Interview with Blog Designer – Chris Pearson

One of my favorite blog designers is Chris Pearson – the designer behind the newly released Thesis premium WordPress theme (which I reviewed here).

Chris has consistently produced great blog designs over the last few years so after the launch of Thesis I thought it would be worthwhile to do a short interview with him here at ProBlogger to talk about Thesis and blog design. I hope you enjoy this interview.

1. There are a lot of WP themes out there – why did you create Thesis?

thesis-lisa-firke.pngAfter selling Cutline in March of 2007, I began to realize that I really missed fostering and interacting with a community of users. Running a theme and being immersed in the development, use, and feedback cycle is a uniquely fulfilling experience, and I suppose I finally came to terms with the idea that maybe this is what I ought to be doing.

Also, I spent the latter half of 2007 learning how to create dynamic sites with PHP, and in doing so, I began to realize some of the untapped potential of the WordPress theme market. The platform is set up in such a way that you can literally build just about anything you want, and I’m convinced that idea has legs. Because of this, I decided it was time to build Thesis and get movin’!

2. What part of Thesis most excited you as you were designing it? What is exciting those who are using it most?

For me, the most exciting thing about Thesis (and developing themes in general) is the idea that I can give users more functionality and more control over their sites than they’ve ever had. When a user who has little or no knowledge of HTML and CSS can use an options panel to accomplish tasks that would normally require coding, that’s a big deal. The sky is really the limit here, so as a developer, I find that to be a huge source of motivation.

I think my users are keen on the idea that I want them to be able to control even the finest details of their site, and that’s probably the thing that excites them the most. They want to know what elements of control they’re going to have next, and I’m just as excited to produce those elements as they are to receive them.

3. How much development can we expect to see on Thesis as a theme? Or will you be spending more time developing other themes?

thesis-jennae-peterson.pngI’ve still got tons of ideas for Thesis, so I fully expect to be developing it for quite some time. In fact, I’d go as far as to say I’m not even 40% finished with the functionality that I eventually want to achieve. In spite of this, I’m going to begin introducing new frameworks in August, and eventually, DIYthemes will offer an outfit of code platforms that should be adequate for just about any type of Website.

4. Where do you see blog design going in the next 12 months?

Blog design as we know it is going to change entirely, and this is probably the most compelling (and controversial) aspect of the philosophy behind DIYthemes. At this point, everyone is familiar with the notion of a “custom blog design,” but with each passing day, paying for a fully customized design (which includes code) is becoming a far less intelligent choice for bloggers and Webmasters alike. Not only is custom design prohibitively expensive for all but the most successful bloggers, but also, the odds of any designer/developer nailing a functional, flexible, easy-to-modify codebase from scratch on the first iteration are a zillion to one. In other words, it’s not going to happen.

Essentially, this means that people who have fully customized designs end up with far less functionality than people whose designs are “skins” of a battled-tested framework like Thesis. Because of this, the future of blog design is a complete abstraction of design and code. In this type of environment, designers can stick to pure design, which is something they’re way more qualified to do. In addition, savvy designers can develop a working knowledge of a few quality WordPress frameworks, thereby allowing them to focus on the art of skinning them for clients.

When people are able to focus on the things they do best, you end up with more efficient, cost-effective solutions all around. My goal with DIYthemes is to help push Web design (and Webmastering, for that matter) in this direction.

5 . What 3 blogs using Thesis do you think are using it best?

thesis-eric-scouten.pngLisa Firke (pictured top right) is a really talented designer who quickly grasped the concept of abstracted customization, which is something I’ve tried to push to the forefront with Thesis. Her site is a perfect example of how you can leverage a working knowledge of CSS to produce a unique design that is simply a “skin” of a solid WordPress framework.

Jennae Petersen (picture middle right) runs an awesome site about green (eco-friendly) home decor, and she has really taken to the art of creating a unified design “brand” with Thesis. She makes liberal use of in-post styling elements and images to help shore up her brand, and as a result, her site looks to be far removed from the humble framework it rests upon.

