How to design your blog - like the pros - Mad Lemmings

How to design your blog – like the pros

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how to design blog

Creating a blog is easy right? It certainly seems that way at first. But if you want to get it right, if you want to attract and keep your readers, you need to make sure you do it like a pro.

The following are some tips, guidelines and best practices for taking your blog to the next level!

General Blog Design

Keep your room clean (thanks Mum!)

I know, you are thinking “it’s spelled Mom” – well I am from Australia, and we live spell it differently :> And Koalas are not bears. We don’t ride kangeroos to school and… I digress….

The first thing we need to talk about is – cleanliness. Yes that’s right. Think of me as your mother (I know we have never met but play along here).

Blogs can be full of information, and widgets, and advertising, and images, and and and…..

But be very careful. If you try to add too much to your blog, you will overwhelm your visitors and they will either:

  • Click on nothing (too much choice)
  • Leave (get annoyed with your messy bedroom!)

The best web designs are clean, uncluttered and simple. Keep that in mind at all times.

And sometimes that means white space on your site. Lots of it! Give your site space to breathe. Your readers will appreciate it.

Have you seen that ad with the cute puppy?

I know you want to have some ads on your site to make some money, I did too. But I removed most of them – they don’t make me any money.

Adsense is dead to me. Like a brother I never wanted.

And flashing banners? sure they get my attention, but they do not put a smile on my face. Out with them all!

Keep it simple. Keep it sexy. Keep it stylish. And perhaps keep your readers.

If you need another reason to seriously reconsider your ads, just think, each time someone clicks them – they leave your site!

So let’s paint!

Congratulations! you own a blog. Yes, me too. It’s awesome huh.

It’s actually quite easy to get this far, right? Pay Bluehost (or similar) some money, install WordPress and you are done.

But now you have a whole house to paint! And no color expert to consult right?

Well luckily for you, a lot has been written on color and I have a lovely collection of color information to help.

  • Have a think about what kind of image you want to portray (for example blue means trust)
  • Then when you have a color in mind, you need a palette of colors that match

Try these tools to find matching colors

Color Scheme Designer

Color Lovers Palettes

And remember….

Your color scheme defines you and your brand

So no pressure :> Just don’t screw it up!

 

Pretend you own the New York Timesnewspaper celebrate

Today on the web we have a lot of choice. And fonts are a big part of that. There are a lot of default fonts  you can choose from. However….

Just because you can choose the font, does not mean you should use it! 

What do I mean by that? Well a lot of people go a little crazy with their new blog, and end up with a mess as a result. Fonts are one example of this. What may look cool to you, may annoy the hell out of your readers!

Go for simple clean, legible fonts. Remember….

Your readers have come to read your content, not to see what crazy font you found!

Don’t challenge them. Don’t overload them.

If you are a bit more computer and web savvy, and want to get a designer font for your site, you can get free fonts at sites like Font Squirrel. 

Lost? The woes of website navigation

Ok, perhaps that subtitle is a little over the top. But website navigation is very important.

Once your blog grows, and you start to have more content and pages, make sure they can easily be found. Grouping similar content/posts on a page helps (see my Social Media page for example).

Not only that, but if you have groups of pages that are similar, consider one drop down menu for them. Usually making such menus is quite simple in most WordPress themes.

Here is a quick list of things you should consider:

  • Keep navigation simple (not too many pages, make sure they make sense for your content)
  • Group content (on pages)
  • Have a home button so people can go back (either as a menu item, or on the logo)

Key Pages on your site

While we are on the subject of making pages on your blog (remember pages and posts are different). Here are some pages you should have from Day 1:

  • About me (readers want to know about YOU – crazy I know)
  • Contact page (sometimes they have questions)
  • Home (usually your latest posts when you start out)

Other pages that are recommended and often in the footer (and yes I don’t have them all – yet. I know you were going to mention it in the comments)

  • Disclaimer (especially if you are using affiliate marketing)
  • Privacy 

play legoA blogger’s playgound – Sidebar content

One of the most fun areas of your blog is the sidebar. This is where you can add the widgets. Boy, what a choice you have!

Calendar, Clock, Advertising, Search, Recent Posts, Archive, Tag cloud……..and lots lots lots lots more.

It is actually a little overwhelming, and you might be tempted to add lots of these. After all, it’s fun, right!

But, be careful what you add. Everything you add to your sidebar

  • Takes more time to load
  • Distracts your user

So what do the pros have on their sidebars? I took a look at what many of the pro bloggers have, and here are the essentials:

Signup form

This is one of the best places to grab your user’s attention and get them to sign up to your newsletter. Using a fantastic plugin like Hybrid connect (my favourite plugin) can also pay off.

