It’s been almost 3 years since I started designing blogs and I can’t believe how much I’ve learned since then. I know not everyone can’t afford a custom design, and some people would prefer to design their own blog. So I wanted to share my 10 tips to a prettier more eye appealing blog, that anyone can implement.
1. Clean up your sidebar– This one is easy! Remove anything that’s not necessary. When I first started blogging, it was very popular to have every blog that you read in your sidebar with their button, every award you received, images, quotes, verses, widgets, ads, etc, and that seems to have been phased out a bit. Too much information in the sidebar will make your blog feel cluttered and may make it hard for your readers to find the content they are actually looking for. If you want to have a list of buttons for blogs you read or awards you’ve received, create a page and put them there. Note: I am not referring to link lists of blogs, but the actual image button lists.
2. Use high quality photos– not all of us are professional photographers, or have a camera capable of taking professional photos, and that’s ok, especially in the age of our phones being the first thing we grab when we need to take a photo. But having high quality photos can make all the difference in your blog posts. It’s ok to use camera photos for snapshots but if you are purposefully taking photos for a tutorial, recipes, DIY etc, it’s probably better to grab your DSLR or Point & Shoot. Here are a few articles for taking better photos!
3. Size your images appropriately– this can mean a few different things, so I will outline them below using a post of hubby, our friends and I on my latest birthday.
- Too large- if your images are too large (see the image below?) and are overlapping your sidebar images or text, or if they are too large and you can’t view the whole image on the screen, consider shrinking them down to fit in the appropriate space. This way your readers can see your entire image without having to scroll through it or view it through other text and images.
- Too small- if your images are too small it can be hard on your readers’ eyes, especially if you are trying to show something in the image or point to a specific item and we can’t actually see it. See the image below? The photo isn’t zoomed in and it’s placed small, making it hard to actually see us. If you are able to make the image larger, do so. An easy way to see how large the image can be and still look good is to choose the ‘Original Size’. If it’s way to big, then size it down to ‘X-Large’ or ‘Large’. If the ‘Original Size’ is not quite the full width of your post area- leave it. (If your image is poor quality, bigger may not mean better.)
- Too small and stretched- please do not increase the size of your image beyond the original size. If you choose ‘Original Size’ and it is small, do not then set the image to ‘X-Large’- it will look terrible. Blogger will stretch the image because you’ve asked, but it will end up being a poor quality, grainy, pixelated photo, and isn’t really worth having if your readers can’t see it. (Compare the two photos below- the second one is better quality because the original was larger and it hasn’t been stretched. You may be able to see this better if you view it on my demo blog here.)
4. Keep ads to a minimum– Specifically referring to outside ad sources, like Google Adsense. Ads can be distracting to readers who are really there to read, especially pop-up ads. If you primarily run a blog or site where ads are necessary or part of your business, then great. But if you have a blog as an online journal and your readers have to close pop-ups every 10 seconds, or scroll past 4 ads to get to the next post, chances are they won’t stay too long. If you want ads for revenue, keep them minimal and in your sidebar or footer. Also try and place ads that are relevant to your readers.
5. Preview your posts– Blogger, especially, does some crazy things while writing. Preview your post before publishing to make sure everything lines up correctly and is where you’d like it to be. If you cut and paste content, keep in mind that blogger will keep the code from wherever you cut the content from. It’s best to paste anything into the HTML editor, then just reformat it in the Visual editor.
6. Don’t center your post content– we are trained to read from left to right. Centering your content makes it harder on your readers. The sentence doesn’t start in the same place each time so the eye has to search for the beginning of the next sentence, and it looks a little out of sorts. Align your main body text left, it’s easier on your readers and cleaner overall.
7. Limit your fonts and use readable fonts– If you are taking on the design of your blog yourself, limit it to 3 maybe 4 fonts at the most. Too many fonts makes your blog look cluttered and may be hard to focus on. If every other sentence or blog post has a completely different font and color, it’s distracting to the content and photos. Stick with fonts that are easily readable, you can use fun script/handwritten fonts for your header and maybe even your post and sidebar titles, but in general it’s best to stick with simple text fonts for your body.
8. Clean up your post footer– there are a lot of option for the footer, but you don’t need many of them. Go to Layout > Edit the Blog Posts area. The date and comments are necessary, I would recommend the Labels and Share Buttons (unless you have something custom) and you can decide whether or not you like the Quick Editing pencil. I would eliminate the Posted By and Author Profile (unless you share your blog with someone else), the Time, the Reactions and Location.
9. Check the width to avoid scrolling– One of my biggest pet peeves as a reader and designer is reading a blog that requires scrolling from side to side. Most of the time, there isn’t any reason to scroll, other than the width is too big, or there is something in the sidebar that is causing it. Keep in mind that not everyone is viewing from a 1280px screen, it’s better to have it too narrow than too wide.
10. Put your content above your advertisers/sponsors– I know this probably goes against everything you’ve been told when you start selling ads, but If you’ve decided to sell ad/sponsor space give your content priority in your sidebar. If readers come to your blog and can’t find anything about you or your site because it’s buried under a load of ads and others content, they won’t stay long. It’s your blog, prioritize yourself and your content so that readers will stay on your site, continue to come back, and give your advertisers a reason to advertise with you.
BONUS: Invest in a design– If a lot of this sounds overwhelming to you, invest in a good design. Even if you just blog for fun or as a personal diary, it’s a great gift for yourself! It takes the stress out of trying to do it yourself and let’s you just focus on writing and sharing. I, of course, would love to work with you, but there are some other really great designers in all price ranges. If you mention this post- I will give you 10% off a custom blog design, through July 30th, 2014!
Hope this was helpful! Anything else you’d add for a cleaner, prettier blog?