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Readers are Speed Dating Your Blog: How To Land that Second Date

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I’ve never done speed dating, but I’ve seen it done often enough to understand how it works: you have two or three minutes to talk to another single before a bell rings and you both move on. You meet several people during the course of the event and write down the names of the people you like best so you can connect in the future.

Speed dating is all about making snap decisions about people and relying on your instincts. And believe it or not, that can lead to a lot of dating success. Judging people so quickly might seem harsh, but being forced to focus on what’s important to you can help you instantly identify people who really might be right for you. This certainly isn’t the dating scenario that’s best of everyone, but it has its advantages.

As a blogger, you’re going to be propelled into the same situation. Readers actually have a fairly long attention span if they like your content – but they make the choice about whether or not they like your content in just a few seconds. If you aren’t good at “speed dating,” they fairly quickly move on to the next blog.

So what can you do?

Looks Matter

You don’t have the be the hottest person in the room to get a date, but you do have to care about your looks at least a little. Nobody wants to date a slob who hasn’t showered in weeks. If you put on a little lip gloss, you’ll make a much better first impression.

Online, the same is true: looks matter. Your design doesn’t have to be flashy and expensive, but it does have to be clean and pleasing to the eye. Give some thought to your design, especially anything “above the fold” (anything you can see without scrolling). If you aren’t a design maven, don’t worry. No matter what blog platform you use, there are plenty of free themes you can use out of the box and even more themes you can use if you’re willing to spend a little money. This list is a great place to start when looking for a WordPress theme, and you can find some great Blogger templates here.

Be Yourself

There’s a great line in Disney’s Aladdin where the genie turns into a bumblebee to try to convince the title character to “beeeee” himself. Puns aside, it’s really good advice in most areas of life.

The fact of the matter is that people come to your blog because they like getting information from you. So let you shine through in every word you write. This does not mean you have to be super personal on your blog. Being objective, formal, and informational, is certainly a legitimate blogging style. But what is important is that you are consistent and every sentence reflects the style. You want readers to understand what your blog is about as soon as they start reading. If you try to be too general and appeal to everyone, you’ll only be boring, which is a good way to ensure you never get that “second date.”

You will lose some readers this way. Not everyone is going to like you. That’s okay, though. As long as you are yourself from the start, you will attract your people, the people who really are going to connect with the things you write. These are the people who will really become fans.

Treat Every Post as the Most Important One You’ve Ever Written

When you have just a short time to spend with someone while speed dating, every word you say is being judged. If you’re boring or talking about topics that don’t interest me, I’m probably not going to want that second date. Likewise, on your blog, new readers are not going to tolerate boring or uninteresting posts.

We all have bad blogging days, and we’ve all written posts that are kind of “meh.” It happens. But keep in mind that every post you write could be the very first post someone reads on your blog. If a post doesn’t represent your blog well, don’t publish it.

The Second Date

Remember, just because there’s a second date doesn’t mean there will be a third. Ultimately, you want your readers to “marry” you – subscribe to your blog and become loyal fans, not just semi-regular readers. So focus on long-term design, consistency, and post quality if you want readers to put a ring on your finger.

Q & A with Bob: 5 of My Most Frequently Asked WordPress Questions

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We live in a quick-and-easy culture. We want everything fast. That is why we hear so many WordPress peeps saying:

Set up your blog in less than an hour!

Start blogging in minutes!

WordPress is so easy, even my 90-year-old grandmother can set up her own blog!

Changing themes is as simple as putting on a new coat of nail polish! (Yes, someone actually said that on Twitter.)

The problem with that is it ignores the fact that there can be, like with any new experience, a learning curve. And it makes all those smart professionals feel stupid if they can’t create a blog over their lunch period.

The over-promisers are always going to be there. They know that ‘fast,’ ‘quick,’ and ‘easy’ are persuasive words in marketing copy.

But jumping in without giving certain issues some thought can create headaches down the road. WordPress is a powerful blogging tool, and once you learn how to best use it, you will love it. Just don’t rush into it.

Here are 5 questions to ask yourself when you are setting up that WordPress blog:

1. Are the differences between WordPress.com and WordPress.org important?

Actually, yes.  In another post I wrote here I explained how some people are confused by the two options: WordPress.org (aka self-hosted) and WordPress.com (the blog is parked on the WordPress site). There are pros and cons to both. For example, it’s really hard to monetize your blog on .com. Choices of themes are also limited and you don’t have the ability to add plugins. On the other hand, self -hosted means that you have the added responsibility for keeping your site secure, updated and backed up.

2. What theme should I use?

This one is huge. Many new clients come to me because, after  spending hours installing a theme, they have found that it doesn’t fit their needs in the end. Some themes are more suited to simple blogs , while others work better if you want  turn your blog into a dynamic information source. And your options for presenting your expert content can be limited, depending on the theme’s layout, navigation and aesthetic design. Always look at a theme with an eye toward how you can plug your content into the layout and design.

3. Are there certain specific plugins I should use?

Of course. But remember: it’s always quality over quantity. Find those plugins that help with the critical parts: catching spam, SEO, site load speed, and things like that.  Choose ones that fill a specific need and don’t treat them like toys. Because they may be fun to play with, but are they really useful for your readers?

4. Does it matter where I host my site?

Damn well it does. A host can either make or break your site—literally. Don’t always look at price, although there are several good, affordable hosts out there. Listen to what other users are saying about them. Do a search on Twitter and see if they have experienced a lot of down time. Before you sign up, make sure they’ll work with you if you experience a problem. (Some hosts wiggle out by telling you that WordPress off is a ‘third-party software’ and it’s their issue to solve.)  And make sure you can get the support you need—when you need it. I look for hosts that provide both phone support and a 24/7 chat line.

5. Should I just dive into WordPress head first?

No simple answer here because it depends on your comfort level with technology. Although WordPress is a powerful blogging tool, I am the first to admit that it’s not the most intuitive. You can ask the dozens of people I have trained after they cursed and struggled with it. But do explore the dashboard. Poke around, see what does what. Find tools that will help you along the way, but don’t spend hours googling for answers to your questions. There are tons of resources to help you get started. And don’t be afraid to ask people you know and trust about the resources that best fit your individual learning style (podcasts for the auditory learner, print or video tutorials for the visual learner, etc.).

These five points barely  touch the surface. For more practical advice on how not to muck up your WordPress site as you get started, come to my session at BlogWorld in NYC. I promise to make you more confident to tackle your WordPress blog—and give you a few chuckles in the process. See you in New York.

How to Design a Blog that Converts

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Do you like it when readers check out your post and leave, never to return again? Of course not! As bloggers, we have goals, and we use our posts to try to achieve those goals. Did you know you can design a blog that converts? Your posts are only half the battle!

If you make money with advertising, your main goal might be to have readers subscribe to your RSS feed so they come back whenever you write a new post. If you have a product to sell, your main goal might be to get readers to purchase that product. If you sell affiliate products, your main goal might be to have readers subscribe to your email list so you can pitch to them. And no matter what, most bloggers have the goal of getting people to share their content via Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, and other social platforms.

It’s not just about what you say, though. At the end of your posts, you may have a strong call to action, but a poorly designed blog will work against you every time, no matter how well written your posts may be. So here are a few tips to help you design a blog that sets you up for success instead of failure:

  • Be a pattern interrupt.

WordPress, Blogger, and other blogging platforms make it super easy to install a theme and get started writing. The problem is that these ready-to-go themes are boring. Hundreds or even thousands of bloggers out there are using them, and readers won’t remember you as being something different and special. Be a pattern interrupt instead. Take some time to design a blog theme rather than using one out of box. You don’t have to build a theme from scratch; simply modify it so that you stand out from the crowd.

  • Draw attention with bold colors.

You probably have certain colors associated with your blog. When you want a design element to stand out, use a bright, bold color that attracts readers and stands out from the rest of your content. This is why you see so many bloggers with big red arrows pointing to their sign-up forms. You don’t want your most important design elements to fade into the background.

