Welcome to the third installment of my Guide series, a series to commemorate my third blogoversary and serve as a collection of all of my blogging and reviewing knowledge thus far! I'll be posting one Guide per month (I've published two previously, see them here: Pursuit of Reviewers, Review Writing). I definitely don't know everything but if you're just starting out or you haven't had a chance to explore everything the internet has to offer, I've got your back! You can see an upcoming list of topics on the Guide page.
Today's topic is all about the Blog Design. I'm not going to go too much into code or anything and this applies mostly to Blogger blogs (I've actually been meaning to switch to Wordpress and an actual domain for a while but I just haven't had the time) because that's what I've had experience with. Enjoy!
This may be slightly obvious, but having a blog name is a definite plus. This doesn't have to be something that you're committed to forever, but it's good to pick a name that you don't think you'll be changing anytime soon. You'll be using your blog name on a lot (your header, button, contact info, and preferably your domain name) so it saves some time in the future if you pick a name you'll probably like tomorrow as well as today. Treat this decision kind of like if you were to get a semi-permanent tattoo that you'll have for 6 months to a year. Consider it carefully!
It doesn't have to be a stressful thing though! Just lay down or sit in a chair someplace or something and brainstorm some names. Start with topics that are important to you or things that you like. For example, I picked Blue Eye Books because my favorite feature about myself is my eyes and my favorite color is blue (and my eyes are blue too so that helps) so I just tacked on books at the end and I really like it! Some topics to think about:
- Favorite time of day
- Favorite genre
- An adjective you've always wanted to use
- Your spirit animal/patronus
- Favorite color
- Favorite quote/phrase
- Favorite word
Just throw some words together and see what you get! It can also help to browse around the blogosphere for a little while and see what kinds of names are out there. Just remember, this name is all about describing you and your interests! It doesn't matter if it sounds slightly strange. In fact, the more unique (and strange) it is, the more memorable it'll be for people. Try to keep it below 7 words, though. Short and sweet names are the best because they tend to roll off the tongue in contrast to longer, more awkward names.
After you've settled on a name, do a quick Google search to see if anyone else has that name and if it's free, you're golden!
You can now use this name to make promotional materials and other fun things! First thing's first, though. Use your name to get a domain name (Blogger will tell you if a name is taken). Try to get a domain name as close to the name of your blog as you can. It helps to make sure that everything is consistent on your blog and it ensures people can find you more easily. Blogger has a whole set-up process you go through so just follow the prompts! (I assume Wordpress has the same type of deal...?)
Overall: Make sure your blog name means something to you. Include favorite things or some sort of reference to what you think your blog will mainly be about.
Now it's time for the fun part! Colors! Picking your background and header are definitely hard decisions (I've changed mine twice so far).
Start by thinking about what colors you really like and what would go well with the theme of your name. For example, because my blog name is Blue Eye Books, I chose to go with neutrals (like cream and black currently) and a certain shade of blue. So if you chose a name like Morning Star Books, you may want to start off with darker blues, whites, yellows, or purples. Or, if you chose something like One Hundred Prologues, you'll have a little more freedom.
Be sure that the colors you choose form some sort of cohesive unit. Colors of the same family (cool, warm, neutrals) work well together or you can choose a bold color in a sea of more neutral ones or even two bold colors if they work well together aesthetically. Try out some different combinations (this is so much easier to change than your blog name so you have a lot of flexibility here!) and if it hurts your eyes to look at it for more than 4 minutes, best pick something else.
Now that you've picked out your colors, all that's left is to incorporate them into basically everything that has color. It's best to go with a clean and simple look that will load quickly. Be mindful of people who have slow connections. If something takes more than half a minute to fully load, people are more apt to just click off and not read your content. So if you do decide to go with something other than a white background, be careful on how complicated it is. Also, be sure to remember that there will be a lot of writing on this background (it is a blog after all) so if you want to do a color, keep it to the border around the writing and keep the actual writing space a white or slightly off white color. White text on a dark background is a no-go. If you don't believe me, just look at the difference!
