Drive-by-Shooting Sundays: Mike Riversdale

White. The color of nothingness. Everything around Harry was white – the floor, the walls, the ceiling… Except at night, when the lights shut off. Then everything fell into shades of shadowed grey.

They’d escaped the educational facility of last week’s hit, only to find themselves chased by cops and tackled roughly to the ground. There’d been a scuffle punctuated by French curses and Jamie trying to bite a cop’s arm… Harry had attempted to explain the situation calmly.

Now look where they were.

James’ shout echoed through the air. “Let me out, calisse! I’m NOT crazy!!!” There was a muffled pounding as he kicked the padded door. “Did you hear me? I’m not crazy!

“Yes, you are. Now stop whining,” Harry called back.

“I’m not whining. I’m expressing my emotions.” Jamie’s voice had an eerie timbre to it as the sound bounced off the institution’s empty hallway walls. “Aren’t you in touch with your feminine side?”

Today’s hit is for Mike Riversdale, the blog of… well, Mike Riversdale. Here’s what the site looked like when we drove by:

Riversdale, the bare blue and white sign had said. There’d been no other indication of what this place was, or what they’d find, or what was in it for them. The cops had brought them here and shoved them inside their cells.

Only then had it been clear to Harry where they were: a psych ward.

Psych ward is a thought that hit us and stuck with us throughout the drive-by. The theme colors are very stark. There’s too much white happening, and the bright blue offsets it sharply for a painful contrast.

The glass effect of the banner isn’t working well at all, because it just makes the title difficult to read. Not only that, but you have shading going on in the colors of the title as well. We’d suggest making the title a darker blue (maybe to match the Blogger blue bar at the top) and minimizing the glass effect so that the title is easier to read overall.

“Hey! Hey, you!” There was that guy again, creeping by. All Harry could see from the barred window was the top of a shaved head and one crazy eye peering in. “James! There he is again!”

“Harry…” Jamie’s voice came as a low, cautious murmur. “Don’t talk to him, okay? He looks dangerous. I don’t think he works here, Harry.”

Avatars can be cool – but man, yours is downright creepy. That may be great, depending on what you want the site to accomplish or the mood effect you want to play up for readers, but honestly? It’s very hard to enjoy reading comfortably with a round eye peering at us like that.

Once they were alone again, Harry tried to find something else to look at, something to take his mind off the monotony. There wasn’t much besides blue and white.

And that’s a problem for the site. Posts are extremely short to begin with, and short posts like that need to be more interesting to capture readers. With the bars of blue going on and the blue in the text, the site is also tough to read.

We’d remove those big slices and replace them with either just a line or simply the blog post titles themselves in a black font.

And we never thought we’d say this… but chunk up your posts. They’re so small and so broken up that it’s difficult to know what’s part of the post and what isn’t, considering the rest of the extra stuff like ratings, comment links, the date, etc. Have at least three sentences per paragraph and write a little longer. Jotted notes are no one’s idea of blogging.

Ditch the ratings on the posts – chances are that most are going to low until some activity starts happening here. When you’re a small blog, you definitely want to appear bigger than you are, but showing off that nothing is going on is a sure way to increase people’s perception that the site isn’t active.

“What are you doing?” James tried to press his face against the bars of the tiny window in the door. “You’re making an awful lot of noise over there. You’re disturbing my peace.”

“YOUR peace?” There was a thud and some muffled curses. “You know, they padded everything else in this place except the floor. Why are we in here anyway?”

“Are you kidding me?” Prowling like a lion, James paced the his room. “YOU started this. ‘Officer, I’m sorry, we were just trying to…’ No wonder they were looking at us funny. What criminal acts so damned polite?”

For his part, James had cursed, shouted kicked and bit until someone had elbowed him in the eye to shut him up. “Why couldn’t you behave normally?”

“I was behaving ! I thought Canadians were supposed to be so polite, eh? Hey, James,” he whispered, watching the loony shuffle over to a corner. “What’s he reading?”

If anyone’s reading, they’re certainly reading a lot in the sidebar. Getting past the creepy picture, there is text that mentions you and your life. Okay, well, why should we stay to read? What’s in it for us? What’s the site about? Your life? Alright, well, what makes your life interesting that readers should stick? Give people a reason to be here.

In the sidebar, the RSS could be tossed, as you have a nice big RSS button up top. Keep the email subscription if you like. The ‘Contact’ and ‘Chat With’ are okay, as are the links to your other sites and photos.

Why the calendar, though? People know what day it is, and we’re not sure they really want to see your schedule. We’d also remove the latest comments widget until you have plenty of comments to speak of. Until then, it’s wasted space. So is the ‘Followers’ section.

The blog cloud just looks terribly messy and that too should go. It’s a far better idea to display categories than a cluttered jumble like that – if you want people to stay, make it appealing for them to do so.

“Aww…” Harry couldn’t help but feel a stab of sympathy as he noticed the loony sifting through some pictures he’d produced in his pocket. “He has a family. That’s nice.”

“Yeah.” James almost felt bad for saying the guy looked dangerous. Almost. The effect was lost when the stranger looked up from his photos and gave James one of those crazy looks with that rolling eye.

See, now? You have really nice pictures there – why not change your avatar to match? With the space you’ll create by removing the unnecessary widgets, you could bring up your photos and make the blog seem… well, more pleasant. If you do that, then get rid of the Flickr link because it becomes redundant.

The FriendFeed down the side just looks long and like some overwhelming list. The teasers are too short to be interesting to viewers, and it’s hard to want to click through on something like, “Blog: The Universe Has Some Very BIG T H I N G S.”

Ayup. Indeed it does. And that FriendFeed widget is one of those.

The rest of the sidebar is completely unnecessary, too. At the very least, it’s terribly unclear. Are those ads or just pictures? Should we be clicking them? Do they deliver pop in six-packs or do you just like the images?

And who’s Wanda Harland? You do realize that the fact you recommend her makes it seem like… Well. I’m sure you understand.

It would be better if you removed all that stuff in your sidebar, displayed your family photos followed by a Recent Posts widget and the Categories of your blog. The Archives are there, but no one wants to read Archives, really. It’s more appealing to sift through meaningful categories than the files in the basement.

“Did you find it yet?” Harry peered over his shoulder into the dark of the dank basement while James riffled through the cabinet. “How’d you know the guy’s name, anyways?”

“He told me.” After James had befriended Mike and looked at the guy’s pictures to bond, he’d somehow managed to get Mike to let them out. They’d snuck out – and here they were in the bowels of the ward. “Just need to get our dossier- Ah. Got ’em,” he slipped two manila envelopes out of the cabinet.

“Do you really think we had to lock him up?” There’d been a violent scuffle while James had shoved Mike in to his cell and slammed the door shut, leaving him screaming blue murder to the silence of the ward.

“I wasn’t taking any chances.” James peered into the dark, ominous basement. “Harry? You do know the way out… right?”

Want more? You got it. Check out the lineup of upcoming hit jobs:

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
November 9 – Sushi Day
November 16 – The D Spot Redux
November 23 – The Antisocial Social Worker
November 30 – Writer Dad
December 7 – Deaf Mom World
December 14 – Linkers Blog

Want your blog shot down? 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.