31DBBB Day 17: Watch a First-Time Reader Use Your Blog

This is Day 16 of 31 Days to Build a Better Blog, a group project 60+ of us bloggers are doing together in an effort to help each other become better bloggers.

Blessed with old-fashioned neighbors who take the time to care about each other, I asked one of them to indulge me and review my blog. She agreed.  However, as soon as I asked her, she scurried home to look at my blog and be prepared.  My oldest son suggested that only way to find a true first-time reader is to go to the library and ask some  guy on a computer to load your blog.

All joking aside, this assignment was still an enlightening experience.  Usually, comments on a blog post rarely reveal what the reader is thinking about the blog as a whole.  Perhaps the comments will contain a compliment or a reflection on how the post touched the reader’s life, but there is rarely an in-depth analysis.

Through this assignment, I was able to determine what my neighbor found attractive about my blog and what she thought should change.   Also, I was able to observe how much time she spent reading a post or glancing through it and which links she clicked on to read additional posts.

While my friend scanned the blog, she also had questions about the sidebar. She wanted to know what all the different symbols and logos stood for. She inquired about the subscription bar and subscribe by feeder link. The need for clarification between a tab and a side bar reference also surfaced.   A correction is needed.

While I thought this assignment provided insight that normally I would not have gained from just a comment, I felt the assignment would have been more revealing if the observer could have been invisible while the reader reviewed the blog.  It’s quite hard to look at someone’s work while they are looking over your shoulder.

The greatest advantage in this assignment for me came in the second part where we ask the reader to answer the questions posed by Darren Rowse.  My reviewer found the easiest questions to answer were:

  • Did you find it easy to read and understand?
  • What words would you use to describe the design?
  • What are the main elements you remember about my blog after you have left it? and
  • What suggestions do you have from a user perspective?


  1. What benefits do see in getting the perspective of a first-time visitor?
  2. Do you have any tips for getting feedback from a first-time visitor?
  3. Did you do today’s assignment? If so, what were the most significant things you learned?

The Extra Mile

A few other things you can do to take your blog, other bloggers, and this project even further today…

  • Reply & give other bloggers feedback on the little things they do.
  • When other bloggers include a link to a new article they’ve posted today, click, read, and comment on it.
  • Check previous posts in the series for new comments.
  • Tweet, share, & bookmark this post.
  • So, please review Cindy Skillman’s blog, Journey into the Son, and give her some feedback.

Janis Van Keuren is a freelance writer with a heart to encourage and inspire other Christian women.  She is married to an easy-going husband and they have two zany, sports-loving sons.   She blogs at Open My Ears, Lord and you can find her on Twitter at @openmyearslord.

About the author

Janis@Open My Ears Lord


  • I do favor the idea of usability testing and have certainly done that with test audiences, albeit quite intimate audiences. We must receive critical feedback, always. To me a first time visitor has the potential to come back, but that depends on what we refer to in marketing as "the golden moment". The speed of gratification is vital – the site must load quickly and connect with the visitor quickly. The banner must confirm that they are in the right place and resonate with their needs. Every single blog must be a considered, quality work – no mistakes, good content, good reason to return, high topicality, great look and feel, well laid out. Then the visitor must also be engaged – if they comment, open up the comment into a longer dialog, because, more than most things, people want to be heard and need to feel valued – that is, to me, the hardest communication lesson of all, but it offers by far the greatest reward. We all want to push, where we should be pull visitors. Finally, love your visitors – don't give short, pithy replies – care about them, without being gushing. Make them matter and look to a longer term relationship.

  • Today's assignment is going to be another one that you're going to be tempted to skip. It's not easy. It takes time and effort. And it takes risk. You have to ask someone to do you this favor (they might say no) and then you have to sit there while they give you feedback on your blog (which might not be good). So, it's going to be easy to say, "I'll just skip this one" but the insight you gain from doing this lesson will be extremely valuable.

    What we're doing today is what's called "usability testing." We started doing it on our site when we redesigned it last year and I was really amazed at how easy and insightful it was. If you're interested in more info on usability testing, we wrote a few articles about it:

    • Thanks for sharing these extra articles Paul. This is an easy one to skip, because not only may it be hard to find some one new to read it, there is also less accountability here. At least with the assignments that ask for a post you know it was done.
      So this afternoon I plan to get a couple of people to look at the blog and tell me what they think.
      Also thanks to this challenge I know several people who never seen my site before I have looked at it, and a few have shared comments about the look and feel of it (thanks btw!) You have yet, stop by I realize that it's not the same as being in the same room with the person, however, I think since we have been doing this challenge I have read the same resource for improving our blogs, our insights would be quite valuable.
      I was out of town last week for vacation and didn't get anything posted, but I already have 3 posts up for this week.
      If you check out mine and leave me a comment or email me at I'll be sure to do the same with yours as well!

