Drive-by-Shooting Sunday: Forty Plus Two


James didn’t even glance up from where he stood at the kitchen counter, deep in concentration while he tried to fix the puzzle before him. “Hm?”

“What are you doing?”

“Trying to glue my coffee cup back together.” And it wasn’t working well. “I think this glue is old.” He set two pieces firmly into each other and pressed hard. “They keep falling apart. I knew I should have bought a souvenir cup from last week’s hit.

“Yes, alright,” Harry acknowledged quietly. “But I mean… What are you doing? We’re supposed to be at a hit.”

“Hit?” This time James did look up. “What day is it?”

“Um, it’s Sunday, bro.” Harry waved the sheet of paper. “Number 40, Second Street. Remember?”

“Oh sonofabtich.” The blue ceramic pieces clattered to the counter. “You’re kidding me, right?”

“Nope.” Harry tossed the Glock in Jamie’s direction, and it smacked into a capable hand. “Car’s waiting. Let’s go.”

Today’s hit is for Forty Plus Two, the blog of Bengt Wendel.  Here’s what the site looked like at the time of our hit:

“Wait, hang on.” James frowned and flipped the paper over. “Where’s the photo? They always give us a photo. How am I supposed to work without a photo?”

“We have directions,” Harry flipped the sheet back over and tapped the address as he drove through the city streets. “Isn’t that enough for a big boy like you? I’m sure once we get there you can-… Hey, is that it?”

A small black and white symbol hung outside the white, discreet building that was so pale, it was almost invisible.

“That?” James looked at the directions and then the building. “That quiet little thing?”

Quiet is how the site comes off. It’s so pale and white that it lacks enough impact to hold visitor interest at a first glance, and a first glance is just about all a person has to grab readers online. The blue is too quiet and gets eaten up by all the white.

Because there’s such a lack of color, our eyes start shifting immediately between the symbol on the right to the RSS icon in the right corner without even knowing what the site is about. That’s bad for traffic, because the first impression one should make with a visitor is that this site has what the person is looking for.

Also, while the RSS is prominent (and that would be good if it was the second thing that drew our eyes instead of the first), that particular icon always reminds us of some guy having a read while he’s sitting on the toilet.

“What’s that mean?” James pointed to the symbol on the sign.

“Dunno.” Harry shrugged. “It’s called a kanjii symbol.”

“Well, what good is that?” Amber eyes narrowed at the symbol that seemed to taunt him. “Do you think it means 42?”

“I doubt it,” Harry slowed the car and parked on the side of the quiet street.

And that’s a problem. The kanji symbol means nothing to most people and is irrelevant unless its translation would be 42. Be very careful when using cultural symbols and make sure people know what they mean before you use them.

The banner is wasted space and should have a more representational image than the kanji. You can still go with that white minimalist look, but it would be a good idea to add some color and spice with exotic flowers or smooth river stones on a white background.

Also, the title of the site seems unclear and relevant as well. Are you forty-two years old? Why 42? What does 42 have to do with personal development and blogging? And why does the tagline tell us this is a blog? As visitors, we want to know what we’ll take away from this site, not what type of site it is. Create a tagline that tells us what we’ll get if we stay to read. There has to be some benefit in this for us.

“Well, what’s that mean?” This time James pointed to the small signs leading visitors around. “Last 25? 25 what?” He had no temptation to go visit that area of the site simply because he didn’t know where it would go and didn’t have enough reason to care. “Oh, hey, you can get tips here,” he pointed to another sign. “I don’t know what kind of tips, but there you go.”

“Could be stock exchange tips,” Harry grinned.

“Or tips on dating,” James grinned back.

The navigation titles really aren’t clear, so we suggest adding some description there. What kind of books? Self-help? Zen? Blogging? What kind of tips? If you want readers to click because they want what you have, tell them what you have and don’t make them guess at it.

The font of the navigation also looks a little odd as a serif selection. The rest of the site (minus the title) is sans serif. Try to always be consistent with fonts and pick one to use throughout the site.

Reorganize the title tags as well. Put them in a logical order for readers. Tips would be first, then Books, then Categories then About, then Contact and have Archives tucked in there last. Remove the Last 25 – it’s just a list of posts and you should have enough in your sidebar to provide people with reading material.

You also need Home in your navigation. While traveling around your site, we couldn’t get back to the main page easily and had to keep using our back button of our browser.

They’d gotten out to wander the deserted building. There was an empty feel to it, though Harry tried to explain to James that the mood the owner had been going for was peaceful. As far as James was concerned, the place just felt hollow and lonely from all that ghostly white.

“Wow, check it,” he peeked inside a window at the rolls and rolls of scrolls. “Man. Someone could get lost reading in there. I’ve never seen so much text in all my life.”

“Tell me about it.” Harry glanced at the shelves, the walls, the floor. Text everywhere. “I’d be interested in reading, but there’s so much to read that it all looks like too much work.”

