Blog Critique: From Wine to Weightlifting

Welcome to our first Blog Critique!

Every week, I will go through a site that a reader has submitted to highlight the things they are doing well and the things that can be improved, all in hopes of learning the finer points of blog design and optimization.

Are you interested in getting a Blog Critique? Check out the post explaining all the details.

Blog Critique: From Wine to Weightlifting

Blog Critique: From Wine to Weightlifting Owner: Jennifer

Blog: From Wine to Weightlifting

Platform: WordPress (self-hosted)

Blog Age: 8 months

Jennifer’s blog, From Wine to Weightlifting chronicles her fitness journey, her love of weightlifting and fitness/food topics related to that. She does weekly memes like the Lady Lifter Spotlight where she writes an article about a fellow blogger and their motivations/inspirations around weightlifting/healthy living.

For her blog, Jennifer wishes to increase readership so she can make a greater impact in the female weightlifting community and inspire others.  With an increased audience, additional income opportunities would be available which would be great as well.

Currently, Jennifer is struggling with blogging consistently and the desire to upgrade her site with a customized theme and branding but struggles with the financial investment this would require.

So without further chitchat, let’s jump right in:

Header

When I first saw your site, the fact that you had 2 headers is what struck me right away.

I really like that within the restraints of this theme you have injected your personality and tried to customize it with a unique image header. The unfortunate part is that your upper left hand header is actually in the more prominent visual location and it’s the first thing visitors look at.

It’s also the only consistent branding you have since the other header is only on the home page.  Switching themes to one that allows for customized headers without the duplication be better for consistent branding.

The colors of the header are a good fit for the site and they match very well, my only suggestion is that they match a bit too well and picking a color that pops would be great to emphasize the header. Pink can be tricky, its complementary colors often end up looking very baby shower or Easter egg but if you go to a site like Kuler, it can help you choose some coordinating colors that suit your site.

Also for the header, I would love to see the pictures of you have more emphasis! You (and your abs) are a great “selling” point for your site and give you instant credibility. Showing yourself off by colorizing the photos and moving the text to not overlap so much would be a great way to do that.

Love that you have a tag line, it told me what your site was about (along with the title of course) but I would think about shortening it a bit, possibly, “My path to a stronger me” or something that didn’t have quite so many uses of the word “my.” That way a visitor can feel like there’s something here for them as well.

Also, the blog title can be taken to mean two different things, does it mean I went from drinking wine all the time to weightlifting or does it mean this blog covers everything from wine to weightlifting? A different tag line can help clarify that for the audience.

You own your own domain, that is awesome! It’s easy to remember and type plus it matches your blog title, double bonus points.

Color and Fonts

We covered this a bit before, but having the two headers with different fonts creates a lot of visuals with no clear emphasis. A different theme will make that issue go away since that’s not something that’s an easy fix here.

Color palette wise, I find this particular pink and grey to be a bit muted and maybe not as vibrant as you might want given your topic. It feels a bit more mommy/baby to me.

Sticking with pink would be a fantastic option. I love the idea of feminizing weightlifting since most of the sites you see about bodybuilding are crazy testosterone, male dominated sites. It’s a great way to differentiate yourself in your niche and really appeal to the woman who love to lift but are still feminine. Looking for a  more modern interpretations of pink and staying away from the pastels would be an easy way to do that. Great sites to browse are Design Seeds, Color Lovers and Kuler.

The main body fonts are a good color, easy to read and on a light background. I would raise the size of the font a bit, it’s 14px right now and it’s a tad small for comfortable reading. You can do that by finding the CSS in the theme that controls the size and adjusting it up a few points.  This may sound scary but it’s really simple. Just login to your WordPress dashboard and go to Appearnace–>Editor. The CSS stylesheet comes up by default. Scroll down until you see:

body {

font-family: Calibri, Calibri, ‘Times New Roman’, Times, serif;

font-size: 14px;

}

The “body” is telling you that it controls the font in the body of your website. The { lets you know the rules for the body are beginning and the } lets you know the rules are done. Font family is your body font, in this case Calibri, and the font size is what you want to change. Upping the font to 16px should be plenty. Hit save and check out your site! It’s that easy. This section should be close to the beginning of the stylesheet.

