Blog Redesign Feedback?

I really appreciate the feedback you guys gave on updating the Trip Report Index last week. There were a ton of useful suggestions, and I hope to implement many of those as soon as possible.

It seems that overall though, there might be an opportunity to update the site in general. I’ve been blogging here for nearly six years, and while there have been a handful of updates on the backend, I really haven’t changed anything in terms of the site design or structure. I do believe that ultimately “content is king,” so that has always been my focus. However, a bit of “lipstick” on the blog wouldn’t hurt either, right?

I try to run the blog as a bit of a democracy, so would would love to hear what you would like to have done around here.

A couple of general thoughts/parameters:

  • I am not looking to leave BoardingArea. We started this together, and while the tech issues can be frustrating at times, I imagine they’d be even more frustrating if I were on my own.
  • Anything we do has to be based on WordPress. I’m very open to having a different layout/theme/style/etc., but the “bones” have to be compatible with BoardingArea, which means WordPress.
  • I am bad with technology. Really bad. So there can’t be any ongoing CSS/HTML/WTF stuff. I can get help with the initial setup, but for everyday use it can’t be more complicated than point and click.
  • I don’t want to change the “feel” of the blog, really. This is sorta my home, after all, and while I wouldn’t mind some new paint and furniture, I don’t want to change things so much that you guys decide to go elsewhere 😉

Outside of that, I’m fairly open, as long as the site is easy to read and navigate for everyone. There are a few things I’m specifically hoping to address:

Header/Banner Graphic

I have a bit of a conflict here. On the one hand, it’s clearly functioning just fine, but on the other, that graphic looks like something you’d throw up if you’d slept through your midterm and wanted to start a blog to feel better about yourself and just needed to have something for the site to go live (this may or may not be based on actual events).

One Mile at a Time
Key branding, or serious opportunity?

So I don’t know the people in my graphic, and I’m not sure it really conveys what the blog is about. The perspective being incorrect drives me crazy as well. I have zero design skills, other than knowing what I think looks “good” or not, so if anyone has suggestions as to what might look better I’d love to hear those.

Organization

What would you like to see here? I try to categorize things fairly consistently, but now that we’re over 6,000 posts in, everything is a bit more difficult.

Is having more categories and tags helpful, or could we have a better search/index function? Not sure what makes the most sense here.

The ‘Ask Lucky’ Page

I’m hesitant to even say something here, because I love answering questions, and absolutely want to be an approachable resource. While the ‘Ask Lucky’ page is a good idea in theory, at this point we have 11,000 comments there. The page takes forever to load, and scrolling to the bottom is irritating, which means that no one is reading the previous questions and answers prior to posting a comment anyways.

Similarly, the less usable of a resource this is, the more people are emailing me directly. I don’t mind answering questions, but when it’s upwards of a hundred a day it’s quite a lot to keep track of. So I’m not really sure what to do here, but it doesn’t seem like it’s actually that useful at present. Any ideas?

Comments

I would like us all to have the ability to “reply” to each others comments, and otherwise make things a bit easier. I really enjoy the interactions in the comments – that’s my favorite part of the blog, and the sense of community is something I’m really proud of. So anything that can be done to encourage that is a plus in my book!

Anything else?

What else would you like to see? I can’t promise we’ll be able to add everything, but I would really like to take the time to have the blog be a bit more modern, and easier for everyone.

Thanks so much for reading and for the feedback, I really appreciate it!

Comments

  1. Themeforest.net has a ton of great WordPress templates … you do need to pay for them (usually in the $40-$60 range), but you just upload it to WordPress as a new theme, so no coding necessary.

    I’d recommend installing Disqus, as it allows for threaded comments and up/down voting. I believe you can install it to WordPress as a plugin, meaning no coding or other difficult installation procedures, though I could be off on that.

  2. I’d like to say about the photos for the TRs. It would be great if the image in the post would link to a larger image, maybe 1200 pixels wide, nothing crazy. I know that’s more bandwidth, but at least for a few key images per post it would be great.

    Right now the links on the photos are somewhat pointless, since they link to the same 580 pixel wide image. I know it’s been like this for years, but it shouldn’t be difficult to implement.

