How to Easily Improve the Look of Your Blog
My baby – Intergeek – is just about 8 weeks old (at the time of writing).
(You’ll find all of us doting parents refer to our child’s age in weeks or months up until they’re about the age of 13).
“Hasn’t he grown up fast? I can’t believe he’s already 144 months. It seems like only yesterday he was just 63 weeks old!”
Well, despite the birth being extremely painful, it was all so worth it.
This healthy baby popped out of my virtual mangina and instantly became so precious to me.
I started wrapping my laptop up in blankets and letting it sleep beside me, in fear of leaving it to sleep alone overnight.
I still have to wake up regularly to give him some juice, but on rare occasions he sleeps right through – heaven!
However, despite him clearly being the coolest kid on the block, Intergeek really struggled to make friends at first.
He wanted to hang out with the much older children in the popular places online, but no-one took any notice of him when he went around there.
Some of them even called him names. How dare they.
After wondering off all alone, he spotted some younger kids just like him and tried to play with them.
Intergeek still didn’t fit in.
He was teased mercilessly for his looks and how scrawny he was.
He spent a while locked up in his room all alone, just doing his own thing week after week.
After a while, he decided he needed to resurface into the public domain. Calm and composed, he approached those that had teased him mercilessly in the past.
No-one said a word.
Not because they were ignoring him – but because he fitted in. He’d evolved into one of them – and no-one realised who he was before.
In fact, as time had progressed, he had become the most beautiful duckling in the bevy.
OK, firstly, he’s a very advanced 8-week-old baby – clearly.
Secondly, yes, he’s half-human, half-website and half-swan. Duh. What’s not to get?
Finally, who knew a group of swans was called a bevy? That’s a silly name. But I didn’t want my post to be factually incorrect so now I’m stuck with that on my page. If you’re interested; they’re called a ‘wedge’ when in flight, rather than a bevy. I don’t know what’s worse.
I’d HATE to be a swan. Why can’t they be called a crew or a gang or something else more hip? I just said hip. What’s wrong with me?
Why am I still talking about swans?
The last part of The Ugly Duckling (although I’m not sure I retold the story with much accuracy) where it had grown up into a beautiful and popular swan, hasn’t actually happened to Intergeek yet.
It might not have happened for your site either – how popular is it?
It is as popular as you want it to be yet?
Chances are, the answer to one or both of these two questions is no, so hopefully I can help you out with some advice.
It was with this in mind that I thought I’d try and quicken up the process of getting from the ugly duckling stage of a website to the beautiful, popular swan version.
Extreme Makeover: Website Edition
What’s the quickest way to make something beautiful?
That’s right! Plastic surgery.
Now, plastic surgery isn’t possible with a website – but there are a range of things you can do to instantly make it better looking.
It All Starts With A Name
If our little friend from the story had a blog, you could bet your bottom dollar that it would be theuglyduckling.blogspot.co.uk.
If you still don’t have your own domain name, get it sorted!
Trust me, it makes such a huge difference.
It looks better, it’s easier to remember, and is more professional too.
As the duckling became older, it would make a transition to theprettyswan.com, and he and his crew of other swans would love it.
Regardless of whether ‘professional’ is something you’re trying to pull off – you want to retain an audience, a crew, a bevy, right?
Paying the few quid to get a domain name and some proper hosting is more than worth it each year, and you could probably make it back with an ad here or there if you’re that fussed about the money.
Use Flickr Images
Using interesting, high quality images on your site and in your blog posts is essential for keeping visitors hooked.
However, if you don’t want to pay to use images online and didn’t take the image yourself, you might be in a bit of a pickle.
Did you know that legally you can be sued for using someone’s image even just once? Even if you insist you didn’t know the laws?
It’s a tough world out there.
Well, fortunately, you are able to use images that have a Creative Commons license free of charge with a few conditions – usually giving credit to the author is more than suitable.
If you head over to Flickr you can search for an image you’re looking for, and then filter it by Creative Commons only.
