Guest post by Alex Cristache
Did you know that every second a new blog is published somewhere in the World? That’s 84,600 new blogs everyday! Some of them are personal blogs, others are targeted, niche blogs. If you are running a niche blog, just think about how many competitors add up each day, eager to overtake your position, authority and search engine rakings. It’s a tough world for a blogger and to insure your success you must take advantage of every “weapon” at your disposal. My weapon of choice for today is Blog Design.
No matter if you are running a personal or business (niche) blog, you should always keep in mind that your blog is who you are, it’s your profile on the internet and a mirror for yourself. It is said that you can’t find two identical people, so why should we find 2 identical blogs?
Blog writers allover the World, agree on one thing: Give your posts a personal touch; make your presence felt on your blog. The same rule applies when it comes to blog design. These days we have hundreds of resources at our disposal, most of them even free. We have free and premium themes, we have plugins and widgets and we have experts giving away free advice on their own blogs. What we don’t have is an excuse not to make a difference by using them!
While a designer will always choose to create a new theme for his blog, the rest of us will have to search for a premium theme that will best serve our interests, or get a free theme that would need to be customized for a better use. Premium themes usually come packed with almost every option that a professional blog would need, so I’m not going to talk about them. Instead, I’ll concentrate on things that need to be taken in consideration when creating a new theme, or customizing a free one.
Choosing the best resolution for you theme
At this time, there is no fixed resolution that can provide accessibility to 100% of your readers. It pretty much depends on your blog’s target and your statistics.
My preferred resolution for design is 1024×768, since it has become widely used, but still there are people using old monitors, or simply don’t need a higher resolution and are using still 800×600. Look at your statistics and compare the two. If the 800×600 users are only a small percentage of your total (mine is around 0.64%), you should definitely make use of more of your available space.
Also, when choosing the right layout resolution you should consider your blog’s structure: 2 columns or 3 columns. If you’re going for 2 columns, you could easily use 800×600, but if you’re choosing a 3 columns layout, you should give your content enough space to “breathe” by using a larger resolution, preferably 1024×768. Always, make sure to eliminate the scrollbar width from you layout’s width (~40 pixels).
Structure and layout
Before designing or choosing a free theme to customize, take a moment to think ahead. Consider you blog’s evolution, advertising needs, required sections etc. These are all important factors in your decision when choosing a 2 or 3 column design. If you’re running a news blog, a 3 column design would most probably serve your needs better. It provides enough space to list recent, popular and featured articles, archives and categories, authors, advertising zones, links and whatever you might want to add at a future time.
Another important thing to consider is your sidebar placement. As most of us are right-handed, and the website’s scrollbar is on the right side, I’ll almost always go for a right-aligned sidebar for navigation purposes, since it’s closer to the users’ action zone. Placing the sidebar on the left has its advantages too. There are many resources online that can confirm the fact that a website’s main heat zone is top to mid-top left. This means that your users will scan your blog starting there and loose interest while advancing to the right and further down to the bottom. Still, I’m choosing the right side, as the heat map is relevant only when providing good, interesting, content, and I’m still to see the internet user more interested on clicking links than reading a good article.
When using a 3 column theme, make sure that your main navigation items are place on the first sidebar, not the one on the right. This gives the low-resolution users the ability to further browse you blog.
Make use, but don’t abuse, the white space. Having a clear separation area between sections and between blog posts it’s extremely important, as it help users scan faster for the desired content. When fighting for a lower bounce rate, making sure your reader finds his way easily around your blog becomes a top priority! Consider at least a 20 to 30 pixels space between your sidebar(s) and the content, and between 2 successive blog posts.
Highly important items and sections
When building up traffic (visits), three factors are essential: the number of pages viewed per visit, the time spent on your site and the bounce rate. These factors can all be improved by providing your readers with means to continue their navigation on your blog.
Always consider having a list of recent and popular items displayed on your sidebar, or at the end of your article, when reading the full post.
Give your users the option to search for relevant content by placing a search box in a visible area in the upper part (above the fold) of your blog. While most blogs automatically place a link to your RSS feed, most of the time it’s placed at the end of your sidebar. Consider repositioning that link closer to the top, and also, adding an option of email subscription.
Place your blog’s categories in an easily accessible and visible area. It serves both as a way to further guide your readers and as a statement of what your blog is all about!
The tag cloud is a great section that can guide your readers through your blog’s most popular topics. Make sure you place it in a visible area, or create a separate page that includes the tag cloud, like I do on my website.
Through phrases in your post and links in your template, guide your readers to the comment section. It’s highly important to add interactivity to your blog. Debates can lead to new content ideas or you might even learn a few new things!
While having a well designed and structured blog is not enough to ensure your online success, it can easily make a difference between two equivalent-content-quality blogs.
Think ahead, plan, make the right choices and you’ll have a better chance against the thousands of new blogs breathing down your neck every day!
Alex Cristache is 27 and has been working for top Romanian web design, development and consultancy companies for over 9 years. Quite impressive for his young age, don’t you agree?
He’s tried a lot up to now: web designer, senior web, print & logo designer, occasional copywriter, web & SEO consultant and project manager. Although he focuses on design, he’s also been working with PHP & MySQL on the side. He also fell in love with WordPress the moment it appeared on the market and changed our lives.