I am willing to bet you $5.00 right now that you cannot go through this entire list and not pick out at least one item that you’ve personally fell victim to. Go ahead, look over the list and try to prove me wrong. I can guarantee it that we’ve all, at some point, made some of these mistakes in our own blog designs.
However, once you’re able to look these mistakes over and study why they aren’t right for your blog design, you’ll walk away with a better understanding of how to create yourself (or your clients) a better blog.
Below I’ve listed 25 mistakes you must avoid when creating a blog design (or having one created for you), with details on why they’re bad practices and what you can do to avoid falling victim to them.
This post is over 2,400 words long so if you need to bookmark it and come back to it again and again, sort of like a check list, feel free.
#1. Never clutter your sidebar
The sidebar of a blog, more often than not, ends up being the bastard child to the content area and gets everything thrown into it without a thought. Social linking, categories, links and various other widgets & ads clutter up the sidebar very quick and it causes you to look unprofessional.
Yes, there may be a reason to have ads, links & widgets on the page, but structuring and styling them will help you maintain your professional look when people view your blog.
#2. Don’t use too many advertisements
If your ads outweigh your content, you’re doing something wrong. When you look at the big blogs who get millions of viewers a month, they have a bunch of ads on them but they also showcase a ton (and I mean, a ton) of content.
There’s a reason they don’t have more ads than content – it doesn’t work and it doesn’t put a professional appearance out to your visitors.
#3. Your content is not easy to scan
This post, for example, is a great way of showcasing content that is easy to scan. Each tip is sectioned off with it’s own header and is easy for you to scroll through the page, catch the tips and completely overlook the content I write if you wanted to (I hope you don’t).
The fact is, most people scan pages more than actually sit and read. The web is fast paced and if people can’t scan your content, you’ll be losing visitors by the bundle.
#4. There’s just too many social buttons
Yes, we get it – you want people to share your content. However, having 3 large share buttons on the left side of the page, along with the mini-share buttons under your post title and then even more share options at the end of your content is a bit too much.
It runs along the same lines as having too many ads on the page – too much of a good thing isn’t always a good thing.
#5. Do not use an image-heavy website design
You want your page to load fast because people are busy and don’t want to wait 5-10 seconds for a website to load, which is why you need to make sure that your website design utilizes the cleanest code possible so it loads as fast as possible.
A talented designer should know how to utilize css3/html5/jquery in order to make your design pop without causing it to take 20 seconds to load.
#6. Make sure your blog is cross-browser compatible
IE6 may be dead, but that doesn’t mean your blog only needs to show up well on Firefox and have errors on Safari, Opera, Chrome and IE8-9.
Not all visitors use the same browser but all visitors should be able to see the same website, so make it a point to go through and check your blog out in various browsers to ensure that everything is functioning properly.
#7. How many popups do you use again?
I’ve seen a big craze in pop ups on blogs lately asking people to sign up for newsletters. While this is fine (and they’re nicely designed), there are also the people who run blogs and have 2-3 popups open up on the initial page load as well as a “wait – don’t leave yet” pop up when you go to close out the window.
News flash, people don’t like this and will never return if they have to deal with that stuff.
#8. Can visitors contact you easily?
One of my personal pet peeves is when I land on a website and want to contact the author but I cannot find a contact page. If I cannot see a contact button in the navigation, I look in the sidebars and on an about page, however finding information like this should not be that complicated.
There are tons of plugins now that allow you to add a contact form easily to your blog without needing any coding knowledge, so take a few minutes and set up a contact page.
#9. Your blogs colors give me a headache
With all of the color tools out there like Colour Lovers and various others, there’s no reason you shouldn’t be able to have a great color scheme on your blog.
Choosing the proper colors for your blog is important because the colors will invoke certain emotions in your visitors so you want to make sure you’re giving off the right vibes and not hurting their head with an awful color combination.
#10. Light text on a black background
While I love dark website designs, the problem with them is the fact that the light color text on the dark background is hard to read. It causes peoples eyes to strain and it doesn’t allow the visitor to read everything in peace, so you’re going to lose out on a potential reader because your content isn’t easy to read.
A good way to combat this is to make the website design itself dark but keep the content area of the site white, which allows the content to be easily readable while still keeping the style dark like you want.
#11. Using 100+ plugins and slowing your blog down
A lot of blog plugins add in extra stylesheets and jquery calls to your header/footer, which cause your website to load slower. Having too many plugins that aren’t really 100% necessary will cause your page to load too slow and have visitors leave before they get to soak up everything you have to offer.
If you must have a lot of plugins in use, make sure you’re using a plugin like the W3 Total Cache that creates a html version of your page so that it loads quicker and doesn’t have so many database calls.
#12. Flash… really?
The year is 2011, not 1990 so please, I beg of you, stop using flash when it’s not needed. A lot of the elements people use flash for (banners, headers, etc) can be easily achievable with jQuery. By removing flash from your website, you’ll have a faster, more up-to-date design that allows more people to view it and enjoy the content you’ve got.
