Drive-By Shooting Sunday Special: Adventures of a Barefoot Geek

“Ow.” He picked his foot up and grimaced. “Ow-… Look, this is not good. Never again, man. Ow.”

“Quit complaining.” James lifted his feet and placed them carefully on the gravel, wincing a bit. “It’s job hazards. Gotta do what we gotta do.” The sun was blindingly bright, and James pulled his grey sweatshirt hood over his head, hiding the colorful fedora before he stepped into the mass of eager fans.

They made their way through the crowd slowly. “Why do you need that sweatshirt?” Harry complained, still wincing.

“I’m cold, okay?” A breeze whooshed past his bare knees. Who wore shorts this time of year? “You think this is a problem – take a look at yourself in that leather jacket with all these sun-worshippers around us. And these hats…”

Harry looked down at his black jacket – jean-shorts combo topped with his own red fedora. Considering the assignment, he didn’t think it was too bad. “I look good in black. But… I miss my boots.”

They looked down at four unhappy feet and groaned in stereo. Never again.

Today’s hit is for the Adventures of a Barefoot Geek, the blog of David Turnbull. Here’s what the site looked like when we drove by:

“What kind of a show is this?” Harry asked as they walked toward the stage. A brightly colored ball escaped his jacket and bounced away unnoticed.

“I don’t know. David Turnbull’s his name.” James shrugged. “I haven’t heard of him before.”

That’s a problem. Unless you’ve already built up a large following, using your own name for the site’s URL isn’t going to bring in new viewers or give readers a clue about what they’ll find here. Also, that URL doesn’t match the name of your blog, which is Adventures of a Barefoot Geek. The result is that your site URL is going to be hard to remember, too.

A lot of the people around them were whispering the same question. David Turnbull’s name was all around, but no one seemed to know much more about the show. There weren’t many signs that could be seen easily, they weren’t sure what any of this was. Or why they even came.

Now, while search engines may not give a great deal of weight to meta data, it’s worth using to give your site every chance to be found by visitors. When people type what they’re looking for into a search engine, keywords may help your site show up in the returns.

At the moment, variants of your name and the term “barefoot geek” are all there is. Work in targeted, specific words and phrases into your site meta – using terms a visitor might search with

Another ball dropped from Harry’s pocket, but he was busy trying to read a flyer that had blown past and got caught in the grass. He swiped it up just as another naked foot came down where his hand had been, and read the brief description. “Okay, I kind of get it now. I think… sorta…”

The meta description for your site is the text that visitors see below your link when they do a search and possible matches are returned. This is your first contact with potential visitors. It’s important to make a good impression here, and this mini-pitch for your site has to be interesting and all about the reader. You want to encourage them to click your link and visit.

Here’s what you have:

“David Turnbull is a self-proclaimed Barefoot Geek; someone who strives for freedom with the aid of technology. David Turnbull writes about peace of mind, simplicity, mobility and technology.”

It answers some of the questions a searcher might have but it’s pretty generic, it’s all about you, and it doesn’t tell anyone what’s in it for them. Make sure your description gets people excited to click. They need to think, “Yes! That’s exactly what I need right now!”

The sun was getting lower. Good. James adjusted his hat to shade his eyes, and a blue ball dropped and rolled away innocently. As he drifted through the sea of white shirts and shorts, the hats were the one thing he knew they’d gotten right. Wild toppers and bright hits of natural green and blue met his eyes wherever he turned.

The design of your site is what we might call “mainly minimalist.” There’s not a lot of clutter, and that’s great. You use accent colors consistently and large, bold images at the start of every blog post excerpt on your home page.

But white is white. That’s the first impression we have of the site, too – nothing but nothing. It’s being caused in part by the contrast: A huge image, a sea of white sameness. After scrolling through the page, the eye skips the images – ironically meant meant to catch the eye – and registers only the sea of white.

