Design often gets overlooked by bloggers.
Sometimes it’s tempting to think that we just need to focus on good content and the rest will take care of itself.
Well, that’s not really true.
In fact, your blog’s design, look and feel play a huge role in how people interact with your written stuff. If your blog is ugly or out of date you might find that people don’t actually read what you’ve written, no matter how amazing it is.
Here are a few quick ways you can improve the look of your blog today.
Why improve the look of your blog?
As mentioned above, your blog’s design is the container through which people engage with your content.
All over your blog there are design elements that could be causing people to bounce before they even get a chance to read what you’ve written.
And that is a huge shame.
What this means is that your blog design can really influence your conversion rate.
Whether you’re trying to get more subscribers, sales or shares – it all depends on a healthy combination of content strategy and design. And it doesn’t always take massive changes to get massive results. Needless to say, you need to come up with good design before you officially start your blog.
How to improve your blog’s design today
Today I’d like to go over a few design elements that really affect the way people use and perceive your blog.
Most of these are simple changes that you can implement without the help of a developer or going to the extreme of changing themes – although sometimes that will be necessary. Many you can implement with a page builder plugin if you’re using WordPress.
1. Increase white space to decrease clutter
When I redesigned Blog Tyrant I really wanted to make sure there was a focus on the content. That meant removing a lot of distractions and things that clutter the place up.
The main result from this experiment was that I now have greater control over how new readers flow around the site. In a sense, I’ve removed a lot of the options that were available in the sidebar and menus so that people stay on content that I want them to read or head towards a subscription option.
For example, on my subscription page I even removed the main menu and sidebar and just focus on telling a story and getting people to subscribe to the site. This has lead to a subscription rate of around 25%.
Another great example of this is type of simplicity is Neil Patel who literally only has three menu items and a subscription box.
This leaves you with very few options other than read, subscribe or make contact with him to book a consulting session. It’s very impressive.
So what can you do on your blog?
Really spend some time figuring out what exactly you want people to do when they arrive on your site. What actions do you want them to take? What content do you want them to see? What matters the most?
Once you’ve determined this spend some time removing all the clutter – ads that don’t perform, links to other blogs, links to posts that aren’t relevant anymore, etc. Keep it very simple and make sure there’s lots of space so that the focus is on the important stuff.
2. Make your email subscription options more professional
When you ask someone to subscribe by email you are essentially asking them to trust you with their details. That level of trust is also communicated at a design level – if you have a shonky looking opt-in form there is a good chance you aren’t going to appear trusting.
The best option is to have a professionally designed opt-in form like Chris Ducker has over on his homepage. This one creates a lot of trust in my mind because it has his photo, his details and then also a list of all the places that he’s been featured.
Not everyone can afford this, however, and I did want to keep this post about simple changes you can make.
So what can you do on your blog?
The best thing you can do is spend a little bit of time making sure your opt-in areas don’t look cheap. That means getting rid of weird graphics and colors that don’t match the rest of your site. You also want to make sure the font style and size are the same. Don’t just use the default styling for opt-in forms.
One way to achieve this quite quickly is to use a plugin like Optin Forms which has an inbuilt designer.
These types of plugins are really handy because they let you customize your blog with nice design features without the need for any Photoshop or developer skills. It’s all just done within the editor itself. Optin Skin is a paid option for this type of thing and it gives you lots of options for design, style and how the forms behave.
3. Don’t use ugly stock photography – ever
A lot of bloggers use crappy photos which have a devastating effect on the professionalism of a website.
Stock photos that have badly posed models, clinical white backgrounds and fake facial expressions really do nothing to make your brand seem distinctive and valuable.
But finding good photos can be hard.
There are a lot of weird laws around what you can and cannot do. And there are horror stories.
So what can you do on your blog?
The absolute best solution is to start taking your own photos. Here’s a photo I took on my iPhone last week while going for a walk.