#13. Completely ignoring the comment styles
One of the big components in a blog is the comments (unless you’re Seth Godin) and not taking the time to properly design the comments section will cause your blog design to look either outdated or low quality.
Most blogs now have a threaded comment feature and your blog should allow people to easily see original comments as well as comments that reply to the original one, styled a bit differently to easily differentiate the two.
#14. Is your blog mobile ready?
The web is going mobile and your website should as well. Can your readers easily see, read and use your blog on their mobile phones or pads? If you want your blog to grow properly over the next few years, you MUST have a mobile version of your design created.
Yes, these will cost a bit more because your designer will need to create different stylesheets and update codes for you, but in the long run it’s going to be work it because you will never lose another mobile viewer again due to a horrible layout on their phone.
#15. Can the visitor tell what your site is about in 5 seconds or less?
There’s no point in having an awesome design if the visitor leaves before they can even see what your site is about. Your blog design should not only look great but it should immediately show the viewer what your blog is about.
#16. There are no clear forms of navigation on your blog
When someone lands on your blog and wants to look through different pages, how easy is it for them to click around? Is there a navigation bar at the top or at the very least, on the top of the sidebar? If not, you may be driving your visitors away because they’ll put your blog in the same category as the splogs out there that don’t really care about it’s readers.
Make sure that when visitors land on your website, they’re able to check out the main links and categories of your site as well as related posts of the article they’re on – it’ll help keep them on the site longer and turn them into a regular reader.
#17. The fonts you want are unreadable at that size
I’ve had clients on various occasions request fonts to be used and they just weren’t readable at the size they wanted them in (league gothic at 13px?!?!). If you’re designing your blog (or having it designed) and would like people to actually stick around and read your content, make sure you’re using proper typography.
#18. Using target=”_blank” for your own webpage links
If someone is reading your blog and decides to click a link that goes to another area of your own website, you shouldn’t have the link automatically open up a new browser window for them. Instead, let the user decide how they’re going to view the link (I personally have come accustomed to right clicking all links and opening in a new tab).
Remember, people know how to use a back button.
Now, if you’re linking out to various resources (like this article does), then using the target=”_blank” is a good idea, because it’ll open up the other peoples websites in new tabs, leaving this page open even after you close those out, keeping you on my page longer.
#19. You’re not showing author information
Another good way to allow your visitors to feel connected to your website is by showing the proper author information with each post. This works well if you’re running a multi-author blog so people can see who’s writing the articles they like most and it allows the visitor to follow their content on your blog.
Even if you’re a one person show, having the author information (at the very least, your name) with each post will burn it into your viewers minds and allow them to remember your blog as not only “that cool place with the awesome content” but “that cool place that _____ runs“.
#20. Designing with trends that aren’t useful in your niche
If you’ve been following the Dribbble trends in the last few months, the main trends that come to mind are the worn, retro styled logos and blog designs. However, if you’re running a blog in a niche that doesn’t really fit with that trend, it’ll take down your authority power in peoples eyes when they view your site.
Instead, make sure that your blog is designed to fit well within your niche, but still have that bit of an edge to stand out from your competition. Subtle changes and adjustments to a normal design in your niche can go a long way, especially with a blog designer who knows what they’re doing.
#21. Making 1-2 changes to a free theme isn’t a “custom design”
I know that everybody wants to be a “blog designer” but guess what? Just because you open up a WordPress theme, change a couple colors and pop a logo in, you’re not creating a custom blog design.
Sure, you may be able to update a commercial theme from Elegant Themes or Woo Themes, but at the end of the day, it’s a theme customization and not a 100% custom design built from the ground up specifically for you.
#22. Your design is plain and unmemorable
Thesis is an awesome framework of a theme, but by itself it’s pretty damn plain. If you’re going to use a theme framework for your blog or try to go the minimalist route, make sure you’ve got something custom that helps you stand out and is memorable to your visitors.
This kind of goes along with the last point, if you’re using a theme that everyone else has and it’s extremely plain and boring, how many people do you really think are going to want to keep coming back?
#23. Not keeping your information updated
A sure sign that a blog isn’t up to date and isn’t worth sticking around at is when you see that the last blog post was written months ago, their about page lists items of importance that happened 5+ years ago or their copyright information is outdated (2007?).
Make sure that if you’re going to keep up with your blog, you keep up with all of the content on the blog – the about page, contact information, social profiles, etc.
#24. You totally forgot the search form
People should be able to easily search your blog for information they’d like to read more about. If they can’t, they won’t stick around long. A search box can be small and take up a very little amount of space, so there’s no reason why it should be left out on your blog.
You can place it in the top right area of the header, the top of the sidebar or you can even stick the search box right in the navigation bar so it blends in with the site but is still in a visible place.
#25. If you’re writing lots of content, where is your print stylesheet?
You’ve got a retweet button, a Facebook share icon and some other random social media share badges and buttons on your blog right? You’ve got the sharing part of your content down, but what about the people who still like to print out information and save it? Have you forgot about them?
A quick Google search shows up a bunch of WordPress print plugins, so there’s really no more excuses as to why all of that amazing content you’ve got cannot be printed out properly.