5 Things John Chow’s Cluttered Blog Taught Me

Ever since getting massive traction, prominent figure John Chow has always caught a lot of flak for plastering his site with ads. People heavily criticized him for having a ‘cluttered look’ for his blog and some stated that John never really cared about user experience and usability.

Although I won’t argue about it, I could say that John at least worked it out. How many times have you seen his blog get a fresh redesign from Unique Blog Designs? And with every revision of his blog’s theme it has become cleaner and more user-friendly (although the ads still remain, lols).

Anyways in this writeup I’d like to point out some lessons I picked up along the way from John’s untidy blog layout and design.

1. Its OK to put ads on blogs

Believe it or not but a lot of people, up to now, think that it is not ethical to put advertisements on blogs. Even these days you see a lot of high-traffic blogs that still don’t put advertisements and it really wouldn’t ruin the overall user experience. And even if they leave, they’d surely come back if you have a good content.

2. Every element is Important

When I had my old design last year I have a very few elements on my blog. My reasoning was that, no one will really care to click or look at all of those things in the sidebar so why put them in the first place. So when I had my redesign late last year, I realized that every element, every part of a blog’s layout is important. Whether it’s the footer, the sub header, the second sidebar or whatnot, can all be useful to some extent.

For instance, people really think that readers don’t mind the footer but based from my experience it’s totally untrue. I was playing my Crazy Egg heatmaps couple days back and I noticed an interesting thing. People who comment on my site (comment section is close to footer), also add me to social media sites like Twitter, Facebook and Linkedin. So from that alone, elements in the footers are not totally useless.

3. Good Use of White Space

Another thing that I learned from Chow’s design is the good use of white space. John’s blog may have been a bit cluttered but one thing is sure. That is you’d never have any trouble reading his content. Line spacing is done well. Paragraphs are spaced out correctly and even the sidebar has enough room that it somehow typifies elegance.

I see a lot of blogs with superb content who don’t make good use of white space. Oftentimes the text and paragraphs are spaced out very close that its hard to read the posts. Maybe it’s time to edit the stylesheet then!

4. Content-rich homepage

I used to hate Magazine-style layouts until I noticed bloggers are switching to it. What I realized with these layouts is that it’s content-rich. Readers aren’t forced to scroll their mouse down 20 times just to get to the post they want.

There’s always an argument that John pumps out so much content that sometimes his readers are overwhelmed. I disagree. One reason why I think Chow’s blog is popular up to now is that because of his content. Due to him covering a broad topic (make money online, technology, food), he tends to attract a wide variety of demographics that keeps coming back to read his posts.

5. Proper Blending of Color Schemes

I’m certainly not a fan of color blue but in John’s blog I think he has used it superbly. Not only that but I think the blending that he did with all the colors is just exceptional.

Proper blending of colors helps in usability and eye tracking. In one of the studies done, it says that people are not likely to read a website if the color schemes is obtrusive and doesn’t blend well. That being said we bloggers must be wary about just putting any colors to our websites. Let us make sure it’s good to our audience eyes and that it blends well all through the template.

It’s funny how you can sometimes pick up lessons along the way with instances that you never thought you could. John Chow’s blog is a good example. A lot of people whine about how the blog sometimes loads slow, how there are so many ads in the sidebar and tons of affiliate links are embedded. But on the other note, those 5 things are great lessons that I’ve learned just by continuously visiting his blog and by keen observation.

What say you?

This post is written by Melvin Dichoso who blogs at MelvinBlog Dot Com where he shares all his thoughts in the industry. He is also giving a free eBook called Blog Marketing for Fame which is all about marketing your blogs competitively.


45 thoughts on “5 Things John Chow’s Cluttered Blog Taught Me”

  1. Of course it’s okay to ads on blogs, How you going to make any moolah?

    1. No kidding, learn from the master John Chow himself!

    2. reviewing other blogs and sites is one way 🙂

    3. This is something that I always struggled with and for a long time I focused on building an email list and not having ads on my blog. I have since ditched that method (well not completely), but come to realise that I am not a ‘sell-out’ if I have ads on my blog.

    4. Melvin says:

      well mr.weight loss, a lot of good blogs actually dont put ads. They make moolah instead by selling their own product or providing consultation services.

  2. It’s always about testing and optimizing to find the best mix of user friendliness and profitability.

    1. Agreed. So many people stop trying when the first thing they try doesn’t make money…it might be a small tweak in color of adsense or position that will increase clicks and CTR…test, test, test is the key

  3. Brett Weese says:

    This post has so much hindsight bias its hard to read. Just because, in hindsight, something worked does not mean John Chow’s blogging success was due to his blog being cluttered. How many uncluttered blogs are successful? Lots. Don’t attach an attribute to something successful without looking at whether that same attribute can be attached to the failures. I guarantee I can find countless examples of cluttered blogs that don’t make a dime.

    1. Melvin says:

      hey Brett I hear you brother.. What I put here are the lessons that I picked up from Chow’s cluttered design. that being said, the lessons are exclusive for Chow’s design, not all shitty cluttered blogs. (hence I’d put a different title right?)

      Anyways, thats a pretty decent point. 😉

    2. True. I’ve come across plenty of blogs that aren’t even close to being cluttered, but the bloggers go on about how they make little to nothing.

  4. White space on John’s blog? JC is not wasting any space, haven’t you read his disclaimer? SY

    1. You have a point there. I wonder where did he got that idea.

      1. Melvin says:

        seriously this made me wonder if you really read this post or not and just commented expecting some holy grail miracle from alexa pulling your rank to 200K or lower.

