Streamlining Your Blog (& Makin’ It Look Good!)

Your blog's design can make or break your site.  Whether a visitor found you from a Google Search, a link on another blog, or from StumbleUpon, what your site looks like can impact how long they stay or whether they stay at all.  Readers are used to professionalism in websites, so a site that is clumsily designed or takes long to load may steer them away.

 

Like many bloggers, I'm continually trying to refine my website's design.  When you combine header images, post images, social media buttons and sidebar widgets– along with ads, your site can become visually overwhelming!  As your site grows, it feels like there is more stuff to add to your site– and it all seems to take priority for the top spots.

 

Design Tips to Keep In Mind:

  • What are your most important features? If you're a new blog, you may be less concerned with ad real estate than you are with featuring your blog.  You may want to put things like most popular posts  and social media buttons in the best space so that your readers have more reasons to explore your site and connect with you. If you're an established blogger, your best spots may want to go towards featuring advertisers.
  • The size of your header. It's all too often I see a header that is 600-800 pixels high.  You have to scroll down, significantly, to read the content.  A too large header will dissuade readers and advertisers alike.  This isn't to say not to have them– but make it a careful consideration.  Are you trying to be a professional blogger or are you a hobby blogger?  If you're going the pro route, you're not going to want to push away readers OR advertisers!
  • Incorporating ads on to your site. Remember that the top 800 pixels of your website are prime real estate– that's the space advertisers are going to want their ads at.  It means more likelihood of being seen by visitors, especially in the event that those visitors are drive by.
  • Make it easy on readers. It's easy to forget that not all of our readers are bloggers.  So it's REALLY important to make sure that the regular girl can find what she needs– email addresses, about pages, facebook accounts.
  • Make it easy to stay connected. I can't tell you the number of times I find a great blog…. and I can't find a subscribe button or a link to a twitter account!  No matter how long you've been blogging, you should sell some of your best real estate back to yourself– make sure you have links so people can stay connected in easy to find places.  Make them clear and bold.

 


How I Recently Changed My Site… And Why:

  • Joining an ad network.  Though I've always loved to change my layout (as I think your blog's layout should evolve as you & your content do), joining an ad network– and needing to fit those ads on my site– made me reevaluate how my site was laid out.
  • First I switched my header, to something simple & text based.  I made it shorter (approximately 200 pixels tall), so that my content was visible from the front page, while accommodating the ad above the header.  Cleaning up my header also made the site feel cleaner.  Suddenly my header wasn't competing for attention with everything else on my site!
  • Switching from 3-columns to 2-columns: This was one of the biggest changes for me.  I've had a 3-column site for many years now, and it felt like the best way to accommodate all those needs that were fighting for importance.  One side held site related information: social media buttons, ways to connect via Facebook and Google Friend Connect, along with things like search functions, archives and categories.  The second column held my content, while the third was advertiser driven– banner ads, text links, affiliate information and disclosures.  Now I'm in one sidebar– and have to accommodate personal site needs with sponsor needs.
  • Organizing my sidebar.  As a growing blog, I needed to consider the needs of my ad network and advertisers, along with promoting my own site and growth.  The first 3 positions in my sidebar as what I personally view as most important right now– searchability, showcasing my advertisers, followed by promoting my own growth & connectivity: a search box, ads, followed by social media links.    I've also included a new feature, which is a popular posts plugin.  This is another great way to lead new readers along, find posts they may like, and hopefully keep a few around!

 

With the recent changes in my site, I feel like it's finally at a nice point.  It's more streamlined and has less visual clutter.  Without the 3rd column, I was able to expand my content section to incorporate nice, large, high resolution images– something all readers love!

 

How do you manage your site? Which features and functions are important to you?  Have you found particular layouts to work better one way or another?  Or do you have great tips to share?

 

Edit: For those wanting more information about ad networks, check out these posts to start!
Does Banner Ad Revenue Sustain Bloggers

Bloggers Talk: Monetizing Their Sites

The Money Myth of Fashion Blogging (and how to Monetize Your Site)


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26 Responses

  1. Rachel

    I’ve been redesigning my blog over and over as I’ve grown, and it has become cleaner, more professional and crisper. I did it a few days ago, and I’m very happy with how it looks now!

    Reply
  2. Amy (Australasia Dreaming)

    Since starting my new blog, and moving to a different host, I’m a lot happier with the design of my blog. I’ve not started to try to find advertisers yet – I’m moving to another continent soon, and I suspect my readership will shift significantly! – but I think it looks a lot more professional as it is now than how it did before.

    These tips are so, so useful, though – I’m redesigning a different website at the moment, and I’m trying to work out how the hell to switch to just two columns… and failing!

    Reply
  3. Rachael

    Thanks for sharing! I always love to hear how people are changing their layouts. I’m considering changing mine again because I don’t think it’s as simple as I’d like.

    I’d also love to hear more about joining ad networks!

