I wrote my first official blog post on September 29, 2005. If you’ve been reading my blog for a while, you know that it has undergone many changes over years. I first used Movable Type. Then, with the help of Tasra Dawson, I switched to Typepad. Later, I switched to WordPress. When things didn’t work out with the new designer, I quickly found Rodney Wallin (72 horus before my Typepad contract expired). When I outgrew that design, I hired a fourth designer. I liked him, but not his design (my fault, not his), so I asked a fifth designer, Mitch, to take over. You are now looking at his handiwork!
I'm sure my blog won’t look exactly like this forever, but I’m mighty happy with this design and I hope you are too. We have several tweaks to go to get the format just right and to fill in some of the graphics on the right side with the fabulous companies that sponsor my work, but the overall design and components are in place. Over the months, I have learned a lot about blogging, blog design and about choosing a quality blog designer. It has been expensive and time consuming, yet the bright side is that blogging has enhanced my life tremendously. On top of that, I've made all of the mistakes so you don't have to! I can share my experiences with you and save you some of the pain I went through to obtain a blog I really like. I want to start by sharing a very basic rule that applies in one way or another to every blog in the universe.
Keep It Simple
I was originally impressed with the “magazine” style blog layouts like the one pictured above because of the sliding content bar across the top of the home page. The sliders contain a blog title, and introductory content to “tease” readers with snippets of content so they can choose to read what interests them most. Since I publish a new post nearly daily, I thought it would be great for my readers to have several options at the top of the home page every time they visited. So far, so good.
Because I like to include a corresponding graphic for each post, I also wanted the graphic to appear in the slider. And because I wanted “headlines” or “latest posts” to appear under the slider so my readers would have even more choices, I decided I wanted a matching graphic there too.
Not so fast.
Just exactly how did all those pretty graphics get into all of those spaces at the blog? Well, I had to re-size them! Ugh! It didn’t take long for me to realize that the magazine style theme I had chosen was far more trouble for me than it was worth. Oh sure, I could have had a theme custom designed for me, one that automatically perfectly re-sized each graphic for each of the 3 spots where it appeared. But since I'd rather spend the $3,500 I could have paid for that elsewhere, I was stuck re-sizing 3 graphics for each blog post — once in the post itself, once in the slider and once in the headline.
After doing this a few times, I realized that I was spending nearly as much time re-sizing graphics as I was focusing on content. This is not a good thing for a writer. I was frustrated and far less productive.
And there's more.
Because my radio show blog posts (this one, for example), contain my radio show stream links (I use Podpress for this), the stream link appeared by default in the tiny little headline space. This further jumbled up the home page by adding yet another graphic. And because not all of my posts contain a Podpress stream link, the headline areas were not evenly sized because some included the stream link while others did not. This looked sloppy and I did not like it one bit. (We're still working on adding Podpress to this design so that's why you don't see the show stream link in the above post yet.)
For a few weeks then, my blog contained a lovely graphic in each blog post, while the graphics in the slider and headlines were pixelated, squished, morphed – just plain ugly. The straw broke the camel's back when my friend Melinda Emerson's photo was squished beyond recognition in the slider and the thumbnail for this post. I knew I had to take action, and take action fast.
The Lesson: Keep It Simple, Really Simple
The lesson here is to investigate the practical implications of every feature of every blog design you have to choose from before selecting one. And be especially leery of fancy options like sliders, headlines and thumbnails.
I highly recommend that at least one clear, complementary graphic be included with each blog post. However, if you have to spend an inordinate amount of time tinkering with pictures, you will not have as much time to focus on delivering quality content to your readers.
Simplicity means enjoyment and ease of use for you and your readers, and this helps everyone be more productive.
Question: What do you think of the new blog design? Do you miss the sliders and thumbnails? Do you agree with me that this design is cleaner, easier on the eyes and more fun to navigate? Whatever you think (good or bad), I want to hear it so please leave your feedback in the comments section below.