Paolo Amoroso sent me an email this week asking:
Why do you emphasize blog design? After all, many users follow blogs via news readers. Is it known what fraction of users use a news reader as opposed to regularly accessing blog sites?
Good question Paolo. There are a number of factors to consider when answering it.
1. The Rise of News Readers – You’re right that more and more people are using news readers to read blogs. I’m finding that the numbers of readers doing this on all my blogs is on the rise (some more than others). As a result there are more and more loyal readers who can be reading your posts but who never actually visit your site and see its design.
2. RSS Readership vs Actual Visitors Varies – The number of readers using RSS and News readers to follow blogs seems to vary greatly from blog to blog. For example here at ProBlogger the percentage seems fairly high (these days it seems that around 60% of PB readers follow the site via RSS). This is for a number of reasons including the topic (bloggers are a fairly RSS Savvy lot) and I run full feeds and not excerpts (so people can read my full posts without having to click through to the site). However on other sites that I run or work with at b5 the percentage of RSS readers to actual site visitors is much lower (it can be as low at 5%).
3. People Still Visit Sites – While RSS readership will probably continue to increase there are still a lot of readers who visit the actual site and who will see your blog’s design. These groups include:
- Comment Leavers and Readers – to this point the only way to leave a comment on blogs (or to read what others have written in comments and trackbacks) is to actually visit them. I’ve seen a few people working on ways to run comment from RSS but to this point have not seen anything workable or that has been widely adapted. Similarly, people need to visit sites to participate in polls and other interactive blog features and tools.
- Feed Excerpts – this isn’t the place for a debate on full or partial feeds on blogs – but the fact is that partial/excerpt feeds are still popular with many bloggers and this means that their feed subscribers need to click through to the actual blog to read full posts.
- SE users – while news readers are growing in popularity people continue to head to Google, Yahoo and MSN in their millions to find information online and these people click through to your actual site. Their first impression will often be to do with your blog’s design.
- Referral Traffic – another major source of traffic for many sites is the links that other sites give them. Again, it’s your actual site that visitors will end up on and first impressions count.
- Bookmarks – whether it be bookmarks on social bookmarking sites like Digg or Delicious or bookmarks in browsers – a lot of web users will visit sites directly in this way.
- Bloggers – in chatting to a group of bloggers about their RSS reading habits I found that quite a few of them would find things to read via their feed readers but that they wouldn’t read the posts in the feed reader but instead preferred to open it in a new tab on their browser. They would scan their feeds for a few minutes and open up a number of stories that interested them in new tabs to read later. As I heard them talk about this I realized it’s what I do too. The feed reader helps me narrow down what I want to read but I only read it there about 50% of the time and the other 50% I prefer to click through to the actual site.
4. The ‘Average’ User – News readers are being adopted more widely (especially with more browsers and operating systems incorporating them), however I suspect that they are still a way off going mainstream and are still being picked up and used more by the early(ish) adopter who has a techie background. The normal/average web user is still being educated and may never move to news readers. Ask your parents, neighbors and work mates how they find information online and you’ll find the majority of them are using Google and that most of them have not even heard of RSS or news aggregation.
5. Converting Readers to being loyal RSS Subscribers – how do you get someone to subscribe to your RSS feed? I’ve not seen any studies on this so will go from my own experience of subscribing to a few hundred feeds. I generally subscribe to someone’s feed from their actual site (having arrived at it via a search engine, referral link or bookmarking site. Ultimately for me what I look for is content that appeals to my own interests. However I’ll admit that design does impact whether I subscribe or not (it’s not the biggest factor, but it does contribute). Even though I may never see the design again – I guess I make some sort of judgment on how seriously the blogger is taking their blog by how it looks.
I hope these jumbled thoughts are making some sense. Ultimately I can see why some might think design matters less these days (and perhaps it does to some extent), but I still believe that it is important in creating first impressions, drawing people into your content, creating loyalty among readers etc.
But what do others think? Does blog design matter in an age of feed readers?
Find this post useful? Digg it here