  • Put your most important information “above the fold.”

The phrase “above the fold” is carried over from print publishing. Placing information above the fold originally meant it was found above where the newspaper was folded in half, since that is what people can see at the news stand. Space above the fold is limited, so you have to chose the information you want to put there wisely. Online, above the fold translates to mean information you can see without scrolling. Screen sizes vary so this changes a bit, but you can general tell what readers will be able to see right away. This is where your most important information to help you achieve your goals needs to go.

  • The top right-hand spot is important.

A trick I learned in a graphic arts 101 class is that people naturally look at a page in an S pattern. That means if you draw a giant S on your screen, that’s how the eye usually travels. As you can see, that S shape starts at the upper right, so this spot is extremely important. Don’t make the mistake of putting something that doesn’t really matter in this location, and if you sell advertising space, consider charging more for this spot. Think of this spot as the prime location for a visual call to action, so place a “buy” button, subscription box, or other strong visual there.

  • Don’t neglect the end of your post.

You may already understand how important it is to end your post with a strong call to action, telling readers what to do next. But did you also know that the end of your post needs to be designed well for maximizing that call to action. This might be as simple as including social media sharing buttons or having links to related posts. But don’t neglect this area when you’re designing a blog to be effective.

  • Do some A/B split testing.

People are weird. Sometimes what works on one blog doesn’t work on another and vice versa. So, do a little split testing. Make a design change (for example, adding social share buttons to the top of a post) and see how people react. If you have the technical know-how, set up your blog so that half of the traffic sees your new design change while the other half sees the old design. Which one converts better? If you don’t have the skills to set up split testing that way, simple try the new design for a week and compare your results to a week without the new design change (look at percentages, not raw numbers). Make only one change at a time so you can understand how the variable is affecting your readers’ actions.

A final thought: Don’t be afraid to change how you blog looks. When you initially design a blog, you set it up to achieve certain goals, but goals change over time. It’s true that you don’t want to introduce a completely new look to your readers every week, but don’t fall into the trap of never changing the design at all. Design needs to evolve with your content so they’re supporting one another as much as possible.

What design changes have you made to benefit your blog? Share your strategies with a comment below!

An Argument for Not Using Images

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A picture of a camera? How meta. I like reading a post that includes an image, especially if the image being used is personal (i.e., not just stock photography). Even with stock photography, though, an image gives the eye a little break. It’s a good design tool for most blog posts.

Notice I said “most” in my previous sentence. A lot of bloggers will tell you that you have to use images with every single blog post. I disagree. I think there are a few cases when images aren’t necessary, and today, I’d like to make an argument for those situations.

  • You need to get news out as quickly as possible.

If you read breaking news on any of the major news sites or aggregation sites, you’ll notice that posts change throughout the day as more information comes in. What starts as a one-paragraph post turns into a much longer piece by the end of the day. It’s not just about text, though. If you need to get a breaking news story out as quickly as possible, it makes sense to forget the picture, at least for the time being. Just post the news. You can make the post more eye-pleasing in the future.

  • You use other visuals to help break up the text.

For example, in this post I’m using bullet points. Numbered lists, videos, and other visuals can also help make the text more manageable. If you already have a ton of visual interest on your site (i.e., there’s a lot going on with ads, the sidebar, etc) you might not need a picture too, unless the post calls for one.

  • Simplicity fits your audience.

If your audience doesn’t mind reading text without tons of visual interest, maybe it makes sense to simply concentrate on the text of the post. Not sure? Poll your readers. If they don’t care about pictures, adding stock photography just for the sake of having an image might be a waste of your time.

  • It’s an important announcement where images make no difference.

For example, let’s say that you ran a contest on your blog and are announcing the winner. People will read that post to find out if they won regardless of whether or not you have a picture with the text. Of course, you still want the post to be eye-pleasing, but if there’s no picture necessary to make your announcement, it might make sense not to include one.