I love that your links stand out. Having an “action color” on your blog is really important. This means that whenever a visitor sees this specific color on your site they know to click it. That color should only be used for clickable elements (links, buttons, calls to action) to make sure it has the correct emphasis. If the link color is used on non-clickable elements then it loses it’s impact. Your links are great!

Other than size, I would try to choose a theme with less fonts overall, 2 would be ideal and 3 if they play very nicely together. This theme has 4 fonts plus you have an additional font in your graphic header, making 5 total.

Streamlining the font choices can help your site feel more professional, make it easier to read and help to put the emphasis on your writing and images.

To find great font combinations, you can start here: Design Shack, or Smashing Hub. Or if when you’re choosing a free theme, pay attention to fonts that are present in the headings, sidebar titles and body text to make sure they all look good together.

Navigation

I love that you have a breakdown of your navigation in the sidebar. Not a lot of blogs do that but since you don’t have a horizontal navigation under your header in this theme, that’s a great alternative. I would move it up a bit more though, just so people can see it better and encourage more exploration of your site. Right now with it being so low, it might get missed.

This theme is a bit different with it’s page navigation and it took me awhile to find. In the sample of the theme, it shows the pages on the right hand side of the blog posts when not on the home page. On your site, I found them underneath the content.

Choosing a theme with a more prominent navigation structure would be beneficial for your readers so they can find it in the place they expect. Below or above the header is the place most people look for pages!

Sidebars

For your sidebar, just as with your header, I would love to see more YOU! A photo of you at the top of the sidebar with a little blurb about you would be fantastic. It helps people learn about you fast and creates a greater sense of connection to your site in those precious first moments.

This is a bit of a personal preference but for sidebars, if you have one, my preference is to have it on the right hand side of the page unless it has the primary navigation for the site. The reason being, we read from left to right and that sidebar is in the most prominent visual location (besides the title). Since your content is the showcase, having that column on the left encourages reading whereas right now, reading your sidebar is the focus.

Before rearranging your sidebar, take some time to think about your goals for the site:

  • Do you want long term readers/community?
  • Are you going for high traffic with less engagement (helps with ad revenue)
  • Or are your goals something else entirely?

A sidebar should be set up achieve your goals.

I’ll give you an example. Say you’re interested in creating a loyal following of readers who come back over and over, comment, participate on your site, etc.  With that goal, when a new person arrives, you want them to connect with you in some way.

Ideally, that would be leaving their email to get your blog posts. By having their email, you now can connect with them in their inbox whenever you post. Catchy titles and great content will have them returning to your blog and hopefully commenting and interacting over time.

Without that initial subscription, they may completely forget about your site, never to return again.  That being said, priority one for growing readership, is to have a way to entice a reader to return. Email is best, but Twitter or Facebook are good too, anything is better than nothing!

That is why the subscription box should be as high up on that sidebar as is humanly possible. Ideally it should be right under your photo and little “About Me” blurb.  I love the social media items in your sidebar, it shows great involvement but if your subscriber numbers aren’t where you want them to be, then I would make those buttons instead and concentrate on the email subscribers for now. Too many choices usually means people pick nothing. Switching out your Subscribe button to something brighter, that action color we talked about earlier, may encourage more sign ups as well.

The badges are great, it’s awesome to showcase all the community involvement you have. I might put them into a widget that rotates images so that only one is visible at a time. This can further help you focus your sidebar to your goals. Those badges encourage clicking away from your site instead of staying on it.

As I mentioned with the email subscription, moving it way up the sidebar is best but I would also remove the subscriber count. That number is great if it’s really big – it gives you social proof when someone lands but when it’s smaller and you’re just starting out, it can do exactly the opposite.

For ads of any sort, my personal feeling is that if there are making you enough money, they are a good investment for you and you then keep them. If they aren’t making you any, or just a little bit, then they detract more than they add.  Also, if you are going to do ads if you can tie them into your blog topic or use re-targeting ads, you’ll have a better chance of click-through.

Love your recent post widget, it would be great if it could have images up there as well but that’s not possible with all themes.

If you have any really popular posts, having a popular posts widget is great too. You can just add in the links through a text widget of your best stuff. A category listing in the sidebar is another great way to encourage readers to explore your site more, this can either be done through text links, a drop down box, or my favorite – images. You can see this technique in use on My Yogurt Addiction in the right sidebar.

