You know the saying: “Don’t dress for the job you have, dress for the job you want.” If your intention is to create a true business from your blog, the look you present to potential brand sponsors, advertisers and internet world in general is important. You want to offer the best possible content through a clean, well-functioning site.
How much you should spend? When should you turn the reigns over to a professional designer? Those are questions you’ll have to answer for yourself. To help with that process, allow this post to guide you towards a professional design during each step of your blogging journey.
If you’re just getting started, there are thousands of free themes and templates that could work well for the first few months. After you get your blog going, you’ll be in a better position to evaluate the business potential of your blog (ad and sponsorship revenue) and whether a professional design is worth the investment. Especially if you are new to blogging in general, there’s an added bonus to going this route: You get to really focus on building your audience by creating awesome content and getting that right first without the distraction nit-picking at your design.
Depending on your blog platform, choose a WordPress theme, Blogger template or Tumblr theme that can get you started on the right foot. Our lists should help you discover a few:
If possible, try to select a simple theme with customization options like a custom header, sidebar widgets, colors and fonts. As you build your audience and refine your content over your first few months (or years), you can use these options to tailor the site’s look and make it all your own.
There a number of simple ways to get an appealing custom header image for your site, which should display your blog’s brand name and short phrase to describe the content and set the tone for new visitors.
- Pic Monkey – Remember PicNik? RIP PicNik. Pic Monkey is a fantastic alternative for making a customer header image for your site, and it reminds me a little of PicNik which makes it extra special. Pic Monkey has great fonts and tons of filters to add to your images. Use it for your Pinterest-y pictures too.
- PowerPoint - There are plenty of free visual tools to create one on your own, and what’s great about this one is that you probably already have it on your computer.
- 99 Designs – Don’t feel like you have the design chops for this? With 99 Designs, you host a “design contest” in which you set the price and designers will submit their ideas for your project. You only have to pay for the one you want to keep.
Custom CSS, HTML and Fonts
With some basic CSS and HTML knowledge (plus the help of a few plugins) you can customize things like the colors and fonts in your themes.
- Free CSS and HTML tutorials - W3 Schools has my favorite free CSS and HTML guides. I especially like the “Try it Yourself” section, which allows me to test out whatever customization I’m trying to do before I… you know… try it on my own blog and break my site.
- Fonts - Google Web Fonts plugin - With this free plugin, you can choose from hundreds of Google Web Fonts to replace those boring-old fonts that came with your WordPress theme with something more your style.
- Colors - WordPress Color Scheme Guide – Developing an attractive color scheme for your blog (and sticking to it) is a key part of looking professional. But hey – it turns out that just mashing together all of your favorite colors doesn’t exactly equal the best color scheme for your blog. WordPress has a list of helpful guides for selecting the right combination of colors and the HTML codes for that perfect palette.
If you have clear business goals in mind for your blog and know how you are going to achieve them, it may be worthwhile to invest some money in your professional blog design. You may have this sense for your blog’s potential right at the onset or it may take you a few years to reach that point, but either way you do have a couple of options.
Premium themes – While between the WordPress repository and Tumblr Theme Garden there are tons of great free options out there for bloggers, many premium themes offer unmatched customer support, cross-browser compatibility, mobile-responsiveness, integrations, and customization options that are simply worth paying for. Some premium theme shops to keep on your radar:
Premium Theme Creators
Drag and Drop Frameworks for WordPress
Professional design - The most helpful advice on a professional blog design comes from our own Shareaholic publisher Kacie Phillips of Savvy Sassy Me on our Facebook page: “I found that the MOMENT I took my blog seriously, my audience took me seriously. I had a designer create my header and button, while we worked together to create a color scheme. From there, I implemented the Thesis framework and continuously strive to base my blog around the color scheme and design of my header and button. Consistency is KEY and a professional look is critical. Not to mention, you can be “professional” and fun and genuine all at the same time.”
A professional design can start at several hundred dollars and run up to thousands, depending on who you hire. But as you can see from Kacie’s testimony, the investment was well worth it. Dribbble is an online showcase for designers and a great place to find a talented person who can sharpen up your site, plus here are a few design shops worth exploring:
Now it’s your turn. How did you go about designing your blog? Was it worth the investment – both time and money? Or does it still look all Geo Cities? Let us know in the comments!