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User Observation Testing: Forms and Procedures August 24, 2006

Posted by electrica in blog evaluation, user observation tests, web analysis, web usability.
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User Observation Testing: Forms and Procedures for an Information-Driven Web Sites

by Steven Streight

The W.D. Boyce Council of the Boy Scouts of America was concerned about their staff Web site. Complaints from users indicated that the site might have some usability problems. The W.D. Boyce web development committee decided to revise the design of the site, but wanted to identify usability deficiencies prior to the re-design.

As a new volunteer member of the committee, my responsibility consisted of advising the committee on usability and textual content issues. Here was my opportunity to make a significant contribution of expertise.

I suggested that my usability team observe typical users interacting with the Web site. Watching actual users attempt to accomplish tasks at the Web site would enable us to pinpoint specific usability problems. After I explained how a user observation test could be conducted, and what would be required of test subjects and testing facilities, the committee gave me the go-ahead.

www.wdboyce.org is an information-driven, text-dominant Web site, with relatively complex information architecture. Vital information is often buried in non-obvious locations, requiring users to embark on “linking expeditions” (site navigation-enabled information hunts) that are frustrating and time-consuming. Users are confronted with redundant links (differently labeled links that lead to same content), pseudo-redundant links (similarly labeled links that lead to very different content), and faulty link nomenclature (link labels that are vague or inaccurate).

The organization wants its staff leaders and volunteers to use the site as their primary source of organization news, policy statements, activity updates, and forms to download to reduce paper and postage costs for the organization.

W.D. Boyce web committee members understood how web text must be formatted differently from print media. Readers of books, magazine articles, and personal letters, for example, tend to read in sequential order, from beginning to end. Some passages may be skipped over, but print reading is far more linear (straight line from point A to point B, etc., to point Z) than web viewing. It’s a mistake to think that web users will interact with Web site text the same way they consume print media text.

The sheer abundance of online material, and the free and easy access to it, contributes to users racing through Web sites, even relevant ones, until they spot the exact material they want. Unfortunately, most of the text on the site was in a “print read” format.

To convert the print read text to “web scan” text, I proposed using the following techniques:

  • Shorter paragraphs
  • Copy chunking, with intrasite hypertext links
  • Bulleted and numbered lists replacing dense text blocks
  • More descriptive heads and subheads
  • Underlining of hypertext links
  • Selected and non-selected hypertext link color differentiation (blue for unselected, not yet visited links; purple for selected, already visited links)
  • Elimination of unnecessary articles and superfluous words

The committee also agreed that a Site Index and some Multiple User-Segmented Site Maps (suggested paths through the site, based on user type) might be a good addition. It’s suspected that users experience confusion upon arriving at the site. It’s not clear where a specific type of user (leader, volunteer, donor, parent, or sponsor) should go in the site, nor where certain items are found, e.g., application forms for an upcoming event.

However, even with these enhancements, the site was still considered to be in need of a complete overhaul. To get our bearings for the construction of the new site, a User Observation Test was conducted on the current site. What follows are the forms and procedures we used.

Those who are new to web usability analysis, or those who are familiar only with certain aspects, may see something clarified that was previously mysterious.

The first thing we needed to do was recruit volunteers to be test subjects.

Computer Skills Level Telesurvey

We wanted two low level, two intermediate, and two high level computer skills users in the test. Test subjects were phoned and qualified by a Computer Skills Level Telesurvey. There is no strict “If, then” methodology for this. It’s more like “If, probably,” as in: “If [such and such is true], probably [the user is at this skills level].”

The questions we used were:

  • What they generally used a computer for, with ten suggested uses, from email only (LOW) to professional IT occupational work (HIGH).
  • How they found Web sites to visit, from magazines with lists of hot sites (LOW) to multiple specialized search engines (HIGH).
  • How they primarily navigated a Web site, from navbars and main menu link listings (LOW) to site maps and advanced search boxes (HIGH).
  • How much time they spent on the computer, from less than one hour a day (LOW) to more than three hours a day (HIGH).
  • What is their main usage of a computer, from pleasure or entertainment (LOW) to professional online forums and discussion lists (HIGH).
  • What skills level they perceive themselves to be at, from novice to computer expert.
  • What are their favorite Web sites, open ended, with AOL, Yahoo, eBay, amazon.com being ranked LOW to Slashdot, Wired News, and wikipedia being ranked HIGH. (Note: this is no reflection on the quality or professionalism of the Web sites so tagged. Low skills users tend to visit more popular, high traffic sites, while high skills users tend to visit more technical, specialized sites.)

