Content is key, but without a good design, any blog will fall short. To hit its potential audience, a blog has to combine good stories with a functioning homepage.
The Content Strategist talked to editors at three top blogs — Boing Boing, VentureBeat, and Flavorwire — to find out how the blogs manage to maintain an influential internet presence and connect with readers.
Managing editor of Boing Boing Rob Beschizza says that the content posted on the front page is driven by the discretion of the editors. “We post what we like,” he said. ”We don’t really have a particularly systematic approach to it.”
The blog, Beschizza says, is easy to read and scan. He and the other editors make it a top priority to not upload too many big pictures or ads that will infringe upon the readers’ experience.
At the top of the page is a section where three stories stay, even as others come in. But, with the amount of traffic being generated by Facebook and Twitter, this type of organization is becoming obsolete.
“People will find what they want either way,” Beschizza said. ”It’s all social media now. The design of a website or blog especially used to be very influential in what [content] became successful. You’d promote something on the front page and people would read it. What happens now is most people come to the site from social networks.”
The content that makes the biggest impression, according to Beschizza, will often involve a political faux pas, images of cuddly cats and similar cute subjects, or photos of beautiful landscapes. The site also invests in freelance writers for original feature stories, justifying their spending on the fact that the other content brings in a lot of traffic.
In general, Beschizza said, it doesn’t matter if Boing Boing looks pretty or contains a bunch of visuals. The prevailing factor that makes it successful is that it’s uncluttered.
“I would love to make the site more beautiful than it is but no one ever goes to a beautful site more than once. It’s better to just pick something that works and is readable rather than worrying too much about design. I don’t think it’s important to be beautiful if what you’re doing depends on content.”
A blog mainly for executives, entrepreneurs, and investors, VentureBeat ranks number 25 on Technorati’s top blogs list.
The site, according to Executive Editor Dylan Tweney, receives 5 million visitors per month, and focuses on tech and business news. There’s a reason for that amount of traffic, he said.
“We have more content and better content,” Tweney said. ”Our staff is really good at going out and getting original news that is not found on other sites. There are so many blogs that reblog and repeat information. We try to set ourselves apart by doing our own stories.”
At the top of VentureBeat’s page is a featured stories section, which is manually set by the editors, and below are stories in reverse chronological, or the most recent order. There is also a section for editors’ picks, which Tweney says “may not be super newsworthy but have evergreen potential.”
This past February, the blog went through a redesign, putting more emphasis on visuals and making sure to include them in every story.
“We try to provide images that come from our own reporting, so if we’re talking about Mark Zuckerberg we use one we took of him,” says Tweney. “We use product photos from companies we’re covering or creative license or stock photos. There’s at least one per article, but sometimes we’ll have multiple photos, screenshots, or slideshows.”
Social media, along with original reporting and a visual design, are what attracts visitors to VentureBeat, Tweney said. Editors post every story on Twitter, and selected ones on Facebook.
The staff is working on a site for the iPad, which will have a “much more content centric design,” said Tweney. “It will be a lot less busy. There will be swiping to go back and forth between stories.”
Flavorwire is the offspring of Flavorpill, the site for local event listings in cities around the world. It covers pop culture, film, television, design, music, books, and art news, and, according to Managing Editor Caroline Stanley, boasts more than 1 million unique visitors each month.
It appeals to urbanites in their 20s and 30s, as well as anyone who enjoys the arts.
The four-year-old blog has found its most success when it makes visuals the focal point of the story. The biggest story so far, Stanley said, included photos of the world’s most beautiful bookstores.
“I can’t think of a post that we’ve had a lot of success with that hasn’t had that strong visual component,” she said. ”A lot of people reading our site are at work and they don’t want to feel like they’re doing work. They want an escape. The post can have a lot of meat to it, but it’s gotta have the eye candy as well.”
The site receives a majority of its traffic from social media sites like Facebook and Tumblr, as well as from the daily Flavorpill email. When visitors reach the site, they’ll see a reverse chronological order to the stories, which are hand-selected “based on a gut feeling on what will connect with our audience,” Stanley said.
Stanley said the site is planning a some design changes to help readers.
“We want to make sure that as we grow, interesting conversations happen [on our site]. We want to make stories easy to discover,” she said. “We’re going to focus on how to make sure that if someone comes across the site for the first time not only do they find one thing they like, but three things they like, and they’ll want to hang out.”