Lately I’ve been thinking about changing my blog theme.
I think about this a lot, actually: partly because I’m never, ever happy, and partly because I’m just so indecisive that I’m constantly having my head turned by shiny new thenes, only for another, even BETTER one to turn up a few days later. What if I commit to one design, and then a few days later see something I’d have liked even more? How annoying would it be for me to have a new theme every week, I wonder? Then I go back to my existing template, and think, “Actually, it’s not too bad: I think I’ll keep it,” and the whole thing starts again.
Now, I’m perhaps just a little bit obsessive about all of this, but there’s no denying that a template can make or break a blog. I mean, we all know you should never judge a book by its cover, but we all totally do it, right? And people judge blogs by their covers, too. You could be the best writer in the world, but if someone lands on your blog, and it looks like 1999 just threw up on it, you better believe they won’t be sticking around to find out all about your wonderful way with words. Here are some tips to help you choose a blog template:
Make sure it’s responsive
“Responsive”, when used to describe websites, simply means that the site will change to fit the size of screen you’re viewing it on. This is really important in today’s world, because so many people now browse on their phones/tablets/whatever, so you need to make sure that all of those people can still read your blog on all of their different devices. Most of the newer blog templates are built with this in mind, and will flag up the fact that it’s a responsive layout in the description, but if you want to check, just try changing the size of your browser window – the blog you’re looking at should change to fit it.
Test the design in different browsers
Just as people use lots of different devices, they also use lots of different browsers, and you need to make sure your blog template is compatible with all of them – or with the main ones, at least. If you’re buying a theme from a good designer, they’ll normally have taken care of that for you, but again, if in doubt, try viewing the demo site on a few different browsers (Chrome, Safari, Firefox, IE, etc) just to make sure it’ll work.
Make sure people can read it
Currently the trend in web design is for minimal templates, with white background and big pictures. That trend will change in time, so you shouldn’t let yourself be too influenced by it if that’s not your style: what you should bear in mind, however, is that people will probably always prefer sites which use dark text on light backgrounds, purely because they’re easier to read. I will instantly hit the ‘back’ button if I land on a site with a dark background and light coloured text – not because I dislike the aesthetics of it, but because it will LITERALLY give me a migraine trying to read it.
I’m not the only person who feels like this: it’s well documented that light-coloured text causes eye strain and headaches, and I’m guessing “It gave me a migraine” probably ISN’T the response you’re looking for when you ask someone what they thought of your template, so while blog design is a totally personal thing, and you can obviously disregard this advice, I would strongly advise you to put the readability of your posts above your personal taste in your list of web template priorities.
Magazine style or classic blog?
This is a bit like the Windows Vs Mac debate – it really divides people, and the ensuing conversation can get quite heated, which is weird considering we’re talking about the layout of a website, not something of national importance. Anyway: for those who don’t know, the “classic” blog layout is where all posts appear in chronological order, with the latest post at the top of the page, and the rest underneath. A magazine template is what I have, and involves a layout whereby there are lots of posts on the page, and you choose which one you want to read.
I made the switch from classic blog to magazine style a couple of years ago, and the decision was mostly motivated by the length of my posts. As you’ve no doubt noticed, I like to write loooooong posts, with lots of images in them, and I also write on a variety of different topics. The problem with this is that posts with lots of images take a long time to load, which slows down the speed of your site, and can affect your Google ranking. With a magazine layout, the site will load much faster, because it’s only having to load thumbnail versions of each image rather than the whole shebang.
The other reason for the switch was that when your posts are long, your readers have to scroll for a long time to get past them. As I said, I write on a variety of different topics, and know that different readers are interested in different things. Some readers are only interested in outfits, for instance, some are just here for blog tips, and so on and so forth. I didn’t want someone who’s just interested in outfits to have to scroll past 7 mammoth posts about other things, just to get to the post they’re looking for (hint: most won’t bother), and I also hated the idea that, with a classic blog layout, my entire site would be judged by whatever the top post was, so someone looking for blog tips. say, might land on it on a day when I’d just published an outfit post, assume it was purely a fashion blog, and not bother scrolling for 5 minutes to see what else was on offer.
