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Are You Ignoring This All-Important Aspect of Your Blog?

Are You Ignoring This All-Important Aspect of Your Blog?

This is a guest contribution from Larry Alton.

Content may be king to a successful blogger, but layout and design are also important aspects.

Unfortunately, this is a topic that doesn’t come naturally to most bloggers. In fact, it can be a point of conflict for bloggers who have no graphic design background.

Sound familiar? Don’t worry; we’ve got you covered. With the intuitive information and guidance found in this post, you’ll be able to take action and give your blog a simple adjustment it drastically needs. 

Study Consumption Patterns

Every blog is different, but users often consume information and interact with content in similar ways. Over the years, web designers have studied trends and determined that two design patterns stand above the rest. Let’s take a look:

F-Pattern design

Various eye-tracking studies have shown that many web surfers prefer to read the screen in an “F” pattern. In other words, they start by looking at the top of a web page and ultimately drift further and further down the left-hand side of the page. Only occasionally do they gravitate towards the right-hand portion of a page. The takeaway is that the most important elements of a website should be on the left side of the design.

Z-Pattern design

While similar to the F-Pattern, the Z-Pattern design has some slight nuances. This theory says that users follow the shape of a Z when consuming content. That is, they start in the upper left-hand corner of the screen and proceed horizontally to the upper right-hand portion before moving diagonally to the bottom left and across to the right.

The F and Z patterns are obviously generalizations, but the principles gleaned from these design techniques can be applied to any website or blog. Using a scroll heat map, you may be able to figure out just how far down your pages users are venturing before clicking through to another page. With this information, you can then increase conversion rates and reduce bounces.

By using a heat scroll map, you may also discover that certain design elements on your blog aren’t serving much of a purpose. In Darren’s recent podcast about How to Give Your Blog Design a Spring Clean, he touched on the importance of refreshing layouts and visual elements to maximize results. Specifically, he started with two simple questions:

“What do you want people to do on your blog?

“Are you reflecting that in your design?”

Darren then discussed some simple, yet effective solutions to improving your blog layout in a practical manner. While he mentioned a number of helpful tips, we’re going to dig a little deeper into one tip in particular: decluttering your blog sidebar.

How to Declutter Your Blog Sidebar in 4 Easy Steps

Over time, your blog’s sidebar grows. You add a link here and a tool there, and before you know it your sidebar is the equivalent of that messy junk drawer in your kitchen. While you may not consciously think about your growing sidebar, now is the time to give it a little TLC. Here are some targeted tips for decluttering that sidebar so that you can speed up your site, eliminate distractions, and improve the visual layout of your blog.

1. Set Your Priorities

The first thing you have to do is set your priorities and metrics for determining what stays and what goes. The best method of prioritizing sidebar elements is by analyzing each individual one and asking two questions: Is this element serving my blog’s goals? Is this element serving my visitors’ needs?

If the answer to both of these questions is “no,” then there’s nothing else to think about. Go ahead and hit the delete button! If the answer is “yes” to both, then you can feel good about leaving well enough alone. Things get a little murky when you have one yes and one no. Weigh the pros and cons and err on the side of removing the element if you can’t definitively say that it adds value.

2. Delete These Elements

Right off the bat, there are some clunky elements that you can delete. The first is the “Tag Cloud.” These are the groupings of the most commonly used words on your blog. While they may look cool at first, the reality is that nobody uses them. They just take up space.

The next thing you should delete is that blog roll. While a good link to a relevant blog may be helpful, the fact is these links take away from your site by driving traffic to different URLs. They also take up a lot of room.

Finally, consider deleting the recent comments section from your sidebar. The reason is that nobody cares to read comments out of context. Furthermore, if spammers regularly comment on posts, your sidebar will end up being nothing more than a real-time spam feed.

3. Highlight Popular Posts

Most blogs are set up in a format that highlights the most recent posts in the sidebar. While there’s nothing wrong with this, people can get the same information by simply visiting the first page of your blog. Instead, use this space to highlight popular posts. This will increase your click through rates and provide more value in the long run.

4. Understanding What Stays

So, what stays in the sidebar? Well, you’ll definitely want an opt-in form to collect user’s email addresses, a mini bio with picture to highlight who you are, and a convenient search bar. Past this, nothing is mandatory. Remember, only keep an element in your sidebar if it serves the needs of your visitors or satisfies the goals of your blog.

