Blog Critique: It Builds Character

We’re back with another Blog Critique from Momcomm and The SITS Girls!

Fran, Gigi and I are dissecting a blog from top to bottom in three areas: design, navigation/functionality and content. The reason? To help the featured blogger meet her blog goals and become even MORE awesome.

The goal of a blog critique is to help all of us learn and grow. One suggestion for a particular blog may very well apply to multiple members of our community and get us all thinking about how we can improve what we do.

Remember to click through all of the blog critiques listed at the bottom of this post and see which tips you can apply to your own site.

It Builds Character is a group parenting blog that’s meant to be an interactive community for parents in the trenches. In addition to humor, tips, and resources, the blog also tries to be good little soldiers and encourage community involvement for families. So readers know what to expect, the blog has set topics for days of the week such as “Tuesdays a Titter” and Thursday’s Chortle Portal.”

The bloggers struggle with determining the best way to reach people and drive traffic. With so many choices like Twitter, StumbleUpon, BlogFrog and so on, it becomes overwhelming and maybe even too spread out. The bloggers would also like to build advertising revenue and do some sponsored posts, but not product reviews.

Design {Mel}

Header & Menu

  • Your header definitely fits the blog name and sets the tone for the type of content you’ll find on the site. I think the picture could be a little larger and the title a little smaller just for balance, but it’s not critical.
  • From a design standpoint, your menu bar could use just a bit of polishing. Since the menu boxes don’t spread all the way over to the right, you’re left with an empty block of brown space. Also, your header colors are greys, but then brown is mixed into it. It’s hard to tell the stroke color around the header font, but if it’s not brown, consider making it brown, so it’s consistent.
  • One crucial element you’re missing is a Contact tab in the menu. It’s super important to make it easy as pie for people to contact you (both readers AND advertisers).
  • One thing that’s a bit distracting is the BlogHer strip at the top. It appears that it eats into the white space above your blog name, instead of stacking above your full header.

Sidebars

  • Hooray for having your social media buttons at the top of your sidebar so they’re easy to find! While I like the buttons, they don’t match the design of your site. Consider having them designed and colored to match your header.
  • I’d move your Search box down unless you can confirm it’s getting a ton of use. It’s crucial to have one but the tip top of your sidebar is prime real estate so put something more attention-grabbing instead. I’d love to see a “Who Are We?” type blurb that has a sentence then links to the contributors page. Helps readers build a connection to you guys faster.
  • Okay, let’s talk advertising again. While I know your BlogHer advertising network ads change, some of them can get pretty distracting (there was a fast-moving movie trailer in there the other day). Since advertising revenue is one of your goals, have you considered offering advertising yourself instead of through a network? Unless you have high traffic, you may not be getting much income from the BlogHer ads. There is so much space given to your ad network (the ad at the top, the sidebar ad and the text underneath the ad). I think it would be cool to go after some small, quirky businesses that fit your niche (like a business who creates funny t-shirts about parenting). Here’s a great post from Mom Bloggers Club about setting rates. It may not be the right solution for you, as it IS more work, but something to consider!
  • You talk about building an interactive community… have you laid out how you want to accomplish this? A BlogFrog community could be an idea but it definitely takes time and effort to build. Personally, I see pushing more effort into your Facebook page to encourage dialog and interaction. I talked about getting readers to talk back in my Bloggy Boot Camp presentation from BBC Atlanta. Take a peek and see if you get some ideas. As an example, Roo from Nice Girl Notes does a great job at engaging her readers on her Facebook page!

Main Column

  • I really like how your main column is laid out. I’m not a fan of partial posts on the homepage for most blogs but for a blog with multiple contributors, it seems to work. You could also try full posts and see if you get more clicks but unless people are complaining, you’re probably fine as is.
  • Since the blog has a humorous tone to it, I’d love to see you spice up the phrase “Read the Full Article” to something sassier. Just make sure it wouldn’t sound odd to link to those more serious posts. It would help encourage click through to the full posts too.
  • I love that you have the author boxes at the end of each post. They are all nice and consistent. You could stand to bump up the font size just a wee bit though so it’s easier to read. But overall, I really love them.
  • At the end of your column, you have a footer, which is an awesome place to house more stuff or remind people of something (like subscribing to your feed)! Consider adding some graphical elements to the bottom to make it more attention-grabbing. Also, it appears it is set up for a four-column layout since there’s some blank white space to the right so fill in that space with some sort of content.

Navigation {Fran}

  • You mentioned wanted to do sponsored posts too, but there’s no obvious way for a potential advertiser to know that by looking at your menu. Try adding a page about advertising and sponsorship options. Regarding sponsorships, most of the opps you receive will come only by putting yourself out there and asking! If you come up with a special series of posts, research some small companies that would be a good fit to sponsor your posts! Mel did this on Adventuroo with her Week in My Life series. She pitched a company regarding sponsoring the week and not only did they pay her, but they also paid her to co-host a Twitter party and guest post on their blog. It was a win-win!
  • Link to your Contributors page from your About Us page so it’s easier to find out the faces behind the blog. While it’s great that you have a separate Contributors tab, people most likely go to About Us first!
  • It’s good to see that you have a Popular Posts section of your best stuff! Also think about adding a drop-down of your categories. While you have a Topics tab in your menu, it’s good to have it in both places.

