Saturday, April 19, 2014

Build a Better Blog with Me

In which I begin blogging about blogging 

Hi, Indie Igniteers, it's me, Stephanie! I'm going to be posting here on the 19th of every month and my next few posts will be about blogging. Mostly because my blog has been kind of
lately. So, in an effort to improve things, I asked the other ladies at Indie Ignites what they think makes a great blog. I'll pass that along to you guys here, and then next month I'll check back in and tell you about the changes I've made.

I'll start with the visuals:

Everyone agrees that a blog should look good. The font should be striking but readable, the colors engaging but not overwhelming, and you don't want it to be too busy.  Jessica L. Brooks said her blog pet peeves include  1) anything that freezes up my flashplayer and makes my internet crash (my Mac is only 5 years old but thinks it's 20), so a bunch of countdown tickers and things like that, and 2) font that is hard to read. 

Rachel Bateman agrees and had so many great points on the subject that I'm quoting her verbatim here: 

1) Clean design: I think a website needs to be CLEAN. This means there aren't a thousand things fighting to be seen at one time. Your colors work well together, and your background isn't overwhelming. Sidebars are a great place to display things you love, but don't put so much there that it will slow down your load time. Nothing makes me leave a website faster than one that is so cluttered it takes forever to load.

2) Readability: You may love the fun font you chose for your blog posts, but look at it objectively. Is it an easy-to-read font? In general, fun fonts should be saved for Headers and emphasis text (links, block quotes, etc.). Your primary text should be in a basic, easy on the eyes font. And while white-on-black (or other light-on-dark) websites can look really neat, and have the right feel for certain sites, if your blog is text-heavy, just don't do it. It puts too much strain on the eyes. A crisp light background with dark text is the best way to go. Finally, make sure your font is big enough to read without eye strain.

3) Easy Navigation: Make sure your menu is easy to find and navigate. Don't let your menu be a tiny list of links in the sidebar - it's too easily lost there. (A sidebar menu is fine, just make sure it's styled to stand out.) You don't need a hundred links in your menu; just keep it to the basics: About, Books, Contact, Blog, etc. More specific things can be sorted by tags/labels and categories - they don't have to go in your main menu. (Though it is perfectly acceptable to put something that is special to you in the main menu, even if it's not one of the basics - the idea is just to not clutter it with so much stuff that the menu is hard to read or cumbersome.) (Also, in this easy navigation category, what Jessica said about tags - USE them.)

4) Make sure there is an easy way for visitors to contact you. This is one of the biggest problems I see on author websites. Likely, if a reader is checking your site, it's not just to get info on your books. They are looking for a way to interact with you. So make it easy. I suggest not putting your email address on your website; instead, use a contact form that will feed to your email instead. If you don't want email, that's fine as long as you leave another way for readers to get to you - list and link your social media profiles. Make them easy to find. Readers are used to being able to interact with their favorite authors now.

5) Don't forget the "About Me" section! Why do people come to your website? To find out about your books, sure, but also to learn about YOU. They can do this through blog posts, sure, but we can't expect new readers to take the time to read through your archives. They need a quick easy way to find out about you. A short bio is fine, though I suggest if you put up your super professional bio, you also have something more casual and fun. People don't come to your site to read the same exact thing that's in the back of your book.

6) MAKE IT EASY TO BUY YOUR BOOKS. I know, we don't want to feel like we're pushing ourselves on readers, but let's be honest: what's the entire point of a website? To sell us in some way. So make it easy to sell. Have buy links up for your books, for sure on the book page and in the sidebar as well if you want (as long as it doesn't super clutter your sidebar to do so). If you make it hard for people to buy your books, they won't buy them.

7) Keep it updated. This is probably the hardest part, because even if you blog regularly, sometimes it's easy to remember to change the other things on your site, like the page that says your book is releasing three weeks ago (as an example). I suggest clicking through your own site about once a month to see if there's anything you need to update.

8) AND FOR THE LOVE OF YOUR VISITORS' SANITY, DON'T HAVE CRAZY POP-UPS OR AUTOMATIC MUSIC PLAYERS. Ahem. Just don't. You aren't going to convert any readers if they click away from your site immediately for something annoying.

You know how you want your blog to look. Now - how do you set it up? Do you go with a free one or do you pay a host to allow you to customize it?

Last year, I had a free blog Wordpress for my author pages with I but felt like I wanted  to personalize more. Here are some screen shots of my old blog, World's Oldest Fledgling:

It was sort of pretty, but lacked pizzazz and any sense that this was anything but a generic blog - it didn't look like my blog and its name didn't announce that it was my blog. (I went with the name "world's oldest fledgling" back then because that's what I felt like, someone who was just jumping out of the nest with no idea what she was doing). 

So I switched to a hosting service and more customizable blog structure, still going throughWordpress. Choosing a theme was tricky for me. I knew that I wanted it to reflect my voice or, though I gag a bit to say it, my "brand." Right now, based on my work that's out there, my brand would be light contemporary YA romance, and I found some really cute blog themes that would reflect this feeling perfectly, like "Pretty Young Thing." But the novel I'm working on now is not a light comic romance, so I knew I had to come up with something a little more flexible.

I asked the ladies for their advice. JC Emery had some great suggestions.  She said, "I purchased Genesis by Studiopress as my parent theme and Dynamik by CobaltApps as my child theme. t was $60 for Genesis and $80 for Dynamik... but I now have the ability to make my site 100% customized where I didn't before. And once I have a theme/style I like, I can export/save it and keep it forever. That way I can go in and change the look and feel of my site without ever spending another cent." She's working on jazzing up her blog, too, and we''ll share those results soon.

I decided to go with Themify's Funki theme, though I wasn't able to customize it as much as I had thought. I'm still playing with it, and below you'll find some screen shots of the new blog, though you won' be able to enjoy the super snazzy slider that runs photos from each blog across the top of the page. Here's a static image of it:

 You'll notice right off the bat that it has a blog name that actually tells you whose blog it is. Genius.

I'm still playing with layout, which I'll talk more about that next time, when I'll focus more on content. Because no matter how good your blog looks, you have to offer something people will actually want to read or they won't come back.

Until then, please share with us or your own tips on what makes a blog worth reading. We love to hear from you! 

Visit my blog, too, and feel free to make suggestions at Stephanie Wardrop, YA Writer. See you in June!

No comments:

Post a Comment