Drive-by-Shooting Sunday: Prin’s Links

“Humid today,” James commented as he eased himself down on the granite steps of the building.

“Yup.” Harry leaned back to rest on his elbows, stretching out his legs. He gazed out in lazy contentedness at the mist that lingered around the area. “Foggy too. Hey, give me one of those,” he held out a hand for one of the beer cans from the cooler.

“Impatient, are we?” James grinned and opened the cooler, fishing out a cold one from the ice. “This is all I could find.” He made a face at the pale grey can with the red writing as he handed it to Harry.

“DC Lite?” Harry looked skeptical. “Never heard of it.” He cracked it open and sucked up the foaming suds that rose through the opening.

“Neither have I.” James opened his own can, dancing back a step when the foam spilled over to splatter the steps.

Two minutes later and both boys were relaxing the day away.
Today’s hit is for Prin’s Links, blog of an undergrad social student and mother of one. Here’s what the site looked like when we drove by:

We instantly recognized the design template. It’s a template that has been around for a long time and many others have used it for their blog. It would be a better idea to change that and bring a more professional look to your blog, considering that its focus is on being an educational resource.

“So who’s Prin?” James always seemed to know everyone, and Harry was curious about this new name that had cropped up.

“Haven’t got a clue.” James took a swig of his beer and wiped his mouth. “Not even sure what she does. Noticed she has a thing for links, and she wanted me to hang with her for a while, but I wasn’t sure why I should.”

“Ah, the old, ‘What’s in it for me,’ right?” Harry nodded. James mentioned that theory so often that it had become a second-nature thought each time he hit up a site.

Being clear and relevant to reflect what your blog offers is very important online. You have a split second to attract people – you can’t afford anyone thinking, “Huh? So what?”

“Check out the sign,” Harry hitched his chin at the long list of instructions and how-tos that hung right at the entry to the building. “That made me laugh. Like I didn’t know how to walk around this place, you know? Gimme another beer, would you?”

“I know.” The cooler opened, the two empties went in and James passed more beer out. “I could barely read it, too. Hard on the eyes.”

The banner isn’t a banner at all. It’s some form of instructional how-to-use-this-site, which gives nothing of value to readers and clutters up the look. Too much text in the banner just makes it hard to read. The text is also a blocky chunk and very boring.

The thin white border around the banner gets lost in the pale cloudy background, too, and because of that lack of proper division, the RSS button and the title of the first post appear to be part of the banner. Make that RSS button larger and more visible as well.

“Wonder why it’s so foggy today.” James turned, craning his neck to look up at the fuzzy building.

“Mist is usually a cold/hot meeting up thing, isn’t it? You guys have weird weather,” he added, settling back to drink more beer.

Harry crooked an eyebrow at him. “At least we don’t have snow.”

Snow is what’s going on at this site, though. The look is fuzzy and faded, lacking the weight and depth of authority. The image of the building has an old, worn impression. Students are generally of younger generations and would most likely be attracted to a site that didn’t look so grandfatherly.

If the site is going to have a governmental-style look or replicate the feeling of an established school, give it a secure, solid feel. Take Washington, DC, for example. There’s a sense of largeness and importance, marble and bronze… this design comes off as DC Lite. Good for a beer; not for a blog.

“You sure we’re allowed to sit here?” Harry gazed at some student climbing the steps to go work on research inside the building.

“Public place.” A strong fist crushed the beer can. James tossed the ball of metal at the open cooler and grinned when it landed right in. “Besides. I don’t see a drinking area cordoned off for us. Heh. Bet you the old fogeys inside are staring out the windows at us with that pinched look going on.”

We suggest you separate your page properly with a better layout and design that helps show where the banner ends and where the good stuff begins. The font is serif, which looks a little dated and also isn’t the easiest to read on a computer screen. It’s of a good size, though.

Clean all that text in the banner up, give the banner a good, solid image of establishment and make one great tagline to tell people what this site is about and what they’ll get out of it. Also, center the page. On larger screens, the right hand side appears as too much space and adds to the empty, lost feeling.

By the way, the content in the banner says to click the links in the sidebar, but when we glance that way, all we see are banner ads. That means people have to scroll down the page to navigate your site and get what they want. Not good, that.

“Here.” James passed a small photo over to Harry. “S’her.”

