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On Cooking.Stackexchange, we started a blog around the time the Community bulletin was introduced. We would like to get more readers (and writers) from inside our community. The only way new posts get promoted right now is the Community bulletin, and it has a dismal record, resulting in extremely low visibility of the blog. I suspect that many semi-regular users haven't even noticed that there is a blog.

Problem 1: Community members don't notice when there is a new post

As a new blogs with not enough volunteering authors, we started with a cautious schedule, one post every two weeks. The point was to select a modest goal, but make sure that we stick to it. It is possible that more people will start checking regularly by themselves when we move to a once-a-week schedule on a fixed weekday, but for now, they rely on us pushing information which never reaches them. True, a blog post is automatically announced on the Community bulletin for a day or two, but most users don't visit the site in such short periods, so they don't see the notice while it is up, even if they are aware that it could be there.

For evidence, see this meta question where a user complains of not seeing notifications when he'd like to. Note that this is a user from our first page (for this month) - if he doesn't see it, what about the users from the other 215 pages? Note that our meta sees very light use, it is very uncommon for a "normal" user (not a moderator, CHAOSer or a chat regular) to post something there. This seemed to have been enough of a problem to have driven the user to Meta.

Problem 2: The link doesn't get noticed in the period it spends on the Community bulletin

I remember hearing this complain in chat from time to time. I am personally underwhelmed with the Community bulletin too, and many of the people to whom I have contact via chat or meta have expressed similar sentiments, see for example ElendilTheTall's comment on the previously linked question. And our latest visitor numbers confirm it.

We created a blog post two and a half days ago, and it has been visible on the Community bulletins ever since. In this time period, Word Press counted 89 link referrals. Out of those 89 link referrals, only 14 are from a cooking.stackexchange address, and one of them is myself clicking the blog link without being logged in to WP. In the same time, we have had 7 visits from a Pinterest pin made by somebody with only 53 followers. A pin made by somebody random without much social network clout generated half as much traffic as the only official link available to our own community. Also, on the first day of the post, we had 7 views coming in from Cooking.stackexchange and 12 from Facebook. While I am happy to see that our content is good enough to get at least a bit dissemination by word of mouth, I feel that it is very invisible to its target readers - our own community.

Another piece of evidence: A user who knows the StackExchange network well (and is even a community moderator on another network site) heard in chat that we have a blog. His reaction:

how do i even get to the blog? the main site doesnt have a link to it at the top

Problem 3: I don't believe that visitors from outside StackExchange ever notice it.

I am afraid that I don't have hard evidence for that, it is just a feeling. But the design is made so that it blends in, and the title alone - "community bulletin" suggests that it is a) boring and b) nothing for outsiders. Seasoned Advice gets many thousands of page views per day (I'm not allowed to tell you how many exactly), and an overwhelming part of them is search engine traffic, so it is highly unlikely that it is created by registered users. And yet our blog receives 30 visits per day on "normal" days, 70-80 visits per day on the first two days after publication. Sure, many of the Google visitors won't stay around on the site after they have found their information, but if some of them decide to stay with us, we want them to be able to find our quality content - which encompasses both the Q&A and our blog. And I have a feeling that they have practically no chance of finding the blog.

A solution?

I won't prescribe the StackExchange team how to do their job. But I feel that some changeis needed. And this change will only save the problems outlined here if it offers a prominent link to the blog (visible to all visitors, not only the frequent users who know where to look for it) which also indicates the name and/or date of the latest post, so that semi-frequent visitors have a chance to judge whether they have read the last post or not. I will support any implementation which will solve the problems above, even if it needs a bit more work (e.g. creating a thumbnail image for each blog post which can be displayed). The Community bulletin is not a good solution.

