Nonprofit blogs: the common problems
777, Seven hundred seventy-seven.
777, discarding blogs which have not been updated since six months. 777, including the Good, the Bad and the Ugly. With absolute gems, but also “so-so” blogs. Blogs with daily updates, and blogs with one post per month. Team blogs, project blogs, blogs advising on nonprofit fundraising and those written by field workers deep in Africa. Photo blogs and blogs supporting scientific research.
For me, the nonprofit blogs collection is a good research basis: As I flip through them, I turf different criteria, like their pagerank, an analysis published in an earlier post. Or I jot down different observations.
As I was processing a batch of 150 new blogs in the last week, I took note of common problems I saw with many blogs. Let’s call it the “Top 10 of Nonprofit Blog Problems”:
Blog Problem 1: I have no clue what your blog is about
As I showed in my case study: about 85% of all traffic on your blog, are occasional or new visitors. They stumble upon your blog via search engines, bookmarking sites or forums. As the case study showed, it only takes between 20 and 60 seconds for these new visitors to make up their mind, whether to stay on your blog or not. Thus, first impressions are important.
When I come across a new blog, one of the first things I look for is: “What is this blog all about”? I look at the title, glance quickly through the last blogposts, and often I check an “About” link on the page.
It is striking how many blogs obscure what they are all about. Is it a field blog? Are you solely writing about a certain event. Or is it about a research project? An advocacy blog?
If I can not make it out in the typical 20 to 60 seconds I spend on your blog, you lost me. As you will lose many new visitors.
Take an outsider. Have your nephew, a friend or your aunt go to your blog. Give them 60 seconds. In this time they have to tell you what your blog is about. If they can’t, you will need to change something:
Make it obvious what your blog is about. Give your blog a clear title, publish a prominent tagline or slogan. Include an “About” tag somewhere on your prime real estate, as described in this post, linking to a page where you explain what your blog is all about. Ensure that “About” tag is visible on all blogposts and not just your home page.
Blog Problem 2: I have no clue what your post is about
You would be amazed how many blogs use vague titles. “June update”, “Pictures of the day”, “Links of 1/6/2010″. Those don’t tickle my interest.
Think of a post title as if it were a book title. Do you think a writer just slams any title on a book he worked on for six months? Of course not.
A post title is a teaser, just like a book title is. It should entice enough interest for people to actually read the content. Sure enough, “Links of 1/6/2010″ contains probably some weblinks you recently discovered but “Links: Agriculture research in Africa, Harvesting Techniques and more” will tease more, wouldn’t it?
Remember many of your readers get you blog updates via RSS links, Email and aggregators. New visitors find a link via a search engine. If your title does not look interesting, they will skip reading the post. Another visitor lost.
Before you hit “Publish”, spent just 10 seconds thinking about the title. Ask yourself two questions: “Does it represent the content?” and “Am I teasing interest?”.
Blog Problem 3: I can not find your RSS feed
Returning visitors are a blog’s most precious resource. One new RSS subscriber, adds one more returning visitor. So why do so many blogs hide their RSS?
Dear people, we live in the 21st century. The electronic age with its inherent information overflow. Most people don’t check updates on your blog every day, as they are following dozens of blogs. Most stay up to date via RSS readers, automatic Email updates, and aggregators. A blog without an RSS feed is a car without an engine. Nice, but pretty useless, unless if you tie a donkey in front of it. The car that is, not the blog.
Even if your blog has an RSS link, as a lazy visitor, I don’t want to go and look for it. Make my life easy please: make the RSS link prominent. Put a big fat RSS icon on your prime blog real estate and publish it correctly so browsers can pick it up.
Worse than NOT doing something, is to do something sloppy. Regularly, I come across blogs with outdated or faulty RSS links. The RSS feed is empty, contains outdated posts, links to an old Feedburner feed or the feed just does not validate. Some feeds feature blog posts with dates in the future, which appear on top of the RSS feed forever.
Make it easy for people to subscribe to your blog with a prominent icon or “Subscribe” link, and check your own RSS feed regularly.