        White space is good typography. To repeat what is above, Im saying that chow has proper line spacing, the paragraphs can be read easily because of good line height (learn css seriously).

        Chow also runs a lot of element in the sidebar but its spaced out so well that it doesn’t look disorganized. That is good use of spacing.. 🙂

        1. There are actually several definitions of “white space” around, see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/White_space I was mostly referring to this one http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/White_space_%28visual_arts%29 SY

  5. Share some of those top blogs that aren’t putting some ads on their site!

    I haven’t seen any big blogs that does that. Perhaps you are talking about those uncommercialized blog which never had any intention of making money.

    1. Brett Weese says:

      You are putting words in my mouth. I didn’t say they weren’t putting ads on their site, I said there are lots of blogs that aren’t cluttered that are successful. I’m saying that there probably isn’t a direct correlation between John Pho’s blog success and his putting as many ads as possible, because you can also find hundreds of failed blogs that tried the same thing. If you want to tease out reasons for success you have to be willing to test the attributes of failures as well as those that have succeeded, which makes me doubt the thesis of the argument. In the end its probably (though not for sure) a combination of good content, great timing, and luck.

      1. Base on the way that you are reacting, I believe that you are Melvin. Why use other name instead of your name?

        You said in your post that they don’t put any advertisement and now you are going to deny it. Next time to try to back out your research with proofs.

        1. Melvin says:

          seriously paul why would I hide under a very uncool name and waste the precious space of not putting a link? lols.

          I would answer your question above. Among the blogs that don’t have any ads yet are very high traffic ones are as follows:

          howtomakemyblog.com
          viperchill.com
          blogussion.com
          deanhunt.com
          quicksprout.com
          and etc.

          I could name more like Chris Brogan, Jim Kukral and some other aff.marketing blogs.
          The reason they dont put ads is they want to have more focus on their content, they want readers to read it and through that they get clients or whatever they are selling.

          and these are sites that get more traffic than all of us here combined.. 😉

          1. Melvin says:

            and why would i not let people see my avatar if i ‘somehow’ look handsome? 😀

          2. d3so says:

            Nice list of blogs and I read them too. They most likely make their money off projects rather than their blog.

  6. Good post. Enjoyed reading it 😀

    1. Lakhyajyoti says:

      I like all the five points.Thanks John.

  7. d3so says:

    It’s necessary to be wary of your blog layout if you’re a novice blogger. Someone with status such as John Chow can pretty do whatever they want even if it is excessive advertising. They’ve gained the credibility and status to do so.

    1. Nigel Chua says:

      Yes d3so, I think so too. John’s element of web celebrity does play a large role in this, doesn’t it? He already commands influence and respect in this arena, so…with that in place, he’s good to go no matter what he does. But then again, most of his content are good. =)

    2. You just said what is in my mind.

      Any big blogger don’t need a good layout.

      1. d3so says:

        That’s true but have a good layout certainly helps.

  8. He definitely maximizes his page to fit content (which should be #1) along with revenue generating space….well done. Something must be working right??

  9. Steve says:

    I recall him having a bottom border popup before and a corner peel back ad. Those are gone which makes the overall experience a lot better.

    1. I agree entirely, I hated the both, now I can actually read the content here, SY

  10. Only 5 things …

    You should include more.

    1. Free Picks says:

      yup, we learn more than 5

  11. Melvin I noticed that your blog design also change a lot.

    You should stick to your base design at least for one year and than announce that your blogger is getting new look.

    This will also helps to get instant traffic on such date.

    1. Melvin says:

      Hmmm.. I don’t think I change a lot. I had only 2 designs for the past 2 years. How did you say that?

  12. Good use of white space is truly the power of john chow. It make comfortable to read the article.

  13. I’ve seen this site go through dozens of changes, and one thing I’ve learned is that you can basically get away with anything design wise if you offer the right content.

  14. fas says:

    Some people are selling Chows theme too for $100, lol

  15. Mike Roosa says:

    John’s blog, he can do whatever he wants with it. If someone doesn’t like it then they don’t have to read it. I’ll never understand why people would complain about. There are so many other blogs to read.

  16. If you want to tease out reasons for success you have to be willing to test the attributes of failures as well as those that have succeeded, which makes me doubt the thesis of the argument. This is something that I always struggled with and for a long time I focused on building an email list and not having ads on my blog.

  17. Wemoneyz says:

    thank !
    we all really have great chance of being learning from Master John Chow.
    by the way, long live JohnChow dot com

  18. Re monetization I’m currently looking at creating Directories, city specific, on WordPress (plumbers, dentists etc. and selling ‘featured’ ad space.

  19. Murlu says:

    When you first land here it’s like “woh! so much info!”, it’s almost an overload but then you realize how genius it is that it allows people to discover so much on a single page.

    1. I’m not sure I totally agree. Yes, it’s an overload at first glance, but I don’t think that is a good thing. For my tastes, I value simplicity and order. This blog, while it has great content, is a bit chaotic in it’s design.

  20. I think #1 “Its OK to put ads on blogs” is something that many bloggers need to realize. Often times, bloggers (and their readers, unfortunately) will turn their nose up at the idea of “making money” – how ridiculous!

  21. I can roll with what you’ve said, with one exception. I think people should be cautious about over-selling ads. Especially when there are other avenues for revenue, such as sponsored posts, etc.

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