“How do I design my blog?” is one of the most frequently asked questions from new bloggers.
The design of your blog is fundamental.
The better looking a blog is, the more memorable it will be for the visitors.
More of them will stick to it, subscribe, return and share it with their friends on social media.
Let’s have a look at steps you need to take to create a great looking blog design.
First step in designing your blog
The first step is to pick the right blogging platform that allows you a wide range of design possibilities.
WordPress is my platform of choice.
I love it and run all my blogs on it.
It’s an open-source platform that powers more than 75 million blogs and more than 25% of the total web.
Using WordPress will save you weeks of time and a lot of money as you won’t need to build (or pay someone to build) a design from scratch.
The community behind WordPress has created more than 2,500 of design themes that are beautiful and feature-rich.
You’ll have plenty of choice for selecting the design template that works for you.
WordPress needs a domain name and a web server space to work.
I recommend Bluehost.
They offer a free domain name, 24/7 live support and WordPress recommends them.
More than 2 million WordPress blogs are hosted there.
And you can get hosted at $2.95 per month.
The whole process will take you some five minutes and you’ll have your shiny new blog live and running!
Register your account and then follow this process to get your blog online:
Disclosure: I do earn a commission if you sign-up using my link at no additional cost to you. Please know that I only recommend products that I find helpful and useful. If you do choose to buy through my link, thank you for your support!
Activating your first WordPress theme
Now that you have your WordPress blog up and running, let’s take a look at how you can set up your blog design.
Free themes are a great starting point for a new blogger.
I suggest you access your WordPress admin, go to “Appearance” on the left-hand side navigation and click “Themes”.
Click “Add New” on top of that page to discover the different opportunities.
Explore and test the free themes.
It’s easy to switch between and test different designs until you find the perfect one.
Try for example and browse through “Featured” or through “Popular” or “Latest”:
Or use the “Feature Filter” to find more specific themes with exact features that you are looking for.
You can sort by color, layout, features and specific subjects:
Each design theme has a page with further details.
This can help you make a better decision.
Learn more details and see how the theme would look on your blog.
When you find a design theme that you like simply click on “Install” to activate it on your blog.
Some things to look out for:
- Last updated date should be in the recent months. Older themes could break in most recent versions of WordPress
- Active installs shows you how many blogs use the theme right now. The more the better as it shows that the theme is quality, but watch out not to have your blog look like thousands of other blogs.
- Ratings number between 1 and 5 stars. The higher the rating the better the theme may be.
- Look through the reviews to see what people are saying about the theme.
- Does the developer actively respond and help people? WordPress is continuously changing and your theme needs upgrades and latest bug fixes to continue serving you.
- Is the theme actively maintained, updated and supported by a reputable developer or company?
- Preview the theme to see how it actually looks like for a visitor.
An alternate way to find a design is to go to your favorite blogs and see what design they use.
When you find a blog that you love it’s pretty simple to see what design it uses.
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”.
Take a look at the code.
You will see lines with /wp-content/themes/something/.
The folder after /themes/ will be the name of the theme.
When you have the name, search for it and test it out on your blog.
7 of the best free WordPress design themes for 2017
This is the list of seven of the most impressive free WordPress themes that I have picked for your inspiration.
Things to consider when choosing a blog design
First time visitors take less than a few seconds to decide if your blog is worth exploring.
You have to get their attention and get it fast.
One way of doing this is to make it easy on the eyes and clutter free.
Make it easy for your readers to find stuff that interests them.
With an effective blog design, the purpose will become clear and immediately evident to your first-time visitors.
Thinking of usability is a key thing to consider on your way to a great looking blog.
You have to consider the font and the size of font you are using, the colors, what you present in the sidebar and much more.
Your visitors should enjoy not only the aesthetics of your blog but also the ease of use, page speed and user-friendliness.
These are the things to think about when choosing a design for your blog:
Consider the ease of use of the design theme
Would you like to have one sidebar or two sidebars or maybe none?
Would you like sidebars on the left or the right or both sides of the content?
The ability to customize your blog 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’re not comfortable with coding, then it’s best to choose a theme that makes it easy to edit and customize even with no coding skills.
Or simply pick a theme that you really love as it is and have no need to customize.
Which font and font sizes would you like on your blog?
Font, font size, spacing between letters and line height all have a big impact on how your visitors feel when reading online.
Screen resolutions are increasing which means that you need to make your content more readable for these new screens.
Larger font makes your blog more clear and easy to look at.
Sans-Serif Fonts are best suited for digital content while you want your font size to be a 16pt at a minimum and should go even more to 20pt+ for best results.
It’s not easy to change these elements on all WordPress themes.
Consider how easy is it to change the font, size and color?
Start with the minimum viable design elements
Don’t spend too much time in the planning stages.
Refrain from adding what is not necessary in the first place.
Get your blog and your product out into the wild quickly.
It’s the real world data from real people that will lead you towards making better design decisions in the future.
“Keep it simple, stupid” is a good rule to follow
Less is more in modern blog (and web) design.
It gives your visitors a better experience when browsing your content.
It puts more emphasis on the content itself and makes your blog load faster.
Aim for your blog to be loaded within a couple of seconds at most. See here how you can track this.
Consider how the design affects your visitors and the user experience.
Ignore and remove inessential design elements that don’t matter.
Remove buttons, widgets, ads, pop-ups and other distractions.
Just because every other blog has them, it doesn’t mean that you need to have them too.
Think about what purpose these elements have?