Blog Problem 4: Your blog is slow
I have a very fast Internet connection, but even then, I find blogs that take forever to load. As I mentioned before, if a page doesn’t load within 5-8 seconds, you will lose one-third of your visitors. People simply don’t have patience.
The common problems are not server related, but blogger related: too many pictures, or non-compressed pictures. A heavy Flash thingie on the banner. Or they are using too many widgets or RSS feeds.
In this post, I list ways to test your blog speed, and the most obvious ways to increase your blog’s download performance.
If you selfhost your blog, it is a MUST to use a good cache plugin.
Blog Problem 5: Who are you and how to contact you?
When I stumble upon a new blog, I not only want to know what the blog is about, but also who you are, or what your organisation does. Don’t hide that information from me, please!
When you publish that information, make it concrete, to the point and short. Within the text, you can link to other pages or posts describing the various aspects of the work you do, but don’t give me a four course meal if I only want a snack. Please.
Why do so many blogs make it difficult to get in contact with the blogger? Scanning through my list of 777 nonprofit blogs, I often want to write a quick note or email to the blogger, when I notice a problem. If I want to do that effort, then why would you make that difficult for me?
Feature “Who are we” and “Contact us” as short but prominent links on your blog’s prime real estate. Or at least include them in your “About” text.
Ensure this link is visible on every post, not just on the home page
Problem 6: You have outdated links, missing pictures or dead videos.
As blogposts rack up, it is more and more difficult to keep track of your older posts and to keep them up to date. However, visitors do land on older posts. Outdated links to internal or external posts, “Video no longer available” or blank spaces where “a picture once was”, all give a very sloppy impression.
And not only that, search engines are said to punish sites with excessive dead links, so in the end your pagerank might suffer if you don’t maintain your posts regularly.
Use a tool like Google Webmaster or the W3C Link checker to verify your links regularly.
From time to time, just have fun, and click around your site, browse through your old posts. Not only will you see what other visitors see, but sometimes it is just fun going through stuff you wrote three years ago!
Problem 7: Your blog or your posts are messed up
Some blogs just don’t show up properly and blurbs of text, video or pictures run over the margins. Too lazy to crop a picture to the right size? Or or ignorance on how to change the code of embedded videos to make it fit within your post column?
Remember also that inter-browser compatibility is a real challenge for a blogger.
This post gives you some useful tools to check how your blog looks like in different browsers.
Spend the time to ensure the post is properly formatted.
Problem 8: Too much text
Yep, it is easy to take a Word document and then simple cut/paste to publish it. It takes a little more time to put some pictures in it, and to properly format a text into paragraphs. But boy, some blogs present just chunks of text. Chunks and chunks.
Personally, I don’t care how relevant your content is, but if it takes a real effort for me to read it, I will skip it.
Use pictures (and properly compress them) to brighten up your posts.
Put some breathing space in your text and use paragraphs, or subtitles. Emphasize the pieces which are important.
Problem 9: Too little text
Unless you have a photo blog and you only want people to admire your pictures, posts deserve a bit of text. Pictures speak a thousand words, and are a power medium, but make sure people also understand what it is all about.
A blog only showing pictures with a one liner “Our village got a new water pump” is not enough. Explain what the background is, why the village waited for a water pump, how it will change the lives of people. The pictures will convey a much stronger message with a few lines of text.
Remember we are mostly considering nonprofit blogs. Therefor, your blog is a tool to bring a message to your audience. A tool in the hands of advocacy, fundraising, public information, etc… Just a flurry of pictures gives the impression “I’ll just throw it out there, and you go and figure it out”… Is that the impression you want people to have from your nonprofit?
Balance between pictures and text. Use pictures as illustrations, teasers or catalysts for the message you want to bring. A message you condense in the blog text. Make sure that message is not obscured.
Problem 10: Spelling mistakes
Sloppy, sloppy! It takes only one minute to spell check a post before it goes out. So spell check before you hit publish.
Even if your blog platform does not have a spell checker, use your browser’s or cut/paste the text into your word processor and check it there.
And above all: ensure you continue to have fun while you blog!