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Beauty is Only Skin Deep: Designing Blogs For Feeds, Search Engines and Audience

Crabby Night Owl’s post, “Substance Not Style is King”, caught my attention:

About 20% of the hits CNO gets come via the newsfeeds, and I wanted to see what those feeds looked like when they’re read. What I saw was plain, unformatted text, devoid of any style that I may have imparted to it on the website.

This was a rather sobering revelation. My readers who are only interested in the substance of my posts probably don’t care much about the style. I know content is king, especially in journalistic site like CNO, but I didn’t fully realize this until I discovered that 1/5 of my readers don’t care what the site looked like, as long as I give them something interesting or useful to read.

In the next post on the Crabby Night Owl blog, Rick adds:

Lorelle, at Lorelle on WordPress, has compiled a colossal list of hints and tips for coming up with ideas for content for your blog. Even if you have plenty of ideas, you should check it out. She also has a reassuring (for me) article that kind of ties in with my last post.

Ah, another convert.

And another topic that I need to address in more depth and detail.

Yes, content is king. Never forget that. It is the running theme of this blog, in addition to WordPress news, tips, help, and advice on blogging. Content wins, no matter what you say or do. It’s the truth. But there is more to understand in the truth that content is king.

Content Rules – Styles Win

In my articles on how how search engines search your site, and how people use search engines to find your site, emphasis is put upon the web page design or WordPress Theme to ensure the following:

  1. Search engines can crawl your blog unimpeded.
  2. Search engines can flow through all of your pages easily.
  3. Meeting accessibility standards means everyone can read and see your blog with anything they are using to access the web.
  4. Appropriate and adequate use of keywords and tags helps search engines and tag services categorize your blog posts in order to deliver them properly in search results.

The goal of a good web page design is to get into search engines, first and foremost. After that, a good web page design must withstand the tugging and twisting required of different browsers interpreting the code in order to display the page. This includes the ability to have the entire pretty style of the page stripped away to be read in a text browser, feed reader, and aloud by a text reader. At the very end of the list in good web page design is pretty, even though it is the first part of web page design that people begin with.

The Future is Here: Designing for Web Design and Feeds

As Rick and many are discovering, the hottest topic in web page design and development might be tags, but in reality is feeds.

With more and more information available on the web from millions of resources, access to and monitoring that information is critical to your need, as a user, to stay on top of the latest and hottest news events for your industry, interest, or fancy. Feed readers bring news and track websites and blogs in the speed that meets that need, and a good web developer today needs to understand how this impacts their readership.

Feed readers strip websites and blogs of their pretty so only the content appears in the feed reader. Pretty doesn’t matter to a feed reader.

Let’s look at the role a feed reader is playing in web viewing today. Here is a condensed version of how people find your blog and then become steady readers.

  1. Someone needs information on a particular subject. They hit the search engines.
  2. One or more of your posts appear in the search results.
  3. The user checks your posts. If the information pertains to their needs, they then make two choices:
    1. Get the information and move onto the next thing.
    2. Poke around to find that there is a lot of related and interesting information and choose to monitor the blog in the future.
  4. If the decision is the second one, and your blog entertains or stimulates their interest enough, the user will then want to add your blog to their feed reader list.
  5. To add your blog to their feed reader list to monitor, they will do one of two tasks:
    1. Look for a link or symbol to indicate your blog has a feed and click and drag it to their feed reader program.
    2. Use the feed reader program to scan the web page for links to feeds which the user can then add to their feed reader list.
  6. The next time the user uses their feed reader program, new posts on your blog will be highlighted, and they might click on the link and actually revisit your blog, or just read the post through the feed reader. Still, they are reading your blog. Again.

If you aren’t providing feeds for your reader, you are missing out on a lot of return readers who use this new technology to track websites, blogs, and stories. Rick found out that currently 20% of his audience visit through feed readers. Do you know how many are accessing your blog via feed readers? I expect that figure to grow over the next year as more and more people understand the power and convenience of feed readers, and feed readers are incorporated into more browsers. WordPress includes a variety of feeds for your blog right out of the box, and WordPress Themes usually highlight these in the sidebar or footer of every Theme, so WordPress users don’t need to worry. Those not using WordPress, worry.

In the above list of how return readers are generated, do you see any mention of “Oh, what a pretty blog. I think I’ll track it in the future because it’s so pretty.”? Nope. People return to websites because they provide the content they need. Having the website design be pretty and easy on the eyes carries a lot of weight in getting the information to the reader, and helping them to assimilate it quickly, but it doesn’t impact their need to return. Content and ability to add your blog to their feed reader matters.

In this case, pretty is only skin deep.

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Copyright Lorelle VanFossen


  1. Posted February 23, 2006 at 9:27 pm | Permalink

    I just wanted to say that I appreciate the enormous wealth of information you have archived here, Lorelle. Yours is the most useful blog on blogging that I’ve found. Thanks to you, Crabby Night Owl is off to a great start.

  2. Posted February 23, 2006 at 10:57 pm | Permalink

    Ah, shucks, by golly, I sure needed to hear that right now. Thanks! Glad to help.

  3. Posted January 2, 2007 at 12:24 pm | Permalink

    This is one reason I have category feeds in addition to a single feed. Category feeds let my blog cover more subjects while letting RSS users choose which topics they want to hear about.

  4. Posted April 26, 2012 at 4:00 pm | Permalink

    Although most of your page content is still over my head, I keep trying to read through these topics, hoping one day it will sink in and make sense. This is all still new to me, and I am grateful you provide such a helpful resource. Thanks!!

    • Posted April 26, 2012 at 7:19 pm | Permalink

      If you need specific help, don’t be afraid to ask. Thanks.

      • Posted April 26, 2012 at 7:28 pm | Permalink

        Thanks, Lorelle. In time, you are sure to hear from me. 🙂

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