While we don’t usually check deeper past the first page, we did notice that on internal pages, this effect isn’t as pronounced because each post only has one image, and because within the posts you do a great job with subheadings, bullets, bold, and other ways of adding visual “color” in the type, to pull the reader along.

We’d recommend shrinking the size of the photos that lead your posts. Use some of that typographic “color” earlier in the posts too, so that bold, subheaders and other stuff like that can guide the reader’s eye while the person scrolls down the home page.

The boys could barely see where they’d left their bikes. Even when they craned to look back at the parking lot, all they could see was that the crowd had completely surrounded them. “It’s gonna be tough getting out of here in a hurry,” James leaned to whisper at Harry.

“What, gettin’ old?” Harry smirked. “Don’t make excuses for it. Hey, you know what’s missing around here?” He pointed up top of the stage. “There’s no banner.”

That’s right, no banner. Not even a small one. None. That’s pretty rare – and for a reason.

From a typical visitor’s point of view, we start to look at the page at top left. The blog posts just jump right in without so much as a “Hello, this is where you’ve landed.” Now, most visitors need that friendly “hello”, so they can be sure of where they are. They look for it. They want to be sure they want to stay to read.

But at this site, with no banner and with posts, titles, and images changing frequently, it’s almost as if visitors land at a different site every time.

Some conventions are conventional for a reason. It’s nice to try new things, but this bit of design cleverness is going to work against you. We strongly suggest you create a banner to head the page.

“Where’s the way out, anyways?” James frowned and craned his neck further. “Where’d we come in? Do you know how to get out of here when the time comes?”

Harry was already looking around with the same frown on his face. No, he couldn’t see the way out. “We came in there… is that the only way out?” Couldn’t be… could it?

It could indeed. One thing that’s great about the home page is that nearly all the paths a reader can take are internal. They can only go in. It’s hard to leave the site accidentally – there’s no way anyone can mistake an ad for an internal link, for instance. The only way to leave the home page is go deeper into the site (which is what you want!) or to hit the back button.

Photographers’ credits are the exception – we’d move those links to the end of each post so they don’t tempt brand-new readers into wandering away just when they’re deciding if your site is for them.

In short, you’ve designed a very directed experience here, which should work well for visitors.

The only navigation on the blog’s home page is in the sidebar, with the exception of the links to individual posts. On a more cluttered blog, that could be a real problem: “Sidebar blindness,” in which visitors never realize there’s anything in the sidebar at all. But here the design is so bare that the eye is forced to look in the sidebar for direction. That’s fine—it’s minimalist like the body of the page and easy enough to scan through.

We would like to see the sidebar working a lot harder for you, though.

Rewrite your mini-bio (next to your photo) from the reader’s point of view. It’s great to be introduced to you, but how will hanging around with you help any visitor? It’s been said a million times (including twice in this drive-by) because it’s so true: the first thing a reader wants to know is, “What’s in this for me?” You need to answer that clearly – and several times.

Also, get your “full bio” and “what is a Barefoot Geek” links near each other. They’re both variations of an About page, so logically, they should be grouped together.

Next up, RSS subscription, Twitter, email, and a headline for your email newsletter subscription. Again, group these logically. We weren’t sure whether the newsletter is actually the blog via email or some other content, so put them both under one headline. “Subscribe” will do nicely. If they’re the same, then they should be titled something like “via email” and “via RSS”. If they’re different, then the difference should be very clearly explained. Otherwise, you’ll have people who don’t know and they won’t sign up or they’ll sign up for both.

Subscription info gets noticed best if it’s first, right at the top. Though your photo is a great, distinctive visual element, we’d still suggest moving that RSS info first.

Twitter and email contact options should be grouped as well; they can be worked into the copy of your mini-bio or they can be put last in the sidebar. Right now, they feel too separate from each other, and they’re mixed in with subscription requests – there’s no real good reason for that.

Your most popular posts are simply arranged, and there aren’t too many. That’s good. But the blog’s categories could use some help. After we read your mini-bio, we knew a bit about you, but we thought we’d get a better handle on what the site’s about from the categories.

