In the past, on my 5+5 Fridays, I have shared posts on resources for blog designs, social media buttons (vol. 1 and vol. 2), and DIY tutorials. But those are just the "pretty" parts - what makes it look nice. What about the meat and bones - the things that make your site functional and keep the readers around and coming back? What elements are important to include in your layout and design? Here are 10 things to remember when you are setting up your blog design and layout.
(1) Don't let your design take up more "real estate" then is necessary. Yes, you could create a beautiful header that is very well designed and takes up half of your "above the fold" space - but is that necessary? What about that entices the reader to stay? When you start generating money from your blog, where will you put ads so they have best visibility? Think about these things when you design your header and other elements. Keep it as short as possible - and no more than 200 px tall.
(2) Include a search bar. How many times has this scenario happened to you - you see a great pin of a project you would love to do - let's say an Easter Wreath. You click on the pin, and unfortunately, the original pinner didn't post to the post page, but the main blog page. No big deal, you think, I'll just search "Easter Wreath" and find it. You scroll up and down the page but don't find a search bar. So what do you do? This happens to me frequently and I will tell you what I do - I click that big red x and likely don't come back to your site again. It's not your fault that people don't pin correctly but it is your fault that you don't have a search bar.
(3) Make yourself easy to find. Don't hide your social media icons on a separate page or make your readers search for your email. Place them in a visible spot (this is something that deserves that prime real estate space) and make sure they all link to the correct pages.
(4) Don't go font crazy. There are so many amazing fonts out there that it's hard to narrow it down - but the old saying is true - less is often more. A general rule? No more than 3 fonts - a decorative font (the handwriting fonts or funky, fun fonts), a serif font (the fonts that have little "ticks" at the end of characters - think times new roman), and a sans serif font (the plainest fonts, with no "ticks" at the ends of the characters - think arial).
(5) Sharing is caring. Make it easy for your readers to share your posts when they like it. If I have to leave your page, log in to g+, copy and paste your url, and so on... I'm likely not going to share. But when you have a share bar, it's easy to click that g+ button and not even leave the page - the same goes for sharing on facebook, pinterest, twitter, and so on. I use Share This, but I have also heard good things about Wibiya.
(6) Declutter your sidebar. Your sidebar is also very prime real estate. It's where you will place ads and anything else that you want to grab the readers attention. Make sure it is wide enough to fit all of your elements and only use it for things that are really important. Consider a separate page for things like features and party buttons, and limit your outgoing links in the sidebar (unless they are ads, which usually open in a new window). You want readers to STAY on your page, not leave and go to another.
(7) Welcome readers to your site and have an "About" page. I once heard that the About page is the most clicked page on most blogs, which I totally believe. If I go to a site that I like and am considering subscribing to, I always click on the "About" page to see what it's all about before I subscribe. Let your readers know who you are, what your blog is about, and what they will find if they stick around. Finish it up with a call to action - list the ways they can follow you.
(8) Use a "Related Posts" type widget. If the reader came to your blog to find that Easter Wreath, they are probably interested in finding Easter projects or wreath projects. When you use a widget that shares similar posts, the reader is much more likely to find and read your other posts.
(9) Show your readers your most popular posts. This is also one spot where you can use your prime real estate - either with a scrolling image at the top of your posts or by image links in the sidebar. Show your audience the posts that others have liked. Again, if you show them the post, they are much more likely to visit the post and stick around your blog.
(10) Keep your homepage concise. Don't include 25 posts on your homepage - first of all, no one is going to scroll for that long, and second of all, your page will take forever to load. Try keeping your homepage posts to 5 - 7, depending on post length. If possible, condense by just showing a thumbnail image and summary with a "Read More" link to the full post. Also, it looks best if your sidebar ends where your homepage posts end - no one will scroll down looking at just a sidebar - so if you do summaries, adjust the number showing on the homepage to match your sidebar height.
And those are the ten things to remember when thinking about the layout and design of your blog. It might seem like a lot, but I can guarantee that each of these things will give you a definite return on investment.
Want to find more ways to make your blog both functional and beautiful? Check out these other 5+5 Friday posts: