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Blog Critique

Blog Critique: Farewell Stranger

By Apr 7, 2012 May 16th, 2012 16 Comments

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We’re back with another Blog Critique from Momcomm and The SITS Girls, dissecting a blog from top to bottom in three areas: blog design, navigation/functionality and blog content.

The reason? To help the featured blogger meet her blog goals and 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: Farewell Stranger

Robin’s blog Farewell Stranger started as a way to work through her experience with postpartum depression and has evolved into a reflection on finding beauty in the hard stuff and “living the life you’re meant to” as she says in her tagline. Robin says that her original goal build a business from it, or at least a freelance career. But even though she’s happy with how she’s monetized her blog she decided it’s not really about wanting to build a business but rather using it as an opportunity to stretch as a writer while building a solid community of readers who feel as though they get something out of visiting.

Her biggest struggle is growing her community. Due to a move, new job and other things, she’s writing less than usual and feels like it’s affecting her readership. In addition, while she doesn’t feel like she necessarily needs a niche, she feels like she’s losing focus a bit.

Blog Design & Navigation {Mel}

Header & Menu

  • I love the simplicity of your blog design. It fits your writing style and is very clean yet still pops with color. Whether it’s meant this way or not, I like that the word “stranger” is in italics as it looks like it’s moving, which plays in nicely to you telling that part of yourself farewell.
  • I think your tagline fits in perfectly with your blog name and the white on black really ensures you don’t miss it.
  • While I like that your search box is easy to find, the white box against black makes it stand out a bit too much. On a personal blog I don’t think search is as important of a component as, say, your Subscribe via Email box. While that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have it at all, I wonder if you could switch those two so the email is up there. THEN, add an About You blurb under your SM buttons, then have the search. I’m not sure how that would look unless I were to see it but it’s something to consider.
  • In your menu, the green on blue isn’t that deep of a contrast. It might look better in white and then have green be the color it turns when you’re on that page.
  • Glad to see you have the all-important About and Contact pages. Woohoo!

Sidebars

  • I love the pennant social media buttons. They are so pretty and add a nice design element to your sidebar!
  • With such a pretty design, I think the Follow bar on the side takes a bit away from the overall looks and feel, especially at the top where you have these bright pretty colors and then your standard social media colors with grey. I know that the bar follows you as you scroll down the page but I’d suggest dropping it then adding custom social media buttons again in your footer. That way you’re getting people at the top and bottom and keeping true to your design.
  • As I mention is the Header & Menu section, I’d love to see a picture of you and a short blurb about you and your blog. On personal blogs, I always recommend this as it helps build a connection right off the bat (putting a face to a name) and it adds a visual element there as well.
  • I’d love to see a small list of your most popular posts. Many new readers are drawn to these and showcasing your best posts is a great way to get people hooked!
  • I notice you have a Categories drop-down but there are about 27 categories to choose from. As a reader, I may have a hard time knowing the difference between categories like Be Enough Me, More about me, The Real Me and Welcome to My Life. Consider reducing them to about 7-12 (yep, I know it’s time-consuming!) and also keep the same type of formatting (Title Case or First word capitalized).

Main Column

  • I really like the blog post titles. The bird adds a nice graphical element and the font and color are perfect. It really helps bring the header design into the rest of your page.
  • I’m glad to see that you have social media buttons at the bottom of your posts but I’d suggest dropping the Digg, Delicious, etc. bar and just focusing on Twitter and Facebook. You can also add a larger StumbleUpon button there too if that’s a place you’re focused on for driving traffic. Essentially, ask yourself what your readers use. Look at your analytics and see how much referral traffic is coming from Digg, Delicious and the other ones that you have in that small bar. If you aren’t getting any traffic from them (and it’s not a place you’re focused on for traffic), drop em. People are more likely to take action when we don’t give them too many choices so if you really are wanting a Facebook like or Twitter retweet, make those the focus.
  • While I like that you have the comment link at the top, I think having it at the bottom of a post will lead to more comments. We’re all time crunched and lazy put the link where someone is most likely to use it (at the bottom since they just read the post). Having at the top in addition to the bottom is great too because if you get a decent amount of comment, it’s social proof that you have an active community.

Writing {Gigi}

  • Well, Robin, this is tricky for me. You know that I love your writing and I almost feel silly critiquing it. That being said, I read through about 3 weeks of posts on your blog after getting an idea of what your current concerns are with trying to build your community and feel like your blog is losing focus.
  • You have a wonderful way of weaving together your stories with very simple sentences and gorgeous photos that communicate the tenor of the post perfectly. I loved Sliding Towards Happy and the image you used to go along with it.

  • Similarly, your post On Life, Loss and the Universe’s Math (my deepest sympathies as well), was beautifully heartfelt.
  • I don’t need to tell you (but I will anyway) that your best posts are those where you share those intimate pieces of yourself, whether it’s loss, or PPD or another struggle you are having. What makes your blog particularly special is how these stories are packaged up – between the images, and your layout, and your writing – everything has a simplicity and openness to it. Your blog has a particular atmosphere. It feels like a safe place to be – like I am sitting curled up in a chair in your living room and we are having a cup of tea together. You are not talking to hundreds of people – just me. There is a power in that.

  • I can see why you might feel that your blog is losing focus. I noticed that there are some posts that divert from those simple, open, heartfelt posts that are really the backbone of your blog. But looking at a 3-week snapshot of your site, I’d say it’s simply a microcosm of how you’re feeling right now. You have a lot on your plate. There has been a lot of life change. And whether we intend to or not, I think our blogs always reflect our backstory. But I don’t know that you need to be worried about your lack of focus – 2 months from now your life might be very different than it is now. And your blog will evolve to reflect those changes as well. Isn’t that what makes blogging amazing? I recommend embracing this.
  • It’s incredibly difficult to make every post you write one of those powerful, yet intimate and heartfelt stories. Nobody can maintain that! But what I do think you *can* do is keep in mind that when you’re not sharing an intimate or personal story, make sure that what you *are* writing about has that same simplicity and openness that your strongest posts do. So it’s not a matter of changing what you write about, but rather, only writing about topics for which you can keep that voice and atmosphere going.
  • Example: when I read In The Sim, it did feel a bit out of place. It was more of a play-by-play than an insight into how YOU were feeling or what you were experiencing during the simulator. As a fan of your writing, that’s what I would expect and what I want to read. Make sense?

  • That’s really all I have, Robin. In short, embrace where you are in life and how it can infuse a different energy into your blog, while keeping that incredible atmosphere you’ve created for your readers. 🙂 (and congratulations on the pregnancy!)

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

And be sure to head over to visit Farewell Stranger and leave her some comment love.

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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. You can find all of our past blog critiques here.

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.

16 Comments

  • Love your blog girl! This critique was very enlightening. Thanks for being so transparent. I’m so hoping I can meet you in Dallas.

  • angela says:

    I love Robin, her blog, and her writing. I use the Google reader bookmarklet, and I always love seeing her posts. I agree with Gigi that her heartfelt posts are intimate and simple and real, and I think her design reflects that so much 🙂

  • What an awesome critique! I learned some things, too! Thanks for this post and for pointing out a really beautiful blog!

  • Critiques are never easy and kudos to Robin for letting us all learn from her blog. Whenever I read post like this one I feel humbled by everything I have yet to learn.

  • Wow this is a very comprehensive review (or critique)… I love the way you all elaborated on each point. I’m learning a lot from you! =)

    http://www.theblogforbrides.com
    http://www.thejourneyofawoman.com

  • Kacey says:

    Robin z’s social media buttons are too cute! I really like the advice on writing. I often wonder if my blog is too all over the place so the suggestion on keeping the and atmosphere consistent is helpful.

  • krystle says:

    Great critque! The idea to have a “picture of you and a short blurb about you and your blog” on the sidebar was very helpful to me. I didn’t know that was something that I should possibly do.

  • Jennifer says:

    I really like the colors on Robin’s blog and how clean and crisp everything feels. I can find everything (social media, past posts), it’s visually appealing and uncluttered.

  • Charlotte says:

    Great critiques! Off to check out some of Robin’s writing now 🙂 Happy Easter to you all!

  • Laura says:

    My favorite part of the design is the bird and how it appears in each post title. And the pendants with the social networking buttons. Great touches I’ve never thought of. I love reading the blog critiques. Thanks ladies.

  • I love this blog and the words Robin weaves

  • I really really like the design of Robin’s blog. It’s actually one that I previously noted when I was thinking about blog designs that I liked. Simple, modern design + beautiful writing. I’ve found the blog critiques to be super helpful and insightful. Thank you SITS and thank you Robin!

  • I love this blog and I love Robin. Hers is one of the few blogs that I feel mine is really similar to- the writing, the style, the emphasis on emotions. This critique is actually very helpful in reflecting on my own blog and what I can do to improve it- so thank you!

  • Oh ladies, thank you so much. This was just what I needed.

    Mel – Your comments are great. Some of those things I knew I needed to work on (like categories – ugh) but others I hadn’t thought of at all. I’ll definitely look at that.

    Gigi – You’re so sweet. I totally get what you mean about the personal aspects of posts (and that’s one of the things I feel I’ve lost). But I get your point about focus and I’m actually so glad to read that. I actually breathed a sigh of relief. 😉 I can totally work with that.

    Thank you again. I appreciate this so much.

  • AlisonSWLee says:

    I love Robin’s writing! She’s always open, honest and I feel like I KNOW her. Like she’s sitting right there, talking to me. Robin, hope this critique helps you (and hope you’re feeling better).