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What Makes A Great Weblog?

Date:  23rd November, 2004


weblog thumbnails

Why do some weblogs attract large numbers of readers while others operate with near invisibility? Why do the same weblogs get linked to time and time again?

I tidied up my blogroll today. I removed some websites and added others. The auditing process was easy. A cursory review of each existing website was all I needed in order to determine which should stay and which should go. But how did I make my decisions? What qualities did I admire in the websites I had chosen? Read on, you might be surprised...

It's Not About...

Standards Compliance: Don't get me wrong - I understand why standards compliance is important and I appreciate all the hard work that goes in to creating and maintaining a standards compliant website. But when I visit a website, I couldn't care less whether it validates or not. Nor am I concerned about the content type or whether it's marked up in HTML or XHTML.

Accessibility: Accessibility is important to me. When I'm tired, I like to increase font sizes. I like to be able to navigate forms with the [tab] key. I like having descriptive mouseovers of acronyms and links. But the presence or absence of these features didn't influence my selections in any way.

Tables: The pariah of modern web design, tables should only be used to present tabular data... blah, blah, blah. But did I ostracise websites because they'd used tables for non-tabular data? Of course not.

Design: Like most people, I appreciate something beautiful. However, the aesthetics of a website has very little influence on whether or not I'm likely to return to it. Some of my favourite websites have some of the most basic designs imaginable (Simon Willison's Weblog, Dichotomy's Purgatory, All Things Distributed, Jeremy Zawodny's Blog). [1]

Posting Frequency: It doesn't matter whether new material is published once per day or once per year. I'm not concerned with how often new content appears.

Features: Style switchers, LiveSearch, Gravatars, TrackBacks... These fancy features are great. If they're available, then I'll probably use them. If they're not, I don't miss them.

It Is About...

Content: What you write will make or break your website. Over and above everything else, your content is what determines whether visitors will stay or leave and, significantly, whether or not they will return. If you produce good content then, no matter how obscure your website, that content will be found. It will be referenced on other websites, it will be linked to and it will work its way up Google's rankings.

When you're writing for your weblog, keep these points in mind:

  • Choose your topics carefully as these will determine your audience.
  • Check your speling [2], grammar and punctuation. Check it again.
  • Write with clarity and avoid redundancy.

Information Architecture: Organise your website logically and with consistency. Make it easy to navigate, make it searchable. Employ a logical, hackable URI schema. Use Cool URIs. Don't put barriers in front of information.

Performance: Keep those page weights down. Remember: Too Much Weight, I Won't Wait!

Credibility: Write about what you know. Don't try to fake it, your readers will always be able to spot a fraud. Having opinions is fine, but don't confuse opinion with fact.

Utility: Articles that contain useful, factual information are more valuable than conjecture. If your readers can get a return-on-investment from your website they are much more likely to become repeat visitors. Examples: Daring Fireball,, HTML Dog Blog, gnegg...

Personality: Inject a little bit of your personality into your weblog. Your readers will appreciate being able to get to know you. But don't overdo it. Bloggers who've really nailed this include Paul Scrivens and Dunstan Orchard. If possible, use a little humour in your posts (be careful with this though).

Community: One of the defining qualities of a weblog is its community. I don't just want to read your article, I want to have my say. I'm also keen to read what others think. Only then can I subjectively analyse the topic in question. Don't turn comments off!

Turn Offs...

There are some things you should avoid when writing for your weblog.

  • Kittens: I don't care about your cat. I'm not interested in its diet or its bowel movements. I never, ever want to see photo's of your cat playing with a ball of wool. If I want a cat, I'll get one, thank you very much.
  • Depression: Just because you're feeling a little down-in-the-dumps, there's no need to tell me about it. I don't want to know. If your website depresses me then I'm not going to return. I've got problems of my own!
  • Wishlist Whoring: Thanks for uploading those pictures of your pert, teenage breasts. But I'm still not going to buy you something from your Amazon Wishlist.
  • Baiting: I enjoy a well argued, reasonable critique as much as the next man. However, there's a big difference between an honest critique and deliberate baiting. Your attention seeking is totally transparent. It's childish and, whilst it might generate a short-term traffic boost, it's unlikely to endear you to anyone and, in the long run, will hurt both your reputation and your credibility.
  • Flame Wars: See "Baiting".


The website thumbnails montage was taken from a screen shot of


[1] If I see one more "Wicked Worn Look", I'll scream, I swear I will!
[2] This is a deliberate misspelling, in the tradition of Apache's mod_speling.