Make Your Blog Design Work For You

gears Everything I’ve done with my blog design is intentional. I’m not saying that my blog design is perfect, and I certainly have other things I’d like to do in the future, but I wanted to share with you some thoughts about blog design, starting with my blog, but then showing some design ideas from other sites as well. Why should blog design matter? Because you want your blog to serve the purpose you’ve built it to serve.

First, Know the Goal

The goal of my blog is to provide you with a body of work on social software and strategies around it. One part of that goal is the hope that my work gives you starting points to launch out and do this on your own. The other part of the goal is that people who need more than what I’ve posted know that I’m available to help them with their specific needs. What do you think? Does my site match my goal?

What’s the goal of your blog?

Consider a Thin Header

Want one of the best themes around?When building the redesign of [chrisbrogan.com], I wanted the header at the top to be very thin. I wanted you to be able to see as much of my page layout as possible instead of a huge static graphical banner at the top.

Check out CopyBlogger and Problogger. Brian and Darren have me beat on thin headers. They even have functionality alongside their names in the headers. Commercial concerns like TechCrunch and GigaOm have ads at the top, but note how GigaOm handles ads. He’s got it wrapped into the header, saving space. For whatever reason, that design makes the ad seam less blatant to me. You?

Your About Page Matters

My About page starts with a picture of me (just changed it out from the old one, because I want a very current pic all the time). It also gives you a bio that tells you what I’m passionate about. But if you look further at it, my about page is also a “serving suggestions” for how you can work with me. I want you thinking the whole time you’re reading it, “Oh look! I’m in the market for someone to help my company figure out our social media strategy, and Chris does that!” That’s not by accident.

Valeria Maltoni’s about page has an even more professional feel to it. (I’m taking notes now). And she uses a picture to make sure we know who she is.

Brian Clark’s about page for CopyBlogger starts with the essence of the blog, and then talks about him, and the message there reinforces that his blog is about the work, not about him.

What does your about page look like? What more will I learn about you, and about your goals with your blog?

Your Sidebar(s)

Sidebars are my personal pet peeve. I want the things in them to be relevant to the experience, useful to the user, and pertinent to the information at hand. To that end, the first three things on my sidebar are the RSS subscription link, my newsletter subscription link (which is different content), and a “get this blog by email” blox. Why? Because my #1 goal is to get you connected to this experience on a continual basis.

Most sidebars start with the subscription opportunities. I noted that CopyBlogger and Problogger and Conversation Agent all also display their RSS subscriber count. I didn’t have this on my site for a while, but then realized there’s one piece of value in it: it shows that more than a few people consider your site useful for information. Don’t feel like you have to wait until you have 10,000 subscribers to put that button up, and don’t feel weird if you only have 100. More than 2 is probably good. : )

My sidebar then has a micro-biography, and alongside that, a contact box that shows you a few ways to reach me. I think it’s important, and putting my number on the blog was something I learned from Robert Scoble. I figured, if he’s a busy guy and can have his number up there, I’ll be okay. So far, so good.

Want one of the best themes around? The rest of the sidebar can be debated. I have widgets that show you who’s stopped by (MyBlogLog). I have an Utterz badge showing my most recent Utterz posts. I have the Lijit content search widget, and a few other things. Is it all vital to the blog experience? No. So maybe some day it will go.

Ads or No Ads

I’ve started experimenting with ads, with the goal of starting a little “conference fund” for shows that aren’t business-related. My mindset has changed on this over and over. (This section was updated November 2nd, for instance.)

You can certainly use ads on your site. Some folks do it very tastefully. Where it becomes a problem to me is when you’ve laden your page with so many ads that I can no longer read the content easily, and heaven forbid you have me clicking on something that I don’t know is an ad. Spamming your audience is un-pleasant.

Should sites have ads? Sure. Why not? But be clear about what your intentions are, and try your hardest to make the ads pertinent to your audience.

What’s your take on this one?

Blogrolls or No

Some sites have a blogroll (where folks can see all the other blogs you endorse or not). I’ve heard great endorsements of these (and I usually poke around other great bloggers’ blogrolls to see who they value). On my site, I went another way. I built a complete page called Rockstars, where I give people a link to their site and their RSS feed. Why? Because I wanted to make it all-inclusive, and because I didn’t want it to eat my sidebar.

Do you use one? Have people commented positively or negatively about it?

Fonts and Text Colors

I like readable blogs. Upon looking at my site, I wonder if the “not black but grey” text, and the text size, are tricky for some people to read. I like the design, but I also want people to be able to read it. When I looked around, there was a real mix to what people used on their sites for font and colors. I prefer a serif (text that has curvy parts) font, while others like sans serif (more modern-looking). Mine is probably officially a sans, but has a serif feel to it.

Pictures and Video and Rich Media

I love videoblogs. I love photoblogs. In my case, I use my blog in multiple ways, so I consider it a text blog with pictures, or a text blog with video. If yours is specific to one of these other purposes, you might consider designs that further highlight your main purpose.

But, if you’re blogging in text, consider photos and video. They add something to a reader’s experience. You’ll note that I often put a photo up alongside my posts. I use Flickr’s vast assortment of Creative-Commons licensed photos, created by the world to be used with proper attribution. (Learn more about that here).

Summary

To sum up what I want you to consider when thinking about your blog design:

  • What’s the goal of your blog? Does your design serve that goal?
  • Consider a thin header.
  • Make your About page useful.
  • Keep your sidebar functional.
  • If you have ads, keep them tasteful and unobtrusive.
  • Consider how blogrolls affect your design.
  • Do your fonts and their color help your readers?
  • Should you add rich media like photos and video to your blog?

Next time, we can talk about content: what goes IN your blog, and how that works for you.

Feel free to share designs you think work well in the comments section, and we can talk about YOUR blog, too, if people feel like sharing.

The Social Media 100 is a project by Chris Brogan dedicated to writing 100 useful blog posts in a row about the tools, techniques, and strategies behind using social media for your business, your organization, or your own personal interests. Swing by [chrisbrogan.com] for more posts in the series, and if you have topic ideas, feel free to share them, as this is a group project, and your opinion matters.

Get the entire series by subscribing to this blog, and subscribe to my free newsletter here.

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Photo credit, Ellie VanHoutte

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