So, those are MY reasons for using a magazine template, but as I said, you need to choose the layout that’s best for YOU. This isn’t supposed to be an argument in favour of magazine templates, I’m just sharing my thought process to give you an idea of the kind of things you might want to consider. If you post less frequently, or all of your posts are on the same subject, you may well feel a classic blog layout is more appropriate for you – there’s no “wrong” answer here, so, you know, you do you.
Read more or full posts?
If you are going for a classic blog layout, the next question is whether you want one that displays the full text of each post on the page, or one which just shows a short excerpt, with the reader having to click to ‘read more’. As with the point above, this is another one that divides people, and for much the same reasons as the magazine/blog layout. Some people really resent having to click to read the post, others hate having to scroll past one full post to get to the next one: you can’t win, so again, you should do what’s best for your blog, and accept that you can’t please ’em all.
Personally speaking, I’m in the “hate having to scroll” club, and don’t mind clicking on the posts I want to read. In my experience, most readers don’t actually arrive at the site via the homepage anyway – regular readers normally arrive having clicked a link on Twitter/Facebook/Bloglovin’/email which takes them directly to the post; other readers arrive via a Google search which, again, takes them directly to the post they’ve searched for, bypassing the homepage completely. This is the main reason I think you shouldn’t worry too much about trying to please everyone with your homepage layout – many won’t see it all that often anyway.
(On this subject, I know a lot of people think bloggers use ‘read more’ or magazine layouts to increase pageviews, but it actually doesn’t make a huge amount of difference, for the reason given above. Most of the time it’s actually done for aesthetic reasons, or to speed up the load time of the page.)
Your logo / banner is worth its weight in gold
No matter what kind of theme you end up going for, the top half of the screen is the most important part, and the top of the page – where your banner goes – is the most important of all. If you have an eye-catching, well-designed banner, it’ll go a long way towards improving the appearance of your blog: a bad one, on the other hand, can have the opposite effect, so choose your logo with care, and consider investing in a professional design (You can get very affordable logos on Etsy, for instance) if you don’t want to DIY it. On that note, you’ll want to make sure that the theme you choose has an option for you to change the header by uploading your own banner/logo: some themes only allow you to change the wording of the text banner that comes with the theme, which means you don’t have the ability to personalise it to a huge extent. Speaking of which…
How customisable do you want it to be?
Most pre-made themes can be customised to some extent (and all of them can be customised if you know enough about coding!), but some more so than others. A very basic theme, for instance, might just allow you to switch between a few pre-made colour-schemes, while others will allow you to change almost every aspect of your blog’s appearance. With this, it’s very much a case of “you get what you pay for” – the latter type of theme will be more expensive, but will also give you a lot more versatility, and reduce the chances of someone else having a blog which looks identical to yours. Not everyone wants to spend a lot of time messing around with their theme settings, though, so if you want to keep things as simple as possible, a good way to approach it is to decide which aspects of the theme are most important to you, and work from there.
Where to buy blog themes?
As for where you buy your theme, well, that’ll depend which platform your blog is on, and what your budget is. I use WordPress, and all of my themes have come from Themeforest, which is basically a giant marketplace where people can buy and sell themes. I know other bloggers who’ve had a lot of luck with Etsy, and other sites I see come up frequently in blogger conversations are Pipdig, Blog Milk and Solo Pine. I don’t have any personal experience with these companies, but they do make nice-looking themes. You can, of course, also pay someone to design you a theme from scratch, so you know you have something totally unique, but that will cost quite a bit more, which is why many bloggers use a pre-made template and then customise it.
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With all of this said, as with so many aspects of blogging, design is a very subject thing, and you can’t possibly hope to please everyone. Practically every time I’ve changed my theme, I’ve had angry (yes, really) emails from people who seem to think I’ve done it just to spite them, which…yeah. I mean, there are lots of reasons why I might want to change a theme, but I can honestly say that “to annoy my readers” has never been one of them, so that’s a bit of a head-scratcher. Ultimately, though, people tend not to like change, and no matter what you do, there’ll be someone who won’t like it, so as long as your theme loads quickly, is fully responsive, and is easy to read and navigate, you’re doing pretty well!