Choose Your Template Wisely, It’s Your Long-term BlogMate!

As a new blogger, I picked a simple pre-defined design, started posting and quickly realized I wanted more than my design template can give me! Now what?

I’m a website designer, but in my haste to get into the blogosphere, I failed to apply key planning and design techniques to my own blog! I’m admitting that (though it may already be obvious) so that you can learn to take a less frustrating approach. A more disclipined design method is what I would have used had I been one of my own clients!

WHO KNEW YOU SHOULD MATCH CONTENT AND DESIGN?

Perhaps no one told you that the design must be well suited to the purpose of the blog and its visitors, and not just fit your personality. And even if someone had warned you, a blog’s purpose is often not well defined at the outset! Of course if you know a lot about template editing you can make changes to any starting template, but that can be daunting for the new blogger!

In today’s world anyone can create their own website or blog, and you may ask who needs a blog designer? Well, if you don’t have one, you need to take on the essentials of that function. You need to put yourself in your visitors’ shoes to see if your blog works for them! Content is king, but design can be an ‘bouncer.’

For most of us, once you pick a template, you’re committed to that layout or placement and size of the header, columns and footer. We often just select one of the standard blog designs that come with Blogger.com. There are 16 to choose from: 1 has a single column format and all of the others have 2-columns. None have the popular 3-column format. So, yes you can easily change the header image, change column backgrounds, add button images but you can’t change the basic structure without going deep under the ‘html’ hood — scary!

USE A TEST BLOG TO DESIGN YOUR BLOG’S STRUCTURE.

I suggest you create a test blog with a url that is hidden from Google search and not listed with your Blogger profile. You can then create test posts to help you fit the design to your real blog’s content. In the test posts you can talk to yourself and state what types of things go in each column of a possible design — that’s when you might realize you want 3 or 2 columns. Also look at the layout of other blogs with content like Google AdSense — are they in a separate column or mixed in with the posts or on the one and only sidebar. Many people advise putting ads at the top of the page, which is difficult on fewer than 3 columns. You can do the same thing on paper instead of in a test post — take time to layout your design. That makes it easier to define the structure.

There are lots of sources for other Blogger templates. Again, if you try these use your test posts, not your real content. The test posts can be copies of the real content. Installing a new template can be tricky, and you don’t want to lose your hard work on published posts!

Make sure your test blog is not found on Google or by anyone viewing your profile until you are ready to delete all test post and add real blog entries. This includes social networking profiles.

THINGS TO CONSIDER WHEN DESIGNING YOUR LAYOUT.
  • Do you need a menu to link to selected ‘blog pages’ that have distinct content? If so, design that into your layout and structure. For example instead of putting ‘contact us’ or ‘about us’ on the sidebar, you can create a post and link to it from the top menu.
    ( this one is from the Beautiful Beta blog. )
    Maybe you have two large categories of posts and want to have them at the top for easy reference. For example, I could have one for design tips and one for marketing tips, listing relevant articles in the post page.
  • Color Scheme — colors carry lots of symbolism so be careful of a predominant color used for visitors of different cultures. For example the color red: (from About.com on Web Design) means good luck in China, purity in India, mourning in South Africa, danger in Western cultures. Colors of fonts against certain backgrounds also affect readiblity.
  • Graphics – is your blog mainly about photographs and images? Consider hosting your graphics at a free server and specify the url instead of having Blogger upload each image. You’ll notice that blogger assigns a strange long name for each image and displays a clickable thumbnail in the post. It’s difficult to use the same image in a new post or to move your images to another publishing platform.
  • Fixed column versus wide screen— not all of your international visitors have large screens, so fixed columns are an easy way to accommodate everyone and avoid scrolling . Many templates have either fixed or very wide structures. The ideal is a proportional definition (e.g. post column is 75% of available screen width, etc.). The actual posts are easier to read if the column is not too wide (I see this with my blog and intend to reduce the size when I add a third column).
  • Three column templates — again be sure they are meant for the “New Blogger” implementation. Some come with their own errors and no one to answer your questions so you must test them first.

Summary.

Your design and content work best when they complement each other, helping to attract and retain visitors. Design should happen on paper or in a test blog before you establish and build your real blog content. The design is something you may have to live with for a long time. When selecting a non-standard design, be sure it’s “love at first sight” until you learn to tweak templates and substitute images.