Harry blinked for a minute, trying to focus. “Who’s that, Sailor Moon?”

“Nah. Prin.”

“This is Prin?” He looked back up at the misty building then back at the cartoon photo. “Huh.”

“She likes blues,” James sounded pleased about that. “Not sure what that has to do with this place, but it’s neat.”

The title Blues Pages in the sidebar is something that should be changed. Blue pages are governmental listings, and that’s what we both expected to see. But when we clicked through, we landed on a site about blues music. Ditch that from the sidebar and add the link to your Blues Pages in your About Me page.

Oh, yeah. And get rid of the cartoon avatar. It just doesn’t fit with the look of the site.

“Whassis about?” Harry peered at the long list of ingredients on the can of DC Lite. He tried to focus, but there were just too many words on there and no matter how he squinted, he found his attention wandering every time.

The long list of links in the sidebar is just a bad idea. It’s hard to search through and find what we might want, and it bores people. Their eyes will start to glaze over before they’ve even read one-quarter of that list. You’re making people work too hard to find their resources.

“Dunno.” James was staring at his beer can too. “S’a lot of big words… Makes me sleepy.” The whole building was making him feel sleepy. “Why can’t they make a beer that has just one ingredient, y’know?”

Harry blinked. “Like… uh… beer?”

“Yeah!” He tried to pat Harry’s back but his hand missed and he settled for a friendly swipe. “Beer, that’s it. I like beer. A lot. Here,” he pulled out two more cold ones. “Drink. S’good for you.”

What isn’t good is that long list of links. It would be a better idea to have individual pages that focus on categorizing the information you have. You could add a cler navigation bar to help visitors find exactly what they need.

The Toolkits section and Free PDF section could go on their own pages. These are relevant and valuable to the focus of your site, so make it easy for people to find them.

The Laughter category in the sidebar really has no business on this page. The idea is to gather people looking for valuable links to resources on social education. They shouldn’t be looking for Comedy Central on this site.

Most of the blogs in the Blogroll could go, too, unless they’re relevant to Social Studies. If you want to have a “favorite blogs” section, put that in the About Us or keep it down to five or seven links at the most, and put this way at the bottom of your sidebar.

“Ooooh.” Jamie’s eyes went wide. “You see this?” He poked a finger at the credentials on the paper. “She’s a member of this Healthcare Blogger. Code of Ethics and all.” He nodded. “Mmhm. Why’d she put that down here where we can’t see it?”

“Dunno.” Harry frowned at the page, trying to read through his double-vision and spinning head.

“Should have that right at the top. Gives credibility.”

“S’right.” The agreement was confident and James nodded. “Credibility’s what it’s all about. I gotta go for a leak.” He pushed himself up and managed to stand, swaying on his feet. “Where’s the bathroom?”

“Uhh…” Harry’s blank stare scanned the area. “I dunno. Go ask her,” he pointed at a booth, far in the distance.

“You kidding me?” James could barely walk five feet, let alone travel that far to ask for help.

Your search bar is at the bottommost corner of the page. It’s completely useless. No one will scroll down that far to the bottom of your page to type in a search term. This makes no sense at all. Get the search feature up towards the top so that visitors can use it.

“Not kidding. Oh, wait, here,” Harry leaned and pulled a pamphlet out from his pocket. “Here’s a map. You go past here… n’ there… n’ past there… n’ this place… what is this place? N’ this one… ”

James was looking with an incredulous look. “You’re kidding me, right?”

“Wha?”

“All that?” James pointed. “Nuh-uh. Forget it.”

There is so much clutter in the sidebar that we gave up analyzing each widget for value – and if we gave up, what will your readers do? They have far less patience than we do. Some widgets that really add no value are the MyBlogLog widget, the Prinpronisse section, the Me/Neighborhood widget, (what is that?), Soul Soo, the video widget…

As a user, we have no idea what these are, and they add no purpose or value to your site. All the garbage at the bottom of the blog is useless as well – do people really scroll down *that* far to see this stuff? No. Ditch it.

Remember that you cannot be an online portal to everything, especially with Blogger’s limitations. Cut the clutter down. Focus your site. There’s just way too much going on at this blog and a lot of it is completely unnecessary.

“Dude.” Lying on the steps seemed like a brilliant idea. Problem was, now that he’d sprawled out on the granite, James couldn’t get back up. “Gimme your hand.”