Make Layout and Design a Priority

While every blog is different, the reality is that most users interact with blogs in similar ways. If you study the consumption patterns of your users, you’ll notice that your cluttered sidebar likely adds very little value to your blog. In fact, it may take away from the primary conversion goals you’ve established. Paying attention to these behavioral patterns and decluttering your sidebar may allow you to experience higher conversion rates and longer site visits.

Nobody is telling you to skimp on content. Your content is obviously the most critical component of having a successful blog. However, you can’t afford to ignore layout and design. By combining the right layout with relevant content, you can transform an average blog into a valuable, high-converting industry resource that attracts readers, advertisers, and influencers alike. And while you may have never realized it in the past, decluttering your sidebar can play a major role in this transformation process.

Larry Alton is an independent business consultant specializing in social media trends, business, and entrepreneurship. Follow him on Twitter and LinkedIn.

How to Give Your Blog Design a Spring Clean

How to Give Your Blog Design a Spring Clean

In this next instalment of the #TodayNotSomeday series on the podcast, we’re moving away from creating email lists, optimising signups, and creating autoresponder mailouts, and focusing on the first thing people see when they come to your blog: the design.

As you know, the series is working through challenges that help you do things today that you’ve been putting off, even though they have huge benefits for your blog in the long term. One of those things is design tweaks. You know the things that niggle at you that you never get around to – the font isn’t quite right, the sidebar needs work, your header could do with an upgrade – but you’ll sort them out one day. Except that day is today!

The way your blog looks, what it makes people feel, what it calls people to do is vital, and it has a huge impact on your blog and how it’s seen.

Today, with a little work on re-optimizing your design, you have the potential to turn more first-time visitors into long-term readers, you invite the reader to stick around longer, you up the chance of them clicking on affiliate links or advertising, comment more, investigate your ebooks, and have a higher chance of them seeing your offered services. All from just a few minutes’ work on your part!

In this episode I discuss the things you should do today that will help you achieve these gains. Of course it depends on what your aims are for the site, so the advice will be slightly different for everyone, but in general, we go through actual steps to optimise your sidebar, navigation, calls to action, and decisions about your entire design. I also share the top 5 things I think every blog should have to make their design eye-catching and user-friendly.

What changes will you make? Share your progress with the #TodayNotSomeday hashtag, and find the show notes for this episode here.

Further Reading:

 

The 5 key elements your blog’s ‘Start Here’ page must have

The 5 key elements your blog’s ‘Start Here’ page must have: on ProBlogger.netThis is a guest contribution from Kelly Exeter.

Imagine this: you’ve written a killer blog post and it’s being shared all over the place. Woo hoo! Your traffic is going through the roof and it’s great fun watching those numbers climb. There’s just one problem; all those new readers are reading that one viral post and then leaving your site, never to be seen again.

Or this: you’ve been blogging for seven years. There’s a LOT of content on your site. And new readers are finding you via Google every single day. But your site’s bounce rate is high. Those new readers are sticking around long enough to read the one post Google sent them to and then they’re gone.

How do we stop this happening? How do we capture these readers and turn them into repeat visitors?

The answer is: with a killer Start Here page. One that brings all the important stuff buried deep in your site up to the surface, and offers it up to the reader in a logical way.

What does a killer Start Here page have on it? Glad you asked!

Here are the five most important things it needs in the order in which they should appear:

  1. A very clear statement about who your site is for

If someone’s landed on your site and they’re not your ideal reader, don’t waste their time or yours. Make it clear this is not the place for them.

If they ARE your ideal reader? Then this first part of the page should make them feel at home; like you ‘get them’. This bit need not be more than a paragraph or two.

Here’s what Pat Flynn has at the top of his Start Here page:

“I’m Pat Flynn, creator of Smart Passive Income. If you’re new to the world of online business, blogging, and passive income, this page is for you! It contains the information you need to get up to speed quickly and start your own venture confidently!”

This is what kicks off Michael Hyatt’s:

“If you’re like most of my readers, you’re a successful, high-achiever. You are committed to winning at work, and—equally important—succeeding at life. You strive to grow, get better, and reach your potential. You want to leave a lasting impact on your world.”

While Nicole Avery from Planning with Kids states:

“Planning With Kids is about productivity for families. Getting organised at home so you can spend more time on the good and fun bits of family life.”

  1. Now tell them a little bit about you

Just a little bit. Like a paragraph. If they’ve read past the first paragraph they’re thinking your blog is going to be useful to them in some way. So use this bit to quickly and easily establish some rapport – show them why you ‘get them’.

