Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Blogging Myth #5: Blog Design Doesn't Matter

Welcome back to my Blogging Myths series, where we discuss the misconceptions that many bloggers (and readers!) have about blogging. I took a break for "beach week" and now I'm ready to be back in the swing of things. If you're new here and would like to start from the beginning of the series, you can click here.

Myth #5: Blog Design Doesn't Matter

When I started up my blog, I was under the impression that as long as I had hilarious stories to share, the rest didn't really matter too much. While good content is the most important thing a blogger should focus on, it's nice to be aware of other ways to please your readers.

You have only so many seconds to capture a new visitor before he or she decides whether to stay and click around or to move on to the next site. Being mindful of reader turn-offs can help you present your material in the most flattering light.

1. Basic Blog Layout

  • Templates

If your blog is hosted by Blogger, there are dozens of basic templates for you to choose from. Most bloggers use the format with the blog posts on the left side of the screen and other links and information on the right, since our eyes naturally go from left to right when we read.

By clicking on the "Design" tab in your Blogger Dashboard, you can add and rearrange various widgets for your sidebar (Followers, Archives, Search Button, etc.)

It's important to look at your blog keeping a new reader in mind. Will he or she be more interested in your Blog Roll or finding out if you have a Facebook page? Think about that as you move those buttons and widgets around.

2. Basic Blog Design

  • Basic Design Upgrade

One of the other nice things about Blogger is that by clicking on the "Design" tag in your Blogger Dashboard and then "Template Designer," you can change the colors of your basic blog, the fonts, and the number of columns.

But the problem with editing your blog design with Blogger is that it still has that basic "beginner" look about it. You want to stand out; you want to capture your readers' attention!

  • Simple and Free Upgrades

The easiest and least expensive way to change things up is to visit a site that offers free blog background templates. The Cutest Blog on the BlockShabby Blogs, and My Style Backgrounds are a few that I am familiar with.

Yes, chances are that someone else out there has the same background that you chose, but you can take it step further by designing your own header in PicasaScrapblog, or Photoshop. I made this one to go with my old template that I found for free on The Cutest Blog on the Block:

Certainly not professionally done, but for a girl who was just starting out, it wasn't bad. Readers seemed to love the mix of fonts in the tagline.

  • Custom Blog Design
If you've blogged for long enough to know that you truly enjoy it, your readership is growing, and you plan on continuing the gig, you may want to consider hiring a blog designer to give your site a fresh new look.

A blog designer will listen to your concerns, your likes and dislikes, and come up with a plan of action. My main designer is Lauren from Designer Blogs. I always appreciate how Lauren is willing to revise designs for me until I am satisfied. With my thoughts on a move to WordPress, Lauren will be my go-to girl. Kim from 733 Custom Blog Design is also fabulous with a quick turn-around on orders and replies to questions. She made many of the buttons on my site.

Do some research before you choose a blog designer. I spent several months perusing blogs and making notes on features I liked. Now that styles have changed, I'm considering another redesign...you have to be flexible and go with the flow!

3. Easy on the Eyes
Don't make your readers work to read your posts or scan your blog.
  • Font
Choose a font that your readers are used to seeing, whether it be in print form, or elsewhere online. ProBlogger argues that this choice makes them more comfortable, and thus more likely to continue reading.
  • Background and Text Colors
The last thing a blogger wants to do is strain readers' eyes or cause a negative reaction due to garish color combinations. When in doubt, a white post background with black text is best!
  • Clutter
Readers shouldn't have to wade through dozens of blinkie buttons and extraneous links on your sidebar to get to the important stuff. Not only are blinkie buttons (or too many plain buttons) distracting, they slow down your page loading time.

If growing your readership is your goal, then pause to evaluate how your sidebar and footer are laid out. If you are able, consider adding pages to your header for contact info., top posts, a blog roll, etc. Anything to streamline your site and make it accessible for your audience!
  • Music to Your Ears?
Please for the love of all that is holy, don't play automatic music on your blog! If you want a playlist up, by all means, go for it. But please, please edit the settings so I don't click on your blog and jump out of my seat when AC/DC's "Back in Black" blasts out of my computer speakers.

