Seven Mistakes Even Nice-Looking Blogs Make

I’ve been writing Blog Design for Dummies for over five months now. My book will be… wait for it… 352 pages and full color. That means I want to feature many, many awesome blog designs in all their glory.

But I’ve run into a problem.

So many blog designs out there are pretty, beautiful, vivid, bold, or whatever superlative you want to throw out there.

What they aren’t?

Easy to use.

Psst…if you’re here from Pinterest and wondering where that old blue and red Pinterest image went, I replaced it with the beauty above after rebranding from Momcomm to Blog Clarity. The post didn’t change though!

I’ve looked through literally hundreds of blogs in all types of niches trying to find blogs to feature for various parts of the book. I find a great-looking blog, only for it to have so many functionality and navigation issues that I just can’t bring myself to include them in the book. Many of these blogs are even designed by actual blog designers too. (If a blogger has one of these issues, I still may include them. After all, no one has a perfect blog. But I HAVE changed my mind on some blogs with a lot of nav issues.)

Design isn’t just about what you see – the colors, the fonts, the beauty. It’s also about how your site functions. How a user can navigate it. How easy you make it to actually read your blog or share it with others.

So, here are seven mistakes some bloggers with great-looking designs are making:

1. Overall Design Too Wide

Have you ever been to a website or blog and noticed part of the design was cut off on the side? Your eyes move towards the bottom of your browser and you see it. The dreaded horizontal scroll bar. As users of this thing called the Internet, we expect to scroll down. We don’t expect to scroll to the right.

This happens because that site was designed using a fixed width layout that includes important content in an area that’s larger than your screen resolution (for simplicity’s sake, I’m making the assumption here that your browser window spans the entire width of your screen). If you have a responsive design, a header will automatically adjust to fit any screen. (You can test your design on multiple devices with this responsive design tester.) If your blog isn’t responsive, a very safe width is 960 pixels. If someone visits your blog with a wider screen, they’ll just see more of your background on the sides.

2. Light-colored Links

Bloggers want readers to go deeper into their blog and one way to do this is by interlinking old posts into newer ones. However, I’ve seen lots of blogs with light color schemes that select a very light, hard-to-read color for their hyperlinks (and for the navigation menu for that matter). A thin font makes this even worse, with the links all but disappearing into the background.

Stick with colors that are easily seen by the average person. Also remember people with vision issues will have an even harder time seeing those links.

3. No Easy Way to Explore Older Posts

Again, we want visitors to read our content, not just ooh and ahh over our blog design. I’ve seen many blogs that make it nearly impossible to find older posts other than going one by one through the latest posts. Provide a few options for letting readers explore your content: popular posts list, a list or drop-down menu for categories, recent posts, related posts and so on.

4. Sharing Buttons

If you want people to share your blog posts, by all means make it easy to do so! Most people have a way to share and tweet a post, but Pinterest is still often left out. As someone who works for a brand, many companies will NOT pin a post of yours unless you have a PinIt button of some sort. Having this implies permission to pin so companies feel like it’s less of a risk to run into copyright issues. Also, if you use a Tweet button of some sort, include your Twitter handle in the tweet it creates!

5. Graphic Elements that Look Clickable (but Aren’t)

Maybe it’s just me, but certain design elements look like they should be clicked. Anytime I see an award badge or button of some sort, is it wrong to assume it should link to a page about that award? Or if you have a badge that says you’re a contributor on another site, shouldn’t it link to your posts on that site (or at the very least go to their homepage)? Aside from badges and buttons, some graphic elements with arrows or > look like they should take the reader somewhere.

6. Hard to Find Contact Info

Anyone who’s ever done blogger outreach will tell you one of the biggest peeves is bloggers who don’t have a contact page or easily visible “contact me” link or some sort. Same peeve for someone writing a book on blog design *grin*. Seriously though, make it clear and simple to get in contact you. People will thank you.

