The other day in the office we were having a rousing discussion about what makes up a truly good blog. Not necessarily one that is monetarily successful, widely read, or even hugely popular, just – what makes it good. We came up with a core list of elements, and decided this would make great fodder for a series of posts on IFB. From aesthetics to content to usability, we're going to break down the characteristics for you one-by-one.
To kick things off, let's start with the bare bones of a blog: its design and template. Whether you use a pre-made template provided by your platform or hire a web designer to create a custom experience, how your blog looks is what everyone will notice first.
The buzz-word with blog design? Simplicity. Let me get specific:
- Your background should be white. Or, at the very most, off-white. End of story. If you look at pretty much every successful publication since the dawn of the printing press, there's been a pretty unwavering use of neutral pages with dark text, because it's pleasing to the human eye. I won't make any calls now, but I don't think you're going to be the revolutionary to change that.
- Your text should be dark, to contrast your nice, clean white background. Black is a go-to favorite, but if you must be daring and different, navy, charcoal grey or blackish-brown could also work.
- If you include hyperlinks in your text, they should be a different color than the main body text, so that your readers can easily see them. Still, this color should not be electric green. Try a dove gray, maybe dark purple or blue.
- In addition to being aesthetically pleasing and easy on your audience's collective peepers, keeping your color scheme muted is a sign of professionalism.
- The best place to add color on your blog is through photos and collages. I suggest these rather stark color guidelines because that way, the images you use will stand out and receive the attention they deserve from your readers.
- Try to envision your blog like you're running a glossy magazine. Think of the uniformity of their pages, and how easy they make it to take in their content. Magazines, newspapers and books all use similar and seriously simple fonts.
- I think you can go two ways with your main body font, and either is acceptable: Serif or Sans-Serif. Traditional media typically leans towards Serif fonts like Times New Roman; but I also find sans-serif fonts like Trebuchet MS to be visually pleasing.
- As far as sizing, a standard 12 pt or 10 pt font should be used in the body, while you may want to make your post title fonts larger so they're easy to distinguish.
- Post titles are a good place to play with font if you feel so inclined. Try out different sizes and looks, but remember to keep consistency in mind. Having different font sizes and styles for your blog heading, titles, main body and side column widgets will look complicated and sloppy. I would say a maximum of two different fonts is acceptable.
The layout of your blog is where things become more specific and personal. Ideally, it will be a reflection of your taste, the depth of your content, as well as your grasp of your platform's capabilities. The easiest way to format your blog is to use a pre-designed template provided by your platform. Within that template you can usually customize the fonts, colors and exact layout to your specifications.
- Columns: A side column is crucial in blog layout. It's where you can put all kinds of information, links, widgets, contact information, archives, a search bar, possibly ads… I could go on, but as a fellow blogger I'm sure you know what I'm talking about. Most likely you only need one column, and it should be on the right-hand side of your page.
- Post Width: I have my post width set almost as wide as it can go, so that I can make my images as large as possible within each post. Using Blogger, you can customize this in the design tab, under Template, then Adjust Widths.
- Pages: The process for adding pages is different for each platform, but a quick search of the internet (or a little trial-and-error on your part) will familiarize you very quickly with this design element. Pages you might want to add to your blog could include an “About” page, and/or a “Contact” page.
So after all my above cut-throat standards of simplicity and uniformity, here's where I change my tune. Your banner is your calling card! It should grab the attention of your visitors, and keep them on your site.
- There are a few different ways you can go about creating a custom banner for your blog. I created my banner using Powerpoint. I arranged the images and text how I wanted them (in a rectangle that would sit nicely along the top of the page) and then just did a screen grab of the composite which saved as an image on my desktop. (On a Mac, this is the Shift + Command + 4 tool).
- Other tools you can use to create a banner include Picnik, Photoshop, or even the “drawing” tab in your Google Documents window.
- Don't be afraid to let simplicity reign in this aspect of your blog as well, many of my favorite blogs use text only in their banner. Again, it looks clean and professional.
Bear in mind, this is all advice for your blogging starter-kit. Having a strong, simple foundation will allow you to go back once you're comfortable with your platform and make changes, add flare, and really let your personality shine.
Here are some examples of blogs that we think exemplify great design: