While browsing Consumerist the other day for updates on the Krempasky vs. Popken debate, I noticed that one of the posts reported that Consumer Reports has introduced a Consumer Safety Blog. I'm a big fan of consumer advocacy and think it's a great idea. However, I can't say I'm taken with the site right away.


The blog has some obvious design problems. The features on it look pretty solid, but this screenshot depicts several details which make this blog unappealing to me.

1. Posts: I can't see the title of more than one post. While the headline "Cocaine Energy Drink" does grab my attention, I'm not seeing anything else, including the one that's on dorm safety (which is actually titled "Ed Comeau: Firefighter" as though it were paying tribute to Mr. Comeau), the one about Playskool's product recall and the one on bike safety. These headlines immediately would give readers more of an idea about what the blog is about than just the one on the Cocaine Energy Drink.


Truncate posts to a paragraph or two and insert a jump to the full text.

This will allow readers to see more than one post and not have to keep scrolling to see the blog's contents. 

Put the latest headlines or categories somewhere near the top so readers can go directly to a headline that interests them.

This way,  there's more of a chance that they'll stay on the site and actually read it if they feel like there is some relevant content to the site. Don't make the reader scroll on for all of eternity.

2. About this blog: The Consumer Reports folks want you to know what the blog is about. It makes sense to just want to tell readers what the blog is supposed to be about, but it actually takes up too much space in the right sidebar. They have included the description and also the mission statement of the blog, which could, arguably, be put together.


Link it. Don't take up so much space on the sidebar. It would be better to use the sidebar to put up categories, headlines or anything related to what kind of content is already up there.

3. Bios: Bloggers are generally pretty interesting folks, but what's really interesting is what they have to say, not necessarily what they look like or their life stories. That's usually stuff you reserve for the corporate page, which you can easily link to. Plus, the bios in this instance, picture and text, take up too much space.


Get rid of it or link it to a new page. It's not important enough to be on the sidebar. What's really important is what is being written, not the people writing it. What is written is a representation of Consumer Reports. There is no reason to stick bios on the blog. That is, until your blog gets super popular and you end up fielding offers from E! and/or CNN. Then it's probably a good idea to get a professional headshots, a stylist that follows you around on the nightclub circuit, a makeup artist and an agent.

4. Categories: The Consumer Reports Safety blog has its categories and headlines located way down at the bottom of the page. At first glance, the blog is about drinks bearing drug names. It takes me quite a while to get to the second headline, which is apparently about a firefighter named Ed Comeau who spent his whole life in the fire safety field as a fire investigator and knows a thing or two about fire prevention and safety in college dorms. I don't live in a dorm and I want to know about the latest in, say, how safe it is to ride an ATV. I have to scroll to the very bottom of all those non-truncated blog posts to find the one on ATV safety.

Note: Scrolling too much on your browser can lead to shoulder or wrist dislocation, I think.


Put the categories and headlines further up. Truncate your posts. Insert jumps.

 5. Blog post content: Keep it simple and obvious from the get go. Dorm safety is incredibly important. So when I see a post called "Ed Comeau: Firefighter" and I have to read a paragraph about him before I can read all the important "How to" type stuff that I can use, I'm not going to bother reading the post. Blame me for growing up in the sound bite/instant gratification online culture, but the reason I go online to read blogs is so I don't have to read a novel or enroll in fire science school to learn what I need to know.  

Consumer Reports needs to directly engage the consumer reading the post and tell him/her right away that this is a post about Dorm Safety, not about the life and times of Ed Comeau, the civil engineer turned fire safety expert. It's great that he founded The National Fire Protection Association, but the most important part of the article, the factors of campus death by fire, is way at the bottom.


Stick to the mission/purpose of the blog. Use the headline and lead sentence to tell readers what the post is about.

It's great to celebrate people who are committed to consumer safety, but let's stick to the "unbiased insight and analysis of safety issues that are important to you." Furthermore, remember that when reading a headline and the body, the blog reader is trying to judge whether or not the post is relevant to his/her own life. (They say bloggers are narcissists, but consider the mindset of the Internet surfer looking to read/see something interesting.)

6. Header graphic: The graphic on top has a bunch of tabs (Cars, Appliances, etc.)  that look as though they would lead you into the blog by category. They don't. Instead these innocuous little tabs at the top take you to the actual Consumer Reports site. I would argue that everything on the blog should relate to the blog, especially if I can't see the post categories or all the headlines in the first place.


Arrange the graphic on a vertical under the link to the Consumer Reports homepage to show that it is affiliated with the homepage and not with the blog. Visually, that makes more sense to me and signals that the tabs have to do with the home site and not the blog.

7. Separate opinions and facts: My idea of consumer reports, especially when taking their "About Us" description and mission seriously, makes me think that they will publish scientific reports, legitimate news and statistics, and not color the posts with their opinions, unless these opinions that have to do with consumer safety (as in, "Safety is always good" and "Risk is always bad.") Outside of that scope, the blog risks harming the actual company's credibility as a reliable source for information. The blog should be about news and information that is being talked about right now and its effect on consumer physical safety.

But if you go to the site now, the first post you&
#39;ll see is about a drink called "Cocaine Energy." The author of this post titles the post "Cocaine Energy Drink: It's not just the name that's in bad taste," meaning that she/he clearly objects to the concept of explicitly using the word "cocaine" to market this drink.

However, the issue Consumer Reports should focus on is not condemning the drink's name, but getting past the name of the drink to focus on the unfavorable effect of caffeine on children and young adults. It does do this, but again, it is done at the end of the post. The blog reader may not have the staying power to spend time reading about whether it really is funny to call a drink "Cocaine" The author, though, continues, writing "Who ever thought we'd see the day when kids could go into stores and buy "cocaine" but not spinach?/Las Vegas-based Redux Beverages has created a new energy drink called — get this — Cocaine."

First of all, we know what the drink is called because they have a picture of it and it's the title of the post. Also, we are all familiar with the urban myths surrounding Coca Cola, so for Consumer Reports to open with how morally offensive the name is rather than how offensive its effects on health are, is a bit silly and doesn't really do much for credibility. The post sounds like something a syndicated columnist would write, but blogging isn't about being a syndicated columnist. It sounds awful close, but when you're blogging for Consumer Reports, you should probably just keep your own voice out of it until readers get to know you better.

But there is a positive: The blog has received tons of coverage and will probably be very useful for a lot of print, broadcast and online journalists who need some ideas for consumer product stories.