Let’s Talk About Blog Layouts. What’s the Secret?

Posted December 11, 2017 by Amber in Blogging / 25 Comments

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Mes amis, you may have noticed the blog layout changed again.

I know, I know!  I promised I would stop this.  I promised I would settle.  I really, really loved my header, after all, and now I can’t use it.  And what about all those pretty featured images people would compliment me on? I have a lot of reasons for switching the layout… but I don’t want to talk about my reasons.

Today, I want to talk about blog layouts in general.  I want to discuss the importance of a visually appealing layout, while balancing something that is functional for you.  While I don’t have the proof (I’m not so nostalgic I take pictures of old layouts), I’m actually quite an expert at blog-layout-changing-forever-ness:  The Literary Phoenix has seen about 12 layout changes since inception in 2010.

So lets talk blog layouts!

Choosing a blog style that speaks to YOU.

You would think that this is the easiest part, but it’s not.

Everyone has a unique signature.  You have to let your style fly so that your blog is a place you want to be.  Are you uncomfortable in pencil skirts and stiff blouses?  Then maybe a sleek, business-like blog layout isn’t you.  Do you abhor too much color in your world?  Maybe you need something minimalist.  Are you quirky and random?  Then your blog should be, too.  It has to reflect your soul, even if it feels a little weird.

The worst thing you can do for your blog is make it look like everybody else’s.  This is a hard lesson learned, especially for new bloggers.  It’s really tempting to copy the style of another blog, especially a popular one that you love and respect.  For example – the watercolor on white style is super popular in the bookish world of blogging. If that style suits you, then go for it! But don’t do it because you think it’ll make you instantly famous.

Choosing a style that intrigues your readers.

People are shallow, and I say that with all the love in my heart.  Unless you blog is focused on serious data and facts, you need something that allows for imagery.  And, unless you are coding this layout yourself, you may want to take a look at how images populate for the themes you’re considering.

This means:

  • You probably want something that gives you plenty of room for an image in the header.
  • You want something with featured images.
  • You want something with nice looking in-line images.

Readers need that mental break in the middle of long posts.  Beautiful images will make people smile and brighten their day, but even if you’re just using stock images or book covers… you want to make sure it looks nice.

Some things to think about when you’re choosing a layout and noticing how images work:

  • Can you use featured images?  These populate on archive and search pages, as well as on blog layouts with a gallery-formatted front page (like mine).
  • How do in-line images appear? For example, there’s a bunch of blog layouts out there that put an outline on the image space.  That drives me crazy.  Is that something you want?
  • Can you use galleries for multiple images?
  • Do images automatically resize to fit within your body space, or do they hold their original dimensions?

If your layout manages as much coding-related joys for you as possible, your life as a blogger will be easier and you can use an image heavy layout.  Everyone wins!

Choosing a functional layout.

In car purchases, fancy dresses, and blog layouts, it’s sometimes difficult to remember to look for something that is well suited to your time and abilities as well as being totally gorgeous.  That wedding gown may be stunning, but can you actually breathe?  It’s the little things that matter.  You need to be able to manage whatever you’ve chosen.

Realistically, if your layout requires you to take LOADS of REALLY INCREDIBLE photographs, but you don’t feel you’re a strong photographer, that may not be the best layout for you.

If your layout looks better with custom featured images for every post, but you don’t have a graphics program, or you don’t have the time, then maybe that layout isn’t the best for you.

If you want to use widgets, but your layout doesn’t have a sidebar so you’ve been loading them all into the footer, out of sight, then maybe that layout isn’t for you.

So which layout should you use?

There is no one right answer, no formula to the perfect blog! The layout and your happiness with it will depend on you.  Some people pick a layout on day one and stick with it forever – others will change it every 3-6 months (hi!).  For some, there may always be that one little thing that doesn’t work.  And that’s okay.  Here’s some thoughts on that.

Use plugins: If you’re on a self-hosted WordPress site, plugins are your best friends!  I think I have 24 activated right now, and they do everything from auto-generate pretty layouts for my reviews (UBB <3) to protect my blog from ridiculous spam comments (yes, I know I don’t monetize my blog, thanks tho!). I’m not fluent in Blogspot, but I’m sure there’s something similar.

Preview themes before activation:  Trust me, the last thing you want to do is change your blog layout and start updating all your old posts to discover that you hate it.

Customize as much as you can: Even the most basic blog layout will give you a couple color options and allow for a custom header or widget.  Leverage these options to give your blog some unique pizzazz.

