Last weekend I redesigned my website. The new site has a homepage featuring a bunch of different things I’ve been working on, and a blog post view with no header, just a sidebar and the post itself. As a result the site is way more usable.
With any redesign you have to start by looking at what your audience needs and then tailor the site for those needs. My user base divides into three groups:
- Friends and family, who will read more or less everything I write
- Drive by Google traffic, who are likely to visit one page and then leave
- Potential clients/employers/partners, who were referred from Hacker News, Twitter, an email I sent out or a job application.
I am guaranteed to get traffic from the first two groups, as long as I don’t break the site. The third group of clients, employers and business partners are people who do not yet know me, but may interact with me soon, and the site plays a big role in helping them make that decision. So the redesign is targeted toward that group.
To win that third group of users, my site has to answer one question: Who is this person and why should I listen to him? My old site didn’t do a very good job of answering that question. Here’s what it looked like:
The standard blog template, where posts are displayed in reverse chronological order, is good for only one use case – where the writer updates frequently and the readers want to see what’s changed since the last time they visited. The majority of blogs on the Internet don’t fit this model because the authors update infrequently and don’t have a consistent audience. Therefore, they should consider a different navigation scheme for their sites; the main problems are outlined in this Jakob Nielsen article on blog usability. My old site used a reverse chronological order for navigation, and here are some of the problems with that design:
- No way to find good content that may be a year or more older.
- Posts are on a variety of different topics, appealing to different groups of users, with no organization.
- No photo, or description of me, on any page.
- All of the action items (send email, read more about me, etc) require at least one full page refresh; this is too difficult, as most users are lazy and won’t hunt around.
- Articles are posted in full text, meaning that user attention span might run out quickly (and also that 10 posts worth of images are requested and downloaded)
- Finally, the large number of different pages made it more difficult to maintain, and each attempt to tackle a part would leave me overwhelmed thinking about fixing the whole thing.
So I had the following goals in mind for the redesign:
- Tell a better story about me on every page.
- Put the best content on my site in front of users.
- Make the action items (email, Twitter, etc) easier to click.
- Also, improve page load time, which would boost user satisfaction and my Google rankings. Google found that a half second delay in page load time dropped traffic by 20%.
So here’s what I came up with for the homepage:
And the single blog post view:
I’m pretty pleased with the way they turned out. The homepage essentially consolidates the information that was spread across five pages in the menu of the old design. Furthermore, it displays ten of my best posts, organized by category, and a sample of things I’ve tweeted, so there will be at least some dynamic content on the page for users who visit.
I also use a sprite to display the icons on the blog page view, turning five requests into just one. As a result, the blog post view gets a score of 83/100 and the home page gets a score of 78/100, about a 20 point improvement over the old design.
So that’s the analysis of my site redesign. Now if I could just to find a posting schedule and stick to it!
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