You don’t need features that nobody has asked for and that nobody is using.
Focus on quality, not on quantity and make room for those elements that do make a difference.
Header section and navigation are the first things visitors see
Having a great header section is important as that is the first thing people see when entering your blog.
It’s what makes you stand out and be recognizable in the endless pool of bloggers.
Always make sure to take your time to create a great looking header and navigation.
Consider how the header of the design looks like and consider how easy it is to change and customize it.
Make sure your header looks professional and showcases your personality and what your blog is about.
It’s completely possible to make a professional-looking header yourself.
Many sites now fix their navigation menus to the top of your browser window so the navigation follows you as you scroll down the page.
This helps the visitor easily navigate your blog at any time and gets them to explore your content deeper.
For this to work best, you should think about what pages or posts you want to put into your navigation to best present your blog.
It’s not all about the home page
Remember that at least 50% of your new visitors come directly to your posts.
Prettying up your front page is useless if your post doesn’t invite them to find it in the first place.
Bloggers tend to focus on their home page too much, but don’t realize that every URL is a potential starting point to a visitor.
This is especially thanks to the spread in social media and traffic from search engines which tend to drive people deeper into your blog.
Your home page should be optimized but don’t neglect the rest of your blog.
Have a clear value proposition
People like familiarity so make your visitor feel at home.
Include a clear and descriptive navigation bar at the top with links to contact, about page, services etc.
How easy is to add a prominent “subscribe to my newsletter” button on your blog design?
Or different calls to action?
Tell visitors what is in store for them, what your blog is about and what problems your content will solve for them.
Make it clear who is behind the post
Introduce yourself right off the bat with a welcoming message and smile.
Ingrain your personality into the page. Include your personal information, your image plus links and examples of your skills and experience.
Your blog is unique, but only because of YOU, so make sure your visitors see this as soon as possible.
Make it easy to find your other content
If you want people to stick around, make it easy for them to find your content – but more importantly, make your content logical!
If you have 657 categories and every post is listed in 346 of them, chances are no matter how easy you make the navigation,
I’m going to get cranky with the apparent randomness of the posts that I will leave – never to return.
What’s in your sidebar?
Sidebars tend to be very cluttered with things like social media buttons, search buttons, archives, ads and even word clouds.
Review your sidebar.
Do you really need everything that’s in your sidebar?
How can you make it more focused so it leads your visitor to discover your content deeper and access your key posts?
Do you need a sidebar at all?
If the sidebar doesn’t help you put more focus on your main goals is there a reason for it to be there and distract people in the first place?
Most modern themes allow you to easily remove the sidebar from specific posts and pages so use this option strategically.
Traditionally when scrolling through a post you would have the sidebar towards the top but the more you scroll down the more emptiness and white space there would as the sidebar is finished.
This is a waste of valuable space.
Put in a sticky widget in your sidebar so it scrolls through with the visitor.
You could have a subscription widget sticky to increase number of subscribers or social media followers.
Or you can fix your popular posts to get more clicks and help people discover more of your content.
Q2W3 Fixed Widget plugin allows you to do this.
This is very much like Facebook or Google search works.
Upon starting to type a search query your visitor will get a drop down of different options and search results.
It is a faster way to search than the default WordPress search.
Here’s a simple plugin to get this functionality: Dave’s WordPress Live Search.
Display social proof such as social media follower numbers, number of social media shares and number of comments.
If visitors see that your blog is popular, frequented and shared a lot then there is a greater chance they will stick around.
If all these people like this blog then there must be other good stuff around.
Use WordPress plugins to integrate social proof.
Do you actually need all those social media share and follow buttons?
Do they actually get any clicks or do they just distract people?
Use your analytics tool to analyze the data and act accordingly.
If you really want buttons is there a way for you to present them in a nicer and simpler layout?
Mobile phones, tablets and responsive design
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.
How does the design look on these devices? Smartphone sales have overtaken computer sales.
Mobile traffic has surpassed desktop traffic worldwide.
Mobile and tablet devices accounted for 55.14% of global internet traffic in January 2017.
Blogs that I run vary from 25% to 75% visitors coming in from mobiles and tablets.
Mobile responsive 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 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 layout switches depending on the screen size you are viewing my blog on and it works equally well on any device.
If you want to check how your blog works on mobile devices, take this Mobile-Friendly Test from Google.
There are also commercial premium themes
There are also many commercial premium design theme options.
Premium themes you have to pay to use (usually in the range of $20-$50) but they can be more exclusive and unique as they are used less frequently than themes available in the free directory.
Commercial themes are in many cases more flexible and customizable for people who have little or 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 browser interface.
With a premium theme, you have better control of the look of your blog even without tech know-how.
Premium themes are constantly developed, upgraded to the latest standards and have the full customer support for when you have some questions or need some help.
When there is a WordPress upgrade you can count that the premium theme is compatible and functioning correctly.
Same is not always the case with the free themes that may have been a side project and were not kept updated which means that they might break in most recent versions of the WordPress software.
I use a premium theme myself on this blog.
It’s made by StudioPress and is a theme called Atmosphere Pro for Genesis.
I recommend themes made by StudioPress.
More than 170,000 website owners use them.
They’re beautiful, minimalist, mobile responsive, clean coded, fast to load, easily customizable through the browser interface, constantly updated and fully supported by customer support channels and step-by-step instructions.
Time to get started
Whatever you do just don’t spend too much time thinking about your theme.
So do pick a design and start blogging!