Content Area

Subscription box at the top of your content – awesome. I like to test stuff like this on sites and move it around to see where I get the best response. You may want to do that as well, top of sidebar, top of content, end of posts, there are a lot of places you can put subscription boxes that can really up your response rate.

For example, on Blog Genie, my end of post subscription box is the highest converting location because once people have read (and presumably) enjoyed a post, they appear to be more likely to subscribe to get more later.

Overall, your content area looks really good. You have a great mixture of formatting – bullets, images, lists and short paragraphs that break up the text and make it easy to read.

You’re using sexy book marks at the end of your posts, this is a great way to encourage sharing. I would remove any that aren’t used often or don’t make sense for you. Blogger, Google +, Shareaholic mail, and Google bookmarks would be my suggestion to remove. This is because once again, less is more. If you choose what networks work best for your blog and target those, you’ll have better success.

Comments

I know this is the theme but your comment font is soo tiny after the posts! And you get a lot of comments. This is one of the very best things to showcase. If you do choose a new theme, I would suggest picking one with really prominent comment counts. You can check out The Bloggess, her site does this very well.

When people land on your site and see 34 comments it tells them that your stuff is worth reading and that your site is active and vibrant. I can’t emphasize how fantastic this is and it’s also a hard thing to increase so bravo to you for doing the hard work there!

Once again, I know this is the theme, but having gravatar enabled images is a really nice touch and makes the comments more personal.

You’re using Comment Luv! It’s a nice way of thanking commenters by helping them get some clicks.

Content

From reading through many posts, I think your content is where you really shine (and it’s the hardest thing to fix so that’s good!) Your posts are so straight forward and honest, it’s refreshing. Whether you share your reactions to the Whole30 challenge or your Skinny Girl Problems, your tone is funny and very relate-able.

Overall your content is also on point with the rest of your topics and niche. Readers know what to expect from your posts and you deliver – great recipe for success.

You mentioned struggling with posting frequency and I know if feels like you need to post something all the time but it really doesn’t need to be like that.

If you spend more time writing posts and only post once or twice a week with really high quality content, you’ll actually be able to grow your readership faster.

You can then spend the other 5-6 days promoting the post, interacting on social media and commenting/connecting with other bloggers.

Growing a blog happens more and more off the blog itself these days. Getting out there, being seen (commenting and guest posting) and being associated with your topic is the best way to get people to come to your site and interact (and subscribe and comment and follow…)

Before anything else content wise, I would recommend writing an About Page. It’s one of the first things people look for when they arrive on a site. It’s a wonderful introduction to what you’re about and helps readers know if they’re in the right place, if your content is relevant for them and if it will solve their problems and benefit them in some way. Essentially, that means your About Page is about your readers more than it’s about you!

For other pages, like Food and Progress, I would change those to pages that you keep updated regularly with recipes and progress tracking or you can also change them to pages that show posts from those categories. You can customize your WordPress menu through the Appearances section in your dashboard. Right now, you’re sending readers away rather than keeping them on your site.

Conclusion

I’d really like to thank Jennifer for being so open to having her blog picked through critiqued. It can be hard laying everything bare like that and really being open to change and improve your site.

A big THANK YOU is in order for her.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on our first blog critique! Did you learn anything? Inspire a few changes on your own site?

Found this helpful? Know other blogger that could benefit from the information? Be their hero and pass it along!

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Comments

    • Rita says

      That’s wonderful news Sara, that’s the hope! I’m looking forward to it as well, it’s a blast getting to dig really deep through all this stuff with everyone.

  1. Ali says

    This was really interesting! I’m in the process of redesigning my blog, so will def keep this in mind

  2. Corinna says

    Hi Rita, Sorry, I’m back. I want to use a widget that rotates images on my sidebar to display my badges, but I do not see this option in my Woothemes widget page. I am currently using the text sidebar widget and loading the href in the html box. Do I just need to add some code to make them rotate or is there another widget that I should use? Thank you!

  3. Moe says

    Wow, this is really cool! So helpful. I’m still on a blogspot site, haven’t switched to self-hosting yet but you offer some great ideas to keep in mind for when I do!

    • Rita says

      That’s great to hear Moe. We have another one coming up in the next few days so hopefully they’ll be some more tips you can use in there.

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