About me

Not every blogger has this on the sidebar, but it is common. This can include a sexy about the author box (I recommend and use the Fanciest Author Box), but also some of the social media places you want to connect. Some bloggers add Google+ connect links, or Facebook like widgest. It’s up to you.

Top or recent posts

The sidebar is on every page (usually) and offers a great opportunity to keep the users reading. So why not offer them your best content on the side bar! This can take the form of recent posts or your top posts. I recommend Top Posts because it is what your previous readers have reacted best to. And recent posts are often shown on your blog home page anyway. My amazingly sexy top posts plugin is PostSkin if you are interested.

Search Bar

Something I had forgotten to add, until recently reminded by the lovely Debra , was a search bar. As your content grows, so too does the difficulty in finding it. That is why I also recommended grouping your old content into pages and putting them on your menu – it helps reduce bounce rate too.

Back to the point: Often there is a search bar widget included with your WordPress theme (sorry Blogger or Tumblr users, I don’t know what your options are). Or you can signup for a custom search with Google,  and add their search bar to your blog – try mine out on the side bar to see how it works.

Of course you can also add the search bar to your header if you wish. That is up to you.

A final chance – bottom of the post

Another typical place to add lots of content/widgets etc is the bottom of you blog posts. It is a great place to keep your readers reading, or getting them to take some action. Here are some common pro uses for the bottom of your posts:

  • About the author (again: I love the Fanciest Author Box)
  • Related posts (Users are already on this topic so show them more related posts – here are some related post plugins to help)
  • Call to action (ask users to comment or share your posts via social media buttons)
  • Sign up form (Another great place to catch subscribers – they read the post til the end, maybe they love your stuff. Again use something like Hybrid Connect)

cool kidsMake Friends with the Cool Kids

 

Social Media Connect Buttons

You want people to connect with you on the social media sites. So you need to make it simple for people to find the buttons.

There is no one way to do this, but here are a few of the best locations / ideas I have seen:

  • Header – put all your social media connect buttons up there
  • Sidebar Buttons – you can also put your buttons here, usually near your bio
  • Sidebar Widgets – there are a bunch of social media connect widgets you can use (don’t go crazy – keep it simple)

**Footer – I would not recommend adding the buttons here, as most people don’t go there. It has other uses.

Social Media Share Buttons

We are almost there so don’t go for a coffee yet! This one is important – Social Media Sharing Buttons.

You want your users to share your awesome content with their followers. So make it easy for them. Add share buttons either at the top/bottom or with a floating side bar.

I have the side bar (I figure users love to share while they are reading or after) and at the bottom (mobile users can’t see my side bar – be careful with that).

An important point to note though, don’t offer 100 sharing options – as too much choice is paralysing. Add at least the main ones where you are active and perhaps a couple more.

Is your website mobile ready?

This is something we are all well aware of and perhaps ignore it anyway. Mobile ready websites. A lot of WordPress Themes these days come with responsive design, which means your site can be displayed well on PCs, tablets and smart phones. My site is not 100% mobile ready, but behaves reasonably well. It is something to be aware of. And if you have a lot of mobile readers (you can check this in Google Analytics) then pay particular attention to this. And test it on various devices (borrow your friend’s phone, your brother’s ipad, your mum’s kindle).

Another option, more old school and often more maintenance, is to have a completely separate website for mobile users. I do not recommend this for bloggers though, it is too much work.

Is your site like a Ferrari?

A little bit off topic, but still super important – is your site’s speed.

As your site grows and you add more and more content and plugins and widgets and… Your site will start to slow down.

There are a bunch of factors to consider here, and I would need to write a dozen posts on it. However, if you have noticed your site is not so fast anymore (ie. more than 3 seconds load time) then consider subscribing to Mad Lemmings! I will not only send you updates when the latest posts go out, but also 5 tips (once a week) on how to speed up your site using FREE tools.

Scroll down to the bottom and you will see the form to sign up!! I won’t bite :> Or spam you.

Summary

So now you have earned that coffee! But just one more minute to recap…

  • Keep your blog simple, uncluttered, clean
  • Ensure you have key pages on your site (about, contact, etc)
  • Don’t make your users hunt for content (add navigation, recent/top posts)
  • Make it easy to connect to you and share your content (social media buttons)
  • Check your site is mobile ready and loads fast

And last but not least

Not sure what to do with your Website or Blog?

Why not get a Website Review


Header Photo Credit: macattck via Compfight cc
Newspaper Photo Credit: confidence, comely. via Compfight cc
Lego Photo Credit: pasukaru76 via Compfight cc
Haters Photo Credit: Emoneytc via Compfight cc

 

About the Author Ashley Faulkes

Ashley is obsessed with SEO and WordPress. He is also the founder of Mad Lemmings. When he is not busy helping clients get higher on Google he can be found doing crazy sports in the Swiss Alps (or eating too much chocolate - a habit he is trying to break).

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