I care about my blog’s appearance. Possibly a bit too much. I have poured hours into going over all the available WordPress themes just to end up keeping the one I have every single time.
I like it a lot and I don’t see it that often, but I have overcluttered it a touch and I really really wish it allowed for post excerpts on the front page. Now this is a rather flimsy consideration. First of all, beauty is in the eye of the beholder and all that, so I will never create a site that is appealing to all. And b) the majority of readers tend to read posts either in the reader or on their phones which renders my careful layout and site organization completely moot. But so what? I still wanna pretty blog!
Despite the subjective nature of this… um…subject… I think there are a few essential elements we can all agree on. A good blog needs to be fairly easy to navigate so that readers can find the posts they are interested in quickly. I’m sorry to say guys but you will occasionally mention having discussed a certain show or topic and despite having gone through your blogs, I will have missed it entirely. I also occasionally do round up posts trying to find other blogger’s articles on specific series and not all blogs are that user friendly. No matter how great your write up was, I’m not going to appreciate it if I can’t find it.
The most basic thing is adding a search bar. An obvious one and not at the very bottom of your page if you have to scroll down for ten minutes to get to it… Another great feature is an index page. Recently Pete of MoeGamer was kind enough to share some awesome tips on how to organize posts without having to manually do it. You can find the details here. He was even nice enough to offer help to anyone who needs it. Just ask him over on his site. And give him a follow while you’re at it. It was awesome of him to offer and his site is just plain great to read.
But once your site is generally functional everything else is up to personal tastes. Here are a few tips based on my own highly debatable preferences. (If any of you have seen my best boy/girl picks, you probably know better than to trust my tastes. You also probably wonder how I haven’t been murdered yet. I do too…)
One of the first things I tend to notice is background color. I favor white, it’s classic and makes the screen look bigger but black/grey is good too and focuses your attention to the page more. Any other color is a gamble. Very light pastels are usually safe enough but won’t be too remarkable. On the other hand, bright colors will truly set your site apart but can quickly become unpleasant and tiring for the eyes. Right now, I’m using the boxed format of my theme which allows for a wallpaper background behind a solid colored page. This can be a good compromise. I like the contrast, but the wallpapers can still be a bit much to take if you don’t choose carefully. I’ve actually left blogs because I found those backgrounds either too aggressive or distracting.
For a good visual feature, I love a nice banner too. It seems a lot of bloggers will pour their creativity into personalized banners and it’s a great touch. I think your banner should say something about your site and sort of set the mood. It’s not a must but to me it makes a huge difference. Even an otherwise neutral and minimal design will stand out with a good banner. I’m not saying I would change my banner or anything but if you happened to have one you’re not using…
Of course, font, text color and size are all super important. Too big and it’s annoying and doesn’t fit well. Too small and it hurts your eyes. If you can’t see it well against the background you’re probably going to give up on it. I don’t have a favorite font yet, but I feel like I should. Do you? A little something I’ve only earned recently is that font colour won’t show up in the reader. So if you’re using colours identify specific blocks of text, it will be lost in the reader. You should also add bold or italics to make sure all your readers get the effect you were going for.
What do you think of widgets? They’re fun right? Is there one you like particularly? I’m a child so I’m happy as long as there are pretty pictures to look at if I’m being perfectly honest. I love random gifs or galleries in sidebars. There are probably more useful things to put in there though. If you monetize, it’s a good place to tuck adds so they won’t cut into your posts. I’ve also seen people link to their instagrams which is very interesting and good cross networking. A general (email) follow button can be good too as it will allow people to follow your blog even if they do not have a WordPress account.
This said, you can make images on your sidebar a bit more interesting and useful by adding links to them. You can point to another blog or one of your own posts if that relevant, you can even create a secret page that can only be accessed through tht image, like a little scavenger hunt for your readers!
A basic rule of thumb is that anyone who falls on your homepage should be able to find everything they are looking for with little to no scrolling and get a decent idea of what your blog has to offer. It’s basically your first impression. Most people aren’t going to put in the effort of combing through your pages and archives if nothing grabs their attention within the first few seconds.
Once you have your homepage sorted, you should turn your attention to your post format. There’s the eternal pic debate. Personally, I think you should always include at least some images in your posts. Breaking up text is helpful and being able to put a face to the name, so to speak, can be very useful. When I read reviews of shows I have not seen, I need to have images to go along with the rest of the analysis. If there are none in the post I will Google them myself, but I really appreciate if someone took the time to find them for me. I will also read posts only because the thumbnail images got my attention.
But is there a golden ration? Is there such a thing as too many pictures. Does a post start feeling shallow if you get more images than words? What about a lot of images but in a smaller gallery format?
Many years ago, I use to follow an anime blog fairly religiously. I haven’t been able to retrace it, and I don’t know if they were professional or not, but I do clearly remember that the blog featured reviews written in a journalistic style, neutral tone, very informative, but had these hilarious and often NSFW captions to all their images. I loved that. This is why large captioned pictures have always been a part of my format. Yeah – I stole it. In my defense, I think they had stolen it as well.
Do you guys read the captions? Do you love them as much as I do? Man I hope the answer is yes…
This is just a random little piece of info but it’s not ver well known and can occasionally be useful. You can get the shortlinks to your posts before they are published. The links will point to an unavailable page until your post goes live but they if you’re like me and schedule everything way in advance this can be super useful. To do this, once you have your post scheduled, hit preview then visit site to get the full screen. You should have those 3 little dots on the bottom right for more options. If you click on them you will see “copy shortlink”, that’s the address of your post!
Finally, it’s a well-known trick to end posts on a question. The idea is of course to encourage comments. I’m not entirely sure how effective it is but it does make for a nice sign off. I’m always super awkward in both starting and ending my posts. I’m a little like that in person. With my friends I tend to just have one long conversation that never starts or ends anywhere in particular. Maybe I should commission an OP and ED and just paste the videos at the beginning and ending of my posts… It wouldn’t help much really as he text would still start off abruptly, but it would be very fun.
If you want to encourage comments though, another trick is to personalize the prompt. There’s usually a generic sentence like “join the conversation” that comes with most themes but you can change that n your dashboard. The access your site’s Dashboard just put in your blogs URL followed by /wp-admin/. If you haven’t explored it yet, there are a few interesting options available there. To change the prompt go to your settings, it’s one of the last options on the left side menu, and choose Discussion. Scroll down to the bottom of the page and you should have a text box where you can input your own personalized prompt. It’s just a little touch but it will make your site a little more personal and less generic.
Alright so how to end this. Oh I know, this is totally off the top of my head and not at all premeditated in any way. Do you have any suggestions for my layout? I’m not guaranteeing that I’ll take all of them but I’ll see if I can incorporate some!