I want to caution against using these points to justify being lazy. Like many others out there, I’m sure, formatting is my least favorite part of using a blog post. Make sure it truly makes sense not to use images, though – don’t just tell yourself that you don’t have to put in that little bit of work because Allison said so. :-p

Most of the time it makes sense to use an image – and if your theme pulls them for thumbnails on the homepage, like here at the BlogWorld blog, always include one rather than having a blank box on the homepage or, worse, breaking your theme. I just wanted to illustrate how a common blogging “rule” isn’t 100% the best rule to follow every single time for every single blogger. When it comes to images, do what fits best for your blog and for your individual posts.

Do you use images in every single blog post? Why or why not?

The Great Pop-Up Debate

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A Pop. Held up. Pop-up. Get it?

One of the things I took away from BlogWorld Expo 2010 was that I need to give some more thought to pop-ups. People mentioned them in some capacity at about 75% of the sessions I attended. The problem is that I got conflicting opinions from every direction. The two main schools of thought are:

  • Don’t use pop-ups, ever. They’re extremely annoying and will only drive your readers away.
  • You’re an idiot if you’re not using pop-ups. They convert better than any other type of sign-up box or advertisement.

To be clear, no one was really talking about those traditional pop-ups with flashing smilie advertisements or adult friend finder promotions. That’s all a little 1995. What we’re talking about here is those float-over ads that suddenly appear over the text you’re reading as the rest of the screen dissolves to black. People hesitate to call them pop-ups, but come on. That’s basically what they are.

The “Don’t Use Pop-Ups” Argument

My knee-jerk reaction is to agree with people who preach that pop-ups are bad. I don’t like having to click the “close” button when I’m in the middle of reading something, so why should I put my readers through that? Not only are they annoying, but they’re also irrelevant to me over half of the time. I appreciate that someone has a free report available or even has an ebook for sale, but until I read your site and you earn my trust, I don’t want it.

The “You’re an Idiot if You Don’t Use Pop-Ups” Argument

The business person in me wants to agree with the people who promote using pop-ups. It’s hard to argue with the numbers, and time after time again, bloggers who use pop-ups talk about their high conversion numbers. Sometimes, I think we’re a little too immersed in the blogging industry to understand how other people read blogs. We spend a lot of time thinking about things like whether or not to use pop-ups, for example, but the general person doesn’t. They just see it and either sign up or don’t. And according to reports from other bloggers, more often than not, they sign up.

So Where Do I Stand?

I don’t know. Anyone who knows me at all knows that I’m not shy with my opinions. At all. But when it comes to the great pop-up debate, I simply don’t know where I stand. I can tell people that they should do what is right for their audience, but I don’t even know how to determine what is right for their audience or for my own audience for that matter. Here at BlogWorld, that’s something that I personally don’t have to worry about – other people make the decision about whether or not to use pop-ups…but on After Graduation, it’s my choice whether or not I want to use pop-ups. And I don’t know. I’m not using them right now, but only because I don’t know whether or not I should, so I’m erring on the side of caution. I can see both sides of the argument, so I don’t know which side is right. Perhaps they both are.

Do you use pop-ups on your site? Why or why not?

Your Blog is Annoying! (And How to Fix It…)

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Seriously, if you need stock photography to illustrate "annoyed," a cat picture is always the best option.

I’ll admit it: I don’t have a lot of tolerance for websites that I find annoying (or people I find annoying, but that’s a completely other topic, haha). I’m not talking about blog content. Sure, if a writing style isn’t for me, I’m probably not going to be back, but that’s completely subjective. The type of annoying that I’m talking about is pretty much universally recognized as annoying. It’s like when your little sister hold her finger an inch from your face and then sings, “I’m not touching you, I’m not touch you, I’m not touching you…” I don’t care if you’re a 53-year old father of three writing a tech blog or a 20-year old fashionista blogging about food; it’s hard to resist the urge to smack someone who’s being that annoying.

Unfortunately, many bloggers don’t realize they’re being annoying, simply because you have a different perspective on your own blog. I’ve been guilty of some of these annoying habits/design flaws/what-have-you in the past, and you might be guilty of them right now. It doesn’t mean you’re a bad blogger. Just be aware that you are driving readers away – so if you want that to change, take some time this weekend to de-annoyify* your blog.