Unfortunately, they cover a very broad range of topics. We noticed “Knowledge,” “Life,” “Reviews,” and “Security”, all of which left more questions than answers. Knowledge of what? Life?? What do you review? Personal security, secure technology, home security…?

Any time you leave a question mark in a reader’s head, you’ve created uncertaintly. You’ve just given a message to the person that says, “Don’t choose this one.” And typically, that’s what will happen.

Make your category titles make a lot of sense or at least intrigue and guide the reader to make a decision. We bet you get a lot more clicks on the Popular Posts than on these categories. Their titles are a big reason for that.

For the archives, we’d lean toward a pull-down menu by date. There’s no clutter issue or other compelling reason why not to, and it gives new readers a chance to see how your ideas evolved so they can “catch up” with longer-term readers.

“Oh, excuse me.” A petite brunette bumped Harry as he was reaching into his vest pocket, and several colored balls spilled all at once to the ground. He snapped his head up, hoping to distract her from noticing, but skidded slightly when his bare foot rolled on a green ball and bumped James, who promptly tripped and dropped more colored balls.

Harry scrambled to cover it all up. “I’m sorry.” He tried not to stare at the foot tattooed on the girl’s suntanned shoulder. “Listen, my buddy and I were just wondering… Do you know what this show’s about? It’s a nice place and… Well, we’re having a good time so far… But… It seems like it’s taking forever to get started, and…”

“We’re just getting mellow right now,” she smiled, and the corners of the girl’s eyes crinkled up just right. Harry forgot what he was doing there entirely—if he’d ever known. “I think we’ll find out about the show pretty soon.” The girl glanced toward James, who looked like he wanted to be anywhere but right there. “As long as you’re having a good time, don’t worry. Take your time.”

“We don’t have much time,” James snipped, and kicked Harry to remind him to move on.

Your site’s visitors will take less than a minute – less than thirty seconds, in most cases, and sometimes even less than 10 seconds – to decide whether your site is worth them hanging around. You don’t have much time at all.

Meta description, mini-bio, post categories and excerpts and because we were still curious, your bio and Barefoot Geek page. We’ve read a lot by you and about you… But we still feel like we don’t know very much.

What’s your objective? We’re not sure whether we’re reading a personal journal, a business blog, a lifestyle blog, or a productivity blog of some sort—still, to this minute! We’re left wondering what we can get out of reading Adventures of a Barefoot Geek, and we’re wondering why you’re doing it and what you’re getting out of it.

With a huge range of topics being covered many times over by many other authors, we feel there isn’t enough focus nor a unique enough voice for a new reader to say “Aha! This is the place I belong! Only David Turnbull could have written this, and I can benefit from hanging out here, because…”

Because what? That’s the critical question.

It’s beyond the normal scope of our critiques, but we strongly recommend tightening your focus to a few topics that you can provide a one-of-a-kind perspective people will come looking for. For as long as you’re writing posts that anyone could enjoy or that people can get anywhere, no one will feel exclusively welcomed here. And that exclusive welcome is an important part of growing your blog.

Use your description, bio, etc., to lay out this unique perspective. Answer likely reader questions like, “Why I write this,” because if we’re wondering, other people are, too. Draw new readers in with something unique and different. Then keep them as fans.

The good news is that when you have a design this clean, you have an excellent foundation from which to build. The process of making the site more exciting and fan-friendly is a lot easier than the process of decluttering or taking everything down to start over. With some added visual interest and a determined focus in your writing, you’ll be on your way to creating a community full of barefoot geeks.

Not just barefoot. Hobbling, almost. Two rough-looking guys mincing on tender feet. They’d made it to center stage, and there sat the young star, deep in thought, typing furiously into his laptop in short spurts. It seemed as if he were trying to settle all the big questions of Barefoot Geekery all at once—and the problems were so broad that starting the show had become impossible.