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Telling the SE team how to change the site for the better is encouraged here (as long as you do it civilly, of course). If you have a proposal in mind, don't hold back! –  Pops Jul 20 '12 at 16:43
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I think we may have two separate (but related) issues here: 1. Blogs aren't very easily discoverable; 2. community bulletin needs improvement. –  Anna Lear Jul 20 '12 at 16:45
    
@PopularDemand I don't have experience with web design and/or promotions. I will think of possible solutions, but some of them are likely to be very bad. Currently, I feel in the role of the layman user who has just enough awareness of his own needs to point and say "this is not what I wanted" without being able to articulate a better idea. And I know how frustrating this can be for the one who has to deliver the solution, and would have loved to be able to offer more constructive ideas. But the problem feels bad enough that I had to describe it, even though I have no solution. –  rumtscho Jul 20 '12 at 16:53
    
Okay, that's fair. I just saw where you said "I won't prescribe the StackExchange team how to do their job" and thought that maybe you had an idea but felt that it would be rude to present it, or something. –  Pops Jul 20 '12 at 16:56
    
I never knew about anything on the blogs until I added the RSS Feed. –  user7116 Jul 20 '12 at 21:43
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@AnnaLear "Blogs aren't very easily discoverable" is an understatement. Even if you know the blog exists, it's hard to find a link to it. –  Peter Taylor Aug 15 '12 at 16:13
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4 Answers

It'd be nice if we could replace one of the top navigation links (e.g., either "Users" or "Badges") with a link to the blog. It doesn't seem, to me at least, that either of those two links is really worth the prime real estate its taking.

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Yup.. trying to remember the last time I clicked "Badges". –  slhck Jul 20 '12 at 16:45
    
@slhck exactly, if you want to know about badges, you probably want to know about the ones you have, which is on your user page (I guess its actually the same link) –  derobert Jul 20 '12 at 16:46
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Another suggestion of how the blog could be made more prominent (and obviously stealing wholesale @rumtscho's section layout) is to merge her separate box into the header, something like this:

Mock up of blog section merged into header

This works with the non-image layout as well, of course. And the background probably shouldn't be white.

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I'm not sure if the blog should receive the same status as Q&A, but it's one place with visibility. I guess the best way to do it is how it's done on MSO. The blog appears in the notification area and has a red 'new' label when... there's a new blog. –  GUI Junkie Jul 22 '12 at 13:53
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I didn't have a solution when I answered the question, but some discussion in chat let me come up with an idea. I made a mockup, because it is easier to explain that way.

insert

To be used in the sidebar, like this:

enter image description here

Who is this solution supposed to help?

  • The new visitors who don't know we have a blog. We have to catch their attention once, tell them that we have a blog. If they are interested, I think they will read the details.
  • The regular site users who don't want to miss a post. As far as I know, they don't visit the site every day, they come 1-2 times a week. (The handful users who spends lots of time on the site is a minority which also notices the community bulletin and hears about new blog posts in chat). When they visit, they want to know if there has been a new post since their last visit.
  • The less regular site users. They are active somewhere else on the network, but come to us once every few weeks when they have a cooking problem. They probably know that the blog exists, but they won't be aware of its whole content, they will probably visit if they notice a post title which sounds interesting.

I don't have much data for the analysis above, it is based on observation of my own behavior on different sites on and outside of the Stack Exchange network, so it should be taken with a grain of salt. Still, until somebody offers better data, I think we can use it as a working definition of our target groups.

Why do I think that this is a good solution?

  1. The high contrast in the design (which repeats the main navigation) makes it more visible. People who don't know we have a blog will notice it. I am aware that this point works better for Cooking than for other sites like UX or TeX due to design differences in the main nav.
  2. The fact that the design repeats the main navigation makes it less ad-like. There are several high-contrast options which would look well with the site design, but I think that repeating the main nav prevents ad blindness, which many people confess have for the sidebar.
  3. It clearly states the topic of the box. The title "Community bulletin" doesn't tell me what the content will be. I can decipher it if I spend time looking at the box and its contents (although as a new user it might still be hard). "Blog" can be recognized out of the corner of the eye; people who want more info will read the whole box. (Note: the size of the font is supposed to be the same as the size in the main nav, I got it a bit too large in the mockup by mistake).
  4. The first line is supposed to tell a mostly regular reader if there is something new to read. The post age in conventional terms (as opposed to a publishing date) helps the person who comes to the site once every few days easily compare "have I been in the blog in the last two days?".
  5. The older two posts are in a lighter font, so that the newest post always looks most prominent.
  6. The bannerlike picture for the first post serves the same purpose. People who are often on the site are more likely to notice a changed picture than a changed line of text. The problem with this approach is that while we have pictures in most of our posts (because we photograph the food we write about), many other blogs don't use much pictures (and probably have no easy subjects, because their topics are intangible). Also, photographs are a bit unusual on the Stackexchange network, so there are fears that it will clash with the design. This is why I made a mockup without the picture, see it below.
  7. The other two items are to give the new visitor a general idea of the conent. Somebody who doesn't know our blog may not be interested in the topic of the latest post; it is easier to get them interested if we show them three titles.
  8. The "freshness" statement for all three posts lets less regular users calculate at a glance how often the blog updates. Also, if they are sure they haven't seen the newest post yet, they can see if they have missed one, two or three posts.
  9. I'm not sure what is the best option for vertical placement among the other sidebar structures, but please don't make this a house ad. House ads get filtered by AdBlock. Make it a permanent structure the same way the "favorite tags" element is a permanent structure.

