When you settle on your blog theme and modify it to your liking, it becomes just that – something that you think looks good. But what about everyone else? Do they appreciate all those hours of toil you’ve put in picking fonts, colours, header graphic and heading sizes? Yes, I know you can do website testing and look at heat maps. And, of course, from your own surfing, you pick up an idea of what looks good to you, and conversely, the sites where you click the back button as quickly as possible! Good site design should help to make your experience on a site memorable.
There are some fundamentals of good blog practice, layout and design which are pretty much common sense. Let’s have a quick look at them.
Clear and uncluttered
This is perhaps the fundamental requirement of good blog layout. Once you land on a webpage, it shouldn’t be mesmerising and turn readers off. You should immediately find the look appealing, be able to read the post without distraction, and quickly find the search box, RSS, email subscribe and share buttons. There should be plenty of white space dividing up the different sections so it’s easy for the reader to compartmentalize each part. Text links should be clear. The header area should be neat with the blog title and tag line clearly visible. Link the site logo to the Home page. The site should also be easily navigable with clear, large links to the About page, Contact page, Categories and Archives. I personally prefer a 2 column design rather than the 3 column layout. I find it’s generally less cluttered. Sometimes the main centre column on the 3 column layout can be rather narrow and this can create a long thin area to scroll down through on a longer post. Site Sketch 101, shown below, is a great example of a clear, appealing layout.
This is an important area which can turn a reader off straightaway. If the font size is too small, the reader may be forced to zoom in, if they know how to (in Firefox and Chrome, Crtl key+mouse scroll wheel). And avoid light grey text on a white background which can be hard to read.
Typetester is a great website where you can try out different fonts and compare different font sizes and colours on your way to a final choice.
Avoid long paragraphs
With so much content to browse through each day, we all want information quickly so we can move on to the next blog. Reading long paragraphs in a post can be quite daunting. Try and break them up into shorter chunks and obviously also try to be concise.
Use images to break up the text
Images can help make the text less daunting especially if it’s a how-to post. But don’t go overboard and show screenshots of every single step in a process. If the procedure is common sense then cut out the superfluous screenshots.
Here’s a nice little tip which I came across on Digital Inspiration. Don’t display Google AdSense ads on articles for three days from the date of publishing. Thus people who follow the site regularly don’t see ads.
Don’t put obstacles in my way
I’ll list several annoyances in blog practice which slow me down when surfing. First, going from your RSS reader to the website you may sometimes have to click through an intermediate page.
Then there’s the pop up urging me to sign up for something the minute I arrive at a site. These appear centre screen with the background greyed out and you can do nothing till you sign up or close the box. Third, there’s the awkward-to-read captchas when you are making a comment on a post or you’re submitting something.
You’ve all seen them. You have to copy hard-to-read words into a text box before you can submit a comment. You can reload the words by clicking the top button if they’re obscure and I’ve found myself clicking 3 or 4 times to get to some text which I can just about read. Please don’t put us off commenting with these obstacles.
If you really have to read good content on a poorly designed blog, you do have the ultimate option of using a readability plugin. With the press of a button, these quickly strip out unnecessary stuff and just leave clutter-free scrollable text in a readable font size. These extensions are available for Firefox and Chrome. I use the iReader extension for Chrome and it’s also available for Firefox.