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Make Sure Your Blog Design Communicates Your Voice – Wife Advice Revisited

Late in December we ran a Community Consulting project for a blog called WifeAdvice. I invited Nancy Clark (one of the bloggers behind the site to come back and give some thoughts on the process and show us some of the changes that they made to WifeAdvice as a result of the consulting. I’ve always been fascinated to see how blogs take on the advice given so I hope you enjoy Nancy’s reflections. (by the way – here’s a small screen shot of part of how it used to look).

Be Sure Your Blog Design Communicates Your Voice

wifeadvicescreenshot.jpg
As bloggers, we are always being told to have a unique voice–to be ourselves and let our personality come out in our blogs. You’ve heard it before–if you’re not different or if people can’t tell who you actually are, they won’t see any reason to stick around. But what happens when you are being yourself and have a unique voice and people don’t like it? Or worse–what if they just don’t get it? These were the big questions on my mind after our blog was spotlighted in the Problogger Community Consultation Project a few months ago. We received great, constructive feedback, but we also received a fair amount of criticism–not only about our blog design, but about our personalities and our marriage. I kept wanting to comment back–to justify ourselves, to explain our style, to make people realize that they just weren’t getting it–as in, “Hello people?! We are just joking around here!”. My husband convinced me that we didn’t need to justify anything–luckily he’s one of those people who simply does not care what people think about him (then again, maybe that’s not so lucky, because I’m pretty sure he’ll be wearing sweatpants when he takes me out to dinner tonight).

Once I got over feeling defensive and self-conscious, I was able to see that all the feedback we received was valuable, even those negative comments that didn’t even attempt to be constructive–in fact, those kind of comments ended up being the most valuable. It finally dawned on me: If first-time visitors to our blog can’t understand what we’re saying or how we mean it, then we are not doing a good job communicating. And in our case, a poorly designed blog was to blame. Yes, I know… it could be argued that our content is the problem; but in this case that would mean our blog–or even our marriage–should just cease to exist, and we were not too thrilled with that alternative. Instead, we set out to redesign our blog to match the style and tone of our writing. And here’s how we did it:

Quick Fixes

wifeadvicequickchanges.jpg

There were quite a few quick changes that we implemented right away:

  • Removed the Blogger navbar
  • Changed from a three-column to a two-column layout
  • Added a bit of color
  • Wrote a more descriptive tagline
  • Featured our subscription options more prominently.

We saw an immediate, dramatic increase in our subscriber numbers, and now our blog looked a bit more professional. Incidentally, before our consultation, I wanted our blog to look decent, but I wasn’t convinced that it needed to be “professional” looking. My mindset was, “I don’t care if it looks a little unprofessional, because I want to give the impression that we’re really just a guy and his wife writing a blog” The obvious logic I was missing out on was that we can communicate who we are with our content, but nobody will read our content if our design doesn’t invite them in. Fixing up these minor issues helped us sit tight with what we had while we worked on something bigger and bet

Major Changes

wifeadvicelogo.jpg Our old homemade, clipart logo got the most negative feedback in our consultation, we hoped that a new logo would be the key to correcting things. A friend of a friend showed us a blog by cartoonist, Shane Lewis, and we knew we had to hire him to design our logo. We simply emailed him, asked if he was interested in doing it, worked out the details, and watched him work his magic. The new logo drove the rest of the site design; we wanted to match the colorful, cartoon look, again to communicate that our site is all in fun.

We hired web developer, Richard Worth to help us make the switch to WordPress (we always knew it was inevitable) and design our new blog theme. You know you’re working with a great programmer when you say, “wouldn’t it be cool if we could…” or “it’s too bad we can’t…” and his response is always: “I can do that.” (It also helps if he’s your brother and will stay up late into the night helping you fix broken feeds, forward outdated urls, and implement last-minute design ideas before you go live.)

Why WordPress?

