Hey there! Topher here for another Tuesdays with Topher!
Today’s topic is something I’m sure you’re thinking about. It’s a topic that frequently comes up in our conversations, and I’m certain you’ve spent quite a bit of time chewing-over the subject yourself.
Let’s talk about your blog’s look and feel. Its design. Its template. Its theme.
I truly believe content is king when it comes to a successful blog; however, its look is queen (if that’s even a cliche…).
Shanna and I have been married since we were about 10 years old, so I have very little recollection of a single life. But what I do remember is that I dug the girls with big hair (it was the late 80’s / early 90’s), the high-waisted Z Cavariccis, off-the-shoulder sweatshirts, and sometimes suspenders. Basically … Kelly Kapowski.
Why am I telling you this?
Because if I saw Kelly Kapowski walking down the science hall, I probably wouldn’t care if she could carry on a conversation about Reaganomics, the invasion of Nicaragua, or Mandela being freed.
I was drawn to Kelly Kapowski because of her looks, or as a blogger might say: her theme.
And like it or not, when people visit a web site, THEY FIRST NOTICE HOW IT LOOKS. And they will judge your worth within the first few seconds merely by how well your site is presented. Too much “stuff”? Too little “stuff”? Too many ads? Unappetizing color palette? Offensive content? Bad photos?
You only have one chance to make a first impression.
We’ve all done it. We’ve visited pages and decided it was NOT someplace we wanted to stay simply by how it looked.
Looks matter when you’re blogging.
And I’ll tell you a secret up front: you will forever be chasing that perfect look. It will never be at a place where you can stand back and say, “You know, I love everything about this design, and there’s is absolutely nothing I want to change.” So with that being said, go ahead and start writing some amazing posts, using well thought-out dialogue and attractive pictures — you’ll need that content, and as your site’s look and feel matures through its goofy middle-school years, you’ll have a solid foundation of excellent posts to hold the visitor’s attention.
So let’s get down to business — how do we go about finding that nearly perfect look and feel?
Again … you have lots of options. I’m going to write about WordPress themes, but if you use another CMS, there are comparable solutions for you as well.
Out of the box, WordPress has a beautiful theme they give you for free: Twenty-Fifteen.
It’s a fantastic start.
If you’re current on your updates (and I hope you are) you can go into your APPEARANCE menu, select THEMES, mouse-over your Twenty-Fifteen theme, and click CUSTOMIZE.
You’ll immediately be able to feed-in your own header image, tweaking some layout options, adding menus and widgets.
Using WordPress’s freebie can give you a great starting spot.
The natural progression might be to abandon the default theme and head back to that APPEARANCE / THEMES menu, and click the ADD NEW button toward the top. From here, you have a TON of available WordPress themes for free.
I start with “dog”, but I don’t find anything I’m drawn to.
Then I step back and think about what my posts will likely be comprised of, and there will likely be some photos and stories about Charlie, so I look up “magazine” (because I heard a tip that there are a whole lot of neat themes that use that as a keyword).
And although there are a bunch that look nice, again, nothing is really speaking to me.
Then I step back again and realize, Charlie has some funny stories, but really, he’s just so dang good looking, I’ll probably just want to post a bunch of photos of the little guy, so I search for “photography”, and I hit paydirt!
From here, it’s a matter of browsing the options, hitting the PREVIEW button to get a sense for how it’s going to look, and then INSTALL and ACTIVATE.
And, BAM … there you go. Now you go into APPEARANCE / CUSTOMIZE and start playing around.
And here’s what’s great. If you get tired of it in two days, repeat the process until you’re happy.
Fast forward a few days / months / years, and you’ve grown a little tired of the limitations of what’s available for free. You know you want more, but you don’t know where to go.
Here’s the good news, if you’re willing to pay for a theme, you have a lot more options available.
I’m talking about a pre-designed WordPress theme — one that’s professionally designed. You might run into some customization limitations, but you’re also pretty likely to find a theme that’s more unique and better suited for your style.
Currently, we have a Genesis theme. Studiopress designs a theme “framework” known as Genesis. And within that framework, you can run dozens of professionally designed, beautiful themes, called “Child Themes” (we use their Lifestyle child theme).
The beauty of the Studiopress model is that once you purchase their Genesis framework (which installs like any other theme), you can buy any (or all) of the the child themes for a reasonable price — this allows you to flit around from child theme to child theme until you meet your perfect match.
