Drive-By Shooting Special: Cheryl’s Casual Contemplations

James squinted at the figure on the tiny video screen. The man seemed confused, wandering at the side of the building for a minute before staring straight up into the closed-circuit camera that watched his every move. He put one hand to his ear as if to scratch it, deftly balancing two pizza boxes in the other hand.

“Are you sure this is the entrance?” Harry whispered into his mic, still fiddling with the earbud.

“Of course I’m sure.” Good thing Harry couldn’t see the face James was making. “I’ve been sitting in this office watching people go in and out on this screen for fifteen minutes. C’mon, there’s no time for this.”

With his best service-with-a-smile face on, Harry pulled open the door and marched in to the salad bar.

James looked at his watch, then back at the flickering black-and-white image on the screen. Hurry up, Harry. Maybe he could will his partner into fast action. We’ll be getting a call any minute now.

Today’s hit is for Cheryl’s Casual Contemplations, the blog of Cheryl Sweeney. Here’s what the site looked like when we drove by:

At least it was a salad bar, thought Harry. But… “There sure is a lot of green here,” he muttered. “I don’t get it. Aren’t there vegetables or something? Color. Salads need color.

Green’s a tricky color. It’s often used for environmental causes and veggie causes, and of course in some countries deeper greens are associated with money. Regardless, green is rarely used successfully.

As easily as it’s associated with a positive image, green is also a color that people associate with illness (think “seasick”) and envy. Another problem is that with so many different causes trying to co-opt the color, it has a definite association with… none of them.

One of the most successful uses of the color green was in early fast-food restaurants. Studies revealed that it made diners eat and leave faster than any other, so places that didn’t want their diners to hang around long used it to chase people out with color psychology!

Our initial impression was that there’s way too much green used in the site. It’s not conveying a clear message. The shades are harsh on the eyes, and the peach of the content area may add to the association with illness.

And voila! It’s a miracle! The site is now greenless! While we had our eyes off the site, Cheryl read our minds and pulled a fast one, switching the color scheme to peach and brown. (Sneaky woman, you…)

But we still don’t approve. We’d put creating a strong color palette that uniquely and positively brands your site at the top of the to-do list. A fresh white site with some splashes of color, for instance, might convey the image you’re looking for much more effectively.

There was a gloom over the space Harry had walked into. James had changed the camera’s view so that he could watch his partner-in-crime tread hesitantly through the building.

“Signs aren’t much help,” murmured Harry into the mic.

“I noticed. Lots of people turn right around at this point from what I’ve been watching, but we’ve got a job to do,” James reminded him. “Can you find the bar?”

“Give me a minute. I’m looking,” Harry muttered.

The domain name cherylscasualcontemplations.blogspot.com is quite the mouthful. It’s very long. That makes it tricky to type, hard to remember and difficult to say aloud. Imagine someone telling a friend to go visit your site—would they remember all the letters? Would it stick in the other person’s mind so they could go home and type it into their browser?

One of the reasons the domain name is so long is that it’s a free Blogger blog—which hurts your credibility. It’d be a better idea for you to have a self-hosted blog to show you’re serious about your site. Then you could also get a new domain name for your site that’s shorter and catchier.

When a new visitor arrives at your site you’ve got seconds to hook them. The name and tagline of your site have a massive job to do in those first seconds: they need to convey what you do or write about, what’s special about you, and why they should hang around with you. Wow – a lot, right?

As a site name, “Cheryl’s Casual Contemplations” doesn’t tell the visitor any of that. Who’s Cheryl and what on Earth is she contemplating? It lacks punch—and meaning. There’s not a clue for the first-time visitor in the name, so they move on to the tagline.

“… about life, health, and the hereafter.”

The hereafter is death. Well, okay, it’s the stuff after death, but there’s deadness involved in getting to it. Which is a problem in a tagline.

This might sound harsh, but only a very brave new visitor or one who’s expecting something very different from what your content really does offer is likely to hang around past that invitation to come on in. Unless they’re looking for a spiritualist or a mortician, not too many people want to read and discuss being dead.

If you do choose to migrate to a self-hosted blog, a new name with clear meaning and some spunky personality and a tagline that absolutely encourages readers to hang around and learn more about you are both essential.

At the very least, change that tagline and get it working for you right away.

“I thought I felt weird before, but now…. What is this place?” Harry tried to spot another camera, to see if James could see what he was seeing. James was fiddling with buttons, trying to get a better view, but he’d lost Harry completely.

“I can’t see you. Anything there?”

“Nothing at all. I’ll keep looking.” Harry adjusted his grip on the pizza boxes, about ready to drop them randomly. It was taking way too long to get his bearings and he knew it. Besides, his hands were starting to sweat—not good when you’re in the middle of a critical hit.

There are millions of sites on the Internet today, and many do what you do as well. That means you have a lot of competition, and you need to work harder at making sure your site stands out and comes up more often without getting lost.

Site meta is one of the tools that helps you do that. While it’s not a make-or-break deal for getting traffic, every little bit helps.

Meta keywords help people find your site. People go to Google (or another search engine) and type in what they’re looking for. If your site has those keywords in the site meta and content, it has a better chance of showing up in the returns of links the search engine presents. The more specific the keywords, the better.

Meta description is your first contact with potential visitors—the text that visitors see below your link when they do a search and the list of possible sites are returned. The meta description is basically a pitch that tells people what your site is about, why they should click and how your site will help change their life.

You currently have no meta keywords, and no meta description at all. When Casual Contemplations is entered into a Google search, your site shows up with a snippet of your profile on your blog. There’s nothing to compel a Google searcher to click through.

Get targeted keywords, using phrases a search might look for you with, and a great description, into your meta data. Make them interesting, all about the reader, echoing their needs and encouraging them to come visit.

You need to grab people right from the start. You’re passionate about what you do, right? Take some of that passion and wake people up. Get them excited. But get off Blogger first.

It dawned on Harry that he’d been inside chain restaurants like this many times before. That made getting around feel more familiar, but it didn’t make it any easier. When he finally found the salad bar, he stopped short and looked it up and down.

For a Blogger blog, you’ve done some nice customization, and that’s great. Considering its limitations, the site’s layout doesn’t look too dated or cheap.

But the look isn’t casual. We’ve talked about the main color choices already. (Tsk, tsk, you sly thing, you, switching colors…) The site is almost dull.The banner is too drab—it’s brown with a white title and a tiny block of arrows that don’t do much to enhance the design at all. The title and tagline are on the small side, plain and not eye-catching.

The banner should have a font that injects the energy you want, and you may want to include some texture or a photo. For that critical first impression, you need much more interest and appeal than what the banner has now.

The bar was laid out with a few colorful health drinks and related items… at least he thought they were probably related… and more condiments than he could imagine needing. They stretched out in a long, crowded row all down the bar.

It was hard to decide where he should go now. Heck, it was hard to make any decision at all.

Another major issue with the site is lack of proper navigation—that’s a drawback of the Blogger platform. Without navigation, visitors feel lost and aren’t sure where to go or what to click next. They lack information—About Cheryl; Why This Site; Services or Products; a Contact page. These are standards in blogs and websites and people do look for them.

But with Blogger, you can’t have that. You have to create posts and link to them from the sidebar, and then hope they’re not so far down that people can’t see them to click.

At last Harry found a spot to lay down the boxes. No one seemed to be paying much attention as he flipped them open on the bar. Would all this trouble be worth it if no one found the pizzas?

Now that his eyes has adjusted, the problem became obvious. Though the entrance had not been very clear, exits were everywhere around him. They weren’t clearly marked, but people were leaving without ever stopping to see what the place had. From the way they were talking, it seemed most of them thought the doors led into the restaurant, not out of it.

Taking the wrong exit was a mistake Harry couldn’t afford to make. He started looking for a door to the back office.

The sidebar also includes some pretty long lists and too much text. Twitter updates might not be bringing much value to your readers, so we’d remove that.

(Which you did! Yay for you, and we’re glad to see it go!)

The blog roll also sends people away from your site, so a better idea might be a link to a page, listing blogs you like there instead of making those ways to leave your site so visible. You have no post categories, and the dated archive is simply a long list of months, lacking years to keep a new reader oriented—because it’s confusing, it’s probably not getting clicked very much at all, though it could provide some much-needed internal navigation.

James was already on the phone with their contact. “Nothing to report yet,” he muttered a touch nervously. Was the voice on the other end really so chill? Or was he trying to lull James into thinking his ass wasn’t grass?

No matter. All in a day’s work. “It’s been a slow start, but it’s gone off without a hitch so far,” James reported. “I’ll be in touch when we’ve got what you want.” And as James finished his last sentence, Harry walked in the door, glad to yank off the earbud and the wires.

“What do you think he’s getting out of this?” he asked James, flopping into another desk chair beside the video screen.

“Don’t know. Some people might care, but it’s not important to me.”

“Well, it bugs me. I don’t know why he ordered the hit. She seems so nice… I mean, from what I can tell here, she’s trying to do right by people.”

And that shows. Your avatar in the sidebar is cute—we like that, nice job. It adds a quirky, personal note to the site. Get the short bio which accompanies your avatar working harder for you, by telling viewers more of what’s in it for them… and your “complete profile,” Blogger’s version of an About page, could definitely use some attention to the copy as well.

Some of the ads in the sidebar also have that fun look (we like the Verve! ad). That mood might be a good direction to lean if you decide to redesign. When you’re rearranging the sidebar, take a good look at those ads, though. Are they all contributing to the overall purpose of your site? We particularly wondered about the “becoming your own boss” video, which not only takes readers away from your site but also seems pretty far off-topic.

Whatever choices you make about the ads, make sure you get them all together in one section of the sidebar, and make sure your own links that lead into the site come before links leading away, unless there’s a very good reason why not.

On that point: make your relationships with your advertisers much more clear. Do a search right now for FTC disclosure rules bloggers and you’ll find that this is about to become a legal issue in the U.S.. Just as importantly, being transparent eliminates reader confusion and helps to establish your credibility. Any question marks in a new visitor’s mind is equal to asking them to leave.

Lastly, the big widget at the bottom of the site doesn’t offer any value, and it’s far too low to be of any use. We’d suggest removing it completely.

The first possible victim came into view on the video monitor. Unsure, she squinted at the salad bar, then wandered for a minute, picking up a few items on her plate to sample. It took her a long time to check everything out, but at last she added a piece of pizza to her plate.

Harry thought he saw a guilty smile on her face as she backed away.

The next three visitors went the same way. It took too long for them to get through the offerings, but they were determined. At last, they wandered out of the camera’s view to chew on what they’d grabbed.

The content area of the blog needs work. First, the colored font isn’t the best for readability. We recommend changing the font to solid black. The orange text you’ve used for links and blockquotes is also hard to read—again, black is best.

You’d benefit from having excerpts of posts on the main page instead of full posts. There’s a lot of scrolling to get through, and using excerpts would lead visitors further into your blog. As mentioned, fixing up your sidebar with categories, and perhaps reorganizing it to include a list of recent posts or your five most favorite would help as well.

Paragraphs are chunky, making them appear as blocks, which mean that most people are going to look at them like work. It’s not encouraging to know you have to read a long block of text. Try to break the text up into paragraphs and add interest with bullets and sub-headers.

Watch out for image sizing in posts, too. The blog’s content area is very narrow and when you use an image that’s too large, it makes for very narrow text wrapping around it. We’d suggest keeping the images at the beginning of the post, unless you go to a wider design where you’ll have more space to fit both text and images.

The wait was agony. No matter how much experience Harry and James had with hits like this, the moment of “will they bite or won’t they” seemed to take forever. Would anyone get it? Would others follow those early nibblers far enough to take his bait? The boys kept watch over their little screen anxiously.

The more we re-read the sidebar information and the blog posts on the home page at the time of our drive-by, the less we understood your purpose: Is this site sponsored by one or more of these companies? Is it meant to be a business site for you? Is this a sort of a public journal, or is it meant to be educational?

Focus your bio. Focus your ads. Focus your blog posts, most importantly, so the purpose of the site is never in question. Readers need to feel that when they want to know about X, your site is there for them. So what’s X?

That’s what most readers are going to ask themselves: why they should stay, read more and get involved. Clarifying why people should care about this site must be a top priority going forward.

Blogger is limited, so the site is very simple—meaning there’s not a lot we can say. With a little TLC and an eventual switch to a self-hosted blog platform, the site will be much better able to help you achieve your goals.

Once the first few patrons had stopped at the pizza boxes, word got around. A splash of color and a whiff of something unexpected drew people to them faster than Harry or James had anticipated. By the time the owner stepped away from the cash register to see what was going on in the restaurant, the damage had been done.

There was chaos as guests grabbed for forbidden pepperoni-and-sausage in the austere green room. Unaccustomed to the grease and meat, their systems needed no further poison. Cheryl was the last to try just a tiny bite of Harry’s deadly delivery.

When the victim was down, Harry turned off the video screen with a slow shake of his head, unable to watch another minute.

James picked up the phone and delivered the news. They’d finished the hit, and the voice at the other end of the phone couldn’t have been more pleased.

“No more office jobs for me,” James muttered as they sauntered out of the building. “I get too nervous doing a job like that. Too easy for something to go wrong.”

The setting sun added extra-peachy irony to Harry’s look of mock-pain. “Oh, yeah. It kills me to see you working so hard, bro. All that sitting on your butt and dialing and stuff. Nothing but action from now on. Whatever you need.”

“Right now, I need a drink.” James clapped Harry on the back. Then he grinned. “You want action? I’ll race you for a beer.”

No further invite needed.

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. Wow, a fresh hit! it had been so long that I thought you guys had retired. I agree, of course, about the Blogger location. I would take even a wordpress.com site over Blogger, but your own domain is always best. The new colors don’t bother me as much as they do you. It gives the site a warm feel. The blog posts seem a bit heavy on the sales and don’t pull me into the subject. Those are my main issues. nice to have you guys back on the job.
    .-= John Hewitt´s last blog ..Demand Studios is NOT Evil =-.

  2. Terrific post! I agree with pretty much everything except for the color choice. It appears to me that this is a blog on healthy eating/healthy activity, and I think that a leaf, kelly, or viridian green is a great color for this as it screams “fresh!” “healthy!” “leafy greens are good!”. Notice I didn’t say “aqua” or “sea green” which is what I envision when you mention 1950’s era restaurants. I think any color can work, it’s the shade of the color that you choose that is key.

    I agree that the blogroll takes you away from your site, however, I look to my blogroll (and I like it front and center) to help provide a resource for my visitors, and also in part because I hope that the bloggers in my blogroll will link to me on their site as well (as one blogger friend I know says “in blogging you need companionship.”
    .-= Lori´s last blog ..To The French, Art Trumps Economy =-.

  3. And plus, I just read on your “About Us” page that Taylor likes the color green! 😉 Again, great post.
    .-= Lori´s last blog ..To The French, Art Trumps Economy =-.

  4. I thought you guys learnt to take a screenshot EARLY when you did my drive through? Slow learners….. LOL

    Not to lot to say, but really, get your own domain. Hosted blogs suck for a number of reasons, and if you’re working to monetise your site then a hosted blog is a death knell.

    James didn’t mention it, but there’s a great article on Copyblogger about writing taglines…. http://www.copyblogger.com/create-a-tagline/ The person who wrote the article seems to be an ok writer…. 😉
    .-= Melinda | WAHM Biz Builder´s last blog ..Systemising Your Emails =-.

  5. James,

    Nice hit! Of course it’s tough to imagine the shade of green that the site was before, But I agree that if there’s a color that’s been overused by every issue, and sticks with none, it’s green.

    Blue’s not much more inventive, so maybe I need caffeine right now to be a bit more creative, but the colors in the photo she’s got in the current post strike me as awfully refreshing… they might make a nice color scheme.

    The solid blocks of color actually have a lot to do with the vibe I’m getting. Background texture of some sort would do a lot for the site no matter what the palette.

    Clarifying what the site’s about is such a common issue, and you’re absolutely right. If she can get that focused it will be a lot easier for folks to become fans of the salad she’s serving.

    Regards,

    Kelly
    .-= Kelly´s last blog ..Inspiration Points: One Easy Way To Find Out What Your Customers Know About Your Sales =-.

  6. Hi,

    Opting new colors to me will be a great idea for me, as it will give the readers of my blog a fair deal of change and also attract new readers, who may be haven’t liked my previous color schemes.

    This is a great post and really fun to read. Keep up the good work.

  7. My blogs are hosted at Blogger, and I have to admit that it is very limiting in regards to it’s layout. I’ve done the best I can seem to manage within the Blogger format, but I’m getting tired of it. At least I have a domain name for my most important blog which takes people to my site and wraps the blogger domain (at least on that first page).

    I am not very knowledgable when it comes to html and CSS. I believe I am going to have to hire someone eventually to build me a site of my very own to host my blogs.

  8. Mary E. Ulrich says:

    Okay, so what did the revised site look like?

    About the color psychology of green, I’m experiencing some “cognitive dissonance” here. (Piaget would be proud.)

    I remember reading that since green was the color of the trees, grass, and much in nature, it was considered the most relaxing color. It was easiest on the eye and psyche. That was why classrooms were painted green, including changing the previous black blackboards into green blackboards.

    Teachers were also encouraged to switch from grading papers in red ink, to making corrections in shades of green and blue.

    Don’t know. Like you said, puke is green too. So maybe when the researchers included puke in the sample, people changed their color preferences.

    Right now instead of puke, I’d rather think about those pizzas with some green peppers, mushrooms, and oh, oh, must have green onions.

  9. All of this makes me think back to a post here a few days ago about writing and design as art vs. trade. This is a fine example of how hiring a trained and naturally talented graphic designer or copywriter or branding specialist can help a business. Someone who doesn’t understand the elements of design or communication doesn’t know whether something looks like crap or is ineffective communication or not or why. There is a language of design and communication and if you don’t understand that language, you will not be able to communicate your brand. You can talk about the use of color or placement of shapes or font style or effective names or tag lines until you are blue in the face, but if that innate understanding of the elements that go into those things is not there, then you are wasting your breath. It’s like trying to tell one of those pathetic tone deaf American Idol singers that they can’t sing. They just don’t understand the basic components that make pleasurable sounding music and therefore have no idea what people are talking about when they are told “this sounds like crap, you can’t sing, go get another career.” This is my argument for acknowledging that there IS a level of artistry, creativity and innate and intuitive understanding that goes into the successful communication of a brand.
    .-= Momblebee´s last blog ..Are You a Graduate of the Old School or the New School? =-.

  10. It’s been tough for me to get around to reading blogs lately but I love your hits so this brought me right over. This was a fun one to read– you guys gotta go back to doing this on a regular basis again!
    .-= Karen Putz´s last blog ..The American Sign Language Journey =-.

  11. Wow, all these comments are sooooo helpful to me, the victim of this drive by! This blog has been around for a couple of years, and has evolved from just a very occasional journal entry to something that I seriously want to do something with.

    My main interest is communicating about healthy living, but yes, I DO have a product to sell that supports that theme….thus the Verve and Vemma ads. Are we all suggesting that I be a little more overt about that connection through more direct mentions in the posts? I just don’t want to be pushy….I hate pushy.

    The colors…yeah, I initially chose green because it felt bright, clean, energetic. I sooo want texture but don’t have a clue how to do that, so will have to get together with some of my web friends for help. The tan/brown…yeah, was going for warm. James & Harry’s suggestions on white with black type and a few splashes of color…I can see the freshness in that, but I am aboslutely IN LOVE with color and want that to show. Any ideas?

    I don’t want the site to scream femininity but neither do I want a masculine look…thought the use of bright colors might contribute. Maybe this isn’t that important to getting traffic, but only speaks to who I am as a person.

    Last, I am a definite beginner! I am extremely appreciative for all the comments and welcome more advice from folks who are not beginninger!

    Cheryl
    .-= Cheryl´s last blog ..What Is Clean Eating? =-.

  12. Oh, yeah, the previous green color on the sides was a slightly bright lime green–think kiwi. The header was a darker green, think asparagus.
    .-= Cheryl´s last blog ..What Is Clean Eating? =-.

  13. Cheryl,

    Very cool of you to put yourself out there for this hit. That takes guts!

    You asked about disclosure. It has been the big buzz in the blogosphere for a little while, because of this little section of the new ruling: “bloggers who make an endorsement must disclose the material connections they share with the seller of the product or service.”

    The whole FTC ruling is here: http://www.ftc.gov/opa/2009/10/endortest.shtm

    You kind of, sort of, do that in the blurb in your sidebar. Probably enough for the law. When I look at your site, though, I think your not wanting to be “pushy” is preventing clarity for readers.

    I’m not sure of the relationship, but if you work for them, or (pardon my ignorant reference) if you’re a rep sort of like Amway or Avon, go ahead and shout about it proudly in posts now and then, and in your About, too. It’s harder to make sales when folks aren’t clear that you’re selling, and it’s also harder for people to become a fan if they’re wondering what’s in it for you.

    Maybe there are some reps’ blogs that could guide you in how others walk that specific line, but basically, any of us who use our blogs for business have to sell. Without being pushy. We tell stories/ give advice and tips that just happen to relate to things we’d love to sell you, and we do our best to provide so much value that you’ll want more in the form of paid products and services. And then we say, “so buy my stuff.” If you’re out in the open about it, nobody runs screaming when you mention that you have something to sell.

    At least I don’t think anybody runs screaming from my blog… 🙂

    So check out how other entrepreneurs do it in any field and you’ll probably get tons of ideas. Hope that helps…

    Until later,

    Kelly
    .-= Kelly´s last blog ..Inspiration Points: One Easy Way To Find Out What Your Customers Know About Your Sales =-.

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