Blog Critique: In These Small Moments

You see it on forums a lot…bloggers asking people to review this blog and give honest feedback. And then the post is full of “I like your blog!” or “you’re doing a great job!”  Unfortunately, the feedback being provided doesn’t help bloggers objectively critique their site and make changes.

I’ve been putting my marketing, writing, and design experience to use on my own site, Mom Comm, from some time now.  Each week, I dissect 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 point of a critique is for all of us to learn and grow.  One suggestion on a particular blog might also be something that another blogger can incorporate or keep in mind for a future blog design.

Quite some time ago, we very quietly opened up a wait list for blog critiques here on SITS.  Without a single tweet or post, we were amazed by the number of blogs that were submitted.  Because the wait list grew so long so quickly, we are no longer accepting submissions.  However, we will be profiling those lucky bloggers and posting their critiques here in the Education channel in the coming weeks.

To kick off this series, The SITS Girls and I are featuring Nichole from In These Small Moments.  She is using WordPress.

Nichole began blogging in April 2010 and sums up her blog like this:

Each and every day, I strive to appreciate the wonder, beauty, and whimsy in the small moments, the moments that, when strung together, form a lifetime.

She strives to grow and wants to make sure her site is not only inviting to new readers, but that they’ll also be able to easily see what her site is about.

One of Nichole’s primary goals is to build a business out of her blog.  To do this, she’d like to increase her web traffic so that she may earn more through her ad network.  In addition, Nicole currently does freelance work for Babble.com.  She’d like to expand this role and take on more writing jobs to supplement her income.

how to blog

Blog Snapshot: In These Small Moments

 

Design (Mel)

Header & Menu

  • The colors of your blog are really subtle and calming, which fits well with what you blog about.
  • Your header is simple and clean, again which fits well with your blog. I’m a little torn with your image. I understand the connection to your blog name but I can’t help but want to scroll up and see the rest of the picture! I wonder if another image would make me or others resist that urge. Heh.
  • Your overall header doesn’t seem as crisp as it could be. It’s most noticeable in your blog title. See how the curves in the letters like S and E aren’t smooth? Could be an issue with resolution or uploading it. Can’t tell if you’re using Thesis or not (kinda looks like it) but I noticed my header had to be the EXACT dimensions or it would make my image fuzzy.
  • The blog title is a bit hard to read with the picture behind it, especially the word “these” as it gets lots in the tree. One solution would be to either play around with another color or to add a ghosted white box around it. By box, I mean something elegant (not “boxy”) with rounded corners to soften it.
  • Your menu is very clean and I like how you integrated the search box into the menu. All the titles are descriptive except one: Joy. Is it your joy? My joy? Both? May want to be more descriptive by saying something like “Finding Joy” or “How I Find Joy.” It also won’t get lost within the menu as it does now since it’s so short.

Sidebars

  • Your sidebars are relatively clean and uncluttered, even with your ads. However, it could use a little color (which I cover in a couple of other bullets.)
  • It’s great that your social media buttons are front and center on your sidebar. It’d be nice to pull out a color from your banner graphic into the buttons (like a green or purple).
  • While there are clear sub-headings on some parts (About Nichole, Subscribe by Email), others aren’t as obvious (“Come see what I’m talking about on Babble”). The “non-obvious” ones are simply regular text and don’t make those great accomplishments of yours stand out! I’d have them match the others. As a whole, I’d make the headings bolder or use color to liven up the sidebar (again that green or purple could really add some pop)!
  • As for your About blurb, it’s great that you have it (and a picture). Helps the reader to connect with you. However, as I mentioned, if you moved your tagline into your header, you could use this place to explain a wee bit about you and what the reader gets from your blog (inspiration? warm fuzzies?). Think “What’s In It For Me?” (me being your reader).
  • Instead of an archive drop-down, try a drop-down on categories. Few people are going to wonder what you wrote about in July 2010 but they ARE going to wonder what you wrote about in a category such as Gratitude.
  • Towards the bottom of your sidebar, you show some blog buttons. Some are groups you work with (Clever Girls) and others are event-based (BlogHer). Instead of lumping them all into one place, provide a little explanation to your readers through sub-headings. For example, you could use the sub-heading “I’m Going” for BlogHer and “Proud to Be a Member” for Clever Girls. This helps them make a little more sense to your readers (who may or may not have heard of them).
  • Since your sidebar is pretty light on content, I’d make some graphical links to your Small Moment Mondays or other popular categories. I did this on Momcomm to draw attention to some of my most popular content.

