Note: This post refers to an older site of mine, fortyplustwo.com, and is saved as lessons learned. Since then I no longer create my own layouts but the lessons are still useful when picking which layout to buy.
James and Harry from Men with Pens do site reviews in a great way written as stories, an older site of mine, fortyplustwo.com, was reviewed in Drive-by-Shooting Sunday: Forty Plus Two. I responded in a similar style in This place is a mess (after the shooting). When they reviewed that blog it looked like this:
Below I show their review of my blog as quotes and then give my comments. As you can see I have changed my theme in many ways due to the review.
A small black and white symbol hung outside the white, discreet building that was so pale, it was almost invisible.
That small black sign was the Kanji character for Ki (Qi) but is now gone.
Quiet is how the site comes off. It’s so pale and white that it lacks enough impact to hold visitor interest at a first glance, and a first glance is just about all a person has to grab readers online. The blue is too quiet and gets eaten up by all the white.
In the old layout the only blue was the light blue in the navigation bar under the header. I agree that the site looked far too pale.
The banner is wasted space and should have a more representational image than the kanji. You can still go with that white minimalist look, but it would be a good idea to add some color and spice with exotic flowers or smooth river stones on a white background.
I consider selecting a suitable image for the header, for now I have changed the white background to blue. That gives more punch than before.
Also, the title of the site seems unclear and relevant as well. Are you forty-two years old? Why 42? What does 42 have to do with personal development and blogging? And why does the tagline tell us this is a blog? As visitors, we want to know what we’ll take away from this site, not what type of site it is. Create a tagline that tells us what we’ll get if we stay to read. There has to be some benefit in this for us.
The site name comes from The Answer to The Ultimate Question Of Life, the Universe and Everything, 40 + 2 = 42. The name Forty Plus Two as such does not have much to do with either personal development or blogging but in personal development we are searching for answers about life. The tagline has been changed, hopefully for the better.
“Well, what’s that mean?” This time James pointed to the small signs leading visitors around. “Last 25? 25 what?”
Last 25 lists the last 25 posts, that page is now moved in under Archives.
The navigation titles really aren’t clear, so we suggest adding some description there.
I will see how I can make the titles in the navigation bar easier to understand.
The font of the navigation also looks a little odd as a serif selection. The rest of the site (minus the title) is sans serif. Try to always be consistent with fonts and pick one to use throughout the site.
I have changed so that the same font is used everywhere except in the header where I want something else.
Reorganize the title tags as well. Put them in a logical order for readers. Tips would be first, then Books, then Categories then About, then Contact and have Archives tucked in there last.
I prefer to place Categories second, after the Home button, and will rearrange the others but have not yet decided in which order.
You also need Home in your navigation. While traveling around your site, we couldn’t get back to the main page easily and had to keep using our back button of our browser.
I have added a Home button. The blog title in the header was (and still is) clickable for home.
Indeed. In fact, there is so much text on the site that it all ends up blending together. The sidebar links resemble newspaper columns, and the overall font is tiny and hard to read. There are no images to make the experience more interesting.
The overall font is now larger. I usually have one image in each post, I agree that it improves looks as well as make it more interesting.
We also noticed that while the sidebar links look jammed like a newspaper, the content area for the main posts look oddly spaced out.
Sidebars are changed, more distinct headers, and the spacing in the content area is corrected.
Another issue we noticed is that the options at the bottom of each post (such as Leave a Comment) are terribly jammed together, again making it difficult to read what’s there.
I have adjusted that area, more space between lines which makes it easier to read.
Your About text gets completely lost in the sea of words, so make that stand out more and also punch up the text itself. It’s incredibly boring to read and while functional, it’s not benefit rich. Put some impact in that text. Get people excited, not snoozing!
I am working on a new About text and will style it so that it stands out more.
We suggest changing your RSS icon to one that is more appealing and move it down into the sidebar. It’s not in a bad location where it is, but moving it down gives you a chance to put something nice into your banner to add some visual impact. Also, it would replace that link to your RSS in the sidebar (though you should keep a link for “get updates via email instead”).
I like the icon with the man on the bench so I keep it for now. I picked a smaller version and moved the subscribe part from the header to the top of the sidebar.
Recent Posts, Recent Comments and Random Posts are all good choices. With some more space and hopefully a better choice of colors (pale blue on white is really tough to read), that area will look better and more inviting.
Colors are changed, a darker blue for links makes reading easier.
Find More in the Archives is just going overboard, though. Archives is in the navigation and people can find it. You have links already in the sidebar, and this extra feature becomes redundant. Take it out.
Done, that part is removed.
My Favorites is a nice touch, but there are too many links there. Keep lists of links down to 3, 5, or 7 to prevent option paralysis in readers. Also, put that My Favorites above the Random Posts, because people are more attracted to what someone else likes a lot versus something random pulled from anything.
I have reduced the number of My Favorites to seven and Random Posts are below.
This reorganization also means that, basically, you don’t need a three-column theme, and a two column theme would have been a better choice. You have no ad space, no funky widgets, no nothing but links, so you don’t need to capitalize on your above the fold real estate as much. Having a two column theme would be better and give you more space to add images to the posts instead.
I like three-column themes better that two column themes so I stick to three columns. There will be some ads later, for affilate links like Zen To Done.
The review made me see my theme in a different way and the changes I have done has – in my opinion – improved the look and feel of my blog.
This was originally posted at another (now extinct) blog of mine.