Please welcome a new Blogger Babes contributor, Sara of Venngage! A Creative Content Specialist, Sara’s areas of expertise are blogging, marketing, and branding—which definitely shines through in her first incredibly comprehensive contribution.
So you want to make a blog. Great! Blogs are the direction publishing is moving towards, so virtually every company has a blog. Whether you’re creating a personal blog or one for your business, you’ll want to do some careful preliminary planning.
Creating an expert blog takes time and work, but don’t let that intimidate you. Let this article be your quick and dirty guide to the basics. I call it the 7 C’s of Expert Blog Design.
The 7 C’s of Expert Blog Design
1. Clear Concept
You might want to jump right into writing content for your blog, but hold on for a second. It’s important to have a clear idea of what your blog’s overarching concept will be. Think: who do you want your audience to be? What value will your blog offer them? What creative and new features can you offer them that other blogs don’t?
You don’t have to choose just one kind of content to include, but you should have a fairly focused idea of what the overarching theme will be. For example, if you’re making a cooking blog that focuses on healthy versions of comfort food recipes, y0u could also write posts about businesses that sell organic and sustainable products in your community. Look for ways to provide a variety of content while still keeping your posts under the umbrella of your blog’s theme. Jaden at Steamy Kitchen does a great job of this—her blog focuses on cooking, but she also has a post series about gardening.
Your original concept when you set out to create your blog is not set in stone. Ultimately, you will see what works and what doesn’t based on the traffic your content drives, and you will need to adjust to offer audiences content they like. The great thing about blogs is that they grow with the more content added and the more followers gained.
Look at other blogs in the same thematic category as your own. What do they each offer to their audiences that is unique? It could be a distinctly playful tone in their writing, or the incorporation of community feedback in each post, or even the inclusion of a video in every post. Try to identify what elements of their blog the audience is most responsive to by scanning the comments section and seeing which posts get the most shares.
Remember: by giving yourself some guidelines to start with, it will be easier for you to create focused, targeted content from the get-go.
2. Captivating Images
These days, people communicate visually. Just look at how Instagram has risen as a primary mode of conversation. According to experts, images and photos are the most important tactic for optimizing social media posts. Most people skim through content at a rapid pace, only stopping on content that really stands out.
An image is the perfect, eye-grabbing way to communicate information instantly to readers. That’s why it’s essential that in order to capture the attention of readers, you include a header image in your blog post.
It’s important that your blog header image is inviting. Look for an image that is bright, with light colors. If you use an image featuring a person, you will have to decide whether or not you want to use an image where the model’s eyes are visible. An image where the model’s eyes or entire face is visible or cut off can appear more impersonal and removed but is also more general. A picture with visible eyes is warm and inviting, but may also communicate a subliminal message that your post subscribes to one demographic. What’s more, the direction of the model’s gaze can point the reader’s eyes towards the text you want them to read.
Your blog header can be integrated into your social media marketing strategy for your post by attaching it to tweets, Facebook messages, LinkedIn posts and more. A particularly interesting or beautiful image can be uploaded to Instagram with a link to the blog post in the description.
You will also want to include images in the body of your article. Images break up blocks of text and help maintain the attention of the reader. That being said, it’s important that your images are relevant. This means more work finding images that aren’t just placeholders, but the extra effort will pay off. Your images should either offer story appeal or demonstration of a concept. When possible, avoid using stock photos—they’re boring and uncreative. Photos you have taken yourself, screenshots and infographics make for interesting, useful and original visuals.
Remember: when it comes to images, repurpose, repurpose, repurpose.
3. Color Conscious
Color affects the mood and feel of a page. It also…
- defines how easy a page is to read,
- sends messages to your reader about your target demographic, and
- can decide the professionalism of a page.
For example, a blog with a pastel color scheme invokes domestic themes like children, motherhood, gardening or baking. Meanwhile, a color scheme with corporate blue invokes themes of business and professionalism. Stark white backgrounds with one or two bright accent colors is a particularly popular color scheme for tech sites because it’s clean and efficient.
Unless you are aiming for a particularly bold aesthetic, I recommend a white or very light, neutral background color. You want your text to be legible and you also don’t want the visuals in your posts to clash with the background. Creativity and spice can be communicated through your blog’s site banner, blog headers, and the images the body of your posts.
As a rule of thumb, never use light text on a light background or dark text on a dark background. For a color scheme that pops, use complementary colors (colors that are opposite each other on the color wheel).
Remember: color should complement your content, not detract from it.
4. Consistent Elements
Consistency is key. Another good word to keep in mind is “cohesive.” Using multiple different font styles and sizes, or using different post formats from day to day, will confuse readers and lend to a design that is cluttered (more on that in point five).
Pick a general style and tone for your blog design. Is it light and playful? Serious and reflective? Minimalist (which is popular right now)? Use a maximum of three font faces and make sure they are legible (read: avoid comic sans). Make sure your header font sizes are consistent. Set what dimensions your blog header images and what style of images you will use.
A good approach to achieving consistency is to create a style guide for your blog. A style guide contains specifications for things like:
- spelling (American, British, Canadian, other?),
- title formats,
- punctuation preferences,
- image guidelines for your blog,
- and other details.
For example, you could decide that all of your subheadings will be sized Header 3. You could also decide to use strictly American spelling. Having a document that clearly outlines these elements of language and design will make it easier to maintain consistency across your blog.
Remember: consistency in your design shows readers you’re serious about your blog.
Clutter can crop up in a number of different ways—from your choice of fonts, to the spacing of paragraphs, to the placement of images throughout posts, to the use of tacky banners and widgets in the sidebar and at the bottom of the page. There are a couple of simple but surefire ways to avoid clutter on your blog.
One is to arrange your content according to an F-shaped eye pattern. Studies have shown that people in Western countries read digital content in an F-shaped pattern, beginning with the title and then moving down the left margin and then moving to the right side of the page. That’s why you don’t see many sites with content justified to the right margin—it would be counterintuitive to the way we read.
To follow the F-shape in your blog post, make sure your header image is placed above you title. A sidebar may fare better on the left side of your screen than the right. Be sure to provide at least one useful nugget of information at the beginning of your article—something that will hook readers, since few people actually read to the end of an article.
Another step is to divide the body of your post into sections and use multiple subheadings within your post. This will make it easy for readers to scan through your post for useful information. And no matter what, don’t underestimate the importance of whitespace. You need to let your content breathe.
Not only does proper spacing make your content easier to read, but it also allows you to place emphasis on certain sections and images. Airbnb’s blog is a lesson in when to take up space and when to leave whitespace. Their sparse design uses simple black type on a white background, with big, gorgeous pictures breaking up the text in their posts.
Another tip: don’t overburden your sidebar or header menu with stuff. Your sidebar should have a search bar, social media links, contact information, links to post categories or tags, and a subscription form. Your header menu should have a few primary categories for topics your blog covers. That’s all you need.
Remember: your blog should be neat, attractive, and easy to read.
6. Clever Titles
It’s a sad fact that even if your blog posts have stellar content, no one is going to read them if the title isn’t enticing. So what makes for an enticing title?
Quick Sprout founder Neil Patel has a great article called “The Formula for a Perfect Headline.” The proof is in the article’s title—it’s short, punchy and alludes to useful information within. The criteria Patel sets out for a perfect title is:
Number or Trigger Word + Adjective + Keyword + Promise
By plugging in the words in that order, you can easily create a title that is eye-catching and specific but that doesn’t give too much information away to the reader. For example, “10 Unexpectedly Vegan Desserts Meat Eaters Will Love.”
Don’t just use boring, predictable adjectives like “great” and “awesome”—use words that evoke emotion like “essential,” “incredible,” “strange,” and “effortless.” Also use negative words to tap into readers’ insecurities, like “no,” “without,” and “stop.”
Remember: you want your title to attract clicks but you also want people to read and respond to your posts. Make sure that your title accurately describes the content—don’t make false promises.
7. Calls to Action
At the end of every blog post there should be a call to action (CTA)—something that will spur readers to take a next step after they have read the article. Social media sharing buttons are something you don’t want to miss out on. It’s also a good idea to include a subscription button for your blog, so readers can get alerts whenever you post new content.
CTAs can also appear in the middle of your article. Pull key quotes and embed a click-to-tweet button so people can share as they read. Better Click To Tweet is a good free WordPress plugin, but there are others if you use a different blog platform. It’s also good practice to embed links to other posts on your site. The more posts readers click through to, the longer they will stay on your blog. Embed links on keywords to boost your blog’s SEO.
Many articles about CTAs will tell you that you should end your article with a question that will spur readers to respond in the comments. From my experience, people don’t generally respond to comment CTAs unless the post is particularly topical/pop culture-related, or your blog already has a big community of followers. When you’re starting out, it’s better to focus your efforts on CTAs aimed at getting readers to share your posts.
Remember: you’re not done when someone clicks on and reads your blog post. You want them to get their friends to read it.
I hope these tips will help you navigate the process of your blog creation and design. When in doubt, it’s always a great idea to ask others for feedback—your friends and family, other members of the blogging community. A fresh pair of eyes is invaluable for catching surfaces errors and awkward phrasing and design. Blog on!