Introductory Remarks to Test Subjects

Test subjects were thanked for coming. They were emphatically reassured that this evaluation was not to determine their intelligence or computer savvy, but to determine the efficiency and usability of the Web site. Gourmet deli cold cut sandwiches were available: easy to feast upon, not messy. Cans of cold soda were also provided.

Subjects were tested one at a time. Although the surveys were intended for post-test purposes, subjects filled out two of them while waiting to be tested, to decrease the amount of time they had to spend in this process. While the System Usability Scale Questionnaire had to be filled out after the usability test, whether the other surveys were filled out before or after the test was not a vital concern.

User Observation Test Procedures

Subjects were asked to sit in front of a computer monitor displaying the Home Page of the Web site being tested.

They were given a list of ten site task assignments. The test administrator read each assignment to the subject, prior to the subject performing the task; to be sure he understood what to do. When the administrator said, “Go,” a stopwatch was activated and the task performance was timed to one hundredth of a second.

Video recording of the testing is recommended, but was not available in this case. The administrator took notes on how the subject attempted to accomplish each task, what links were followed, what navigation tools were utilized, and what comments were made.

When it was apparent that a subject was exasperated and would not be able to complete a task, the administrator said, “Give up? That’s okay. This one’s a tough one. Here’s how you can find this.” Test subjects were shown a site path leading to the information.

The administrator engaged in silent, non-invasive observation. No assistance was given, but, to keep the test from being emotionally cold and inhuman, friendly comments were made, such as: “It probably should have its own link on the Home Page” or “That’s good thinking, but the site regretfully wasn’t designed that way.”

One test subject pulled the monitor closer to him due to his poor vision. Another was a bit awkward with the mouse; he kept clicking the right click mechanism or pushing down on the mouse wheel, thereby activating unexpected functions. In this case, the administrator intervened, informing the subject of his operational errors.

Link Strategy Survey

This questionnaire was designed to take the place of “card sorting,” in which the user arranges cards with link labels or page section titles printed on them, to convey the desired information architecture for a Web site.

Labels of top navbars, left column main menu links, and bottom of page text links are presented. Users are told, for example, “A top navbar is a horizontal navigation tool that runs across an upper region of the Home Page. Here are the links in that navbar. What information would you expect to be provided by these links?” Space is provided for them to describe what they think should be in those links.

We also listed links we are considering adding to the left column main menu. Test subjects were asked to check mark those they agreed should be included. They were also asked if they paid much attention to bottom of page text links. We asked them if they thought they’d use a “Search This Site” search engine text entry box. Finally, we asked them, “For what purpose do you primarily use this Web site?”

Site Satisfaction Survey

This questionnaire, which determines if the Web site is meeting the organization’s goals, was prefaced with, “Tell us what you really think, not what you assume we may be hoping to hear.” Test subjects were asked:

  • Do you consider this Web site to be your #1 source of organization news, information, and forms?
  • Would you prefer another source for these things, and what would that be? (Email was mentioned by a test subject.)
  • Do you consider quick and easy access to organization news and information to be important?
  • Do you use your computer much, or visit other Web sites? Multiple choices ranging from “No…or I rarely visit _______ sites” to “Yes, online shopping” and “Yes, at my job I do computer work or visit Web sites.”
  • Average time you spend on the computer: ______ hours per day.
  • What does this Web site do best? Not do a very good job at?
  • What could be done to improve this Web site?
  • Was anything missing from this Web site? Please specify.
  • Any comments you’d care to make about this Web site testing program?

System Usability Scale Questionnaire

The final form we asked test subjects to fill out is our modified version of the Digital Equipment Company Ltd. System Usability Scale (SUS) Scale, which is in the public domain. We modified this scale to accommodate Web sites. In its original version, it’s designed for assessing any software or hardware system. It can be seen at www.usabilitynet.org under Home > Tools & Methods (bottom text link) > Established Questionnaires > SUS.

