January 04, 2008

Why your blog design needs to be unique! (Blogger Template Series)

As many of you will know, I've decided to post a complete series about Blogger Template Design, taking you through the process step by step in order to create a reference for the creation of your own Blogger templates. To kick start this series, I wanted to discuss some of the reasons why you may want to create your own blog design, in essence to make it unique.

Blogger's Generic Templates

Currently Blogger offers it's users 16 generic templates, many of which have different color schemes or options. These default templates do have their advantages:

  • They are very easy to use. When choosing a new template, you simply check the radio button below your chosen design and click "Save Template". No need to upload a new template, or copy and paste the code!
  • Your widgets will all be saved if you decide to change templates. One of the disadvantages of using customized templates, such as those I offer in the Templates section is that non-standard templates cannot be configured to host existing widgets unless the respective code is already present in the new template (though there are ways of getting around this problem).
  • All images contained in Blogger's generic templates are hosted for you, so you don;t have to worry about hosting them yourself.

Unfortunately, these default templates have one big disadvantage: there are thousands of bloggers using exactly the same templates all over the world.

Default templates are not really unique.

For example, a blogger in Utah may write about her experiences as a dental nurse while using the default Snapshot template; a gentleman in Baghdad may write his memoirs, again using Snapshot for a base; an up and coming finance company in Berlin may be blogging company news for potential customers and shareholders... But if, on first impressions, their templates are the same, what is there to easily distinguish between them?

Of course, their sidebar widgets, blog title and post content would be vastly different, but from experience I understand that web-surfers are impatient. First impressions really do count, and if a visitor has seem dozens of other blogs with the same design, they are unlikely to take much notice of yet another of the same theme, regardless of the value of its content.

First impressions count!

It's an old saying, but this is very true of blogs and web content in general. As I mentioned earlier, visitors can be very impatient, and the first few seconds they experience when landing on your page are crucial in determining whether or not they will stay to read it.

For many blogs, new visitors will find you through a search engine. In such an environment, there are many other links they could choose from, and perhaps they have already visited many other sites while searching for the piece of information they need. Your blog needs to stand out from the rest if you want this visitor to stay and read what you have to offer. Even if your page doesn't contain the information they are looking for, a unique and interesting design provides just as good an invitation to stay!

Brand your blog!

Don't be fooled into thinking only products and companies have a brand to offer the world! Just as you are an individual, so is your blog. The clothes you wear are those you have chosen, and probably make a statement about the kind of person you are. The same principal can also apply to your blog.

To illustrate this, I want to offer you two examples of Blogger blogs. One of these uses no branding at all, while the other provides an excellent example:

Let's look at the first example. Without knowing anything in advance about this blog (which I understand many of you already will), would you have much of an impression of what this blog talks about? Can you tell at first glance that this is one of the most popular Blogger powered blogs in history, that it spawned a series of popular books and even inspired a TV series here in the UK?

While Belle De Jour does serve as an example of how popular a blog can become, it doesn't so much in terms of branding to offer the casual onlooker a taste of what it has to offer. In fact, when I first visited this blog, I thought I had got the wring URL!

Now let's take a look at our second example: Flair in the City. You would be forgiven for believing this is not a Blogger powered blog at all. By providing a striking header related to the theme of fashion and shopping, Flair instantly tells us what her blog is all about. The consistent color scheme and style of logos throughout the blog reinforce Flair's "brand": a playful and feminine theme used both to reflect her personality and attract her target audience. Flair in the City is not a commercial blog, though the effort put into the theme would certainly convince us of it's authority in its niche!

Taking both of these examples into consideration, which method do you think better serves the purpose of ensuring readers want to read your blog, subscribe to your feed and return regularly to see what new posts you have to offer? To brand your blog effectively, you wouldn't need to customize to the same extent as Flair's complete design, but you can take some inspiration from it.

Customize your template because you want to!

The most important reason you should make your template unique is because you want to! It may surprise you to know that for a few years, I blogged using generic templates which I barely customized at all. When I finally began to look into the possibilities of template design, it was because I wanted to learn more about it, not because of any criticism of my original blog design.

Most of what I know about blog and web design was learned through my experiments with blog templates. For me, this has been a great learning process, and I would certainly recommend this route for anyone who wants to learn the basics of web design. One of the most rewarding things you could do with your blog is to learn how to customize your design.

In the next installment...

Creating a completely customized Blogger template is no mean feat. In fact, it took several weeks of hard work and experimentation to create the design you see in place on Blogger Buster today!

So rather than throw you all in at the deep end, the next installment in this series will be A Cheats' Guide to Blogger Template Design. In this post, I will tell you offer you some quick tips and tricks to make your existing template more unique in less than an hour of your time.

Once you've seen what can be achieved with a few quick tweaks, I'm sure you'll feel more confident in creating a whole new template for your blog! In the meantime, why not take a look at some of my earlier posts about template design as I will be drawing on many of these in the forthcoming step-by-step guide.

Be sure to subscribe to the feed to keep up to date with the latest posts in this series. And as always, I love to read your thoughts and opinions, so please feel free to leave your comments below.

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All existing posts are still available to view while I'm working on the site, albeit seen in a much simpler interface. Feel free to browse through the archives to find tutorials, templates and articles to help you build a better blog:

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