Own it:  This is your blog layout, and if you’re like me, you’ve put hours of work into the darn thing.  So instead of looking for all the little ways you can improve it, give yourself a high five.

It is amazing and you’ve worked so hard and it is beautiful and YOU.

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How long did it take you to pick your blog layout?

How many times have you changed your layout?

What’s your favorite part of your layout?

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25 responses to “Let’s Talk About Blog Layouts. What’s the Secret?

  1. Hehehe it took me so long to decide on a layout! When I first started my blog I was totally clueless and didn’t know what I wanted. At first it had a gray background with a dry brush font on the header. After that I re-designed it and now I’m super satisfied with it! Pink is my favorite color – and it really goes well with white! 🙂

    (BUT UGHHHH IT’S SO HARD TO DECIDE ON A LAYOUT / DESIGN!)

    Chloe @ Blushing Bibliophile recently posted: Thoughts: 5 Christmas Books I'll Be Reading!
    • Amber

      Your header is so lovely. The pink is subtle and understated too, so it’s not WHOMP! PINK! in your face like my purple is. 😛

      I also really love the visual layout of your blog in general. It’s very clean and crisp, in everything from your sidebar to your recent posts layout. 🙂

  2. I LOVE this post! When I started my blog I knew nooooothing about blog layouts or designs, and it took my months to reach a point where I was halfway happy with what I created. Honestly, most of the tutorials out there are NOT beginner-friendly (even if they say they are), so it was a huge learning curve for me. Sometimes I think about changing it, but then I think about all the work I’ve already put it into it and I figure it’s fine the way it is, haha.

    • Amber

      You’re so right – most themes are not very use friendly if you don’t already know how to use the platform! Most themes have the default, but if you want to personalize… it’s trial by error! Your color scheme is very pretty! It reminds me of a soft Victorian tea time. I’m not sure if that was your intent XD but I really like it.

  3. Oh I loveee your blog’s layout (it really shows how much you work for it!!). Mine is but a simple free theme with some simple free graphics that I work SO HARD to make pretty. I’m not a computer wizz either so I can’t for the life of me use photoshop or fonts BUT I FIGURED THEM OUT SOMEHOW AND I’M SO PROUD!!
    All the agree that the layout needs to represent the person-it’s your smol corner of the internet and you should make it yours (much like your room lol). And YES people are shallow-est when it comes to this so make the blog pretty mate 😂.
    Great post as always ❤!!

    • Amber

      Ioana! I LOVE your little graphics! They’re adorable and have so much personality. And I love that you use lanterns in your graphics, because I don’t really see those anywhere?

      You post layouts are solid, too. You know when and where to use those bolds and ALLCAPS. I usually just feel like I am flailing, but yours is overflowing with personality. Change NOTHING. 🙂

  4. it’s true about images – if there’s not at least one image in a post, then, it would lose my interest, even a little funny gif is better than nothing. I think an image would give some clues to what the post is about, otherwise is just text.

    I’ve always favored the one-column or two column layout as I think any more columns would be too much. I’ve changed blogs a lot and also I’ve changed the layout a whole lot so I know it’s hard to really settle on that one look. it’s probably why I keep changing my blog’s look.

    as to what your blog layout should be, I think people should start with a simple layout, blog for a while, then consider what layout they want. the content is the real attraction to the readers, so having content first and then think about the layout is, I think, the better way then picking a layout and then decide on the content. at least, in my experience, I found people really do not know that sometimes their layout doesn’t match what they’re posting.

    that’s my 2 cent.

    have a lovely day.

    • Amber

      It’s very good advice to start out with a simple layout, then evolve! We are prone to diving into the deep end first.

      I prefer a two column layout as well – it’s out of my comfort zone to have a gallery front page. I’m not even sure I’ll keep it. Three columns does feel busy, doesn’t it?

      The soft blue pastels on your blog really make it stand out. So many blogs I see are pink, black and white… yours is different and simple but beautiful. I think you’ve found a very nice setup. 🙂

  5. I haven’t really changed my layout much yet, but I sort of hate it, so… I’m going to at some point. Or really, I like my layout, but I hate the design. Or something. I don’t know if I’m making any sense… Honestly I don’t even know what I’m trying to say, so I should probably shut up now.
    Anyways, I don’t like how my blog looks right now, and I’m hoping to change it in the new year.

    • Amber

      You make perfect sense! It’s like… there’s nothing WRONG with it, but yet somehow it’s all wrong? I feel that way ALL the time! A fresh year for a fresh layout is a great resolution! Have you thought about what you want for it? Are you going to keep the white/gray/teal color scheme?

