Your Clutter is Killing Your Customers

Your Clutter is Killing Your CustomersNobody likes cluttered sites. You may not know what makes a cluttered site, but your customers definitely know when they’re trying to navigate one. There are flashing ads that give them a headache, tons of links with vague titles, social media ad-ins overwhelming the site, and a sidebar longer than the Encyclopedia Britannica.

And in all of that, your potential client is supposed to find that one blog post, or a list of services, or how you’ll change his business for the better, or even find the About page?

I don’t think so. That person would sooner go to another writer’s site that doesn’t make his brain hurt.

I’m sure your website isn’t nearly this bad, of course. But there are probably some extra things cluttering up your blog that are distracting your readers and customers, possibly confusing them.

Certainly it’s not making it any easier for them to find what they’re looking for: how to hire you.

So why don’t we go through and see if we can’t make everything a little neater. You’ll have a site that readers can navigate easily and you’ll probably get more clients for your business out of it as well.

Shall we?

Break Your Widget Addiction

Widgets are one of the prime offenders when it comes to loading a site with unnecessary clutter. There are thousands of widgets, with new ones hitting the market every day. They’re so cute or clever or interesting that you just can’t help adding just one more to your site.

Six months later, you have widgets for social media, for the weather, for tracking your stats, for news, for keeping track of the average rainfall in Guam, for your live goldfish cam, and all of them seemed like great ideas when you put them up there.

It’s like buying a shiny new toy. Eventually, all your toys are in a giant pile, and they make it near impossible to get through your site.

Be ruthless. Get rid of every single widget that does not have a solid and related use for your blog or business. If it benefits readers or customers, keep it. If not, then it’s just making more clutter for them – which makes them not want to stay.

It’s like having a messy room. Maybe you know where everything is, but the mess just makes it unpleasant for your guests. Since the whole point of having a site is to have lots of guests want to stay for a long time, it’s time to clean up your room.

Keep the toys your guests like to play with, though. It’s only polite, and they won’t think of them as clutter if they like to use them.

Clean Up Your Ad Space

Ads are a necessary evil for many blogs and sites, but that doesn’t mean they have to clutter up the space. You need the ads for income, but the way you generate that income is by lots of visitors viewing and clicking on those ads.

If your readers and viewers think of those ads as annoyances, they’re not going to want to click on them, which ruins the whole point of having them. No clicks, no advertisers. No advertisers, no income.

So de-clutter your ads and make them more appealing for your guests to click.

Two to four ads, three products at most, and perhaps five links in lists are the maximum number you’d want. You should have them neatly laid out, too, so that readers aren’t startled by stumbling across them in strange places.

Make sure those ads are attractive, too. The easiest way to make ads register as clutter instead of helpful suggestions or recommended resources for visitors is by having ugly ads that just look cheap or silly on your site.

Flash ads are the worst offenders. Avoid flashing banners, animated gifs, and pop-ups. They’re good for grabbing attention, but if you think about it, so are mosquitoes. No one hangs around long when the mosquitoes are annoying them and wrecking a good time.

Don’t Take the Standard Option

We’re big fans of WordPress here at Men with Pens, but every WordPress default installation comes with a few widgets that you can definitely do without. Those extra widgets may seem handy at first, but in general, they’re useful to you, not to your readers.

Some prime examples of widgets you could consider removing are the Meta widget, the calendar, link lists, blogrolls, archives, categories, and pages, as well as any tracking widgets you have. Unless there’s some specific reason why your site needs one of those widgets (there may be a good reason to have a calendar for some blogs, for example), get rid of it.

You can create pages that only you can access using all these widgets or variations of them if they’re handy tools for keeping track of things on your end. However, unless your readers find them useful, get ‘em off your site. Create a cleaner, more friendly space.

Now that we’ve gone over a few ways to clean up your blog, how does yours measure up? Could it stand a little spit and polish?

Post by Agent X

Agent X is the name many mysterious and intriguing people take on when they guest post at our site. Their mission is to slip in like a thief in the night, leave you with entertaining, valuable and useful content, and slip away again - without getting caught.