Indeed. In fact, there is so much text on the site that it all ends up blending together. The sidebar links resemble newspaper columns, and the overall font is tiny and hard to read. There are no images to make the experience more interesting. When people see too much text, they don’t want to bother reading.

We also noticed that while the sidebar links look jammed like a newspaper, the content area for the main posts look oddly spaced out. Nothing seems particularly connected. We’d add some bullets in the sidebar to help readers see where they need to go and guide them, and we’d reduce the spacing in the content area, again to help them read.

Another issue we noticed is that the options at the bottom of each post (such as Leave a Comment) are terribly jammed together, again making it difficult to read what’s there.

We’d also definitely add some images and color to break up the monotony of text, white and blue. Since this is a personal developoment blog, the look of the site has to grab the reader and motivate them as much as the content. It’s just not doing that.

“Hey! Check it!” James pointed to the sign on the wall. “Skellie came by! Wait- hang on…” The wheels were turning. “You think she’s still around?” He gripped his gun tighter and James’ whole body went tense as a wire. “Look, this could be dangerous. I thought this was a hit, not a showdown.”

“Relax. She’s long gone.” Harry pointed to the date. “Besides,” he slapped James on the back. “I thought you liked her.”

“I do. Smart cookie. Doesn’t mean she’s not the enemy, though. Who knows who she’s working for?”

“Some Rowse guy in Australia, I heard.” Harry hitched his chin at Jamie’s gun. “Put the safety back on, will you? You’re making me nervous.”

Before the safety goes on, it’s time to take some shots at your sidebar.

Your About text gets completely lost in the sea of words, so make that stand out more and also punch up the text itself. It’s incredibly boring to read and while functional, it’s not benefit rich. Put some impact in that text. Get people excited, not snoozing!

We suggest changing your RSS icon to one that is more appealing and move it down into the sidebar. It’s not in a bad location where it is, but moving it down gives you a chance to put something nice into your banner to add some visual impact. Also, it would replace that link to your RSS in the sidebar (though you should keep a link for “get updates via email instead”).

Recent Posts, Recent Comments and Random Posts are all good choices. With some more space and hopefully a better choice of colors (pale blue on white is really tough to read), that area will look better and more inviting.

Find More in the Archives is just going overboard, though. Archives is in the navigation and people can find it. You have links already in the sidebar, and this extra feature becomes redundant. Take it out.

My Favorites is a nice touch, but there are too many links there. Keep lists of links down to 3, 5, or 7 to prevent option paralysis in readers. Also, put that My Favorites above the Random Posts, because people are more attracted to what someone else likes a lot versus something random pulled from anything.

This reorganization also means that, basically, you don’t need a three-column theme, and a two column theme would have been a better choice. You have no ad space, no funky widgets, no nothing but links, so you don’t need to capitalize on your above the fold real estate as much. Having a two column theme would be better and give you more space to add images to the posts instead.

“Medlev?” The message on the window caught James’ attention. “What’s that mean?” It was the third cryptic message he’d found so far. It felt like the building’s owner knew all sorts of secrets and had codes all over the place. “I’m not liking this. You think this guy is in the Secret Service? Or is this a cult? The Medlevs… Has a nice ring to it.”

“Mm. I doubt it,” Harry rubbed his chin. “Whatever Medlev means, I don’t like reading messages on glass.” Especially pale blue ones, because he had a hard time distinguishing between the words to read and the upside-down letters unless he focused hard. “I’m tired of glass,” he decided, reaching out to smash the window with the butt of his gun.

“I’m with you there.” James leaned into the window and took aim at the black and white symbol. “Watch this.” He peppered off the bullets like a cop, and when he was done, a smoking smiley face covered the kanjii.

“That’s not very respectful,” Harry rolled his eyes, but he started taking single shots at all his pet peeves. First the small writing on the scrolls. Then the newpaper columns stuck to the wall. Then the pale blue stripe that couldn’t pass for décor.

Then a shout rang out. “Hey! Hey, what are you doing? That’s my home!

Both boys whipped around. A tough-looking guy with the shades grimaced at them from across the street. He started to run over with blood in his eye.

James was ready to run, but Harry held out a hand. “Hang on.” He stood his ground and lifted the gun. “You want peace, buddy? I’ll bring you peace.”

And two seconds later, the victim found the peace of eternity from where he lay on the sidewalk.

“Dude.” James stared down at the body, then looked up a Harry. “That’s not very zen of you.”

“Hey.” Harry holstered his gun and headed for the car. “You can’t always have all the fun. Besides,” he opened the door, ready to head home for some R&R. “I really hate glass effects.”

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

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

Note: We’ve closed requests for free drive-bys on our blog until January 2009. We’ll start taking names again in December for January’s hits. Thanks everyone!

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.