Sunday, November 01, 2009

What Makes A Good Blog (and what doesn't)

The Crafty Gardener was asking what his readers look for in a blog and what added gadgets they actually use and Nell Jean at Secrets of Seed Scatterer was telling her readers what she liked and disliked about blogs. And as opinionated as I am, I just felt a post a-brewin!

For choosing a blog to read I go through the following process:
(pause cursor on sentences for hover text)
  1. Intriguing blog title.
  2. A great blog header will keep me there for a look-see.
  3. Clutter is a big turn off.
  4. Newest post either visible upon entry or not too far a scroll away is a MUST!
  5. Author info at the top is definitely the way to go.
  6. A well thought out, well written post is also a MUST.
  7. I LOVE humor!
  8. Pictures aren't necessary for every post, but do add to the experience.
  9. I prefer blogs that allow comments.
  10. I HATE word verification!
  11. No pitch black backgrounds with bright white text - Headache City!!

  1. Fabulous photos
  2. Post labels
  3. Authors who read and respond to comments
  4. Blogrolls.
  5. Hyperlink references in posts
  6. Posts that teach me something.
  7. A passionate, funny writer that isn't afraid to go off on a good rant now and then ;)
Specifically for garden blogs:
  1. Wide shots of the garden
  2. Pictures that include the whole plant
  3. Step-by-step instructions
  4. Names of plants in the pictures
  5. Your planting zone and soil type
Now I'm not saying that mine is a perfect example of a perfect blog. In fact I have seen so many blogs that I feel mine can only aspire to be like. But, I found it useful to see other blog readers' ideas of a great blog and thought you might too.

Tell me what you like (and dislike) about blogs!


Blogger Daphne said...

Not necessarily in order
1) I like to see where people live right at the top (like yours does).

2)I hate annoying ads ie ones that flash or ones that are before the post. In the side bar or at the bottom are fine. I can ignore them if I want there. I actually prefer if the top bar with the title doesn't change much or keeps in a theme (I know I'm probably in the minority). I get to know people and identify them by the picture. I know I ought to do it by the name, but I'm very visually oriented and I forget names easily. It takes longer to learn.

3) Where the post starts has to be obvious. I'm not going to spend time hunting for posts. I've seen posts that are really skinny and you can't tell them from their thick sidebars. That is a real turnoff.

4) I like paragraph breaks (or photo breaks) occasionally. I can get lost in large blocks of text and lose my place. It is easy to know where you are if there are frequent breaks.

5) Content. I hate having to load a blog just to read two lines of text - though I'm a sucker for a pretty garden photo. I hate loading a gardening blog just to read the score of a sports game. I'll forgive it once or twice but if it happens all season long, I'm gone. I don't mind the occasional post about you, but if your blog has a topic I want most of the posts to be on topic. And yes humor is a definite plus. I love to laugh.

6)If I ask a question in the comment section I really do want an answer. Please don't ignore me.

So there are a few. I remember last January I did go on a rant about what I hated about blogs. The location (or zone either works) info was one of the top things for gardening blogs. I really do need to know where you live to make sense of what is happening in your post.

11/02/2009 7:13 AM  
Blogger Heather said...

I am with you on many of the items you have listed. Messy and cluttered blogs that take a long time to load are the bane of my existence. I so prefer clean and concise info and I love pictures. I am not terribly nimble minded when it comes to imagination! Good post!

11/02/2009 7:38 AM  
Anonymous Nell Jean said...

The only item I can add is original Post Titles that give a clue as to content. 'A Good Thing' will have me looking six times to see what was a good thing because there's no clue and I will forget six times. 'A Good Thing about Trees' has a key word I'll retain.

Oh, and comments. Have you ever looked high and low for the comment button where it was '3 chicken peeps' or something like that? Makes me cranky.

I'm becoming more reluctant to put too much information about a subject and hyperlink to references since I read what one blogger wrote about not laying out a project for some h.s. student to lift and turn in as his own work. I have some great pictures that I plan to use, but I've decided to use broad terms like common name and 'fructose lichen' instead of giving the scientific name. What is your opinion on that?

11/02/2009 2:38 PM  
Blogger Rosey Pollen said...

You nailed it Sylvana. Love this post! Thanks...
What I hate is Word verif., ADS, and slow loading.
What I love: humor, easy to comment and be commented back to, I have short attention span so if a post is too long, I just skip a lot. My bad.

11/02/2009 2:50 PM  
Blogger Ellie Mae's Cottage said...

I agree with everyone has said so far, but my one big irk is music playing on the blog. I really don't like that because I find it distracting and so often I'm blogging in front of the TV and when music suddenly comes on it annoys my family who are watching a show. -Jackie

11/02/2009 3:43 PM  
Blogger The Violet Fern said...

Thanks for the insightful post. I am a new blogger and any tips on improving are so well appreciated! I just took off "word verification" which is apparently a default. But, I am afraid of SPAM so will try "approving?" It may take some time to figure it all out. Thanks again for a very informative post!

11/02/2009 7:40 PM  
Blogger Sylvana said...