Join the Discussion. Click Here to Leave a Comment.

  1. Dude, my site is great. Non-clutter central! Mind you, it helps that James told me off a couple of weeks ago for cluttering it up, he was both ruthless and demanding. He was also right… 😉
    .-= Melinda | WAHM Biz Builder´s last blog ..Hitting the Wall =-.

  2. A client of mine wrote me this week:

    “You know how you said that if I did this and that and that… something would happen?”

    “Yeah?”

    “WELL IT HAPPENED!!!”

    “Uhhh… Well, yeah, didn’t I tell you it would? I do this for a living, you know… And I’m kind of smart that way…”

    “YES! I KNOW! BUT I DIDN’T BELIEVE YOU! AND YOU WERE RIGHT!!!”

    Hee hee. People are funny.

  3. I did this to my blog a while back. I had two sidebars and they were full of all kinds of things. Since I cleaned it up and made it into one sidebar, it looks much, much better. This is great advice.
    .-= Chris Anderson´s last blog ..How Creating Scarcity Can Help You Launch Your Product =-.

  4. Once again- good timing. Just last night I began to layout the plan for transitioning my site from a blog to more of a business and a blog. These are great points. Clean is better.

    My question- is there a difference between a single sidebar and a double sidebar, as far as clutter goes? Can a 3 column design which has room for a lot of info, be clean and uncluttered?
    .-= Corey – Simple Marriage´s last blog ..To Bring 5% More Happiness To My Relationships… =-.

  5. But I like my live goldfish cam 🙂

    Seriously though, great post. Quite frankly, a lot of blogs are far too cluttered, and all the extra widgets just act as distractions – not to mention slowing down the loading of the page during the crucial SECONDS a visitor takes to decide whether they will even give you the time of day.

    I’ve done my best to keep my blog as simple as possible. It’s still fairly new, so it’s missing what I consider to be critical elements like a good logo, and an About page, but I intend to keep it a fairly “clean”, uncluttered look because I want people to focus on the CONTENT and become rabid subscribers who buy everything I recommend.

    / ends delusional dream

    P.S: Thanks also for the generous “Twitter ID” and CommentLuv features. That’s an extra bonus. I presume you’re using a plugin for the Twitter ID? If you don’t mind, which plugin is that? I’d like to add that to my own blog.
    .-= Paul, copySnips.com´s last blog ..3 Copywriting “Traps” You Must Avoid… =-.

  6. Thank you. I hate clutter on my desk, and when I find it on other people’s websites, it immediately turns me off … and away! It seems to be a growing problem that even “mainstream” sites like CNN have–ads, clutter, blinking banners. Ugh. It just makes me want to sweep the whole page in the garbage, but since it’s virtual, all I can do is turn it OFF. Which I do as quickly as possible unless there’s a really, really good reason to stay.
    .-= –Deb´s last blog ..Review: Writer Mama =-.

  7. (Oh, and the photo illustration for this post? Hilarious!)
    .-= –Deb´s last blog ..Review: Writer Mama =-.

  8. But I like my live goldfish widget 🙂

    Seriously though, great post. Quite frankly, a lot of blogs are far too cluttered, and all the extra widgets just act as distractions – not to mention slowing down the loading of the page during the crucial SECONDS a visitor takes to decide whether they will even give you the time of day.

    I’ve done my best to keep my blog as simple as possible. It’s still fairly new, so it’s missing what I consider to be critical elements like a good logo, and an About page, but I intend to keep it a fairly “clean”, uncluttered look because I want people to focus on the CONTENT and become rabid subscribers who buy everything I recommend.

    P.S: Thanks also for the generous “Twitter ID” and CommentLuv features. That’s an extra bonus. I presume you’re using a plugin for the Twitter ID? If you don’t mind, which plugin is that? I’d like to add that to my own blog.

    P.P.S: If this is a duplicate, it’s because I didn’t get a message saying the first comment went through.
    .-= Paul Hancox´s last blog ..3 Copywriting “Traps” You Must Avoid… =-.

