The Criteria Series: Keep Your Weblog Functional

2010 Canadian Weblog AwardsIn an effort to help you keep your weblog awesome, this is our second article in the Criteria Series here at the Canadian Weblog Awards. This is an important article, because it is about the second point in the Design component of our judging criteria: functionality.

Functionality relates directly to our first Design criterion, usability and accessibility, so take a look at that first article in our Criteria Series if you missed out.

What do we mean by functionality?

When we look at a weblog for functionality, we are looking to see that all of its components are functional. Functionality refers to all working parts of your website but specifically to the following components/factors:

  • weblog load times
  • widgets (flash, javascript, etc.)
  • HTML/CSS that works across different browsers
  • commenting system
  • links

  • This seems like a no-brainer that it is best if all of a weblog's parts work, but it is common to come across weblogs with parts that are broken, and it can create a frustrating reader experience.

    Why is functionality so important?

    If you have broken elements in your sidebar like broken mp3 players or a Twitter widget, the impression is that you don't care much about your weblog or your readers' experience of it. It is a little like inviting guests over and then not bothering to move stray clutter off the couch.

    If the broken element is something integral to the user experience such as comments, it can feel like a bit of an affront to a reader. It is not uncommon for someone to try to leave a comment on a weblog only to be confronted with an error page or a broken publish button. Readers have been invited to participate in a conversation only to be denied, usually at the last minute after the reader has already taken the time to type up their comment.

    The worst offender with regard to functionality is having faulty CSS and HTML code in the basic design of your website so that it does not even render properly in some browsers. This can, in some cases, deny a reader access to your weblog altogether.

    Just as in offline life, appearance and social engagement do matter, and, generally, weblogs are a social experience. We share of our knowledge and lives and invite engagement with our readers through the interactive components our websites.

    By making sure that the interactive pieces of your weblog are functional and by removing the broken bits that can clutter up your template, you communicate volumes to your readers not only about your level of care for your website but also your level of care for your audience without having even written a word.

    A good question to ask yourself is this: Why invite people to my website if they can't even use the stuff I've stuck on it?

    How can you improve the functionality of your weblog?

    Occasionally, when a browser releases a new version or the website that supports your widgets or forms updates their code, your website can lose some functionality. One way to test this is to open up your weblog within several different browsers and manually go through each of your weblog's components, including things like e-mail forms and external links, to see if they function well in each browser. Replace any broken code with fresh code from the widget or form's host, or, if it can't be fixed, deleted the broken component.

    There are a variety of web test tools that you can use to test your website's load times, validate your HTML, and check for broken links. Use these tools, or have your website designer use them, or find someone who knows how to use them and is willing to help you increase your weblog functionality, because it will make all the difference when it comes to making an impression on the web.

    Also, no one knows your site like your readers, so don't be afraid to ask them about their user experience with regard to different components of your weblog. If you ask, they will tell you if something isn't working for them, and theirs is the most valuable opinion of all.

    In conclusion:

    When you have a public website, it invites an audience and some level of social interaction. Let that invite be an invitation to a welcoming experience for your readers, one that greets them the way you would like to be greeted.

    In other words, clean up the place a bit (see: fix or delete broken elements) and maybe make a pot of coffee (see: ensure working comments and contact forms). Your readers might just decide to stick around for a while, and you'll probably enjoy the company.

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    Elan Morgan

    Elan Morgan is a writer and web designer who blogs from elanmorgan.com and works from elan.works, spreads gratitude through the graceinsmallthings.com social network, and speaks all over. They have been seen in the Globe & Mail, Best Health and Woman's Day magazines, TEDxRegina, and on CBC News and Radio. They believe in and work to grow both personal and professional quality, genuine community, and meaningful content online.