Thursday, February 2, 2012

A Guest in the Kitchen


   Here is the first of what I hope will be many guest posts here for Social February month. A post on where to start, blog design tips from the one and only Rorybore at Time out for Mom. If you have followed along with her, you know how much time and effort has gone into her layout and design.
Blog Design 101    
So you have started a blog.   Great!   Welcome aboard.
Got Followers?   No? 
This might help you figure out why your little blog is lonely.
Many articles list 2 must haves for blogging success:
1.         establishing a reliable blogging routine/schedule; updating frequently;
2.        visiting and commenting on other  blogs
But right after that?    PERSONALIZE!!
When your first create your blog, it will prompt you to choose a layout and design.   With all the template, background, and layout options; this can be easier said than done.   You may be tempted to pick the first thing that catches your eye.  I’d say keep it simple at first, but then, if you want to woo the world, well: the world likes pretty and easy.    The simple fact is, a well- designed blog pleases and catches the eye.   Which means – they will come back.   
There’s no need for wads of cash.   No need to get highly technical.   However, do consider your content and target audience.   If you are a cooking blog, a background of horses running wildly over pastures – as lovely as that might be – not in keeping with your blog’s theme.   Install a Flickr or Picasa slideshow gadget in your sidebar for your favourite images.   If you are a highly technical blog, then you might consider keeping it simple since your audience is more interested in your content.  Not your recent holiday pics, or latest Tweets.    
Basic No-No’s?
Clutter :  messy, over-loaded, improperly sized sidebars, too much text, too many images, links, etc. , the focus is on the “extras”, and away from your valuable content.    Also makes your page load slower.   Clutter also means difficult to navigate.   Like your mother taught you; keep your room tidy.
Colours                :  The absolute worst offense:  white on black.    Goodbye blog, hello migraine.   Choose a colour palette that is easy on the eyes, and that highlights, not obscures your content.   If hot pink is your signature colour, save it for the accessories.    It all should blend.
Too Many Ads:   Yes, it would be nice to make some cash, but don’t go overboard.  A site that exclusively handles Product Review might be an exception, since people will be searching for the information.   Personally, I have never clicked on an Ad. 
Too Much Text:  Large, unbroken blocks of text are just plain difficult to read.   Readers will get tired of constantly scrolling.    Make use of the “jump break” feature, and/or consider adding images.  Also, consider having no more than 2-3 blog posts at a time on your homepage.   And please watch the fancy fonts:  if we cannot read it, what’s the point?
No Contact Information:  As intriguing as “Anonymous Blogger” sounds, you are far more likely to be successful if your audience makes a connection with you, and is able to contact you.   Thus, About Me and Contact Me pages are essential.   You do not have to use your real name, if security and privacy are issues, an alias is perfectly acceptable.  Your audience will be more likely to view you as a part of their community, and as an authoritative, trusted source.
Do-Do’s
If I had to pick the main ones that ensure a return visit, they would be:  overall design, navigation (is everything easy to find), subscription (are several options available with accessible icons), user-friendly comment system, and personality (the content). It’s frustrating discovering a blog you enjoy reading, but the design has you clicking away frequently, and then eventually, stop visiting.
 I have not spent a cent, yet, my blog does have many upgrades: “hacks” as they are referred to.     It has taken a lot of research, late nights, and the learning of a 3rd language:  HTML/CSS.     Just as it has taken time finding my own voice regarding content; it has also taken time finding “the look” to complement that voice.   My first header was a picture of my sleeping baby (everyone say “ahhh”), and the second one was a banner with various clipart, which I made myself and Loved!   

Why a 3rd change?  Despite the pride and love I felt, upon consideration, clip art did not seem in keeping with a 40 year old woman.  I worried it might appear “girlish”.  This might misrepresent me in terms of PR.  So I created a new one that now represents what I would truly do, given some time out.