  9. Good advice. There are so many blogs that are just way too cluttered and have a gazillion useless widgets. It’s time to slim down to blog 2.0 as well.

  10. Also, that’s why I love blogengine.net. It’s default widgets are pretty much all you need.
    .-= Chris from AB Web Design, LLC´s last blog ..New Website Launched: Brandt’s Candies, Inc — brandtscandies.com =-.

  11. Great advice. What really gets me is when there are ads – especially text ads that aren’t clearly identified as ads – IN the content well. Anybody who knows anything about journalism knows that this has always been ferboten – breaking the basic ‘church’ and ‘state’ rules of the sanctity of editorial content. It’s been very interesting to me to see how bloggers have willingly adopted the tools of marketing and advertising without realizing they have broken a long standing tradition.

    That said, most of the mainstream news sites have adopted these advertising techniques as well, and they are still going out of business. Finding a way to make money from your content and finding ways to promote it using social tools, without overwhelming your readers with ads and widgets is difficult – but shouldn’t be impossible. To me, it’s all about writing good content.
    .-= Kim (Edible/Usable)´s last blog ..Corn Pie – Local Food from a Country Fair =-.

  12. Seriously? Archives and categories are unnecessary? Oops. And here I thought my blog was super clean of clutter.
    .-= Samar´s last blog ..Major changes ahead! =-.

  13. @Mel: Of course he was right! 😉 It’s very easy to get cluttered and sometimes we don’t even see it until someone points it out.

    @Chris & Corey: It’s difficult to have a clean 3 column spread, but not impossible. You just have to be twice as vigilant. Personally, this is why I don’t like 3 column layouts anymore. I don’t mind it so much when the content is bracketed on either side by a column, but there’s been a trend where most 3 column layouts have both sidebars on the right. To me, no matter what you do it still looks cluttered and why I prefer a two column layout.

    I think when considering a 3 column layout, you have to take a serious look at whether or not you actually need that much space.

    @Paul: Load times is another good point. Many ads and widgets (like some of the Twitter widgets, videos, outside RSS feeds) take a long time to load and not everyone has the patience or connection speed to wait for it.

    The Twitter plugin we’re using is http://fiddyp.co.uk/twitip-id-plugin-add-a-twitter-field-to-your-comment-form-easily. So far, it’s the most reliable, although it is a little tricky to install. Takes some futzing with.

    @Deb: For sure, more and more sites are getting a little too ad-heavy. I find myself clicking away from many of them too. (and thanks, I liked the pic too!)

    @Chris: Never heard of blogengine.net I’ll have to check that out.

    @Kim: I don’t like those in post ads either. They break the flow and half the time I can’t tell where the ad stops and the content begins. It’s very disorienting and hideous. If you’re going to do something like that, at the very least, put it in the footer of the post, you know?

    @Samar: Archives and categories, in most cases, is unnecessary in the sidebar. If you have a theme that allows for an archive page listed in the main navigation, use it. If your theme has a sub-navigation bar that lists categories, use it. You could even create a button in the main navigation for Categories in some cases. The point is, if you can create a page for it and put it either as a main button or as a child page, then do it and get it out of your sidebar. And if you have any of those options, there’s no reason to repeat it in the sidebars. That’s valuable real estate.

  14. @ Samar – Ah, ah, ah, that’ll teach you to read in context 😉

    Archives and categories are necessary (sometimes). But there’s a better place for them than cluttering up the sidebar. Also, some versions of displaying archives and categories are just messy and cleaner ways improve the look of a site.

    @ Kim – I cannot stand text ads within the content. Kontera comes to mind. Drives me bananas.

    @ Chris – Hahah, blog 2.0, that’s funny. And true! Yes! It’s time for it!

    @ Paul – Sweet and clean is the way to go, or at the very least, useful for readers/viewers in some way. That’s one of the reasons we really limit our sidebar ads to those we *know* are good resources that we support and stand behind. And, we always try to have as few as possible.

    PS. Mm, good question. WPTwitipID? But I’m not the coder amongst us, so I could be wrong.

