How to choose your blog’s design
In this part we’ll talk about the dos and don’ts when choosing a blog design and everything around it. Of course some of them can be subjective, but there are some basic guidelines that most bloggers suggest or dislike.
1. Blog themes
In most blogging platforms there are ready-to-use themes, most of which can be customized according to your taste. Choose one that is neutral, meaning good to the eyes (no bold colors), preferably with at least one sidebar (so you can add whatever you want on it), and a header space. There are many free blog themes to choose from, but if you’re interested you can also buy other ones for a variety of prices, depending on what you want. You can also design your own theme if you’re good with it, or hire someone to do it for you. That’s entirely up to you! Check out the biggest free WordPress theme database.
2. Choose a clear background.
Something monochromatic (but not too bright) is the best way to go, but you can choose a nice pattern or some gradient color. It will be best not to choose an image for your background (especially not in tile) because it draws the attention away from your content, and it can be tiring for your readers’ eyes.
3. Keep your sidebar as clean as possible
Only add the very necessary on your sidebar, and avoid clutter. You don’t need cute pics of blog awards, or photos, and buttons of all kinds. Try to keep it simple: An email, search box, follow buttons area (keep them small and tidy), your archive (in drop down menu), categories (good for keywords), and maybe a tag cloud (for the same reason). Any extra thing you add will slow down your blog dramatically when someone tries to load it. You don’t want that.
4. Use simple and regular sized fonts
It’s nice to have a unique and beautiful font, but try to keep it simple and easy to read. No one will spend more than a few seconds trying to read your texts, and you want to make it easy for them so they’ll come back again in the future. Yes, most people just scroll down the page and only look at the photos, but there are some who do read the text (I do!). Also, try to use a regular size for your font. I visit some blogs sometimes and it’s so hard to read their text because it’s way too small. You can find some font suggestions here. A great source of fonts is this site.
5. Avoid huge headers
I think I speak for many people out there who like us, dislike visiting a blog and seeing a huge header taking their entire screen with its size. People, it isn’t pretty! In fact, it’s so 90’s, and I really dislike having to scroll down 2 or 3 times to see some of your content, and I don’t even have a small screen. I see many bloggers doing it lately, and it might even be some kind of fashion, but try to avoid it, especially when your header only has your blog’s name just in the middle of it. It’s unnecessary. When choosing a header for your blog, try to make it to take maximum 1/3 of your page/screen. It’s always better to see some content without having to scroll down. Also, if your blog has ads, please don’t put them under your header (especially if your header is already huge, and you have more than 1 ad there).
T. disagrees with me, or he doesn’t mind, but I want to add that I don’t really like tiny ones either. When I say tiny, I mean in width. It would be best to make your header’s width equal to the width of your main bar and sidebar combined. It looks cleaner and more professional.
6. Say no to auto-play songs on your blog.
Everyone we know says the same: Songs that start playing automatically when loading a blog or site, are a HUGE no-no! If you must put a player on your blog, give us the freedom to press the play button on our own. Some people are reading blogs while they’re at work, so they really don’t like it when songs start playing on the background. Plus, and most importantly, it will also slow down your blog’s loading time.
7. Commenting system
All blogging platforms have a commenting system. Make sure that your platform and theme have the threading enabled. This way you can reply directly to each comment.
In Blogger, you can either have an account on some of the top blogging platforms, comment with your name and URL or comment as anonymous. But some blogs prefer to have this option disabled, mostly to avoid snarky anonymous comments and spam. I don’t judge their decisions, but as a blogger who has a self-hosted blog, I can’t comment with my blog’s ID if the name/URL option is disabled. This means I have to log into my 2nd ID (wordpress.com one, created solely for this purpose) so I can leave a comment, and leave my blog’s URL so they know who I am (something I really hate doing-I’ll come back to this later). You realize that not everyone is willing to do this and therefore you might lose many commenters this way.
Also, what’s the deal with blogs that only allow people with a Google account to comment on them? Don’t you want traffic? If you leave me a comment I like to check back your blog, and leave you one as well. But with this “restriction”, you really make it impossible.
Another thing I really hate and find needless (and I’m not the only one) is the use of CAPTCHA/word verification. People, we live in 2013, bots are way too clever not to be able to write CAPTCHAs. The only ones who are slowed down, and also annoyed by having to do this with countless blogs we follow is us, your readers, and commenters.
It’s better in both cases to enable comment modification. This way, you’ll read each and every one of your comments (plus, getting to know your readers better) AND avoid spam (which will keep your blog cleaner, and more pleasant to the eye). Please turn off CAPTCHAS, and turn on comment moderation, and a spam filter. You’ll see a difference in comments and traffic.
As for WordPress.com/.org, I may be biased but I believe it has a better commenting system and has a kick-ass spam filter which I’m going to refer to below.
I can’t speak for Blogger because I’ve never used it, but I’m sure you can also add some cool features there, and I’m also sure that there are many articles about them out there.
In WordPress, you can use plug-ins to bring your blog closer to your needs. Here I’ll write down some cool plug-ins you can use, some of which I use for my blog too.
– Akismet: Akismet is the best plug in that helps you to avoid spam. You just need to register and get your API key, activate it, and watch it do the job for you. I don’t know how I did before I activated it, but it has really saved me precious time. Be sure to check your spam folder regularly not to lose real comments that once in a while get mistaken for spam (mostly because they contain links).
– Simple Social – Sharing Widgets & Icons: A nice plug-in that has the most important sharing icons.
– nrelate Related Content: This plug-in finds the most related posts to put under each of your posts and therefore promote them so your readers can find similar posts they might like and click on them.
– Most Popular Posts: As its name says, it highlights the most popular posts on your blog (you can change its options to show the most popular for a specific period of time). Nrelate also has a nice one with thumbnails.
– CommentLuv: Reward your readers by automatically placing a link to their last blog post at the end of their comment. There is the option to disable it, but I suggest all my readers to use it so they can have a link back to their blog, without having to leave more links in their comment text (a huge pet peeve of mine!)
– Pin It Button: Most people that use Pinterest already have the pin it button installed on their browser, but with this plug-in their work gets easier.
9. Blog email and contact form
Every blog should have a visible email, in case someone (a reader or an advertiser) wants to contact them. It’s better to make an icon with it so it will be more difficult for bots to find (and shower you with spam). But some people prefer to have the option of a contact form so make sure to have this option available as well. A nice plug in for WordPress is Contact form 7.
A word of advice, it’s good to invest in a custom email. It looks more professional. This is a helpful article for you to check out. It looks way better than having a hotmail, gmail, or yahoo one. But if you can’t, at least have one with your blog’s name in it.
For example, don’t have an email like this mariacutiepie@***mail.com for your blog, DO have one like this doyouspeakgossip@***mail.com.
If you have a self-hosted blog, having a custom email (like the one I have) is a no-brainer.
This is the end of the 2nd part of our blogging tips. If you have any questions or suggestions we’ll be happy to answer them. I know these are mostly subjective points, but they do apply to the general public (fellow bloggers). If you disagree with some of these points, please try to be polite in your comments. We do like constructive criticism but we don’t approve hateful comments. The purpose of this column is only to help my fellow bloggers. Thank you so much for reading this huge post again. See you next month with the 3rd part.
In the meanwhile, some related and very interesting reads for you:
Για να διαβάσετε αυτό το άρθρο στα ελληνικά πατήστε εκεί που λέει: Language: Greek.