For 99% of readers, background music is distracting and startling.

4. Make Interaction Easy
  • Word Verification
One of the top complaints from readers everywhere is taking the time to type a nice comment only to be hit with the dreaded Word Verification before their comment can post. Please, even if you think you don't have it active, or if you're not sure, read this post or check your settings yourself. With Blogger's spam protection, Word Verification is an unnecessary and annoying addition to a blog.
  • Can they reach you?
Again, log into your Dash and be sure that you have an email address enabled with your Blogger account. This post will give you instructions and explain why this is so important.

Think about having some contact buttons (email, Facebook, Twitter, etc.) added to your blog under your profile, or learn how to make some for yourself. There are tutorials all over the web!

What things are important to you when it comes to a great blog design?

*Please keep my five year old, Natalie, in your prayers today. She's having surgery this morning to remove a cyst on her ear. This is her first time to go under anesthesia, and I'm a nervous mommy!* (Update: Home from the hospital, and she seems to be doing great so far! Thank you for the prayers and kind thoughts and comments!)


  1. I've just read through your entire series and the Commenting 101 series. What great tips! I just changed my blog design up a little last week. I found the background on shabbyblogs.com but I had to make my header but I dont think it turned out too well. What do you think?

  2. Music on blogs bugs me so much! I usually don't notice it because I keep my computer on mute. But anytime someone posts a video and they have music too they play at the same time...then I have to find the music player to mute the music so I can watch the video! I hope everything goes well with Natelie's surgery! I was a nervous wreck when Eli had his tubes put in last year:)

  3. Hi Amanda - Prayers lifted up for your daughter.

  4. i love my free background and the header i won ages ago (thank goodness for that!) but i can't widen my margins. it says it isn't compatable with that template, and i'm afraid of messing with it. is it b/c i have to do that tweaking first, and then apply a background? ugh. eventually i'll make a test blog!

    hope everything goes smoothly today for your daughter, too!

  5. Always good thoughts! I am back from my semi blog summer break and so glad to be catching up on all your great posts. Hope Miss Natalie's procedure goes well. (((hugs)))

  6. Thank you for more great tips! I also do not like music on blogs. I find it very distracting. I will be praying for you and your sweet girl today. God Bless :)

  7. Have to agree with you on the music. I can't stand it when I get onto a page and the music starts blasting. If I want to listen to music I'll put it on where only I can hear it.

    Hope everything goes well with Natalie. I'm sure she'll be up and jumping around in no time. She's in my prayers.


  8. Another great post, Amanda!

    Honestly, updated blog design doesn't matter that much to me personally--I'm all about a blogger's content and personality. But I know that it DOES matter to many readers. And I totally agree with you that it's a good idea to upgrade from the basic styles to a more customized look.

    So are you considering moving to WordPress? It's funny--I've had great luck with Blogger and feel no compulsion to change. I do, however, completely recommend changing to your own domain name. That's so easy to do, even I was able to do it. . . and that's saying something!

    Praying for Natalie and for you. Anesthesia is disquieting, to say the least. I pray that the cyst removal is 100% successful and that the whole process is as stress-free as possible.

  9. I agree with your comments on music. While I love to listen to it, it bugs me when automatic music starts with a blog opening. Great tips! and...I'll be thinking of your daughter today!

  10. great post Amanda!! and I will be praying for your little one as well. Its always harder on the mommy than the kid. My 3yr old had an emergency appendectomy last year-I was a complete wreck- and he sailed through it like a trooper! Our kids are stronger than we realize. *hugs*

  11. Another week of great tips. I use templates for a long time and then bit the bullet last summer and paid for a custom design that I really like. I'm curious as to why so many bloggers are switching to Wordpress.

    I hope Natalie does well today with her surgery. You must be so nervous!

  12. Saying a prayer for both you and little Natalie. May the Lord watch over her and keep you strong.

  13. Best wishes to Natalie!!! I'd be a nervous mommy to, Amanda. : )

    Another great post in this series! I'm going to send this to a blogging friend of mine who's just starting out too. I try to keep all the things in mind that you mentioned when I'm designing my blog. How well people can navigate is a biggie, in my opinion.

