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Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Blogging Basics, Lesson Three: Design for Beginners (By Featured Writer Samantha Mabe)

Easy Blog Design for Beginners

So you want to start a blog, but you’re freaking out because everyone else’s blog looks great. Don’t worry, that’s totally normal. It takes a lot of work to get your blog or website looking great and most people don’t have the experience or design savvy to do that without help.

Sure, you could hire someone to set up your website for you, but if you’re just starting out, that can be a big investment you’re just not ready to make yet. But, you don’t have to shell out your cash just yet if you follow these guidelines for blog design for beginners. (Here’s a secret: most of those awesome websites you envy were created for that person by a designer who was paid some pretty big bucks, so designing your own blog makes you amazing.)

1. Pick a blog and domain name. If you want to make money from your blog (whether through ads, products, or services), you need to have a blog name and your own domain. The .wordpress and .blogspot addresses are fine for hobby blogs or to share with your family, but if you want to get serious about blogging, you need your own domain. (I got mine through BlueHost).

2. Pick a platform that allows customization without complication. If you want to design your blog look on your own, you need an easy way to do that. There are lots of different options out there, and Stephanie covered the top ones in her post about When, Where and How You Blog. I personally use Squarespace because it’s so easy to make a great looking site without needing a ton of coding experience (and if you get an annual plan, you get a domain for free!) You can also use WordPress (.org, not .com) and pick a free theme or buy an inexpensive one (Etsy has tons of options for this). There are a few things to consider before choosing a theme: open vs. closed frame (does your site extend all the way across the page or does it have a fixed width?), mobile version (does it look good on mobile devices?), and sidebar (a lot of people are moving away from having a sidebar, so take a look at a few different sites and see what you like).

3. Choose a simple layout and stay consistent. You want every page to be consistent. You may need to include different information, but the size and color of the headers, the location of the menu, and the layout of the sidebar should be the same on every page. The only time you want to change up your layout is if you’re setting up something really special, like a course or webinar.

4. Decide what you want your blog to feel like and then create that. You can design a feeling. All of your design choices: colors, fonts, layout, pages, etc. create a certain feeling when people visit your blog. You want to be in control of that. If you want a calm, relaxing, friendly feel, you don’t want a blog full of stark black and white. If you want a modern feel, you need to choose colors and fonts that reflect that (Times New Roman isn’t really a great font if you want a modern look).

5. Choose your fonts and colors and stick to them. Your fonts and colors, as well as your logo, page layout, and image type are all part of your brand design. You want to set your brand design and then resist the urge to change it. You want to pick three or four colors and 2-3 fonts to use everywhere on your site. Using more than that just makes your blog look unprofessional (and a little bit like a clown designed it). You can check out more about your brand design in my post about 3 Easy Ways to Improve Your Branding (this post even includes a free Brand Consistency Checklist you can use to keep track of all your design elements).

6. Allow for whitespace. I’m serious about this one, ladies. If you’re really paying attention to what makes a website great, you’re going to notice a lot of white space (the empty space around your content, for those of you who aren’t up on design terminology). It makes your page easier to read and it also makes you look more professional (while including less stuff, so it’s totally a win-win). You want at least 30% if your page to be blank. Leave space between headers and text, around graphics, on the edges of your page (expect the images that span the page if you’re using an open frame template).

7. Create great graphics and use them. Blogs aren’t just about what you write anymore, they’re also about the images you include. If your work isn’t visual, you can still include images through graphics. The easiest and best way to do this is to have a graphic with your blog post title at the beginning of each post. You want to use the same fonts and colors here that you use throughout your blog design and you want to make sure they’re easy to read. Adding an transparent layer of solid color under your text can really make your title stand out. Create a template for your graphics and use it every time: just change up the text and the background and you’re good to go.

8. Don’t be a copycat, be you! This is so important in the jungle of the internet. Yes, there are a lot of people out there blogging (and they may even have the same audience and topics as you), but you are unique. You have to be willing to let yourself shine through your blog. Don’t pick a color just because it’s popular, pick it because it’s one that you love and that reflects what you want your blog to be about. Right now, teal is hugely popular in the world of blogging and I really had to think through my decision to include it in my color scheme. In the end, I chose to use teal, not because it was on trend, but because it’s a color that I’ve loved for a long time (my childhood bedroom looks like the bottom of a swimming pool. No joke.) and because it gives my blog the relaxing, friendly feel that I was after.

9. Get some feedback from people you trust. It’s scary to put your blog out there before anyone has looked at it. Don’t be afraid to ask for feedback and suggestions. Facebook groups are great for this because people are always willing to take a look at your blog and tell you what they think. If you want to start out with people you know better, the Loud Ladies community is a great place to start (P.S. I hang out in here and I love helping beginning bloggers with their design). Since it’s not a huge group, you won’t hear from everyone and their mom about your design, but you’ll still get some advice along with tons of encouragement!

10. Realize that it’s never going to be perfect. If you’re a perfectionist like me, you’re never going to be satisfied with your blog design. And while you don’t want to put up something that looks like a child could have done it just for the sake of being online, you also can’t spend all of your time fixing and changing every detail of your site. I know this is hard to resist: trust me, I love my blog design, but I’m still tempted to change it every few days, but I just can’t. There are a lot of reasons to decide that it’s good enough. First, if you want to be successful at blogging, you can’t spend all your time changing your design. You need to be working on your content. Second, you’ll never launch if you’re waiting for perfection. Wanting to be perfect can be crippling. At some point, you just have to decide to let go, put it out there, and see what happens. You can’t wait until you’re ready because, believe me, you will never feel ready. Third, no one got to where they are in one step and you won’t either. If you follow a blog from the time it’s a baby, you’ll see how often bloggers change: their design, their niche, their target market. (I wanted to be a food blogger at one point!) You’re going to grow and change and a blogger and your blog design will change with you (just try not to change it more than twice a year).

Just remember, that you have to be yourself in your blog design as much as you do in your blog content. After all, your blog is really all about who you are and that’s what makes it special. And, if you’re still struggling to get your blog design just right, don’t be afraid to invest in a designer. You can hire someone to help you choose your brand design and apply it to your blog yourself or just pay someone to do it all so that you don’t have to stress about it anymore.

Samantha is a full-time creativepreneur specializing in graphic and web design who is passionate about helping women be intentional in life and business. She's also a thrift store lover and healthy food advocate (most of the time). You can visit her blog here and say hi to the rest of our team here.
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