  3. Whatever the changes are, they should be compatible with RSS. I read everything through Feedly and it is frustrating when the font type gets messed up in RSS. When there are embedded videos, I have to go to the site directly to view. Also, depending on the article, I will go to the site to specifically view the comments (which can’t really be done in Feedly). I don’t mind going to sites at all, RSS just makes it easier for me.

    As for the native site itself, you should seriously consider changing the Header (banner). It really doesn’t fit the context of your blog (honestly, it looks a little cheap) and the picture doesn’t say to me “Lucky” or “One Mile at a Time.” Tough to tell you what to change it to because there are some really horrible headers out there (MV for example).

    As for Ask Lucky, you could break it up into 6 month intervals (Ask Lucky Jan-Jun 2013…).

    Thanks for allowing feedback.

  4. If you are serious about a blog redesign, I would suggest looking at my wife’s site: deluxe-designs.net. She is fantastic at all types of blog design and I think you might have some luck there. As an avid follower of your blog, nothing would make me happier than to see you working with her.

  5. If it’s possible to implement I’d really like if the Ask Lucky page had an option to take you to the last post you read.

  6. What about a forum for the Ask Lucky section? It would load faster and also allow for feedback from a variety of people. (Yea I know there are a ton of travel forums out there..)

  7. First of all, let me say again that your blog is truly fantastic and you are one of the kindest people I’ve ever come across (virtually, nonetheless).
    I think your blog is very functional, I don’t think it does need any major change. I would suggest changing your banner, as I don’t think it represents well what the blog is about. Maybe you can have a contest for the banner and you can throw an amenity kit or some pyjamas as a prize, but I guess a lot of your readers with skills would try to create something just as a thank you for your work.
    I am not sure how it would be, but I like the fact it is easy to see the new replies as they are posted chronologically. I don’t like when it’s hard to follow what’s new or not.
    The only place that I think that need an update is the Ask Lucky. Maybe you can tag your answers, split them by pages and add a search option just for this section.
    Anyway, keep up your wonderful work.

  8. Some initial thoughts: you could have a contest for your readers to come up with a new header, similar to your contest to HEL, winner gets some miles/points/whatever.

    Secondly, you can turn on nested comments and determine how many levels you want them to go deep.

    Thirdly, you can break up comments into pages, say 30 or 50 comments per page. Have some sort or search functionality so you don’t get the same questions multiple times.

    Lastly, you’ve been blogging for longer than most of us have been in the travel game, so use your best judgement.

  9. While you didn’t ask for feedback regarding content (vs. format), I’m beginning to think that to retain the interest of current readers, while attracting new ones, some thought needs to be given concerning the scope of the blog’s coverage. While there will, of course, always be new travel experiences worthy of feedback, the longer the blog focuses on flight and hotel reports, the more it risks becoming redundant. Perhaps your hotel living experience will give you more of a chance to write in-depth destination reports. But, while there will always be a core number of users who are ultra frequent business travelers for whom even redundant posts are exciting, in terms of the blogs long-term development and survival, some thought should be given to adding or broadening topics.

  10. While you have links for the most recent 10 posts, I would love it if you also had an archive area by month/year or even by week. What happens is that sometimes I’ll see a post, want to go back and read, but it might be a week or more later. It can be really difficult to find an older post if you don’t remember the airline mentioned or specific subject, etc. It just involves a lot of scrolling through trip reports/pictures.

  11. I was thinking of commenting about the “Ask Lucky” section awhile back, to hopefully see about breaking it up into multiple pages similar to flyertalk threads. However, the benefit to leaving it as one page would be so folks can “search” the entire page for a particular word or topic. That IS valuable. Also valuable would be to BOLD your answers if people are browsing the page for your words of wisdom. In the end I think breaking the pages up is best, then folks can recall where there question is they posted. Or what about breaking up the questions/answers by month?

    I agree that adding the equipment type in the headings of trip reports would be very helpful also.

  12. On the headline/banner, maybe have a contest and give away some miles or even a gift card. (I’m not graphically talented so this suggestion is not in my self-interest). One of the major focus areas of your blog is international first class travel/trip reports, so I think that should be reflected somehow in the headline/banner. However, I think you need to choose carefully – you want the image to be classy, not douche-y (is that a word? i.e. a picture sitting in LH first dressed in PJs with caviar and a glass of champagne probably would not be a good idea).

