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The Top 5 Recommendations For Free Money Finance

Posted By Skellie 4th of March 2008 Case Studies 0 Comments

It’s time to summarize and consolidate almost 13,000 words worth of advice and suggestions given to Free Money Finance as part of our community consultation program. While there’s a great depth of knowledge to be mined from the comments on the launch post, I want to highlight the top five most common recommendations here.

Before we start, congratulations must go to Tori Deaux for winning our 1,700 StumbleUpon visitor prize for the best review. Thanks for outlining your tips in such a practical, conversational and, most importantly, easy to apply way.

Here were the top 5 recommendations made by the ProBlogger readers who critiqued Free Money Finance:

1. Improvements to the design

A number of ProBlogger readers found the number of strong colors and shades in the design (green, yellow, red, black, white and blue) jarring and dissonant, and that the logo looked a bit like a DIY job. While these sacrifices are usually inevitable when just starting out with a blog, I think it would definitely be worth re-investing some of the blog’s advertising revenue into a professional design and logo.

Several users also commented on ease of reading within the content, saying that this was actually very good. If FMF (the blog’s owner) decides to go with a more professional design, I’d hope that this ease of reading would transfer over into the second version of the site.

2. Width and exerpts

Few reviewers had a bad word to say about the content. It struck me as very clear and concise. However, I probably wouldn’t want to read it on the site as my screen’s resolution is 1680 x 1050 and the content area stretches very, very wide. Consider fixing the width of the site to fill the screen at 1024 x 768, but allow for whitespace or a background on the sides at higher resolutions.

In regards to the color of the excerpts (FMF had wondered if red was working) I would suggest switching this to an easy to read gray. A number of readers pointed out that red is more eye-catching than black and thus excerpts are emphasized more than the author’s content. In the context of some critiques on the amount of colors utilized in the design, it makes sense to strike red off that list by switching to gray.

3. The final frontier: tapping into social media

The blog is already established and beginner level traffic generation strategies like commenting and so on probably wouldn’t be worth the time investment. The blog has a large enough audience that it could start to mobilize social media votes and bring in traffic through those sources. Here’s how FMF could start doing this:

  • Use post excerpts on the main page with a WordPress ‘More’ tag. This will encourage readers to navigate to the post-page to keep reading. When they click their browser’s social media buttons, they’ll be voting for the specific page, rather than the site as a whole. Specific blog posts tend to do a lot better than whole blogs.
  • Use more descriptive and aspirational headlines. As seen in the ‘Best of’ list in the sidebar, post headlines which tapped into reader aspirations (being ‘Rich’ or a ‘Millionaire’) have tended to do very well.
  • Develop the habit of adding images to posts. Social media users browse the web very quickly and rely on visuals to communicate with them initially. An eye-catching image can mean the difference between a visitor who stays on your blog and a visitor who leaves the way they came.
  • Consider writing longer, thematic posts or resource lists. Short posts rarely do well on social media unless they’re incredibly profound or very useful. Longer, value-packed posts tend to be a favored format.

4. Revenue tips

A number of readers suggested placing some form of advertising in-post, as these tend to perform better in comparison to ads in sidebars. More AdSense would probably be too much, so FMF might look into affiliate banners or privately negotiated banner ads. Several readers also mentioned that the Amazon widget in the left-column seemed to be serving up irrelevant products. If this ad-unit is under-performing, it might be worth removing it to place greater emphasis on the more targeted ads on the site.

5. Ease of use and directing focus

There is an incredible amount of stuff packed into the sidebars on either side of the content. There are some really important elements in the sidebar coupled with a lot of unimportant elements, and I think a lot of what’s important is probably getting lost in the clutter. Here are my recommendations:

  • Move a Feedburner subscription icon above the fold.
  • Move up and emphasize: reviews (good social proof from sources who’re authorities to your target audience) and ‘Best of Free Money Finance’. People want to see the best very quickly when they first visit your blog.
  • Remove: recent posts element (it’s easier for users to just scroll down), recent comments (“person I haven’t heard of” commented on “post I haven’t read yet” — not so exciting for a new user), simplify your category list down to 10 – 15 (it’s so big as to be intimidating), move the blogroll to a separate page, remove lists of posts from the sidebar or put them on a separate page.
  • Move your About and Contact information above the site sponsors on the right. Your About page must be easy to find because new visitors will often give up if they can’t get quick and concise information on what your site is about.

Concluding thoughts

Overall, ProBlogger readers felt Free Money Finance offered stylish and useful content but felt the blog was hampered by an unprofessional design and clutter which made it difficult to use. We wish FMF a lot of luck in implementing the changes!

  • Interesting advice on removing recent posts and recent comments from the sidebar. I love this line:

    ”person I haven’t heard of” commented on “post I haven’t read yet”

    Makes sense. Sidebar space is limited, so we’d better maximize it.

  • I just wanted to say “you’re welcome!” and to thank you not only for the hat tip and prize (awesomeness!), but for the chance to participate.

    Reading over the recommendations is a real experience – it’s great to see how differently people responded to the design issues, and especially to see which aspects seem to be personal preference vs general design practices. For instance, on a new-to-me blog, I am more likely to click a on recent comments link, than anywhere else on the sidebar. I just assumed it was standard behavior – now I see maybe I’m indulging a personal preference, rather than good design ;)

    I hope that FMF gets as much out of the experience (and more) as I did :)

  • Another thing I noticed…the advertisement for moosetracks (ice cream) at the very top is irrelevant. I did click on it, though, for the wtf factor.

  • I really enjoyed this review. I too am in the “personal finance” space and will use some of these tips for my own site. Thank you!

  • The review provided an excellent collection of tips. I really enjoy these types of posts, because we all benefit from the interaction, not just the subject of our collaborative critique.