Quite a few people suggested we make the move from Blogger to WordPress so that our blog would look better. We have always planned to make the move (luckily we’ve always blogged under our own domain name), but it wasn’t just to make the blog look better.–Blogger blog templates can actually quite easily be customized to the point of not being “blatantly Blogger.” We made the switch to WordPress because we wanted more flexibility and function. Our programmer would tell you about how it’s open source, you own and control your data, customize it with plugins, and can basically just make it do whatever you want, etc. From a blogger’s perspective, I especially like the ability I now have to post static pages, get trackbacks, differentiate categories vs. tags, and require email addresses in the comment form.

Unique Challenges, Unique Solutions

wifeadvicepostheader.jpg
By strategically and creatively redesigning our post headers we were able to implement feedback we received about confusing categories and titles. Also, because we have two authors, and because we write different types of posts, we needed a way for readers (especially new ones) to know what in the world they were reading–who wrote it and what kind of post it would be (i.e., serious, or satirical). We customized our header to visually show the author and the category. Our post header design also solved the age-old problem of whether we should write descriptive, SEO-friendly titles OR fun, creative titles (this is especially challenging on a humorous blog). Now we put our (boring, descriptive) post title up above the header, and then have a fun, creative “subtitle” down near the content. Everyone’s a winner!

So, now that we’ve cleaned and brightened things up a bit, I can rest easy. I feel much better about the fact that a few ProBlogger readers didn’t like our blog. That was what it took for us to realize that our blog wasn’t speaking for us–or at least, it wasn’t saying what we wanted it to say. Now that we’re making ourselves more clear, I don’t mind so much when our visitors disagree with us or give us their own advice.
Think about it. What does your blog say to your visitors, even before they’ve read a word?

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. Very interesting article with some great points. It’s also a great site too.

    I’d like to think that my blog design speaks for me. After reading this article, I’m going to really think about everything I do to my blog design.

    –TW

  2. I’m planning to redesign my blogs, mostly to add a landing page.

    I like the way this article is written, a bit like I write: “I’m not telling you what you should do, but I’m telling you what I did and hope you can learn your own lessons from that”.

  3. Hi…nice post, I’m not sure that I agree with the WordPress change though…Blogger is just fine, its no big deal and it is the easiest thing in the world to operate. I once had a wordpress blog, but I had lots of difficulty just installing some of the plug-ins! and other technical issues. Of coarse your programmer would recommend it…now he will have lots of work!
    Just a couple of things, the adsense location at the top of your page seems a bit weird, like it doesn’t fit the sizing of the border…its hard to explain, but it comes down and overlaps the other section.
    Also, I noticed you are a PR 5…wow thats impressive, considering you don’t have that many backlinks! You should start pushing some affiliate programs, you should rank well and earn some nice money.

    Overall, your blog has incredible potential! And the theme is awesome, people love this kind of stuff…keep up the great work!

  4. Lex G says:

    Good points,

    Having years of experience in the field of branding, both off line and on the web, I’ve seen good products fail because of bad visual branding … which includes your ‘voice’ …

    It is truly one of the most important things, especially nowadays, as the pace of doing business and the information load has increased …

    Having a good theme design is part of the mix, and a very
    important one …

  5. It’s always hard taking harsh feedback, especially when it comes out .. well.. harsh. The changes made on the blog will definitely help it out! As we go on as bloggers, we learn that even the high-performing blogs need to refine every once in a while.

    :)

  6. Excellent article! We’ve recently changed the look of our blog and the response was astounding.

    Your new logo is fantastic, it made me chuckle right off the bat.

    We work with a lot of clients who start out on platforms other than Word Press. I’m surprised with their initial reluctance to switch over, but usually after they do, they’re amazed they didn’t do so sooner.

    Now I have to go over and check out your blog.

  7. Jeff Belina says:

    Just wanted to let you know that I love what you’ve done with the site. The new logo alone is enough to make me want to subscribe to your blog.

