Blogs are as diverse in design as they are in content. Well-designed blogs are rare, though.
Some are minimalist while others are quite noisy. Some are bright and colorful while others are black text on a mostly white background. These, to me, are mostly secondary issues.
Whether a blog has a sidebar or not isn’t necessarily the most important factor in the effectiveness of a blog’s design. But I do have some big values when it comes to evaluating a blog’s effectiveness in the design department. For example…
1. Good blog design considers mobile device users.
I list this first because 1) it should be a no-brainer by now, and 2) it isn’t. I still see blogs that look great on the desktop and then on the mobile look equally great but are now too tiny to read.
It was about five years ago that I was sitting in a room full of creatives from all over the country talking about church website design and one of the leading thinkers in the room said something that was a little revolutionary at the time.
He mentioned that with every re-design of all of their various web properties, they always started designing for mobile devices first. Once satisfied with the look and feel of their site on a handheld, they would then consider how it worked on tablets. If it passed those tests, they’d consider what it looked like on a desktop.
I think we miss this often because most of us who are designing websites are actually designing and testing them on a desktop rather than a mobile device. But most content will be consumed on mobile devices.
2. Good blog design advocates for the user first.
Or to put it differently, people designing blogs and websites should protect the needs and interests of the user before considering the needs of the content producer.
Before you design things – especially on a professional level – check out this video of Seth Godin who, over a decade ago, explained why things are so broken around us and how to design them better.
If it isn’t usable, it isn’t good design.
3. Good blog design is content-centric.
And by “content-centric” I simply mean that the content, itself, is the centerpiece. When someone clicks a link to read a blog post, the content that enticed them to click should be readily available.
Sidebars have their place, as do banners and social media icons. But it’s the content that matters. It’s the content that invites a reader to stay and to return again someday.
It’s the content that makes the point, sells the product, convinces someone of the idea, etc. Don’t ever push the content aside in hopes of the short-term gain of getting someone to click something that isn’t the content they came for.
How can you make sure your blog is content-centric?
- Frame the content with your design, don’t overpower it.
- Start the content above the fold (the part of the screen you see before scrolling).
- Make it readable with strong typography (that’s next).
4. Good blog design features good typography.
Just as a brand is way more than just a logo, typography is way more than just making good font choices. Typography concerns itself with the beauty of fonts involved, but also the readability of the content.
A blog design that incorporates good typographical principles will use punctuation, headings, subheadings, bullets, and lists appropriately. The content will have an obvious hierarchy.
Creative Bloq has a great post about the basics of good typography and I Love Typography has a great post about the making of the Grifo font that helps to illustrate how many different factors are weighed in the design of a font.
5. Good blog design boosts the reader’s trust.
How many advertisements can you tolerate on a single page of content? What if the advertisements are risque and the blog is about faith or family?
Earning trust is an element of good blog design. When we remember that design is more than just graphics – it’s all of the structure, the content, and the functionality combined – we are apt to design fewer and more appropriate spaces for advertising and promotional material.
Nobody agrees on how much is too much, or which kinds of advertisements are too intrusive, but if you listen closely, your users will usually tell you. And if they aren’t verbalizing it, you’ll see it in your blog’s bounce rate.
To build the trust of your readers, your blog’s design should communicate…
- I put effort into this content.
- I spent time and/or money designing it well.
- I care about your experience here.
- I don’t want you wasting time or money.
- I’d like to serve and help you and not just sell to you.
This unselfish approach to blog design leads us to the next element of good blog design.
6. Well designed blogs are personal and sociable.
That doesn’t mean all blogs are personal blogs. Some, obviously, are corporate. But effective corporate blogs seek to be as personal as possible. As Levine, Locke, Searls and Weinberger taught us in The Cluetrain Manifesto…
Whether explaining or complaining, joking or serious, the human voice is unmistakably genuine. It can’t be faked.
Most corporations, on the other hand, only know how to talk in the soothing, humorless monotone of the mission statement, marketing brochure, and your-call-is-important-to-us busy signal. Same old tone, same old lies. No wonder networked markets have no respect for companies unable or unwilling to speak as they do.
Being personable and sociable is easier than it might seem. It can be as simple as:
- Showing the face of the content’s author.
- Providing links to the creator’s social profiles.
- Allowing comments, when possible and appropriate.
- Speaking in vernacular language most of the time.
- Asking for feedback and input.
7. Well-designed blogs are optimized for search engines.
I place this last because it should be secondary to all of the others. Don’t write a blog for a computer. Write it for a human reader.
But as you write for a human reader (and especially as you are editing, before publishing), consider the primary ranking factors that search engines will use to move you up in search results. And of course, those factors are always changing ever-so-slightly.
If you use WordPress, check out the amazing plugin, SEOPressor…
At the end of it all, write great content! Great designs are wasted on poor-quality content.
What did I miss? There are more elements of great blog design and you’re welcome to suggest them in the comments below. Go!