Here’s Michael Hyatt again:

“I know what it feels like to be in over your head—to have your success outpace your ability to manage it, while still attending to the things that matter most—family, health, faith, and community.

For years, I, too, struggled to get off the treadmill. Too often, my success came at the expense of my health and my most valuable relationships.”

  1. Give them the opportunity to buy something from you

Now I know some people are going to vehemently disagree with me here, but I’ll stand strong on this. Some people will be so sold on you at this stage they want to throw money at you. Let them!

Do you have a book? Offer an online course in something? Link it up!

At best, they will buy. At worst, you’re signalling to the reader right from the word ‘go’ that you’ve created something valuable enough it’s worth paying actual money for (which gives you instant credibility).

Immediately after introducing himself on his First visit? Click here! page, Chris Ducker establishes himself as an authority on the topic of Virtual Staff and Outsourcing … and then says “I wrote a book about this!” I bet a lot of people don’t get much past this bit of the page because they’ve hurried over to Amazon or Barnes and Noble to buy.

The 5 Elements Your Blog's "Start Here" Page Must Have: on ProBlogger.net

  1. Give them something for free (+ bonus social proof)

Ok, they’re not ready to buy from you just yet, but they’re still here. Now’s the time to offer them something great for free to get them on your list. If you don’t … what a wasted opportunity!

Here’s what Pat Flynn offers:

The 5 Elements Your Blog's "Start Here" Page Must Have: on ProBlogger.net

If you can offer some social proof in with your free offer like Pat does (‘this book has been downloaded 15,000 times’), all the better. Us humans like to belong so if we see that lots of other people are doing something, we feel both compelled to and comfortable in doing that thing too.

Here’s another form of social proof from Chris Ducker (when he talks about his free 7-day New Business Bootcamp):

I get approximately 150-200 emails a day from entrepreneurs that want to start growing their business the right way for today’s economy.

And here’s James Clear offering two kinds of social proof: the rather large number of email subscribers he has, along with the logos of the big online publications he’s written for.

The 5 Elements Your Blog's "Start Here" Page Must Have: on ProBlogger.net

  1. Links to your favourite blog posts/things that tell your story

The final element on your Start Here page is arguably the most important. If someone’s got to this point, they want to know more of your story. They want to know more about YOU. So this is where you both showcase your best content and offer up blog posts that tell your story/share your journey in a logical fashion.

Michael Hyatt lists his favourite blog posts under specific categories and offers subtle social proof by noting they’re his most popular posts.

Pat Flynn shares three podcasts and also adds in social proof along with a guarantee!

SPI fans tell me all the time how much these episodes helped them understand the types of passive income opportunities. I guarantee they’ll help you too.”

The Minimalists link and link and link (in a useful fashion).

So does Leo Babauta on the Zen habits site.

And, although it’s not a specific Start Here page, Bron from Maxabella Loves does a magic job telling her story/sharing her base philosophies through the links on her About page.

Diving deep into your archives and categorising key older posts in this way will take some work. But it will be completely worth it for the way it will allow someone to lose themselves in your site for an hour or two. If you managed to captivate them, you’ve got yourself a brand new super-fan!

Kelly Exeter is editor of FlyingSolo.com.au and author of Your Best Year Ever – 7 simple ways to shift your thinking and take charge of your life. Can a highly driven person really lead a less frantic life? She ponders that and more here.

How to Define Your Blog’s Brand

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In today’s episode of the ProBlogger podcast, I want to talk to you about blog branding, and how it shapes the relationship between you and your reader.

It’s something I think everybody should take seriously, and put thought into, rather than just muddle along and see what happens – it really makes such a difference not only to how you are perceived, but also in growing your presence.

Today’s episode is super-practical, and includes lifestyle blogger Claire Hillier from Checks and Spots giving her top tips for building a brand. She spoke at the recent ProBlogger event about blogging for beginners and mentioned these incredibly important points about personal branding, your blog mission, and how these things tie together. These ultimately have a flow-on effect for other parts of your blog and presence online.

Grab a notepad and jot down the notes as they come – also feel free to stop the podcast and answer the questions she raises – and really engage with the content and concept of building your own blog brand, whether it’s commercial or as a hobby.

