By Emlyn Chand/ Each time a blogger applies to become a Novel Publicity blog tour host, I break out my handy evaluation worksheet and go to work assessing this new blog. I look for what the blogger is doing right, what she’s doing wrong, and what she could be doing differently. The purpose of this evaluation is to help the blogger achieve 100 hits per day (on new post days), so that she can host our authors on her blog, which means free books, introductions to emerging authors, and the chance to win prizes.
Point is – I’ve seen a lot of blogs, both excellent and exacerbating. The question is: what separates the high-traffic blogs from those that are hardly blips on the internet’s radar? Many things. The quality and frequency of posts, the social media presence of the blogger, age and topic of the blog…
One of the most important aspects of a blog is its look and feel, and this is something that’s incredibly easy to fix once you know it’s a problem. A poorly designed or chaotic blog makes the blogger appear amateurish. The reader thinks, “if she doesn’t have time to make it look nice, how does she have time to produce quality content that I’d want to read? Hmm… perhaps I better browse on.”
As writers, our blogs must balance both artistry and professionalism (just like our chosen craft). If one goes too far in the artistic direction, a blog can become overly designed with strange font choices, a mishmash of colors, and more photos than words. If one goes too far in the professional direction, we’re in IT-city. The balance of an enticing foreground with an informative content background – that’s blogging gold.
Here are 5 simple ways to make your blog more visually appealing to readers:
1. Don’t use light text on a dark background. This can be very hard on readers’ eyes. It’s not just older readers either. Anyone with a light sensitivity (like I have, and I’m 26) will have to strain to see the words. No matter how strong your content, a dark color scheme is sure to subtract from your readership. Add in a dark sense of artistry in some other way – be creative! Along these lines, be sure not to use a font that is not too small or strange-looking.
2. Customize your header. Many blog headers only include text, or instead, they feature a stock image of book spines that seems to be present on almost every other writing blog (see the WordPress Pilcrow theme). Make your blog unique! The header is literally the first thing people see when browsing to your site. It’s at the very top of every single page. That’s pretty important. Use PhotoShop or even Paint to create a fun and attractive banner that reflects the nature of your blog. Try to make it unique – something that couldn’t apply to any blog but yours.
3. Create a main menu that sticks to a single line. Main menus are quite helpful functionally. Readers can jump directly to the content they want without having to click and search around your blog. Menus should include your home page, about page, and links to categories you frequently blog such as book reviews, author interviews, flash fiction, and the like. When a menu sloppily hangs onto a second line, it jars me. This is such a glaring design problem with such a simple solution that I just can’t understand anyone’s overlooking it. If you have a lot of navigational content, select a few major categories and create subcategories in a drop-down menu. Simple fix!
4. Don’t lose the reader in sidebar muck. You’ve already read my post entitled “10 tips for creating a sidebar that informs without overwhelming the reader,” yes? A well-groomed and informative sidebar separates quality blogs from the riff-raff. That may seem a bit harsh, but how do you feel when you land on a new blog that has sidebar widgets all over the place, hanging out of the margins, taking up way too much room on the page, and even producing redundant content? It’s pretty aggravating, isn’t it?
5. Include pictures with your posts. An enticing picture that adequately represents the post to which it’s attached will pull the reader in. It’s a great inter-site marketing technique. It also breaks up long blocks of text, keeping in fresh. Think about how magazines and newspapers look. They have pictures all over the place. I personally like to include one picture at the top of the post and sometimes one at the bottom (I do not include pictures on the Novel Publicity blog for a very specific reason; however, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a post on my personal blog that doesn’t include a picture). When pictures are scatted all throughout a post, especially when they change alignment from center to left and then right then center again, I find that distracting and unattractive, but others may disagree. Make it a point to include images with your posts, even if you have to create a stock image.
There you have it, my 5 tips to a more beauteous blog. Any points I didn’t hit that I should have? Leave a comment with your sage bloggerly advice.
Emlyn Chand was born with a fountain pen grasped firmly in her left hand (true story). Novel Publicity’s mascot is a Sun Conure, thanks to her obsession with birds–and she gets to decide anyway since she is the company’s founder and president. Although her first novel Farsighted won the prestigious Writer’s Digest Self-Published Novel of the Year award in 2012 for the YA category, she now writes most of her fiction under her “real” name, Melissa Storm. Learn more or connect with her (or her Sun Conure, Ducky!) on either of her author websites: www.emlynchand.com or www.melstorm.com. You can also friend her on Facebook, tweet with her @novelpublicity, or send her an email via firstname.lastname@example.org.