I wanted to achieve the look of a professionally designed website, yet remain on the user-friendly Blogger platform.   Unfortunately, unless you choose a 3rd party template design, Blogger does have some limitation in terms of design.    But if you are brave enough to dive into your Template and CSS styling codes (always maintain a “clean” backup file!!):  you can achieve all these things.  Personally, it has been much trial and error determining what works, and what doesn’t.    But fun too.
 If you like, you can click away briefly – do come back though!  - and view some of the changes I have made at my blog Time Out for Mom.   It’s okay….we’ll wait.    Here are the customizations you will see:
-           Navigation Bar above the Header with Images that link to my stand alone pages.  
-          Beneath header, a Featured Content Slider.   Go ahead and click an image
-          Before my Post Title, there is a feather image.  Post title text also customized.
-          Underneath my Post Title there is date, author, label and comment count image.   
-          Post- footer has also been stylized with a “Leave A Comment” image and Post Divider. 
-          Blog posts and all my widgets are in separate coloured boxes.  
-          Tabbed Menu widget for Labels, Archives, Blogroll – saves sidebar space
-          Fixed Back to top image bottom right corner
A lot more work than you thought?   I know, but you don’t want to be just another pretty face on the net.   You may want to be the next big thing in the Blogosphere, but the most important thing to keep in mind:   before they read it – they SEE it.   If you build it nice, they will come…… and they will return.
Some great (and often free) blog design/layout sites are:
Some great add-ons, called Gadgets or Widgets can be found:
Some of the tricks I have used on my own blog:
Featured Content Slider (not for the faint of heart – lots of coding!)
Blog Bulk:  amazing site for template customization (where I learned to put an image in front of my Post Title, a background image behind my sidebar titles, an image for comments and as line divider in post footer, and to house each blog post and each sidebar widget in separate and coloured boxes.)

     See how easy that was? Now you have the perfect platform to launch yourself into the blogshere and get all social. Rory is way braver than I, fearlessly re-working her entire site time and time again. That's why hers looks like it does and mine, well .... Thanks Rory for sharing all of you secrets and expertise.

     Tomorrow, another guest, Germaine from Kiddothings will walk us through setting up a Facebook fan page.

     Got something to say about social networking, by all means drop me a line and your post could be next.

14 comments:

  1. Thanks again for having me in your kitchen!
    and your site is just fine -- with all your images for the family and the historical data, it's actually really good that the rest is simple, yet elegant.

    but a blog button would be good - then I can pimp you around the net easier - ha ha.

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    1. You are always welcome in my kitchen. I can't thank you enough for all of the advise you've shared with me over the past year. Elegant, I like that. All class that's me LOL

      I'll work on that badge too. I've been mulliing it over since I made the header. Trying to pick the image has been my big stumbling block. What best represents the Kitchen?

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  2. What awesome information! I appreciate all the tips. I've been in the blog world for about a year and a half... it amazes me that there's always something new to be learned. Maybe that's why I love blogging so much! Thanks again for the great tips!

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    1. Rory always has good advise. There is so much to learn. I always thought the writing was going to be the hard part.

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  3. Yeah, for Rorybore. Great post. Great tips. I want to make myself a badge. Have to check that out. I just made myself an FB fanpage. Can't wait to see what Germaine has to szy.

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    1. I agree Susi, thank God for Rorybore. The kitchen wouldn't be the same without her.

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  4. Very helpful thankyou!! You are too clever for your own good :)

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  5. What great tips Les! I do dabble into these things once in awhile and when I'm into it, I usually can't stop. I'd have to check out those sites you mentioned. Thanks for sharing! :)

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    1. I dabble too but get distracted. The header came about one weekend while I was trying to design a badge. Side tracked, weekend gone, no badge but a lovely new banner for the top LOL

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  6. Great tips! I don't have a contact page and my about me page needs serious updating.
    Thank you!!

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    1. My about me page is pretty sparse too but i've always had the contact thing. I got one thing right LOL

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  7. These are great tips. I have always done everything on my blog too.
    Black on white is a no no. Music!!! Huge no no on a blog!! Right?

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    1. No music, it is the most annoying thing ever. If I want music, I'll download it. I do all my own stuff too. It's more fun that way.

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Thanks for your comment, I hope you enjoyed your time in the "Kitchen".