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

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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.

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    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:

      • Yeah, usability tests, something that needs to be done quarterly. There is always something changed every quarter, some new plugin, some new widget removed, etc

      • 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.