7. Cluttered Sidebar

You guys already know this, but cluttered sidebars are still as prevalent as ever. Now, you can have a lot of a sidebar stuff if it’s properly organized (both functionally and visually). However, the blog-badge-and-ad vomit all over the sidebar overwhelms and confuses people. Where should they go next? Can they even distinguish graphic elements that keep them on your blog or take them away from it? Keep it clean and simple.

There you have it. Most of these are really easy to remedy (#1 probably being the hardest). Any of these hit home?

Comments

  1. says

    After going through your DIY Blog Critique and the Content Crew sessions, I think I’ve cleaned up my site quite well. There are still some items that need cleanup, but there aren’t enough hours in the day. :) I’m slowly picking away at some older posts but for the notes you’ve included above, I think I’ve done fairly well. :)
    Cheryl recently posted..I Heart Cash Giveaway

    • melissa says

      Your design is quite pretty! Love the header! I do think your posts are a little hard to read though. It’s a combo of the light gray, small font and thin font. I think just bumping up your font size would solve the problem. I can barely read your byline (by name, post date, etc) and the light colored links. Again I think font size would help tremendously! Oh I just love your little “pretty thought” comment before your comment box. Very cute!

    • melissa says

      It depends on the plugin you’re using! Which one is it? Should be able to go to that plugin’s settings and add your twitter name.

  2. says

    Great tips, Melissa.
    The no-contact info irks me. Also, when the Twitter handle is not customized, I have to search through for the blogger’s Twitter social icon and it’s…. nowhere to be found, or really buried somewhere in the cluttered sidebar.
    I think I’m an offender of links that are too light in color, it’s my color scheme and I don’t know how to change it, and it seems like too small an issue to contact my designer about. Time to go find out how I can do that on my own!
    Alison recently posted..Memories Captured February Linkup, And Some News

    • melissa says

      I hear ya! I hate searching for Twitter handles! As for the hyperlink color, go into your style.css (your child theme if you’re on a framework) and look for something like “a link: {color: #800080; text-decoration: none}”. That’s your hyperlink color for when something hasn’t been clicked.

      And that’s an excerpt from my book too. :)

      • says

        This entire post is SUCH good advice. I must buy this book! Like Alison, I know my links are too light. I have been trying for hours to take this advice but can not find this in my style.css. Any other ideas for where to find it? Thank you so much for all of your blogging wisdom, truly!
        Julia recently posted..Mini Makeover: Master Bedroom

        • melissa says

          Hi Julia- Download Firebug (you have to use the Firefox browser for this) then load up your site and start Firebug. Once it loads up, you’ll have two windows at the bottom that load up. At the bottom left, click the icon to the right of the bug (which will “inspect” your page) and click a hyperlink. In the right window, you should see where to find the link in your files! You can change the color there to make sure it’s the right line of code (it won’t change your site at all). Then you have to go into the file it says and do it. Hope that helps!

  3. says

    Super annoying when there isn’t a pin it button! I used to have several social sharing buttons, but no one ever used them, so right now I’m sticking with just a pin it button. I absolutely hate when people don’t have a read more button on the bottom of their blog. It drives me crazy. What if I like the blog so much I want to keep on reading past the 5 posts that are on the home page? True story. So frustrating.

  4. says

    Thank you! Just what I needed – a helpful list to bring my blog to the next level! I’ll be making sure everything is in check and maybe checking it out on different platforms. I really wish I could pay someone to do this stuff sometimes! One day! In the mean time we learn something everyday… Thanks again for everything.

  5. says

    I’m totally guilty of #3. It’s been on my to do list (which is only about a mile long). The fact that I don’t feel like I’m well categorized in general just bugs the hell out of me.

    The font thing is a constant source of annoyance for me. I THINK it’s dark enough. And I’ve actually switched my main body font from the one my designer first laid down to something I think is more readable. But I’m constantly questioning whether or not it’s good on the eyes. It’s a pet peeve of mine, so I’m hyper-critical of my own site.

