Your confused first-time visitor! New and returning are two very different types of visitor to a blog. One has been here before and knows the drill; the other is still wondering if they’re even in the right place. This is the most basic, but the most important distinction between visitors in your audience.

Why then, would we treat them the same?

The answer is that if we had an easy choice, we wouldn’t. But we don’t have the luxury of such choice. It would take a complicated setup to serve two different pages to new and returning visitors, and might merely confuse your visitors.

Instead, we can use an easier method. We use our regular home page for our regular visitors, and link to a special made-for-newbies page, for the newbies.

What Does a New Visitor Want to See?

  • Information about the site. Let’s say a huge James Bond fan opens two new tabs. One is a page from IMDb, and the other is a James-Bond-only blog. Which is he more likely to read?

    IMDb may have great content, but for someone new to both sites, the blog is going to have the edge. If you have an edge on a topic, don’t waste it.

    This is a very obvious example (How could you load that blog without knowing it was about Bond?), but an edge isn’t always so obvious. What about a metablog aimed at part-time bloggers? Or a gadget blog focusing only on affordable gadgets? Some edges may need to be spelt out more bluntly.

  • Introduction to the topic. If you write advice on a certain topic, a large number of your readers may be complete novices on the topic. An authority blog on the topic would cater for these users, with a series of posts covering the basics and culturing an interest.

    These readers may go on to become some of your strongest readers. People always have a sweet spot for the ones that helped them at the start. For example, who here can’t remember the site/book/person that first taught them HTML?

  • Practical articles from your archives. Some of your posts contain practical advice; advice that can be acted on immediately. But other posts are more theoretical, and contain ideas that a reader might have to think more about.

    For instance, my article on comments and trackbacks is a practical one, with code you can use right away. This one however is intended to make you think. It’s about an idea that I want to experiment with and think holds promise, but I don’t have any hard proof that I’m right.

    A new reader may need to be sold on you before they put too much faith in your ideas. A good referral link/RSS counter etc. may gain that trust for you, but if not; helping the reader out with some practical advice certainly will.

How Does This Differ From a Returning Reader?

Returning readers are more likely to be after:

  • Recent articles and changes. The regulars know the score; all about you, your blog, and your blog’s topic. They just want to see what has changed since their last visit.
  • Key articles from your archives. On their first visit, they may have picked up on a few of your most popular articles. So what now?

    If you’ve been blogging for any length of time, then you have a massive archive built up. A reader isn’t going to browse through all of that on their own. You need to pick out some of your better articles and highlight those. A “Popular Posts” list may not be enough.

  • More info about you personally. On first visiting a blog, you have no interest in learning about the person behind the posts. But if it’s your 4th visit to the blog, that could all have changed. The author’s name, a photograph, other blogs etc. You suddenly take much more notice of these things.

    I can name dozens of bloggers and their blogs, and each of them I have visited multiple times. I can’t name a single blogger whose blog I have only visited once.

More To Read in Part 2

You can now read the second part, Building a Page for First Timers, in which I talk about the practicalities of this idea.

What should be on your newbie page? What is the best format for it? How do you link to it? By that time, I will also have implemented this on Pro Blog Design, so you’ll be able to use my setup as a template for your own.

What do you think of this approach to new visitors? Do you do anything special for them on your blog?

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