Our modified version of this questionnaire, which is strongly recommended for usability tests of Web sites, is available via email to anyone who contacts me to request it.

Conclusion

Now the hard part begins: compiling the results into a concise report for the organization. Provide the organization with a brief explanation of test methodology, a summary of the test results, and a prioritized list of recommended actions to take, based on the test results.

Let the organization know that no Web site is perfect. New web norms are being established at high-popularity sites. Current users are improving their skills and expecting advanced functionalities. New web users are continually logging onto the net landscape.

All these facts point to the reality that both the World Wide Web and the collective pool of users are constantly changing. Thus, usability evaluation should be a periodic, ongoing process, not a one time event.

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Cascading Project Proliferation. transparent CEO blogging. August 5, 2006

Posted by electrica in blog evaluation, CEO blogs, deep blogology, Discrete Strategic Transparency, Miserably Servile Customer Pampering, Personal Blogging, Uncategorized.
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A CEO blogger speaks recently of self-assigned chores that seem to somehow expand as they are pursued. Like the “fix it” mode goes berserk. Perfectionism kicks in. Work ethic obsession outbursts persist in the new dimension of infinite sequence chains massively self-propagating eternally.

The industrial managerial psychologists have a word for this, “cascading project proliferation” or “autonomous task sprawl” or “retroflexive recursive feedback entropy¬† syndrome” or “dynamic loop psychosis”.

Neologisms, tools with which to handle these nearly ineffable realities of life.

This type of sleeves rolled up, jacket off, deck shoes commentary on personal life, mixed with business insight or better, philosophical questions, is my favorite type of candid blogging.

There is a power in discrete transparency, and it’s euphoric.

The way it works is:

(1) You are bothered by, or pensively contemplative toward, an item.

(2) You briefly mention in your blog how it annoyed or impeded you. This is a quick connect with common folk via customized anecdote.

(3) You then build an abrupt bridge, connecting the complaint or observation with a broader business reality or practice.

(4) You demonstrate that the business and personal realms can mesh, to the productive gain of both your organization and your audience, as they benefit from a humanized real life example of a difficult to grasp or esoteric principle of business.

It’s what I call Discrete Strategic Transparency. As opposed to reckless, indiscriminate gushing of private, trivial, and inappropriate details. A “need to know” basis. A controlled revelation of personal details, with a larger objective in view.

Discrete Strategic Transparency enhances the credibility and persuasive power of a blog, by helping readers to relate to you as a regular individual with good insights and astonishing brevity of narrative.

How to Evaluate Your Blog: part 2 March 6, 2006

Posted by electrica in blog evaluation.
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True Blog Value vs. Blog Peripherals

We wish to judge the actual, intrinsic worth and benefit of a blog to its actual or intended audience.

A blog reader generally won’t, or shouldn’t, care about blog peripherals. Blog peripherals (items on the outside, external to the blog itself) are irrelevant factors in judging a blog’s value.

In other words, we must start with the internal essence and outward presentation of a blog first. All other considerations and hopes must take a backseat to this primary valuation.

“First root, then fruit”

The marketing secret contained in the whisper-transmission is this: if you concentrate on continual improvement of the root, you won’t have to worry about the fruit.

These blog peripherals *may be* worthy goals, realistic objectives, for a blog, but they are external to the blog proper. While you may want the blog to accomplish certain things for yourself, your organization, or your product, I suggest that you refrain from judging your blog from the viewpoint of secondary effects.

Blog peripherals are blog effects, ideals, goals, reactions, responses, external impact–they are not the blog proper, the blog as it exists in itself.

The main external impact a blog has is on the blogger, even more than the audience. The blog changes, hopefully improves and polishes, the blogger.

My point?

DO NOT abandon or delete a blog just because it fails to perform in these aspects that are supplementary, auxiliary, ancillary (from ancilla: “maid-servant”), subordinate, consequential, inferior to the core worth of the blog in itself, apart from its context and the overall strategy.

Now, here is an explanation of why each of the above blog peripherals is not a valid measurement of the value of a blog.

1. Increased traffic to a commercial site.

There may be many other factors contributing to the increase of site traffic.

A blog should be judged according to what it is meant to be within itself. How the blog impacts other aspects of an enterprise is a secondary, though possibly colossal, concern.