  • Check your blog on other computers.

Most of us have only seen our blogs on our own computers and maybe one or two public/friends’ computers. Check it out on as many as you can. You might be surprised to see what the homepage looks like on your mom’s ten-year-old desktop or your sister’s brand new iPad. True story: recently, I was browsing and came across an article I really wanted to read. Half-way through the first paragraph, an ad about the person’s free report popped up, but it was sized so that I literally couldn’t click the “close window” button (it was one of those pop-ups that scrolls with you). Fail. Check your blog on different browsers too – IE tends to break things that look beautiful in Firefox or Chrome or even Safari.

  • Check your blog on mobile phones.

Along these same lines, check your blog with mobile phones – as many as you can. A lot of times, I run across a site that has a pop-up ad and like with my above issue, I can’t close it because I’m on a tiny three-inch screen and the ad size is larger. You gotta turn it off for mobile versions, friends. Otherwise, I can’t read your site, even if I’m not annoyed enough by the pop-up itself.

  • Bring up your site for a friend who’s never been there and time how long it takes for them to find your contact information.

Why aren’t you getting any emails from readers? Why isn’t anyone following you on Twitter? Why aren’t advertisers contacting you? Because you’ve made it too hard. “Contact” should be on your top navigation bar, in the footer, or VERY CLEARLY on the sidebar. If I have to hunt for the information buried in you About Me page or Profile page, I might not bother. The same goes for your social media accounts – please don’t make me hunt for a link to your Twitter or Facebook page if you want me to connect with you.

  • Make it possible for anyone to comment.

Hey Blogger users – I’m looking at you. Occasionally, I come across a Blogger site, where to leave a comment you have to sign in with your Google account or another account – there is no name-only option. This also applies to WordPress users who check the comment option that requires users to register before commenting. No everyone has a profile or wants to use it to comment, so you’re missing out on what your readers have to say, and that’s usually enough to make me stop reading because I know that I won’t be able to leave a comment. In short, your readers shouldn’t have sign up for any kind of profile to voice their opinion.

  • Visit your site using dial-up.

Yes, some people still have dial-up Internet. In fact, a lot of people in the world have dial-up Internet. According to a report by the Pew Research Center, as of May 2010, 5% of people in the United States were using dial-up. Compared to broadband users at 66%, that number might seem small, but that means there are over 15 million dial-up users out there. World-wide, that number only rises. I have no clue whether or not that data is accurate, but I think we can all admit that the number of dial-up users world-wide is still in the millions. Are you really willing to make your blog inaccessible to millions of people? If you want to use a design that takes a long time to load (i.e. uses lots of pictures, videos, flash, etc.), have a simpler version linked near the top of the site for those with slower connections.

Okay – your turn. What are some of the things you find most annoying about blogs (outside of subjective things like “the content is too long” or “I don’t like the background color”)?

*Yes, de-annoyify is a word. I say so. That’s totally how words are invented. LOL wasn’t a word until someone said so and now it’s in the dictionary. Along with the little heart symbol which is totally not a word no matter what anyone says. Seriously.

55+ Ways to Bedazzle Your Blog

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I have a confession to make: I’ve always wanted a Bedazzler.

There’s a reason I hadn’t purchased one. If I did, everything in my life would be bedazzled. My clothing. My blankets. My curtains. My cat.

Let’s just say that it’s a situation that would not end well.

The point is that I’m a huge fan of accessorizing. I love things that sparkle and glitter, and I love showing off my personal style. If you see me at BlogWorld Expo this year, you’ll likely notice that I’m wearing something that I’ve either modified or made myself.

And if you visit any of my blogs, you’ll notice that I like to modify there, too.

Over the past five years, I’ve talked myself to hack WordPress themes through trial and error. It isn’t always pretty, but I’ve learned how to slice together multiple themes to make the exact theme I want. This isn’t just about themes though – I like my sidebars, posts, pages, and more to reflect the exact style I want for whatever blog I’m working on. Just like I like my outfits to be perfectly styled to my taste, I like my blogs to be…well..bedazzled.

