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Small Business Blogging Tip #25 – Usability

Form vs. FunctionForm vs. function. It’s an age old debate that has champions on both sides. In business, form is important because branding is a vital element of standing out. Function is important simply because if your product, service or website is difficult to use, people will not use it no matter how beautiful it is. So how do you create a mix of the two that will keep clients coming back for more? The first step is to keep both in mind during your design phase.

Before launching your small business blog, you should already have your branding elements ready for implementation. These elements include your logo, your business name, your mission statement, your tag line and your product or service offerings. Other form elements you should think about are your header graphics, use of flash or other video and animation, use of sound, and the addition of pictures. Keep in mind that many or most of these latter elements will slow your site down and possibly drive readers away. For the vast majority of businesses, we highly recommend staying away from these elements, so use them at your own risk.

So now that you have your branding elements ready, how do you implement them without taking away from your site’s usability and what function elements can you focus on to increase your site’s usability?

How do I implement my branding elements without taking away from my site’s overall usability?

  • As much as possible, keep your site name, logo and tag line in the header area of your site. Prospects expect to find these elements here and when they are, your message is quickly transferred to new readers and maintains consistency for repeat readers
  • For business purposes, use audio and video functions very sparingly. Your site’s load time is an important function element many people forget about. Compress your other visual elements as much as possible so they load quickly, as well
  • Create individual pages for some of your other branding elements such as your mission statement or company information. There is absolutely no need to put all of this information on your home page, as most blog readers expect you to have these pages on your site

What areas of my small business blog should I focus on to increase its’ usability?

  • The best way to increase your blog’s usability is to optimize your menus. Typically, fine-tuned blog’s have a menu along the top with the blog’s most important links, and another along either side with your most important post links. Feel free to try other designs, but inverted “L” style menus are by far the most popular and accepted. Be sure to keep your menus limited to less than 10 links as well, as huge menus are intimidating and get less clicks instead of more
  • Internal linking is another great way to increase your blog’s usability. Internal links are those you place within your blog posts that link to related posts on your blog. You can also use a related posts plug-in such as the one we use, that notifies your reader’s of the posts that are most similar to the ones they are reading
  • Limiting the size of your pages is also a good way to increase your blog’s usability. Ever seen a blog where the page scrolls down further and further until you completely forget where you are in the first place? How long should a page be? It depends on how many ads, widgets and menus you decide are important enough to include on your pages. Feel free to include as many posts on your pages that will fill the areas next to your sidebar, but as a loose rule, keep your pages to five posts. This will not only highlight your most current posts, but also entice readers to eventually click on other pages of your blog

What are widgets and how can they help make my small business blog better?

  • Widgets are pieces of code you can embed in your blog to add new elements to your site quickly and easily. Much like a plug-in, you add them to specific pages on your blog and the widget does the rest. One major difference between plug-ins and widgets are that plug-ins deal only with information on your site such as Top Commentators or Top 10 Posts. Widgets on the other hand, offer third-party information or services that hopefully add some value to your blog. One widget we have used on our blog is the Blog Rush widget located in the lower right hand corner, which serves up articles from other blogs that are similar to the one you are currently reading
  • Setting up your RSS feed also requires the use of a widget. To do so, add a button on your site so that your readers can quickly add your feed to their favorite reader. One of the most popular and easy to use ways to do this is to add your blog to Feedburner and add the code they give you to your blog
  • Some more popular widgets you might consider are Google Adsense (automatic advertising on your blog), Flickr (photograph and image viewer), Snap (viewable links), Polldaddy (polls) and Meebo (instant messaging)

Do not underestimate the usability of your site. Ask your employees or clients for their feedback. Remember, your small business blog is not really for you, it’s for your clients, prospects, employees and Internet at large. Make sure it works to their standards, not your own. Be sure it loads fast and that there aren’t too many disturbing elements like flash animation or blinking advertisements. Your content and how your products or services can help people are the most important things on your blog. Highlight them and make them easy to find from every page. Don’t hide behind fancy graphics. Bloggers are smart and will soon see that your content is not up to par. Instead, dedicate the time to creating useful information and make that information as accessible as possible. Anything else is uncivilized.