    PPS. Yeah. Technology today, eh? *beats theme with a fist*

    @ Deb – That photo was me! Last night!!! I couldn’t even reach my glass of Shiraz! A tragedy, I tell you. What’s the world coming to?

    @ Paul Again – I only left this comment in because I like the /end delusional dream part. And because it makes my blog look like it has one more comment than it really does 😉

    @ Corey – I think so. The question is, do you really have THAT much stuff to show RIGHT THERE on your home page that you NEED a second sidebar? Take a good look at each ‘thing’ in the sidebar and ask that question.

    Also keep in mind that when stuff is in columns, the brain tends to think, “Right side, really important. Left side, not so important. More left side, even less important. Way over left side, not important.”

    @ Chris – Ah, see? You support the two-column theory I just mention above! Excellent. I like being sort of right sometimes. Makes me feel good.

  15. As someone already said above, clean is nice. However, clean doesn’t mean erasing your identity to suit the visitor. Let your featured posts show up in the sidebar (via links or thumbnails), top commenters, most commented, most viewed posts as well as the Social Media links/icons are must haves.

    In my opinion, clutter depends on users’ perspective of your web site. If you are selling a product, that has to be highlighted and rest placed in background. But for infotainment/content-based sites, the more content the better.

    By the way, you have got a nice title and cool design.
    .-= Kashif´s last blog ..Java Programmers (Pakistan) =-.

  16. @James, haha…yeah, sorry for the duplicate comment. Sometimes blog posts disappear into the blog void and you never know whether it’s been posted or not, until you come back and see with embarassment that all six attempts have been approved, with increasingly desperate and frustrated tones 🙂 (Although I only tried twice).

    @Harry, thanks for the info about WP-Twitip-ID. I just looked at the install instructions – gulp!
    .-= Paul Hancox´s last blog ..3 Copywriting “Traps” You Must Avoid… =-.

  17. @Kashif: Perspective is important. If you have a personal blog that’s not meant to generate sales or bring in clients, your choices are going to be different. Even then, clarity is still key. Regardless of the purpose of the site, visitors still want a pleasant experience, and keeping it clean doesn’t mean you have to erase your identity in the process.

    @Paul: Like I said, takes some futzing 😉

  18. I’ve got the widget sickness myself but honestly, my blog is probably the cleanest part of my life. I’m a messy pig everywhere else. Great suggestions. I’m noticing that my numbers in no way indicate the success that a prominent ad or widget should generate in a sidebar to be considered worthwhile.

    time to get out the axe.

    Great advice, thanks again.
    .-= Josh Hanagarne´s last blog ..If It’s Important, Do It Every Day =-.

  19. “I don’t like those in post ads either. They break the flow and half the time I can’t tell where the ad stops and the content begins. It’s very disorienting and hideous. If you’re going to do something like that, at the very least, put it in the footer of the post, you know?”

    I agree. If there is anything I hate more on a website it is text ad links. They make each post a minefield, because the moment your cursor strays over a “contextual ad link” a popup window comes up that usually takes a second to load. Bad, bad bad.

    However, discussing what I don’t like has got me a little heated. Right now I feel like a glass of cold, refreshing coke.

  20. Good analysis you have provided here. I wish some websites would realize the points you have stated here.

  21. @ Patrick – Might as well go for a soda. 😉

    (Now I have Kim Mitchell stuck in my mind. Gee, thanks.)

    @ Josh – Ooh. My desk. That’s my killer clutter. And it’s baaaad, man.

  22. I use the multi-level navigation plugin, and your site probably does too. The categories and archives can be menu items rather than in the sidebar. My sidebar has just the welcome, and ways to connect to me, like the newsletter, rss, and twitter from the sidebar. It’s nice and clean and simple, and maybe it’s a coincidence but traffic increased considerably after simplifying.
    .-= Kaushik´s last blog ..Call off the Struggle =-.

  23. Harry,

    great point you’re making. Widget addiction was one of my most time consuming activities when I first started blogging. It was really frustrating to refresh the same page 57 times to get it right only to remove it 2 days later.