Finally, I’d like to point out Eric Scouten (pictured right), a photographer and developer who works on Adobe’s Lightroom software. He’s used Thesis in a pretty unique way on his site, modifying it to power his portfolio, photoblog, and blog sections. On top of that, the site just looks fantastic, and I think it deserves a mention on that basis alone.

Check out the Thesis Theme Here

GRAB Your Reader’s Attention and HOOK them into your blog

Hook-1Do you want to learn how to SNAP readers out of their zombie like surfing and HOOK them into your blog?

If so – read on….

Image by Essjay in NZ

Before I was a blogger I did a lot of public speaking. I did a number of courses in public speaking and used to spend a lot of time with my head in books on the topic.

One of the techniques that I was taught that I found to be very helpful was to include something at the start of every presentation that was there unashamedly to grab attention and create interest.

The theory was that in most presentations (whether it be in a work context, conference, church, school or even in a social context where a speech was given) the majority of your audience quickly will slip into a zombie like trance even as you’re getting up to speak. The act of sitting down and listening to someone speak in a monologue is not really something most of us are wired to do.

So to snap your audience out of this state where they’re incapable of comprehending your 16 point presentation the theory is that you do something, say something, show something or claim something that grabs their attention.

Whether it be a joke, question, controversial statement or claim, powerful story, funny title slide or intriguing and surprising opening line – the primary aim in the first moments of your presentation is to grab attention and create interest in what you’re about to present.

This same principle applies to blogging in two ways.

1. Grabbing Attention on a Post Level

Let me start with the more obvious place that you can (and should) be thinking about grabbing the attention of your readers – within each post.

Every time a reader see’s one of your posts in their RSS feed, stumbles upon it in search engine results, spots it linked to on another site or even sees it on your blog – they make a snap judgement whether they’ll read it or not. This is based upon a number of factors:

  • The post’s title
  • The opening lines of your post
  • An intriguing question
  • A Story
  • The topic being covered and how relevant and useful it is to the reader
  • Visual cues on the page (pictures, sub headings, comment numbers, page design)
  • A controversial statement or bold claim
  • A great promise
  • The voice and style you’ve written in

We could probably add a lot more to this list – but I guess the point I’m wanting to make is that ‘grabbing attention’ is something a blogger needs to think about in the writing of each post.

2. Grabbing Attention on a Blog Level

While grabbing attention on a post by post level is important there’s another one that is worth thinking about also – on a bigger picture level as you think about your whole blog.

What hooks a first time reader into your blog?

Not just into the post that they’ve arrived on – but to your whole blog?

I’m not just talking about how to make your blog sticky (although many ‘sticky’ techniques will help a lot) but I’m talking particularly about getting ‘attention’ of readers.

Many of the points on a post level (point #1 above) come into play on this as they will be the first thing that a new reader sees – however there are other factors too – particularly:

  • Clear Communication of Topic – Communicating what your blog is about, who it is for, what needs it will fulfill etc all can potentially hook a reader.
  • Distinct Site Design and Branding – Whether it be a bold logo, distinct colors, an eye catching picture or some other factor design can stop readers in their tracks momentarily and get them to take a second look at your blog.

What attention grabbing techniques have you tried on either a post by post level or a bigger picture blog level?

PS: As I’m hitting publish on this post I’m reminded of a great little book – Hot Button Marketing: Push the Emotional Buttons That Get People to Buy.

This book looks at a variety of buttons (or hooks) that marketers use to make customers buy. While this might not seem that relevant for blogging – I found that as I read the book that a lot of the buttons described were similar to what I’d seen work at engaging readers on my blogs.

Dates on Blog Posts – Should You Have Them?

Last week in my post exploring how to make blogs sticky I suggested (in point 14) that one technique to consider is to remove the dates from your blog posts.