I’ve come across a number of tools over the last several year to help make that happen as easily as possible. Sure, you’re still going to have to get up close and personal with your css and php files if you true want to stylize your blog, but these tools, widgets, buttons, and more go a long way in helping you create the perfect blog style.

(Most can be used across a number of platforms, though some are specifically for WordPress)

RSS Buttons

  1. RSS Button Maker
  2. Adam Kalsey’s Button Maker
  3. Online Marketing Blog’s RSS Button Tool

Twitter and Facebook Buttons

  1. Social Media Buttons
  2. Buttons Hut
  3. 100+ Twitter Icons and Buttons (from various designers)
  4. SociableBlog.com
  5. Web2gfx

Other Social Networking Buttons

  1. Digg Button
  2. JPF Add to Reddit
  3. Share This
  4. Sociable
  5. Socializer Plugin

Load Graphics Generators

  1. Ajax Loading Gif Generator
  2. Ajax Load

Music, Pictures, and Video

  1. Flixn – webcam streaming (currently unavailable, projected to be back late 2010)
  2. Flickr Flash Photo Stream Badge
  3. TubePress – create a YouTube gallary
  4. BlinkxIt – embed videos
  5. Scissors – simple image editing
  6. Facebook Photos
  7. ImageShack Uploader
  8. WP Wetfloor – creates a reflection effect for pictures on your blog
  9. iTunes Spy – shows recently played songs

Weather, Clocks, and Maps

  1. iBegin Weather Widget
  2. ClockLink
  3. Google Map Widget
  4. ClustrMaps.com

Graphs and Charts

  1. Create a Graph
  2. XML / SWF Charts

Show Off Your Stats

  1. PageRank Button
  2. del.icio.us Tagometer
  3. WP-UserOnline
  4. Alexa Rank

Communication

  1. 3Jam – receive messages to your cell phone without giving out your number
  2. Skype Button
  3. IM Online – shows you IM status across a number of services
  4. Shout Box

Poll Creation

  1. Poll Daddy
  2. Poll Code
  3. Vizu
  4. WP-Polls

Form Creation

  1. Web Form Factory
  2. PHP FormMail
  3. Wufoo

Favicons

  1. Favicon.cc
  2. 256pixels
  3. Web Script Lab Favicon Generator
  4. HTML-kit Favicon

Make Money

  1. Create an Amazon store
  2. ebay Sales Lister

Other Ways to Bedazzle

  1. LibraryThing – show the latest books you’ve been reading
  2. WP-PostRatings – allows readers to rate your posts
  3. Gravatars – displays gravatars with comments on your blog
  4. Netflix – display your Netflix queue

At the time of publishing, there were 55 ways to bedazzle your blog on this list. Leave a comment with your favorite tools, and I’ll update the list to include even more awesome ways to make your blog shine.

WebDevStudios Talks About Rebranding Your Blog & The Business of Website Design

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As you already know, our blog was recently re-designed by the team at WebDevStudios. We absolutely love the design, and I thought it would be interesting to hear about the process from the designer’s point of view – how they go about doing a blog redesign and perhaps some tips/tricks for those of you reconsidering a new brand for your blog. I chatted with WebDevStudios co-founder Brad Williams, who spearheaded our redesign:

How often do you suggest someone change his/her blog template/theme/layout?
The best time to make changes to your design is when you feel the current theme and layout are no longer meeting your needs. Many people come to us because their blog has grown and their current website is no longer providing them with all the functionality they need or the current setup is confusing to their audience.

Another great time to change your design is when you are looking to rebrand your website. This seems to be more common for company websites, but perhaps your client started as a food blogger but wants to expand to become more of a travel blogger who also talks about food. A redesign is a great time to change your focus and give your website a new look at the same time.

Having a stable website is important for your audience so we don’t recommend making major changes too often.