    Thanks for this post. You’re always so helpful.
    Tammy recently posted..Tales from Ambien Land

  6. says

    yes & yes & yes. cannot wait to see that book when it comes out. we are always preaching the majority of these to each of our clients — the one thing that some can’t understand is the width of the site. they want more S P A C E. always more space. ah well… if they see me as a consultant, we get the 1024 and under. if they seem me as an “employee” we typically fire them!

    great list!!
    aimee steckowski recently posted..a few new logos…

    • says

      I’ve actually got a wider site width than 1024 (responsive design).
      I used to have 1.000px, but with a rather small (as in ‘not wide’) sidebar. I wanted the sidebar to be wider so I changed the general width of my theme so that the width of my content stayed the same in relation to the width of my sidebar as it was before I broadened the sidebar.
      Hope this is clear:D
      I still don’t know if it was the right thing to do, though, and I might make it less wide again (the overal side width, not the sidebar) when I do the design update I’ve got planned for in a week or two…

      These things have probably been thoroughly tested and I wonder if anyone knows of any of these tests and their result?

      Here, on momcomm, it doesn’t bother me at all that the content area isn’t that wide, but with my own site I somehow have the feeling that the content part should be much wider than the sidebar.

      I’m actually comparing momcomm’s and my site’s width at the moment and I must say, you got me leaning to making it less wide again:D

      May I ask what general width + sidebar width you are using, Melissa?

      Thanks!

      Oh and feel freee to check out my blog and let me know what you think.
      Sofie recently posted..A place I love: my next destination

      • melissa says

        Hey Sofie! Thanks for the comment! My main column is 580 px and my sidebar is 300 px. Your site width looked fine! I switched my screen to 1024 and a scroll wheel came up but it only moved a few pixels back and forth– all your content fit in my browser screen. Looks good!

  7. says

    Och another thing: I’ve been wanting to change the ‘Comments’ on my blog to something like ‘X interesting thoughts on this subject’, but according to my theme’s creator, I have to work with a child theme in order to accomplish that. There doesn’t seem to be an easier way:/
    Sofie recently posted..A place I love: my next destination

  8. says

    Hiya, I just landed here via Pinterest. I invite you check out my blog, just because our color schemes are similar. We use Thesis and have navigation buttons that are even bigger and bolder than most blogs. Would love to see what you think.

    When you mentioned the light hyperlink color, I tensed up, because I suspect ours is too light, but then I realized that yours is actually the same color. Or quite similar.
    RookieMom Whitney recently posted..A long-winded tale of two bunk beds

    • melissa says

      Hey Whitney! Our colors ARE a lot alike (and so are our tastes too– all the bed selections and I was like yep, yep YEP!). Anyway, the color looks readable to me! It’s the pale colors (like if I did the light blue from my background) that would get hard to see. Great site!

  9. says

    I am going through a major redesign of my blog, both graphics and internal. I have confidence in the team that is working on it but I after it is done I would like it if you would do the critique you do. I think it is well worth the money to have an objective eye look at it. I liked the article. There were many things I didn’t think about when we were thinking about the redesign. Thank you for the great info!
    Angela – My Personal Accent recently posted..A Way to De-skunk a Dog?

  10. says

    Melissa,
    I have had people tell me that my blog is too big on their screen, but others say it’s just fine, but I don’t understand what you mean (the steps to do it) about optimizing my blog for a resolution of 1024 x 768. Can you explain (or would you mind taking a look at my blog). I’ve tried adjusting the width of my blog (making it smaller), but it totally messed up everything else on the page, making my sidebar overflow onto the main column, etc. Your suggestions would be appreciated!
    Angie recently posted..Dirty Laundry

    • melissa says

      Hey Angie- Sorry for the delay!
      The reason people are telling you different things is that they probably have different resolutions for their screen size. My computer’s resolution is set to 1280×800 and I have to use a scroll wheel to see the width of your blog.

