Fulfilling Readers’ Expectations…the great and the small

Image: Expectations dcjohn

Looking back over a year or more of blog posts, I can see a profound change in my blog’s focus … for the better. Back then it was a collage of the personal, professional, and even a smattering of the political. Now it is focussed on the by-line which guides my writing: academic adventures in e-learning with a Mac. The keywords here are academic, e-learning, and Mac. The adventures part is an indication of the tone and the voice of the blog itself, which I hope my readers respond to. And this brings me to the topic of this post … fulfilling your readers’ expectations.

I’m writing this from the point of view of the reader, or what I expect of blogs I’m either subscribed to, or curious about … ‘just browsing by.’ After surfing a few sites, and checking back over a week or so via a feed-reader, I know I am going to become a loyal subscriber when my own expectations are met. And naturally, I hope that I’m putting my preaching into practice in my own blogs.

Consistency: content and timing
Like me, most readers will subscribe because of the blog’s content, its direction, theme, focus, and its voice.’ Switch any of these too far, and I’ll more than likely hit the unsub button. You’re going to be a friend, and I don’t want too many surprises in our relationship. Having said this, I get a kick when bloggers drop in a random comment, or something unexpected… it personalises things. Yep, there’s a real person out there. By the way, value-adding via links within the post is something I look for. It’s what makes online reading and writing unique. I’m trying to do this by using as many appropriate links as possible. You can overdo it of course. A post peppered with hotlinks reminds me of student papers that are all quote and no comment.

And about the voice … it took me a while to find mine. As you’ve probably gathered, I’m used to writing and reading academic papers. Developing a less formal sounding voice took a bit of doing. Starting sentences with ‘and’ ‘but’ and so on … even writing non-sentences. Like this one and the last. It took time to switch, but I’ve tried to make it sound more like a conversation, which is what I understand blogging in its pure form is all about.

Timing of Posts: establishing a blog rhythm
As a subscriber, I’ll get to know and expect this after a while. I like it when the blogger lets the readership know about changes to routine: guest posts, ‘gone fishing back soon’ kind of thing. If you’re a random poster, that’s OK too. When your post eventually arrives in the feedbox, I’ll be happy. A bit like getting a nice, unexpected gift. I’ve found my own rhythm now and it seems to be working but it did take some time to get comfortable with this.

Layout: no no to clutter
I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t have subscribed if on first look, I’d been hit with a page that was hard to navigate or was too cluttered, no matter how good the content; I have an aversion to sidebars filled to bursting with ads or widgets. Now the navigation thing is critical, but I am aware that the ‘clutter’ factor could be a personal preference; we’re talking about aesthetics as well as design here. I’m still working at finding the design essentials in my blogs.

A couple of other things: I’d find it hard to become a hard-core subscriber if I couldn’t get some more information about the blogger (an About page fixes this). The RSS feed link button is mandatory. I’d like access to your del.icio.us stash, if you have one. Also a link to your Flickr page would be nice, but definitely not mandatory; I just love photography and love to share through Creative Commons enabled images. A Creative Commons button on your site is highly recommended.

As far as categories and tags are concerned, yes I like categories so I can find more about what the blog contains and more of something specific. Categories are used often as a duplication of tags, which are meant as far as I know, for search engine use. I must admit I was confused by all of this at the outset, and I’m gradually learning the WordPress protocols for the difference. As a result I’m currently doing some conversions on another blog and eventually this one. I’ll post later on the transition process.

More and more I am not finding much use in blogs for the Archives widget, and will probably drop it from this blog. Does anyone else find this useful? I’d be keen to hear.


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