Is there anything that a blogger/blog owner should do before initiating a blog redesign?
It isn’t always easy to see the finished product. Many people come to us completely overwhelmed because they think they need to tell us exactly what they want the new design to look like, how the website is set up, what features they need, etc. This isn’t necessarily true. One of the most helpful things a client can provide us with is a list of likes and dislikes. This can be as simple as picking features or designs or even color schemes off of already existing websites. Find your favorite websites, the ones you go to almost every day. What is it about that website you like? What brings you back time and time again?

What are the pros/cons of using pre-existing blog templates/themes?
The pros of using a pre-existing template or theme is that the groundwork is already set for you. If you are just starting out with theme design, pre-existing themes are great for learning the structure and requirements of a theme.

However, the downfall with using pre-existing themes is having to learn someone else’s code and then fit it to the new style. There are even times where the code can be old and not utilizing newer methods of coding. Creating your own themes gives you the advantage of having a theme, knowing exactly what everything does and that it include all of the functionality you require. You know the theme inside and out because you are the one who made it.

When you begin working with a client, what steps do you take to give them a preliminary design? Do you try to get a sense of their business, their favorite websites, etc?
The first step is holding a call with the client and one of our designers to understand what the client wants and how they want to get there. We discuss what the website is, who their audience is (intended or current), what their focus is, any features they want included, how they want the menu set up, and what they like or dislike from websites that are already out there. It’s just as important to understand the ideas behind the website and goal of the website as it is to understand just what the client wants it to look like.

How long does it typically take to complete a blog design and implementation?
This can vary significantly based on the specific project. For a basic blog we generally estimate 4-6 weeks of development time depending on the amount of time it takes the client to provide us with content and sign off on each stage of the project.

Do you have any advice for someone interested in getting into the business of designing blogs and blog themes?
I think one of the most important things is to stay current on the technologies you are using. You want to be able to provide your client with the most up-to-date technology. You also don’t want to end up doing more work than necessary because you didn’t know some new feature already exists. There’s always something new being created and it important to keep on top of everything out there.

Anything else you’d like to share about the process or business?
As with any business it’s not always easy to work with clients. This is especially true when you are a designer and may become attached to your designs. My advice to anyone looking to get into the business of designing blogs is to learn how to focus on the needs of the client and always keep that the end goal. Some clients are very specific as to what they want, others will give you complete creative control. You can give advice and suggestions, but at the end of the day it’s the client’s opinion that matters most.

Thanks again to the WebDevStudios team!

The Redesign Disaster

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As you’ve hopefully noticed, this blog was recently redesigned. I love what the design crew did to update the BlogWorld blog. I’ve had blog design on the mind for another reason as well – I recently redesigned After Graduation to make the site more functional.

In both cases, I think that blog redesign was a good idea. Don’t be fooled, though; redesign disasters are very real, and yes, you should be scared.

Redesign disasters typically happens due to one of two reasons:

  1. The redesign wasn’t actually needed.
  2. The redesign wasn’t well planned.

Sometimes, both reasons come into play, and you get the perfect storm of resign problems. If your blog needs to be redesigned and you take the time to plan it well, execution shouldn’t be a problem. Even with some bumps along the way, a redesign can be successful if the two points above are met first.

The Unneeded Redesign

Sometimes, imperfection is better than a resign.

I have a friend who runs a moderately successful blog in his niche. He drives me crazy because in the last three years, he’s been through…let me think…six themes at least. That’s not even counting the redesign work he’s done tweaking each of them. He’s never happy with his site, and what starts as a change here and there often ends up as a complete overhaul.

Your blog with never – NEVER – be perfect. Perfect blog design doesn’t exist, so stop chasing it. Try to find the best design for your readers and then (this is important) leave it alone.

It’s my opinion that one of the reasons he’s not more successful with his blog is that he redesigns so often. Readers get confused whenever you go through a redesign. They have to re-learn site navigation. They have to get used to the new look. Your site design is part of your branding, so if you’re constantly changing your design, you’ll leave your readers confused.

