Ask Penny: Blog Design on the Cheap

Posted By on Aug 18, 2014 in CraftHack


“Ask Penny” is the place to come with all of your tech-related questions. Want to know how to tweak your web site without hiring professional help, or when is the right time to get that type of help? Bring your questions right here to the comments! Once a month Penny will be back to answer a few more.

Ask Penny

Penny Shima Glanz is a computer scientist with a passion for information management and how we interact with technology. She started PennyWise Consulting, LLC to help solo and small businesses figure out how to make the most of their technology needs and budgets. When not wrangling technology she can be found knitting, snuggling with her cats and reading, or out on a muddy trail run at sunrise.          

Today’s Question: I don’t like my blog and want to redesign it but don’t have funds. What are some simple things I can do on my own?

Penny’s Answer:

I understand, sometimes you need a change but the budget says no.

There are a few differences to keep in mind if you are on a free site (such as wordpress.com or blogger.com) as opposed to hosting your own, but there are some steps I take when I first start scratching that itch of “I want to change my site” and which apply no matter what your budget.

While it’s easy to quickly change a theme in either WordPress or Blogger, and there are many free themes to choose from, I don’t suggest starting with such a radical change. In my experience that isn’t what’s driving the desire for a redesign.

I visit the site and pretend it’s my first time. What’s the first thing that catches my eye? Is that what I want visitors to see?
Then I go page by page and take a survey of several posts (often the ones that have the most traffic) to see what I notice.
Then I do the same on my mobile devices.
Then I print it out. Yes, I know, but this method works best for me and I recycle!

There are three questions I look to answer based on this review:

  • Question one: Is it easy for a first-time visitor to do what I want them to do if they land on the main portion of the site, or come to an internal link (such as a blog page)? What changes do I need to make in order to make this easier for them?
  • Question two: What if it’s not their first time? Am I addressing their needs?
  • Question three: What am I doing to entice people to come back again?

By focusing on these questions I find that I sometimes just need to adjust placement (and visibility) of widgets on my sidebar, timing of a newsletter subscription form, or adjust items in a navigation menu. (The following examples are WordPress specific.)

For many, one of the big questions might be as their blog grows into a business or their business grows a blog if it makes sense for an index of blog posts to be the main page or if a static page makes more sense, or (more likely) a blend of the two. Please see this WordPress article Creating a Static Front Page for more detail. Depending on the theme you are using, you might be able to make these changes without any additional code (Don’t forget to back up first!).

Another area I find that often needs changes over time are the items in the navigation menu; sometimes just changing the order is all that’s needed, at other times I need to add or remove items. WordPress’s Menu User Guide offers basics.

By printing key pages of my site, I often catch typos that snuck through various levels of editing. I also read the pages out loud.

Last, but not least, many themes allow you to change some aspects such as colour through the customize appearance option. You may even want to add a background texture, I like the textures at Subtle Patterns.

Thank you, Penny, for your fabulous WordPress Wisdom! If YOU have a question for Penny, ask it in the comments below! She’ll be back again next month, and it might just be YOUR question that she answers!

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