The blog may be successful in it’s content, presentation, and community-building, but not drive traffic to the commercial site. Don’t abandon the blog: keep it as a service to customers, a way to build an online community of shared interests, revolving around your brand or personality.

Now the Bad News: a blog with the primary aim of driving traffic to some other web site, is a blog that generally tends to be hype-filled, pushy, flashy, circus-like, annoying, and insincere.

The message of a Traffic Pusher Blog seems to be: “We’re glad you’re here, visiting this blog. Have we got a product for you! You’ll love it as much as we do, I’m sure. Why not go over to our web site now? Read about our product and how great we and it are. Buy our product.”

Users go to the trouble of visiting the blog, but swiftly get the strong impression that the blog is fake friendly, isn’t offering much, and it just a tool, a toy, a tentacle of the corporate octopus. This, in the hyper-sensitive populace of the internet, is annoying and lowers your credibility.

Hype is Off Net.

Fascinating stories, free technology, clear immediate benefits, breathless jittery writing style, and quick how-to tips are On Net.

2. Increased sales at commercial site, attributable to the blog.

A blog makes a lousy vending machine. It’s like setting up a lemonade stand in your livingroom. If there are any refreshments at all, livingroom visitors fully expect them to be free, if not abundant. Your blog is very similar to your livingroom.

In the case of a Product Blog, or a blog pitching a consultant’s services, it’s recommended that you avoid writing incessant self-promotional posts and sidebar badges. Be proud of your credentials and self-reflect, but be very shy about tooting your own horn. Anything smelling like hype will drive visitors away from you, in droves and stampedes.

blog = email to the world, not a sales catalog

Hype is totally alien to the ultra-friendly environment of the blog, even a business or scientific blog. Doc Searls is credited with the brilliant saying, “a blog is an email to the world”. This terrific insight underscores the intimacy, hence honesty and transparency, of the [ideal] blog.

dual-utopian nature of blogs

Candid and mutually beneficial conversations occur in blogs because they traditionally have a dual-utopian nature: tech link logging and diarist exhibitionism.

Basically, every blog quivers and fluctuates back and forth between these two opposing poles.

This deep blogological observation ensures that all blogs can be seen as providing other web locations, by hypertext editorial links and sidebar link badges, and/or providing chatty, relaxed, authoritative, aggressive stance commentary on various issues or facts.

A link log, like Robot Wisdom has no or little commentary. It provides updated, hyperlinked lists of other web locations, blogs and websites. On the other end of the spectrum, a young person might use a blog for journaling purposes. Every blog typically isolates or combines these two primal blog functions, to varying degrees and in multitudinous manners.

A blog can be used to sell items, or direct users to the commercial web site, but their hearts will be more open to your sales message if you give them fantastic information or super-intelligent advice, tons of it, the more the better, first. And keep that blog text witty, chatty, loose, and casual, even if the blog is professional or scholarly.

3. Large number of comments on blog posts

Many new bloggers worry about months of blogging, with not a single comment.

I will not go into depth here about How To Increase the Reader Comments at Your Blog, but my topic here is: don’t worry about comment quantity. Also: think–would you *really* want to have 635 comments on every post, like a Pete Townsend? Would you be able to read, AND RESPOND, to each of them.

Number of comments means almost nothing.

Quality of comments is everything.

Tons of comments, especially empty remarks of appreciation or praise, that contribute no new information, are just sludge that readers may tire of in a big hurry. But a few great comments, even just one amazing comment, can really enhance even the best post ever written.

“I got 559 comments on that post. That was a highly successful and popular post, ” some blogger declares triumphantly. But if 554 of those comments are vacuous, trite, boring, stupid, butt-kissing, self-promotional, or off topic, what does this say about the post then? And the blogger? And the blog audience, as “big” as the blogger thinks it is?

Good comments, relevant remarks that add information or experiential anecdotes, or critical complaints that improve your ideas, these enrich a blog.

Be thrilled when someone posts a long, scholarly, passionate, wildly funny, astonishingly interesting comment on a post. The comment poster just acted as a contributing editor to your blog publication. The comment poster is to some slight degree a co-author of your blog, even when the comment is negative. Comments expand and multiply the conversation begun by your post.

