DIY Blog Design : Platforms, Themes, Branding & Plugins

BY Wita | 10/07/2015 | Blog Biz
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Blog Design 101: DIY Blog Design - Platform, Themes, Branding & Plugins | DESIGN IS YAY!

For creative bloggers, the design and layout of a blog is very important. It has to be easy on the eyes, and at the same time it needs to grab the attention of your potential readers. I wish that designing blogs is as simple and fun as arranging the furnitures in my living room. To tell you the truth, it is one of the most nerve-wrecking and tears-shedding things that I’ve ever done (drama queen alert).

Unfortunately, hiring a developer and/or professional web designer does not come cheap. Furthermore, I don’t like having someone else designing my own design blog. Nobody understands my design style better than I do.

For the first couple of years, your might not want to invest too much money into designing your blog. But at the same time, you want your blog to look pretty, stat!

The answer is: buy a theme. Here are some important DIY Blog design points that could help you when deciding on a theme.

1. WordPress or Blogger
The first dilemma for most first-time bloggers is whether to use self-hosted WordPress or Blogger as their blogging platform. If you do choose WordPress, make sure that you jump to self-hosted right away (WordPress.org) instead of WordPress.com. It’s going to save you a lot of time moving your blog in the future. Self-hosted WordPress requires you to purchase a domain name and hosting service. Based on my personal experience, do not purchase your domain name or hosting service from WordPress itself. It’s not bad, but WordPress is not exactly the most customer-friendly business on earth. If things go wrong, you need to rely on the forums to get answers. I’ve been with BlueHost for 3 years now, and I only have good things to say about them. They offer easy WordPress installation and really helpful things like 24/7 Live Chat with their customer service. BlueHost is pricey, but I often find that spending a little more on things that I’m not an expert of is better at the end. Keep an eye for sales during American holidays, such as Black Friday, because that’s when hosting and domain providers slash out their prices.

I wouldn’t get into the whole Wordpress vs Blogger debate, but the reason why I chose WordPress instead of Blogger is because I like to have full control of my own blog, and being able to modify the design however I see fit. WordPress is a great platform for bloggers who want to get more out of blogging. Blogger is a great platform for bloggers who wants simplicity and just want their voices to be heard, and not worrying too much about the visual and business expansion aspects of blogging.

2. Buying themes
When I started blogging 3 years ago, blog themes were limited. There are websites that offer hundreds and thousands of themes, but most of them are very corporate or simply not vert appealing. These days, blog themes are certainly getting a lot better.

Bluchic is one of my favourite theme shops that offers feminine WordPress themes. Don’t be put off by the word Feminine just yet, because they definitely have themes for all kinds of businesses targeting women, whether it’s a children party blog or a wedding stationery boutique. I would definitely recommend Bluchic for a shop or business blog, because they have beautiful landing pages for all the themes. Most of Bluchic themes are minimalist, and trust me, it is VERY easy to personalise the themes with your own header and colour scheme. There will be clear instructions for each theme after your purchase. Here’s an example of a Bluchic theme, Geraldine, that I’ve purchased and used for my friend’s wedding decoration business in Jakarta. I am also in love with their latest theme, Paisley! Imagine how beautiful this would be for business blogs offering business tips and resources for women!

A boutique theme shop that I recently discovered is Envye Design Shop, created by the talented lady behind The Wonder Forest. I mean, look at her own website. The themes that you can purchase from Envye is just as beautiful, and they offer themes for both Blogger and WordPress bloggers. I would recommend Envye for bloggers with their own personal unique style.

I also love BlogMilk for their very very minimalist themes, very suitable for style bloggers and minimalist interior bloggers, available for both WordPress and Blogger.

The most important thing to remember when purchasing and using a theme is not to be too idealistic about it. Themes certainly make your life easier and is a great jump start for your blog without having to spend a fortune. But it definitely cannot replace the work of a developer and web designer when it comes to a fully personalised blog design.

3. Branding for your blog
I am going to create a whole other post for this topic, but I feel like this should also be part of your DIY Blog Design as well. The three main things that you need for your branding are a name, the style and colour scheme. The name of your blog has to reflect who you are as a person and what your blog/work is all about.

Your style is a reflection of yourself and your work. To find your own unique style, it helps to list down the things that you like and don’t like. Your style will define how your blog header will look like, and any pattern, fonts and images that you’re going to use through out your blog.

Finally, the colour scheme should be your favourite colour. I hate orange, and I wouldn’t want to open my own blog and see that colour all over my blog. It’s best to pick maximum of three colours. When in doubt, black and white always works, because you can always use more colours in your photos or images. Keep in mind that not all themes offer the ability to change your colour scheme.

4. Plug-ins is the key
This is the fun part of DIY Blog design. Bloggers don’t offer any plugins, which is another reason why I chose to use self-hosted WordPress. These are some of the Plug-ins that I have used, love and recommend:

  • AddThis Social Bookmarking Widget – this Plugins give readers the ability to share your post on different social media platforms. That is important if you want your posts to go viral (which is basically the key to be found in the world wide web)
  • All in one Favicon – When you open designisyay.com, or most other websites, there is a little logo to the left side of the site name on the browser tab. You need to install Favicon for that, or else your blog is just going to show your hosting provider’s logo.
  • Disqus – Sure, it’s annoying to have to create an account whenever you want to comment on someone’s blog that uses Disqus. But as a blogger, Disqus has been very helpful in filtering spam (as well as blocking rude commentators). Plus, it makes blog look prettier!
  • JQuery Pin it Button for Images – I have created a tutorial / step by step guide in 2013 about this plug-in. There should be some updates from the plugin developer since then, but a lot of people are still commenting on how useful my article is for them.
  • LinkWithin – These are the boxes that appear after every post, recommending other posts within the blog that you might like. I like it because I want readers to get a snippet of other posts that might be of their interest.
  • Ninja Pop Ups – Pop-ups are annoying, but sometimes they are necessary. With Ninja Pop Ups, you could set the cookie time on conversion to 60 days, which means it’s not going to pop up again in the same person’s browser for the next 60 days after the first time that they go to your website. The Pop-up itself is necessary when you’re trying to build your email list (which is very important in business blogging as well as a way to connect with your readers) or when you’re hosting a giveaway that you don’t want people to miss out on. Ninja Pop Ups is not a free Plugin, but I highly recommend it.
  • Simple Social Icons – I love this Plugin for my Social Media icons on the sidebar because I can easily change the colour and sizes of the icons, and they are so easy to customize!

There are so many other plugins out there that I have yet to discover. The best thing to find out about what works best for you is by googling what you need. You might be surprised to find all the plugins that you need in order to build your perfect blog.

5. Customising your sidebar
Your sidebar is a useful space to promote other posts within your blog, something that you’re selling (such as an e-book or a physical book) or stuff from your shop. A lot of shops such as Society6 offer widgets to show a slideshow of your products on the sidebar.

To customise your sidebar, you’ll need to go to Appearance on the left menu of your WordPress admin page, click on Widgets, and it will brings you to the page where you can customise your sidebar and footer. Click the Widget area where your sidebar is (your theme instructions usually tell you where it is), and drag-and-drop ‘Text’. Text enables you to insert images with links using html, text links, or plain text and images without any links.

Do you know any other useful Plugins or a favourite theme shop? Share your favourites with me in the comments!

If you like this post, you should also read Blog Design Part 1 : Anatomy of a Blog Layout.

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