As a longtime admirer of the work of web usability expert Jakob Nielsen I was pleased to find today, via a review on Josh Hallett’s hyku blog, a link to JN’s list of top ten weblog design mistakes, from the point of view of usability, which is a pretty crucial point of view for business blogs (although JN’s list is not written for business bloggers as such).

The list is written in JN’s typical authoritative style – not, I emphasise, ‘authoritarian’, but I discern as usual that there is no suggestion that there might be more than one approach – the master has spoken. Well, he has been at the usability game a long time and people do fly him around the world – even to Australia – to run workshops on this stuff. And, again as usual, there is a nice, even slightly hypnotic, internal logic to his arguments. So, in my opinion,  it is well worth paying attention to what he has to say.

The top ten design mistakes he identifies are:

  1. No Author Biographies

  2. No Author Photo

  3. Nondescript Posting Titles

  4. Links Don’t Say Where They Go

  5. Classic Hits are Buried

  6. The Calendar is the Only Navigation

  7. Irregular Publishing Frequency

  8. Mixing Topics

  9. Forgetting That You Write for Your Future Boss

  10. Having a Domain Name Owned by a Weblog Service

The commentary contains lots of gems and I have picked up several points which I can see would be well worth my applying sooner rather than later.

I’ll comment here on the first five and on the remainder in another post or posts.

I do agree strongly with him on the value of having an author biography – as he says, ‘It’s a simple matter of trust’. I also believe that an author photo is valuable.

Mr Nielsen has some very helpful comments and guidance on the subject of post titles, stating that ‘On a value-per-word basis, headline writing is the most important writing you do.’ I may have to plead guilty to using some ‘cute or humorous headlines that make no sense out of context’ but I notice that even the sub-editors on Australian dailies such as the Sydney Morning Herald seem recently to have increased the frequency of occasionally witty, but often atrocious puns in their headlines.

There are useful comments on the need to say where links go and I heartily concur with JN’s criticism of shorthand, such as using (unlinked or unexplained) the first names of other writers or weblogs, which can alienate new visitors who may feel they have stumbled into a closed circle where they are not really welcome – unless of course you want precisely that arrangement! In that regard, I recall a couple of years ago when a colleague was criticised at a conference for having an off-putting home page and he declared rather pugnaciously that the design was deliberate as he only wanted to connect with people who would not be put off. Hmmmm.

I sat up and took particular notice of JN’s fifth design fault, Classic Hits Are Buried. It’s a straightforward matter for me to go through the stats and identify a select group of the most popular posts here – some keep being clicked months after I’ve posted them – and provide a link to them in the sidebar: something for my to-do list.

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