Last week, I wrote a post called 4 Things You Learn When Your Post Goes Viral. One thing I mentioned was that I have made a lot of blogging mistakes. And here I am to list them for you! Well, not all of them. Just design mistakes that I had to learn about the hard way.
In blogging, we often hear, “Don’t compare yourself to others.” There are many scenarios where this is true. Don’t compare your content or your blog size, for instance. However, there is one thing (OK, two things) where comparing yourself is good. Design (and photography).
What I’ve learned in the last year is that improving these two things does WONDERS for a blog. There is a reason so many successful bloggers have great photos and clean, white designs. In fact, those two things likely played a factor in their blogging success. Trust me. I get a lot of emails from people saying, “I only took a look through your blog because I liked your design.” And then they liked my content enough that they started following me. No joke.
Why should you compare yourself to others, though? Because seeing what other people do, analyzing their photos (especially for staging) and their site design, can teach you a lot about what you’re doing wrong. My photos have gotten better because I picked a few bloggers I liked and asked myself, “How did she achieve such an interesting photo?” Same with design. I pick a design I like and then, instead of crying over how much better it is than my own, I analyze it and figure out WHY I like it and HOW I can replicate the parts that I like.
Today, let’s stick with design and ignore photography. Here are some excellent blog design tips for beginners:
6 Blog Design Tips for Beginners
1. Avoid using too much color.
There are sites that do multi-colored themes VERY well…and there are sites that don’t.
Personally, I think a neutral with one or two bright, bold colors (or a pastel) is beautiful. It makes everything look streamlined and clean with very little effort. And people will remember the color. Examples of sites that use multi-colored themes REALLY well are I Am Baker and The Idea Room.
If you have to go multi-colored, my best tip on this is to go with a white background (or a neutral grays and tans are nice). A lot of different colored fonts and images can work, as long as the background isn’t too loud.
Also, background images just slow your site down (the importance of page speed is something I have been working on over the last month). Trust me, no background image is cute enough to warrant a slow loading time. That said, if you feel you need an image, make sure it’s a small, repeating pattern.
And please don’t use black backgrounds (especially with colored text). That will strain your readers’ eyes. Plus only two types of websites can get away with black backgrounds…and if you’re reading this, you’re probably not one of them. Black text on a white background is the easiest to read and it looks clean.Black text on a white background is the easiest to read and it looks clean. Click To Tweet
Need some color inspiration? Check out Design Seeds. Also take a look at Color Theory to figure out what the color you choose says to the world. (I probably should have done that, but I do love red…)
2. Use excerpts.
I know a lot of bloggers don’t like to click that “read more” button, but there is a reason it exists. First, it requires readers to click on the posts they want to see. This increases your page views. Pages views are very important for ad revenue, attracting brands and sponsored posts, along with many other things. This is an easy way to bump that number up.
Also, showing the whole post scares people away. If I go to someone’s main page, it’s for one of two reasons: to see if I like their content or to participate in a link party. Having to scroll down forever makes those two things harder. Sometimes I get fed up and just exit out of the site. knowing that I can probably find similar content on a site that doesn’t make my life harder.
Even one post is too much, especially if you have a ton of pictures…because now your home page loads more slowly on top of everything else.
Basically, anything that makes it harder for readers to see what you have on your site is a bad thing.Anything that makes it harder for readers to see what you have on your site is a bad thing. Click To Tweet
3. Scale back the ads.
And then separate them.
I did this for a long time while I tried to figure out which ad networks were working for me and it was SUCH a huge mistake. I had a ton of different ads in my sidebar…and then were all right on top of each other.
You should separate your ads…and try not to have more than five. One should be above-the-fold (preferably a leader board), one should be below your posts, and the others should be spread out in your sidebar with content in between.
It’s amazing to me how defensive people get about this, though. The fact is having too many ads makes your site look spammy. Especially pop-ups. You think you’re making a lot of money on ad revenue now? Fix the way you have them set up on your blog and see what happens. Utilizing my ads correctly has made a HUGE difference for me.
