Each week, I dissect a blog from top to bottom in three areas: design, navigation/functionality and content. The reason? To help the featured blogger meet her blog goals and become even MORE awesome. The point of a critique is to learn and grow, even if our blogger doesn’t take all of the suggestions. The good parts of the blog are jumbled in with the suggestions below. Here we go!
Blog: Mom of 6
Sharon provides tips for moms on “how to organize your family, your home, your schedule, your household routines and your busy life- all delivered by a mom of 6 young kids ages 5-10 years old.” She wants to build a reputation as being an expert in the art of raising kids in a busy and organized household. She’s also trying to build a business from her blog, eventually leading to larger paid writing opportunities. Sharon says she grows each month but struggles with gaining readers and she’s also not sure if she likes her blog layout.
Header & Menu
- You mentioned to me that your header is a temporary summer header. First of all, I think that’s a cool idea! Since I don’t have your original header to reference, I’ll base my suggestions off this one. Overall, I’d say it’s a bit overwhelming both in terms of design and text. You said the sign on the left is temporary but one thing that sticks out about it is that the words aren’t links. I imagine that people expect them to be links since they sound like categories. If you can code it, perhaps try to make them all clickable links.
- The text in the middle is a bit wordy for a header. Could you simplify it by saying something like “home and organization tips for busy moms with large families”? That seems to encompass it all but in fewer words. You can then get specific in your About part of the sidebar.
- The Mom of 6 graphic is cute but maybe “too cute” given that the rest of your site has a very clean, modern feel to it. Also, I’d advise anyone looking to build a career from their blog to stay away from really common stock art, like mom caricatures. If you want to position yourself as an expert, you may consider using a picture of yourself within your header in some way.
- If you kept the graphics above as is, I’d at least move the Mom of 6 graphic to the left. Remember, people read left to right so you want that first. Also, consider laying the header out so that there aren’t three distinct pieces to it. Think of the rule of thirds- you’ll want things to cross over those intersections (see the link) for greater visual interest.
- While your menu is a bit wordy, I think it’s an excellent way to direct people to the spots of your blog that interest them most. I think if you simplified your header and used fewer words it in, you could leave the menu as is.
- Regarding your menu, keep the formatting consistent. For some of them, you start with a lowercase letter and others with an uppercase. Pick one and keep it the same throughout.
- Also a contact page is important to have. I see that you have one but you have to mouseover “About Me” to see it. Perhaps mention it in your About Me description within the menu. You list your email address but know that spam bots crawl sites looking for full email addresses. Either write out with (at) and (dot) or link it using a little html. Even better? Create a contact form. There are tons of plugins to do this. I use Contact Form 7.
- Overall, your sidebar is nice and clean. You have important elements at the top such as your social media buttons and your mini-About me blurb.
- Your About me blurb starts off great. You welcome to reader, tell them who you are and pique their interest by saying “People will often ask me ‘How do you do it?'” From there, I’d focus on what’s in it for the readers. For example, instead of saying “I tell them that it takes a game plan, the right tools, and alot of creativity and organization” you can say “It takes a game plan, the right tools, and a lot of creativity and organization, all of which I share with you.” Also, don’t tell them you publish every day, tell them what that means to them, i.e. you give them fresh ideas and tips daily.
- You mentioned that you want to showcase your iVoice videos but worry they slow down your site. I agree that you should highlight them; they help position you as an expert! But you’re right- they are probably slowing down your site. I ran your site through this website speed test and your site loads in about 3.17 seconds (under 2 seconds is recommended). I have two ideas for you. One: create a cute graphic for iVoices and then link it to a page where you have all the videos. That way they don’t slow your site down. Two: just have ONE video on the homepage and add a link underneath to encourage readers to click to see more videos on a separate page.
- Also, I see you have two sections called Advertisement but I don’t see anything in either slot. I’d only have one spot and if you don’t have advertisers yet, fill the spot with affiliate ad buttons and put a link underneath like “interested in advertising?” that leads to a page to find out more.
- Your main column is so clean and easy to read!
- Your blog post titles are a good size and easy to read too. You could always customize the font if you wanted to… but it looks good as is too.
- I like the frame around posts. It draws your eye to the main content and adds a nice division between posts.
- I also like the date tab to the left. Adds a pop of color and visual interest.
- Your main content font size could be a tad bigger. It can slow down the reading of larger paragraphs.
- It does take a while to scroll through your posts on the main page. I’d stick with no more than three and add teasers at the bottom. It’s a simple setting change in Thesis (affiliate link) but don’t know if your theme does it that easily. May need to find a plugin or have someone code it.
- I love that you have a “Best of Mom of 6″ shown prominently in your nav menu AND it’s a drop-down for quick access to those posts. You get a virutal fist pump for that—it’s awesome.
- I see that you have your RSS burned through Feedburner. That makes it so much easier for someone to subscribe to your blog. If anyone isn’t familiar with how to do this, Kludgy Mom’s article about RSS and Feedburner gives you a good walk-through about what RSS actually is and how to use Feedburner.
