Bloggers December 2, 2020

I rebuilt my personal blog to grow my audience - Do I keep it simple?

Harlan Wilton @harlanzw

URL: https://harlanzw.com/

My question - Do I keep it simple?

Is there anything missing from it that worked well for you, that you think I should add - besides content, it's coming haha

  • Comments?
  • Search?
  • Contact form?
  • Newsletter sign up? Is it actually useful at this stage? Is there any light-weight alternative? I'd rather have people sign up for my socials than have to mess around with newsletters
  • More branding needed?

Bit of background

I built my previous blog a couple of years ago, since making it, I never felt happy with the output of my writing. The articles themselves were written quite poorly, they were visually difficult to read. The site was slow, generally cluttered, and slow to write content.

In the rebuild, I wanted to be able to share my posts and be proud of the experience and value I provided readers. I tried to keep it simple - snappy, SEO friendly, and easy to read. I never want to distract the reader from the writing.

The difference this has made in writing the first new article is significant I actually look forward to sharing it around!

I'd like to get into the habit of posting a medium-length article every 2 weeks or so. Posting on Reddit, Twitter, LinkedIn, and some other communities I'm a part of depending on the post type.

  1. 3

    Your site is looking super clean! I'm giving the newsletter signup approach a go with my blog and decided to try Email Octopus.

    I think I'm on a similar path with the dev background and trying to build a profitable product. You've inspired me to get my blog re-design finished and out there!

    How have you found Panelbear so far?

    I went with Simple Analytics but might switch to Panelbear for the free plan. I don't anticipate a huge amount of traffic unless I get lucky.

    1. 2

      Hey @samlevy. Thanks for the Email Octopus link, I've heard good things and decided to set up an account with them just now.

      Good to meet someone else in the same boat :D Look forward to tracking your progress.

      My requirement for the analytics was something I didn't need to pay for and something that respected users privacy (without any extra configuration), for that Panelbear was perfect. Their dashboard is fairly simple, but that is also nice, less to get your head around. I would highly recommend them for your personal site, I couldn't justify paying for the alternatives.

  2. 3

    Looking great. I like the typography, readability and the soft color scheme. Everything easy on eyes.

    Since there is only one post, I can't tell if related/previous posts will be linked under the posts. That usually hook me to read more. Personally I like to see an archive page, where I can easily see all the headers.

    There is one small detail tho, in Home and About pages there are scrollbars. When I navigate to Contact page, everything moves a bit due to browser hiding the scrollbar.

    1. 2

      Thanks for the great feedback and nice eye for detail!

      I do not have previous or next article functionality or an archive, it would need to be something I build. Sounds like a good idea though

  3. 2

    Hey Harlan,

    Just signed up to comment. I like your blog project. To me it is full of things to think about, to work on. However it all depends on what you are trying to do with it.

    Is it just a small, purely personal blog?

    Is it your main mean of reaching out into the world as a self-employed developer?

    Do you know what your content will look like in the future? Will it all be technical topics?

    Are you just trying to tell your story or is it more than a monologue?

    Are you trying to build a community?

    Do you want to meet(connect with) people through your blog? And for what purpose?

    As for your questions about search, comments etc. You don't need a huge newsletter, however you should have a subscription functionality so ppl get informed about new posts. Sure there is twitter and such. However there are plenty of ppl without it and only very few without email. Furthermore you could use it to show your abilities and write about it. It serves more than one purpose. Also it adds value for you and your audience.

    Comments would be next in line.

    Search can wait until you got enough content to search in or you are in need of your next topic to write about.

    Concerning the branding. One small detail. I wouldn't go with just the HZW logo. It is all but personal. HZW could be anything. It reminds more of anonymous company than a personal site. Add your name beside it or expand the letter H to Harlan or whatever. Make it a bit more alive, more personal.

    Thats it for now. If you want to talk about it some more, let me. Otherwise I guess my comment is already quite long.

