the blog critique | 11 | The Native New Yawker

The Blog Critique #11: Brand & Engagement Building

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It’s been weeks since I critiqued a blog — once again.. my bad, ya’ll. This 2014 Blog Planner, on top of crazy freelance work, has consumed all my time lately. I have quite a few projects & businesses launching for 2014 that I can’t wait to share with you all, including ebooks, webinars and consultation. I’m really trying to turn it up next year and slowly make my way back over into the freelancing lane. I miss working from the privacy of my own apartment in my PJs.

I will tell you all this.. for 2014 I’m working on one-on-one blog critique sessions that will take place over Skype or Google Hangout. I’d do a live critique of your site showing you how a new user navigates your site, pinpoint problem areas and what you can do to fix them, as well as touch on any specific concerns you may have such as getting more engagement from your readers, or how to properly go about monetizing your blog. So stay tuned for that. Make sure you’re subscribe to the blog as I’ll be sending emails out for signs up a few days early. Moving right along.. let’s jump into today’s critique.
Lifestyle Blog

Ariel started her blog as a place where she was ‘testing the water’, voicing her opinions on topics, such as the latest celebrity news. But that got old real fast and she realized she actually can’t stand celebrities. So nowadays her blog focuses more on ‘girl talk’ where she offers the realness with an inspirational twist. She now wants to start using her blog as a platform to offer her services and products and figured her blog could use a critique. Her major concerns dealing with her blog are that it’s not only not visually appealing, but she’s unsure if her brand message is clear.. or if there’s even a brand at all. And, of course she’d like to improve the engagement factor with her audience. She lives for conversations and engagement and just wants to know if there’s anything she can do to turn it up. Well, Ariel.. you’ve come to the right place.

The Good

Despite not being aesthetically stimulated when first arriving on your page, you got all your vital information about the fold. You have all your social networks listed, including G+ (you go, girl!), making it easier for people to follow you. When I actually went to click they links though, it took me to the main pages of the social networks rather than your actual profiles. I can check out your YouTube videos, follow you on Bloglovin’ or find specific articles I want to read from your navigation section. When it comes to the basics of what’s need for a blog, you’ve definitely got that covered so as I say, kudos.

The biggest challenge you’re facing with your blog is the aesthetics, but before I give you some suggestions.. let’s talk about some of your other concerns.

The Concerns

I’m not sure if my brand message is clear.. or if there’s a brand at all.

When it comes to branding, I’ve noticed a common misconception. People think that once they have a site, a name & a logo, they instantly have a brand. Sure, visuals can play a large part in your branding, but that alone doesn’t make a brand–you just have an identity.

Branding is a nice little union of who you are and what you do. When creating your brand, it’s important that you set specific goals and strategize according. So I ask.. what are you trying to do with your brand? Are you trying to become an authority in your niche? Or are you just looking to friend more clients or increase revenue? Before you can truly focus on your brand.. you have to set your goals. Simply, put.. what are you trying to do with what you got? As I’m trying to build my own brand, I want people to instantly think good design when they hear L. Providence or Native New Yawker. What do you want people to instantly think about when they hear Ariel Says Now?

At the current time I would say your brand is a little unclear. According to your About page, your site caters to young, urban women who enjoy an honest does of reality, inspiration, assurance and straight up girl talk about love, sex, relationships, lifestyle and the occasional side piece, but some of your content can be a little confusing as it doesn’t really hone in on those topics, like your current post ‘I Partnered with Paul..Again’. Although informative, it doesn’t feel like it’s part of your brand. The things that really sticked with me in your email you sent over is wanting your blog to focus more on girl talk.. and honestly, I think you should build your brand off that.. ‘girl talk’, which leads us into your second concern.

I’d like to improve the engagement factor. My main concern and reason for blogging is: unmitigated, real girl talk! I love conversations and engagements.

So if we were to focus your brand around ‘girl talk’ I would change up my whole marketing strategy to gear towards engagement and conversation. I see you already have an active YouTube channel.. so for 2014 I would definitely make it your business to make more videos. Videos allow for conversation more than asking a question at the end of your blog post. Create weekly or monthly videos discussing topics that you deem suited for ‘girl talk.’

You should also consider trying to host your own monthly Twitter Chat or Google Hangout — both different mediums that allow for instant engagement between you & your followers. And if you have a Instagram account, try an ‘InstaTalk’ from time to time. Simply use a cool service like Notegraphy to ‘design’ your question & post them for your users to engage with. The great thing about engaging on different plaforms is you can bring it all back to your blog for those that missed it. So you could definitely post Twitter Chat recaps, your videos, etc. back to your blog to get more engagement there.

The Solutions

Now that we discussed a few ways you can continue to build you brand and user engagement, let’s talk about the main ‘problem’ with your blog: the aesthetics. I’d definitely recommend in investing in a designer to customize your Blogger in the near future. Until then here are a few suggestions you can do:

  • Simplify your Blogger theme. I always say, when in doubt.. go with white (or black, depending the circumstances). Using a white background tends to make things feel a little bit cleaner and allows for items to breathe. Here’s an example of a simple blog layout I did for Blogger. As you can see sometimes.. well more often than most, less is always more.
  • Ditch three-columns for two. Personally, I always feel two-columns work better than three-columns (although there are a few exceptions when neatly done, like here  or here). Three-columns can make the page feel a little congested and really sets no hierarchy for your eyes. I think you’ll benefit more from having one longer sidebar rather than two.
  • Throw up a header & develop a little color scheme. Until you find a graphic designer that you’d want to work with, you should experiment with some designs of your own & make you a simple header. Nothing fancy. I think by just adding something graphical above your navigation will really help give your site an aesthetic boost. If you don’t have a membership, see if you know someone that can give you access to Canva, an easy-to-use online design platform, or maybe even download Photoshop CS2 and try your luck with that. Either way, experiment with designs. And while you’re designing your header, you can experiment with color schemes at Colour Lovers. In an earlier Blog Critique, I talked about how one can go about picking color schemes for their blog. Worth checking out.
  • Lose the sidebar ads. I often ask people how many times they actually click on ads when browsing sites. 8 times out of 10 no one ever clicks them. If these current ads aren’t generating any revenue for you, take them down. They devalue the look of your brand. For 2014, you can work on native advertising, such as maybe sponsored post, into your site instead of using generic ads.
  • Add some ‘quick access’ social links. A few days ago, I talked about how adding the Facebook plugin helped increase the likes on my page. The real thing I was pointing out is the importance of keeping your reader on your page. You can keep your smaller links, but you can include a ‘quick access’ section where people can instantly like your Facebook page, add you on Twitter, etc.

The Overall Critique

Overall, although you need some aesthetic attention paid to your blog, you still have a lot of wonderful content filled on the pages. I would really just start to hone in on showing your personality through your passion of conversation with the ladies. If engagement is what you want, focus on ways to really reach out to your audience outside of writing especially if you’re trying to sell things. When you get some free time check out this awesome info graphic on what having video can do for your business. The main aesthetic recommendations I would tell you to work on ASAP is just giving it a shot at designing a simple header. Nothing to fancy. Remember more is less. Well Ariel, I hope I was able to help you with some of your concerns. I’m looking forward to seeing what you do with your blog in the near future.

If you would like to submit your blog for critique, please send an email to with your name, blog URL, category you’d consider your blog and why you think you need a blog critique.

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