4. Don’t use too many fonts.
Ideally, your whole site would use 2-3 fonts, maximum. More than that and everything will look messy. (I say that as I’m struggling to figure out my own fonts….)
That’s really it. There isn’t a lot to say about fonts. Except that if you want an easy way to change the ones you have, “Use Any Font” is an AMAZING plugin.
5. Don’t waste precious real estate on useless widgets.
Here are a few things you DON’T need in the sidebar:
- tag clouds
- link party buttons (make a separate page for them)
- category lists (make it a drop-down menu if you REALLY think you need it)
- blogrolls/a list of your favorite blogs (put it on your “About Me” page if you feel the need)
- recent posts (another reason you should use excerpts…so you can get rid of this and use that space for something useful)
- comments (the only people who care about recent comments are the people who wrote them)
- social media widgets (if I want to see your recent tweets, I’ll go to your Twitter account)
- blog awards (one or two is fine…more than that looks cluttered. Make a separate page if you need to display them)
Instead, you should use that space on things that will interest your readers. An “about” blurb, your social media icons, your newsletter sign up form (though I prefer to free up that space and use Hello Bar instead).
I think one of the most important things I did for my own sidebar was adding the “posts you might also enjoy” section. Now people can see which posts are popular right now, as well as posts that have been popular in the past. It keeps people on my blog longer and it has the tendency to make those older posts popular again. You can change them out seasonally, as well.Check out this short and sweet list of what to have and what not to have in your sidebar! Click To Tweet
For an example of what I mean, look at my own sidebar. If you’re in mobile and can’t see it, it looks like this:
I made all of those images myself and, yes, it is a lot of work to make them and keep them updated. (Blogging is a lot of work. I’m sorry you had to find out this way.) But it’s well worth it to see a beautiful, organized side bar.
For more on this, read “Increase Page Views with a Seasonal Sidebar” from Blog Clarity. (Though for the sake of load time, I recommend resizing the images instead of dictating in the HTML how big they should be, as she suggested.)
Oh, and making everything in your sidebar the same width helps keep everything looking neat.
6. Check out Peek!
Do you want to REALLY know how people feel about your blog? What they think as soon as they see it?
That’s a problem with designing your own blog (if you did). I get SO focused on the details that I don’t know if what I’m seeing is what anyone else is seeing. Am I wasting my time? Probably.
So on the recommendation of others, I tried Peek out (which is free, doesn’t require a subscription, and this is NOT an affiliate link) and I was VERY happy with the results. I got insight into what people really saw and they were very nice about it.
Basically how it works is you submit your blog URL and, within a couple days, they’ll send you a video of them playing on your site and talking about all the things they see and what it makes them think about your brand. It sounds scary, and I was petrified the first time I did it, but I’m really glad I sucked it up and dove in. GREAT experience!
Lesson learned (for me, anyway): compare yourself to others sometimes. But instead of feeling sorry for yourself and saying, “This blog is so much better than mine, I’ll never be that good” say, “What can I do to fix my own site so I’m as happy with it as I am with this one?” Because even if you’re not comparing your site to others, your readers probably are. Find a balance between what you love and what will work for your readers.Find a balance between what you love and what will work for your readers. Click To Tweet
For more tips, check out How Not to Design Your Blog from The SITs Girls.
What is the one design tip you would give? Are there any changes you’d recommend I make? Let me know!
Hello Chelsey! Great post––very helpful and informative. I’m going to try ‘Peek’ too. Thanks for sharing. Pinning! 😀
Thanks so much, Vashti! I’m glad you found it helpful. 🙂
Thanks for this great post, though they’re probably not just useful to beginners.
I just followed your advice and collapsed my categories into a drop-down and removed the recent comments. I’m not sure what to put in my sidebar now, though, since I try to keep ads to a minimum. I have looked for an ad rotator for WordPress to put in my sidebar and haven’t had any luck.
Why do you think it’s not useful for beginners? The only way I don’t see this working out is if they just don’t have content on their site at all.