    Reply
  4. Style Maniac

    I’m always looking for ways to make my site design cleaner, crisper and more engaging. It can be a challenge when you don’t know how to code and must work with the templates provided. But a very little bit of html knowledge can really help you tweak a few things.

    Next month I am starting to feature sponsors (in what I hope is a new and useful format) and I had considered going to 3-column … but I like my large posting area. So I will definitely check out your site to see how you do it.

    Would also love to know more about your ad network. And does anyone have experience with Masthead Media? I’ve seen them on a few sites but they seem to only promote other blogs — not necessarily a bad thing but wonder how you make money that way.

    Reply
  5. Anna

    I am with you on the header thing! that’s what I wrote in a post of my own recently! As for the 2 columns it went without saying…that was choice from day one! I want a blog free of “clutter” and 3 columns where too much for me!!!

    Reply
  6. Madeleine Gallay

    Looking at some of the very successful blogs, they keep it simple but do make subtle changes every few months. I love Tavi’s StyleRookie.com attitude of changing, refreshing, hers. Always the same feeling but a good thing.

    I wish I had the confidence to switch to wordpress – I think that is the big deal change.

    Reply
  7. Emma

    I couldn’t agree more about the header, I just hate it when a header already fills up half of my screen.
    I’m happy with how I have my blog right now, but I do sometimes play around with the placing of everything in my sidebar.

    Reply
  8. Dayner

    I agree with the columns… I started with 3 so eager to get my blog filled with lovely things, but then realised two looks SO much better.

    And large, clear photos are a MUST. I can’t tell you how much I hate to see nasty little pixelated/phone photos on a blog!

    Dayner @ Mozzypop x

    Reply
  9. lisa

    It’s always interesting reading what other bloggers have done with their blogs and the thought process behind certain design decisions. Blog design is an ongoing process for sure!

    Reply
  10. Juan Vender en internet

    Thanks for this post. I am with you on the header thing! Good thing that this article has been brought up because it is important to all people who have a blog to know that there are a lot of things to improve their blog.

    Thank you!

    juan

    Reply
  11. Ashley

    I have been trying to find ideas on how to find that balance between professional and creative. These tips are great and just what I needed. Although I am interested in how to be more creative in the header than just the fonts you are given.

    Reply
  12. Eli

    I recently changed my super colorful background to a similar version but in gray scale of it. I’m liking it. I’ve been enjoying the Disqus comments so much more now because I HATE HATE HATE captchas, they make blogs ugly and are awful when the pop up after you leave a comment. More bloggers need to fix this stat!!

    Reply
  13. materialistichic

    Im so glad to read that I’ve been doing something right with my blog! I agree with some of the comments about music and small bad quality photos..i hate those too! 🙂

    Reply
  14. Heather Fonseca

    It’s hard to know exactly where to put things. I like to be able to find a link to twitter on other people’s blogs, so I have one on mine, but I’ve never understood RSS and so even though I’d like to put one on mine, I haven’t done it. I like reading other people’s tweets, so I have a tweet feed on my blog. Essentially, what I like I try to put on my blog, and what I don’t like I avoid.

    Thanks for the great post!
    Love,
    Heather

    Reply
  15. Lou Jones

    Totally agree, it’s very important to constantly check your blog & imagine you are seeing it for the first time, and keep on honing it.

    I guess your blog is a bit like a window display – imagine a window dresser walking in and out of the shop all day until they get it “just right”! The blog itself is the first thing that the viewer sees – not just the pretty pics or nice articles! 🙂

    Reply
  16. nluvwshoes

    I am not technology savy.. I do want to change my layout but am having difficulties anyone have any good recommendations???

    Reply
  17. Courtney

    I’ve found Google Analytic’s In-Page analytics to be very helpful. You get to see what people are ACTUALLY clicking on and what needs to go.

    Reply
  18. Linda

    Thanks for this post. A lot of people like adding pretty things to their blog, and don’t realize that the end result can be overwhelming of the reader.

    Reply
  19. MizzJ

    Interesting post! I think for me, I try to take elements of what I like from other blogs’ designs and incorporate it into mine, as well as stuff that I’ve read about site design. One thing I notice is that lots of blogs are just plain black and white – it’s very clean, but it’s nice to see a blog that doesn’t just follow that same stark look too!

    Reply
  20. Pearl Westwood

    I am always jigging my blog around! My latest lay out is my favourite by far, but I am still considering a profesional redesign. I have to agree making my header smaller has made a big difference as I can now get my ad banner and top of first post above the fold. I also agree you need to make it easy for people to follow you.

    Reply
  21. kelsey

    great post! i love the look of a 2-column layout, but as i add advertisers, it is difficult to balance the importance of surfacing up my best content and showcasing their buttons. still trying to decide how to tackle that…

    i redesigned my site last month, and it is quite creative but hopefully not too distracting!

    Reply