    Keep on hacking

    1. 1

      These are some great questions @nkobe, thanks for taking the time in signing up and asking them, appreciate it.

      Not sure if they were rhetorical but I'd like to answer them to solidify my own thoughts.

      Is it just a small, purely personal blog?

      I plan to use this for all my writing, I'm working on a couple of businesses and would be posting about them on the blog.

      Is it your main mean of reaching out into the world as a self-employed developer?

      My main mean of reaching out would be through social media channels (Twitter, IH, Twitter, Slack groups, etc), posting my blog would be a vehicle for posting longer-form content that I can link to on my socials.

      Do you know what your content will look like in the future? Will it all be technical topics?

      Mostly technically but I'd like to do some business ones and self-improvement.

      Are you just trying to tell your story or is it more than a monologue?

      Not too sure about this, I guess it would be following my journey.

      Do you want to meet(connect with) people through your blog? And for what purpose?

      Sure, I think building my personal network could be a great vehicle for personal and professional growth.

      Newsletter feedback - I agree with what you're saying and seems to be the sentiment of the feedback. Start a newsletter early. I will implement it for my next post

      Branding feedback - I really like this, you're right on that it could be mean anything and it's not personal. I've changed it to harlan for now. This lets me clean up the home page a bit too, so I'm not reiterating my name so many times.

      I'd love to have your wisdom on some of my future work, will be posting on IH (if you are sticking around) and twitter :)

      Will do 👨‍💻🤘

      1. 2

        So based on your answers...

        Changing the logo was even more important in my opinion. Now there is no more possible confusion. It's more obvious that the site is about you. And it is a bit more personal.

        Also going with a newsletter is great. It fits the profile. You can use it for several things. I think it can become an important tool to you.

        Someone already commented it. Implement buttons/links at the end of your posts to reach the next/previous post would be a good idea. You are planing to take people with you on a journey. A journey starts somewhere and it ends somewhere. Those buttons make it possible to travel between the steps of your journey. Go back and forth in time.

        A tagging/category system would also be a thing to think about. You're planing on blogging about different topics. Tagging or categorizing them allows for different viewing angles on your journey, to focus on the business side or the self-improvement side and so on. This also plays into the next/previous buttons. You could implement these connections between single post on a global and the category lvl. Someone reading a self-improvement post might be interest in reading a second article about it but not so much about some technical php topic.

        Lastly a more unique idea. I would like a small "dashboard" as part of your introduction on the homepage. Some metrics. You are planning to share your monthly recurring revenue right, so do it there. Add the numbers of days since the start of your journey. The hours spent on your projects. How many lines of code you wrote. The number of people you connected with. Or what ever. There are plenty of metrics that could be interesting. But it shouldn't be too much. Just 3 to 6 key metrics representing your personal journey. It adds a complete different viewing angle. Something quick and easy. Something that is able to generate interest in your content, in following along. Something to keep track of you and your success. Something completely personal and unique to you.

        One more thing. Most importantly don't worry too much. Try to have fun. Don't over think it. Do what you've been doing. Take it step by step.

        1. 1

          Thanks again for the feedback, there's a lot of value here.

          I've decided to launch the newsletter sign up with my next article. Categories and tagging seem important but I'm going to hold this off for now until I have a bit more of a backlog of posts.

          I really like this dashboard idea. I'm going to think about what key metrics are important to me and figure out how I can show that for people. I'll most likely look at implementing this dashboard as I'm releasing the LP for my product so that I have my data to throw in.

          Do you have Twitter or any other socials? Would love to follow what you're up to.

  4. 2

    Looks great. Please do keep it simple.
    Are you using Nuxt with the Content module?

    1. 2

      Hey @ameneres

      Thanks! I have used @nuxt/content for another project, it works really well.