Writing {Gigi}

  • I really like your site. I read a lot of posts, and the vast majority of them were well written and entertaining. I think there’s a great sense of lightheartedness to the overall “voice” of the site – not easy to achieve when there are so many contributors – but it’s not so lighthearted that the more heartfelt posts seem out of place.
  • Topic categories: I think your categories (listed under Topics) are clever, but almost too obscure. When I moused over the topics, I was surprised to see that Monkey See, Monkey Do was a crafting topic and that Throw Me A Bone was for parenting tips. The categories could do a better job of telling the reader what the subject matter is really about. Consider shorter, briefer categories that will draw the reader’s eye as well.
  • I’d like to see better images associated with the posts. A lot of them are blurry and actually detracts from some really good content. Let’s look at two examples. The Worst Things About Parenting #5: Gwyneth Paltrow is a fabulous post, made even better by the smug photo of the Gwynnie herself (not noticing photo credit, tho, which is important with celebrity photos!):

Gwyneth Paltrow

and now take a look at The Worst Things About Parenting #17: Nutshots and the image used there:

The first image is much more enticing than the second and makes the reader more likely to scroll down and read that post versus the second. You can find really decent free images on Microsoft Office Clip Art’s gallery. Because you have a lot of contributors, maybe it’s just a matter of tightening up your post guidelines regarding images. I’d also eliminate the little “day of the week” images above the start of most of your posts. They all look the same, so they don’t really draw my eye – and because your main images are so large, it just pushes your content down farther on the page.

  • I like that you curate other writing on Wednesdays and feature links to the posts you love. Make this more of a valuable service to your readers. I’d suggest shortening the list each week and providing a sentence snippet as to why your reader should click through to those posts and read them. What makes them great? This is more time consuming, but if you do more with less, it will have more value. Also consider using Storify to assemble these links on Wednesday into a very readable format and tweet the Storify link out to your Twitter readership. It’s a very effective curation tool.
  • I really like how most of your posts are titled, particularly your humor posts. I loved Spanx A Lot: My Courageous Battle with America’s #1 Frenemy, Shapewear. Clever and it makes me want to read, read, read! Same with Things You Wish You Could Tell Your Kid To Say and Do To Bullies. But the ones that are part of a series, such as The Worst Things About Parenting (with a # after the next in the series) don’t grab me as much. Referring back to the two posts mentioned above – I’d like to see the Nutshots post retitled to something like Why Only Bob Saget and Tom Bergeron Benefit From Nutshots. That? I want to read. And, you could use those celebrity names to get better SEO on the post, too! (Now I realize that post got 299 Facebook likes, so the content is great in spite of the title of the post!)
  • You have so much great content, but the site’s focus is unclear to me. It feels like it’s trying to be a lot of different things. The selection of content feels like something you’d find in an online parenting magazine because it covers everything from crafts to humor…and there’s a lot of competition in that space. On the other hand, I see posts where blog awards or memes are being mentioned, which feels more like a personal blog. Spend some time identifying what’s done best on the site and grow and develop those areas. If you’re married to having a wide editorial focus, I’d like to see the site have a different visual design that reflects the various content channels (I know, not easy on a shoestring!).
  • If you haven’t already, I’d like to see you start a Pinterest account and have boards for each of your categories/topic areas. It’ll be another great way for you to drive eyeballs. Also, you can take the 3rd party posts you curate on Wednesdays in “What We’re Reading” and post those to Pinterest as well.
  • Further in the social media vein, take the timely and fresh topics you’re posting about and increase engagement on your Facebook page by asking related questions. The bullying post is a great example – you could ask people to offer their take on what they’d like to say to their children about bullies. For the Gwyneth Paltrow post, you could do a poll on whether people are on Team Gwynnie or not. Your content lends itself perfectly to interaction on Facebook.

Now it’s your turn. What do YOU think about It Builds Character? Do you agree or disagree with our recommendations? Let us know in the comments below.

And be sure to head over to visit It Builds Character and leave her some comment love.

Want to Read More Blog Critiques?

Accept no substitutes! Blog critiques from Momcomm & The SITS Girls are the best you’ll find on the web. Here are a few of our most recent posts:

Blog Critique: Lindsay Blogs
Blog Critique: Mommy Loves Coffee

SUBSCRIBE

We always have a ton happening that you don't want to miss.
 

 
Subscribe to our newsletter for conference updates, exclusive savings, and sponsored post opportunities now!
 

Find Us On Facebook!