Sometimes, a redesign is needed. If your site is starting to become outdated, hard to use, or broken in any way, go ahead – redesign your little heart out. Before you do, though, ask yourself if it is really necessary. You’re likely going to have to make some compromises no matter what theme you choose, how your sidebar looks, etc. Not every reader will be happy. As site owner, you probably never will be, and that’s ok. Pinky swear to me that you’ll step away and let the dust settle when you’re done redesigning. Don’t change the look of your blog every few months.

The Unplanned Redesign

Worse than the unneeded redesign is the unplanned redesign. A blog is a living, breathing animal that can turn into a monster quickly if you aren’t careful. If you don’ t have time for a redesign, don’t do it. Your readers will leave – and not come back – if your site is empty or broken for more than a day or two. It’s hard to win them back once they’re gone. So, plan the redesign when you have a few days to fully devote your time to it. Work in a sandbox if possible, and be prepared for some glitches that you’ll have to spend time fixing.

You also need to plan out what you’re going to change. Don’t just decide that you don’t like your blog and start from scratch. Identify what needs to change and come up with a plan for changing it. You can even poll your readers or email list to find out what they do or do not like about your blog. If you can’t really determine what is wrong, right now is probably not the time for a redesign. Maybe you’re getting burned out or maybe you need some more time to think about what you want to change. Either way, nuking your site and then sitting there staring at a blank page until you feel inspired is not a good idea.

One last tip – if you’re going to redesign your site, warn your readers. It can be a shock to go to a site you read every day and it is suddenly very different. Tweet about your redesign ideas, write a post about it (including mention of potential downtime), and otherwise talk to your readers about the fact that they’re about to see a new and improved version of your website.

Do You Use the "More" Tag?

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Today, no reflective posts about failing, no comparisons between bloggers and insects…not even a reference to Disney. Today, I just want to pose a simple question: Do you use the more tag?

In case there are any new bloggers out there, the “more” tag on a blog post allows you to show just part of the post on your homepage. Users who want to read the entire post can click “read more” and see the single post page to continue reading. I see three major advantages to the more tag:

  1. It allows you to show more posts on your homepage in the same about of scrolling space, so readers see more titles from the start.
  2. It increases the number of page views and single-post views you receive, which is helpful if you’re being paid according to stats when writing for someone else. This also increases the number of times an ad will load on your website, so advertisers generally like to see higher numbers.
  3. You can more accurately track which posts are most popular, since people can’t read the whole thing on  your homepage.

Some of the best bloggers out there use the more tag, or some other code to show only part of a post on the homepage. Mashable shows the first few sentences. Copyblogger shows the first paragraph or so. David Risley shows the first five to ten lines. Shoemoney uses the more tag if the post is more than a paragraph or so.

There are also some well-respected bloggers out there who don’t seem to be using the more tag. Kommein, Successful Blog, Jonathan Volk, Seth Godin…as far as I can see, they don’t use the more tag or show partial posts on their homepages. Chris Garrett uses it some of the time.

With the three advantages listed above, it’s easy to see why a lot of people are using the more tag. So why am I (and other bloggers that I’ve listed) not firmly aboard? It isn’t for lack of caring or being lazy. My main concern is that the busy reader won’t click through to read the entire post.

I’m confident in my ability to write interesting, helpful blog posts, but I’m not always a “straight to the point” type of girl. I think about how i read websites myself. If the post doesn’t catch my attention right away, I’m probably not going to click through to read the rest. However, if the full post is up on the home page, I’ll typically read past where the more tag would have been before deciding that the post is boring and looking for something new to read.

That means that a post has more text to get through to me.

I probably miss some really cool posts that way. No matter how good you are at writing a title or excerpt, every reader is different, and what catches the attention of one person might not catch the attention of another. I worry that using the more tag means that fewer people will read to the end of my posts.

At the same time, the above three reasons to use the more tag do make sense. So, what I personally do is use the more tag if I hit 800 or so words in a post. Shorter than that, I post the full text. Do you use the more tag? Why or why not?

Allison Boyer is a writer for BWE’s blog and the owner/manager of After Graduation. Yes, she used a picture of the creation of this very blog post to illustrate. It blows her mind, man.

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