Harry flopped his hand out and it landed amidst a pile of empty beer cans that clattered on the stone steps. “Can’t. Too drunk. Too heavy. Hey, you bring the gun?”

“I brought beer,” James lifted his head. His head spun crazily, promising a wicked hangover for morning. “There any more?”

The cooler held a few inches of melted ice and nothing else. “Nope.” Thank god. “Hey. Do me a favor?” Harry fixed bleary, unfocused eyes on James.

“Wha?”

“No more DC Lite, okay?”

Want more? You got it. Check out the lineup of upcoming hit jobs:
August 10 – Abundance Blog
August 17 – Your Writing Cure
August 24 – Yes to Me
August 31 – LitGuides
September 7 – Miramar Mike 2.0
September 14 – Green Plan(t)
September 21 – Fawnskin Flyer
September 28 – Forty Plus Two
October 5 – The Enhance Life
October 12 – Creative Texture Tools
October 19 – Ulla Hennig’s Weblog
October 26 – Simplistic Thoughts
November 2 – Positioning Strategy

Want your blog shot down? Sign up in the comment section for your free drive-by, and we’ll schedule you in.

Or hit us up for a private drive-by via email. It’s only $30, and you’ll get your shoot-out within a week.

Come on. You know you wanna.

Post by James Chartrand

James Chartrand is an expert copywriter and the owner of Men with Pens and Damn Fine Words, the game-changing writing course for business owners. She loves the color blue, her kids, Nike sneakers and ice skating.

Join the Discussion. Click Here to Leave a Comment.

  1. Thanks for the review. I know you right in that the site is cumbersome. I hesitate to add anymore pages to the site as there are already 11. I did start to put the entire blogroll on a different page but as you know with blogger that is a tedious task. I know the toolkits and pdf’s need their own page and will do that soon. It needs a three column page I know but I couldn’t find one that I liked in blogger. I tried to figure out wordpress and found a layout I loved but after about 30 minutes of trying to manipulate around with wordpress I was ready to tear my hair out…blogger was just easier for my old brain to figure out. The reason for the block instruction at the top is that after about 6 months no one was clicking the extra pages to get to the resources that I provide so I figured they needed to know what all I had included within the site. It has helped but it can be cleaned up. I know I have too many widgets. The medbloggercode widget is at the bottom at the moment because they are going through some restructuring and their process of adding blogs is under construction. so while I’m proud to have been selected, they aren’t ready at the moment to analyze new blogs. I know the site is too heavy and not professional looking and have always been unhappy with that. I just don’t know how to fix it with my limited knowledge of coding and such. If you know of a specific blogger format that you think might work better then I would appreciate a link. Thanks again for the review. It was much appreciated.

    prin’s last blog post..Drive-by-Shooting Sunday: Prin’s Links

  2. James,

    Tough review. Don’t drink and shoot, eh?

    A couple of things to add, about the actual blog posts:

    When the banner and sidebar are cleaned up, add subheads to longer articles. In addition to the difficulty of finding your way around, the longer articles, which also have pretty long paragraphs (for the web) tend to become a grey drone.

    Please change the body type to black. It is infinitely easier on the eyes, and there’s good content here that should be as easy to read as possible so people will stick around.

    Last, the blog convention is that clicking on a title takes you to the full article with comments on its own page, but you break that convention frequently by having a title link to an external page.

    Two things happen with this: One, I may never return; Two, you aren’t drawing me in to comment, and unless I get used to your site and realize I can scroll all the way down to click on the “comments” link, I may think you just aren’t accepting comments for the post.

    You’re asking the reader to work too hard. It’s new-reader-unfriendly and it’s just not good for the blog’s growth to encourage leaving and discourage commenting.
    Put important links, inspirations, etc. into the body copy, at least a paragraph or two into your writing if possible so folks will already be hooked enough to hear your take on it before clicking away.

    Prin, there’s a lot to do here, but with such an important topic it would be great to see you step up to the challenge. Good luck with it.

    Regards,

    Kelly

    P.S. You might not want to get them started: their first suggestion is usually to ditch Blogger, but I think they were too drunk to say that.

    Kelly’s last blog post..Tip of the Week: This One’s for the Boys

  3. @ Kelly – I think we’ve actually given up.