  13. There is a ton of great stuff in ask lucky, but you’re right that it is too cumbersome. I wish it were searchable. And also it’s pretty ipad unfriendly at this point.

  14. I’ve mentioned a while ago that the ask lucky pages needs to be broken up. At a minimum break it up by years. On mobile devices it is almost unusable.

    Or break it up by listing the last 100 questions and letting people go back 100 at a time.

    Try not to do anything too “flashy” with the web site. Too many redesigns just make the site very cluttered with too many graphics, videos and the page becomes difficult to read.

    A tv ad or a radio/magazine ad needs to be flashy to catch someone’s attention but a web site doesn’t because the person is already in your “store” and you want to avoid driving them away.

    I use to visit your site more often but since the ask lucky page has become useless to me (due to the loading time) I frequent less often (I use to enjoy reading the various questions/answers).

    Good luck
    Rich

  15. “Hi I’m Ben, I want to change my website, but not planning in learning a thing ’bout technology” Hahah, dude. I mean, new year, new you? I know you are busy, but why don’t take a simple course of websites?

    But do change at least the colours and the banner image.

  16. I think the new header should be “a picture sitting in LH first dressed in PJs with caviar and a glass of champagne” as warned against by Erik. The thought of that makes me laugh.
    Ok, don’t make that your new header. But I like the idea of a header contest. And other than the header and the ask lucky page, I like the blog and how it just works without being too complicated.

  17. When I click on the comment link, the page should take me to the comment section, not on the top of the page that I have to scroll all the way down to see the comments. I know Frequent Miler blog posts has this feature and wonder if you can look into.

  18. Use a forum engine and title it “Ask Lucky (and friends)”. This way others can help out answering commonly asked questions. Moot.it is a great forum engine and is relatively easy to add to a WordPress blog although you might need to check with someone technical if it plays nicely along with BoardingArea specifically.

  19. I agree with Carlos 100%! (#7 above) Your blog is my favorite, and your writing style and posts are so forthright and fun. The straight to the point formatting and your own thoughts (not those of “staff”) keep me returning each day. Thanks for all you do to help fellow travelers!

  20. The overall structure is effecient enough, I would just update the design/header. The contest with miles as prize is a good idea.

  21. Hi Ben,
    After some moments of contemplation I truly do not think that you need to change much, even in the lipstick class. IMO, your work is about as good as an amateur blog gets. Plus some. I would not change anything of importance. If improvements are necessary, I guess I’d focus on improving the writing. It is not bad, better than most, but not always representative of the educated fellow that you are. I think we fixed the over use of ‘went with’ a couple of years ago. The currently overused phrase is ‘that being said.’ Most snooty gramarians (sp?) would prefer ‘that said,’ if the phrase must be used at all. At the end of the day/month or year, those bloggers who write well and spend some time with their words before hitting SEND are the ones that stay for the longer term. Your blog has lots of fun stuff (and more serious material) to offer. The writing is important. Sit on it for a day, ask your Mom, ask a friend or hire a copy editor. Whatever hits the net reflects you. -CG

  22. Please link post photos to higher res versions! I find myself often clicking on an image in an attempt to read a sign or identify a food item, only to remember that the linked picture is sub-VGA.

    As for the Ask Lucky page, you now have five years’ worth of questions! Consider breaking each year off into its own page, especially considering the fact that many of the questions/answers have become irrelevant due to program changes.

  23. The Ask Lucky resource is definitely welcome and much appreciated and perhaps questions posed can be organised into categories such as airlines, hotels, lounges, FFPs, etc.

  24. Header/Banner Graphic

    Considering how much time you spend at airports and take lots of pics…just take some nice tarmac pictures, and use the best one. Unless your worried about only certain airlines appearing the banner…then you could just rotate the pictures every few months or so.

  25. Comments section in the Ask Lucky page will be awesome to be reply capable. To take it one step further, your response can be highlighted with a catchy font/highlighting.

  26. Have you thought of starting an FAQ? It could save you some emails because hopefully people can go to the FAQ first and try and find an answer. I’m sure you know the same questions you get over and over.

    So instead of the Ask Lucky link at the top, it could be a FAQ.