- Commenting on your blog is easy as pie! I did notice that beside each comment there is a leftover piece of the red “view comments” box.
- You offer a search box for readers to find specific content. I see it’s Lijit search which I’m a fan of. I like the weekly emails I get from them to see what people are searching for on my blog (and in search engines).
- You have the sharing buttons at the bottom of each post- yay! This makes it easy for bloggers to share your posts elsewhere. I also like that you include a “print” button as part of that line-up. As someone who wants to be a resource to others with large families, I imagine there will be times when someone wants to print out your post for reference.
- SEO- It’s great that your blog title (at the top of the browser) describes what your blog offers. It’s keyword-heavy too which will help with SEO. One suggestion is to move Mom of 6 to AFTER your description as search engines place greater weight on the first few words.
- SEO- Looking at your source code, I see that you have keywords for your blog. It’s great that you didn’t load it down with every word you can think of BUT I’d suggest going for long-tail keywords that will more likely give you a better ranking. For example, instead of “home organization,” try “home organization for large families.” It’s more accurate so people are more likely not to bounce off your page AND it’ll be easier to rank higher.
- Overall, I think you have a great mix of content: stories, editorial (i.e. opinion pieces like the movie review), recipes, resources and more.
- For a lot of your posts you use sub-headings. This is great for those who skim posts and to break up a post visually. Also, they can be used as an SEO tool if you use header tags (h1, h2, etc). Search engines weight the words in header tags as more important than the smaller words of your main content.
- Your summer camp series is chock full of great ideas to keep any family busy! I’d surely love to visit an outdoor sculpture garden, make a lava lamp and make ice cream in a bag. Since you have so many posts going on in this series, I suggest interlinking your posts a bit more. Interlinking just means to link to other posts of yours within your current post. You can either do this subtly (like I did with the words “interlinking your posts”) or more directly (such as “If you want other summer food ideas, check out last week’s recipe for making cookie bars.” Then link the words “cookie bars.”
- Also, regarding your summer camp series, I’d link to your “getting your camp started” in each post. It’s SO full of great tips and will lay the foundation for anyone jumping into your series.
- This is a small thing (that will probably drive you crazy to switch) but if you’re looking at professional writing opportunities, move towards using only one space after a sentence not two. We used to NEED two spaces at the end of a period because of typewriters but computers fix the issue (if you want to learn more, read this post on why you shouldn’t double-space). The reason I mention is that if you get a writing gig, every editor out there will have to edit this for you. You’ll come off more polished and professional if you already know the one-space rule. I had to break this habit myself years ago but it can be done!
- One post I found particularly interesting was how you dug into Kung Fu Panda 2’s adoption storyline. It’s a great post topic because it combines something popular (the movie) with a category that you write about (adoption). I really like how you compared the ugh moments with the redeemable ones. Overall, I think the meat of this post is great but I have a few suggestions that could make it even stronger: 1. Be careful not to alienate readers who aren’t familiar with adoption terminology. You say “Hmm…. I guess that must mean that you are not a member of an adoption triad.” Wording like that could make someone feel left out and so they won’t read any further. I know you really didn’t mean it that way AT ALL; just something to be aware of. Also, I’d love to see you add sub-headings above each “ugh” and “redeemable” moments that categorize them a bit. For example, above one of them you could add the sub-heading “Where Did I Come From?” It not only helps breaks up the content so they all don’t run together, it helps readers work through the post. Again, it’s a GREAT post!
- I really think your family calendar posts are so helpful. In fact, I’ll be visiting later to grab some of your advice!
- Since you want to have a reputation as being an expert at managing a large family, I think most of your posts should reference large families in some way. Just a sentence of two even would help keep to your niche and give those with large families the tips they are craving. For example, for your making ice cream in a bag post, how can someone get all their kids involved in making the ice cream? You could offer a few pointers on that. Or for your post about gardening, do your kids have special “tasks” for tending to the garden? Again, how do you keep them all involved?
- As an expert with a pretty defined niche, I’d love to see more how-to and lists posts. How to Travel with a Large Family, 7 Ways to…, 10 Reasons to … These are the type of posts that get people sharing (driving traffic to you) AND that can really be search engine optimized pretty well (driving even more traffic to you).
Overall, I think you’re doing a great job at positioning yourself as an expert in managing large families. Your website is a treasure trove of information. Regarding traffic, as long as you’re seeing growth month after month (summers can be tough though so hang in there if you see a dip) then you’re on the right track. Stay active on Twitter and Facebook, build relationships with other bloggers and write great content. You can also pick a couple of forums to be active in and simply be helpful. As you probably know, you’ll gain more followers by helping others than by only promoting yourself.
So, guys, did you learn anything? Was it helpful? Let me know in the comments below. If you have an extra moment, head over to Mom of 6 and give Sharon some comment love.
Hey y’all: These critiques have been more popular than I ever could have imagined! Since I have nearly a year’s worth of ladies in the queue for blog critiques, I’m closing the critique request for now. Don’t worry- it’ll open back up later this year!