Our efforts continue to figure out what we want our blogs to look like. Do we want a two- or three-column blog? Slick or muted graphics? Textured, 3D look or subtle and spacious? And then there’s the color scheme to consider. Do we take the time to learn about blog design so we can do everything ourselves or do we get help?
Tammy and I are weighing out these choices carefully. The process is made tougher when we see these really slick-looking sites with neat, flashy graphic things going on where the graphics just seem to burst to life on the computer screen and dazzle the imagination. We do so enjoy the creative talent that goes into designing these one-of-a-kind blogs. It grabs our attention and then we start blissfully spinning out of control.
Eventually, we come to our senses again and put our feet back on the ground and pull our thinking caps back onto our feeble and overwhelmed heads. So what are we actually considering when making these choices for our own individual blogs? I’ll share with you some of what we’re thinking about as we’re going through this process. This is, by no means, comprehensive, but it’s a place to start, especially when you’re just getting started. This post will cover some of the basics of blog design. First, I’ll talk about the marriage between your audience and the purpose of your blog. Who are the people you want to find your blog and what interest or need has brought them to your blog? Next, I’ll talk about visual communication. What is the unspoken message you want your blog to convey to your readers when they arrive? What is the first impression you want to create in the minds of your readers and how do you create it? I’ll conclude by giving you a collection of great resources for more education and tools for help with blog design. So, let’s get started…
Audience and Purpose
Before you even think of starting your blog, you need to be extremely clear on why you are even starting the blog to begin with. If you’re just starting a blog because everybody is doing it, you’re in the wrong place…class dismissed! Likely, you’re reading this because you’re starting an Online business and you’re going to need a blog for your business. So before you start your blog, here are some questions that need to be answered.
- What product or service are you going to be providing to your customer?
- What is the niche that your product or service will fit into?
- Do people exist who want your product, service, or your information that you’re planning to provide?
Knowing your purpose comes first. Once you know why you’re starting a blog, you need to begin to think more about how your blog can meet the needs of your audience. For this you must do your due diligence in researching the needs of your audience; find out who, exactly, will be your typical reader and why they will come to your blog. But for now, we’ll make the assumption that you have a product that, in one form or another, your audience wants and your blog is going to be the way you promote and deliver it.
How do you achieve this using your blog? It’s a well-known fact that if you create your blog and constantly try to push your product or service on your readers, they will reject your site and services or products. Making the connection between your audience and your purpose requires a gentle touch. To put it simply, people trust friends and distrust complete strangers. Therefore, your purpose should include developing a relationship with your audience…become a trusted friend. Here are some ways to do this:
- Write at a level that is appropriate to your readers, but never talk down to them
- Give away valuable, free content that shows you know what you’re talking about
- Write what your target audience wants to read…not only what you want them to hear
- Ask for audience input and respond to it graciously — create a two-way conversation
- Never try to be something you’re not, people can spot a phony a mile away
- Always be respectful of your readers and commentors and thank them often
These are some of the ways to build trust and a sense of community. This takes time and cannot be forced. But let’s explore other ways to merge audience with purpose. For instance, let’s take a look at your delivery. Obviously, you’re going to be writing posts on a regular basis. You can post whatever you want, whenever you want. But sometimes, it helps to mix things up a bit to keep things fresh. You can do this by having specific features, like periodic interviews, mini posts that highlight tips, or resources on the Web, or perhaps include a video or audio with relevant information. Also, it’s important to think about what topics would attract your specific audience and write post titles that will attract readers’ attention while also concisely conveying what the post is about. This also helps with SEO (Search Engine Optimization). SEO is very important once you’re blog is up and running, but that’s a topic for another time.