    I've really enjoyed this series. Can't wait for next week's!
    ~ Catie : )

  14. I've been meaning to work on my blog design. Thanks for posting this, Amanda.

    P.S. Totally agree with the word verification-it truly is annoying!!!

  15. P.S. I can understand you being nervous about little Natalie, I would be too.

    Hope she has a speedy recovery!

  16. Great post Amanda. I hate automatic music player on blogs! Especially when I'm on (audio) skype with someone and meanwhile I surf around blogland!!!
    Hope Natalie feels better soon.

  17. Great post ... I think the appearance of a blog is huge and you touched on so many great points.

    Hope your little one does great today!

  18. Enjoyed this post along with the previous ones. Hate the music playing when I click on a blog! I have to do some tweaking to do to mine and will look back at these tips again.

  19. Great post! I think that (like my house) I struggle with wanting to change my design way too often! I think you hit each point right on the head, there are so many blogs that have great content, but are unmemorable or difficult to navigate due to their blog design.

    (On that note, I hope I'm not the pot calling the kettle black! I'd love to hear any constructive criticism regarding my blog design!!!!)

    Things that I like in a blog:
    -a solid, recognizable logo (this is where having a blog designer is handy, it took me 2 years to finally get a logo that I loved!)
    -easy to read
    -no music (gah!!!!!!)
    -professional looking, yet personalized

    I'd love to switch to wordpress eventually, but for now I love having that $10/yr domain name. I wish it was possible to pay just a bit more to have a faster loading blog...

  20. Hi Amanda, thank you for the tips I will be looking at my blog with a new eye. I'm sure I'll be making some changes. Prayers for the little one today and mommy too.

  21. Hey Amanda! First of all, glad to hear the surgery went ok. Hope she recovers quickly.

    You made some great points! Blog design can make or break how long someone stays on your site.

    I constantly tweak my design! I still can't justify paying for a designer (yet) and I like to DIY. Everything I know about design and html I learned on the internet (or other blogs).

    You can have the best content in the world, but if people can't find it on your blog...

  22. This comes in at the right time for me!! I need to work on my website and these tips are of great help. Thanks for sharing.


  23. Amanda first I hope your little doll baby is okay after the surgery.

    Your tips are so great. I have gotten to the point of not enjoying black backgrounds as they feel very harsh.

    The opposite is such small and light colored text that you can barely read it!


    Art by Karena

  24. I've been thinking that I need to freshen up my blog design...for me that means thinking of changes I want to make, and having Craig do it. That's usually kind of a high tension evening for us; I'm a hard task-master.

    I've noticed that since Blogger ramped up their spam protection, there are tons more spam comments to moderate than I ever used to get before. I used to get one or two every couple of weeks on old posts; now there are 5-10 per day. Kinda makes me wonder if Blogger's spam protection is a scam!

  25. So glad your little girl is doing well!

  26. I hope Natalie is doing okay in her recovery! Lots of ice cream helps (: hehe
    Love these tips, once again! Music is my biggest pet peeve....eeek!

  27. Hi Amanda,

    Hope your little one is on the road to recovery. Thanks for a wonderful series on blogging myths. They have been most helpful and I really hope that all my comments have not blown up your inbox.
    I read an article one time of what Google looks for that allows a persons blog or web page to get to the top 5 of its search engine. The number one thing is original and quality content , of course, and next to it is blog design. Google is real picky about blog design and if a blog has all kinds of ads and is cluttered with fancy designs, it will discredit it and the blog will never make the top 10. It likes plain and simple; hence Google's home page. When I click on a blog and it takes forever to load because of all the ads and cluttered design I immediately exit. Easy navigation is also a really big factor for me. I have visited some blogs recently that navigating through it was so crazy I gave up and left.

    Thanks again for all your helpful information. I've really enjoyed ready this series and look forward to hearing more from you. :)


  28. So I innocently started checking on my favourite blogs this morning...ended up on yours, and have now spent almost 4 hours reading and then executing all of your recommendations from this post! Thank you so so so much for taking the time to do this! I've learned so much, especially all the techy stuff, and am thrilled with myself! Hah!

    Anyway, thanks for taking the time to do this. I really appreciate it and I wanted to make sure you know it!


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