My theory is that dates can either add to or take away from a post. Let me explore this a little further:

When you put a date on a post you signal to your reader when the post was written. This is useful to readers wanting to make a judgment on how relevant the post is for them at any point of time. It signals to them that a post is current or recent when the date signals that it was written within the last weeks and signals to them that a post could be dated when the date is years back.

The Problem of Dates on Posts

The problem is that when you have a post that is ‘timeless’ (ie it doesn’t really date because the tips you give or the principles that you talk about will always apply) a date can act as a distraction to your reader. They arrive at the post and see that it was written in 2006 and a little warning bell goes off in their mind that what they are reading is not ‘current’.

As I mentioned in last week’s post – I’ve had comments numerous time on ‘old’ posts saying things like “this is old” or “this is out of date” even when the post was anything but out of date.

When a reader has this reaction no matter what your post contains – it’ll seem ‘old’ to them and you lose reader engagement. This might only happen to a small percentage of your readers but over time this adds up.

On the flip side – when a reader arrives on a post that IS recent and sees the date showing this you can actually get a good reaction because they get a sense that what they are reading is the latest thinking that you’ve had.

So dates can be good and bad. They can make a post seem dated or cutting edge.

So What’s a Blogger to Do? Should You Have Dates on Posts?

The key question to ask when it comes to whether or not to include the date of authorship on a post is – ‘is it relevant to the post?’

The answer to this question has led me to take two different courses of action on my two blogs.

Here at ProBlogger I include a time stamp on each post.


I time stamp (date) posts here at ProBlogger for two reasons:

  1. The industry is moving fast – when I started ProBlogger 3 years back blogging was very different to how it is today. The tools have changed, SEO principles have shifted, social media has become more important and bloggers are developing blogs in new ways. As a result some of the articles in my archives here at ProBlogger are less relevant and need to be put into the context of the time that they were written. While some principles have not changed more often than not I feel that dating posts can actually help readers determine what’s relevant for now.
  2. I’m on a steep learning curve – when I started this blog I had been blogging full time for only a few months. While I’d accumulated some knowledge on the topic I look back and see that I was somewhat naive and very inexperienced. While I’m far from knowing everything on the topic I feel that I’ve come a long way and I hope that dates on posts help readers to make a call on where I was at when I wrote older posts.

At the Digital Photography School Blog I don’t time stamp posts (and never have)


My reason for removing time stamp dates from DPS posts is simple – in the vast majority of posts on the blog they have no relevance to the post itself.

DPS is not a news related blog and aims to provide camera owners tips on how to get out of Auto Mode. While cameras are changing the basic principles of photography are not (or are changing a lot more slowly). In short – the posts have more of a timeless and evergreen quality and dates would only serve to distract readers from the content itself.

If I write a post that needs to be anchored to a point of time I will usually add it to the title of the post.

Other Solutions for Dates on Your Blog

There are more than just the two options open to bloggers when it comes to adding or removing dates from posts. Here are a few that I’ve seen:

  • Dates on Recent Posts But Not on Older Ones – I saw one blogger do this last year (I’m afraid I don’t remember who it was). They had hacked WordPress so that dates appeared on recent posts (within the last 3 months) but anything older than that did not have time stamps either on the post or comments. This meant that the blogger benefited from new posts looking new and took the potential distraction of old posts away from readers. I don’t know exactly how the blogger did it but presume they set up a rule that looked at the date of authorship and then determined whether the date would be displayed or not.
  • Dates on Front Page but Not Single Posts – another solution that I’ve considered on DPS is to add dates only to front page posts and to have them removed from single pages. This shows visitors to your blog’s front page that you have recent content while hiding distracting dates from older posts.
  • Subtle Dates – you can keep dates on posts without having them ‘scream out at your readers’ that the post is old. For example dates at the bottom of posts, dates in more muted colors, dates in smaller font than headings etc all can give your readers the date without making a big point of it. In a sense this is what I’ve done to some degree on ProBlogger with a lighter color and smaller font with my dating of posts.