Main Column

  • Overall, your main columns are pretty clean except at the end of each post. Your “leave a comment,” labels and tags all sort of run together. Maybe remove tags from being visible and see if that gives a little more space there. You don’t want the “leave a comment” link to be cramped (although you seem to get plenty of comments- hehe).
  • I think your headings could stand to be bigger and in a different color, especially since they are the same font as your main content. If you changed the headers to a different font, it may provide enough of a change to make your headings stand out more.

Elsewhere

  • How has the Meebo footer bar benefitted you? Can you tell if people click on any of the buttons? The reason I ask is that you may want to remove it if it isn’t bringing value to your readers. The ads on the left aren’t intrusive but maybe just a bit distracting when you’re reading through your content. If you like the bar, perhaps configure it to something more relevant to your readers (i.e. not weather, but maybe Twitter instead).
  • I see you have a favicon (the little image beside the URL) that’s a headshot of you. It’s a good way to add a little branding. If you had a non-photo, I’d suggest using that since headshots can be difficult to see.  I do like that it’s the same picture someone sees when they land on your blog.
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Nichole's daughter, Katie

Navigation (Kat)

  • I love it when social buttons, search engines, and contact info is above the fold. Bam, you’ve got’em all. Well done, friend.
  • I like to subscribe to blogs via email. I like that you have a box for that. You make my life easier. Thank you.
  • I have a love/hate relationship with share buttons at the bottom of posts. I like that it gives readers an easy way to share, but I think too many can make a blog look cluttered. My advice is to use only the most popular ones and get rid of the rest. Studies show that they’ll do nothing. See how right I am?
  • Your favicon is pretty, but I agree with Mel.  Ultimately, it might be too small to make much of an impact.
  • I’m a fan of the link within widget at the bottom of your posts. It’s such an easy way to add deep links to your blog.
  • I like everything.
  • I’m incapable of giving negative feedback.
  • I think you’re pretty.
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Nichole's son, Matthew

Content (Fran)

  • You possess a real talent for writing.  When reading your posts, I can definitely hear your “voice”.  It is very much like talking to a friend.
  • It is wonderful that your post topics tie in so well with your overall blog theme and title.  For example, your birthday letter to your beautiful daughter was incredibly moving. There is something about seeing your tiny little baby grow into a toddler that is lovely and humbling at the same time.  Life’s moments are so fleeting.  You capture this beautifully both with your words and your photos in this post.
  • I am wondering how much you are taking SEO into consideration when choosing your post titles.  Let’s use the post, Already Lovely, as an example.  When I input this title into the Google Keywords tool, I get zero results.  However, when I type in, should girls wear makeup, I get 1,900 results.  Consider trying to achieve more of a balance between your post titles and SEO.  In this case, Already Lovely: Should Girls Wear Makeup, might do just the trick and help you achieve your goal of driving more traffic to your site.
  • Continuing with the above bullet point, making your post titles more specific would help people get more of a sense of what you are writing about.  Titles such as, Always, But You Are, and The Space Between, do not help me to understand what I will be reading.  Conversely, Why I Write, does.  And, as an added bonus, it’s a post title that immediately gets my attention.

Final Closing Thoughts on SEO:

Every piece of optimized content is a new doorway for people to enter your site. Right now, your readers are primarily finding your site via direct links, e.g., Twitter, your RSS feed, etc. It can be hard to think of writing for a search engine, but I do believe that you can achieve a balance between creativity and SEO. Just as you wouldn’t do a long headline on a front page newspaper story, blogs are another medium with their own guidelines. Blog titles should get to the point and be on topic as much as possible.

So, did you learn anything from this blog critique? Was this helpful? Let us know in the comments below!

And be sure to head over to visit Nichole and leave her some comment love. Check out her site, see if you agree with our assessments, and maybe even leave one of your own!

Blog critiques are a fantastic way to critically analyze your site and propel yourself forward. If you are interested in working through this very effective learning process, get ready for the upcoming Blog Critique eBook! Coming in August, you’ll be able to read through the 43 points I evaluate as I go through a critique. Each point will have its own page chock-full of detail on what to look at on your own blog. To learn more about the book and to receive the launch discount, simply check out this post on MomComm.

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Comments

  1. The “I’m incapable of giving negative feedback.” line actually made me spit out my coffee.

    I’ll admit that I have not had adequate time to put into my blog layout, and I never think much about SEO . . . I need to get better at that . . . I’ll be referencing back to this critique, often, to see if I can “fix” things at my place.

  2. This was really helpful! I re-wrote my “about me” page as a result and I’m finally happy with it!

  3. A great read, and now I have to go organise my sidebar buttons, instead of leaving them in a random mess!

  4. Wow, a wonderfully specific and helpful critique. Clear enough to help me and others with our blogs, too! Thank you!

  5. I enjoy critiques as I always learn something, or “see” something in a new light. I toggled back and forth between these small moments and I, too, kept wanting to scroll up to see the entire head in the header.

