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On Writing, Ideas, and Making a Difference

Bad Blog Design: 7 Tips to Beat the Status Quo

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Most blogs are terrible. They’re ugly and kitschy, distracting the reader from what really matters: the content.

Of course, sometimes, the writing is bad, too. But there is no easy fix to that. If you’re a poor writer, you have to write poorly (and publicly) until you get better.

But bad blog design? That’s easy to overcome. And an important part of keeping people coming back to your blog.

Bad Blog Design

Photo credit: Sean McEntee (Creative Commons)

Making Bad Blog Design Better

Here are seven simple tips to beat the status quo of blogging and make your design sing (or at least not suck):

1. Use a good theme

Don’t build it yourself (unless you’re an awesome designer). If you have the money, you can hire someone to do a custom design, or you can just get a professionally-designed theme.

Most themes range from $0 to several hundred — a small price to pay for a high-quality design. A few sites I recommend for you to find the right theme are:

Note: all of the above are for WordPress blogs.

There are also some nice, out-of-the-box themes on Blogger and Tumblr; however, I recommend doing a self-hosted WordPress blog, if you are able.

2. Don’t get funky with fonts

Keep it simple. Nothing cursive or script-y. No “edgy” fonts, either.

Preferably, use just one to two types for the sake of consistency. This is not where you want to be too creative. Go with what’s standard and tasteful. For a list, check out these web safe fonts.

3. No reverse type

Reverse type is when you reverse what would normally be the background color with the color of the font.

That is, don’t do white text on a black background. It makes for a cool a poster, but it’s hard to read on a screen.

The best is to do just black text on a white background. It’s classic and timeless for a reason. It works.

4. Go easy on the ads

If you’re just starting out, you probably shouldn’t have any advertising on your blog.

You need to get some visitors to your site before monetizing. However, even once you do, make sure that the ads don’t distract from the content.

If you’re scaring readers away, you’ll eventually stop making money, anyway.

So serve your readers first; the money will come.

5. No clip art

I am serious. This is the the worst sin you can commit in web design (well, that and using Comic Sans).

No cheesy photos, either. If you can’t find an image, go without. Having nothing is better than having something that belongs in an old trade magazine.

6. No underlining

When people see underlines on the web, they want to click it. (See what I mean?)

If you want to emphasize a point, try bold or italics. And save the underlines for the hyperlinks.

Otherwise, you’re just confusing your reader and when it comes time to share a link, they won’t know what to click.

7. Make it scannable

Make sure that your blog posts are written in scannable chunks, so that the reader can get a general sense of what your article is about at first glance.

Essentially, this means the following:

  • Use bulleted lists when you have a series of short points to make.
  • Utilize bold and italics to emphasize important words and phrases.
  • Use subheads (usually designated as “h2″ and “h3″ in the HTML section of your blog editor).
  • Break up paragraphs into smaller chunks (no more than three to four lines per paragraph).

This is an important, but often-overlooked factor in crafting a blog post.

Summary

Well, that’s it. At least, that’s enough to keep a lot of bad blogs busy for awhile.

In summary, there is a lot you can do to make your bad blog design better. First, remove as many distractions as possible from what makes your blog worth reading: the content. Then, focus on making the text readable and enjoyable.

Notice that I didn’t say anything about custom headers or any number of other nice design elements that can take your blog to the next level.

That’s because, while those are nice, they aren’t essential. You can do a lot with a blog that follows these basic guidelines.

A few honorable mentions

  • Don’t overuse social media share buttons.
  • Turn of all autoplay audio and video clips.
  • Kill the pop-ups.

What did I miss? Share your blog design frustrations in the comments below.

*Photo credit: Sean McEntee (Creative Commons)

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About Jeff Goins

I help people tell better stories and make a difference in the world. My family and I live outside of Nashville, TN. Follow me on Twitter, Facebook, or Google Plus. To get updates and free stuff, join my newsletter.

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  • Anonymous

    Great thoughts, Jeff! I can’t say that my blog design is the greatest, but I have really tried to keep it simple and classic and have not been able to spend any money on it yet. I’m in the “content has to be king” stage!

