February 26, 2008

Redesigning Blogger Buster....

In the next couple of days, I will be unveiling a complete redesign of Blogger Buster. This is a project I am very excited about. I can't wait to show you just how much a Blogger powered blog can be customized, and how adaptive Blogger templates can be. Most of all, I hope that this transformation will ensure your experience of Blogger Buster will be enhanced, and that you'll enjoy the new look as much as I do :)

Not only will this blog feature a newly designed appearance, there will also be some major changes to how this site works. So before I release this brand new Blogger template, I feel I ought to provide you all with an explanation of this redesign, and a little information about the changes you should expect from the site.

Why I have decided to redesign Blogger Buster

While researching Blogger templates, and blog design in general, I couldn't help but be inspired by beautiful, functional web designs, and began to consider just how much I could push the boundaries of Blogger template design.

There seems to be a general "consensus" of what can be achieved with Blogger, especially by those who use Wordpress. So many times, I've read phrases like "No, this can't be done in Blogger", or "Choose Wordpress instead: it's a much more powerful platform".

I want to prove these people wrong!

I'll be honest with you: I've used Wordpress for a different blog for some time now. I understand how Wordpress operates almost as much as I understand Blogger templates. By now, I feel I can safely tell you this:

There is very VERY little which can be achieved in Wordpress powered blogs which cannot somehow be duplicated in Blogger blogs. Albeit with a little compromize, externally hosted scripts and a LOT of patience.

In the next few days, you'll see exactly what I mean...

Keeping all my content on the site!

In it's present state, Blogger Buster actually operates across three domains:

  1. www.bloggerbuster.com: the main site (here) where the main blog content is stored.
  2. designs.bloggerbuster.com: the "templates" section, where you can search for and download Blogger templates which I have designed.
  3. tools.bloggerbuster.com: the "tools" section, where you can find and use blogging tools, such as the web color calculator and PageRank display.

Sure, it works. The transition is almost seamless to most readers and up until now this method has served me well.

But unfortunately there are many drawbacks to this method. The templates and tools I provide barely attract any attention from the major search engines and are difficult to search for. Also, in "diluting" my content across these sub-domains, I am also losing out on traffic, backlinks and overall rank.

One of my main concerns in creating this set-up was that the tools I provide are based on PHP scripts which cannot be used, or hosted, in Blogger blogs. Luckily, I have discovered a method which can bring the tools into this site! Yes, you can now use my Email Scrambler, PageRank display and even the Web Color Calculator here on the main blog!

Now that I have figured out this solution, I can concentrate more fully on developing only this part of the Blogger Buster site.

Search Engine Optimization and Accessibility Issues

I was unpleasantly surprised to discover just how low this site ranks for various keywords in Google searches, despite my best attempts to provide a useful and reliable site.

So after much research into the possibilities of optimizing the site, I've come to discover some useful tactics of template design which I hope will serve this site much better.

Linked to this is the subject of "accessibility". As a web designer, I understand the importance of website accessibility for visually impaired and disabled readers, though by default Blogger templates are barely accessible at all.

Accessibility and search engine optimization are intrinsically linked: if visually impaired visitors are still able to easily understand our blogs with all the images disabled, so can search engine spiders. So far, I think I have done a pretty decent job of ensuring the redesign is accessible, and hope you will all think so too.

What you can expect from the "new look" Blogger Buster site

Over the next few days, I will be making quite a few changes to the site in preparation for the new design. These changes will include:

Some changes to the labels/categories

I will be merging some of the labels currently used into more descriptive categories, and also adding a few new ones which will help you find the posts you need more quickly.

Three new "Main Categories, plus contents pages for each

Since I am changing the way this whole site works by merging the three "domains" into one, I also feel it necessary to create three main categories and a contents page for each. This will assist in navigating around the site and will also offer a much cleaner appearance.

"Tools" pages will be added shortly.

As mentioned earlier, I am drawing all of the available tools from the current tools sub-domain into this main site. So if you notice a few strange new posts appearing in your feed-reader, this will be the reason why:)

The New Design...

I have retained a few aspects of this original design for the new template, though at first glance, you will notice some major changes in the overall appearance!

A "Magazine Style Layout"

I've been much inspired by the recent trend in magazine style layouts which are now a common feature of new Wordpress themes. Such designs feature a site overview on the main index page which assists readers to find the information they need about the site. Many also feature dynamic sidebars, a feature I have implemented into this site which I think will help you navigate more easily, and also draw attention to the more important areas of the site.

Two new features which are available to Blogger users!

I've discovered two great new features of template design which I'd previously considered inaccessible to Blogger users. While these are not major features, I feel they add to the overall style of my new template, and was really happy to discover that they can be made to work in Blogger powered blogs.

I don't want to give too much away as I think it may spoil the surprise, but I'm sure you'll like them to. And of course I will post details of how these could be implemented in your own blogs in the near future.

Style, accessibility and far fewer errors!

Perhaps the style of the new design will not be to everyone's tastes, though I feel confident that the majority of you will appreciate this. I wanted to showcase the capabilities of Blogger, combined with the style of web design which I personally enjoy. So I have worked through every aspect of the new design to ensure that all elements complement each other, with a little twist of personality in there too!

I've designed a striking new logo for Blogger Buster, which still retains the overall "brand" that many have come to recognize. The header section has now been put to much better use, with easily accessible navigation and a more prominent search box to help you navigate more easily.

After much deliberation, I decided on a 2/3 column layout, rather than the current wide two column design. This has enabled me to feature important content of the sidebar in a more prominent place, and also include some of the magazine style features into the home page.

With regard to accessibility, you can now be sure that all links will tell you where they will lead, and all images will describe what they depict.

Furthermore, there will be few (if any) errors between different browsers. I know that the navigation tabs in this design cause problems in Internet Explorer, and also that some of the current scripts bring up error messages too. I hope that I've managed to resolve these problems, and the few invalidation errors which remain are due to the way Blogger publishes our blogs, rather than any mistakes I may have made in the design!

So when will the new design be ready..?

I did initially hope to have the redesign ready to release early this week, but as many designers will understand, there are always problems when tweaking a design, ensuring that every element works the way it should.

Rather than release the site in beta while I iron out the discrepancies, I would prefer to get everything right from the start.

There are still a number of pages I need to write, a few minor tweaks and tests to perform. If possible, I hope to release the new theme next Monday, providing that everything goes to plan!

Will the new template be available for download?

Without wanting to disappointed you all, I'm going to have to say "no".

I've worked incredibly hard on this new design, and would prefer this design to be something unique to this blog. Furthermore, the implementation of the new template is integral to the content: the magazine style layout, sidebar features and aspects of the header section will be unique to this site. It would take a great deal of time and effort for others to implement the same features on their own sites, and due to my commitments to various projects, I'm simply unable to offer support for this.

But there is some good news!

Firstly, I promise to offer tutorials about the major aspects of this redesign, which you could use to implement similar changes in your own sites, one step at a time.

Secondly, I will soon offer this current template as a prize for the lucky winner of a competition, including full installation.

I'll publish the details of this competition in full once I've decided on the method and format.

I do hope you will all enjoy the new design and format of the Blogger Buster blog! Please do tell me your thoughts about the redesign, including any suggestions you may have of how this site could be improved.

If you'd like to be updated when the new design is published, and receive news of future tutorials regarding Blogger template design, please subscribe to the site feed or sign up for email updates.

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Browse through the Archives

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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