      If you just adjust the width of your blog, your sidebar and main column width need to change too. I’ve never used Blogger but hopefully wherever you change your width, you can change the sidebar and main column width too. So once it’s changed, people with larger screen sizes will just see more of your background pattern/color than someone with a smaller screen size. Hope that helps!

    • melissa says

      Hi Gina! You can set up an email like that through your host or Google Apps (I did Google Apps so I don’t have to move it if i change hosts). Google “set up domain email with Google Apps” and you should find some tutorials. OR, you can just do a gmail email like campclem@gmail.com. Either way you choose, you can have the emails forwarding to a primary email address or you can set up multiple email addresses on a program like Outlook or Mac Mail.

      Personally, I wouldn’t make your FB page your main place of contact. You’re asking someone to leave your blog, go to your page and click Message just to contact you when you could simply link to an email like campclem@gmail.com. It’s important to make things as easy as possible for your readers (especially if you want to work with brands and many PR reps don’t have time to chase down contact info). Hope that helps!

  11. says

    I do Welcome Wagon Friday every Friday. Have for three and a half years. I feature three new bloggers each week. I’m kind of the Welcome Wagon lady of Blog Land. And as often as not, and I know they’re newbies, there is no contact to let them know they’ve been featured. Just drives my crazy. I say it over and over again, but still, not a way to let them know short of leaving the message on a week’s old blog post. Love your blog. I subscribe to your posts.
    Brenda
    Brenda Kula recently posted..Love It While You Rent It

    • melissa says

      It’s amazing isn’t it? I find sometimes the little things that take 5 minutes to set up can have such a big impact! Thanks for commenting!

  12. says

    I’m so happy I do not make all of these mistakes, but I really do think I need to take another look at my blog and take some of these issues into consideration. I can’t wait until your book is finished!

  13. TheNextMartha says

    I actually think I don’t break any of these rules. The funny thing though is that my blog has zero design. HA!

  14. says

    I immediately went to the blog I’m spending more time working on lately and realized I had some work to do to get it into better shape! Thanks for these freebie tips. I hope mine comes across a little better now.

  15. says

    #4. I’m HORRIBLE about Pinterest because I kind of feel some of my pics aren’t pinnable. They’re neat snapshots (at least I think so) but pin-worthy? Eh. Not so much.

    The blog I am linking to is now my newest blog and I’m sure there are some tweaks to work out. More than anything I just need to develop content. Time to go back to my lessons from Content Brew! =)
    Kim recently posted..Rancho Cucamonga Service Station to Be Restored

  16. says

    Excellent points! The one that really stands out to me is the inability to share posts. Recently I’ve been to a handful of recipe/cooking blogs and have wanted to pin a post.You could follow the bloggers on Pinterest, but there was no way to pin their post. I found it to be extremely frustrating! Thanks for the great post!

  17. says

    Great list – I was happy going through that we have got your 7 points covered (in a good way!) I think the cluttered sidebar is the worst – we really try to keep ours clean and streamlined (and it’s why we don’t do any advertising on our site…well, one reason.) I would add a #8 to your list – blogs with headers so large that you don’t see anything else above the fold! Anyhow, thanks for sharing, I’m off to explore the rest of your site :)
    Andrea :: Crafting Connections recently posted..Thanks Chicago!!

  18. says

    Love the post! I have just posted my 2nd article and know I have a long ways to go. I immediately created a contact page after reading this and know I will come back for more ideas on how to improve my blog. Thank you!

  19. says

    Great tips! I agree with every single one. Another one I can’t stand is when you can’t figure out how to comment on a blog. It makes me want to give up.