    I have seen some terrible blogs, though, and want to make mine as pleasant as possible while focusing on killer content (still practicing that!).

    Thanks for the post!

    • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

      Thanks, Matt. They definitely work together — content and presentation. One can hinder the other.

  • http://www.redemptionsbeauty.com Shelly Miller

    Great post as usual.  Couldn’t agree more.  Sometimes a bad design hinders my ability to take in good content.  I think good photos on a blog can have just as much impact as the words written.  Makes all the difference.

    • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

      I’ve experienced the same thing, Shelly. Bad design keeps me from reading the good content. They work together.

  • Anonymous

    Lovely post jeff. Whats wrong with clipart? Its functional and sometimes downright cute. I’ve attached an example. 

    • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

      Oh… my. I just threw up in my mouth.

      • http://www.rookienurse.org Caleb Christenson RN

        You guys hate cats in Tennessee or what?

        • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

          or what.

  • judi

    A descriptive tagline is a must. I really dislike arriving at a blog and I can’t tell what it is about right away.

    • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

      good call, Judi.

    • http://www.sundijo.com Sundi Jo Graham

      Good Point. 

    • http://www.ricardobueno.com Ricardo Bueno

      Agree with you 100% Judi!

  • http://avajae.blogspot.com Ava Jae

    Brilliant tips. You can have amazing content, but without the right design you’re going to scare a lot of readers away. You owe it to yourself to make sure your design doesn’t get in the way of your message. It’s definitely worth the extra effort. 

    • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

      I like that, Ava. We do this instinctively in a lot of other areas in life. For example, you don’t show up to a job interview in shorts and a T-shirt, do you?

      • http://avajae.blogspot.com Ava Jae

        Exactly! People don’t often think of it that way, but it’s the exact same thing. First impressions make all the difference. 

  • http://jessemedina.com/ Jesse Medina

    Clipart is evil.

    So is all caps.

    And long paragraphs.

    I also hate it when people bold or italicize too much.  As if every other line is emphasized in some way.

    • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

      Good stuff, Jesse. I was tempted to do all of that in reply to your comment, but I restrained myself.

  • http://popparables.com Keri

    Great post, Jeff.  I really think you should put in some good time and effort into designing your blog BEFORE you introduce it to the world.  If you aren’t able to do that or just super challenged in that area, just go with clean and simple.  I don’t usually run from a blog just because it’s plain.  But, if it’s cluttered and full of clip art and Comic Sans {LOL!}, I will avoid it.   

    I really, really, really don’t like it when the ad space is in the middle of the blog post.  It’s really distracting and comes across as obnoxious and kinda cheap.

    • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

      Agreed, Keri. It disrupts the reader’s flow. That said, this is a work-in-progress, and I would hate bad design to be an excuse to not ship. We get better by showing up. Thanks for sharing!

  • http://www.linchpinbloggers.com/ Don McAllister

    I can’t stand a cluttered sidebar. And if I get an automatic email opt-in popup window, I’m usually out quickly.  

    • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

      Agreed, Don. Apparently, those popups work for a lot of bloggers, though. What makes for a cluttered sidebar?

      • http://www.linchpinbloggers.com/ Don McAllister

        Yeah, Chris Guillebeau has it on his site, but his popup opt-in looks better than most I’ve seen. And it doesn’t pop up immediately. I’m cool with that.
        A cluttered sidebar is one that has one too many widgets. Of course this is just a personal preference, but I think most bloggers would serve their readers better by adopting a more minimalist, focused sidebar. Ads and product widgets can be tastefully done, or just make things look messy and cluttered. 

  • http://www.jasonvana.com Jason Vana

    Great points Jeff! I would add a few things:

    – Stay away from overly graphic backgrounds. All they do is make it hard to read and distract people from the writing.
    – Don’t use the floating Social Media links (the kind that come standard on the Standard Theme). While they are nice to use on the actual site, seeing as they follow your cursor down the screen, they are horrible if you are reading the post in an RSS reader (like I do). It makes sharing much harder (I actually have to go to the blog page) which in turn results in less shares.

    • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

      Interesting thought, Jason — regarding sharing from RSS. What, then, do you recommend?

      • http://www.jasonvana.com Jason Vana

        I think I use Social Media Counters (name of the plugin), but it seems any of the sharers that are at the top or bottom of the posts work the best. Sometimes the floating ones will show up in the RSS reader, if you click on the post and it shows the site within the reader, but most times, for my reader anyway, it doesn’t.

  • http://www.byebyebitters.com Helena Butters

    This perhaps isn’t “design”… but I hate when I can’t find an “about” page. If I was sent to one of your blog pages, I want to be able to click and read more about who you are if I’m interested.

    • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

      good call, helena!

  • http://BrianAlonzo.com Brian Alonzo

    My favorite blog designs are often minimalistic in “extra” content and trendy and hip in design.  Usually when I stumble upon a blog it’s for the specific purpose of reading that one post.  If the post is good I’ll maybe look at other recent posts.  I’m finding that the deployment of extra social media plugins can be a distraction and often cause blogs to feel cluttered. 

    I work full-time as a web designer and developer for a marketing & design firm and often find myself sitting in meetings of ongoing debate;  marketing at the expense of design.  Social media is often a necessary evil that must somehow find it’s place in the overall scheme of a website, blog, etc.

    Some people do it well.
    Some people don’t.

    • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

      yowza. convicting!

      • http://BrianAlonzo.com Brian Alonzo

        Actually Jeff, I failed to give you props. 

        I appreciate that fact that you list only your most recent twitter update.  Your design integrates social media well.

        • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

          thanks, dude

    • http://willfjohnston.com Will Johnston

      Hey Brian, would you mind taking a look at my blog and telling me what you think? (http://willfjohnston.com)  I feel like I could use a banner refresh, but otherwise I feel pretty good about the minimalist look I’ve worked out.  Thanks!

      • http://BrianAlonzo.com Brian Alonzo

        Sure thing Will.  I took a peak at your site and have some feedback.  What’s your email? I’ll send it over.

  • http://ratiooffailures.blogspot.com June Freaking Cleaver

    I hate it when I click a link to a specific post (and want to read more), but there’s no Home tab. Let me get back to ya, okay?

    • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

      ok. ;)

  • http://John.do John Saddington

    love these thoughts and suggestions!

    • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

      thanks, John!

  • Melanie

    THANK YOU! I work on the side as a blog designer, and these are wonderful tips anyone can do to improve their blog (for free!). It seems obvious, but some things just need to be explicitly pointed out… like the bright red font on a black background really is hard to read… *really*.
    :)
    have a great day!Melanie

    • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

      right. exactly. good call, Melanie.

  • Nathan Salley

    this is good. mental note made

  • http://www.madebydenise.net Denise Smedley

    The photo on this post, alone, made me laugh.

    Sometimes, I have non-bloggers visit my blog and ask why I don’t use a ton more color or “jazz it up” a bit because my blog is about “creativity” like it should look super crafty, but regardless of what my blog is about… it’s still a blog that people should READ and I don’t want to distract them. 

    I love all of your points.  Clip art makes me ill as well.

    I’m currently looking for another theme, though, so I’ll check out the ones you mentioned.
    Thanks :)

    • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

      me too, denise. sadly, i was worried that some may not “get” it — that i should’ve stuck with something a little more traditional. appreciate the encouragement.

  • Anonymous

    Comic Sans is regarded as bad because it’s so badly misused. The font’s “voice” is inappropriate for warning signs, for example.

    • Anonymous

      I agree. There’s too much of a knee-jerk reaction against Comic Sans. It’s appropriate for Children’s books, and has actually been shown to help dyslexics read better. As a typeface design, it’s not pretty (don’t look at the weird hook on the “s” too long) but it does what it is supposed to. That doesn’t stop people from misusing it though.

    • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

      it’s a matter of taste. i also don’t think that the color hot pink should ever be used. that’s just me, though. ;)

      • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

        maybe… ;)

  • Andrea Cumbo

    I really, really loath blogs that have some sort of animation that I either have to wait to load or have to ignore while I try to read.  And pop-ups. . . yep, hate them. 

    Thanks for the post.  Good stuff.  

    • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

      agreed

  • http://somewiseguy.com ThatGuyKC

    A great list of tips for people starting out blogging or who got off on the wrong foot. I would, however, like to plug Standard Theme (no affiliate link) as an excellent tool to go with (also for the WordPress platform).

    I have a to-do list of design/layout changes I want to make on my blog (black text on white background for starters). Thank you for the reminder.

    • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

      Surprised that you’re the first one to mention Standard, KC. Thanks for sharing.

      • http://somewiseguy.com ThatGuyKC

        Me too. Appreciate you letting me give props to Pagelines competition. I’ll convert you yet. :)

        • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

          No issues with Standard. Just not willing to commit time to a redesign. Pagelines was very slick out of the box and for a non-coder like myself, it required little tweaking. I appreciate elegant design.

  • http://twitter.com/AuthorVKScott V.K. Scott

    Thanks for the tips! I’m off to check out the theme sites now.

    • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

      best of luck!

  • http://www.ricardobueno.com Ricardo Bueno

    Pretty much agree with everything that you’ve noted here. 

    Personally, when it comes to design, less is more. I see too many folks cluttering their sidebars with content that isn’t all that relevant. Also, to add to Judi’s point in the comment below, I agree… I should be able to easily identify what the blog is about when I land there – so a good tagline is important (or at least helpful in most cases). 

  • Karl L Hughes

    Great advice. Minimal is definitely the way to go. I’ll also say that offering a responsive layout that works for mobile and traditional browsers is a great feature. There are quite a few free responsive WordPress layouts out there.

    • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

      good call

  • http://www.sarahstirman.com/ Sarah S.

    This is a technical question that may have a place elsewhere — I posted a video within a blog post that automatically started playing whenever you opened my blog page. Now, THANK GOODNESS, it is no longer on the front page of my blog! But, is there a way to mess with the HTML code of a video to say “Shhhhh!” when it does that?

    • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

      maybe. what kind of player are you using? probably a way to turn off continuous play.

  • http://www.likeawarmcupofcoffee.com Sarah Mae

    Hey, I have cursive in my header (and I love it!). Also, Ann Voskamp breaks all the rules and does so brilliantly. ;)

    • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

      The header is one thing. Body font is another. And Ann does NOT use clip art. ;) (But yes, I do hate the autoplay song on her blog… sorry, Ann.)

      • http://www.likeawarmcupofcoffee.com Sarah Mae

        I’m telling you, women can get away with way more! :)

        • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

          well, this is true.

  • Matt

    Hey Jeff,

    I really like your social media sharing buttons – I like how they stay on the screen as you scroll down.

    • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

      thanks, matt. it’s just a plugin for WP called “sharebar.”

  • http://everydaytipsandthoughts.com Everyday Tips

    Crazy fonts drive me crazy.   It just throws my brain off when I try to read anything other than standard type.

    • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

      Agreed

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  • http://hellopalz.wordpress.com/ Priya

    The best way to retain your readers is to provide links at the end of each post…something that you do, n i must say it did work on me. I stuck around for a while, honestly because all ur posts are a great source of info for bloggers like me.

  • http://www.facebook.com/john.mcduffie John McDuffie

    I was scanning this post; got to the part about making things scannable- then laughed. It amazes me how often bloggers will not learn from their own experiences. Take any article about how to write content readers will return for and all the advice is common sense advice. We can learn a lot about writing for the web by studying our own habits.

  • http://www.colorexpertsbd.com/services/photoshop-image-masking-service.html Shawn Holes

    Great useful tips, i got huge of idea from your post. Thanks a lot for sharing with us. I’ll visit your blog again.

  • http://www.colorexpertsbd.com/ Ayisha Papiya

    These 7 tips are very much useful for me. You made my works easy. A big thanks for taking time to it !!

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