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Blog Critique

Blog Critique: Coastal Chick

By Feb 23, 2012 May 16th, 2012 30 Comments

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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.

Blog Critique: Coastal Chick

Kathryn from the Coastal Chick shares her life as a mom, wife, blogger and lover of music, photography and books.  In addition, she blogs about her experience as a Mom to a child with health and learning disabilities.  Kathryn says her biggest struggle is user engagement. She started a second blog last fall called The Saucy Bits and her writing at Coastal Chick suffered. Now that she’s consistency publishing on both blogs, she wants to re-engage her audience on Coastal Chick. Overall, her goals are simple: write better, share more and learn from others.

Blog Design {Mel}

Header & Menu

  • I think your header fits your blog name to a T. It’s nicely designed with big design elements. And the lighter colors have that beachy feel to them. Your “tagline” to the left gives people a feel for the tone of your blog- I really love the “never walked in my flip flops” part.
  • I love the background- both the design and the texture. Some patterned backgrounds tend to be distracting so it’s nice to see one that’s well done.
  • Your menu bar is simple but almost a little sparse. I’d love to see the tabs have a colored background or the font be your “coastal chick” font in order to pretty it up a bit.
  • I like the tab named People on My Beach Blanket but I wouldn’t have guessed it was about your family (my first guess was it was a blogroll). Consider moving that to under your About the Coastal Chick tab and use the extra space to create a tab of a popular category of yours or something similar

Sidebars

  • Not sure if this is showing on all browsers or not (I checked Firefox, Safari and Chrome) but your “connect with the chick,” post date and “search the chick” box are all above the bottom line of your menu bar instead of under it. Your designer should be able to fix that.
  • I really like that all of your sidebar sections are branded to match your header. Looks awesome.
  • For personal blogs, I’m a big fan of a thumbnail image of you with a short blurb about yourself. It’s a good way to “greet” new readers and build a more personal connection.
  • I think you need some sort of description above your Saucy Bits button. There’s no indication that it’s your other blog so it may be confusing to readers as to why it’s there.
  • On the right sidebar you have a “your ad here” button but no link to where someone could get more information if they wanted to advertise. Plus without any other ads up, it’s not too compelling to advertisers. If no one else is advertising, why should they? If you want to draw in advertisers, put up a few affiliate buttons to fill up some space, then have your button there and link it to a contact page or advertising page. You could also say something underneath the ads like “Want to advertise with this chick? Learn more.”

Main Column

  • I’m glad to see that your fonts are a decent size in your main column. When it’s too small it can hinder readability.
  • However, the readability of your posts is suffering a bit for other reasons. First, many of your paragraphs are too long. In this post Mother Roar for example, one of your paragraphs is 18 lines deep. Our eyes get lost reading that many lines with no break so consider breaking that up into three or more paragraphs. You can even use subheadings to help break up longer posts. My very first Momcomm post was about how to improve your writing without really improving your writing. Formatting your posts so they are easier to read will do wonders.
  • Secondly, while you use images, they are often far down into your posts. Consider placing an image closer to the top of your posts to pull readers in.
  • Finally, consider formatting your posts to flush to the left instead of force justifying them (force justification is when you force the text to fill the column width, which it’s doing all but the last line of each paragraph). It’s making some wide spacing between your sentences which could hurt readability as well.

Navigation {Fran}

  • Given that reader engagement is your primary focus, I would first suggest adding a way to ensure that you are bringing readers back to your site. One simple way to do this is to invite readers to subscribe. I see that you have your RSS button in the right-hand margin of your site, but given the size, I completely missed it!  Consider making a button as important as your RSS feed more focal in the sidebar of your blog.
  • If we are getting down and dirty with navigation, we really ought to tackle your URLs.  Let’s use your most recent Wordless Wednesday post as an example: http://coastalchick.com/?p=2575.  What does this URL tell a search engine like Google about your content?  Unfortunately, not much.  Your URLs are one of the most important places to ensure that you are using keywords that are search engine friendly.  You should consider tweaking your URLs so that they auto-populate as follows: {domain name}/{category name}/{post name}.  Getting back to the Wordless Wednesday post, your URL would look something like this: http://www.coastalchick.com/wordless-wednesday/365-photography.  {Note that 366 photography is not a term that people are searching.}
  • I love that you are staying consistent with your photography project for your blog.  I often wish I could do the same!  Perhaps in addition to your weekly Wordless Wednesday updates, you could consider a widget in your sidebar that highlights your most recent photos.  The photos could be hosted on a site like Flickr and would rotate automatically each time you update.  It is a great way for people to get connected with you more readily.