With a glance of regret, the boys quietly dropped the last few colorful balls onto the stage. Harry fingered the button of the remote control in the pocket of his jean shorts. “Thirty seconds,” he muttered to James, and then he pressed the knob. Brunette or no brunette, they had to get out in a hurry.

They turned on blistered toes, pushed the passed the blissed-out masses of fans and when they could manage it, ran-hop-skipped with many “ow, ow, ows” as they headed for the bikes.

But the crowd had slowed them too much, and as they hit the ignitions simultaneously, they heard noises like popcorn, shrieks and squeals, and the part they really didn’t want to be around for -…

The giggles. “C’mon!” James gunned his engine over the dreadful delight. The bikes screeched out of sight just as the first self-inflating beach balls began bouncing into the air, lofted by cheerful, happy fans.

“God, did you hear them?” Harry shouted over the wind, his jacket fluttering loose. “Too happy for my tastes.”

“Never again,” James hollered back, and the pair gunned their bikes down the road and into the sunset.

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.

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  1. Great critique guys. I feel silly making such seemingly rookie mistakes, but the changes are all simple enough so that’s good at least. Looks like I have me some work to do.

    .-= David Turnbull´s last blog ..The Joy of Not Caring =-.

  2. Great write up, and it’s a nice, vibrant looking site. I particularly like the quality of the photos, and the brown and blue site header.

    Two thoughts from me:

    1. It’s very Thesisy. Thesis is a great theme, but because it is so popular half the challenge is making it not look so much like out of the box thesis.

    2. The green headers in the column look a bit like they are standing on their own to me. You have this great banner and I think it would look better to take that more unified colour scheme for the column headers with headers in brown and then the column links as you have in blue.

  3. James,

    Nice hit as always. And another victim who’s making changes so fast I can’t visit the site and see the problems in action (though this time you got a screen shot, wise hitman).

    FWIW I love the shots of green. Brown-blue-green doesn’t seem like too much to me when used so sparingly, and too much brown… well, brown can go wrong pretty easily.

    Good for you David to be so on top of it! Off to check out the meaning of barefoot geekery now!


    .-= Kelly´s last blog ..Imagine You Needed To Kick Ass, Starting Today =-.

  4. A second hit so soon? Awesome. It is an interesting site. I didn’t have many complaints looking at it, but by then he had already made some changes so I assume your critiques helped.

  5. @ John – It only takes one person to stick a foot in the water before the rest of the gang decide the water’s nice for swimming 🙂

    @ Kelly – Aye, we were faster on the mug shots this time. BAM!

    @ Patrick – Can we make Thesisy get into Urban Dictionary? Ooh what about Thesissy? As in, “Barefoot Geek was totally Thesissy but David gave it a set of balls.”

    Could work. Could work indeed.

    @ David – Sheesh, everyone does stuff like that. Doesn’t make you a rookie – even the pros do it!

    (‘Cept us. Never us. Impossible. *cough*)

  6. ROFL “Thesissy.”

    .-= Kelly´s last blog ..Imagine You Needed To Kick Ass, Starting Today =-.

  7. Thanks for the comments everyone. I still have plenty of work to do, and will try to make it less Thesissy. 😉
    .-= David Turnbull´s last blog ..Paddling Through Life =-.

  8. In regards to Thesisy/Thesissy, it’s definitely not bad, David. Thesis is a great theme.

    The main issue I have with it is that out of the box it’s just so flat – white on white and square corners. Sortof like a piece of paper just stuck to a computer screen.

    Out of the box it needs a bit of texture given to it. As MWP pointed out in their drive-by, this was a problem with the site when they first looked at it. However, by adding a bit more colour to the background and repositioning the banner you’ve added a bit of that so far.

    Also instructional is to look at copyblogger ( which is basically the flagship site that sells the theme. They use a lot more texture than the out of the box Thesis theme.

  9. Great review and glad to see that I’m not the only one with some of those issues.
    .-= Nathan Hangen´s last blog ..3 Ways to Turn Your Passion into Profits =-.

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