    The main problem with Blogger that we’re seeing these days is what Prin stated herself – it’s too easy. It’s limited, it’s cheap, it’s not very functional, but it’s EASY. And we’re lazy people, so easy is best.

    Something better with more functionality? No way. That takes LEARNING. Are you kidding me? We’ll settle and stick with easy. Hey. Our visitors can learn to adapt to Blogger’s quirks and put up with them, right?

    Um, no.

    Here’s an example:

    “Have a car. It’ll get you places faster in less time. A car is more convenient for carrying stuff. Oh, and you can bring friends along with you! You’ll have to learn to drive it, though.”

    “Oh wow. That looks complicated. Pedals? Gas? A stick shift? Traffic signs? No, thanks, really. This little red tricycle I have gets me where I want to go.”

    @ Kelly again – Good points. I love having your eye add the stuff that we either neglected to include for whatever reason or that we overlooked. The more eyes, the better (especially when you agree with what we already wrote.)

    @ Prin – So your comments tell me that you know this site isn’t working for you or your visitors. That’s great. But your comments also give me the feeling that you’ve given up, and I don’t think you should. You put a lot of work into collecting all these resources – why not showcase them as best you can?

    I know that means more effort, but I think that comes down to how much you feel it’s worth it to you. My view is that if it was worth it enough to come this far, go the distance. 🙂

  4. James,

    There are not a lot, but there are some very fine Blogger sites. Just as, a couple of annoying plug-in omissions aside, there are (were!) some very fine TypePad sites.

    Learning/effort can be put in on any platform. I put in plenty when I was at TP. It’s just that hand-it-to-you-on-a-platter platforms don’t require it, and so don’t really encourage it.

    Having said that, I far prefer TypePad out of the box than Blogger. Far, far.

    The nice thing about the tricycle is it allows you a simple way to decide if you really belong on the road at all. You know how high the blog failure stats are. Spending a long time prepping something most don’t stay with past 3 or 6 months is not sensible.

    I do have nice eyes. Thanks. 😉 I was going to say something about how of course I only add, ‘cuz when I disagree with you, I email like a loyal minion, but I just spent four paragraphs not totally agreeing with you, so I take it back. But I still like email for the big ones.

    Until later,

    Kelly

    Kelly’s last blog post..Tip of the Week: This One’s for the Boys

  5. I agree that the site needs to look more professional. Maybe in a couple of weeks after I take the licensure test I can try wordpress again. In the meantime I’ve spent the morning looking for a 4 column blogger layout. I think if I had 4 columns that would solve the scrolling issue. Lazy? no. I did do some html modifications in the layout and it scared me so bad I had to take to my bed 🙂 but they worked, so I feel a bit empowered by that. there are 11 pages of resources that link to that first page and I’ve not been able to figure out an easily accessible way to present them. 4 columns might solve that also. I actually think each sidebar link ought to have it’s own page with proper divisions maybe 3 columns for those. Despite your review I am proud of what I have accomplished and that I do have regular readers that use my site in their daily work. I do appreciate the review and will take from it a renewed resolve to make the site better.

    Kelly you pointed out the main problem I have always had with this site…so much so that now I almost get heart palpitations when someone views 4 pages! Sitemeter does a great job telling me how many pages people are clicking and how long they are staying on the page. It’s also very frustrating. That’s the reason for the block of text at the top. as for a black site I’ve heard pros and cons for both and probably will leave it white as social work can be such a depressing subject I just don’t think black would be appropriate or professional.

    What would have made me happy from the beginning would have been if I could have found a 4 column layout totally without a posting area. I never wanted to post, I wanted the site to be only excellent free resources for the social work student, but as you can see it has developed a life of it’s own. Sigh…. 🙂

    prin’s last blog post..Drive-by-Shooting Sunday: Prin’s Links

  6. Prin,

    No, not a black site. Never, never. Black TYPE. Like here.

    🙂

    Kelly’s last blog post..Tip of the Week: This One’s for the Boys

  7. Yeah, if I were into social work, I don’t think I could take someone seriously who has a link to the “Campaign for Unshaved Snatch” website…

    I’d be careful with 4 columns to be sure the far right column isn’t off screen for those of us with laptops…

    Geek’s Dream Girl’s last blog post..Moradin’s Lass: Our First Adventure!