Claire discusses:

  • What is a brand?
  • What is the essence of a blog?
  • What is the audience?
  • Where is my blog useful?
  • Brand values

You can find episode 49 of the ProBlogger podcast How to Define Your Blog’s Brand here, as well as the show notes.

Further Reading:

Design Trends of 2015: How Your Blog Can Adapt

This is a guest contribution from Owen Andrew.

Since mobile internet began to overtake desktop internet usage in January 2014, there have been major innovations in website design in light of this trend. In general, websites have been opting for a simpler, mobile-friendly design. Maintaining a blog in such a fast-paced environment can be a huge challenge, but staying on top of trends is required for success. In order to keep your blog interesting and relevant in the upcoming year, there are five design trends to keep in mind when continuing your work in 2015.

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Image via shutterstock.com

Emphasis on Mobile

With so many people turning to their mobile devices when going online, it’s no wonder that many blogs have begun creating content that is easy viewable on smaller screens. While mobile used to be a consideration, for web-savvy designers, mobile is now the focus. If a site doesn’t work on mobile, you are now neglecting what is likely the majority of your audience, so start any web design process by focusing on mobile, and adapt that design to work on a desktop screen, rather than vice versa.

 Focus on Typography

Thanks to Google Fonts, a free package of various typefaces, and a recent decrease in typography package prices, there has been renewed interest in creating a unique look through higher-end typography. Typography is not only useful for creating a more beautiful, unified look for your blog or website, it can also have a large impact on the readability of your text– especially on mobile platforms. For example, fonts such as Verdana and Georgia have been shown to have the best readability on screens. Small touches such as typography can lend a lot to a site, and help it stand out among the competition.

 Minimalist Design

Because of the new emphasis on mobile, the web design landscape is expected to be much more minimalist than in previous years. The emphasis on flat designs and stripped-down icons will be more present in 2015. Apple, Microsoft, and Google have all embraced two-dimensional buttons and icons recently, and other websites are beginning to follow suit.

 Large Background Photos

A major web design trend in the upcoming year, large background photos have become popular because of their ability to fill in an otherwise sparse, minimalist site. This trend has been facilitated by an increase in bandwidth across the globe, and allows for scrolling sites filled with large pictures and lots of information. Using large background pictures is great for home pages, and when used with flat-design buttons lends any website or blog an expansive, elegant appearance.

 Expandable Menus

To accommodate the simpler look that is currently prominent in website design, bloggers and blog sites have started utilizing expandable menus in order to keep the blog decluttered and clean-looking. These expandable menus are often integrated with flat designs that use intuitive, minimalist icons rather than three-dimensional ones. These expandable menus are especially well suited for mobile, where they can stay out of the way of the text and media.

Blogging, especially for a living, is an extremely competitive field. Keeping up-to-date on current trends in design will enhance your content by supporting it with a cleaner, more modern look. The internet is estimated to contain more than 152 million blogs! Staying ahead of the curve on advances in technology and design will help your blog keep ahead of the pack.

Owen Andrew is a tech journalist and Apple enthusiast. When he’s not writing or drooling over the latest Apple announcement, he’s usually hanging with his kids and doing family activities. Feel free to give him a shout on G+ or Facebook.

How to Make Your Blog Look Attractive in No Time

This is a guest contribution from Daniel Glickman of Emaze.

Appearance matters.

How your blog looks when visitors first visit has a powerful effect on their interpretation of the quality of your content. However, when designing your blog, it may be difficult to know what’s most important. Is it better to look professional and risk looking like every other company blog, or to focus on being unique so that you stand out from the rest? The truth is, neither is most important – what’s most important is creativity.

Communicating creativity shows that you are not ordinary. It shows you are capable of thinking outside of the box to deliver fresh content that offers something different than the rest. This is valuable no matter what niche your blog is in, so how do you capitalize on creativity and start making your blog look creative in no time?

Step 1: Understand creativity doesn’t equal off-the-wall.

Creativity doesn’t mean sharing purposeless viral dog videos or snazzy online presentations just because you think it will make you stand out from your competition. In fact, this is the opposite of creativity. Creativity is working with purpose to do what everyone else is doing in a unique way.

Even the most professional website can be creative just by taking a different approach to classic design. In fact, the best instances of creativity come due to the element of surprise. If your audience expects you to use a certain font, create advertisement campaigns similar to those you have in the past, or make the same offer as every other blog, you won’t be creative if you serve them what you want. For instance, if every business blog in your niche is offering a helpful marketing manual or white paper, be creative and think of what else you can offer. Once you understand what creativity is, you can outline what creativity looks like on your website.

