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Does Blog Design Matter in the Early Stages of a Blog?

reader-questionsJennifer asked – I know a better layout would be more useful to my readers. Is it better to redesign early in the game?”

Two main thoughts come to mind:

1. Design does matter – I’ve written on why previously but I think it is one strategy that can really lift a blog to the next level and help create a great first impression for a blog – especially in it’s early days.

2. Having said this, design can also be a distraction to you as a blogger – If you have limited time and budget I would put more energy into content creation in the early days. This is particularly the case if you’re a brand new blogger just finding your feet. While I’m not saying this is you, many new blogs don’t make it past the 2-3 month mark (for a long list of reasons) and if you’ve invested significant time and money into changing the design of your blog you might regret that later.

So if you’re starting out I’d spend more time on writing engaging content, developing a rhythm of writing for your blog, connecting with other bloggers in your niche, developing relationships with the readers you do have and working out whether blogging is something you can see yourself doing in the long term. Then, in time, you can start tweaking your design and getting it to a level you’re happy with.

One last little thought. When we moved into our new house a year or two back one of the best pieces of advice we received from friends was to live in the house for a year before making any major renovation decisions. Living in a house for 12 months means you get to see it in all of the seasons and get to experience how it works well under different conditions. Then you’ll be in a much better position to renovate not only in a way that looks good but in a way that works well.

I think there’s some wisdom in that not only for house renovations but for blog renovations. I probably wouldn’t wait 12 months but give it some time and your redesign could be much more effective and functional than immediately doing all the tweaks that come to mind in the early days.

About Darren Rowse

Darren Rowse is the founder and editor of ProBlogger Blog Tips and Digital Photography School. Learn more about him here and connect with him on Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and LinkedIn.

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Comments

  1. I think all blogs should have fantastic looking banners. Image counts A LOT. I would say that some investment in your blog looking great is worth it, even in the early days.

  2. adrian says:

    well, i have a question, for a new blog, should i choose lots of colors, or just 2 or 3? ( i have to say, i did not read the whole post)

  3. I worried too much at the beginning on design, on adding every bell and whistle. Now I just write.

  4. Great tips Darren. Thanks for sharing.

    Steve

  5. Erin Fogarty says:

    I agree that while your site design is important, it should not overshadow your actual posts. The key to a successful blog is good content (actually, there are many keys, but this one is most important). As long as your blog is easy to read and contains all the right elements (Search, RSS Subscription, etc.) then you’ll be on the right track.

    Thanks, Darren. As always, you continue to provide thought-provoking stuff!

  6. I think more important than just playing with the design of your blog is to make an effort to actually code a uniqe theme. I’t not that hard thanks to WordPress, and takes some basic knowledge of XHTML and CSS.

    You’re dead on about that design takes you to the next level, I did a post about similar tips recently right here.

  7. hh says:

    hi, this is not entirely on blog template design, but I have noticed that many blogs with their own domains do not have a landing page for readers after they have click the ‘post comment’ button. This leads to confusion and commentors often ended up submitting their same comments many times over. I think there should be at least some form of update that says ‘your comment has been posted’.

  8. Jul says:

    Blog design can always be tweaked and improved along the way, but one thing I wish I had done when I was starting out was use my own domain name from day one. I lost traffic and page rank when I finally switched from a blogspot address to http://www.zurika.com, and it caused all kinds of headaches. I would definitely say worry about the domain name first, and the design later. (I’m in the midst of re-designing now, and it’s certainly not costing me readers or links.)

  9. Tim Spangler says:

    My blog has only been around for a month but I already hate my design. The big sultry picture of me plastered across the top makes the blog seem almost too personal and doesn’t really fit in with what I write about, not to mention it doesn’t look the same on every browser (nothing major, just minor rendering quirks)

    Now my question is, does changing the design of a blog, especially this early in its life, distract the readership or draw in more?

  10. Karen says:

    I like the house analogy. After several months of blogging, I’m just now starting to think about blog design and finding ways to customize it. It took me three years to decorate my living room and I don’t have much of an eye for design. I hope I have better luck redesigning my blog!

  11. stephen says:

    Who needs design… i let others see my blog how they want to see it… ill just post 1101001010100100101010101010100101010101010100111101001010011100101000110010101 and you can put the design where you want it… lol, im just kidding, but i wish i were better at the design thing too… it will come with time.

  12. Roman says:

    I present what I feel. My toughts and my feelings…

  13. Greg says:

    Impressions are everything. I made sure my site was attractive before promoting it. #1 Content #2 Design.

  14. weput says:

    Well..
    Since you talked about early stage..I’ll post my coment.

    my blog is less than a week old… I posted a couple of “please review my new blog” on some webmaster forums (to get real feedback and some traffic as well)

    and everyone said work the design (at that time I had it plain; now at least I have a logo. LOL)
    The thing is that we are suggestive animals who literally will imprint stuff in our brain thru our eyes (have you heard about an image worth a thousand words?)

    If your content is good, and your look and feel sucks, the page overall will be annoying to the reader eyes; or simply just “too common” so there won’t be anything real to remember there (unless you are shocking with your posts…. But visual help to get that shock anyways).

  15. I asked a similar question on my blog a few weeks ago. Having a good blog design is not the overriding factor in the early days. Maybe if you have some type of brand you want to associate with your site then having a design that is unique and attractive would be useful.

    In the early days I would focus on the basics of allowing visitors to easily navigate around your site, provide a means for them to easily contact you, and a means to easily subscribe to your feed.

    It would be more productive to concentrate on writing good quality content and tweak the design later on down the road, especially when you consider many people may only read your blog content via a feed reader, not actually visiting your site..

    My personal preference is for a site with good quality content and simple layout rather than a site with sexy graphics and animation but no substance.

  16. Shane says:

    When I start working on my first blog (all of a month ago) my only design concern was to pick out a unique looking theme to catch the reader’s eye. In the interim I have read a lot on blogging and come to some conclusions about my original design. While it is a good design for the personal blog that it is, the theme didn’t lend itself to monetization. While I don’t want to change the design of the original, I have applied the lessons learned to my new blog in order to make it apear more professional. Anyone interested in comparing the difference can see my new website at http://threewheelrevolution.com

  17. Interesting post. Design matters but for me, I prefer simple and uncluttered over blogs with too much design. I may really like beautiful banners but I’ll only keep visitng if the blog is easy to follow, quick to load and interesting to read.

  18. Jonathan says:

    Darren,

    I definitely think that design is important, but not as important as the content. I’ve seen some very…ummm…unappealing web sites, but I still visit them because they have great content.

    Since my launch in 2006, my site was kind of dull and didn’t have any visual pop to it. I understand that a lot of bloggers design their content first and then their site, which is what I started doing.

    This past Friday (June 1, 2007), I relaunched with a better design and I hope that my audiences receives a better experience.

    Now, I sit and wait… :-)

    Great article!

  19. J.D. says:

    My blog is also less than a week old, although I’ve had a few .blogspot sites up to learn the process.

    I spent a lot of time before actually putting my site up into researching a good WordPress template. I finally settled on one that looked like it was well-written and clean. I think it matches my content nicely, although it may look a little bland.

  20. Deborah says:

    I have some very basic HTML skills, but for now until I complete my first month of blogging I think I’ll stick with the templates offered through blogger.com. I am still reading through Yaro’s Blog Profits Blueprint and making a better effort at creating stronger content.

    I have gotten hooked on this “YouTube”, just about everyone of my entries now has one if not more. Does anyone else use it? I know I went of topic a bit, Sorry.

  21. Steve Olson says:

    Darren,

    I used the default template from wordpress for months and I built a following. Would a more professional template helped? probably, but since I am a part time blogger it surely would have distracted from content creation, which was much more important in the area I blog in (I’m still not sure what that area is, except it is my observations about stuff). I wish I had time to make a better blog template and I’m always looking for someone to help, but until then I fairly happy with what i have.

  22. Danilo says:

    Design pleases the eyes, its always something nice to have but for those who want to play serious game of blogging. It doesn’t make much sense to invest on design if you are going to abandon your idea soon or if everything is new to you.

    Practice blogging for a while, afterwards when you want to start something quite serious, then spend time (or money) on design.

  23. This is sound advice! Focus on content and design will matter less and less as people continue to come for content.

  24. Thomas says:

    I have had a blog for almost a year, but only started getting serious a couple of weeks ago.

    I am currently blogging on WordPress, and the advice Darren has given is the advice I have been trying to follow.

    I picked a theme that works and I customized it a little bit to ensure easy access to content. My blog deals with technical content so I want to focus on creating a solid batch of content. My layout is usable, and being technical I would rather have the response be, good content, could be designed better, rather than pretty but no substance.

    I like the house analogy, that is really helpful. Thanks for confirming the path I am following.

  25. narcolept says:

    I’m in agreement with Danilo on this one. Design can change, bad content won’t. If you’re content isn’t there to build readers, a fancy professional design really isn’t going to help. Once you’ve built readers, design changes won’t bother them, they’re there for your content, after all.

  26. Armen says:

    Like everything, there must be balance. I have enough knowledge of html and css that allows me to customize a theme fairly well. However, as design is something I’m interested in, I’m hoping to learn a lot more so that I can build my designs from scratch.

