For a moment, I thought of giving this post a subtitle: an ode to white space. Because that's what this is, really. In this brief but awesome-packed guide, I'm going to be giving you a few tips on how to trim down your blog and simplify the visual experience so your readers don't hit that 'x' at first sight (if you want to see some really bad design, head here, and then look at some photos of baby moose). Okay, so, white space doesn't need to be literally white, but it's supremely important nonetheless. When faced with the decision of what to include in your blog's layout, it's easy to get overwhelmed and leave out important things— or, worse, include everything. With so many awesome things to showcase, and products or services to show to our readers, how can we chose? The thing is, by doing so, we might be drowning our readers in information. If they don't know where to start, and can't find what they're looking for, they will very likely leave, and remember that blog as the one that made their eyes bleed.
Don't be that blog.
Here are some general rules (which are, like the Pirate's Code, more like guidelines anyway) to help you simplify your blog in a way that will help your readers get right to your best content.
Through the entirety of your blog— yes, that's including the content— stick to three or fewer fonts. Three fonts is probably the most common, as you can use one for your headings, one for your subheadings or as an accent font, and one for the body of your content. Settle on what you think is the most appealing, and follows a logical pattern and stick with it in all of your blog posts (and social media content, too!)
I also recommend picking a clear, not overly-flowery font, as you never know what type of device your reader will be using. No one wants to read Edwardian script on an iPhone. Just say no.
Your best bet here is to go with a large, clear sans-serif font, as sans-serif fonts generally read best on digital screens (with serif being preferable to paper).
Think of your use of colour very much the same as your use of font. Throughout the whole of your blog you're going to want to pick only a few colours, and stick with them. Make sure that not only the precise colour is consistent (use our hand Style Guide to fill in with your precise colour, and write down the Hex Code, too) but also where you use the colour. If your headings are blue, make them always blue. If your bullet points are neon green (which I don't really recommend), make sure they're consistent. This helps your reader know exactly what they're looking at, understand what's important and helps them to organize the information.
If you're unsure about whether to go with lighter or darker colours, I recommend going with lighter colours. Darker themes are notoriously hard to pull off in a visually pleasing and accessible way, so if you're just starting out: think light.
Tip: If creative visuals are a big part of your blog (and I bet they are), consider keeping your colour scheme neutral and muted to really let your art and photography shine and reduce the risk of your blog branding clashing and competing with your images.
A good background should go mostly unnoticed, really. Except maybe by fellow designers. Stay away from bold patterns, distracting images, too much detail, or too many colours. When in doubt, use a solid, light colour, or a very subtle pattern or design. The last thing you want is for your background to be distracting your readers from your content.
Your header is your most valuable piece of real estate, where you really get to shine— use it well. Your header typically contains your logo, and/or your blog title and tagline/hook. Let this part of your website really grab your readers; before they even get to scroll, you have a moment to make a momentous impression.
This doesn't necessarily mean that your header has to be huge, however. In fact, gargantuan headers, in most situations, are a no-no. You don't want your reader to have to be scrolling and searching around for your content.
You can make a great impression and hook your readers in quite a small space. Check out xoSarah's blog header, for example. Pretty damn minimal, but you still get a clear idea of her branding, her colours and font choices, and an eye-catching, seriously good use of a call-to-action button. You're not left wondering what on earth her blog could possible be about, and you've only been here for seven seconds. Yes.
Your navigation bar is your reader's map. And maps are very important. You wouldn't want to give someone a full scale map of France, for example, then ask them to find a shop on a side-alley in Paris.
What does this mean for your navigation bar? Get selective. No more than 6 items in your navigation bar, and no more than four or five items in your drop downs. If you have more than these, this could be an indicator you need to narrow your blogs focus (which will start to bring in more of your ideal audience anyway). Consider which categories only have a few posts and absorb them into other categories. Move less important things to another part of your blog, or sacrifice them entirely.
To get really accurate, have a look at your blog's traffic stats and see which of your nav bars headings are actually being clicked on. After a year and a half, I recently got rid of even more unnecessary things which I like, but which were doing my readers no good at all. Your navigation bar is there to show your reader where to go, and to help them find what they're looking for.
Tip: I highly recommend crafting a 'Start Here' page in addition to, or in replacement of an 'About' page. I recently made the switch, and the results have ben OFF the hook. It's an ideal place to let your readers know what your blog is all about, why your blog is perfect for them and what they're going to gain from being a reader, coax them into subscribing, and spoon feed them your best content. Do it now.
With your content, consistency is key, muses. This is where your reader is getting the most important stuff that you've put hours of time and endless amounts of effort into. Make sure you're not throwing that away by distracting your reader with bad formatting, clutter, or by failing to highlight the truly important parts of your post.
Font plays a big role here. As mentioned above, stick with one font, and one colour for headings, subheadings or featured areas, and one font and one colour for your body text. The same goes for your lists and bullets. If you typically number things with 1. 2. 3., STICK WITH IT. Don't suddenly switch it up and treat your readers to 1) 2. and iii. Space consistently between headings, and don't forget that paragraphs are friend to both you and your reader.
Make sure your reader knows exactly which bits of your text are links (especially when you've gone through all of that effort to carefully and cleverly internally link to previous posts, right?), and keep your link formatting consistent.
Keep your images clean, consistent, and the same size. Forcing text to one or another side of your image is maddeningly distracting for your reader, and forces the eye to wander around attempting to find the beginning of the sentence.
TIP: Keep ads out of this space. They might make you a few extra dollars, but they're not worth the readership you'll lose by placing ads between each of your subheadings.
Your side bar can be blogging gold. You can share with your readers your social media, your products, your services, your latest posts— and you can even profit from advertising.
It's easy to want to include all of these things at once. What really gets results, however, is some seriously careful selection what your readers really need to be seeing here. Think long and hard about what will get you the results you want (hint: unless you're trucking in hundreds of thousands of hits, it's probably not three slots for Google Adsense. Sorry, Google.) Cull, wait, and cull again.
Not long ago, I had more than one ad slot, AND a space for my Amazon Affiliates account. What has it done for me? 'Bout 10$. And it was a waste of some mega-valuable real estate. By the time your readers get through the Google, The Amazon, The Pinterest, The Twitter Feed, The Recent Posts, The Comments, and The Word Cloud to your feature about your newest online course, their brains are full sponge, baby. Focus on just ONE social media outlet; if Pinterest is your main view generator like it is for me, a selection of your recent pins might be the thing to get your readers more engaged with social media.
Using this space to feature a selection of your popular posts, and especially to feature your creative services, products, courses, is THE BEST way to profit from your blog and obtain long term success. Would you rather 10% of the profits from directing your reader away to someone else's shop, or 100% of the profits for directing your reader to buy YOUR product. I think we all know here. The last thing you want to be doing is sending your reader away to someone else's service.
Finally, make sure there is adequate space between your sidebar and your main content, and between each of the features on your sidebar. Cramming it all together will create so much visual noise for your reader they won't know what the hell they're supposed to be looking at.
- Consistency is key. More stuff = more mess. Stick to three fonts, and a few colours. Use them in the same places every time.
- Catch your reader with a clean and captivating header, direct them with a 'start here' page.
- Keep your Navigation Bar to the 5-6 most important things, 4-5 in the drop-down.
- Trim, trim, trim your sidebar. Give your best real estate to YOUR products and services, not someone else's.
- Less is more.
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