As I said, the best things to have in your sidebar is an About section, social media icons, Top Posts, and links to posts on your site that you think your readers will enjoy. (And ads, if you’re monetizing.) Honestly, having very little is better than it being cluttered.
I meant it’s not useful ONLY for beginners. Anyone could benefit, including beginners. Sorry if I was not clear on that.
OH! Ha! I see now. Thanks for clearing that up. 🙂
Great Post! Thanks 🙂 I have made some changes and it looks much better. Have a great weekend.
I’m so glad, Tina! Thanks for stopping by!
Good tips… Almost ready to launch, if I stick with I vow to NEVER have a lot of annoying ads, ESPECIALLY pop ups. U found my pet peeve!
I must admit, lately I wonder why i really want to blog. At first it was to drive traffic to etsy store. As it is a lot of work to do well I wonder if time wouldn’t be better spent creating inventory.
May I ask why u do it?
I do it because I love it. I love writing and taking photos and improving myself. My opinion is if you don’t love blogging, you shouldn’t do it. Readers can tell when your heart isn’t in it and they’ll lose interest and stop reading. Hope that helps!
Thank you! Thank you! Thank you! (Yes, despite a great writer’s advice to only use 3 exclamation points in your entire life, I felt the need to use them here.)
A few days ago, I finally switched my design from the “I started out and really like this…it’s so cute” to “sleek, a bit more professional”, so that piece of advice really hit me.
The rest of your advice I’m going to implement. Especially the read more. (I just went and found the widget). I hadn’t realized how much I appreciated that on other blogs until you pointed it out now…and realized readers might appreciate it on mine.
I bookmarked your blog and plan on visiting in the future. It’s rare to find CONCISE, good advice like this.
p.s. I found your post via “Lou Lou Fabulous Party“ (on LouLou Girls).
p.p.s. Planning on going to check out your Pinterest page right now! (Right now I’m still following a lot of people on Pinterest, but am thinking of starting a “visit these great bloggers on a regular basis folder”).
Great post. I would class myself as a part time blogger – I don’t get to spend half as much time on it as I would like.
I am constantly tweaking the design and the sidebar. I will definitely check out Peek to get an outside opinion – although I may not like what they have to say.
Thanks for the tips,
I have spent a lot of time in the past year simplifying my layout and overall look and it does pay off indeed.
Another tip is to use easy to read font for the text body. I switched font and it is amazing how it makes it easier on the eye.
I agree, Cyn! I’ve seen people use cursive fonts for the body (or comic sans, which isn’t as easy to read as one might think) and it’s such a bad idea. I’m currently using a cursive for my blog headers and I’m not even sure if THAT was a good idea. Posts absolutely need to be easy to read.
Thanks for stopping by! 🙂
Thank You so much for sharing such great advice. I’m a newbie blogger and this is exactly what I needed to read.
Hi Chelsey, Thanks for all the great tips. I am going to check out Peek as soon as I do some tweeking on my blog that is…..I really liked the sidebar tips. Thanks
Great Information! I am new to blogging, so I will use some of your advice!
I am brand new to blogging. Never thought I would do it except I want to start selling things I make and that’s part of the “package” of selling successfully from what I hear. One tip I have seen several times to increase traffic to your site is to like other sites. I Googled budget DIY blogs and found your site. I checked out a few others but you are the winner of my “like” today 🙂 I don’t want to like pages that I won’t actually visit and I see myself spending a lot of time on your site. Thanks for sharing!
I like the list under point 5. Hopefully, bloggers will take that into note.
Wow thanks for this post! My blog has been a very slow process and I’ve been wondering where I could get a good honest opinion of it. I had never heard of Peek before, I’m pretty excited/scared to get my results.
That’s how I felt about it, too, but it’s so worth it to know what people really think when they look at your blog! Good luck! 🙂
Did you end up doing the full peek user testing or just the free one? I felt that I didn’t get enough from the free test. One girl said she couldn’t tell what the site was about, and then a man said my color scheme hurt his eyes. I was really hoping to get a little more out of it, though.