Step 2: Outline what creativity means to you.

To determine what creativity means for you and your blog’s brand, there is no better place to look than around you to see how your competition is succeeding – or failing – at being creative. Some questions to ask yourself…

  • What similarities do you see across other blogs in your niche?
  • Do they all share the same content or have look-alike landing pages?
  • Is there one that is distinct among the rest?
  • What are they doing right – do they have a killer video advertising campaign or a logo you can’t get out of your head?
  • Where is there room for improvement? Are you a travel blogger and notice every other blog has great photos, but few videos or presentations? Or perhaps you notice all the other startup’s company blogs have generic logos or that everyone in your niche is sharing the same content on social media. Find weak spots among your competition to identify where to begin.

Use this to decide how you will bring creativity to your blog. Of course, your plan can (and should) evolve as you see what works and what doesn’t, but starting here is a good place to begin.

 

Step 3: Start communicating creativity before audiences ever reach your content.

Think about how many opportunities you have to plant ideas about your brand in your audience’s head before they even reach your content. To start, think of how they get to your site. How can you make your advertisements more creative, either by integrating creative touches within the ad content or using creative methods to reach new viewer? How is your blog’s meta-description language different from the others who come up in Google search results? What do you do that screams, “Come to my blog over the rest!” Integrate creative tactics for every step of your blog, including those leading to a visitor landing on your blog.

And of course, remember, landing pages matter. A lot! A creative landing page is one of the single most important moments for sticking your brand in your audiences’ mind. Integrating videos and highlighting focus keywords through design and font are all great ways to catch your audiences’ eyes.

Step 4: Don’t forget the little touches.

When creating a brand image, every little thing matters, and it’s important to ensure that they all fit with your desired message. Creativity doesn’t have to be grandiose – it can be as small as a rare social media link graphic or a dash of humor in your About Me page. Creativity is all about catching the visitor off guard – and making everything different is over-the-top and can defy this purpose. For example, pay attention to your logo to ensure it’s in line with the rest of your branding, and then add an unexpected touch of color to your color scheme or pick a unique font for standout content on your landing page. Creativity relies on little touches that draw the viewer’s eye and set you apart. Just like putting too much content can create an impression of clutter, so too can adding too many details because you think they are “creative.” Creativity is best when subtle, which is what makes it so powerful.

 

Step 5: Look at every piece of content you absorb through a creative lens.

When looking at others’ content online, start seeing the world through a creative lens. Notice what makes you pay attention and ask yourself why this company or advertisement was able to grab your focus. Chances are, you’ll notice a large part of it is due to good old creativity.

Let creativity funnel into every aspect of your blog. Use original marketing techniques and social media posts so you continuously communicate your ability to re-imagine the typical ways of doing things. An audience’s perception of you often comes from many different sources – an amazing Tweet you shared, a great logo, or an awesomely different landing page – every piece matters for creating the whole.

Daniel Glickman is the CMO of emaze. He loves analyzing marketing data and building strategic and tactical plans. 

Is your blog design ready for 2014? Four ways to tell

This is a guest contribution from Laura Windisch of 99designs.

It’s that time of year again. Time to take a good long look at your blog and reflect on what’s worked well, learn from what hasn’t, and set goals for what will. After you’ve had a chance to sort through the numbers—total visits, average length of stay and the like—give your eyes a minute to focus on what your design is doing to showcase your content.

Whether you install one of your platform’s pre-made templates or find someone to create a custom design, your blog’s appearance is what visitors will notice first. A good design will communicate your message with personality and passion.

Here are four questions you can ask yourself to assess whether your design is ready for 2014.

1. Is your design as simple as it ought to be?

When it comes to blogging, the written word rules. Keep readers focused on your content with a clean design. Here’s how.

  • Ditch the clutter. Delete any distracting background images and dead links.

  • Embrace white space. Give your text room to breathe.

  • Limit your fonts. Choose no more than three fonts (for example, one each for your titles, body text and navigation) to keep the page from looking overloaded. Whatever font you choose, make sure it’s legible.

  • Use colour carefully. Is your background light and your text dark? That’s a good start. An explosion of colour can be overwhelming, but splashes of vibrant shades will help you draw attention to important areas like call to action. A subtle background will also help the photos and images within your post pop.

2. Is your content easy to scan?

Most readers will be scanning your posts rather than reading them word-for-word. Make your design easy to scour.

