Designing a blog can be really daunting. Many of us start out with no experience and so we very much learn as we go. WordPress makes things really easy and if you select one of their free themes you can essentially just log in, create a URL, select a theme and go. This works really well initially but if you are like me, as your content builds you find that perhaps you have made some design flaws. So this post is about some of the things I have learnt about blog design.
I am no blog designer ….. but I have designed blogs
Now I am no expert. When I started submissy it was my first public lifestyle blog. I had used blogs before but mostly for education and creative purposes, or as a private way of sharing with HL. I had a tried a few different mediums over time and had used them to present, collate and share information and also to gather and present content from others. I had to be focussed on my users as my users were there to learn so that has probably influenced the way that I set things out.
I have three main sites now: Submissy, The SafeworD/s Club and Tell Me About. You will see similarities between the layouts of the three but also they are different as they have different purposes. I am not saying of course that these are well designed sites: if I had more time and more expertise I would certainly want to do an overhaul, but they illustrate the points that I am going to make about design.
It’s not called a home page for nothing
The way you design your site is very much dependent on you, but I try to think of it a little like a designing a home, or something similar. We want something that is functional but also looks good. It has to work for us but we also want others who see it to like what we have done and to feel at home. It has to be a space which works on a number of different levels and accommodates varied requirements.
This is where the issue starts. When we design our home we are very much swayed to the things that we like and are personal to us. When we come to try to sell it, we need to remove some of that and make it functional for others. Designing your blog is the same: you want it to feel like it is yours so that visitors get a sense of who you are, but you also want it to work for them as a space for them to visit where they feel comfortable and easy.
But I know what I like
What I am saying is that you can’t get too focussed on what works for you; you need to look at your site with a critical eye and ask if is going to work well for others. I find this hard. I know what I like and I know what I don’t like. I am perhaps not typical, although my blog is very personal and fits me, so I wonder if my visitors would tend towards what I like too. For me, what I have done seems to work as I do have visitors to my sites but I am not saying to do it like me. I will do me; you should do you.
Examples of doing you
Blogable is a site I am part of but I did not design it. You can probably tell that as it does not look like my other sites. If you click on the links below they will further illustrate this point. I like a static home page and quiet space. Mine are not magazine style blogs which tempt readers in with interesting articles and lots of varied content. For example, I have designed submissy from the point of view of finding information about living a D/s lifestyle, so that is how it works.
I am fortunate here on blogable to work with two people who have also designed a number of sites which give flavour of themselves whilst also meeting their own purpose. Marie has done the lion’s share of the Blogable design. She has also designed Rebels Notes, Wicked Wednesday and The Menopause Diaries. May has designed 4 Thoughts, Tantalizing Tales as well as If Sex Matters which includes a specific mobile friendly version (May is all about the speed!).
This illustrates my point that there is not one way, there is not a right way, it is about finding what works for you.
That said, there are some blog design things that you really should think about ……
Blog Design #1: Make sure your theme does what you want it to
Marie has written a great post on choosing your blog theme so I will direct you towards that. Suffice to say when you choose a theme, they tend to be categorised into ones which fit the sort of site you intend to have. For example, magazine, photography, blog, food, shop etc. While you don’t need to follow their recommendations, they are based on research into the sorts of sites that work well for those interest areas, so the templates will be created with that in mind.
You will also need to think about level of customisation available. If you know a lot about coding then you can build from something quite basic and highly customisable but if you don’t, and you want a basic click and publish, then you probably want to select something with fewer options where it is done for you. If you are like me and know what you don’t want but not how to get it, then some sort of click and drag page builder could be a good option, especially if you want a static home page rather than a landing page for your blog posts.
Blog Design #2: First impressions – is it clear what you are about?
They say that you have about 10 seconds to make an impression on your visitors and make sure that they feel they are in the right place (Thanks to anyone who is still here!) You need that – OOOOOOO yes I love this house type of feeling. But you also need them to feel immediately that this home is the right size, in the right neighbourhood and that it will meet their needs. So you need to make it clear immediately what your site is all about. This is what you title, logo and tagline should do.
Blog Design #3: Do you have enough white space?
If you want to know about white space then there are loads of great articles about it. Essentially you need to leave room for you visitors to process the information you are feeding them. It is tempting when you are designing a blog to fill every inch, but that is like filling your home with photos and memorabilia and then wondering why it isn’t selling. You need the white space and a clean look so that your content is visible and digestible. If you overload your visitors then they will leave.
