The Diaries Episode Two: You’re Creating A Blog...Not A Picasso
Welcome back to Episode Two of Diary Of A First Year Blogger: The Hot Mess You Wish Bloggers Wrote About.
In this episode we are talking website design and setup; which will get a little bit into some basic branding decisions too. Often new bloggers tend to obsess about these decision which can give us a little bit of analysis paralysis. We make these decisions way harder than it has to be. Hence the name of this episode — You’re Creating A Blog...Not A Picasso.
So here’s the deal. New bloggers obsess over the platform, the name and the design of their blog. I know I did as well. But if you are trying to create your own perfect blog straight out the gate (without paid assistance) then it’s very much like suddenly taking up painting as a hobby and thinking your first project will be a Picasso.
Newsflash. It’s not. Lol
Instead of looking to great a masterpiece when you have zero background in branding, blogging or website design; try to look at your blog as an iterative process. As you learn more about blogging, your audience and your niche, your blog will go through different iterations and evolve over time.
So with that in mind, when you are making these initial decisions you want to keep the following themes in mind. Simple. Clean. Flexible and reasonably priced. This will allow you to remain responsive to your audience as well as your needs as you pivot.
And perhaps the most important thing for a new blogger is to go inexpensive while you are figuring out whether you like blogging or not.
Blogging Website Setup & Design Decisions
The three major pieces of your initial website setup are (1) the hosting platform (where your website lives on the internet), your website domain name (aka your address on the internet. For example mine is lindseyandcoco.com) and your website theme (the html coding wrapper which makes your blog look pretty).
Hosting Platform Services: When considering a hosting platform, you want to pick a service which can grow and flex with you. So be sure to pick a reputable company who will be around a while. You don’t want your blog to outlast your hosting platform.
While you want to have a clearly establish blogging niche, you do also want to have some freedom to pivot as you navigate your blogging journey. So for example, right now you are just considering blogging. In the future you may decide you want to run ads or sell physical or digital products. You want to pick a platform that can pivot with you when you make these changes to your brand.
Common website hosting services which bloggers use include wordpress.org (not wordpress.com which is not self-hosted), Squarespace, and Milkshake. I personally opted to go with Shopify.
Oftentimes other bloggers are surprised when they hear that I actually blog on the Shopify hosting service when I don’t currently have store. And after researching many different options, I’ll tell you why I settled on Shopify. But please know this first: I am not a Shopify affiliate. This was just my research process.
Number one with anything in life, I am extremely bottom line, numbers driven. So I liked that Shopify’s service was very predictable. I knew upfront how much everything was going to cost.
Second, I have no background in website coding and new I would have to do all of that without any support. I really liked that the Shopify themes were highly customizable. In fact, most of the features are drag and drop or interchangeable via filters.
And thirdly, I knew that long term I eventually would like to sell my own products and the blog came with a store already set up in the background. Or more accurately, the store came with a blogging feature. Lol
Domain Names: This same principle of selecting something flexible should be applied to your domain name. You want to make sure you select something that is easy to remember, without a lot of symbols or hyphens in the name. This will help your readers to remember your website.
You also want to pick something that is niche but not too specific. This goes back to the theme of being flexible. Today you may be a food blogger. Tomorrow you may decide to pivot to a travel blogger. If your blog name is too specific, you may not be able to pivot into a different type of brand in the future.
As a dog mom blogger another thing I had to consider is whether I wanted to include my pet’s name. At the time Coco was 15 when I finally launched the blog and, while I didn’t expect to lose him so soon, I knew one day I would be blogging without him. So I had to consider whether I would emotionally be able to blog under his name.
In the end I decided that I would be able to writer under his name and Lindsey & Coco would become a sort of tribute to him and the wonderful dog mom lifestyle he introduced me to. But if you are in a similar niche, you want to seriously consider the potential emotional toll.
Website Themes: Regarding the website theme (aka design wrapper), don’t let people trick you into thinking you have to buy a pricey design. Some even say to never go with a free website theme. That is simply not true.
My design is thanks to a free Shopify Theme. While it may not be the flashiest, I definitely think it fits the bill of being clean, simple, professional and aesthetically pleasing.
Of course, you can 100% hire designers straight out the gate. But in my opinion I believe your funds may be better served elsewhere. Perhaps it would make more sense taking some blogging courses. Or really doubling down on your content and branding strategy. Honing in on your audience and what they like to read — or other foundational work during your first year.
Also, you want to make sure your website theme does not slow down your loading time. Your blog should load in under three to 7 seconds for visitors. If your website theme causes your blog to take forever to load, you picked the wrong theme. Visitors will not wait around for slow running websites.
Finally, you’ll want to make sure that your website is mobile-friendly. The majority of readers visit websites and blogs on their phones. So you will want your website to automatically optimize the reading window for mobile, tablet and desktop viewing.
The last quick tip that I will give in this episode is around your logo. Again here the theme should be clean, simple, professional and inexpensive. Wait until you really have honed in on your brand and your blogging style before investing in your logo. Remember you want to be able to pivot.
If you do decide to hire someone for your logo keep in mind that your logo needs to look just a clear and professional in a mini size as it does blown up. If you go for intricate drawings and graphics, how will they look on letterhead or a tiny phone screen? Will you lose some of the detail? And of course, if you decide to pivot into products in the future, how will it look on a label?
So that’s the end of this episode. For more resources regarding initial website design decisions, please see the references listed below.