A photo posted by Ramsay Taplin (@ramsaytaplin) on Aug 4, 2015 at 10:28pm PDT
It’s quite amazing what you can do with smartphone photography these days and more often than not they’re going to be better than the stuff you find on a stock photography site.
The next best option is to find a photographer and drum up some kind of relationship where you can use their photos in exchange for a bit of promotion or a nominal fee. That way you get consistent shots and you know you are safe from any weird copyright issues. Have a look around Instagram and Flickr and just send out emails to people you like and see what happens.
Lastly, check out sites like Unsplash or Gratisography which are mostly attribution free (I still give a credit when I use them) and paid sites like Dreamstime. You want to look for good Royalty Free photos and make sure you still give a credit when you use it.
4. Make your social icons look professional
I really don’t like social media icons but they are a bit of a necessary evil.
Something that puts me off a blog right away is when there is big giant Facebook and Twitter logos in various shapes like stars, explosions or whatever.
The second worst thing is when they are arranged with in the content in a way that really impacts on how the content gets read. That means uneven inputs or having different social media graphics from different sources. Ideally you want them to all be the same.
Here’s a quick example I found on a local Australian news site:
This is not the worst you can do but you’ll see that the font sizes are all different, the spacing between the share counts are varied and so on. It’s not a very nice introduction to the content that appears below it – which we should be showcasing.
Now, let’s contrast that with the New Yorker magazine:
This magazine is known the world over for it’s incredible treasure droves of in-depth content. And their design reflects that. It respects the content. There is no clutter – just a few beautiful buttons designed to sit unobtrusively at the start of the article.
So what can you do on your blog?
I’d recommend getting a premium social plugin like Mashshare (here’s a review I did) or something similar. These allow you to design your buttons to suit your blog and then add them to your post or sidebar with the click of a button.
I’m currently trialling a new social plugin called Monarch.
As you can see, it has a beautiful section in your dashboard that allows you to tweak and change how your buttons look, feel and perform. They even show you stats of what is getting clicked most so you can get an idea about what is working.
It’s best to leave the designing work to the experts with some of these things – they will always perform cleanly. Feel free to click one of the share icons on this post and see how it works. 😉
5. Fix your font size and improve readability
Reading a blog shouldn’t be a strain on your eyes.
People don’t want to see tiny fonts and strange spacings – they want beautiful large letters spaced in a way that makes you glide down the page with ease.
There’s really three things you need to think about in regards to fonts:
- Your blog post title
The title of your blog post should be large and elegant so that it gets attention without being obnoxious.
- Your body copy
The involves your subheadings, main text, dot points, links, etc.
- The relationship to the logo and brand
Lastly, you want these other two items to all tie in with your brand. That means making the colors complimentary, the font face complimentary and ensuring that it all looks like it is part of the same website.
Take a look at a website like Mashable who uses big, clean, giant headers to introduce you to the post.
And then take a look at Lifestyle Updated and how they opt for really large typography and a lot of space.
These are all simple changes you can make to your blog’s stylesheet in a matter of minutes and have a huge win for your blog’s design.
So what can I do on my blog?
Now, if you’ve purchased a premium theme the chances are you won’t have to worry about any of this. People like Brian Gardner who develop Studiopress themes are absolute masters at getting the mix right.
But if you’re working with an older theme and you’re not really sure what to do, the best bet is check out Google Fonts and go through looking at all they have to offer.
The really cool thing about this is that you can play around with all the fonts in real-time by changing the size, thickness, style, etc. and then comparing it to other fonts. This lets you get a good feel for what would work with your brand.
Lastly, you can then add any Google Font to your blog. This can also help with your site load time which is super important.
What do you think?
Have you ever made a simple design change on your blog and seen some interesting results? Or perhaps you have a pet peeve with blog design that really annoys you? Leave a comment and let me know. I’d be very interested to hear about it.
Top photo: Fabio Rose.