      However, for this project, I wanted to try out Vite, which was the content of my first article. (Vite does not support Nuxt.js)

      Specifically, I'm using VitePress. VitePress handles the .md files, I have a pretty custom theme on top of it to do everything else.

      If you're interested in the technical side of it, please feel free to check out the GitHub repo for it, it's all open source: https://github.com/loonpwn/harlanzw.com

      1. 1

        Awesome. Good stuff. I'm using Nuxt with Content on mine. Putting images from the assets folder is a pain and was wondering how you were approaching it. I'll check out the repo. Thanks.

        1. 2

          I am also struggling with this. It really irks me committing large images with multiple resolutions into my repo.

          I know there are some solutions out there for this. A media API and host, you request from their API the exact dimensions you need and everything just works, https://cloudinary.com/ is one that comes to mind.

  5. 2

    Hi Harlan,

    You've got a simple and minimalist UI for your blog. The color palette and typography is great for reading. I would recommend that you bring in either a newsletter subscription box or option to follow your social profile at the end of the post. All the best for your blog! What is your stack?

    1. 1

      Hey @rajanmr

      Thanks for the great feedback and suggestions :)

      Do you have any recommendations for newsletter providers to get started? I've used Mailchimp before but I'd prefer not to use them this time round.

      My stack is VitePress with a custom theme, TailwindCSS, and PanelBear for analytics. I host it with AWS C3+Cloudfront.

      If you're interested in the technical side of it, please feel free to check out the GitHub repo for it, it's all open source: https://github.com/loonpwn/harlanzw.com

      1. 1

        Thanks Harlan for sharing!

  6. 2

    Looks great mate :) good job.

  7. 2

    Looks nice. Simple is good. I've been thinking about doing something similar.

    1. 1

      Hey @jakekempo

      I'd recommend it! It's a fun little side project that lets you experiment with newer tech.

      If you're not already across it, the tailwindcss typography library is the real MVP as it makes your text super nice without any work.

  8. 2

    I'm gonna +1 most of what the other folks have said, neat UX, responsive and fast. Very nice!

    Quick tip: The link in your contact should be <a href="mailto:[email protected]">[email protected]</a>

    sans the ./ which makes it a subdirectory of your contact page :)

    1. 1

      @pheonix Thanks for the feedback and finding that bug, great eye for detail :D

      Have fixed that up

  9. 2

    Looks good and clean to me. Keep it as it is.

  10. 2

    Hey from my Point of view Simplicity is best & Your Blog looks awesome.. Regarding the other features you can definitely add the following

    • Search
    • Social share & Social contact
    • you can have a contact form but based on my experience Now people interacts with social media instead of contact form specially in personal blogs
    • A newsletter form is a good practice even if you are thinking that its too much for now. But if you have a newsletter form from beginning you will have a good audience over the year. & Later on you could have paid users to your newsletter. You can use mailchimp for now to capture emails

    regarding comments I would say drive users to your social profile to give their opinion instead of comments. & Comments sometimes becomes the source of spam.

    1. 1

      Thanks for the feedback and insights @saleheen

      I had a feeling that was the case for comments, it makes a lot more sense to keep the conversation off of the blog.

      I was a bit hesitant to put the newsletter capture in, but you're right. It's worth setting up now and slowly build it up, do something with it when I want to.

  11. 2

    Aesthetically pleasing, pastel shades are always a hit, especially for blogs.

    Regarding Contact forms, I prefer your current style, it's much more informal and friendly. And with contact forms, I notice bots sending spam stuff most of the time.

    When multiple posts come in, probably we'll be able to see the layout. Right now looks neat.

    Just 2 points that I noticed,
    1, Browser title varies from page to page, is that intended? i.e. when I click on About, title reads About | Harlan Wilton whereas for Home, it's different. May be you can take a second look there?
    2, I felt the post was quite lengthy, you think breaking it down logically into multiple posts will improve completion of reading?

    Wishing you the best!