  6. I went point by point through your critique, looking at her site, then looking at my own. It took me about 2 hours to get through it (I had a number of interruptions), but it was completely worth it. I made a few changes to my blog that I think make it better, and more use-friendly. In case you were curious, I added a little info about who I am below my picture on the home page (before I only had an image, and I relied on my About page to give info).

    I also changed some of my titles to make them more descriptive. This is still a challenge for me, as much of my writing is a little more literary in nature, and sometimes calls for a more artistic title (I think!). I’m changing a few, and I’m going to see if I notice an increase in traffic.

    I’m so glad you are once again doing these reviews—I get so much out of it. Can’t for the next one!

    Thanks.

  7. This was so useful! And such a wonderful blog to choose :)

  8. I learned a lot of good pointers from this! Some things I can incorporate on my own blog.

  9. Love this!
    Great critiques and gave me some ideas for my own blog!
    I’m a huge fan of Nichole’s and love your suggestions! they were nicely put and with love :)

  10. I always love reading these critiques, at momcomm and now here. They always get me thinking about what needs changed on my own blog. SEO, for instance, is one of my weak points I believe and any information I can get on it, while it makes my head spin, can only be helpful.

  11. This was fantastic! Lots of great tips that I’m going to um…steal…for my own blog. :)

  12. This was fantastic! Lots of great tips that I’m going to um…steal…for my own blog. :)

  13. This was great. I even learned some things that I can take away for my own blog!

  14. I definitely picked up a few things from this critique, especially where Kat mentioned the Share buttons. I went in and redid mine, leaving out some of the ones that never, ever get used. And I’m constantly learning new things about SEO and keywords, so all information that is appreciated.

  15. Oh my gosh, this is great. I just learned so much from your critique of Nichole’s blog. I wish I had put my name in for a critique before the list closed. What a helpful post. Going to make quite a few changes based on your advice.

  16. I really like the thoroughness of this critique. I would love for someone to critique my blog with this much scrutiny and honesty. It is hard to get a true opinion, one that helps you to make your blog better and more successful. Most people just say nice things. Don’t get me wrong, I love the nice things people say but sometimes I would like to know how they think I could do a better job. Because there is always room for improvement. Thank you for posting this, it gives me ideas to better my own blog!

    dana
    http://theabundantlifeblog.com

  17. This was fabulous…what’s not from SITS? Thanks Nichole (and I love the way you spell it…I spell my middle name Nichol) for being the first guinea pig! I learned a bunch (like not being TOO creative with my titles, just straight to the point). Good luck with the changes that might come down the road…or not…it’s your blog!

  18. That was sooo helpful for me too! As a new blogger, I’m finding my way around and this has helped me so much. :)

  19. I adore Nichole and her blog, so it’s interesting to read a critique of it. I thought the SEO tips were informative (I am on Blogger and haven’t even taken SEO into consideration, though I know how important it can be!)

    I also like that you mentioned the follow buttons being above the fold. I am looking at a redesign and reading critiques like this help me figure out what to focus on when I think about the changes I want to make!

  20. This is amazing! I would love it you ladies could review my blog. I’ve asked friends and family members for their honest opinion and they had little to no feedback at all. Overall not extremely supportive. I had it designed by a professional and often wonder if my money was a waste. Please, oh please review my blog!!

  21. These women who put their blogs up for critique are amazing! I would love to have mine critiqued, but I am so worried! I put so much time and effort into my blog’s design and content that I would be crushed if I was told “YOUR LAYOUT SUCKS!” Hahaha

    Maybe once day I’ll get up the guts to get my blog critiqued. Once I get to Japan and get some pictures of myself in Japan I’m going to be redoing my layout, maybe that would be a good time to get it critiqued. There are some things I would change with the one I have now, but it’s mainly temporary so I’m not too concerned. :D

  22. Wow! I learned a lot for my OWN blog by reading this! Thanks!

  23. This is one of my first SITS posts, but I love it. I look at design and content all day long, and I love that bloggers are opening themselves up like this, and I hope the whole community can get a lot from this. I agree so much on the post titles for SEO. If you have Google Analytics set up, it’s great to look to see how people are finding your site through search engines, and if you pay attention to the patterns it really helps make further adjustments. One final thought, on the header image, is it a .png? I found that once I started uploading png files instead of jpegs I got a much cleaner load for all resolutions. Look forward to reading more.

  24. I love the critique, so in-depth!

  25. As a new-ish blogger, I’m always on the lookout for things to make my blog better.

    Thank you for your insights!

  26. Wow! I wish I could get my blog reviewed. I know I struggle w/ SEQ as well. Great points. This is only going to make her blogger even more super fantastic! Good luck- deana

  27. Every critique I read of someone else’s blog is so useful for me. I always learn something. I have always enjoyed Melissa’s critiques over on Mom Comm and now I have somewhere else to go and learn something.