After your background is set, it's time for the header. I won't go into how to make an image (that'll be next month when I take on the topic of images) but I'll give you some quick pointers here.
When it comes to a header, you basically only need two things: the name of your blog, and some kind of design. This is something that, again, you can change as frequently as you want without any consequences or anything so you don't have to start out with anything too clever if you can't think of anything right away. Put the name of your blog on there in some kind of stylized font (keep it readable, though!) and then add some type of image or design to liven it up a little. Also, make sure that the colors you choose for your header either match or relate to the colors that you chose for your background so the whole page comes off as a cohesive unit. Again, clean headers are really good at conveying what you want them to convey: the name of your blog. Get creative with it! I've included a few of my favorites from the blogosphere below for some inspiration.
I won't go into detail on how to make your blog header (I have another Guide coming up that'll be all about images) or button (basically a condensed version of your header for promotional use on other websites) now.
Overall: Make sure your color scheme looks nice together! You don't have to be a graphic designer to know if something looks pretty or not. If it hurts your eyes to look at it, pick another color. Stick to dark text on a light background.
This is where the actual positioning of things comes in! The most important aspect about this step is making sure that your blog is easy to navigate and read. If you click around on the blogosphere, you'll notice that the most common layout are variations of this:
There are honestly so many variations on this so you can take it whichever way you wish. You could have one sidebar or two, a thick or thin header, a varying amount of tabs, different colors, etc. Let me start by explaining each of the parts.
Header: We already discussed this in Step 2!
Tabs: These are amazing elements so I highly recommend having them. They really help people navigate around your blog and see some of your content and important stuff at a glance. Tabs like Contact Me (with your contact information), About Me (with a little bio), Review Archives (so people can scroll through all your past reviews and find them easily), etc etc. Take a browse around the blogosphere to get ideas and incorporate whichever ones you want! There's a function built into Blogger where you can easily add and customize tabs. It's really worth spending half an hour clicking around your blog management page and seeing all the different things you can change with the built in settings of Blogger.
Body Text: This is where your actual body text goes for your posts.
Gadgets: These are those cool things on the side that are images or countdowns or quote displays, etc etc. Goodreads has quite a few premade gadgets for you in your Account settings under the Widgets tab. They consist of HTML code that you put into an HTML gadget from Blogger. Speaking of which, Blogger also has a number of different gadgets although they're a little more general than Goodreads. The most common ones I use are the HTML one and Image gadget (which allows you to put an image with a header on the sidebar). You can edit all of this in the Layout tab of the Blogger application.
|(This has nothing to do with the topic but I couldn't resist another Sherlock meme ^^) (Memedroid)|
Personally, I recommend you keep your layout as clean as possible. Two sidebars (like in my example above) can sometimes encroach on your body text space which is the most important part of your blog. No one likes reading a really long post that consists of incredibly short lines because you have two rows of gadgets. Only place gadgets that are immediately relevant to whoever is visiting your site (for me, that's my quotes gadget, following gadgets, blog archive, currently reading, and reading goal progress).
For things like awards, consider creating a separate page that's accessible by tab. Awards aren't immediately necessary to the casual viewer and if they want to see you're awards, they'll seek them out. Things like your Netgalley certification can have a place on your main sidebars if you like, though!
Overall: Keep it clean and simple and be picky when it comes to the prime real estate on your sidebars!
And there you are! You can change anything you like if you end up changing your mind relatively easily except for your blog name (that's a little more time intensive but it can be done) so don't worry about experimenting a little! Personally, I've never changed my blog name but I've done three very gradual redesigns during my three years in the blogosphere.
Talk to me! Is there any advice that I missed? How did you pick your blog name and theme? How many redesigns have you done? Do you have any regrets with your blog design? Let me know!
Next Topic: The Wonders of Images (Creating Them and Citing Them)