    Having said that, my content will always come first, and I try to compliment good articles with a pleasent design.

    My advice — unless you’re going to heavily modify it, don’t go for a theme that is popular. I’m probably wrong for this, but as soon as I see a blog using an unmodified MistyLook theme, it has the same effect as seeing .blogspot.com

  27. Lincoln says:

    I think I went overboard with design, making so many hard coded changes into my current theme that I can’t make an upgrade without losing several months worth of tweaking here and there. It’s one of the pet peeves I have about using WordPress as a blogging platform. I realized you can either spend the bulk of your time designing your site, or actually blogging on it, but not both, unless you don’t mind going to bed at 4am every night like I’ve been doing for a while. :-)

  28. Amit says:

    Thanks once again, Darren!
    I don’t know what it is but every time you’ve made a post like this one, I’ve implemented it on my blog too. I guess I made 4-5 changes to my blog within these 4-5 days and tweaked them according to what you said! And i’m noticing the difference too!

  29. Ross Gordon says:

    “While I’m not saying this is you, many new blogs don’t make it past the 2-3 month mark (for a long list of reasons) and if you’ve invested significant time and money into changing the design of your blog you might regret that later. ”

    This is great advice. I find the same thing with a lot of new guitar players. they want to spend money on some fancy guitar b/c they see their guitar hero playing it. But within a few weeks when they realize that you actually have to PRACTICE to get good they give up and then they are stck with a $700 guitar. Sure, it looks cool in the corner of their bedroom. Heck, they may even get a few chicks from it. But all in all, it was a waste of money.

    Thanks for the post, i think you gust gave me a good idea for a topic on my guitar blog! i owe ya one!!!

  30. Michael says:

    Deborah had a great point about blogging for one month with a free theme, don’t mess with it until you have had a month of writing. The thing is the content is key, I’ve seen too many websites that look like utter crap but have very high traffic because the content is just really good. Find your balance between messing with the look and writing, but just remember if you don’t write, what is there to read?

  31. I have blogged with the WP-default theme for 1.5yrs and I don’t think it hurt me (trafficwise).

    Only yesterday, I switched to a liquid, three-column design because a) I am a “liquid fetichist” and b) three columns make it easy to place the ads AND the navigational things (like Categories, search, archives) next to each other.

    IMO, it is important to place ads and navigation as high on the page as possible. With three columns, I think I have solved that conflict between revenue and usability quite well.

    Now I only have to get rid of that butterfly which is in the template… :)

  32. I used WordPress for some of my sites but found the available themes difficult to change. They were overly design optimized. Change a little something and things start to break down and fixing things can take a long time. Eventually I decided to start from scratch and designed an easy to customize shell – a template built to be changed. Simple and for sure not a visual stunner, but a good starting point for those who need something more personal then a standard theme. Check it out if you like.

  33. Shaun says:

    Blog design and blog content go hand in hand. A blog with great content and a good design will get more traffic and returning visitors than a blog with great content and poor design. When your readers are reading your content they would probably appreciate a visually appealing website as well as meaningful content.

  34. Matt Wardman says:

    My recommendation at the start (assuming you have learnt at least some of the ropes first) would be to spend a little time on design, then focus on content and come back to the design 100 posts later:

    In the first 1-3 months, split your time something like this:

    * 10% initial set up and optimising design.
    * 10% promotion. Directories, search engines, networking.
    * 80% researching, writing, publishing content.

    I blogged this here last week:

    http://www.mattwardman.com/blog/2007/05/25/how-to-start-blogging/

  35. Rob O. says:

    If a significant portion of your traffic is readers of your RSS feed, then that does kinda sidestep some of the emphasis on design & aesthetics. Then again, your RSS content will hopefully draw readers to the site to explore more…

  36. KirkWarren says:

    Blog design does not matter too much unless you are trying to differentiate yourself solely on the design factor. Obviously, if you are a graphics design or portfolio type site, you should have something quite dynamic and asthetically pleasing to look at.

    If you are simply using a Blogger or WordPress based blog, you should be fine with almost anything, as it will generally be a banner with 2 columns and basic colouring schemes. I recently updated my sites banner, as it was originally a horrible Arial font coloured blue with an image to the left of it. You can check out the original and various designs I went through and thought process for my new design at my blog if you wish. My site is not dedicated to web design or blogging tips, but I did do an update detailing my new banner that relates to this topic.

    http://thebuypile.blogspot.com/2007/09/bringing-sexy-back-new-banner.html

  37. You are right, but you need an unique blog design, just that you should not make out of it the main attribute of your blog.

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