Writing {Gigi}

  • It looks to me like you’ve nicely grouped your content into a few major buckets: Wordless Wednesday, Chick Tune Tuesday Playlists, Social Media Monday, and Parenting/Mother Roar content. I like that people will know what to expect when they come to your blog. If you have a goal of working with brands at any point, having a formal editorial calendar will be a plus for that as well!
  • One of your goals is to increase reader engagement. What we don’t know right now is whether a) people are reading and not commenting or b) not reading. When I look at your lineup of content, and the buckets you’ve set up, it doesn’t generally lend itself to a lot of engagement. Wordless Wednesday is more of a visual day; people may get visits if they’re linked up to a blog hop, but not tons of engaging commentary. Chick Tune Tuesday, where you share a playlist, is similar. This is ear candy. Somebody may look at the playlist and maybe even go listen to a few songs. But there’s not a motivation or reason for them to discuss. 
  • Your parenting and social media content offers you the best bet for engagement, because everybody wants to talk about their kids, and Facebook or Twitter. Let’s address these in turn.
  • I think your parenting content is your strength. You have kids who are older, which means you have been around the block, seen it all, and have a lot of wisdom to impart. Posts like My Kids Will Need Therapy are great for encouraging discussion. The topic of how much you hover over your children is a popular one.

Mother Roar

  • Notice that you end this post with a pronouncement of how you approach this issue. It’s sort of like slamming the Bible shut, amen! Ask a question at the end of the post to your readers: “Do you hover too much over your kids? How do you strike the right balance?”  Alternatively, think about approaching this type of topic less from a personal standpoint and more of an opinion/essay standpoint, weaving in bits of your own life experience as illustrative examples.  There are a bunch of different ways to attack the same topic and make it stand out from the crowd of parenting content. Both Mel and I have written posts on this. Check out Mel’s, called No One Cares What You Did Last Weekend  and my two, called Ignite Your Writing Part 1 and Part 2.
  • Moving on to social media content. I really liked your post To Tweet or Not To Tweet. It gives people food for thought on why, whether and how they should be on Twitter. But let’s talk about the post Social Media Monday: Darien Social.

Social Media Monday

  • I’ll admit that I was a little confused by this post. I expected a discussion about social media. But 6 of the 8 paragraphs were a detailed review of Darien Social Restaurant. It was only in your closing that you showed the reader that Darien Social would benefit from a social media presence and why. But by then, you’ve likely lost any reader who doesn’t live in your town and who expected a post about Facebook or Twitter. I don’t know if you have a large local readership. If you do, consider breaking out your local content into a separate category and keep the social media stuff highly focused on social media.  Your local readers will continue to dive in to that content that’s targeted for them, and you’ll avoid alienating readers from elsewhere who expected something different. I think tightening up the focus of your posts in this way will contribute to better reader engagement.
  • Also, definitely consider creating Pinterest and Facebook-friendly images for your parenting and social media content that include a graphic or text showing what the topic is. It will be easier for these posts to be shared socially if there are compelling images to accompany each post.
  • Most importantly, keep on truckin’! You have some really great content but it’s getting hidden away. Repackage it up for the world to see and comment! Good luck.

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

And be sure to head over to visit Coastal Chick and leave her some comment love.

Want to Read More Blog Critiques?

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The blog critique queue is currently closed but if you feel like critiquing your own blog, grab a copy of the DIY Blog Critique, where Mel from Momcomm walks you through 43 points to critique your blog in design, navigation and content.

About Melissa

Melissa is a busy mama with 11 years of experience in marketing and branding. She blogs at Adventuroo, a blog about capturing the everyday moments in motherhood, and Momcomm, a blog where she shares can-do tips for blogging, writing and social media.

30 Comments

  • Tiffany says:

    This was such a helpful critique! I picked up a number of tips for myself.

  • […] working for a long time on this little re-design. I was very lucky to have the wonderful women at The SITS Girls give me some much needed advice.  I took a good long look at my blog and made some updates and […]

  • Every time I read another critique, I get a new pointer for my blog. Love it!

  • Myne Whitman says:

    I’ve learnt a lot from this critique and agree with most of it. I use Chrome and the header of her blog was jumbled up for me. The date of the current post was up in the top navigation tab.

  • Emily says:

    Thanks for posting these critiques. They are so useful to read! I shudder to think what you’d say about my little piece of the interweb though – I need to start implementing some of these suggestions! When’s the next 36-hour day coming along?!

  • This is a great critique.
    It brought to light some of the things I think I need to focus on too, which is pretty awesome.
    Love the colour and appearance of Coastal Chick’s blog. So easy to look at, and I have to admit, I almost always judge a book by its cover.
    I think I’ll be reading her (your) blog often.

  • Why have I never used the custom url idea? Thank you for that! Love the critiques. So helpful.

  • Helena says:

    It’s great to have the opportunity to help someone ramp their blog up from good to great.

    Here are some things I thought could be amended:
    * as mentioned above, the nav bar being encroached upon by the content underneath was the first thing that jumped out at me

    * The blog title is not clickable – usually the title of the blog when clicked will take you back to the home page

    * I found having a sidebar on either side of the content to be a little distracting, especially with the branch images as the heading underline for the different areas in the sidebar – it seems to distract from the main content area – my eyes were jumping from side to side. Depending on the theme you’re using, perhaps have just one slightly wider sidebar with the main content area.

    * for the navigation, even if you didn’t do additional colouring as suggested above, just thickening the top and bottom line of the navigation will give it a feeling of weight and importance and not just being part of the content below it.

    * I’m also not keen on the justified text, although I wonder if you chose to do it that way to try for some sense of order and solidity against the two sidebars.

    * Definitely activate the “pretty permalinks” – so much more search engine friendly than the default.

    * Your navigation at the bottom of the page that says “Previous|Next” could be changed to “Older|Newer” to be more clear on which direction the reader needs to go to read more posts

    * The two sections “The Chicks Checkered Past” and “My Favourite Chick Chatter” seem to both be archives and you could delete the archives by date – not many people search archives by date – they are more inclined to search by topic.

    I hope this is helpful.

    Helena 🙂

  • Great critique! I am going to have to check my URL’s. As a new blogger, I so appreciate reading these!

    Coastal Chick…I love your blog design! It is beautiful, great colors too!

  • I love these Blog Critiques. There’s so much useful info for us all – thanx!

  • Nika says:

    Wow–there were some really helpful tips and I am happy to have found Coastal Chick through this!
    http://anothertiredmommy.blogspot.com/2012/02/wordless-wednesday-or-some-words.html

  • These blog critiques are so helpful. And I’ve found and started following a few from reading and checking them out. It’s hard to look at our own site objectively but these move me in that direction. So glad you put them out here. So glad I’m part of SITS.

  • Love the blog critiques. I can always find something that I want to do with my blog! Now I just need the time to do it. 🙂

    I have to say, I love the logo too!

  • This is so helpful! I am in need of tweaking being that I am a newbie at this! I’m using your tips from other blogs and applying it to my own- thank you!

  • I’m new to SITS (and also new to blogging) and I found these tips extremely helpful. I wish your critique cue weren’t closed. Do you re-open it regularly. I”m glad I found SITS and I’m off to look around — I’ve just had my first request for advertising and a sponsored give-away and I don’t have a clue what to offer, how much to charge, and how give-aways work. Anyone have any advice? Thanks in advance!

  • I love these blog critiques. I always get something out of them. Nice work, ladies!

  • Kathryn says:

    Thanks for all the great comments today. The advice was spot on and very very helpful. I am currently trying to find my focus and the recommendations from these wonderful, smart women have put me on the right path. I have been blogging about two years and this is the kick I needed to move things forward. Thank you!!

  • I found these tips very helpful. I am working on improving the content of my blog. I am not really sure what my focus should be. I don’t know if I should talk about postpartum, marriage, or weight loss. I seem to get the most responses on my more personal post.

  • What a gutsy yet interesting thing to participate in…there are book, magazine, etc. editors- so why not “edit”/critique blogs in a supportive and helpful way. Cool.

  • Kate says:

    I am working on revamping my blog, and find the critiques very helpful… I’ve implemented a few changes already and have definitely picked up some more tips from this post that I will apply as well. Thank you!

  • I absolutely LOVE reading these blog critiques! It’s so helpful having real examples to follow. Before reading your reviews, I like to take a sneak peek at the blog you are critiquing first. I try to form my own opinions and think about how I would review it. Then I read your more expert opinions and match them up to what my thoughts were. It helps me hone my vision a bit more and see what I am not always thinking about.

    Thanks for another great review and introducing another great blog to the community!

  • I learned so much from this thanks!

  • Michelle says:

    Very useful tips as usual. I always try to take your advice and apply it to my own blog immediately – BUT I’m such a perfectionist that I’m never really satisfied. I’m always looking to make improvements – I guess that’s really a good thing (but it drives me crazy…).

    Thanks for another great critique!

    Peace. 😉

  • Loved this review, especially the Writing tips. It’s an ongoing task for me to refine my blog’s Categories–after almost two years of blogging. I was looking back at my old posts, and I’ve definitely evolved since I began blogging. Parenting is obviously the Coastal Chick’s main topic and strongest; in the same way, I want to make the “work-at-home-mom” topic the main theme of all my blog posts. Thanks to what I’ve been learning this past year on these critiques, my content’s more defined.

    I like Gigi’s point about keeping to the title of the post. It’s easy to ramble on as I write, so I’ve found that an outline (or bullet points) BEFORE I write a post can really help me keep it on point.

    This is my first comment on any Blog Critique, by the way. Just thought it was about time I put forward my two cents worth. Thanks.

  • Interesting critique. One of the things I really like about the Coastal Chick blog is how strong and opinionated the Chick’s voice is. I think that it’s a strength when she ends a post “sort of like slamming the Bible shut, amen!”

  • As always, great tips and such a thorough review. I think the really difficult thing for most bloggers is keeping focused and not doing too much. Someone like the Pioneer Woman has been able to create a huge amount of different kinds of content all within one site. It’s a herculean feat and I haven’t seen really anyone else do it nearly as well. I guess this is why she’s making a good living out of it.

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