Minimalist Blog Designs & SEO

I’ve read a few interesting blog posts recently about minimalist blog designs. Specifically this Tutorial9 post showcasing streamlined designs, and more recently this Devlounge article by Dustin Boston.

I love the idea of thoroughly streamlined designs, where the content is virtually the only thing on the page.

In a web where sites are drowning in navigation, widgets and advertising, cutting out the visual nonsense seems appealing. One of my favourite sites at the moment is Brainz, a website where the article takes precedence. Apart from the logo at the top and some minor links at the bottom, the content (in huge letters) is the only thing on the page. No sidebars, no distractions, no noise.

Now, I would never consider a design like this without thinking about the impact on SEO.

The beauty of blogs is that they’re intrerlinked in so many ways: through categories, archive posts, next/previous post links. If we take a ton of that stuff away, are we compromising the ability of search engines to spider the content?

On the other hand, with irrelevant navigation removed from the markup, does that improve the keywork relevancy of the article? Does that make it look somewhat more authoritative?

Plus, with a decent sitemap submitted to the search engines, there’s less chance of any content getting missed. As a matter of fact, no page has to be ‘orphaned’ (not linked to). By allowing the usual blog functions to remain, keeping catergory links within the content and merely cutting out the sidebar navigation, orphaned pages shouldn’t be a problem.

The Plan

So the plan for a minimal blog layout is simple: plan for a one-column design that focuses on content only. Imagine a single blog post. The structure would look something like this:

  1. Blog header (possibly downgrading the title from H1 to a regular paragraph tag?)
  2. Post title wrapped in H1.
  3. Basic metadata: date posted, author and categories.
  4. The post
  5. Closure (calls to action: twitter, social media buttons, contact details)
  6. Comments
  7. Slimline footer with links to major areas of the site: blog, gallery, profiles, etc.

Blog sites suffer from so much noise, trying to keep us on site for longer and browse another article or two. But perhaps this isn’t the optimal way to get attention. Perhaps – if you believe this article from usability expert Jacob Nielsen – sidebars and widgets don’t work at all:

For almost seven years, my studies have shown the same user behavior: users look straight at the content and ignore the navigation areas when they scan a new page.

Have you tried this?

I’d be interested to hear from anyone else who’s tried a minimalist layout for their site. Does it improve keyword relevancy? Does it encourage users to focus on the content and click through the links in the post? Does reducing the number of links on a page improve its ability to pass PageRank to the pages it links to?

I know some of this probably touches on pie in the sky theory. Certainly it’s stuff I’ve never considered before myself, but wonder if it’s worth a look.

2 comments

  1. Don’t  a lot of people use an RSS reader to read blogs which is another reason that all the “extras” are pointless ? I like uncluttered blogs / sites but I would always like a “related posts” footer to increase stickiness. What will be the main things you measure when you analyse this ? bounce rate, time on site ?

    • For the time being, Rob, I’ll just be watching for an increase in search engine traffic. That’s my main concern with the experiment.I fully expect the pageviews per visitor to reduce to 1:1, unless the occassional visitor decides to browse around the site. What I may do though is include a call to action at the bottom of each post, either a “Subscribe by email/RSS” or a “follow me on Twitter”. I’m not quite sure yet.That would be an interesting thing to test for: seeing if a call to action is heeded better without other visual distractions.I agree with you about RSS, which is the main way I keep up with sites. Even though I click through quite a bit to the website to read articles, I’m typically blind to the ‘window decorations’. But are we RSS users typical of ALL web users, or do we browse differently? I ask myself that all the time.Thankfully, I can take a few risks with this site, because it doesn’t have a regular following at the moment, but does have regular search engine traffic. I wish I’d recorded my position in the SERPs for certain keywords before launching the theme for a more scientific approach to the experiment!I should mention though that I’ve received a much higher number of comments on the blog over the last couple of days since changing the design.

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