Okay, you’ve decided to start writing a blog and you’ve set up an account with blogger.com or wordpress.com or, if you listened to advice earlier in this series, you’ve got a hosting account of your own, acquired a snazzy domain name with at least one of your keywords in it, and you’re ready to go.
But wait. If you’ve got a WordPress site straight out of the box, it probably doesn’t look very impressive, does it? In fact, it looks exactly like thousands of other brand new WordPress blogs.
Of course most people don’t come to blogs to marvel at the lovely design, they come to read your content. But that doesn’t mean that you can ignore your blog’s design and just publish all your posts in 10 point Arial.
The design of your blog is, in a sense, your packaging. It’s similar in a way to magazine design, where lots of elements come in to make the reading experience more engaging for the reader and help you to get the most out of the work you’ve put into your content.
But there’s a line. It’s a line many new bloggers have crossed, with not such good results. That line separates the design you really need to pay attention to, and the endless “tweaking”, fine tuning, experimenting and all the other little bits and pieces you can play with for weeks when you’re setting up your blog.
What do I mean by bits and pieces?
- sidebar badges for groups you belong to
- social media counters, so many designs to choose from
- links to lots of other blogs
- awards from blogging groups
- links to your friends’ blogs and websites
- tag clouds
- Amazon stores
- header designs
- column layouts
- Adsense placements
Should I stop now?
You get the idea. There is almost no end to the fussing you can do with a blog, and it can be great fun.
But here’s my message: you don’t need much in design to get your author blog moving.
One Approach to Overcoming “Tweak-itis”
You have to realize that this was a particularly dangerous area for me, because I’ve been a designer for many years.
I had never designed websites or blogs, or much of anything online, just stuff that was going to be printed in one way or another.
But there’s no tweaker like a graphic designer, because tweaking design is one of the definitions of what we do, and all designers know that’s how you get something that’s good to really finished.
But when it came to my blog, I knew right away that I would much rather tweak sidebar colors than write blog posts, so I decided early on that good enough was fine with me.
I bought Thesis, a premium WordPress theme, because it was supposed to be good for making my blog reflect well in search engines, and there was a big community of users and developers you could turn to for help.
And I used those forums a lot in the first couple of months as I got everything in shape. The only design I did was create a header jpg that I added to the blog to give it a distinctive look. And then I started writing.
It was late in the first year of blogging that I realized the blog would probably survive my initial incompetence, and hired a blog designer (mattchevy.com) to put in the design that I have now.
But here’s the point: once I had that header up and made sure the basic font size and spacing was easy to read, I pretty much ignored the design of the blog for months, concentrating instead on learning to write great content and market that content in my niche.
There Are Always Exceptions
Now, sure, there are some people whose professions demand that they have a more highly-designed or custom blog or website. But these people are a tiny minority of bloggers.
So here’s my advice for all the rest of us:
- Get your blog platform installed (WordPress 1-button install on many blog hosts these days)
- Find out how to get a header image onto the blog
- Create a header image, or hire someone to create one for you. Freelancers on sites like ODesk.com can do this for you quickly for $25 or less.
- Make sure the header contains some kind of branding, whether it’s the type treatment for the blog title, a picture of you, or a distinctive color scheme.
- Figure out the mechanics of using bullet lists, number lists, blockquotes,
- Work on a content plan and start writing.
That’s it. If you’re successful, after 6 months or a year you will feel quite justified in doing a proper design of the site.
You’ll know a lot more about who your readers are and what your content focus will be. These two things alone will help guide you on the re-design.
Here are the settings I use for this blog for the main text column. Although there are many new innovations coming in the near future, and more fonts for bloggers than what we are using now, I still find after 2 years that TheBookDesigner remains one of the easiest to read blogs around.
Font size: 13 point
Text column width: 530 pixels
Photo: VFS Digital Design