I know that talking about your content may seem like I’m jumping ahead because you haven’t even designed your blog yet, but many of these things should be considered before you even start to deign your blog. Planning ahead will help you in ways that you can’t even guess at. So before we more on to the more specific details of blog design, there are a few more things to consider. Such as, the scope of your blog. If your blog is too broad and you’re trying to please too many people, you may eventually find cobwebs growing on your blog from lack of visitors. Not pretty, I assure you. The way to prevent this is to narrow your focus to a specific sub-genre or niche in your field in interest. For example, you can have a blog about all stringed instruments in a typical orchestra or you could further refine it to Great Cellists of the 20th Century. In the second example, who would your target audience be? Well, that would likely be cellists, conductors, and music aficionados with an appreciation of modern, classical cellists. That’s still broad…it includes all 20th century cellists of renown but is specifically about cellists, not all stringed instruments of all times in history.
The next question is, does anybody really care about your niche? If you share this passion, there are likely others. Certainly, there are plenty of cultured people out there who enjoy 20th century cello playing at its finest. Though that doesn’t guarantee that your blog will succeed, doing some research should give you an idea of how great you chance of success might be. So do your research to make sure you’ve selected a niche that anyone even cares about. If there are similar niche blogs out there, that’s another good indicator that there’s an audience out there for your blog too. And if there’s an audience for your specific niche, you should be able to find ways to offer something of value to them that they would be willing to pay for. People don’t mind parting with their money when they feel what they get in return is of equal or greater value. Your goal, as the saying goes, is to under promise and over deliver.
What appears on your blog–the content, topics, and usable knowledge–is what will inform the reader and from which he or she will decide whether or not to stay awhile and give your material a chance. You must be clear on the purpose of your blog, the niche into which your blog fits, and determine if there is an audience for your niche. You must plan your content and how you want to present it before you even begin to think about the pretty colors and flashy gewgaws which may appear on your businesses new blog. In the end, if your post titles are attractive enough and revolve around the purpose of your blog (in addition to your products or services), you will find a wonderful union (audience and purpose) that will last a help you build trust and a sense of community. But what about those pretty colors? Let’s turn, look at that next…
Your Blog’s First Impression
When an interested reader lands on your blog page, they will, in a matter of seconds, assess your blog and form an opinion. The first thing they will notice will be the colors and layout. Assuming they’re not repulsed by your design, they’ll read any bold titles or words that attract their attention, typically, this will be the phrase or keyword association that brought them to your site. As mentioned before, your post titles and your purpose must be clear and easy to identify to your readers as something meaningful to them. Now let’s take a closer look at design regarding color and layout by considering these questions:
- Have you chosen a colors scheme that is comfortable to look at?
- Should your site be spacious or tight?
- If you’re using ads on your site, where should you place them and how many should you use?
- How hard will the reader have to work to read each post?
- Should you choose two or three columns?
- Do you want your sidebar(s) on the right, the left, or both?
Your blog needs to cater to your readers. If your readers are young, the design, colors, and blog posts must reflect this. Therefore, you may use brighter colors and more of them. Also, use interesting fonts, but not too many…you mustn’t tire your reader’s eyes prematurely. You would want to consider presenting a more playful look and style the younger the reader. If your readers are young adults or perhaps “30-somethings”, then going with a more Web 2.0 look and feel might be more appropriate. Decisions on whether to have one or two sidebars, more or less empty space, and where to put adds have more to do with subtly persuading your reader into a frame of mind that increases trust and a mood that is appropriate for your purpose. Keep in mind that more empty space evokes a more tranquil mood, less empty space introduces tension; each serves a purpose depending on your intention. If your readers are into heavy metal music, for example, having an austere, sparse-looking blog with pastel colors and graceful fonts wouldn’t convey the rough-edged style that your readers will respond to.
I don’t know about you, but when I look at the art of Leonardo Da Vinci, I get all a-tingle and my mind goes awash with new ideas; great spires of creativity jut high into my mental stratosphere… And when I listen to the music of Mozart or Bach, my soul is renewed with possibility…my enthusiasm and creative impulses start throbbing and I…um…ahem. What I mean is, design elements are important to your blog in order to influence your reader’s experience and guide his interaction on your site. It’s the art of subtle persuasion…give to them what they came to your site for. Do this, and you’re inviting them to stick around for a while. And that’s a good thing.
Soon, I’ll post part 2 which will include a bunch of great resources that you’re going to want to check out. I hope you’ve found some useful ideas in this post. Any thoughts or questions? Leave a comment.