Default templates, an awkward commenting system and Atom (rather than RSS) feeds can often make new readers feel a little uncomfortable.
In this post, I’ll offer you seven different methods you could use to make your own Blogger blogs more friendly for your readers, which in turn can help establish a more faithful readership.
1. Ensure your blog is easily recognizable
There are only a handful of default Blogger templates available to use. Since Blogger has millions of active users around the world, you can be sure that hundreds (at least) will be using these same templates as the visual basis of their blogs.
To make sure your blog stands out from the crowd, you need to ensure your design is in some way unique.
Even the simplest of blog template tweaks: a custom header image, can go a long way to establishing a unique identity. You can easily change the default header image to one which you have designed yourself in the Page Elements section of your Blogger dashboard. Simply click on the “Edit” link for your header widget, and choose to upload your custom-made header image from your computer.
You may also like to consider changing your template to a non-standard one. These days there are hundreds of free Blogger templates you could choose to use instead of the boring default templates provided by Blogger (here is a list of 101 excellent designs to get you started). But again, it is advisable to tweak some element of your template to suit your own needs and ensure the visual appearance is unique to your blog.
2. Redirect your Blogger Feeds through Feedburner
By default, Blogger’s feeds are in Atom.xml format. While modern web browsers may be able to detect these feeds automatically, the feed link leads to the basic Atom file which appears like a page full of unformatted code and offers no indication to uninitiated readers of the subscription methods available.
A much better alternative is to redirect your Blogger feeds through Feedburner. This will allow you to optimize your feed, making it far easier for readers to subscribe. You can also use Feedburner to offer email subscriptions: great for readers who are unfamiliar with RSS or who prefer to read posts in a daily digest along with their regular email.
All you really need to do is set up your free Feedburner account and note down your new feed URL which appears something like this:
Then go to Settings>Site Feed in your Blogger dashboard, and paste this URL into the “Post Feed Redirect URL” box, then save your new settings.
Once you’ve done this, Blogger will automatically redirect your feeds through Feedburner, ensuring your blog readers have a much easier time subscribing to your blog!
3. Ensure Readers can Easily Subscribe
In addition to burning your Blogger feeds through Feedburner, it is advisable to add a subscription button to your Blogger template.
Most blogs feature an RSS subscription button in an easy to spot location which links to their feed URL. This helps readers understand the ease of which they are able to subscribe for updates, particularly if this is accompanied by a brief explanation or a link to a subscription page.
Unless the majority of your blog readers are technologically savvy, you may also like to add an email subscription form (or link) to your template. Many readers are unfamiliar with the benefits of RSS, so offering this alternative method of updates will be warmly welcomed.
4. Make it Easy for Readers to Comment
Blogger’s comment system is a source of contention for many. By default, Blogger comments are set to only allow registered users to leave comments on blog posts. This means that only those who have registered a Google account will be able to comment, preventing a great proportion of your visitors from participating in the conversation flowing from your posts.
Unless you blog specifically about Blogger for those who use Blogger, my advice would be to allow anyone (or at least those with Open ID identities) to comment on your posts. This setting will ensure you don’t place such restrictions on your blogs, thus putting many people off from even visiting in the future, let alone add the value of a comment to your post!
To change the comment settings for your Blogger powered blog, simply go to Settings>Comments in your Blogger dashboard. My advice would be to change the settings for who can comment to one of the following:
- Anyone (includes Anonymous Users)
- Only registered users (includes OpenID)
If you are anxious about spammers hijacking your comments, you may prefer to add word verification or moderate all of your comments, rather than allow these comments to be immediately published. Your readers will surely understand these precautions against comment spam, and will be more understanding than if you simply restricted commenting to those who have and use a Google account!
Another method of ensuring comments are “reader friendly” is to have the comment form open in a pop-up box, rather than load this into the same page.
This setting ensures that readers can easily get back to the page they were previously reading after leaving a comment. While the full-page comment screen does feature a link back to the original post, it is rather ambiguous! Make it easy for your readers to get back to reading your posts by changing this setting in the Settings>Comments page in your Blogger dashboard instead!
5. Add Static Pages and Navigation Buttons
As I wrote in a previous post, blog readers can benefit from easy access to important pages in your blog, such as an “About” or “Contact” page.
Adding such “static pages” to your Blogger blog offers readers an easy method of accessing this information.
By default, Blogger does not allow us to create such pages from within our dashboards (as in the case of WordPress and other blogging systems). Instead, we should create these pages as posts, then link to these pages from somewhere within the blog template.
You can read full instructions for this in the “Create Static Pages in Blogger Blogs” post. Try it for yourself; I’m sure your readers will be thankful for the difference in usability!
6. Add a Search Box to Help Readers Locate Posts of Interest
A search box is one of the easiest methods your blog readers can locate posts of interest, but this is a feature which is so often overlooked!
The easiest method of adding search functionality to your blogger powered blog is to add a search widget to your sidebar. Currently this feature is only available in Blogger in Draft though it will soon be rolled out into the mainstream usage of Blogger.
To add a search widget to your Blogger blog, simply log in to Blogger in Draft. Click on the Layout tab, then choose to add a new “Gadget” to your blog’s sidebar.
In the “Basic” gadget list, you will see the link to add a search box as an option. In the pop-up page, there are a few options for the search functionality you would like to use, including searching the web, or searching your blogroll.
Choosing to only search your own blog is probably the best option for those who prefer readers to stay on their own site though!
Once you have configured your preferred options, simply add this widget to your sidebar. The resulting search box is powered by Google and will create a search box which appears above the main posts section in your blog.
This search box will be really useful for readers to locate posts of interest without the need of scouring through your long archives or labels pages. It is particularly useful too if you have chosen to remove Blogger’s nav-bar from your design!
7. Remove Clutter from Your Layout
Readers have a much easier time navigating through your content if they don’t need to filter through clutter in the sidebar or on your front page!
Take a look at the widgets and scripts you use in your Blogger blog. Are they all really necessary? Do they add value for your readers, and are you able to maintain and use all of them to their best advantage?
If not, get rid of them! While it may seem like a good idea to feature links to dozens of blog directories, blog schemes and interactive widgetry in your sidebar, your readers may not feel the same way.
From experience, I can honestly say that such links don’t actually add much value or generate more readers to your blog. Too many can in fact have the opposite effect and drive your readers away, especially if such widgets have an impact on your page loading time!
In the same sense, it is a good idea to limit the posts which appear on your front page. Too many posts can have a great impact on the time it takes for your blog to load. I’d suggest that between 5 and 7 posts of average length is a good number to appear on your blog’s home page. If your posts are very long or use a large number of images, you may prefer to make this even less.
Readers will certainly prefer to navigate through previous posts or use your search box to locate other posts of interest than scroll endlessly down the page to read previous articles.
What would you add?
I hope this post has offered some good starting points to help you decide how to make your Blogger powered blog become “reader friendly”.
What other ideas do you have which could ensure Blogger blogs are more friendly for their readers? Please let us know by leaving your comments and suggestions below.