  • Break it up. Headlines, subheads, lists, images and bold text are your formatting friends. They’ll make your content easier to consume.

  • Be generous with images. Treat your readers to big photos, illustrations and charts that supplement a point you’re making in your post. Visual content attracts eyeballs.

3. Can people find what they are looking for?

If you started your blog with a passion—but without a clear idea of all the topics you’d be covering—it may be time to take a step back and give your design a solid structural backbone.

  • First, get organised. Establish a clear hierarchy and put everything in its place.

  • Create noticeable navigation. Visitors will land on your blog from Twitter, search engines, links and who knows where else. Show off what else you have to offer with clear links to categories, recent posts and popular posts.

  • Include strong CTAs. Be sure your design clearly tells your audience what to do (e.g. “Subscribe to our newsletter”). Don’t assume they’ll hunt for anything.

4. Is your design memorable?

New blogs are popping up daily. As of this posting, for example, there are 72,628,476 WordPress sites in the world. Find a way to stand out.

  • Brand your header. This is the area new visitors will likely notice first, so don’t miss the opportunity to create a strong first impression of your personal brand. Play off your logo to show your personality.

  • Create a custom design. Stand out from the plethora of popular free themes with a custom blog design. A unique look will inspire your readers and keep them coming back for more.

Did you answer no to any questions? Now’s the perfect time to step up your blog design and let your content shine. Here’s to a beautiful 2014!

Laura Windisch writes for 99designs — the world’s leading online graphic design marketplace. If you’re looking for a custom blog design, try launching a contest on their website. You’ll get dozens of creative options and pick the one you love most.      

7 Places Bloggers Can Get Design Work Done (Without Breaking The Bank)

This is a guest contribution by Skellie Wag.

Every blog has a design. Whether it’s a beautifully put together custom job, a WordPress theme, a template or something frankensteined together with a vague knowledge of HTML and CSS.

Most of us are not web designers, and because of this, the design of our blogs can end up being a thorn in our side.

We want to make changes, but don’t know how. We’d like a better logo (or simply to have a logo at all), but aren’t sure how to get one. We know our header image is a little ugly. But what to do about it?

Frustrated blogger

Image copyright Renee Jansoa – Fotolia.com

Finding designers for smallish jobs like making tweaks to a blog theme, designing a new header, or adding an email form can be a little tricky. It involves working with a designer who is willing to take on a small job, who fits with our budget, is friendly, communicative, and does work in a style that we like. That’s a lot of criteria to fulfill!

Because finding someone like this seems tough, many bloggers will overlook necessary design updates, or try to do it themselves. If you’ve ever stayed up until the wee hours trying to make one small change to your blog’s layout, only to mess up everything on the page, you’re not alone.

My life as a blogger became much easier when I realised that there are several places where you can get small design changes done at a good price, by good people. I’ll dig into these options below, examining the pros and cons of each. Next time you need design work done on your blog, you may consider using one of these options.

1. Elance

How it works

You write an outline for your job, and list a budget. Freelancers will write proposals for why they are the best person to do the job, and will ‘bid’ a price for completion.

Pros

Because each job generally receives bids from multiple freelancers, there is downward pressure on pricing as freelancers compete to win the job. Working with freelancers from Elance tends to be affordable. Because there are hundreds of thousands of freelancers working through Elance, you are likely to have a rich selection of proposals for your job.

Cons

Because Elance is highly competitive for freelancers, many try to speed up the process of submitting multiple proposals by submitting generic copy and paste messages. In some cases, the freelancer may not have properly read the details of the job proposal.

Because the quality of a freelancer’s work is not approved prior to joining Elance, quality varies.

The verdict

If going through Elance, take the time to do due diligence on any freelancer you are considering hiring. Make sure you’re willing to devote some time to go through the multiple proposals your job is likely to receive.

2. oDesk 

How it works

Browse freelancer profiles listing their hourly rate, skills, and the number of hours worked through oDesk. Alternatively, you can post your job and budget and receive applications from oDesk’s freelance community.

Pros

You can pick and choose a freelancer whose work you like, whose hourly rate you like, and who has a great reputation on oDesk. Alternatively, you can post a job and receive applications (much like on Elance.com).

Cons

If you post your job to oDesk, you’ll have a volume of applications to go through, not all of which will be from ideal candidates. You need to ensure that you have the time to perform due diligence on applicants. If the job is only small, the time taken to choose a freelancer might outweigh the benefits of outsourcing the job.