4. Large number of search engine references to the blog

Search engine hits can be very misleading. They do not mean anything in terms of a blog’s popularity or success. They would mean a great deal if the quality and accuracy of the hits were of high standard, but they are not. Many search engine references are to irrelevant citations, insertions of your blog URL in link farm blogoids, mis-spellings of phrases similar to your blog title, and many other contingencies.

Search engine hits for my name “Steven Edward Streight” include some “streight” citations which are simply mis-spellings of “straight”, as in “I told him to come streight home after school”.

5. Large number of links to the blog

Just because other bloggers are not blogrolling your blog in their sidebars, or not linking to your blog in their posts, this does not mean your blog is not good enough.

It can take a lot of time, and a lot of posting comments at other blogs, to attract other bloggers to visit your blog and be astonished at something in it, then write a post about it on their blog or add your blog to a blogroll, which is a privileged status.

Besides, when a blog has a lot of other blogs linking to it, blogrolls, though privileged, are also somewhat perfuctory, almost decoration. A blogroll can also function less as a linked list of recommended sites, than an attempt to appear to be in the “clique” of certain top, relevant bloggers.

6. Large number of textual citations of the blog

Again, just because right now your blog is not well known, this is no reason to feel like a “sub-blogger” or “Z-lister”, a loser or underachiever.

Maybe nobody cites your blog, because it’s too profound, too complete, too competitive with those blogs you wish would pay attention to you. The other bloggers in your field of expertise or entertainment may fear or envy you. Maybe your blog makes their blog look feeble in comparison. Who knows?

7. Large number of visitors to the blog

Quality is more important than quantity when it comes to visitors.

A blog that has 100 visitors a day is no less effective, interesting, or valuable than a blog that has 100, 000 visitors a day. Where did anyone ever get such an absurd idea? What kind of readership does a blog have? Are they young, old, educated, experienced, nice, smart, polite, funny? Will they convert from readers of your blog to buyers of your book or other products?

Or are they “just eyeballs”, passive receptors of an addictive blog?

True Evaluation of Your Blog

Of course you hope your message, your humor, your advice, your revolt reaches ever increasing numbers of people.

It’s only natural to like seeing lots of reactions, comments, or emails regarding something you wrote. Yet, your best posts may be so stunning and sublime, no comment could do it justice. You remember that are many reasons why you don’t get as many comments as you might like.

Try asking for comments, in a non-beggarly manner. Watch me. I do it now and then. I’ll say, “What is your opinion. Post a comment or email me.”

We like seeing our blog cited in other blogs, and seeing it on blogrolls, and quoted in books.

But if you allow yourself to get obsessed with blog stats, blog reception, blog popularity, and all the other miscellaneous issues, you’ll lose sight of the true value of a blog.

The true evaluation of a blog is only this: does you know pretty well what your readers tend to need? Do you then provide it in a manner you think fits with your personal style and with their expectations?

If your blog meets the needs of your audience, your blog is good, effective, worth continuing forever.

Even a conjectured, hypothetical audience.

Seriously.

A blog designed for a theoretical audience of readers is good when it contains what that imaginary audience needs.

Why do I talk say this?

Because that illusory audience probably DOES exist, somewhere in cyber-space. And some of it could easily end up at your blog.

Meet the needs of your blog readers. Consider that success enough. This can in turn lead to very great advantages to any individual, company, or organization.

How to Evaluate Your Blog: part 2 March 6, 2006

Posted by electrica in blog evaluation.
add a comment

True Blog Value vs. Blog Peripherals

We wish to judge the actual, intrinsic worth and benefit of a blog to its actual or intended audience.

A blog reader generally won’t, or shouldn’t, care about blog peripherals. Blog peripherals (items on the outside, external to the blog itself) are irrelevant factors in judging a blog’s value.

In other words, we must start with the internal essence and outward presentation of a blog first. All other considerations and hopes must take a backseat to this primary valuation.

“First root, then fruit”

The marketing secret contained in the whisper-transmission is this: if you concentrate on continual improvement of the root, you won’t have to worry about the fruit.

These blog peripherals *may be* worthy goals, realistic objectives, for a blog, but they are external to the blog proper. While you may want the blog to accomplish certain things for yourself, your organization, or your product, I suggest that you refrain from judging your blog from the viewpoint of secondary effects.

