As blogs have grown in popularity over the past few years, so has blog design and development. Even if you are not a developer or WordPress theme expert, it is likely that at least at one point you’ve been contacted by a client for blog design. If not, with their growing popularity, it will soon be a necessary skill for any designer anyway.
Blog design has a lot in common with other types of web designs, but of course has it’ own set of features and best practices. In this post we’ll cover what some of those best practices are, and some great trends that can even allow designers to sell more blog designs, without a client.
Making a Connection with Reader
In order to be successful, blogs need to make a connection with readers, and beyond content, the blog’s design is the best way to do that. Some essential questions come into play when a new visitor enters a blog:
- What is this blog about? (What are the topics, categories, etc?)
- Is the content valuable, of quality, or reputable in any way?
- Is the blog relatable to me (the reader), and can it suit my needs specifically?
Of course, to answer most of these questions for the reader, the blog owner will have to make sure the content is of top quality, and that the content is organized. However, as a blog designer, how can one help to answer these questions for new readers?
Below are the do’s and don’ts of creating a blog design that connects with readers.
Do Choose an Appropriate Design Style
A business blog works best with a professional look, and a design blog looks best with a creative edge. By creating a look that matches the ‘personality’ of the blog, it will help answer a few of our above questions.
What is the blog about? The design style of a blog can give an immediate first impression to what the blog is about, or at least a general idea before the visitor even reads an about blurb or tagline.
Is the blog relatable to me, the reader? If a creative person is truly impressed with the artistic ways of a blog design, they are likely to remember it better, because the blog’s design is more relatable to what that creative person enjoys and designs them self every day. In contrast, a clean and professional blog design might bore a creative person, yet be very relatable to a business person’s personality.
Don’t Use a Standard Layout for the Homepage
Have the homepage be designed for getting a new reader acquainted with the blog. Have a welcome message or about blurb, highlight featured posts or many of the most recent posts in excerpts, and organize content by tags, most viewed, etc. Again, doing this can answer at least two of our essential questions.
What is the blog about? By showing off a lot of content right away, the visitor can really get a feel for what they can expect if they keep coming back. Their first glance through the site will get them hooked, and will require less effort on their part to understand where they are.
Is the content valuable? Considering titles and post excerpts are well planned out, if the visitor can see an abundance of interesting titles consistently, they can make the decision pretty quickly that the content is of quality, or at least of interest to them.
Soh Tanaka’s homepage has a different layout than his blog’s inner pages to highlight more content, and highlight it more effectively for a great first impression.
Do Use an About Blurb
Already mentioned a few times within this post already, about blurbs are essential on at least the homepage. The about page is essential to every website, as it’s one of the first thing new visitors check out. By adding a quick introduction right on the front page, the visitor can be lead to a more in-depth about page, or at least otherwise get a general idea of who is behind the blog.
Having a good about page and introductory paragraph on the front page can answer one very essential question for the reader:
Is this content/blog reputable? Reputation is everything when it comes to websites. The more popular you are the more others will listen. An about page and blurb can welcome the visitor, and then explain they this particular blog is special, and why it is different than others.
Getting Repeat Visitors
Repeat visitors are also important for any blog, no matter the subject. After all, why put so much effort into content if nobody ever comes back? Having a design revolve around obtaining repeat visitors can make a blog very effective.
Do Include RSS Feed and Twitter Icons/Scripts
Always include a spot for Twitter and RSS feeds, at least. These two are what readers can use to keep up to date with a blog’s content, and all bloggers will want to include them somehow anyway. By creating a special spot for them (and possibly displaying them in a unique fashion) they can stand out in the blog and be extra useful.
Just take a look at how Smashing Magazine’s new design has implemented these two important features. Two unique icons make it stand out, and with adequate spacing and placement, along with the exact count numbers, visitors are sure to either subscribe or follow the magazine.
Don’t Over-clutter the Design or Content Layout
Less is more. Almost in contrast to what was said before, don’t put too much on each page. By adding less to the page, each piece of content or feature separately gets more attention. To also feature a lot of content on the front page to get the reader hooked, be smart about how to display the content. For example, several “Recent Post” titles can be displayed, showing off a lot of enticing content, but in one simple tabbed sidebar item.
By using widgets, tabs, and other forms of content organization, a lot of content can be displayed in an organized way so that it is simple at first, yet the reader will sift through it to find what they’re looking for.
Do Make things as Original as Possible
If a blog has average content, average design, average layout, and average things to say you don’t stay long. Needless to say, you likely don’t come back. The web design of a blog is a huge piece of the puzzle. If a design can impress visitors at first glance, they’ll be likely to come back. A great design shows originality and uniqueness, and also quality.
It shows that this blog isn’t like every other one in its niche.
Bringing in New Web Traffic
Along with the old comes the new. For blog growth, new visitors are needed all the time. A blog design that encourages this is very attractive to bloggers and clients.
This is almost obvious, but one of the easiest ways to bring in more traffic is to encourage others to share it. Let the visitors that are already there to the work, and a blog can receive exponential growth with less of a marketing effort.
The social media layout on The Free Creatives blog is well laid-out, organized, and receives attention. It also includes a wide variety of the many social networks out there.
Having an interactive comment section is one way to get readers to keep coming back. Readers like feeling a part of the conversation, contributing, and most importantly getting feedback. A great conversation can make readers that return a few times, into long-term readers.
Make sure that the blog design supports great conversation. Gravatars can make things more personable, and a clean interface can make skimming through comments easier. Added features like nested comments should also be designed well for replies.
Great blog design can come in many forms, and because one blog can differ greatly to the next, there are no set rules for how to design them. However, a number of guidelines and best practices can be used to create a blog design that compliments an individual blog the best.
We’ve only skimmed the top of what could (or should) be included in blog web design, but feel free to let us know what you can think of. Do you have any best practices of your own when designing a blog for a client, or for yourself / the community? Does your design process differ from that of other types of web design?