If you would prefer a pictureless solution, this is what the other mockup looks like. I find it less chic, but there is the trouble of always finding pictures (maybe there can be a site-wide placeholder for pictureless posts, or each site can choose one of the two variants for their blog).
other insert

Other variations are, of course, welcome. Please don't let the sheer volume of arguments I have for this design make you think that I have come up with the best solution. I put some thought in this, but I don't think I am right in all of the points I suggested. I would love to hear some constructive critique.

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Believe it or not, we were strongly considering something like this prior to the bulletin board (the design of which did not originally include blogs). We ran into problems with long titles (some blogs prefer very long titles) and with trying to make the image fit (IMHO, it is considerably more eye-catching with an image included). There's also the matter of "banner blindness", which we've tried to mitigate with the bulletin by putting it at the top of the sidebar on nearly every page. I would still like to see something like this, but implementation is not as simple as I would like. –  Shog9 Jul 20 '12 at 22:18
    
There is one simple trick of making the image fit: You don't use the whole image as it appears on the blog (it might have any side ratio there), you crop an extreme closeup which shows an interesting detail, in the ratio you want (e.g. 4:1). I used it both inside the blog post featured in the mockup and in the mockup itself (this is not the complete header image, which is 16:9 and would look too tiny if reduced to this size). –  rumtscho Jul 20 '12 at 22:22
    
@shog9 As for the other problems you mention, you don't have to use the complete solution as I have outlined it here. A headline saying "blog" and looking like the main nav can change a lot of the visibility by itself. And of course, the actual font sizes, etc. I used were just what fit the mockup, you can use the font size from the community bulletin. –  rumtscho Jul 20 '12 at 22:24
    
Yeah, I think a complete solution to this is to show a preview of how the post will look in the sidebar to the author before publication, thus allowing them to select the right part of the right image, adjust the title, etc. so that it looks good. We were trying to make this happen automatically, which produced... Really ugly results. –  Shog9 Jul 20 '12 at 22:29
    
@Shog9 I hadn't even thought about automatically. But as a blog admin, I have no problem doing this for all blog posts, and I hope the other admins will see it that way too. After all, the blogs don't update that often, and it sounds like additional 5 min of work per post, maybe less with good tools, so I think it is worth it. –  rumtscho Jul 20 '12 at 22:46
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We have a whole lot of whitespace to the left that we could take advantage of. The right side usually has a sidebar for tags or suggested duplicates depending on what page you're on. We could have the left side set to display the community bulletin unless you're asking/answering/editing questions/answers/unicorns.

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Never mind, I just realized that the Community Bulletin is on the right. Fat lot of that good that does for visibility... –  Yawus Jul 20 '12 at 17:25
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As we are currently discussing in chat: most people are trained not to look at the sidebar, because 1) that's a space lots of webpages use for ads only, and 2) on the SE network, it contains information which many people don't find useful. –  rumtscho Jul 20 '12 at 17:27
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As I have so obviously just proven... I guess now I know what it feels like to be a lab rat. :) –  Yawus Jul 20 '12 at 17:31
    
Of course it doesn't help that I'm usually on SE at work so I just have a load of broken images on the right sidebar where all the avatars are. Broken images look ugly and I, being a shallow shallow person, don't look at ugly things. –  Yawus Jul 20 '12 at 17:39
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