  • I had someone at my desk today for bug fixing and testing (yes I write bugs, ha ha ha), anyway I got the chance to ask and watch what he did. Interesting that he first saw the heading and tag line – noting the filmmaking aspect – something I added as a result of the blog review. Thanks.
    then he quickly scrolled down and up, I wonder why. And then made circles in a blank spot near my header that I have been itching to fix up. lol.
    What is very very important about today's task is the the observing part; you can ask anyone for feedback in an email, but that will never give you the result that a 'live' review can.

  • Thanks for writing the post here Janis. My first thought on this assignment was to get one of my family members to do it. Then I came back to reality. I plan to have a friend from church look at the blog. We may not be able toget together today, but soon. I might also try to get an unbeliever to check it out so that I can get a different perspective on it.
    In today's post I begin a weekly update on my attempt to grow a vegetable garden:

  • Two other things which are mentioned in the articles I linked to above but which I think are important enough to mention here…

    1) Ask the person to "think out loud" as they look over your blog. You want to not only see what they do but understand why they're doing it and their thoughts in response to the various things they see.

    2) Before you start, tell the person they are not being tested or judged. Most people will feel self-conscious with you looking over their shoulder. Tell them it's your blog that's being tested. There's no right or wrong answers. If they are confused by something or don't understand something it's your blog's fault and you want them to be totally honest about those things so you can improve them.

  • This is way harder than I thought it would be. So far I've asked four different people if they could check out my blog while I looked over their shoulder, and so far I've had four different people blow me off. I don't think I'll end up skipping this assignment b/c I really want to see what a first time user says, but I'm probably going to have to put it off for a while.

    • That would be hard having people blow you off. Have you tried asking an online friend to look over your blog and then ask them some questions about it? That's what I did, though I didn't have anyone to come physically see it. Going to go check out your blog.

  • I commented earlier – seems to have not posted. Anyway, the gist is this – I am challenged to do a usability test. Regarding 1st time visitors, I am guided by a "golden moment" principle. You will only have one chance to make a great impression, so: Make sure banner confirms where they are, site must load quickly, get them straight to your content, keep content punchy (<500 words), be topical, be relevant and help them to come back. Make sure spelling is checked, formatting good, images great, etc. Then if they comment, get back soonest and apply, what I believe to be the best of all lessons: listen, let them talk, love them, appreciate them, but never patronize or gush – be real. Don't rely on short, pithy, one-dimensional replies – engage. If possible, open up dialog with open-ended questions to explore views, feelings etc. We use that idea in negotiations and it always leads deeper than superficial impressions.

  • I am cranky, overworked, have underslept for over a week, and incredibly frustrated. As much as I want to build a better blog in some ways, I wonder what building a better blog looks like for ME. I was a pastor for a number of years who was forced to prove my worth by "growing the church"–more people in the pews and more dollars in the offering. Growing larger numerically and having a larger pool of financial resources is not a sin by any stretch, but too much emphasis was placed on it. It seems like blogging may be very much the same way. It seems like most folks want a bigger readership or monetize their blogs. I really want to focus on developing better content and growing as a writer. Right now, my energy level is so low that my creative ideas are at a minimum. Anyway, sorry to vent but right now my blog sucks, I suck, and I don't know that this book is the right outlet to help me get better!

    • Hey Nolan, as my pastor some times says… sometimes the most spiritual thing you can do is take a nap. 🙂

      This may just not be the right time for you to do this project. All of us are limited to 24 hours a day, and we all have to make choices, prioritizing how we want to use those 24 hours. People who are blogging as a part of the communication strategy for their business, church, or non-profit, may need to delegate or stop doing other tasks. People whose blogging is not a part of the communication strategy for their business, church, or non-profit, may need to lower their goals and accept that blogging should have a relatively low priority in their lives.

      This project is certainly demanding. The only way I've been able to keep up with what's necessary here on Christian Web Trends is by putting other work tasks on the back burner. When it comes to my other blog at I'm failing miserably at doing the assignments and writing regular posts. But I'm trying to lower my expectations there, knowing I'd rather fall short there than with other more important things in life.

      Keep your head up, my friend. 🙂

    • I hear ya bro..I like reading what people are posting and learning from them. But my personal blog and blogging in general is very new to me.. Trying to get better at it.. I didn't so a single assignment last week. I read the entries here and commented on others' blogs, but didn't have the time to write. Was busy with celebrating our oldest turning 4 and working through the idea that God wants me to plant a church back in my home town.. scarey thought..