And three quick plugs for Genesis:
- Their license allows you to use a purchased theme as many times as you want for sites you own — so if you have multiple domains you run, you can buy a theme and customize it for each of your sites;
- The way the lay-out the code in their themes is super easy to follow — it’s concise, clearly labeled, and easy to follow; and,
- Their support forums are fantastic. They’re wonderfully responsive.
Also, check out Etsy. They have a bunch of professional / semi-professional developers that have themes available there as well. And a lot of times, you’re buying straight from the coder, so you can have a straight line of support if needed.
If you’re still struggling with finding that perfect theme, maybe you want to build one; however, you’re so scared of web programming you struggle spelling HTML…
There’s a desktop program out there I’ve used (and love) called Artisteer. It allows you to build a theme from scratch without touching a single line of code. It’s all wizard-based, and it walks you through everything.
You literally have thousands of options available for design. From backgrounds to buttons to menus to footers to bullets to graphics. You name it, and you can tweak it.
And here’s what’s great. Say you have a new Artisteer theme on your site, and you realize you want to tweak something … tweak it, export the new version, install it, and BAM … it’s fixed.
It’s about $50 to generate WordPress themes, and I think that’s a steal for what’s available.
The only drawback is that it adds quite a bit of “extra” code to the pages (although you never see it), so sometimes it can be a little resource-heavy … but it’s not too bad.
Hire a Developer
Here’s where you can really have fun. The sky is truly the limit … you just have to be willing to part with some moola to reach it.
There are some amazing web developers out there who can make WordPress themes that bring a tear to my eye. In fact, I sort of have a list of developers I’m crushing on. A while ago, I got into the habit, every time I stumble across a blog I’m particularly impressed with, of looking down at the footer to see if it gives credit to the developer. When it does, I jot it down. I may never use that list, but I like having some names should the need arise.
If you’re looking for developers, and you’re starting from scratch, check out Fiverr. If you’re not familiar with Fiverr, it’ll knock your socks off. You can go out there and hire ANYONE for just about ANYTHING for $5. That’s right. Five dollars.
In a lot of cases where programming is involved, that’s more of a “consultation fee” than anything else, but it’s a great starting point.
Some of the other things you can do on Fiverr:
- You can hire someone to write a sweet message in a sandy beach and send it to you to give to someone special.
- You can hire someone to record a video of them singing Happy Birthday in just about any fashion you can think of.
- You can hire someone to call your BFF all day long and impersonate various celebrities.
- You can hire someone to do a caricature of your spouse.
All for $5.
You can also use it to hire someone to design a custom theme for you.
Or, you can hire them design a custom header.
Or, you can hire them to fix a WordPress problem you’re struggling with.
Seriously, though, check it out. Just go there, and type “Wordpress” in the search area.
You’ll be impressed.
I’ll wrap-up my list of theme design options with the most challenging: Writing your own theme.
Since this is really just opening Notepad and slogging away at some CSS / HTML / Java / Ajax / etc. for hours on end — I probably won’t spend too much time on this.
But I’ll make two comments:
- At least scan through WordPress’s official comments on themes. It can be pretty detailed, but it has a lot of great information.
- If you’re serious about blogging, and intend to do it professionally, I strongly recommend you (or someone you’re partnering with) take some time to learn the basics of CSS development. I don’t think you’ll ever need to write a theme from scratch, but there very well may be times when you need to crack open a stylesheet and read a little code. At least think about it….
My final comment is one that weaves throughout everything I’ve mentioned above.
There’s no denying how prevalent mobile devices have become, and depending on your subject matter, mobile browsing can comprise more than half of your traffic.
So no matter what option you choose for selecting your site’s look and feel, please make certain it displays correctly from a mobile phone and tablet.
In fact, make sure it displays correctly from multiple mobile phones and multiple tablets.
In fact, make sure it displays correctly from multiple mobile phones and multiple tables and multiple browsers.
You’ll be happy you did.
So remember, just as Tiffani Thiessen has grown from a teenage Kelly Kapowski, in Saved By The Bell, to Mrs. Suit / Elizabeth Burke (White Collar), your blog can continue to evolve and change its look.
Just remember … it’s a journey, not a destination.
That’s about all I have to say on making your blog pretty.
I hope you were able to take a little useful something away. Until next time, have a great week, and don’t forget to visit my previous TWT posts: