May 04 2009

How to Design Your Blog’s Front Page

Published by at 10:55 am under Blogging,Website Design

1.  Make it clear what you offer and why readers should stick around. For example, if you wandered across Superhero Nation, you might stick around because you wanted superhero writing advice or because you want my observations about writing.  The trick is to make this as blatant as possible:  for example, I repeat myself in the title, in the header art, in the page headings, in the side-bar, etc.  Everyone focuses on different elements of the page, so it pays to be redundant.

2.  Stay away from adspeak and flowery language. For example, our title includes the phrase “how to write superhero novels and comic books.”  That’s much more user-friendly than something like “superhero writing insights.”  What’s an insight?  Don’t make readers struggle to translate what you’ve written.

3.  Make it clear what you want readers to do. In most cases, this should be pretty self-explanatory (read our content, buy our book, sign up for our mailing list, etc).  However, it’s not always that simple.  For example, here’s the front page of ChangeThis:

There are a lot of problems with this page, but the main one is that it’s not clear what it wants you to do.  Notice that their goal is “creating a new kind of media… that uses existing tools to challenge the way ideas are created and spread.”   Uhh, what does that have to do with me?

4.  Introduce the reader to your content in a way that will make him want to read more. You have three main tools here.  First, write titles that make it clear what the reader will get out of the post.  For example, if you saw a post called “How to Do Superhero Gadgets Well,” it’s clear what the article is about and why you should read it.  In contrast, I have no idea what “The Recognition Microscope:  Fuel for Human Acceleration” is about.   It sounds trippy as hell.  Second, you can use your sidebar to present your best content and reinforce your site’s theme.  If you want superhero writing advice, our sidebar makes it pretty obvious that we offer a ton of it.   Finally, I recommend using opening sentences that smoothly introduce the material.  ChangeThis has a poor grasp on this.  For one, it doesn’t even let itself complete all of its opening sentences.  “I am convinced that a good deal of the ‘survival strategies’ that organizations are adopting are…”  Umm, yeah.  That sentence is absolutely meaningless without the missing content.  I’d change this to “Many of the ‘survival strategies’ that organizations are adopting are disastrous because of [main reason].”

17 responses so far

17 Responses to “How to Design Your Blog’s Front Page”

  1. Marissaon 19 May 2009 at 1:50 pm

    Alright, I’m pretty sure this isn’t where I’m supposed to put this, out of your numerous posts on blogging, but I suppose it’ll do.

    I’m thinking of starting a small-time blog, just because I keep tripping over things I want to post about or review/critique, etc., but I can’t seem to think of a name/title.

    It’s going to be mostly reviews and general writing advice, though the genre may shift a little with what I’m writing at the given time. For example, right now, it’s going to be a bit superhero-central, but it may not always be.

    Any advice? From B. Mac or anyone else.

  2. Marissaon 21 May 2009 at 3:02 pm

    Not to be a pest, but… Anybody~?

  3. B. Macon 21 May 2009 at 8:51 pm

    Ok. I’d recommend breaking your title into two parts, a 2-3 word tag and a 4-7 word addendum. For example, on our site, Superhero Nation is the tag and “how to write superhero novels and comic books” is the addendum. The addendum can be changed very easily without rebranding your site; the tag cannot be. I mean, if I changed the tag of SN to something like B. Mac’s Writing Blog, many of the readers that got used to “Superhero Nation” would still refer to it as “Superhero Nation” months later. It would create a confusing situation where my new readers and old readers weren’t on the same page.

    If you’re not sure that you will be doing superhero advice indefinitely, I’d recommend keeping the superhero-specific words in the addendum rather than the title. That will make it easier for you to branch out later.

    So, I’d recommend using the first 2-3 words to create an intriguing phrase that makes people think about your angle on writing. For example, my writing advice is almost always superhero-centric, so it makes sense for me to use “superhero” front and center. Since your site probably won’t be as superhero-centric, I’d recommend pursuing another angle. Does your writing advice have a particular style or slant? For example, you could focus on a more general genre (like action, which encompasses most superhero stories) or your particular style of writing. For example, if I had to name a website about how to write serious and modern superhero stories, I’d try something like “Lose the Cape: How to Write Serious Superhero Stories.”

    Some other suggestions…

    –It doesn’t have to be perfectly clear what it is you offer; the addendum can clarify that.

    –I’d only recommend using a tag if you know that is available. I would recommend staying away from .org and other types of URL.

  4. Marissaon 21 May 2009 at 10:15 pm

    Hmm… Well, mine is going to be more of a ‘what not to do’ site, by example. About 75% of it will be like that, whether it’s ‘How to get productive feedback.’ using a very non-productive way as an anti-example, or reviewing books like you have and showing how they could have done better.

    The only thing I can guarantee, genre-wise, is that it’s not going to include westerns, chick-lit, or whatever style most of those boring classics are written in. See, I can write fantasy, I can write sci-fi, I can even write things that are mostly realistic, but if an entire book is completely possible in this day and age, I’d be bored writing it. As such, it’ll be mostly sci-fi and fantasy.

  5. B. Macon 21 May 2009 at 11:00 pm

    Here are some suggestions.

    Beating the Slush Pile: [addendum] –> I assume that most readers will know what a slush pile is. Maybe not young readers, though.

    The Door is Locked: How to Get Published Anyway. This sounds slightly bleak but productive.

    Your Manuscript is Probably Bad, But You Can Save It. (This is a more optimistic and inviting take on Your Webcomic is Bad and You Should Feel Bad, but it’s still kind of unfriendly).

    Is Your Manuscript Dead on Arrival? [Addendum] –> You could replace “dead on arrival” with awful for a harsher, franker tone.

    Save Your Manuscript! [addendum] –> You could replace “manuscript” with story for a more colloquial, youth-friendly feel.

  6. Marissaon 21 May 2009 at 11:13 pm

    I don’t know what a slush pile is, in this context?

    And what I’m looking for is… well, a name. Something like Superhero Nation, for example.

    “Oh, I’m going to visit Superhero Nation.” sounds different than “Oh, I’m going to visit Beating the Slush Pile.” Y’know what I mean?

  7. B. Macon 22 May 2009 at 12:02 am

    When someone sends an unsolicited manuscript to a publisher, it gets stashed in the slush pile. It is extraordinarily difficult to get an unsolicited manuscript accepted out of the slush pile. I’d say that medium and large publishers reject considerably more than 99% of their unsolicited manuscripts. (More than 99.9% at large publishers, according to a handler I met in a bookstore).

    As for your title. It sounds like you’re going to be doing a lot of articles about how to deal with disastrously bad writing. What would you think about something like Disaster Station or Writer’s Panic? I think those are slightly more cryptic than Superhero Nation (which is itself a bit unclear), but they’re probably doable.

  8. Marissaon 22 May 2009 at 12:10 am

    Hmm, I like those. I’m a perfectionist, so I’m still looking, but those are the best yet. 😀

  9. B. Macon 22 May 2009 at 12:29 am

    Some more suggestions.

    Calamity Street. Like Superhero Nation, it’s a combination of two distinct but unrelated words. Also like SN, it uses a noun as a modifier, which I find stylish. (Would you want to visit a site called “Superheroic Nation” or “Calamitous Street?”)

    Emergency Ward.

    Fiction Graveyard. I think this would work better if you had a horror theme.

    If you’re into cheesy wordplay, you could try something like Writing Wrongs. Err… never mind, it’s been taken.

  10. Marissaon 22 May 2009 at 1:35 am

    Hmm… I like how Calamity Street and Disaster Station are kind of places, and not associated with a certain genre, but I want it to have something to do with writing?

    I don’t know. I’m too picky, so don’t worry about it, alright?

  11. B. Macon 22 May 2009 at 2:44 am

    Hmm. I figure that your complete title would look something like “Calamity Street: common writing mistakes and how to avoid them.”

    Are there any website names that you are particularly fond of? (Particularly writing websites).

  12. Marissaon 22 May 2009 at 2:52 am

    Well, it’ll only be about 75% writing mistakes, would it still stand to use that complete title?

    And strangely enough, no website names besides this one come to mind. I haven’t paid much attention to that sort of thing before now. I’ll keep an eye out and see if I spot one I like.

  13. B. Macon 22 May 2009 at 3:10 am

    Yeah, I think it’s ok to use a website name that simplifies a bit. 80% accurate is definitely good enough. For example, we present ourselves as a site about superhero writing, but we do some occasional tangents.

    I like Query Shark’s title. It’s very focused.

    Evil Editor is also focused and stylish.

  14. Marissaon 22 May 2009 at 4:25 am

    …Was there supposed to be a comma between ‘fantasy’ and ‘football strategies’? ‘Cause otherwise, you may have just invented a sport. 😀

    Ooh, I like Query Shark as well.

  15. B. Macon 22 May 2009 at 5:07 am

    Fantasy football is a sport! Err, at least it’s theoretically related to sports.

  16. Marissaon 22 May 2009 at 12:42 pm

    Okay, I’ll let that one slide. ;D

  17. Marissaon 27 May 2009 at 2:35 pm

    I don’t know why, but I ended up taking a fancy to “WriteHack”. It’s mostly going to have to do with science fiction elements anyway, and even the parts that don’t, ‘hacks’ are generally thought of as ways to get into the system, get around bad things, etc.

    Your thoughts?

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