Tied to the internet productivity movement is the internet uncluttering movement. There are a slew of new websites dedicated to helping you unclutter your home, your work and your life.
I want to contribute to this movement with a manifesto for defeating blog clutter. Blog clutter is the stuff your readers really don’t need, and it serves mainly to get in the way of your content and other vital information. Your content and important pages are the signal, and blog clutter is the noise. You can enhance the first by cutting out more of the second.
The 50 tips in this article will help you unclutter your sidebar, your footer, your posts, and your blog as a whole, and in doing so, enhance the simplicity and usability of your content-centered blog design.
Read this first
I looked at a lot of blogs when researching this post. It wasn’t my intention to single out elements I thought where bad, but to identify things that a blog could do without and not have a negative impact on readers. I’m not suggesting you strip all 50 elements from your blog, but that if you’re looking to reduce blog clutter, these are all things you might decide to remove.
You will probably have arguments in support of some of these elements and I’m interested to hear them in the comments section. You might also have some additional reasons why some of them have to go!
Unclutter your sidebar
1. Move archives to their own page. There is no real reason that they need to be on your sidebar. A reader who has decided they want to dig deeper into your blog will be willing to navigate to a separate page. Reduce blog clutter by linking to a ‘Monthly Archives’ page instead.
2. Remove ‘meta’ sidebar links. Bookmark your WordPress login page instead. Unless you have multiple user accounts this element is not useful to your readers.
3. Prune your categories list. Categories perform an important navigational function but their use is limited when you have a lot of categories. The longer your list, the less likely readers are to go through it. Prune your categories down to at most 15 or 20.
4. Remove recent trackbacks widgets. They don’t provide value to your readers. Individual posts should already have sufficient trackback records and this ‘doubling up’ is one of the main causes of blog clutter.
5. Replace feed buttons for specific services with one general button. If a reader is savvy enough to read feeds then they will know how to extract a feed link and add it to their reader of choice. You can reduce a lot of clutter by using the universal feed icon.
6. Remove recent comments widgets. Displaying half a sentence of a comment removed from its context is not going to be of much interest to your readers. Displaying a comment count on each post is all the social proof you’ll need from comments.
7. Remove MyBlogLog and similar widgets. I know some people love these. They benefit the blogger (slightly) and provide little (if any) value to readers, particularly for the amount of space they take up. You can still have a thriving community there without displaying the widget.
8. Remove top commenter widgets. I have heard plenty of stories about people spamming blogs with dozens of comments in order to make the list and get a backlink. This undermines community more than it adds to it. If your top commenters have made only a few comments then this can also undermine social proof.
9. Remove reader polls in the sidebar. Polls are fine when included as part of a post, but they serve only as a distraction when included in your sidebar.
10. Put your blogroll on a separate page. You can link to the blogroll or links page from your sidebar. If a reader is interested in seeing your recommended sites they will be willing to travel to a page where they can be easily viewed and returned to.
11. Remove Technorati profile widgets. Once again, they don’t offer anything to your readers. There might be some social proof in a high authority, but most readers won’t be familiar with the Technorati authority system and will confuse a high authority for a low ranking. What does ’8,730′ mean to someone who is not a fellow blogger involved in Technorati?
12. Put counter links in footer or remove them. Your readers aren’t as interested in your daily uniques as you are.
13. Remove Pownce/Twitter widgets. You can link to your Twitter or Pownce profile but out-of-context messages from these services will only distract and possibly confuse your readers. They also take up quite a lot of sidebar real-estate.
14. Put blog directory buttons and links in your footer. Blog directories are of much more use to bloggers than they are to readers.
15. Remove Alexa widgets. These essentially function as a more complicated form of stat counter. Few readers will understand what the widget means.
16. Downsize inordinately huge RSS buttons. I am probably going to be less likely to subscribe if someone is trying to hit me in the face with an RSS button. These buttons are important but become clutter when they’re overbearing.
17. Move your disclosure policy to your ‘About’ page. People will want to know who you are before they’re interested in your disclosure policy. Make it easier by putting all this information in one place.
18. Remove links to automatic translators. This is well-intentioned clutter, but clutter all the same. While the idea of making your site available to non-English speakers is a noble one, in practice, these translators don’t work well enough to be of use. Languages can’t be translated meaningfully word for word, and the result of your translation will be gibberish to the user.
19. Don’t place multiple RSS subscription buttons next to each other. Two buttons will not make readers twice as likely to subscribe.
20. Remove ‘spam blocked’ counts. Do your readers really care how many spam comments Akismet or any other service has blocked? Akismet already comes with every copy of WordPress that is downloaded. It doesn’t really need more advertising.
21. Remove widgets showing which countries your visitors are coming from. The internet is quite old now. It’s no longer amazing to us that people can visit a blog from overseas.
22. Remove ‘Blogshares’ buttons. Your readers are not as interested in how your blog is performing in the simulation as you are.
23. Remove placeholder sidebar headers. If there’s no content yet then remove the header until you have the content or links to go with it.