WOW! Lots of great comments! Guess it hit a nerve with you too :) I'm not sure if you all figured out that if you stop your cursor on any line in my list in the post - it will give you additional info in a hover text box. I wanted to keep the list neat and easy to read.

Daphne, I like the author info right at the top too. I want to have an idea of who, what and where while I'm reading the post. I also like a consistent look to a blog. I don't mind if they update a little here and there now and then, but constant change is distracting.
And, yes to breaking up large spans of text. I have read (or at least tried to read) blogs that have posts written in long run-on sentences and just give up after awhile. And I just can't imagine a gardener not wanting to answer questions about gardening :)

Heather, yes! Load times! If it takes too long to load a blog, most people won't stick around. Clean and concise are preferences of mine as well. It all comes down to ORGANIZATION!

NellJean, I agree on your additions. The title can be a lead in, but it should give you some idea of what you are getting into! I generally read posts with titles that make sense and skip ambiguous ones. And I hate it when the comment button is buried or camouflaged. It should be obvious. Maybe say COMMENTS?
As far as not linking or using proper names to keep HSer from getting info - I don't worry about that. It is not my job to police them. My job is to make my blog useful. Besides, who knows, maybe they will learn something! ;)

Rosey Pollen, it's not your bad if the author makes something too hard to read. They should know that we all have very limited time. And we all know that sometimes the post is more for the author than their readers (because most of us use this medium to keep track of what we do in out gardens from day to day, year to year).

Ellie Mae's Cottage, I don't like the auto-playing music either. I have more than once had the shit scared out of me while I was blogging late at night!

Violet Fern, I don't mind the approval tools that show your comment but let you know that others won't be able to see it until after approval, but I guess Blogger's approval is still far better than WV! The way that I handle spammers is to be sure that I choose to have all comments emailed to me (you can do that in Settings). I go through my email regularly and scout out spam comments, go to the post and delete them. It has worked for me for years. Easy on me and most importantly, easy on my readers :) Good luck. You're going to love garden blogging!

11/02/2009 8:17 PM  
Blogger vrtlarica said...

These are some good tips!

There is something about some blogs that just keep you attention for longer that other... and you keep coming back to them... They probably have all "musts" and "bonuses" or most of them, but they probably have "something" that just makes you going back for more...
All I want to say is that you can probably follow all these tips, but you need to have writing skills that will keep attention of readers.

11/03/2009 2:51 AM  
Blogger Sylvana said...

Vrtarica, good writing skills actually is on my list - #6 in the blog choosing process. We can all work on our writing skills, but that "something" may be a gift, not an attainable skill. But we shouldn't be discouraged! Most of us aren't looking for perfection or awesomeness, just something that is informative, interesting, possibly fun, with the minimum of annoyances.

11/03/2009 9:33 AM  
Blogger Amy said...

Hi, I enjoyed your post and I guess I have never really thought about... what I like about in a gardening blog. I totally agree with your comments. It is nice to have wide shots of a plant to appreciate what it really looks like in nature. Good post! -Amy

11/03/2009 10:27 AM  
Blogger Elephant's Eye said...

About the music. I always have the sound off. I listen to my own choice of music here. James at Blogging from Blackpitts has an elegant solution - he just says I am listening to Blah Blah by So and So. (Small niggle, the photo in your header loads slowly, next time I will just scroll straight down to the post)

11/03/2009 2:20 PM  
Blogger Sylvana said...

Amy, I always see so many close-ups but not enough big-picture shots. The flowers are only part of the plant, and I use blogging to pick new plant material for my garden. Also, I like to see how people are using the plants. Glad you liked the post.

Elephant's Eye, I've heard a lot of people say that they surf with the sound off. That is a solution, but that just says to me that those people also have a problem with auto-play sounds while surfing. It is more of an annoyance than an addition.

Sorry about my header! I have opened it on so many different computers and browsers without a problem, I'm not sure why it is doing that for you.

11/03/2009 3:49 PM  
Blogger Swimray said...

I guess my blog meets most of your criteria, except for the text and background. Dark backgrounds make my photos vivid and pop. I experimented - white text with black background was WAY too contrast-y (that headache thing) so I went with light gray text on dark gray background. I think it works.

My other blog issues: teeny-tiny text and too many posts/photos on one screen (takes too long to load).
I've always had open comments and only one spam comment in two years.

11/03/2009 5:36 PM  
Blogger Mary Delle said...


I like all your suggestions. My one question is about replying to comments. I do read everyone, but does everyone expect a reply. And where? In the comment section? I usually go through the list and reply to people on their blog, as I don't go back to read the answer to my comment. So few answer. Suggestions are appreciated.

11/03/2009 5:59 PM  
Blogger Sylvana said...

Swimray, the dark grey with the light grey text on your blog is fine. I don't get the eye strain and waviness like I do with the bright white on pitch black. I guess I mean high contrast between background and text. Thanks for pointing that out.

