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