The verdict

For small jobs, consider selecting a freelancer directly to save time, rather than posting a job.

3. 99designs 

How it works

On 99designs you create design competitions rather than post jobs. Designers enter multiple designs aimed at best fulfilling your brief. If you select one of these designs as the competition ‘winner’, you claim ownership of the designer’s work, and the prize money is divided between the designer and 99designs.

Pros

If you don’t like any of the designs provided by competition entrants, you don’t pay anything. You’ll receive designs in a variety of styles, with many different interpretations of your brief. Most jobs receive around 30 design pitches, giving you a wide range of work to choose from. If you’re not sure exactly what you want, this could be a smart route for you.

Cons

This service is a better choice for a large scale redesign, as they do not do small tweaks. 99designs also focuses on design work only. Because designers who enter your competition are not guaranteed to be paid unless they win (the chances of which are statistically low), their work may reflect this. Some members of the design community also believe that spec work is unethical, because the designer may or may not be compensated for their effort.

The verdict

99designs could be a worthwhile choice if you need a complete redesign for your blog. If you aren’t sure exactly you want, having a range of options to choose from could be useful.

4. Microlancer 

How it works

Freelancers create listings for their services, with price, turnaround time, number of revisions, and work examples provided upfront. Buyers purchase the service they want. The work must be completed and approved within the turnaround time, or the buyer is eligible for a refund.

Pros

Microlancer is specifically designed for small design and coding jobs, the kind that bloggers usually need done. Freelancers are reviewed for quality, meaning the standard of design and code is high. Terms, price and work examples are provided upfront, making it easier to make an informed decision. 

Cons

Because service categories have a minimum price, Microlancer is less affordable than other options. Job size is limited, so it is not a good choice for a complete blog redesign. Additionally, payment is required upfront, which might deter some buyers.

The verdict

Microlancer is a good choice if you have a clear idea of what you want and don’t want to spend time trawling through dozens of job proposals. It isn’t well-suited to larger projects, such as a complete redesign.

5. Freelancer

How it works

You post a job and freelancers submit job proposals and bids to work on your project. You can also search freelancer profiles, or post contests (similar to 99designs).

Pros

With projects, freelancers and contests available, there are many options for getting your design job done. If you’d like to choose from a number of interested parties, post a project. If you’d like to choose one person to work with, select a freelancer based on their profile. If you’d like to receive many different pitches for completed work, post a contest.

Cons

Going through project proposals requires time to perform due diligence on each application. Choosing a freelancer from the 8 million+ profiles might also be time consuming. When posting a contest, it will take time for the entries to come through. Freelancer.com might not be the ideal choice for a job that you need done urgently.

The verdict

Freelancer offers flexibility in how you want the job done, and a huge pool of freelancers to choose from. It is a solid choice if you have the time to make sure your job is done by the right person.

6. People Per Hour

How it works

People Per Hour is structured around hourly rates. You can choose to work with individual freelancers who state their hourly rates upfront, purchase an ‘Hourlie’, a fixed price service, or post a job and receive proposals.

Pros

You may be able to find a freelancer who has posted an ‘Hourlie’ rate for exactly the job that you need done, for example, a blog header redesign. Otherwise, you can post your job and receive bids, or choose a freelancer who seems like a good fit for the job.

Cons

Freelancers on People Per Hour don’t pass through a review process, so the quality of their work varies and may not always be clearly visible upfront. You should look deeper into any freelancer you are considering working with and make sure they do the kind of work that you’re looking for.

The verdict

People Per Hour offers the flexibility to find a freelancer through several different means. You’ll need to take the time to make sure you’re happy with your choice before you commit.

7. Tweaky

How it works

The Tweaky website offers dozens of fixed priced jobs based around small tasks and customisations. Once a job is purchased, it will be completed by a freelancer on the Tweaky team. The project is overseen by a Project Manager, there to ensure that things run smoothly and that work is delivered on time.

Pros

Tweaky was deliberately created around small jobs and customisations, so it is well suited to the kinds of tasks that bloggers need done. The presence of a staff Project Manager on each job offers an extra level of professionalism and protection against poor quality work.

Cons

Tweaky focuses on code rather than design. Some bloggers may not like that they aren’t able to choose who will complete the work they need done (freelancers are assigned to jobs by Tweaky staff).

