Jakob Nielsen offers (mostly) spot-on blog guidelines

blogging, technology

Jakob Nielsen is one of the granddaddies of Web Usability; he’s offered for years lots of strong and (IMHO) often very smart opinions about what practices and designs on the Web make for good user experiences. I don’t always agree with his assertions, but I am very impressed by his recent blogging guidelines.

Here are the key sins he warns against:

1. No author biography
I completely agree. This provides much-needed context. Is the person talking about their employer? A competitor? Are her political views colored by her association with a particular organization or religion? And so on.

2. No author photo
A photo is worth 1000 words. Particularly if it’s a serious mugshot, a playful pic, a lovey-dovey shot, etc.

3. Non-descript posting titles
I like teasers sometimes, but (and I need to take this to heart) they should indeed be used sparingly. And as Nielsen notes, key words — relevant to the specific audience — should always be used up front.

4. Links Don’t Say Where They Go
This is an important issue all around the Web. While I’ve been guilty of this sin in the past, I totally agree that it’s rude and/or just annoying to link words like “here” and “like this” and so on. It’s also really bad from a search-engine-optimization standpoint (HINT: Y! and Google et al DO care what you’ve used for your linked text 😉

5. Classic Hits are Buried
I’ve been trying to avoid this problem by including a “Related Links” tidbit at the bottom of many of my newer posts. With that said, though, I still get really frustrated that my “best” writing sometimes goes completely undiscovered and unloved. 😐

6. The Calendar is the Only Navigation
This is a pet peeve of mine. What were the Web log software designers thinking when the put a calendar front and center? I mean, seriously, how often do blog readers think: “Gee, I simply MUST see what Fred has written about on July 22nd, 2005!” Uh, no. Like Jakob wisely notes, people are curious to learn more about what you’ve said on a particular topic. I think I’ve done a good job bringing my topic lists front and center (listing related topics at the top of each post, and all topics on the right of each page), but perhaps I can do so both more efficiently and less obtrusively when I (finally) overhaul my blog.

7. Irregular Publishing Frequency
Here is where I strongly disagree with Jakob and other folks like Duncan of the Blog Herald. When publishing was in meatspace (e.g., via dead trees), sure, it made sense to stick to a schedule. After all, one was typically PAYING to receive a publication (magazine, newsletter, etc.) on a regular basis. And before RSS readers came along, it was also understandable that people wanted to know how often a particular site updated its content, so they could know to check it every Wednesday night or whatever.

But with RSS feeds so ubiquitous now, this is no longer relevant. In fact, not only am I perfectly happy to subscribe to blogs that post irregularly (but with interesting content), I’m often negatively overwhelmed by blogs that publish a zillion times a day. Hence, despite their consistently entertaining content, I rarely ever read Boing Boing or SFist anymore because I simply can’t keep up. The unread items just pile up, and I end up just marking them all as read after a couple of weeks go by.

8. Mixing Topics
I’m really struggling with this issue myself. On one hand, I KNOW that if I trimmed this blog to talk only about Google or dancing, for instance, I’d likely get a much larger and more loyal audience. And probably more targeted and lucrative ads, too. But I blog stuff that I enjoy blogging about, and I hate to change that. The thought of maintaining a bunch of separate blogs sounds like a pain in the ass, and beyond that, I think of Jeremy Zawodny and Robert Scoble — both of whom unrepentantly mix in talk about their personal interests — and (not that I’m in their league) I note that somehow their blogs remain popular :-).

9. Forgetting That You Write for Your Future Boss
Amen. I’ve already written about the topic of cautious blogging in the past:
– “Got business aspirations? Neuter your blog or suffer the consequences.
– “‘I know all about you, Adam’ — Context and queasiness
– “Letting it all hang out.

10. Having a Domain Name Owned by a Weblog Service
This really is a no-brainer. Similarly, I highly advise folks to get an e-mail address in their own domain (e.g., lasnik.net). Sure, you can still easily use Yahoo! Mail or Gmail or whatever by using forwarding, but you then at least have excellent mobility should you choose to change Webmail providers in the future. Plus .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) looks rather professional and is a lot better than .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) (or, frankly, any aol.com address; all of them scream “neeeeewbie!”)

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What are your thoughts? Do you think Jakob got it right? Do you agree with my comments as well? Any additional blogging sins to note?

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Other related links:
– “Blogger DON’Ts (how to gain admirers, get money, stay employed, etc.)

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