  8. I just figured it out…the reason you have a nice PR of 5 is because google favours blogger, blogs. I hope you can keep the PR while with wordpress.

  9. Sayz Lim says:

    The design can really reflect how your content going to be,

    a change is always needed, it is always better to try many kinds of design and see which one can really attract reader and find out the content… and relate to WordPress? Can’t we modify the Blogger template or is there any blog can create a nice design using Blogger?

  10. Good advice. One of my very small niche sites – http://www.chemspy.com – had been languishing in a hybrid theme, and was definitely missing a trick. I’ve added a (hopefully) useful tagline and a more prominent feed button…

    db

  11. Caitlin says:

    Thank you for this post-review update! It’s great to hear feedback on the part of the person being reviewed, especially for those of us still considering a review ourselves.

    I love the new site look and setup!

  12. Frugal Dad says:

    I’ve had to balance site design with my basic message, frugality. It wouldn’t make much sense for me to hire a professional desginer to create fancy graphics and a snazzy template, and then write about the benefits of being frugal. In that case, the messages would clash. I think what you’ve done to improve WifeAdvice.com is fantastic, and I like the new design – particularly the logo!

  13. Ty Brown says:

    That site cracked me up

  14. Andrea says:

    Wow, what a great redesign! :D

  15. Chetan says:

    Great tips and good change in the design :)

    I too think there is no need of having the blogger navbar, so good step there.

  16. The most immediate change that I like about the new design is your tagline. I think it says so much more about what you’re doing. The logo is really cute, too.

  17. Black Zedd says:

    Congratulations on your numbers! Redesigning is in fact important, not just for aesthetic reasons, but also for traffic optimization (subscribers etc..)

    I just redesigned my blog recently to attract visitors and promote the rss subscription icons better. Although I’m still using Blogger platform, I managed to modify it to look absolutely exclusive and unique.

    I managed to do just that, and subscribers number has improved..

  18. Tom Stine says:

    Fantastic redesign. I remember when the blog was first highlighted that the comments did seem harsh, and some just down right condescending. Very cool that donkey and wife took the heat and made the changes. Very good site.

  19. This is a great idea – I would love to see other follow-ups on Community Consulting blog projects!

  20. Matthew says:

    Wow! Your redesign was so amazing that I just subscribed to the blog. When I saw it during its first appearance on problogger, I remember thinking it was kind of dumb, but when I saw it again today, the content somehow seemed better – I can’t explain it. Thanks for the great design tips and the great blog.

  21. You may want to have your web developer look into this, when I’m browsing from my home internet connection I still see the old site.

    Here’s the output from a dig command:

    ;; QUESTION SECTION:
    ;www.wifeadvice.com. IN A

    ;; ANSWER SECTION:
    http://www.wifeadvice.com. 3035 IN CNAME ghs.google.com.
    ghs.google.com. 603886 IN CNAME ghs.l.google.com.
    ghs.l.google.com. 296 IN A 66.249.81.121

    ;; Query time: 20 msec
    ;; SERVER: 208.67.222.222#53(208.67.222.222)
    ;; WHEN: Fri Feb 15 14:49:06 2008
    ;; MSG SIZE rcvd: 97

  22. What a timely post! I am currently going through the redesign process this weekend. Thanks for the insight into your thought process!

  23. Very good post. I love the writing style. I also thought people were very harsh on your site. I got it the first time. I must say, I do love the new design. I was thinking of this today. It just seems my blog needs a redesign.

  24. Muilkorfje says:

    I have a feeling I’m going to be the only here who thinks this, but apart from the logo (which is brilliant btw), the change from a 3-column to a 2-column layout, and the better tagline, I don’t like the redesign. I’m sorry. The older layout was more common but more classy and a lot calmer. This one is a bit tacky and busy.