    Igor
    .-= Igor Kheifets´s last blog ..Learn Affiliate Marketing – It’s Good For You! =-.

  24. I agree to a point – I think clutter that is chaotic is extremely detrimental. But if you add plenty of white space/dividers/etc. on the sidebar, you can include useful secondary information.

    My Virtual Coach blog is far cleaner, clutterwise, than my personal blog, I will admit that. I do have to fix that some day.
    .-= Barbara Ling, Virtual Coach´s last blog ..BY Invitation ONLY – Income Fitness Launch =-.

  25. @ Barbara – That’s kind of like a contradiction, isn’t it? I think you’re saying you can have clutter if it’s neatly organized, spaced out and useful.

    But then it isn’t really clutter anymore, is it?

    @ Igor –

    “I don’t see it!!”

    “Did you clear your cache, James?”

    “YES! Twice! I still don’t see it!”

    “Did you remember to refresh, James?”

    “Uh… Oh lookee…”

    @ Kaushik – Actually, we don’t use that plugin. But I toddled over to take a look at it and it looks nifty enough to make our next ‘useful plugins’ list!

  26. “Might as well go for a soda.”

    After I finish these Mentos to keep me fresh and full of life.

    As to white space – I think it can only go so far (like my product placement jokes…). There comes a point though, when the sidebar contains so much information it is diluted overall. I can think of some blogs that contain so much information in the sidebar some of the links I would never ever bother clicking on, just because I give sidebars a once-over and if the stuff doesn’t hit me in the face in the first second, I don’t click on it.

    This is why I prefer to keep sidebars limited to five big ticket items. A reader can see them all in one glance, and their impact is not diluted by less important items.

  27. Mary E. Ulrich says:

    My site is so decluttered it… doesn’t exist. <>

    James, I stood up and applauded when I read:

    “Flash ads are the worst offenders. Avoid flashing banners, animated gifs, and pop-ups. They’re good for grabbing attention, but if you think about it, so are mosquitoes.”

    Hope a million people read this post and swat all those pesty flashing mosquitoes.

  28. I wrote a book on how to create an effective website for freelancers – but your post made me take a second look at mine.

    And you’re right, it could still use a little decluttering. I don’t think there’s a need for prospective clients to see my Twitter updates – do you? So that has got to go.
    .-= Lexi Rodrigo´s last blog ..Open Thread: Has a Client Ever Stiffed You? =-.

  29. @ Lexi – We have other people crawl over our website all the time to verify if what we see is what everyone else sees.

    For example, we needed to make some design tweaks after someone pointed out unfriendly dark alley (Thank you, Jamie!). We needed to make clarity tweaks after a Customer Experience Designer pointed out some issues (Thank you, Kelly!).

    No one, no matter how rockstar they are, is above improvement. And we’re always glad to have others point out where we can improve.

  30. Great advice and tips. Many so-called professional sites have so much crap crammed on to them that your eyes almost bleed when reading the screen. As for widgets popping up, give me a baseball bat.

    One question: Where do you suggest that Archives should be placed. On my WP home page, they’re in the top right corner – the default option. But you want them readily accessible for visitors, right??
    .-= Jim´s last blog ..Should Corporate Executives Get Bonuses When They Don’t Produce Results? =-.

  31. I agree with you Harry! I try to keep my site extremely “un-cluttered”, and as a result, I get quite a few readers. I hate visiting a blog/site and being bombarded by ads, popups, widgets, etc..
    .-= The Gooroo @ iBlogPlanet.com´s last blog ..CommentLuv Coming To iBlogPlanet Soon! =-.

  32. “Some prime examples of widgets you could consider removing are…archives, categories”

    Removing access to the archives and categories seems extreme to me. Aren’t they the best way to help readers reach your old content? I know that the clicks are probably low…but it is better than depending on searches and search engine traffic along, right?
    .-= Dave´s last blog ..How To Survive Reverse Culture Shock =-.