24. Remove e-mail subscription forms. Many readers report confusing these with search boxes. Diffuse reader frustration and fight clutter by linking to a form on a separate page.
25. Remove calendar widgets. Your archives page already caters for readers who want to dig deeper into your blog.
26. Choose a category cloud or category list, not both. If you have two identical category lists presented in different formats, one of them is clutter.
27. Remove buttons and badges for other sites. You can easily transfer them to your blogroll/links page if you can’t do without them.
Unclutter your posts
28. Remove as much non-link text as possible from your post-footer. The function of a post-footer is to display tags (if necessary), a comment link, a social bookmarking button or two, and the date and author (if not already displayed at the top of the post). There is no reason to write a long preamble to these elements — it only makes the important stuff harder to get to.
29. Remove time-stamps. Unless the reader is from your state or city and knows it then time-stamps lose all meaning. You might write a post at 7am but in the next state it could be 8am. In another country, it might be 8pm. The time of day has little meaning on the internet.
30. Remove RSS feeds for individual posts. If a person wishes to track a conversation they can bookmark the permalink. People tend to subscribe to RSS feeds only when they determine a source of content to be ‘for keeps’. The more RSS feeds you offer the more you’re diluting the strength of your central feed.
31. Remove Technorati tags. You already have tags and categories for internal use within your blog. Displaying Technorati tags can point people away from your content and dilute the strength of your own categories.
32. Edit ‘posted by administrator/admin’ text. This is clutter because it’s not giving your visitors any information. Replace ‘administrator’ with your name, or the author’s name.
33. Remove ‘permalink’ links if the post header is already a permalink. Anyone who knows what a permalink is will be able to extract it from the post header.
34. Remove ‘Add to Technorati favorites’ buttons from posts. One link on the sidebar is enough. A link there also makes more sense because you are adding the blog as a whole, not the individual post.
35. Remove permalink forms from the end of your posts. Every blogger worth their salt already has the ability to extract a URL and turn it into a link.
36. Cut down the number of social bookmarking buttons visible at once. With twenty buttons at the bottom of every post the important ones are likely to get lost in the clutter. Use a drop-down menu or a service like AddThis which takes you to a separate page with plenty of options.
37. Remove the ‘Popularity Contest’ plugin post-footer. This adds clutter to the footer of your posts and isn’t self explanatory. How will readers who do not have the plugin know what ‘Popularity: 3%’ means? Out of context, the statistics given usually aren’t very flattering, either. Nobody wants to see a positive combined with a low percentile, i.e. ‘Trustworthiness: 2%’.
38. Remove the ‘Related Posts’ plug-in if you’re light on content. I like this plug-in, but I’ve seen it used on too many blogs that didn’t have enough posts to fill out the list. Wait until you’ve posted a significant body of work and then re-add the plug-in when it’s able to fulfill its purpose.
39. Remove welcoming messages. More often than not these are a distraction with the intent of getting you to subscribe to a feed. Sure, they’re a well-intentioned distraction, but I’d recommend letting your readers get straight into your content. At worst, these messages can seem like nagging.
40. Don’t double-up social bookmarking buttons and links. Readers are not twice as likely to submit your articles to Digg because you have a button link and a text link in close proximity. Stick to the little button links. If a reader uses this community they will recognize the icon just fine.
41. Remove bookmark this site links which open up your browser bookmark window. The process is not much more convenient than opening the window from your toolbar.
42. Remove Content Ads. You know, those double-lined links you see on some blog posts which are really ads. These make your content an eye-sore to look at and works on the basis of tricking readers. Avoid, avoid, avoid.
43. Remove all advertising if…. On most new blogs advertisements are simply clutter. Sweep them under the rug until you start getting enough traffic to earn more than small change.
44. Prune under-performing ads. If an ad is making you next to nothing then remove it. This will strengthen the message of those ads you’re displaying that are working.
45. Move biographical details beneath qualifications in your About page. New readers are much more interested in your qualifications for writing on the topic than anything else. Placing less important details first (number of kids, where you were born, and so on) is clutter in the way of the most important stuff. You can include biographical details but insert it after.
46. Don’t bury your e-mail address among a dozen other means of contact. Most readers will contact you via e-mail. Give prominence to your e-mail address and include other forms of contact after.
47. Remove feedburner headlines. If you’re using them as navigation for your own site, replace them with a static recent posts list instead. If you’re using headlines from other sites then consider removing the widget. This is a distraction from your own content.
48. Replace contact forms with your e-mail address as an image. Contact forms prevent readers sending you attachments and decrease the sense that a real person is being contacted. Presenting your e-mail address as an image simplifies your contact page and keeps the spam bots at bay.
Unclutter your footer
49. Put footer ribbon content in your sidebar. Most readers won’t scroll right to the bottom of your main page, so putting important information just above your page footer really isn’t a good idea. Things like categories, a picture, a brief bio and popular posts should be brought up into the sidebar and out of the nether regions of your blog.
50. Remove links to the version of WordPress you’re using. This information is unlikely to be interesting to very many people.