Communication between you and your readers starts the instant they get on your site, long before they’ve read a single comic or blog post. What messages are you sending to your audience just with your website design? You might not realize it, but your site could be a barrier to reader interaction!
Eliminate the barriers
Make it Easy to Read
We’ve all learned the cardinal rule of no red-on-blue color combinations, but that doesn’t mean we’ve learned our lesson on bad text-and-background choices. White text on black backgrounds causes a lot of eye-strain to read, particularly with a large amount of text. Yet you’d never guess that based on the number of blogs out there with this exact combo! This makes it difficult to read for any long period of time, which means that people are far more likely to skim or skip anything you have to say. Make sure to avoid odd font choices as well. Your goal should be communication first, visual appeal second.
The same rule goes for font choices and site layouts. It’s easy to get caught up making a very fancy design that’s dysfunctional to the reader. Focus on clearly communicating before you think about the flourishes to make it pretty.
Make it easy to Comment
In the internet world, clicking is work. So when readers visit our site, it shouldn’t be a chore for them to read or contribute their own comments. Many website designs make it difficult to find comments. A common WordPress layout is to store all comments under a “Comments” link with a word bubble displaying the number already received. That’s one click. Then the would-be commenter must find a place to leave their own comment, usually by another link. That’s another click. Then, after they add what they want to say, they probably have to go through a series of hoops to sign into a commenting service or pass a human-test. That’s even more clicks – maybe two or three! with all that extra work, it’s a wonder anybody leaves a comment at all!
Go through the process of leaving a comment on your website. Count how many clicks the reader must make. If it’s over two, you may want to re-think your design!
Make it clear you want to Connect
Compare two hypothetical designs:
SITE A: The colors are black, red, and gray. There’s no link to any social media, email, or forum — if you want to contact this author, good luck! Comments are your only option, and even then, it’s clear the creator rarely replies.
SITE B: The colors are white, yellow, and blue. Social media, contact info, and other links are clearly displayed at the top. Every comment has a reply from the creator, and it’s always friendly.
Now tell me…on which site are you going to feel like leaving a comment?
Color sets a mood, which in turn will impact how people feel about you, your work, and your site. The content, and how we arrange it, also sends a message. When ways to reach the creator are clearly displayed, it says “I want to connect with you! Here’s three places you can say hello!” Hide those contact methods, and it lets people know you don’t want to be disturbed. So consider the messages you want to send carefully, and make sure it’s clear you want to connect!
Invite them in
Drezz covered some ways you can invite readers in with your content and questions in an earlier article, but there are ways to use your website design to help you out.
Have a character do it for you
Sometimes it’s best to let our characters do the talking for us. Dave Kellett’s site for Sheldon has Arthur just below the comic to invite you in. It’s friendly, it’s fun, and it makes the comment section clear without being intrusive.
Sometimes people don’t have the time or motivation for a lengthy comment, but still enjoy staying engaged. A poll can be a fun way to open the door to your readership. They also help you learn something about them and spark debate. There are several plugins available for simple, one-question polls, but if you want something more comprehensive you can also use Forms in GoogleDocs for a free and versatile survey.
Connect your content
Maybe blogging isn’t your thing, but tweeting is near and dear to your heart? Or perhaps you’re a Facebook fanatic or a G+ groupie? It’s okay if you do most of your personal interaction on just one platform and struggle with others. Just make sure to focus on the one you excel at, and broadcast it! You can even embed some feeds directly into your site, give readers a clear idea of where the best places to connect with you are.
Cultivate the connection
The short-term goal is starting the conversation, but it won’t do you any good if you don’t reward that commenter’s courage. It can be scary to post on a website, especially for the first time! You don’t know how the creator will respond – will they ignore you? Lash out? Start a flame war?
What you as a creator do next is crucial, not just to that individual commenter, but to all future commenters. People will often read through the commentary under a comic to get a flavor for the community and creator. This is why it is critical that you cultivate a safe, welcoming place for readers to interact with you. Demonstrate to your commenters that you value their input and support. Reply to every comment you receive. Be appreciative of praise and criticism alike. Show through your actions that this is a place where readers reaching out is welcome and encouraged! You’ll find that this will earn you good will with commenters and lurkers alike!