  33. One word: Amen.
    .-= Scott Gould´s last blog ..Cast Your Bread On The Social Media Waters =-.

  34. @Jim: My preference is to place a button for the archives in the main navigation as a page. Keeps it nice, neat and compact that way. Up there, people will see that right away.

    @Gooroo: See? It works! Although after taking a peek at your blog, it was a little overwhelming. You’ve got a lot going on, the ol’ trigger finger’s getting twitchy over here…;)

    @Dave: Ah, I said “widgets”, which means the ones that go in the sidebar. Long category lists and long archive lists take up a lot of space. Like I said to Jim, put them in the main and sub navigation where you have the option.

    @Scott: Can I get a witness, brother?!

  35. Ah yeah!
    .-= Scott Gould´s last blog ..Cast Your Bread On The Social Media Waters =-.

  36. Dude, you’re crackin’ me up 🙂

  37. Well,Ive taken the plunge and subscribed in Google Reader, so here we go!
    .-= Scott Gould´s last blog ..Cast Your Bread On The Social Media Waters =-.

  38. Alrighty then! Rock on and welcome to the blog!

  39. And might I add, sharp looking site you’ve got there.

  40. I wish I could take the credit for the site… it’s a premium WordPress theme that I’ve customised!
    I give link love to the author in the footer
    .-= Scott Gould´s last blog ..Cast Your Bread On The Social Media Waters =-.

  41. Clutter has a lot to do with focus. No focus translates into more clutter. I have this problem right now with my blog in terms of what widgets to add (or not add), etc. Timely post for me to sort that out.
    .-= Jarie Bolander´s last blog ..Creative Class: Unemployment and Happiness =-.

  42. When building a website, keeping clutter to a minimum and the navigation simple is an absolute must. For businesses trying to sell goods and services, keep it simple and don’t go shoving ads left right and centre across the whole site. Your customer’s know what they want and in most cases a lot of ads may put them off as it can look unprofessional.

  43. I’m sure your website isn’t nearly this bad, of course. But there are probably some extra things cluttering up your blog that are distracting your readers and customers, possibly confusing them
    .-= Funny Questions´s last blog ..Bar Joke-Extremely Drunk =-.

  44. Hey, Funny – That’s probably quite true, but if we don’t know what they are because we see our site so often we’ve become blind to them, then we can’t fix them. Feel free to let us know!

    Also, I think you may not have read this post… I suggest you do 🙂

    https://menwithpens.ca/keyword-comments

  45. I couldn’t agree more. Sometimes less can be more. Every hear of the KISS method? ‘keep It Simple, Stupid’

    Tag clouds, recent visitors, and ads galore are just a few examples of things people go overboard with in their sidebars.

  46. Every site owner should strive for the lightest web page possible without losing too much functionality. You suggestions are right on.

    wordpress is looking better and better every year…
    .-= Peter Moss´s last blog ..70-562 ASP.NET exam cleared!!! What a relief? =-.

Trackbacks

  1. Your Clutter is Killing Your Customers | Adobe Tutorials says:

    […] Nobody likes cluttered sites. You may not know what makes a cluttered site, but your customers definitely know when they’re trying to navigate one. There are flashing ads that give them a headache, tons of links with vague titles, social media ad-ins overwhelming the site , and a sidebar longer than the Encyclopedia Britannica. See the original post here: Your Clutter is Killing Your Customers […]

  2. […] a huge headache for the people trying to read your posts. We’re big fans of WordPress here at Men with Pens, but every WordPress default installation comes with a few widgets that you can definitely do […]

  3. […] consultar el artículo Your Clutter is Killing Your Customers, publicado en Men with […]

  4. […] that end, I’m cleaning up my sidebars (Hi James and Harry!) and will be focusing on showcasing what I know to help others, compelling people to sign up for my […]

  5. Acaba con la confusión: ideas para diseñar un blog más usable y ordenado…

    Quizá no te has detenido a pensarlo, pero los usuarios -incluidos tus posibles clientes- huyen de los blogs desordenados y confusos.
    ¿A qué nos referimos cuando hablamos de confusión? Básicamente, a los obstáculos que dificultan la n…

Leave a Comment

*