  28. This is fantastic! I am learning so much from this critique and will try to use these ideas and comments towards analyzing my own blog. Thank you so much for putting together such a detailed, in-depth analysis of a wonderful blog :)

  29. What a wonderful review of a great blog!

  30. I learned a good bit from this critique (even though I didn’t know what some of it meant). Can’t wait until my critique! All I usually ever get is “I love your blog”, but I know changes could be made to make it better.

  31. Great tips and info! It is always helpful to have someone else eyeball your site and give feedback!

  32. I love, love, love that you are turning your knowledge into a self-help ebook for bloggers. As soon as you get it done let me know and we’ll have you come and guest post on angengland.com as well. So fabulous!

    Angela <

  33. Great tips! I am always trying to improve. Gonna go down the checklist!

  34. Okay, so where do I sign up for the same team to critique MY blog? :) Seriously, this is the kind of feedback I would love to be able to receive from an outside source. Going to have to check out that book!

  35. At the risk of sounding exactly like the nebulous, not very detailed comments you mentioned above, this is great! There are so many things to think about to make a blog interesting and eye-cathcing. thank you for these super helpful tips!

  36. WOW! So much great information. I have so much to learn……. I appreciate you taking the time to share this break down. I will definitely try to implement some of these things you mentioned, because I felt like you were talking about my blog too.

    Thanks!

  37. ahhh, too bad you aren’t taking any more submissions for blog critiques……i feel like mine is in dire need of outside critical eyes. im so NOT happy with it right now! but i will be checking out the ebook for sure!!!! thanks for posting this, i have already learned a lot about what things to look for.

  38. This is an awesome review. I had never considered doing a drop down of categories as opposed to an archive, but it totally makes sense. I need to change that on mine. Also, I don’t think I have any share buttons at the bottom of my posts. I need to add those, but be careful to only add a few. :)

  39. What a fantastic assessment. You all completely rock…and while THAT seems too brief an assessment, it’s accurate! ;)

  40. What a fantastic critique. I love that I could read it and take away some pointers for my own blog.

  41. How did I miss the sign ups for this?! I’m so jealous. I’ve been dying for honest critique of my blog…especially in regards to navigation and whether or not my sidebars are too cluttered. Arrrgggg (I’m part pirate). Maybe next time :(

  42. My brain is on overload…I am constantly worried about how my blog looks and if I should change it or leave it alone, should I use bolder colors, smaller header, less pics in the sidebar, etc.

    I’m afraid to touch because I don’t want to mess it up lol

    Everything is a learning process…I guess.

    Thanks for posting this!

    • My brain goes on overload just doing critiques! It’s hard to figure out what’s the best to do sometimes, that’s for sure! My eBook will have some basic design principles in there for do-it-yourselfers. But sometimes even just asking a couple of people will get you some good feedback (unless they are the “your blog is great!” types-lol). Truth is, we can all make our blogs better— it’s an evolving process! And a learning one!

  43. This is awesome!!!!!! Do mine, do mine!!!!!

    • Hey Rachel! The critique queue here is WAY long but I’m opening Momcomm’s back up in Sept so stay tuned. There will only be 26 slots at a time (half a year’s worth).

  44. Nichole is one of my personal favorites. Girl, I would read your words on a dot-matrix printout :)

    Lots of great info per usual SiTS ladies. Can’t wait until school starts so that I may get back into the blog and apply some of these tips.

  45. I took away several recommendations that I can apply to my own blog like the SEO comments for titling and otherwise. I could improve on that for sure. I also consider Kat’s advice on the sharing buttons something to tweak – maybe remove all but the twitter and facebook since those are my primary sharing methods.

    This series is going to be great because we’ll all learn so much from the critiques of others. I’m looking forward to momcomm’s ebook!

    • Thanks Nicole! On Momcomm, I have Facebook, Twitter, Google +1 and SU. I also just added LinkedIn recently cause I saw people were sharing my posts there since they are helpful to businesses too. I’m keeping G+1 for a while just since it’s new but no one is using it much!

  46. This is amazing. I love all of Melissa’s critiques and this is no different. Already learning so much I can implement – glad to see this on SITS!

  47. Wow, that is SUCH an indepth critique!! Lucky girl to get all that wonderful feedback!

  48. Wow. This was extremely useful information. I’d bet anyone could glean at least one thing from this bundle of good advice.

  49. As always, an amazing and informative critique, I’ve picked up a few pointers here I can use for my own blog. Thank you!

  50. I learned so much in this critique from Nichole’s blog! What wealth of information you shared with her that we really all could benefit from.

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