  8. I was also wondering about the Google Custom Search in the bottom left hand corner. There’s two search boxes available – Blogger’s search and Google’s search – what’s the difference between them?

  9. geeks dream…you would have to know her to understand she’s a very serious girl with values much like my own…i guess you’d have me take off hobostripper too? both of these sites provide valuable resources I want my readers to have for their work.

    kelly, sorry I misunderstood. I did have black type but i was spending so much time with the site I burned my corneas so i changed it to the dark grey-blue. guess i’ll go back and change it to the black and just darken my screen even more 🙂

    so guys, I found this template and think it might solve my problems…what do you think?

    http://jackbook.com/blogger-templates-gallery/3-columns-blogger-template-clean-update-or-new-version-now-fully-widgetized/

    or this:

    http://www.eblogtemplates.com/langit-blogger/

    or:

    http://andreas02-xml.blogspot.com/

    so I’m favoring #2…just keep coming back to it…it’s dark but not totally dark…andreas2 would give me what i need on a lighter page but is kind of boring, huh? so???

    prin’s last blog post..Drive-by-Shooting Sunday: Prin’s Links

  10. mark, the search box at the very bottom i put on there in the very beginning and now can’t figure out how to remove it. i decided it must be some kind of google trick 🙂 the social work search is really the only one i want on there…

    prin’s last blog post..Drive-by-Shooting Sunday: Prin’s Links

  11. I agree with the Pen Men in that the header and sidebar are way too cluttered. It looks like you want people to look at both, but I would be more prone to ignore them because they are too busy and thus overwhelming.

    Harry and James, do you think you could schedule in Sushi Day for a drive-by? 🙂

    Allison’s last blog post..Seto Japanese Cuisine

  12. Such great ideas; I’ll have to go back and read more Sunday drive-bys!

    I know my month-old blog needs de-cluttering; I did it once, but just like the top of my desk, new things just kept “appearing”!

    I’m getting rid of a couple of things right now…

    Thanks!

    If you could schedule http://thedspotredeux.blogspot.com, I would greatly appreciate it…

    waterprise2’s last blog post..Guilt By Association Totally Inappropriate

  13. Prin:

    I like Andreas02 best. With all your different categories, the tabs across the top really stand out for your readers to jump directly to them, plus it looks more like a filing system, which to me as a resource it tells people you know what you’re doing and that you’ve taken effort to organize the resources for others to use.

    Good luck with it all – the Men might be tough but I’ve never disagreed with their design comments and I used to do website usability stuff in a past business life (before the whole Web 2.0 revolution).

    Cheers,
    Alex

    Alex Fayle’s last blog post..Expanding Tastes

  14. Thanks Alex! I’ve cleaned it up a bit for now and will consider the move after my test on the 15th. There’s an awful lot of “white space” now and that bothers me.

    MWP…Thanks for the traffic! and the critique, of coarse 🙂

    prin’s last blog post..Drive-by-Shooting Sunday: Prin’s Links

  15. @ Prin – You’re very welcome. I just stopped by to look at your site and the banner looks SOOOO much better without all that text. It’s suddenly clean and lite. Uh, I mean, light.

    Good on you for being a good sport and seeing what you can and can’t do and examining what you want to change and don’t. We had fun writing that one, so the thanks go to you.

    @ Allison – November 9 for you 🙂

    @ Waterprise – November 16 is yours!

  16. I enjoyed the critique and agreed with a lot of it. I think Prin needs to find that balance between professional and personal and you’ve guided her in the right direction. I’m glad to have found this place, as I’m enjoying some of the archives.

    Can I schedule in http://anti-socialworker.blogspot.com/ for some future date?

    antiSWer’s last blog post..The BSW Bubble

  17. @ Antiswer – Sure thing – November 23 is your big day. Cheers!

Trackbacks

  1. 08/03/2008 Writing Jobs and Links : PoeWar.com Writer’s Resource Center says:

    […] Drive-by-Shooting Sunday: Prin’s Links: Men with Pens puts the smack down on another poorly designed site.  Read it. You’ll learn something. […]

  2. […] He dropped the overnight bag and the SCUBA gear by the door. The bare room was plain, the walls a stark white and the blue blankets adorned a pair of single beds, not large, comfy king-sized ones. He’d been so looking forward to a vacation after last week’s hit. […]

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