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Re-designing for readers

I enjoyed reading Matt Gemmell’s post on designing blogs for readers the other week. I decided to see how well my own blog “complies” to his advice.

I have had blogs on wordpress, tumblr and writing my own (terrible) blog software on a rented VM in the past. This site is a clean break from those. Content & code both lives in a git repository, which appeals immensely to me as a programmer, and the site is statically generated and hosted on Github. I don’t get the statistics that Wordpress gives you, and I don’t have the seamless posting from tumblr, but I have full control of the templates & content, and free custom domains.

A lot of blogs seems to focus on style over substance—or at least they make it seem that way—with themes that make it very hard to read the text. Garish background colours; a dazzle of columns; tiny fonts; or, my current pet peeve, light gray text on white background. These all amount to punching your readers in the face, and I wanted to avoid that. Thus this site has a single-column layout, high-contrast theme with fairly large font size. But my front page wasn’t quite right.

Instead of the “about me” blurb I used to have I followed Matt’s advice and created a new front page that contains excerpts of the ten most recent posts. This was made possible by upgrading Jekyll (my blogging platform) to a new version that automatically grabs the first paragraph of each post to use for the excerpt. The old front page became the About page instead. Better!

The font was already “big enough”, I feel, but I shrank the line length slightly.

Update 2013-06-17: According to Google Analytics the bounce rate dropped by 15–20% when the change to the homepage went out. Average visitor duration went up by about 50%, and average number of pages per visit went up from below 3 to nearly 4. Not a bad result at all!