While great content is the most important thing for your blog or site, if it is cluttered with pop ups and lots of moving parts, the reader experience will become too challenging and they will likely not persevere.
Blog Design #4: Does your site layout work?
You should also consider the visuals too. While images enhance your blog and communicate instantly to your reader, you must choose with care and present them in a way which will provide the best experience. Using your own photos adds a nice personal touch, but using a tool such as CANVA to design your graphics can be a good substitute if you are not artistically minded.
The rule of three is as important for your layout as it is for your content. Good things come in threes and many sites use this pattern for good reason. The golden layout has not earnt its name lightly and that is why many set themes will provide a side bar which matches this. Personally, I wanted a wider layout for my front page because that suited the content better, but I still went with much of the layout in threes.
Blog Design #5: Can I find what I am looking for?
So assuming you have held onto your visitors for 10 seconds so far (anyone still with me?) you need to make sure that they can find what they are looking for. You have let them know via your title, tagline and logo that they are, broadly speaking, in the right place. But now you need to follow this up by having categories and content which reflects it. Fortunately, all you need to really do is head to yesterday’s post, The Blogable A-Z ~ C for Categories, tags & blog organization. And, if you still want to know more, this post about Categories and tags, and how to use them.
Blog Design #6: What if I don’t know what I am looking for? Have you shown me what is on offer?
So if your categories are clear than people can easily find what they are looking for. You will have a visible search option too, if you have read Marie’s post, so they can also check for anything specific. But what if they don’t know exactly what they want to know? What if they have come with a general idea (I want to know about submission) but don’t know what there is to know (tell me what I need to know). You can tell I have been here before, can’t you?
You want to make sure that you introduce your readers to what they might want to know. Set your content out in a way which will draw them in and help them find out what they want to learn more about. You can do that by having examples of posts to catch their attention such as is done with the magazine style, or links to particular pages and projects like the more info-based style. What you highlight and how you choose to do it will match what you think visitors are there for. But sometimes, we all need a push or a pull in the right direction.
Blog Design #7: Where do I go next?
Another thing to think about, assuming your reader is still with you, and you are still with me, is where to tempt them to next. If they have found your blog, found some interesting content on your home page and have read that and feel they like you and are in the right place, how are you going to hold onto them? Including some links in your posts is not only essential for SEO but also to keep your readers reading. Reading with you, that is.
To prevent them from heading off to read somewhere else, provide them with a set of links and bookmarked pages to return to. And if they do get to the bottom of the page without seeing anything else that they want to read on the topic, adding some related posts at the bottom, as well as a previous and next post, can be helpful. Many blogs also have links to share posts on social media and a comments section.
And speaking of comment sections, there is nothing more annoying than one which is hard to find or hard to deal with. Too small, too pale, too complicated? Forget it, I am gone! Comments bring your blog to life. They validate and endorse you to other readers and are an indication of your community. More than that, they can often get some discussion going which sheds more light on what you have written and on who you are as a person. Welcome to my home; it is such a nice friendly place to be.
Blog Design #8: Can I find my way back?
Now if you have successfully kept your reader reading and provided them with what they were looking for, and some other things they didn’t know that they needed to know, then you have done a fantastic job. I just LOVE those blogs where you visit and literally feel that you have fallen down the rabbit hole. However, when you pop up an hour or two later, can you find your way back home?
Which brings me to checking the option to open in a new tab. This is not something you should really do with your own content: we have a back button for a reason and it is called convenience, especially when most of the world is mobile. It is also why bloggers have breadcrumbs. Not only does this appeal to me in a very Hansel and Gretel type of way, it is really useful to be able to see the path that you have travelled and the way that site content links together.
Blog Design #9: Is there a clear structure?
Well hopefully yes. And with breadcrumbs I can see what that structure is. And I see how it all fits together so perfectly. I feel understood by you, the author, and that is nice. It feels like …… yes, it feels like home. This is a lovely house and I can imagine myself living here. So, if there is anyone still reading, thank you. A site structure should make sense, not just to you but to your visitors. And it should be clear. It should all work together to make a space which is comfortable, interesting and is exactly what you want and what your readers are looking for.
Now all you have to do is plunder our archives, dip into our topics, leap into our forums (all readily available in the side bar) and you will find all that you need to know about how to start your blog, or tweak what you have, to get the site you have always wanted. And don’t forget to look below where I have linked the branding post, as that is also relevant to blog design. Thank you for your time and have a safe journey home!