    It might take some time to put together cause of all the questions you probably can think of to add, but it could save you a lot of emails in the long run.

    for some it could be as simple as the question, and then the answer just being “read this post”.

    I don’t think the poll or recent comments are needed on the sidebar. That’s just me. Maybe you have a reason for them and if so, that’s fine.

    The header image is definitely unique, but it’s probably time for an update.

    I think someone mentioned it above, but you could ask your readers for a new header image. The winner gets some kind of prize. I’m sure you have a lot of designers that read your blog. They’d also get a mention from you as well.

    You have recent posts which is great, but also having popular posts might be good as well. There is a plugin in WordPress called Jetpack and when you activate it, it has a lot of cool features including displaying of your popular posts.

    I don’t think you need a new theme, unless you want to. Your site is easy to navigate and people come for the content and pictures of Hello Kitty. 🙂

  27. Lucky, I’d suggest putting the date at the start of each blog post, instead of at the end. Helps us older folks remember whether we’ve already read a post :-(.

  28. Ask Lucky is a great resource, but needs to be better presented. I don’t think a forum is the right answer – people come to Ask Lucky because they want a personal answer from Ben – the discussion forum space for this kind of material is already saturated. Maybe a monthly Ask Lucky Q&A thread is a better way to go? Most Q&As on Ask Lucky are non-sequiturs relative to each other, so a chronological separation would not really cause any disruption.

    Aesthetics can be changed but the content will always remain the best! 🙂

  29. I don’t think you should change anything. I like the formatting as it is. Some of the more “professional” looking blogs just get on my nerves, they’re too cute for their own good. The design gets in the way of just being able to read the blog.

  30. I dislike that if I turn on comments it resets me to the top.

    Don’t change your writing and keep content your primary focus. I like that is not overly polished, travel log stuff I could read in my newspaper or travel magazines. Keep writing about your life adventures, vendor opinions and how it is part of your travel experiences. I know you need to make this work financially, so do your best to keep away from being a shill for any particular brand.

  31. I think that the header image contest is a great idea 🙂 Ability to view full(er) size images would also be nice.

    For Ask Lucky, I agree with most other suggestions. Perhaps, we need some sort of a FAQ with top-asked queries to make life easier for you, to perhaps have “an archive” and “current” section, would be great to have a notification when we get a response on our particular question (from you or from others), and perhaps some way for you to tag your responses with keywords that could be searchable, e.g. if I want all Q&As for Singapore first-class, I can look at “Singapore” + “First Class” tags.

  32. Would be nice if you put post dates right under your post title.

    I use your blog to search information a lot. Don’t like to scroll the end to find the date and time posted.

  33. I love the layout of your blog. very efficient. I feel like the theme nowadays is change just for the sake of change. why change if it works just fine? look at designs such as craigslist and wikipedia. may look a bit dated, but it works perfectly and people love it that way. I’d say any change to those formats will probably hurt popularity.

    every other blog who has implemented a change in design has gone downhill in functionality and aesthetics, in my opinion. bad design and less efficient.

    The only minor tweak i’d add is to include the date at the top of the post. other then that, please don’t change your design!!

  34. I think one of the reasons I visit your blog so much is because it’s easier to read than most. There’s good contrast between the text and background, and no really harsh colors. It loads quickly and is easy to navigate. Try not to get too glitzy.

    OR just make it all lists accompanied by humorous gifs, a la BuzzFeed: “The 8 Foods at the Concorde Room Most Likely to Give You Food Poisoning,” or “16 Things Only People Who Have Showered on an Emirates A380 Will Understand,” and “The 14 Best IFE Systems for Viewing One Direction-Themed Content.”

  35. On the “The ‘Ask Lucky’ Page” you should have newest at the top instead of oldest at the top. Also, have a new page for each month with an access to archives for previous months and years. It is too much all on one page and I can no longer access it as my browser times me out.

  36. @Lucky, the only pet peeve I have with your blog (truly, the ONLY one), is that if I remember a trip report you wrote or a mileage run/deal, there’s never a date associated with when you first posted it. Would love to be able to chronologically search old posts, etc.

  37. I’d recommend Disqus for comments. I’d imagine more than a few of us commenters would like to interact with each other too. I’d have voted up Taylor’s answer (#1) if such a tool was available.

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