“How do I design my blog?” is one of the most frequently asked questions from new bloggers. Design of your blog is very important as the better looking your site is, the more memorable it will be for your visitors. More of them will stick to it, subscribe, return back and share it with their friends in social media. Let’s have a quick look at some of the important design elements you will have to consider during the design process.
Having a great header section is important as that is the first thing people see when entering your site. Always make sure to take your time to create a great looking header and navigation. Thinking of usability is another key thing to consider on your way to a great looking blog. You have to consider the font you are using, the size of the font, the colors, what you present in the sidebar and much more. Your visitors should enjoy not only the aesthetics of your site but also the ease of use, page speed and user-friendliness.
An increasing number of visitors browse the web from their tablets and mobile devices so having a design that looks great on smaller screens or touch based screens is another key consideration. First things first though. Let us take a look at how you start your own blog.
First step in designing your blog
First step is to pick the right content publishing platform that allows you a wide range of design possibilities. WordPress is my platform of choice. It is an open-source platform that powers more than 60 million sites. Using WordPress you will have plenty of choice for design templates as there are 2,500 free designs available. There are also many premium options like the one I am using on my blog. WordPress makes the process of finding a design less stressful as it is easy to switch and test different designs and find one that fits your needs best. I love it and run all my sites on it.
WordPress needs a domain name and a web server space to work. A domain name is the address people will type to access your site and a server space is where your content and files are hosted online. I recommend Bluehost. It is simple to use, offers a free domain name, an affordable hosting account with unlimited space and WordPress officially recommends it. Click on the image below to get the quick setup process started:
If you need help, you can find detailed instructions on how to install WordPress here.
Disclosure: I do earn a commission if you signup to Bluehost using my link at no additional cost to you. Please know that I only recommend products and services that I find helpful and useful. If you do choose to purchase through my affiliate link, thank you for your support!
Now that you have your WordPress up and running, let’s take a look at the different customization opportunities.
9 things to consider when choosing a design
The ability to customize your design with a simple and easy interface varies a lot from one WordPress theme to another. Some have drag-and-drop, user friendly interface, some can only be edited and customized by CSS and coding. If you don’t have a coding or design background it is best to pick a template that allows customization without the need of coding skills. Or simply pick a theme that you really love as it is and have no need to customize. These are the things to think about when choosing a design for your site:
- Header section brands your site and is the thing the visitors see first. Consider how the header of the design looks like and consider how easy it is to change and customize it.
- Layout options. Would you like to have one sidebar or two sidebars or maybe none? Would you like sidebars on the left or on the right or on both sides of the content?
- The look of the front page. Does your theme support teasers for example? Do you have a magazine style front page option? A prominent subscribe and call-to-action position?
- Which font and font sizes would you like on your blog? How easy it it to change the font, size and color?
- Flexibility and enhanced features. If you’re not comfortable with CSS and coding, how many customization options and inbuilt features does the theme give you?
- Mobile and tablets. How does the design look on these devices? More on this below.
- Support is important as the web and WordPress itself are continuously changing and your theme needs upgrades and latest bug fixes to continue serving you and your visitors.
- Load time it takes to display your site. Aim for your site to be loaded within a couple of seconds at most. See here how.
- Search engines are important when building traffic to your site. Your design’s code has to be clean and search engine friendly for traffic to start coming in.
The importance of mobile responsive design
Smartphone sales have overtaken computer sales. Tablet sales are also growing and are soon expected to overtake computer sales. Mobile and tablet devices account for a growing number of global internet traffic (28% in January 2014). Mobile traffic has surpassed desktop traffic in many of Asian (India 60%) and African (Egypt 70%) countries where PC penetration is low. These facts show you why it is important to think about how you present your content to visitors browsing with devices other than traditional desktop and laptops.
Responsive mobile design is a smart design that adapts itself to the screen size of the device the user is browsing with. It works on everything from large desktop monitors to small screens on mobile devices. Responsive design provides optimal viewing experience for visitors, as the design elements are consistent with the standard design while there is no more need to zoom out, or zoom in or scroll too much around finding what you need. Google recommends responsive design as the best way to configure your site design because it is easier for the user and there is no need for redirection like on other mobile solutions.
Try it now if you are reading this article on a desktop browser – shrink the browser size and see how the content resizes itself to fit your browser size. The images will shrink, the header will shrink, the content column will shrink, the sidebar will be moved underneath the content as the layout switches from two columns to one column. The layout switches depending on the screen size you are viewing my site on and it works equally well on any device. Isn’t it cool?
5 most impressive free WordPress themes
So how do you pick a great design? The open-source community behind WordPress has created a large number of themes that are great looking and responsive out of the box. Free themes are a good place to start for any blogger so I recommend that you go into your new WordPress admin, go into “Appearance” and click “Themes”. Then click “Install Themes” where you can look through many themes and test them. Try for example and browse through “Featured” or through “Newest” or “Recently Updated”. Or use the tag filter to find some other themes. Simply click on Preview to see how the theme looks. Choose something that you like and activate it to put the new design live on your blog.
Another simple way to find a design is to go to your favorite blogs and see what design they use. When you browse blogs you love it is pretty simple to see what design they use. In many cases there will be a template name or link in the footer of the blog, or you can right click in your browser and click “View Source”. If you take a closer look at all the coding you will see lines of code with /wp-content/themes/something/ in them and the folder after /themes/ will be the name of the theme. When you have the name either search for it in Google or in your WordPress admin to learn more and to test it out on your own blog.
This is the list of five of the most impressive free WordPress themes for your inspiration. Have a look around the themes section, give some a try and see which one fits you best.
There are also premium themes
There are also many premium options. I personally use premium theme Genesis, a theme that is responsive straight out of the box. Premium themes you have to pay to use (usually in the range of $20-$50) but they are more exclusive and more unique as they are used least frequently.
They are in many cases more flexible and customizable for people who have no design skills. They allow you to create a professional and unique looking blog without needing to code or use Photoshop. You can change columns, sidebars, fonts, font sizes, colors, header and many other design elements through a simple interface. With a premium theme you have better control of the look of your blog.
Premium themes are constantly developed, upgraded to the latest standards and have the full customer support in case you have some questions or need some help. When there is a WordPress upgrade you can count that the theme is compatible and is functioning correctly. Same is not always the case with the free themes that may have been a side project and were not upgraded which means that they might break in most recent versions of the main software.
Whatever you do just don’t spend too much time thinking about your theme. No matter how beautiful and pretty your site is, it will never grow without you spending time on creating great content and attracting visitors. So do pick a design and start blogging!