  6. Ohhhhhh I what a great topic!! Loads of good information in here! Somehow I’ve managed to stick with my design since August, but it’s actually really hard! I have to FORCE myself not to fiddle with it all the time. Instead, I just fidget around with my widgets and plugins because there are soooooo many. If you have a problem on your blog, there’s probably a plugin for it. hahaha

    I really love that my layout is fairly clean. Ironically, this doesn’t really match my personality that much. Lol. But I feel like it helps readers focus on the content more. I hate when I go on blogs and there’s a lot of stuff going on, it can be overwhelming. Love what you’ve done to your site so far and I can’t wait to watch the metamorphosis!! 😂

    Loretta @ The Laughing Listener recently posted: Ten Years of City of Bones: Quotes
    • Amber

      Loretta your layout is so so pretty! I really really love the subtle shadowing on your text boxes, etc. Your layout makes me want to play with my own CSS lol. But you’re right – widgets and plugins are a great distraction when you want to refurbish the entire thing. I loooooove plugins. 🙂

      Thank you! I think I need to stop playing in Photoshop and play with the coding more. I keep telling myself I want something clean and subtle… and then I go off and make another colorful hectic thing. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ I”m incorrigible.

  7. Danielle

    I’ve only changed my layout twice: when I first started it in 2014, and I think last year. I kinda want to change it again, but most of the Blogger/BlogSpot layouts are not my taste. So I’m searching Etsy for cheap, nice layouts that fit what I want my blog to look like. I’m not a photographer or graphic designer, so I really don’t care for anything fancy, just a nice space that allows me to write and for people to comment easily. 🙂

    • Amber

      That is the exact reason I moved from Blogger to WordPress back in the day. Although ten years ago people weren’t selling themes on Etsy!

      You make a good point there as well – easy commenting is so important. It’s so frustrating when you’re really interesting in a blog post but you can’t comment because you have to create an account or you can only post as anonymous, or you can’t find the comment box at all.

  8. I changed my layout MANY times. The beginning of the blog was a dark time. The background was horrible because I refused to keep it white, and I had horrendous Christmas decorations all around that just DIDN’T match with everything else. I adjusted it and slowly found the layout I wanted. I realized I wanted a short snippet and a thumbnail of each post instead of the full thing, one after the other.
    My favorite thing about it right now is its fresh look, natural aesthetic, and minimal aesthetic. The Christmas pictures are the BEST, too. GREAT post!

    Sophie Alex (@bookslikewolves) recently posted: Blogmas Day 6: Down the TBR Hole
    • Amber

      It’s always such a fluid thing, balancing our style and learning how the system works and trying to find something readable for someone else? I tend to paint it up all ME then kinda look at it and realize it looks like a child drew it in crayon? Oops. I fixed it though!

      Your blog has the BEST aesthetic images. They’re my favorite things when I pop over. It’s like each post has its own cozy theme and I LOVE it. And you’re right – it’s really clean and tidy, I think you’ve done a marvelous job.

      • Hahaha playing with the design is dangerous. I love to put lots of stuff in, and then I curse at my self and erase most things because I’m MESSING UP the home page again. I don’t like too many elements all put together.

        THANK YOU SO MUCH!!! I am so happy you like my design, and you have NO idea (although you probably do understand) how glorious I feel when I receive aesthetic compliments. It takes so much hard work, but it makes me feel great when it pays off. You’re experiencing it right now with your re-design! So thank you and good luck! It’s looking great up to now.

        • Amber

          Does Wix let you save your whole code so that if you mess it up you can just restore a previous version? I know Blogger does, and WordPress doesn’t (ugh) but I love that option because it lets you play to your heart’s desire and then if it doesn’t work out, phew! You can ctrl-z that and go back to where it was.

          You should be so proud of your blog! I think every blogger should, even those not 100% happy. There’s so much work that goes in behind the scenes… I don’t think non-bloggers realize the HOURS that go into a single post… let alone the layout!

  9. I don’t have wordpress, so my layout is basically me spending all the time customizing little bits here and there! I used to change my layout so much more, but now I’ve settled on one permanently! At least I think so haha. I think one reason why I haven’t switched to wordpress hosting is because it costs more money than I can afford right now. Plus I’ve decided that blogging is not something I want to spend too much additional money on! I need it for books!

    • Amber

      A lot of really lovely blogs use the Blogger interface! If you’re looking for something flexible and willing to put a little coding work in (as clearly you have) then Blogger is a great place to be! Also book money > blog money ALWAYS. 😀