Just the mention of your blog design can whip some people into a right good frenzy.
Us blogger’s are a pretty passionate bunch when it comes to our blog’s outer appearance and with good reason – it’s makes that critical first impression.
Blog design has 2 pieces: the design/pretty/colors/fonts/images side but it also has the functionality/ease-of-use side. As you can imagine the functionality, ease-of-use side is sort of like the ugly step-sister of the family because it’s not as fun, sexy or immediately eye catching. But I would argue it’s just as critical and in most cases, more so.
The design part of blog design has a huge learning curve, not only are there the programs to learn (like Photoshop), there is also the matter of learning a new language or 2 (like CSS, PHP and some HTML for good measure.) Developing those skills takes time. Mastering those skills takes a lifetime.
If code and graphics aren’t something you’re already inclined to then you’re going to be spending a lot of time developing a skill that you don’t really need, when you could be doing about a million other things with your time.
You Already Know More About Design than You Realize
Now enter the second, less sexy part of design, the functionality of your site and the ease of use that your readers will hopefully experience.
The skills you need to design from that perspective, you actually already have.
Simply by being online, you’ve developed knowledge and preferences that will help you create the best possible experience for your readers, right from the start (whether you have a fancy custom blog design or not.) In fact, having a beautifully designed blog can be completely undone if you don’t ensure the functionality stays reader focused, as you add and change content, layout and sidebars.
The start of any design process for me is to look at the existing blog and get a feel for the readership that’s already there. I look at comments, see what the discussion is about, look for concerns and frustrations about the particular niche and even go to their blogs and see how they are set up and what sort of feeling the other blogs evoke. The readership helps me focus on what’s important about a site before ever designing a pixel.
You can use this very same technique when thinking about the functionality of your blog and how to make it the very best it can for your readers. You spend hours on your content, it’s definitely worth taking some time to make sure that the content makes the impact you want and actually gets seen – that’s where designing for ease of use and functionality come in.
Time for Some Blog Design Homework
How do you tap into your inner creative genius, even if you don’t consider yourself particularly artsy or creative?
Simple start with your own awareness. Here’s how:
1. Go to a blog that you love. One that you’ve found yourself reading post after post on at least one occasion.
Using this “site you love” as your guide, start to look objectively at the elements of the site that make it so easy to browse and use. Grab a pen and paper and lets get started:
- Where is the navigation? At the top of the site, down the side, another navigation at the bottom, etc.?
- What sort of items are in the navigation?
- How do they use their About page? What elements are included there?
- How is the sidebar set up? Multiple sidebars, single?
- What sorts of things are in the sidebar? Lots of clutter? What elements have they included that help you explore their site more?
- Is there a footer? If so, what’s it used for?
- How does the blogger use and display ads, if applicable?
Now, find a second site you adore and do the same thing.
After reviewing the two sites that you really enjoy take a look at your lists, are there any similarities in how things are set up? What particular aspects of the designs do you really like? What makes the site so easy to use? Are there ways the owner has made it easy to find older content?
2. As you do your regular blog reading and bounce around the interwebs, I want you to do the opposite of what you just did. Whenever you happen upon a site and feel a little tinge of irritation or a small annoyance, grab that pen and paper and write it down.
- Is a site using a roll out ad that gets in the way of the content when you’re trying to read?
- Is the navigation hard to understand or even find?
- Do you have a hard time finding content in the ads?
- Is the super too busy? Is the site too plain?
- Pop ups?
- Trying to contact the owner but no contact info?
- Want to subscribe but no subscription box?
- Are you looking for something in particular and can’t find it?
These notes aren’t meant to be a judgment of the other blogger but simply a guide to your own tastes. Every blog and target audience is different so there very well may be a great reason that blog is set up a certain way, it’s just that it’s not for you.
Use these minor annoyances as a guide. Do you have any of the same issues on your site? What do you need to change to make your site easier to use and put the reader experience first?
I had a client do this exercise a few weeks back and her main objection was pop up subscription boxes that showed up before you even read a word on a site. And she had one herself.
We ended up simply changing the timing of the box to be more in line with someone showing interest in her content, not just a random visitor. This way her blog is set up more how she likes to be treated, and it’s not so focused on getting – it’s more about giving first.
You see, you’re already a reader, just like your visitors, and you know what you like to see and you know what drives you crazy.
It’s easy to get stuck in our own heads when it comes to our blog and think me, me, me, me and oh ya, what about me?
When our motivations become ad placements, social shares and money OVER reader experience, then Houston, we’ve got a problem. Those motivations are fine things to work on. Don’t throw money or those other goals out the window, I enjoy paying my mortgage too!
When you really focus on the reader first, the pageviews, shares and income will come because people feel welcomed, valued and respected in your space.
What one simple change can you make to your blog today that will improve your reader’s experience? Need to help them find your best posts? Clean up the sidebar? Whatever it is, plan some time this week to make it happen.