I’m sure there would also be a way to hack WP so that you could flick dates on and off in each post as you publish it. This is actually a mini feature that I’d love to see WP add.

What Do You Think?

  • Do you have dates on your posts? Why or Why Not? (PS: I surveyed my twitter followers on this and found that 75% of them date their posts)
  • Do you think blogs should always have dates on them?
  • What other ways do you control how the dates on your bog appear?

Thesis – a WordPress Theme Design Worth Considering

Thesis.pngWhat do you get when you take one great blog designer and match him with a fantastic blogger with superb writing ability and marketing skills?

Not it’s not the start to a bad joke and yes the answer could be many things – but today I’m excited because one of my favorite blog designers, Chris Pearson has teamed up with one of my favorite bloggers, Brian Clark from CopyBlogger to put together a fantastic Premium WordPress theme called Thesis.

This theme is already getting some great reviews around the blogosphere (you can see some testimonials here) and it is no wonder – because it’s got some great things going for it including:

  • SEO – WP is generally pretty well optimized to start with but Thesis takes it a step further and gives you every chance of ranking well in Google.
  • Accessibility – this theme will be able to be accessed by those using all kinds of browsers, mobile browsing and those with special needs
  • Customizable – you don’t want a design that looks exactly the same as everyone else’s – Chris has put together a theme that can have different backgrounds, has support for custom CSS and more. You can have rotating images to make your design even more unique. Alternatively you can use this multimedia box show six 125×125 ads, a video or even disable it. All this is done from within WP’s admin (see picture below) – very cool. Check out the ‘showcase‘ page on the Thesis site to see how others have been using the theme already.
  • Feature Rich – it plays nicely with Google Analytics and Mint, manages your RSS feed for you, separates comments and trackbacks, gives you lots of control over whether to show dates and author bylines on posts and much more.
  • Well Laid Out Design – Thesis is easy to get around and quite intuitive for those arriving on your site of all levels of web experience
  • Simple to Use – Thesis is easy to use and while I’m sure Chris will continue to add features and ways to use the theme it’s quite intuitive to get up and running and looking the way you want it.
  • Support – one thing that I love about Thesis is the support forum that Chris has built for those who invests in this theme. It’s already pretty active and covers a lot of the questions that you’d have as someone using it.
  • Free Upgrades – Chris has already released an update to Thesis which gives an indication that he’s still

You’ll want to check out Thesis for yourself – a good place to start is on it’s About Page.

Thesis comes with two license options. The personal license is $87 and the developer’s license is $164. The main difference is that the dev license allows you unlimited use of the theme across as many sites as you like.

If I were starting out today with a new blog and didn’t have the budget to get a custom design or the ability to design my own – Thesis would be something I’d serious look at investing in. In fact if I were starting a blog network today it’d be an ideal investment to grab the dev license as it is a great way to have a variety of blogs that share a similar look yet are customizable.

PS: here’s a look at the fantastic options panel that gives you control over many aspects of this theme (click to enlarge).


Best WordPress Template Designs

Every week I’m asked by readers to recommend a WordPress template.

I thought it’d make an interesting discussion – which WordPress templates are your favorites?

I know it always varies from blog to blog when you’re choosing the best template for the job but I’d love to see some of your favorites.

Feel free to nominate both Free and Paid ones.

How Many Posts Should You Show On Your Blog’s Front Page?

@tcdzomba (on Twitter) asked me – “Do u have a post up about how many blog posts to keep on the front page of the blog?

It’s not a topic that I’ve written about specifically before so let me write on that topic now for you and open it up for some discussion (looking forward to seeing what others think).

I’ve never put a lot of thought into the number of posts on a blog’s front page before and think that it probably varies a little from blog to blog.

There are two main factors that I like to achieve on a blog’s front page:

1. Highlighting a variety of posts – my personal preference is to have more than one or two posts on the front page so that when new readers come to it they are more likely to find something that interests them to read.