There are so many great images on there that you can use free of charge; but make sure you check the terms with each and every picture just to be on the safe side.
Create Canva Images
Canva.com allows you to create some seriously cool, high quality images that “let anyone become a designer”.
It’s a little trickier than that, but it’s really easy to use.
What’s really cool is that the first time you open it up, a tutorial automatically starts running which is quick, simple and fun-to-do.
You can create fancy blog graphics like this one:
Now that you’ve seen the worst possible example of a Canva image, you can make sure to better this one.
I’m well aware it’s terrible – I created it in literally one minute using the first images and fonts I selected.
If you’d like to make yours a little better than what I whipped up – Marc Andre over at ProfitBlitz put together a really handy list of 17 Canva tutorials that I’d advise you to check out (which evidently I ignored when creating the above example!).
Some of the more professional things created in Canva (not by me, clearly):
Write In Short Paragraphs
This wasn’t my favourite method for writing when I first started doing this, but I noticed a lot of bigger bloggers were doing it.
It’s all about appearance.
Rather than having to read through a large paragraph of text and becoming distracted, short sentence paragraphs allow a user to skim read much more freely, whilst still taking in the valuable information that you provide.
Now that I’m used to writing this way – although I’m still trying to perfect it myself – I can definitely see where the older, more popular kids were coming from.
This is why they don’t want to hang out with me, I’m not cool like them. Yet.
But wait til they see me when I stroll into that playground with a huge rack and a new head of hair.
THEN we’ll see who looks cool. WON’T WE?
Headings & Subheadings
Whilst your paragraphs are remaining one-to-three sentences long, it’s important to break up your posts with a number of subheadings.
These are made to both make the post look more attractive, but primarily serve for the typical skim reader – which is almost everyone as it turns out.
By splitting your post into several sections with subheadings, you make it much easier to flick through for your user. This allows them to read only the parts that they want to read.
Make It Responsive
With the introduction of Google’s new ‘mobile-friendly’ tag, it’s more important than ever to ensure that your website is responsive and friendly when being viewed on a mobile device.
Google have even started dishing out warnings to webmasters about their website’s lacking mobile functionality.
Is this a sign that website penalties for lack of mobile functionality is on its way?
It would seem sensible to assume so.
Regardless of whether a penalty is coming, over half of the internet’s traffic is now served from a mobile device – you simply have to make sure your website is optimised accordingly.
Reduce Load Time
This might just be a case of giving your blog a bit of a workout, but it’s essential to make sure your site is in better shape to run at a quicker rate.
Installing plugins for cache and reducing image sizes are both great ways to start reducing your page load times, but there are plenty of other ways to do so as well.
Ensure your website isn’t bogged down with anything unnecessary that could be impacting upon its speed.
Get Social Proof
There’s nothing more unattractive in a blog post than seeing it’s received no social shares and no comments.
It could be the best article in the world, but I guarantee a large percentage of readers won’t pay too much attention to it if your site doesn’t have proof of social attention such as likes, tweets, +1s and comments on the post itself.
Getting this social proof is easier said than done; a lot of it is natural, but there’s nothing stopping you from going out there and working for the shares too.
Hopefully, you’ll be contacting people that will be interested in your content. If you’re creating great content and putting it in front of the eyes of people that care, you’re well on your way to getting yourself some good social proof.
Outreach can be a laborious, time-consuming task that needs to be revisited with every post you do – but the rewards are SO worth it for those that put the effort in.
Remember, it doesn’t matter how bad your blog once looked.
With a combination of hard work and time, your blog will come out as a beautiful swan.
Additional note: it’s not just the physical look of your blog, but also the community you build and the engagement you’re getting that will help to define it as great.
Do you have any extra tips for easily improving an ‘ugly duckling’ blog? Please leave your thoughts in the comments below, I’ll respond to each and every one of you.
Flickr Creative Commons image by Jeff Eaton.