The verdict

If you’re not overly concerned with who does your work, only that it gets done quickly and for an upfront price, then Tweaky could be the right option for you.

Who Do You Recommend?

Would you work with any of these companies to get design or customisations done for your blog? Have you done so already? If so, we’d love to hear your reviews and experiences in the comments.

Skellie is a writer, entrepreneur and web developer. She is currently helping out the team at Microlancer.com.

Branding your blog is difficult, or is it?

This is a guest contribution from Olivia RoseA question mark

How much time have you spent on the branding of your blog? If you haven’t branded your blog, you may not realise what you’re missing out on.

Branding a blog is extremely important but it is also a bit of a nebulous concept to those who are not professionals in the marketing industry. The first step is to understand what a brand is and how it can help you develop your blog and reach and retain your audience. You also need to understand how to properly build a brand, or when rebranding may be necessary.

So let’s start at the beginning.

What is a Brand?

A brand is the essence of a thing. Your blog’s brand contains its tone, humour, character, colour scheme, visual logos and much more. A brand needs to be a cohesive thing and the actual thrust of the brand should be something simple that encapsulates what your blog is about. Your brand will also need to be about; who you are, and what your blog means to you and your readers. Once you have answered these core questions you will be able to begin connecting with readers who identify with your blog’s brand.

Rainbow colour chart

Why Should You Brand Your Blog?

Branding offers some very simple benefits, such as the ability to merchandise. However, it also offers subtler benefits. Customers will know what to expect from you and will understand who you are and what you represent. The power behind your brand will lead you into larger overall market exposure that can help expand your readership. Virtually every successful blog out there has a very clear brand that is emphasised and developed.

How Do You Brand a Blog?

Branding a blog begins with brainstorming. You will need to ask yourself very important questions, such as what your blog is about, what your goals are and how you want readers to engage with you – emotionally. You will then want to narrow this down to a few core concepts that form the foundation of what your brand represents. From there you can develop a name, slogan and logo, and a blog colour scheme and style.

How Do You Design a Brand?

Branding is so much more than a colour scheme, but the colours you use are important so it’s worth spending some time on this issue. After all, it’s much harder to change things once your blog is up and running! You may wish to study colour theory and choose colours that are best associated with your core principles.

WordPress themes are an excellent way for you to develop your brand quite quickly. A WordPress theme allows you to create an entire design and scheme almost immediately, and then you can base all of your additional branding and media off your chosen theme. Many WordPress themes are extremely customisable, which means that you can change the colours and add a logo of your choosing. It’s worth working on new themes or theme modifications when the majority of your readership is not active, because it is always possible to crash your blog.

Wordpress screen print

How Can You Develop a Tone of Voice?

Equally important to the physical aspects of a blog is the actual content of the blog. You will need to determine the tone of voice of your blog early on and be consistent. As noted in a previous post about branding, if your tone isn’t well-suited to your brand and consistent, you will dilute your brand. If you’re aiming at professional journalism you should stick with a very professional and dry tone, whereas if you are aiming for a funny entertainment website you will want to remain light-hearted and entertaining.

A consistent tone of voice is very important in letting readers know what they should expect from your blog.

Can You Avoid Branding?

An important point to remember is that a lack of brand development does not mean that your blog does not have a brand. A blog will still have a brand because it is, in large part, a conceptual thing that exists in a reader’s mind. However, a blogger that doesn’t actively develop their brand has absolutely no control over what the reader associates the blog with.

Creating a brand allows a blogger to take control over the image of their blog, and not creating a brand essentially relinquishes this control.

Is it Worth Branding Your Blog?

If you are in the blog industry for success and readership then there is really no choice but to brand your blog. You may not even realise that your blog already has a brand of sorts but it simply isn’t a concise or directed one. You may be able to take your existing blog brand and develop it further. Using an existing brand to create a new brand is a simple and easy conversion process that can build new readers without losing old readers.

What Do You Do After the Brand?

It is worth mentioning the most important part of having a brand: sticking with it.

Even an imperfect brand will gain momentum over the months or even years that it is in use, but changing your brand over and over will simply confuse your readership and dilute the impact of any further brand developments. It’s very important for you to find your brand and then stick with it for as long as is possible.

Have you branded your blog? Is it something you’re considering?

Olivia Rose’s hobbies are cycling, playing tennis and blogging. Her favourite thing to blog about is business- especially branding! She suggests a Print Management business such as Hague Print if you are thinking about branding or rebranding your business.