While blogs with just one post on the front page are definitely ‘cleaner’ and can be quite visually pleasing I worry a little that they miss out on connecting with readers who come and don’t find that one post to connect with them.

2. Not too much clutter and length – I find this hard to achieve and it’s a balancing act with point #1 – but I don’t like to have my front page as being too long or too overwhelming.

As a result I try to use ‘excerpts’ on my front page – giving readers the title and a taste (a paragraph or two) of each article and the option to click a link to read more.

While I know some bloggers don’t like these excerpts/extended entries (some believe blogger do it to increase page views) I do it simply so I can highlight more posts on the front page and shorten the length of the overall page.

Another option is to use larger segments of your posts in ‘feature posts’ and to show shorter excerpts from other posts (or even just titles).

It’s a Balancing Act

As with many aspects of blogging – it’s something that you need to balance. Some blogs lend themselves more to featuring full posts on front pages, others can get away with excerpts more. Some blogs have 20-30 posts on the front page while others just have one.

I guess it’s partly personal preference and partly working out what works with your topic and readership.

What’s Your Preference?

How many posts do you have on the front page of your blog?

Do you use excerpts or full posts on the front page?

Why have you made the decision as you have?

The Importance of ‘Pause Points’ On Your Blog

Over the last week I’ve run some Crazy Egg heat map tracking on two posts on Digital Photography School (both of which got to the front page of Digg and got a lot of traffic) that both highlight to me a very simple method of increasing the number of pages that people view when they visit your blog.

Let me illustrate with a screen capture of the heat map from my post – How to Avoid Camera Shake:


What you’re looking at above is the ‘hottest’ zone on the post. It is the most clicked upon part of the page. This section of the page was clicked on just under 2000 times over the duration of this test. The full page had just under 6000 clicks.

What stands out for me is that the section of the page you’re viewing above is a long way from the top of the post. While the general rule is that people click more on links at the tops of posts – this section of the page is only viewable once you’ve hit ‘page down’ 7 times!

The first two links in the section are links to my subscription page and a byline link to the author of the post – but the other five are all internal links to other articles on the blog. This means 1800 or so of the visitors to this page viewed at least one other page on the blog.

The ‘Further Reading on Camera Shake’ links were ones that I manually added to the post and the ‘Read more posts like ‘How to….’ links were automated links generated with a WP Plugin.

Lets look at another example

In this test (on a post on ‘Jowling‘) I’m showing you the same section of the page. This time I had to hit ‘page down’ 5 times to get to it. Again it’s low on the page and again I’ve got the automated links as well as two others in the ‘A Couple of other things….’ section.

Once again – this is the hottest part of the page in terms of clicks with around 1600 clicks (all internal) out of 6500 clicks on the full page.


Why do readers click links so far down the page?

It might seem a little odd that links so far down a page would be clicked on at such a high rate – but the reason that it happens is quite logical. These points on the page are what I call ‘pause points’. They are parts of a page where readers pause and make a decision on what to do next.

These sections are all at the end of articles – a point where readers end one activity and look to do another one. Many readers simply hit ‘back’ at this point or head to Google to search for something else – however when you give them something else to do or read you have a decent chance of convincing them to stay on your site.

Other Things to Do at Pause Points

There are of course other things that you can do in these ‘pause points’ on a blog including:

  • Advertising – this is a ‘hot zone’ in terms of CPC ads
  • Affiliate Programs – I don’t find they convert as well as CPC ads here but they can work
  • Social Bookmarking – many bloggers run social bookmark buttons in this spot to encourage readers to vote for the post
  • Subscription Invitations – this is a great place to get conversions from first time readers to subscribe to your blog

Really any key conversion goals that you want to achieve can work in a ‘Pause Point’ – although when you put too many options in that point for readers you probably dilute the conversion rate. What else do you put in ‘pause points’?