  20. says

    Great list, Melissa! I actually asked my designer to tweak things when i changed my site to make it fit the avg screen width because I had remembered you mentioning the scroll bar in several of your blog critiques in the past! I do wonder if my links are too light though. Many congrats on finishing your book. Can’t wait to read it! =)
    Sara recently posted..Sometimes you need a good #ZzzQuilNight!

  21. says

    I didn’t read all the comments so I’m not sure if you answered this but… How would I make a tweet button that adds my twitter handle in the tweet? I use blogger so that option may not be available :(

    I love all your tips!! My biggest problem is figuring out a good way to organize my sidebars. I believe I’m pretty good on the other stuff. I even have a tweet button for my posts but it won’t add my handle…. i didn’t know you could do that! I’m not a newbie but I’m close to being one. I learn more and more each and every day and this post was VERY helpful!! Thank you!
    Autumn Banks recently posted..FREE – Eye Health Fact Sheets

  22. says

    Helpful list. Always looking for this kind of succinct information. Contact info and twitter handle are missing on my blog. I’ll be working on that. Thanks for reminding me!

  23. says

    Great Tips…They’re common sense really but I guess we al dont realise we’re doing them. I’ve had my blog designed but I could probably tweak a couple of bots after reading this.

    Thank you for the tips

  24. says

    Thanks for these tips! I’ll have to go check out my blog better and see what I can do to improve it. Oh, and something else is the captcha thing- I love to leave comments but when I see the captcha it makes me hesitate because those things can be so hard to read and it’s a waste of time.

    • Melissa Culbertson says

      So true! I can’t stand CAPTCHA. I even have a little piece in my book (Blog Design for Dummies) about not using it. Definitely one of my peeves!

  25. says

    I *think* I have the navigation part of the blog down – easy to find contact info, sharing buttons on every post, no scrolling to the right, sidebar not overly cluttered – I just think I need to, well, beautify it a bit more. The problem is, whenever I try to beautify it all by myself, the other issues start creeping up and bite me in the butt!
    But yes, I hate when I try to leave comments and it seems like I need a degree in rocket science to do so! If it takes more than my name, email, website and maybe one or two other simple things – I am going to get so frustrated that I will just take myself elsewhere! And I hate having to leave a party before the good times start!
    Momma O recently posted..Jingle Christmas Card

  26. says

    I am still such a newbie so posts like this one are so helpful to me! I am always second-guessing my page, always wondering if I am discouraging readers and followers instead of drawing them in. One thing I am learning from other established bloggers, like yoourself, is that it is okay to change things up, to declutter, and to move things around. Thank you for sharing these tips. I look forward to learning more!
    Christina @ A God-blessed Life recently posted..Country

  27. says

    I am probably guilty of a cluttered sidebar at one time or another. I think it’s fine now, but maybe not to someone else. LOL

    Thanks for the tips. I hope my layout is not too wide where its making people scroll to the right with smaller monitors.

    I do wish I could figure out why my header is leaning towards the left in firefox/IE and not centered like it appears in chrome. So over my head.
    Jenny recently posted..Revolution Foods Pic to Win Sweepstakes!

  28. says

    love your blog! very useful tips! im just a baby blogger and I am continuously looking for ways to improve. thank you!

    maybe if you have time, you can check out mine? it’s a movie/book review blog. It’s just a hobby. I only want to expand audience or increase followers so I meet more people with the same interests and talk about movies or blogs.
    Lucresia recently posted..Man of Steel (2013)

  29. says

    Responsive layouts are also very important nowadays, I know I browse a lot of blogs on my iPhone and iPad so it’s nice when a website is easy to read and navigate! I agree with the cluttered sidebar too, I see this on many blogs, flashing links, scrolling texts, it deters the reader away from the main focus… which is your content! Great tips btw and great blog!

  30. says

    Great tips! I recently re-did my website and navigation was one of the main problems I had with my old format. I think (hope) it is much easier now. It’s a recipe site which I think adds some challenge it categorizing posts to make them easily searchable.

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