    1. 1

      Hey @prettycold

      Great feedback, thank you! I agree with your saying about the contact forms.

      I hadn't thought about the tone of the site but"informal and friendly" is perfect for what I want.

      1. I may be mistaken but isn't this how it should work? Each page should have their own title for SEO reasons as well as letting the user know where they are
      2. You're not wrong haha.. I didn't set out to write a lengthy post but the concepts are quite complicated and it just ended up this long. I feel like I can't really split much out without the flow breaking but when writing my next article I will aim to keep it more concise
      1. 1

        You are right Harlan on point no. 1.

        Now when I think back, I used to do that before sometimes whenever I added a page but then I stopped it because my focus was to build 1 brand, so I tried to mention that one word everywhere (including browser title) so that it starts coming up in SEO. Maybe my logic was incorrect, ha ha :)

  12. 2

    I LOVE the new design. I bookmarked it for inspiration.
    Also, sometimes you can find extra nuggets of knowledge shared in the comments, or you can ask the writer about something, so it's always a let down to read an article and find out there's no comment section. I love reading comments, always insightful.
    Keep up the good work.

    1. 1

      Wow, thanks so much @aekiro! That means a lot, I don't consider myself a designer so making something that you find inspirational is a great feeling

      I was thinking of giving up on comments completely, but your point is so true. I do it with Youtube and other articles I read, always some gems in the comments, even if they're just memes.

      I will need to think this over once I have a bit more organic traffic coming to the stie.

  13. 2

    Over the years I have rebuilt my blog several times. Each with different goals, but most importantly, to grow with where I'm at in life.

    Honestly, I still do not really see why I would need really solid navigation on my blog. Most of the visitors land there using Google, and I'm not the kind of person whom writes content interesting enough to want to explore more of. Instead I'm trying to link other relevant resources from the blog posts itself, be it to my own blog, or to external sources.

    What I do have is the 'archive' which lists every post on my blog. Maybe in the future, once I have several hundred blog posts I can implement a search feature. Until then I'd probably first implement tag collections, or something like that.

    Long story short; keep it real.

    1. 1

      Hey @Corstian

      I really like that as a reason to rebuild, a blog feels like an extension of your own identity, so naturally, it needs to grow with you.

      Thanks for your insights

  14. 2

    It's clean and looks good. I believe it's never too early to start newsletter, so I'd add that. As for comments and search I don't think thery're necessary.

    1. 2

      Thanks for the feedback and insights @sadamiak

      You're right about the newsletter, it's better to throw it in early. It does seem like the comments and search aren't worth thinking about yet

  15. 2

    A very well formatted blog. Evidently you follow one of the core tenets of modern blog writing which espouses using short paragraphs which are easy on the eye. The only thing I would adjust is the font size of your H1. It's a little too large. The way to tell is if a title goes onto three lines.

    1. 2

      Wow, thanks so much @Contentellect. Means a lot coming from someone who is in the content writing field.

      I've really struggled with writing in the past. The ability to write your thoughts out coherently seemed like magic to me. I'm thrilled to be making noticeable improvements.

      Your rule about the h1's is a great insight, will look into that.

      1. 2

        Happy to help. Stick at it. The time and dedication you give to your writing will pay off in the long run.

  16. 2

    I love the redesign of your blog, it's so refreshing and lovely to read! Just read through your blog post about Vite, it was great to learn more about how it works.

    Edit: I also had a look at your About page, and it seems you'll be sharing more about your indie hacking journey; looking forward to reading more, and to hearing updates on your progress. Wishing you all the best with it, may you have much success with your future SaaS projects!

    1. 2

      Wow, thanks for the great feedback! The power of tailwindcss typography

      Glad you liked the article too :D

  17. 2

    I like when everything is simple. It's easier to read!
    I really like your Blog right know.

  18. 1

    I also keep it simple and just started writing. I have lots of content ideas and keep writing at https://www.auntyshout.com

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