On Making Your Blog Design Work For You

I’m doing most of my linking out to the great posts that I read over on Twitter these days but today a post by Chris Brogan got my attention that I’d particularly like to highlight. You can read it at:

Make Your Blog Design Work For You

What I like about the post is the intentionality that Chris emphasizes in his post. He starts the post with the key in my mind:

“Everything I’ve done with my blog design is intentional.”

He goes on to emphasize that everything on your blog needs to come back to the goals you have with your blog.

I think this is really important to get your head around. I’ve chatted to many bloggers who get sucked into designing their blogs to be ‘cool’ or ‘look great’ – but who fail to consider how their blog’s design takes them closer to reaching their goals as a blogger.

How Do I Get a Professionally Designed Blog?

In this post Daniel Scocco answers a question from Reader Mar Joseph who asks:

I would like to have my site professionally designed as my lack of code knowledge is really holding me back. What are the best avenues to find designers?

First of all let’s identify the goal behind this question: to have a professional looking design. The reader is specifically asking about avenues to find designers, but that is not a necessary step to achieve the goal.

There are several ways to obtain a professional looking design for your blog. Some of them will cost you nothing, some will cost you a couple hundred bucks, and some may even cost thousands of dollars.

How much you should spend and when you should do it are question that you will need to answer by yourself. If you are just starting a blog, for example, a free solution could work well for the first months. After this initial period you will be in a better position to evaluate the potential of the blog (in terms of audience and revenues), and to decide how much you should spend in the design.

If you have a clear business plan for your blog and know where you are going to take it, on the other hand, you could invest $100 into a premium theme right from the start.

Part time bloggers might also want to wait the blog to generate some revenues, and then to reinvest that money into the design. This method would not touch one’s personal finances.

Once your blog is established and healthy, you could consider hiring a professional web designer to create a unique look for it. This solution will cost a significant amount of money, but it should be worth it in the long run.

Obviously the more you spend, the higher the quality of the final product, but the idea is that there are solutions for all pocket sizes. Below we will cover each of them.

Free solutions

Provided you are using WordPress, you will have literally thousands of freely available themes to choose from. You might need to spend some time looking for a professional looking one, but I am sure you will be able to find a theme that looks clean and professional, and that matches the content or niche of your blog. Here are some places to get started:

Even after finding a professional looking theme, however, you might want to learn the basics of HTML and CSS. In a matter of hours you should have enough knowledge to customize and tweak the selected theme a bit, as to make it different from other blogs that might be using it as well. Here are some resources that will help you with that goal:

Low cost solutions

If you have some money to invest into the design of your blog, you could start by purchasing a logo. A logo can be easily integrated into any theme or design, and it will give a unique look to your header and more strength to your brand. If you don’t want to spend a lot, head to the contest section of online forums like Digital Point or Sitepoint (now called 99Designs) and create a contest. You should already get some entries for a prize as low as $50.

If you have more money to spend you could consider hiring a professional logo designer or a company. Prices will be higher, but most of them offer several mock logos where you can choose from, and they will revise the work until you are 100% happy with it. Here are some places where you can get a quote.

An alternative low cost solution is to purchase a premium WordPress theme (which could also be used combined with a custom logo). Those themes are created by professional designers, and they sell anywhere from $30 up to $100 in some cases. Other people might purchase the same theme that you will be using, but this number should be significantly smaller than with a free theme. Secondly, most premium themes are high quality, bug free, and they come with some support from the designer. Here are companies and designers that sell premium WordPress themes:

High end solution

If your blog is already running strong, or if you have a clear business plan for it, you might want to get a professional designer to create a custom theme. Tailor made designs tend to cost at least $1,000, and this figure can jump to $5,000 and more in some special cases.

If you have the budget, however, it should be worth it. First and foremost because you will be able to make your design work around your goals and priorities, improving greatly the user experience in your blog. Secondly, a custom design will also fit your monetization strategy, probably improving your revenue streams (sometimes even creating new ones).

Here are is a list of renowned blog designers that you can consult with: