Many of us have an almost childlike desire to have ideas judged on their own merits rather than on their presentation. We imagine it would be nice if every idea could be heard out for the validity of its claims instead of judged by the merits or flaws of the messenger. But in practice, none of us actually believes this. When is the last time you actually appreciated the look of a spinning .gif? Has Comic Sans font actually ever made you stop and look more closely at an article? Can you honestly say that a mingled mash of very bright colors doesn’t put you off of a website?
All right, so these are perhaps extreme examples, but they do illustrate the point that appearance is still considered important. And not all examples are so cut and dried; sometimes the text is just too small and poorly-spaced to read properly, the lack of pictures makes a site too text-dense, the color tone is just subtly off in a way that looks unpleasant and drives off potential readers or all the images and videos are on the front page, making it take excessively long to load.
Paying attention to appearance and to some basic web and blog design elements can make the visit to your blog more enjoyable for your audience and help you retain those vital traffic numbers.
First, the Background
The website your blog is on should adhere to some basic web design principles. After all, you don’t want people to click away from an unappealing site before they get to your life-changing content, do you?
First, pick a reasonable color scheme. Sharply contrasting tones are a good start. Black text on a white background is highly visible, if a bit dull, and can be seen as a reliable standby. Background colors should be in shades complimentary to the primary tones. Consider the default settings of the WordPress site, for example. The primary fields are white, with other colors in grays and pale blues that compliment the overall look but still subtly convey a sense of where everything is. Important functions such as social media sharing tabs, links and scroll bars are in more vivid blues to easily set them apart.
Keep special touches to a minimum. Simple effects are nice, such as a straightforward and brief fade-in for your text. If, on the other hand, every single word has to fly in letter by letter with a cute sound effect, you may lose some audiences to impatience. If you must include effects, make them simple and integrated rather than attention grabbing. Also, keep sizes reasonably large for ease of sight, but not so big they would require a lot of scrolling on the average notebook computer.
Blog Design, Front and Center
There are many ways to organize the content of a blog, but, as always, using a few best principles will help you get the most out of your content.
First, remember that the goal of the blog is to convey information. It cannot do that buried in back pages, so whether your blog is the whole site or a part of a larger site, pertinent information must be on the front page, prominently displayed. The headlines should be links into the body of the articles, and of a size that makes them easy to pay attention to without overwhelming the page with absurdly large text.
One key is to make liberal use of the “more” function. Also called a jumpcut, this is essentially a trick similar to the way news shows keep peoples’ attention throughout the broadcast. The front page of the site should have a number of very small posts, consisting of the blog headline, a few lines or a paragraph of introductory text, and then a tab that says “more,” “keep reading” or something of that nature. The rest of the article content is accessed behind this link.
The jumpcut is a good tool because it allows you to show a great deal of content that is easy to browse. Use the newspaper-writing trick of getting a short summary of your article out in front of people so they can quickly decide which articles to follow. Putting the whole article on the front page stretches it out needlessly and makes it harder to scroll through and select articles of quality, particularly for new readers coming to your blog after it’s been around a while.
Finally, make sure it’s easy to navigate your blog content. Each blog should be tagged by content, and there must be a panel to navigate articles by tags. These tags are a great place to integrate SEO keywords, by the way — choose tags that are trending high in adwords if you can. There should be a best-of panel showing favorite or highly popular blog posts as well as a search function.
As ever, engage in good linking practices as well, with links to other blogs that are relevant to the content you provide, prominently-displayed but not particularly large. Keep it to five or six links you feel are particularly relevant, with a short summary on each.