      I think blogging has to be natural or it won't work. If you haven't read Gary Vaynerchuk's book "Crush It!" you should go get it. He basically says if you can't think of 50 topics to blog about in your niche than you probably shouldn't blog about it..

      Don't beat yourself up. Just write from the heart when you can. I'm trying to get into a regular schedule of blogging. If I just blog when I feel the urge I'll never do it..

    • Nolan, being in ministry I can sympathize with your frustration. Being in vocational ministry is in my opinion the most difficult assignment on the face of the planet. I am sure others would disagree, but I am entitled to my opinion.

      I must disagree with the idea that your blog sucks. I have enjoyed reading your posts since this project has started. You have also figured out how to implement video which puts you ahead of the curve from my observation.

      If some of these steps are not applicable to your goals as a blogger then skip that days assignment and focus on something else. I would be interested to hear how this project aligns with yours and the others goals for blogging. Not everything we have done has been at the top of my priority list, but I have tried to do each assignment because my biggest struggle is follow through. I may not get rich blogging but this type of format helps to challenge me to write consistently. Also, I have enjoyed being part of the group. Everyone here has been friendly and helpful. I remarked the other day to someone in my church that I wish more of our environments were more like my experience here. It is nice to be part of a group with common interest and a concern for how to make someone else better.

      I know I have rambled but I am glad you are part of this group and I think you are on the right path with your blog. I hope you stick around.

      • Guys, I really appreciate all of the feedback. All of you had great ideas and I am appreciative for what each of you shared. Scott, I have read Crush It and completely agree. In fact, Crush It was one of the reasons I started implementing a video blog. Even though the video aspect for me is only four episodes in, this energizes me and fits a big part of my personality that I don't think comes across so clearly when I write. Larry, your advice about skipping assignments that don't apply was very needed advice. I think thats part of what has been overwhelming me. I am a checklist guy and if I commit to something I want to give 100%. My real world job took a lot more energy last week than normal (I worked twice my normal schedule) plus I have a retreat next Monday where I will be preaching three times to prepare for and God hasn't quite given me as much direction for what to teach about as I would like at this moment. This process has been rich for me because of the connections it has formed with guys like each of you. Thanks again for your encouragement and prayers.

        • Hey Nolan – just a quick note to let you know that I appreciate your blog. Don't get all the time I want to visit it but your vlog is good and as you say gives an insight to what / who you are.

          But chill – stay the course and know that you have something I stress about. The ability to recognise God directing / prompting / speaking.

  • I guess it would be a difficult assignment to do on the spur of the moment. Sorry, everybody! I know I had the advantage of knowing what I would be writing ahead of time. It made the opportunity to grab an innocent bystander a lot easier. Thought everyone might like to see the results from my friend Joyce's critique.

    Check it out at

    In Him,

  • I should read ahead shouldn't I?

    That way I'd be prepared for stuff like this! As it is I'm getting ready for holidays and was sleeping for most of today (night shift) I am totally caught out by it. So here's my obligatory comment for the day and I'll have to pend this one for somewhere down the line.

    But I promise teacher that I will do it.

  • I did this assignment and it was great. I had no physical friends to do it but found a couple friends on Facebook to view my blog for the first time and then asked some questions. There are a lot of benefits from doing this – you can learn from them, learn if it's readable, if they can find what they are looking for, and much more. It's very insightful.

    The best way that i found to get feedback was by telling them that they were looking at my blog and then had some questions for them to answer.
    The most significant thing I learned today is that actually asking somebody (not just blogging about it) to give you feedback on your blog is very helpful.

    Today's post that describes the experience in a little more detail and what I learned is titled "Learning from a First Time Blog Visitor"

  • I have had people view my websites a number of times over the years. They have provided me with helpful feedback. However, I like the questions and the approach provided in this lesson.

    I would also say that getting different people to look at one's site helps. A variety of feedback can provide differing perspectives. However, this takes more than a day. 😉

  • Last year a woman from a Yahoo group I belong to did an in depth evaluation of my blog for me. It was very eye opening and led to many of the changes that I already made. It would be good to have someone else take a look since it is a new year.

  • She has said it in a straight and simple manner. It is good to get true feedback of how a first timer see our blog. It provokes us to improve. There are blogs that are not good enough to hold the reader for long time. This problem can easily be solved through feedback. A blog exist for others to interact. Knowing how people feel about your blog is very important. Try it on regular basis.

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