In my end of year recap, I asked for any suggestions you guys had for future posts, and one reader asked for tips about blog layouts. I thought that was a great idea! I actually get asked about how I designed my blog a lot, and although I don’t consider myself an expert on the topic by any means, I’m happy to share what I do know. I thought I'd start with 10 tips for designing a blog in general. I approached this as if I was giving advice to someone who was just starting their blog, but if you already have one, I think these tips could still help you to update it and make it even better. I want to do another post in the future about layouts for post content (like moodboards, adding type to photos, etc.) so let me know if there’s anything in particular you’d like help with in that area. And remember, all these tips are my opinion and not the gospel truth, so if your blog has something that I said was a no-no but you love it, don’t feel like you have to change it just because of what I said.
1. Start with your name. If you’re just starting to brainstorm ideas for your blog, start with a catchy name that hints at the topic you’ll be blogging about. Don’t pick anything too long or too hard to spell, and most importantly, look for a name is that is unique. If you think of a name that you like, type it in on checkdomain.com to see if it’s already taken. Look for the “.com” domain name--that’s what you want. If it’s already taken, I would not recommend trying to be tricky and doing a “.org” or putting in dashes, etc. I’d keep brainstorming til you find a name--and a domain--that will be uniquely yours. When I was picking a name for At Home in Love, I tried at least 30 different ideas before I settled on At Home in Love (seriously!). I also tested out the username “athomeinlove" on Twitter, Instagram, etc. to make sure it wasn't taken. It takes some time, for sure, but it’s worth it to keep your name, social media channels, and blog url simple and consistent.
2. Keep your background simple and uncluttered. You don’t want your blog’s background to be competing with your content, or distracting from it. When in doubt, a simple white background looks clean and pretty. Both The Daybook and Kelli Murray have simple white backgrounds, and they’re anything but boring! You can also do a background with a repeating pattern, like I have…but I’d keep the pattern and the color fairly simple and neutral. Anything too eye-catching or colorful might clash with your blog posts!
3. Use only a few fonts, and use them consistently. This is one of the biggest things that makes a blog design look really unprofessional, in my opinion: when there are about 10 different fonts just on the main landing page! Instead, I’d pick two or three fonts that you like and stick with those for your blog design.
4. Use simple fonts. Speaking of fonts, pick simple, easy to read fonts for your blog design. You might love fancy scripts or fonts that look handwritten, but if you try to use them in your body text, I guarantee you it will be really hard to read and you'll drive readers away. Nobody has time to try to decipher an entire paragraph. Even if you want to use a fancy font for the titles of your blog posts or in your sidebar, I'd caution you to pick a fairly simple one. Save the ones with lots of loops and flourishes for adding some short text to photos within your posts, or maybe to your header. For your body text, I'd recommend a sans serif (one that doesn’t have little lines at the end of each stroke). I have heard they're easier to read on screen than serif fonts. You can search for free fonts to use in your blog design at Google fonts. If you select the “paragraph” tab at the top, you can really tell a difference between different fonts’ readability. You can filter your options by serif, sans serif, display, and handwriting (in the drop down on the left).
5. Limit the number of colors you use. I keep mentioning simplicity, because it’s true--the simpler your blog layout is, the more the content of your posts will shine. That being said, you don’t have to keep your blog all white, black and gray. Just limit the number of colors you use to two or three (neutrals and white don’t count). For my blog, I picked pink and mint green because they are two of my favorite colors. I use those same two colors (and light gray) throughout the whole blog design. I do sometimes use different shades of pink and darker shades of green, but I always keep them in the same “family” so it looks consistent. Some great places to use color are in your social media icons, your header, and any place that you want to call attention to something. I would not recommend doing pink text on a black background or anything like that…I think white with black text looks the best and is easiest on the eyes. But it is good for links to be in a color so they’re easily distinguishable!
6. Size your photos to the full width of your blog posts. For example, the width of my posts is 550, so I size all photos to 550 pixels wide. It's really distracting to the eye if your photos are all different sizes. When they all line up with your text, it's a nice, clean line! If I find a photo I really want to use that is smaller than 550 pixels wide, I will mix it with other photos in a collage. Sometimes, if it's really close to 550 I'll just increase it's size, but if you try to stretch a photo that was 400 pixels wide to 550, it will be really blurry...which is worse.
7. Include a photo of yourself somewhere. I think it's human nature to want to see who it is behind the blog--I always look for an about page when I stumble across a blog I like! A lot of bloggers include a photo of themselves in the sidebar, which I really like, but at least make sure that you have an about page with a photo of yourself there. If you're hesitant to show your face, you could always do a fun illustration of yourself like this, or a photo where your face isn't showing. For instance, if you're a florist, you could do a photo of you in action like this or a photo of you holding a container of flowers like this!
8. Make sure your social media icons are easy to find. You'll definitely want readers to follow you on social media, so make it easy on them by putting icons that link to your different channels on the homepage--and preferably near the top. You don’t have to use little icons like the ones I have, but they’re very recognizable and don’t take up much space, so I think they’re nice. If you google “social media icons” or search for them on Pinterest, you can find a lot of cute options, many of them for free!
9. Make it easy to navigate your blog and find your content. At the basic level, you’ll need categories and a search bar so readers can easily find the content they’re interested in. Nobody should have to click “older” over and over again if they already know what it is they’re looking for. I also think archives are nice, especially when I come across a great blog that I’ve never heard of before and I want to
see what they posted a year ago stalk them from the very beginning. Or if I’m looking for content that’s specific to a season or holiday, I can look for what was posted in Decembers past, etc. I also like features that suggest related posts with thumbnails (a free version of this is Linkwithin). A “scroll to top” button is also really nice, especially when I’m reading blogs on my phone. And “pin it” buttons on each photo are great, because they make it super easy to pin content from any computer. Basically, anything you can do to make it easier for your readers to find your content and keep clicking around on your site is awesome. Whatever you’ve noticed that you like on other blogs, see if you can find a way to implement that or something similar.
10. Extend your brand beyond the blog. After you’ve spent all this time choosing a color scheme, designing a pretty header, and selecting fonts, make the most of it by branding everything you can! All your social media outlets, your business cards, and even your email signature should have your “look” applied to them. Use the same photos, the same colors, the same fonts, etc. so they are easily recognizable as yours.
Whew, that was a lot of text and not a lot of photos! Sorry about that, but I just couldn’t figure out which photos to use for each point without it looking super repetitive. Tomorrow’s post will have lots of eye candy, I promise :)
I hope this post was helpful to you! Feel free to comment with your questions if there’s anything you’re wondering about that I didn’t address. I’ll do my best to answer them!