  25. Lisa says:

    Great advice. One of the most challenging things for me as a Blogger is the design aspect. I love to write but I’m lacking in the design arena. I’m getting much better but have often thought about hiring a designer to do a customized logo that matches my voice and writing style.

    I definitely believe I have my own, unique voice for my particular niche so now more than ever, I want my blog’s design to match it.

  26. tracy ho says:

    Great to read that,
    thanks,

    Tracy ho
    wisdomgettingloaded

  27. Finding the tone of your blog is hardest thing. Currently, I’m struggling with the issue as well. Not sure, if I should keep it simple and in a reporting style with satire such as dooce, or if it should be more of a report a problem suggest a solution type of thing.

    For what it’s worth the new design looks real nice, but the top of the new blog, is a little busy. For that area ad blindness kicks in fast.

    Also since you now agree that impression is everything, have your developer take a look at the post footers using IE. FireFox only development will leave you with some messed borders. Opera handles it ok.

    Issues like that are common when using padding in CSS and XHTML. FireFox and IE handle padidng differently.

    Nice concept. The Donkey is just the least bit demeaning. But to set a brand, it would be fine. If he doesn’t care, go for it.

    Don’t mind the honest input.

  28. Tom Beaton says:

    Great to have people come back and show how they have taken the advice and worked on it. I am sure you are pleased with the results and so you should be.

  29. Lee says:

    Wow – I’m just going through this process on a friend’s blog and this article has really helped my focus.

  30. I had visited the site WifeAdvice.com. The design looked quite crude. The changes in design that they have made recently is quite good.

    Best of luck to WifeAdvice.com.

  31. Madame Monet says:

    I wasn’t one of the people who commented before. I subscribed for a short time and found some of these things you mention here were bothering me, so I unsubscribed. Reading this post today, I have resubscribed immediately. I didn’t really realize it before, but these exact things you mention here were what sort of turned me off to the site before. I think renaming it “Funny marriage stores” gives it a much more POSITIVE feel. I like that.

    Madame Monet
    Writing, Painting, Music, and Wine
    winewriter.wordpress.com

  32. Yeah, your design should always match your voice, personality and the topic of your site. If your blog has a vibrant voice and personality to it, a minimalistic theme will kind of look out of place…

  33. CatherineL says:

    Thanks for sharing this. I love the changes you made. The pics you used in the original site were funny but the color makes it stand out much more.

    My site is so plain but I’m having a redesign, so these tips have come at a great time.

  34. Kelly says:

    Wow, Nancy, that’s dramatic!

    When your site came up for review I wondered how you’d be able to take so much critique and turn it around to your advantage.

    Now it’s playful, it’s positive, it drive subscriptions right away, yet with all the goofiness the color scheme is still fairly traditional (in a timeless sort of way). Wonderful!

    Good luck with it!

    Regards,

    Kelly

    P.S. It must be a heck of a marriage because you could have bitten each others’ heads off during the redesign–like a cyber-home remodelling!

  35. Recently I also redesigned my blog. Changes must be done. Unless readers may get bored. It is nice the new design and also nice post. Thank you

  36. Lance says:

    Hey, glad you revisited this. I surfed into wifeadvice after it was first reviewed, skimmed a few posts, and promptly forgot about it. The logo and site design was a bit off putting and didn’t get me engaged.

    On a whim, I surfed back into it after the re-design and found it much more appealing. Content is basically the same, but the design really invited me into it and set the tone for the reader experience. My writing partner and I even participated in one of their contests.

    For my dating advice blog, honeyandlance.com, I’d love to do a logo and site re-design, but I don’t think that’ll happen until we get some cash saved up.

    Keep up the good work.

  37. Darren, very interesting article with some very valuable points. Even the website looks good.

  38. Michael says:

    Excellent post and some points I am writing down to remember as I go through my next redesign. It is one of those things that i have to remember that the find tuning is a continual process. I don’t want things to look different to the reader on every visit – but I also can’t allow the site to become stagnant and ignore changes that would really help.