Blog peripherals are blog effects, ideals, goals, reactions, responses, external impact–they are not the blog proper, the blog as it exists in itself.

The main external impact a blog has is on the blogger, even more than the audience. The blog changes, hopefully improves and polishes, the blogger.

My point?

DO NOT abandon or delete a blog just because it fails to perform in these aspects that are supplementary, auxiliary, ancillary (from ancilla: “maid-servant”), subordinate, consequential, inferior to the core worth of the blog in itself, apart from its context and the overall strategy.

Now, here is an explanation of why each of the above blog peripherals is not a valid measurement of the value of a blog.

1. Increased traffic to a commercial site.

There may be many other factors contributing to the increase of site traffic.

A blog should be judged according to what it is meant to be within itself. How the blog impacts other aspects of an enterprise is a secondary, though possibly colossal, concern.

The blog may be successful in it’s content, presentation, and community-building, but not drive traffic to the commercial site. Don’t abandon the blog: keep it as a service to customers, a way to build an online community of shared interests, revolving around your brand or personality.

Now the Bad News: a blog with the primary aim of driving traffic to some other web site, is a blog that generally tends to be hype-filled, pushy, flashy, circus-like, annoying, and insincere.

The message of a Traffic Pusher Blog seems to be: “We’re glad you’re here, visiting this blog. Have we got a product for you! You’ll love it as much as we do, I’m sure. Why not go over to our web site now? Read about our product and how great we and it are. Buy our product.”

Users go to the trouble of visiting the blog, but swiftly get the strong impression that the blog is fake friendly, isn’t offering much, and it just a tool, a toy, a tentacle of the corporate octopus. This, in the hyper-sensitive populace of the internet, is annoying and lowers your credibility.

Hype is Off Net.

Fascinating stories, free technology, clear immediate benefits, breathless jittery writing style, and quick how-to tips are On Net.

2. Increased sales at commercial site, attributable to the blog.

A blog makes a lousy vending machine. It’s like setting up a lemonade stand in your livingroom. If there are any refreshments at all, livingroom visitors fully expect them to be free, if not abundant. Your blog is very similar to your livingroom.

In the case of a Product Blog, or a blog pitching a consultant’s services, it’s recommended that you avoid writing incessant self-promotional posts and sidebar badges. Be proud of your credentials and self-reflect, but be very shy about tooting your own horn. Anything smelling like hype will drive visitors away from you, in droves and stampedes.

blog = email to the world, not a sales catalog

Hype is totally alien to the ultra-friendly environment of the blog, even a business or scientific blog. Doc Searls is credited with the brilliant saying, “a blog is an email to the world”. This terrific insight underscores the intimacy, hence honesty and transparency, of the [ideal] blog.

dual-utopian nature of blogs

Candid and mutually beneficial conversations occur in blogs because they traditionally have a dual-utopian nature: tech link logging and diarist exhibitionism.

Basically, every blog quivers and fluctuates back and forth between these two opposing poles.

This deep blogological observation ensures that all blogs can be seen as providing other web locations, by hypertext editorial links and sidebar link badges, and/or providing chatty, relaxed, authoritative, aggressive stance commentary on various issues or facts.

A link log, like Robot Wisdom has no or little commentary. It provides updated, hyperlinked lists of other web locations, blogs and websites. On the other end of the spectrum, a young person might use a blog for journaling purposes. Every blog typically isolates or combines these two primal blog functions, to varying degrees and in multitudinous manners.

A blog can be used to sell items, or direct users to the commercial web site, but their hearts will be more open to your sales message if you give them fantastic information or super-intelligent advice, tons of it, the more the better, first. And keep that blog text witty, chatty, loose, and casual, even if the blog is professional or scholarly.

3. Large number of comments on blog posts

Many new bloggers worry about months of blogging, with not a single comment.

I will not go into depth here about How To Increase the Reader Comments at Your Blog, but my topic here is: don’t worry about comment quantity. Also: think–would you *really* want to have 635 comments on every post, like a Pete Townsend? Would you be able to read, AND RESPOND, to each of them.

Number of comments means almost nothing.

Quality of comments is everything.

