Janis is a web geek and social media expert who took time out after having kids to create and develop her highly successful blog ReallyKidFriendly.com, which has just been nominated for The Good Web Guide’s Website of the Year 2011. Here Janis provides some awesome tips to BritMums members who are ready to think about redesigning their blogs!
Why should I redesign my blog?
I like to imagine that perfectly polished blogs are a little like the brand new teddy bear in “That Rabbit Belongs to Emily Brown” – it may look pretty, but what the naughty Queen really wants is the much loved floppy faded bear with patches of missing fur and a bit of the mouth picked off. That much loved bear tells her in a snapshot that it’s special, that it’s been through adventures, that its owner is imaginative and caring, that it’s one of a kind. How do we give our blogs that same live-in feel, some warmth, and a little personality? We do it with our writing, sure, but what about the visuals, the textures, the images we choose? And will it make a difference?
Back in the early days of Really Kid Friendly we had a polished, highly functional website, but with a design that gave not even the slightest flavour of our personality. Our readers found it useful, but didn’t really engage. Worse still, we didn’t engage either – the design was too impersonal for us to really connect with the site. We decided it was high time for a blog rethink.
Luckily I happen to be friends with a digital family brand creative type, and with a talented designer, and they helped me inject some of my own personality into the website. A whimsical little ladybird here, some fun bunting there, a smart rethink about how the content was organised, and suddenly the website was transformed. My blog became a living, breathing thing, and I fell in love with it, enjoying the time I set aside to nurture it.
Weeks later, my audience began to grow and grow, as did my interactions with mums and dads online. Local mums stopped me in the playground to say hello and to talk about a blog post I’d written.
For Really Kid Friendly, a redesign made all the difference in how we were perceived by our readers and how they interacted with us, and also in our own commitment to the site. From my experience I think a redesign has the power to breathe new life into any blog or website, and to reinvigorate and reconnect you as its writer or editor.
But how do you decide which design works best for you? How do you go about changing the design without losing the blog posts and banners and categories and tags…?
Let me assure you that it’s not as hard as it looks, and it doesn’t need to cost you a thing. You can easily move between free platforms like WordPress and Blogger with relative ease, or stay with the same platform and experiment with different layouts, headers, sidebar styles, fonts, or reorganise the navigation to suit you. You can take the step up to a self-hosted WordPress blog and really make it your own. If your blog is more business than personal, you could scale things right back with a beautiful easy-to-customise premium template like the one I’ve used on Thinking Social Media.
I’ll talk you through how to do each of those things in 2012, but first let’s get you started on thinking about what you might want to do….
How to choose a new design
Imagine for a moment that your blog isn’t a linked up and meta-tagged online collection of your writing. Imagine instead that you have invited your readers over to your house to enjoy reading what you’ve written.
What do they see and feel when they arrive? Does your house feel clean, white and minimalist, or is it filled with textures and fabrics, weird things you brought back from your Gap Year, pictures of your kids, and glitter-glued paintings stuck to the fridge? What does your house say about you, and which little details do you think about to make your guest feel special?
Which articles would you choose for your guest to read? Do you just offer up the most recent articles, in reverse chronological order? Or do you handpick your favourites, your best writing, your most controversial posts, the most popular? Do you give her a stack of files by date, or by topic, or do you draw out the articles that you’re especially proud of?
My challenge to you is to look at your blog again and think about how to give your blog the same lived-in, warm, welcoming feel. Think about how you want to organise your content, which posts you would handpick for your readers if you knew they were only going to stay for a few minutes.
Get yourself a pad of paper, write it all down, sketch it out. Sleep on it. Do it all over again. And again. And again. By the fourth or fifth time, you’ll have something that feels very ‘you’, something that will inspire you, and that will really connect you with your readers.
Then pop back here for some How To pointers and support from fellow blog rethinkers, and let’s give it a go together.
Teddy Bear image: courtesy of Jo Naylor via Flickr.