite some time and there is a lot of outdated material on the web, without a date to go by it’s rather difficult to judge whether you’re wasting your time on old content.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