Have a post you want us to feature or
a question you need answered?
Head over to The SITS Girls Facebook page
and share with us. We'd love to connect!

Comments

  1. I love the huge social-networking buttons, it’d make it so easier to share. :)
    And the header is wonderful! ^.^

  2. Just thought I should mention the advice regarding Pinterest. It is against Pinterest policies for you to use their site to promote yourself or your site by pinning your own images. You can however add “pin it” buttons to your site to encourage your readers to pin for you.

    • This is what Pinterest “etiquette” states: Avoid Self Promotion
      Pinterest is designed to curate and share things you love. If there is a photo or project you’re proud of, pin away! However, try not to use Pinterest purely as a tool for self-promotion.

      So it is not forbidden to promote yourself. They’re merely recommending that it not be the sole purpose of being on Pinterest. I read through the legal terms and did not find any bans or restrictions there, either. If you know of another place where it’s explicitly prohibited, do share the link so we can all know the deets!

  3. Thanks for the aha moment! I guess I had an “if you build it, they’ll come” mentality about advertisers and was bummed that they weren’t coming. Your suggestion to get out there and approach potential advertisers directly was just the kick int the pants I needed…and also had me thinking, why didn’t I think of that?

    • Woohoo! So glad! Sometimes it’s hard to see things like that on our own sites. It’s easier to see by answering the question: what are my goals? Then with each goal, navigate your site and see if you’re taking actions to meet those goals. Then BOOM, it’ll be readily apparent!

  4. Wow! This is incredibly helpful. Just reading this critique has given me a lot of ideas on how to improve my own blog. In particular, I think I need to make better use of my footer area and add a page about advertising.

    Thanks so much for this!

  5. Awesome tips and advice! I feel like there is always some way to improve my blog, so I just keep plugging away at it.

  6. Interesting to read this blog critique! : )

  7. Great job! I agree with the Facebook engagement. Also a Tagline might help – a community of hilarious moms that… Or something like that.

  8. This is a great post at just the right time for me. I’m working on my second blog and this was a great help! I especially like the advice on post titles. I’ve often struggled with that, so this post is def getting bookmarked! Thanks ladies!

  9. I need to read this over and over until it sinks in….It’s time to revamp. ;)

    Fun, quick, color quiz on my blog post today, stop by and take it,would love to see you there!

    TGIF!

  10. So much info in one blog!!

  11. Great critique! I wonder how well I’d do with my site being pulled apart. It’s fantastic but I wonder if I’d be able to take such a shredding. Yikes!

  12. Thank you guys so much for these blog critiques. Though meant for one, they help so many more!

  13. I LOVE your blog critiques. And this one has also introduced me to a fun parenting blog/website which I;’d never have found but for this post.
    Its’ now in my blogroll.
    {I hope they have fun applying all your advice; the content IS great}

  14. The blog critique is a lot of help! going to go change some stuff :-)

  15. I love how thorough you guys with these. I’ll be sharing them with my clients, as I think we ALL have something to learn. Way to go, ladies!

  16. Brave to let someone critique your blog. You gals do a thorough job.

  17. I love reading these critiques! So much to consider – thanks!

  18. This was a great review of the blog. I actually look at the blurry pic of the little girl being thrown up differently. I saw it as intentional. Notice the background is very clear. The little girl is blurred as if to say something like parenting can sometimes drive you bonkers to the point that your kids look distorted. Or something of that nature. It just looks intentional to me

  19. LOTS of great, timely advice! Now I need to block out some time to do a little polishing of my own. Thanks!!!

  20. Great critique, ladies! So much to think about, here, in regard to my own blog.

  21. Thanks so much for the detailed recommendations here. As we approach our one-year mark, we’ve known there are changes that we want to address, but I have more concrete idea of HOW to incorporate some of them now. This is so incredibly helpful!

  22. This has me thinking about my blog and changes I need to make thanks!

  23. How do you sign up to have your blog critiqued? I’m sure you guys would blow my little blog out of the water, but I’m up for whatever constructive criticism I can take to be better.

    • Hi Abbey-
      The queue opened up a long time ago and we’re still getting through them so it’s closed at the moment! My queue on Momcomm opens every six months (June 2012) and you can sign up for my newsletter if you want a heads-up when it opens! Because of popular demand, I created a DIY Blog Critique workbook as well that’ll let you critique your own blog (you can still get a Momcomm critique even if you get the workbook). Here are the links if you’re interesting in reading up on it:
      About the Momcomm queue (& newsletter signup):
      http://www.momcomm.com/diy-blog-critique-ebook/blog-critique/

      About the workbook:
      http://www.momcomm.com/diy-blog-critique-ebook/

      Hope that helps!

  24. Agree the title of blog needs work – Maybe if the 2nd line was in a plain typeface it would read better. (easier) . Also noticed the most popular posts are in 2 places, would one be better?
    Great content for parents on this blog!

Our Story - Privacy Policy - Website Terms & Conditions