Tons of comments, especially empty remarks of appreciation or praise, that contribute no new information, are just sludge that readers may tire of in a big hurry. But a few great comments, even just one amazing comment, can really enhance even the best post ever written.

“I got 559 comments on that post. That was a highly successful and popular post, ” some blogger declares triumphantly. But if 554 of those comments are vacuous, trite, boring, stupid, butt-kissing, self-promotional, or off topic, what does this say about the post then? And the blogger? And the blog audience, as “big” as the blogger thinks it is?

Good comments, relevant remarks that add information or experiential anecdotes, or critical complaints that improve your ideas, these enrich a blog.

Be thrilled when someone posts a long, scholarly, passionate, wildly funny, astonishingly interesting comment on a post. The comment poster just acted as a contributing editor to your blog publication. The comment poster is to some slight degree a co-author of your blog, even when the comment is negative. Comments expand and multiply the conversation begun by your post.

4. Large number of search engine references to the blog

Search engine hits can be very misleading. They do not mean anything in terms of a blog’s popularity or success. They would mean a great deal if the quality and accuracy of the hits were of high standard, but they are not. Many search engine references are to irrelevant citations, insertions of your blog URL in link farm blogoids, mis-spellings of phrases similar to your blog title, and many other contingencies.

Search engine hits for my name “Steven Edward Streight” include some “streight” citations which are simply mis-spellings of “straight”, as in “I told him to come streight home after school”.

5. Large number of links to the blog

Just because other bloggers are not blogrolling your blog in their sidebars, or not linking to your blog in their posts, this does not mean your blog is not good enough.

It can take a lot of time, and a lot of posting comments at other blogs, to attract other bloggers to visit your blog and be astonished at something in it, then write a post about it on their blog or add your blog to a blogroll, which is a privileged status.

Besides, when a blog has a lot of other blogs linking to it, blogrolls, though privileged, are also somewhat perfuctory, almost decoration. A blogroll can also function less as a linked list of recommended sites, than an attempt to appear to be in the “clique” of certain top, relevant bloggers.

6. Large number of textual citations of the blog

Again, just because right now your blog is not well known, this is no reason to feel like a “sub-blogger” or “Z-lister”, a loser or underachiever.

Maybe nobody cites your blog, because it’s too profound, too complete, too competitive with those blogs you wish would pay attention to you. The other bloggers in your field of expertise or entertainment may fear or envy you. Maybe your blog makes their blog look feeble in comparison. Who knows?

7. Large number of visitors to the blog

Quality is more important than quantity when it comes to visitors.

A blog that has 100 visitors a day is no less effective, interesting, or valuable than a blog that has 100, 000 visitors a day. Where did anyone ever get such an absurd idea? What kind of readership does a blog have? Are they young, old, educated, experienced, nice, smart, polite, funny? Will they convert from readers of your blog to buyers of your book or other products?

Or are they “just eyeballs”, passive receptors of an addictive blog?

True Evaluation of Your Blog

Of course you hope your message, your humor, your advice, your revolt reaches ever increasing numbers of people.

It’s only natural to like seeing lots of reactions, comments, or emails regarding something you wrote. Yet, your best posts may be so stunning and sublime, no comment could do it justice. You remember that are many reasons why you don’t get as many comments as you might like.

Try asking for comments, in a non-beggarly manner. Watch me. I do it now and then. I’ll say, “What is your opinion. Post a comment or email me.”

We like seeing our blog cited in other blogs, and seeing it on blogrolls, and quoted in books.

But if you allow yourself to get obsessed with blog stats, blog reception, blog popularity, and all the other miscellaneous issues, you’ll lose sight of the true value of a blog.

The true evaluation of a blog is only this: does you know pretty well what your readers tend to need? Do you then provide it in a manner you think fits with your personal style and with their expectations?

If your blog meets the needs of your audience, your blog is good, effective, worth continuing forever.

Even a conjectured, hypothetical audience.

Seriously.

A blog designed for a theoretical audience of readers is good when it contains what that imaginary audience needs.

Why do I talk say this?

Because that illusory audience probably DOES exist, somewhere in cyber-space. And some of it could easily end up at your blog.

Meet the needs of your blog readers. Consider that success enough. This can in turn lead to very great advantages to any individual, company, or organization.