7 Keys to Effective Blog Re-Designs
Many blogs get re-designed every couple of years, if not more frequently. Re-designing a blog brings a number of challenges because more content is being added to the site all the time, new types of content may have been introduced since the last design, and the priorities and goals of blogs often change or evolve over time. This means that when re-designing a blog you’ll need to take some time before jumping into the design work in order to think about how to prioritize the right content, how to make it easy for visitors to find what they want, and how to use the design to make the blog more effective at achieving it’s purpose for the owner.
The success of a blog re-design is more heavily influenced by a proper planning process than it is by the design skills of the person creating it. A blog can get a fancy new design that looks great, but if it doesn’t help to make the site more user-friendly and it doesn’t do an effective job of achieving the blog’s purpose, the impressive look ultimately has very little impact.
In this article we’ll take a look at 7 keys to the blog re-design process. These are all things that should be considered at the time of the re-design in order to make the site more useful for visitors and more effective for its owners.
1. Same Design Style or New Approach?
Most of the time when a blog is re-designed it will maintain a similar style or look and feel, just with an updated approach. Brand development takes time, and if a blog has established a certain identity with its audience you will usually want to maintain that identity through the re-design process. However, there are some cases where the re-design presents the opportunity for the blog to go in a new direction. This includes color schemes, logos, and general design styles.
One of the first decisions that should be made is whether the blog should keep a similar style to the existing design, or if it should feature a new design style. Think about the blog’s current audience, how they view the blog and the brand, and if that still fits with the direction the blog is headed.
2. Focus on Conversions
Every blog should have some type of conversion goal. The content is obviously intended to be helpful, useful, and interesting to readers, but ultimately there is probably some action that the blog owner wants the reader to take. It could be to subscribe to the blog’s RSS feed, sign up for an email newsletter, purchase a product, download a free e-book, sign up for membership, connect via social media, etc.
Whatever the priority of the blog may be, it should significantly factor into the re-design. In fact, this is one of the reasons blogs need to be re-designed or re-aligned from time-to-time, as it is normal for a blog’s priorities to evolve. When that happens, changes to the design should be made. In some cases minor changes are sufficient, and in other cases it may require a more thorough re-design.
In order to focus on conversions you will of course need to know the specific priorities of the blog. This sounds simple, but many bloggers don’t take the time to think of it in these terms. So if you’re designing for a client you may need to prompt them to think about what types of conversions are most important to them. Once you know the priorities you can include calls to action in the most influential locations of the re-design. This could include the blog header, directly above or below the post title, directly after the post, the sidebar, etc.
3. Determine What Content Takes Priority
In addition to knowing what types of actions you’ll want visitors to take, you also should think about what content should be prioritized in the design. By default most blogs prioritize the newest content by showing it at the top of the font page.
News-related websites obviously want to prioritize new content because that freshness is what visitors are looking for, and it’s what keeps them coming back. Many news blogs also prioritize content based on it’s category. For example, the front page may list new posts in different categories such as world news, finance, sports, politics, etc. Some blogs use a “featured” category to determine what posts get priority on the front page. Many WordPress themes use a slideshow to scroll through top new posts, and if they are placed in the “featured” category they will be included in this slideshow.
The front page isn’t the only way that content can be prioritized. Many blogs, like our own, link to important or popular posts from the sidebar. Blog visitors often look to the sidebar when they want to browse the archives, so this is another way to control what content is noticed by visitors.
Other options also exist for prioritizing content. Linking to specific posts or pages can be done at the end of blog posts (this is often done through related posts lists), below the loop on the front page, or even in the footer. IncomeDiary uses the area below the main loop on the front page to display a list of “our favorite posts”.
4. Decide on the Front Page Approach
The font page is obviously important to the blog because many visitors will arrive here first. Blog front pages typically show excerpts from the most recent posts, but there are plenty of options. Rather than simply displaying the most recent excerpts from all categories you could choose a magazine-style approach that shows recent content by category. This is usually most effective for sites that publish a lot of content (typically more than one post per day) and probably have multiple authors contributing.
Another option that should be considered is the static front page. Rather than just displaying recent posts on the front page you could set a static page to draw attention to something specific, and to work as a call to action. For example, Copyblogger was recently re-designed and they moved from a more typical blog front page to a static front page that promotes the resources that they have for sale, as well as their email list. The new Copyblogger front page is not completely static, it does include a featured post area at the bottom of the page.
The approach that you take with the front page should be influenced by the decisions that have been made regarding the conversions and content that are prioritized. If you are focusing on a conversion for selling a specific product (as is the case with Copyblogger), a static front page may be more effective than a typical blog front page.
5. Plan for Ease of Navigation
One of the biggest challenges that you will face with a blog re-design, especially on blogs that already have a lot of content, is to make it easy for visitors to find the content that they are looking for, and to make it as easy as possible. And to make it more of a challenge, you’ll also want to consider the content that hasn’t even been published yet.
Most blogs use categories to help organize content, and links to the category pages are frequently used in blog navigation menus. However, sometimes a blog may have too many categories to include in a primary navigation menu. Tags and tag clouds are sometimes used as well. Linking to an archive that lists all posts can be helpful to some visitors, but not in cases where there is too much content to sift through. Links to monthly archives can also be helpful at times, especially for content that is time-sensitive.
When it comes to navigation there are several elements of the blog design that should be considered, and in total they should all work together to help visitors find the right content. Those elements include the main navigation menu, a secondary navigation menu (not used on all blogs), sidebar links, related content links at the end of posts, category/tag/author links at the top or bottom of posts, footer links, and a site-wide search.
It’s important to also consider the direction that the blog seems to be headed in the foreseeable future, and take this into consideration when planning for ease of navigation. For example, some blogs change the type of content that they publish every now and then, or they may take a different approach with their content. If the blog’s primary navigation menu includes links to five different categories and it is likely that new categories will be added, make sure that the menu can be adjusted to include those new categories when the time comes. So avoid designing the navigation to work with the blog as it is right now, but rather think about where the blog is likely to be over the next year or so and try to design it to support new types of content that may be added.
Smashing Magazine has adapted it’s current design several times in regards to the primary navigation in order to make it easier to navigate. They have added sections for posts on Coding, UX Design, and WordPress.
6. Consider Ads
Advertisements are a critical part of the sustainability of many blogs, and they should be accounted for in the design of such blogs. Ads that are not considered during the design process will usually look out of place and will wind up being more intrusive to visitors.
Before re-designing the blog consider the specific ad units and sizes. You’ll also want to consider any new ad zones that are likely to be included in the near future, so if you are working on a design for a client make sure you discuss this with them.
7. Prioritize Engagement
The ability of a blog to engage its readers will go a long way in determining the success of the blog. There are several different ways that readers can engage, including blog comments, following/connecting on social networking sites, votes on social media sites, and sharing links on sites like Twitter and Facebook. The more readers become engaged with a blog the more likely they are to keep coming back. Building a strong, loyal following will make the blog more successful in every way.
Almost all blogs include a comments section where readers can leave feedback. Some blogs are now using Facebook comments instead of typical blog comments, which is something that can be considered if Facebook is a major resource for connecting with the blog visitors.
Most blogs are now linking to profiles/pages on Twitter, Facebook, Google+, or other social networking sites that are relevant to the blog’s audience. Engaging with your readers now involves the use of these social networks that are outside of your website, but promoting the profiles through the blog can help to drastically increase engagement. During the re-design process, consider what social networks are the most important for engaging with the audience, and determine locations to promote them on the blog in order to attract new followers and increase engagement.
What’s Your Experience?
From your experience with blog re-designs, what have you found to be critical to the success of the re-design?