This article is the first in a series of blogging design tips. The intent is to guide the new blogger toward a satisfying blog design. Established bloggers can find hope if they are not completely satisfied with their current design and afraid to make changes! Upcoming tips will show how to make a third column, install one of many ‘free templates’ and other ways to customize. So be sure to see the next tip by signing up for our RSS feed or email delivery!

UPDATE: 7/3/08 – Related post
I read a great post on Lenin Nair’s creative writing help blog – New wordpress template for blogger. I’ve found my template tweaking hero! Notice the main reason for the new template was to improve the blog’s performance and design. The blog now uses 2 columns but skillfully splits the right sidebar column as needed for special elements. (using DIV with two classes for left and right sidebar sections).

Check out these related posts.
How does your blog look in candid shots
Color in Blog Design


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21 Comments

  1. that was very informative ^^ thank you for your suggestion. will be thinking over the layout of the blog and try to improve it as much as we can. great blog ^^

  2. Very good post.

    I used to be great with HTML and have since fallen out of practice. I wish I could savvy up again.

    I’m still configuring my main website, http://www.thesmallbizguru.com.

    Anyways, I found your post informative.

    ~the GURU

  3. This is a great pillar post. It’s content rich and it will provide timeless value for your readers. I have stumbled it and bookmarked it. Good writing! πŸ™‚

    P.S. I see this will be part of a series and as I’m visually impaired I’d like to see you cover that in another post in the series.

  4. @Timethief – what a wonderful comment and my first stumble! I’m encouraged. Thank you.

    @Small Biz Guru – I often use HTML to tweak things, but I’m now learning the CSS/XML approach. There are some good tutorials and I’ll point out a few, using my template as a real life example.

    @erwinz2 – You have the right attitude. The first step is to hear it, observe and compare, then decide on any action. Keep in touch.

  5. Great post!!

    Really informative. I will be waiting for the continuation, too, you’ve pointed things I didn’t notice when making my own blog.
    Like here, in the comments: ”The first step is to hear it, observe and compare, then decide on any action.”
    I first I decided to take actions, then I observed and compared, and finally, I went to look for help! XD

    I liked the number one point of the ”THINGS TO CONSIDER WHEN DESIGNING YOUR LAYOUT.”
    I’ve been wanting something similar, kinda buttons on a bar, but a post link is far way easier to do XD

    Easy navigation should be the number one point in any blog, beside the content!

    Love your blog!!
    Take good care!! πŸ™‚

  6. @Lucy, I’m glad you agree with the points. You have an abundance of enthusiasm and drive and will master fitting your design to your music audience quickly enough! Thanks.

  7. I pur my address in your Feedburner RSS feed and it gave me an error. You might want to check it out. P.S. Great blog!

  8. Thanks for this nice content.

    Choosing a template for new bloggers is quit difficult, let me share you my experience on how to choose my template. First I try to look for couple of free template online then I tried it if its compatible to my design and content. Then the most important is to look for people that are expert in blogging and web design. They can suggest good design for you.

    Kaiser

  9. @Amy – I’m glad it worked when you tried a second time! Can’t lose any live subscribers!

    @Kaiser – thanks for your perspective. I’m sure people will contact you to reveal your sources.

  10. Choosing a template is really a hard work.
    I already changed more than 20 times about my theme.
    Every good theme still need to be modified to fit different require.:)

  11. I agree that templates need to change and grow, that’s why it’s important to know something about the structure, where to go for help and some good ‘disaster recovery’ techniques! The earlier a new blogger starts the process, the less trauma. Thanks for ‘walking’ by.

  12. It really take times to choose a blog template, but my blog template has been changed 3-4 times, and I can still maintain a good structure of it.

    For blogger who doesn’t understand CSS/HTML should takes time to choose template.

  13. I use a test blog before I change my blog template. Any changes, prior to full implementation, will be tested at the test blog first.

  14. @Sayz – You’re right, if you can change templates easily why not! Your latest is very functional and sets off your posts.

    @Hamdani – I’m a great fan of test blogs. Glad you brought that up and thanks for visiting!

  15. @Fransiska – I know how hard it is to get your attention [I thought you were supposed to be busy writing posts for the new team blog?] — I appreciate the Stumble!

  16. Great tips! Thanks! I think I went through 3 templates for my blog befire I found the right one, that said if I see a better on I’d probably change again, one last time πŸ™‚

  17. @Webdesi3- I’m beginning to agree with the mindset of keeping your template ‘fresh’ — readers do notice and like to get involved or understand your design choices. Let me know what you find! Thanks for visiting.

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