Mary Delle, I would not expect a blogger to come to me to answer a question - that would be a Bonus. I think even a blogger who answers EVERY comment is a Bonus. But they should definitely reply to questions, and probably any comment that someone took a lot of time developing. Replying to similar comments as a group is fine, too.
And one thing to note about going to the blogger to reply - it can be very confusing when you reply in the comments of their post and what you are talking about is unrelated to that post. And if you do go to the blogger, be sure to let them know exactly what you are referencing - I often forget what I asked!

11/03/2009 6:59 PM  
Blogger janie said...

This is a great post, and excellent comments. I hate the idea of offending anybody with my blog, because I want people to read it and enjoy it.

11/03/2009 8:57 PM  
Blogger Sylvana said...

Janie, I think that is the desire of most bloggers. I am glad to see that other people are getting something from this conversation. I know it got me going! :)

11/03/2009 11:29 PM  
Blogger Anna said...

Some very interesting points Sylvana. I am so relieved to see that somebody else has problems with black backgrounds and white text. I thought that it was just me as I find it very difficult to read even with my glasses on :) Likewise red and purple backgrounds hurt my eyes. I have been considering moving from word verification to approval but I like the fact that with word verification the comments are real time.

11/04/2009 2:33 PM  
Blogger Wendy said...

Ok, looks like I'm doing some things right! I'm going to leave you an honest scrap award on my blog! no pressure, just fun! THanks for the fave by the way! :)

11/04/2009 8:58 PM  
Blogger Sylvana said...

Anna, I haven't even seen a red and purple combo. That would be a bit harsh.
I wish Blogger had a way for us to pick "friendlies" so that they wouldn't have to be subjected to WV or approval - just non-identified commenters.

Wendy, you earned the fave. I saw your post for the Honest Scrap. If I get time, I may do it - but that may not be soon. It's Endless Shrimp this weekend!

11/05/2009 11:31 PM  
Blogger donna said...

Holy smokes! You all know how to intimidate new bloggers or even seasoned bloggers.

11/07/2009 9:06 AM  
Blogger Sylvana said...

Donna, hope we haven't intimidated you too much! ;) You have a lovely garden and beautiful pictures. And, my fave, a great sense of humor!

11/07/2009 9:31 AM  
Blogger Jim Groble said...

Outstanding! I'm always afraid that I'm the only one who doesn't get bored with wide shots of my garden. Love your blog.

11/08/2009 11:27 AM  
Blogger Sylvana said...

Jim Groble, yay! Wide shots rule! I know a close up can be intriguing and beautiful, but as a gardener, I want to see the garden!!

11/08/2009 7:31 PM  
Anonymous Jennifer Tidwell said...

As a garden blogger, I'm always trying to figure out what people want to see. I want to make sure I please a wide range of readers without cluttering the site too much.

Great blog!


11/24/2009 8:40 PM  
Blogger said...

Great information here - thanks for opening up the discussion. I have only recently started blogging and love it when I read an idea and can fine tune my blog to make it more "user-friendly". It seems as though I am doing most things right. I do appreciate blogs that make use of labels - I find those so easy to search back.

11/24/2009 10:11 PM  
Blogger Sylvana said...

Jennifer Tidwell, I'm sure you will always find a few people that like the clutter, but I think most gardeners are very busy people and appreciate blogs that are straightforward and easy to navigate., I don't use the labels on my blog simply because I only recently discovered their usefulness. If I have extra time this winter I intend to organize and label many of my posts.

11/29/2009 8:28 PM  
Anonymous mss @ Zanthan Gardens (Texas) said...

You've hit on most of my faves and peeves. Context is vital in garden blogs so it's important to know where the person is gardening from. I urge people to do that in comments, too, if it is relevant to their comment.

I hate any text except black on white because it is difficult to read. To the person above who said that a black background is better for photos--that may be. And if you have a photoblog, that's great. I prefer blogs with good writing. Photos are just eye-candy. Sweet but not substantial.

I also dislike monster banners with huge photos. They take too long to load and I want to see the content right away.

12/03/2009 8:33 AM  
Blogger Sylvana said...

Here, here! MSS! I love your enthusiasm! As far as the black for photo thing, there are also ways to get a black border around your pictures leaving the text background readable. I don't like the banners, gadgets, and such either. Most of it is distracting and, as you mentioned, time consuming. Thank you for your comment!

12/03/2009 5:32 PM  
Blogger Kirsten said...

Such good information for a newbie blogger like myself! Before I started blogging, I was much more critical of the blogs I read but now I know how hard it is, I am much more forgiving. That being said, I usually look at the graphic appeal first - clean layout with lots of white space, expressive photos, and (pet peeve) good grammar and spelling. When that's all married to relevant (to me) content and an engaging point of view, it's going on my reader!

12/25/2009 12:05 PM  
Blogger Sylvana said...

Kirsten, definitely white space. The eye always need a place to rest -- and it makes it easier to keep track of where you last were. As far as good grammar and spelling, I'm right there with you on that! I have been to more than a few blogs that write like they are texting - ANNOYING! Not worth my time!

1/02/2010 11:07 AM  

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