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Should You Design Your Own Blog?

Articles on Web Design and CSSA while ago, a popular blogger, asked me to review his blog design for improvements. Just so you know, I do this for a living, and my review isn’t cheap. ;-)

I gave him my review, pointing out the flaws, misalignments between identity and design, and improvements that would not just help his page ranking but also help his readers navigate through the blog better. I told him to pass this on to his web designer as they would understand what I was talking about. Normally, I work in combination with the blog owner and designer, but in this case, it was only with the owner.

A month later, I got an email asking to review his blog’s changes. I dropped by and screamed. It looked like he did the changes himself. I emailed back, “Did you do this yourself? Or is this the result of the web designer you hired? Is this what you want it to look like?”

He did it himself.

Which begs the question of if you should design your own blog, and when you should hire a professional to design your blog.

Should You Design Your Own Blog?

A blog’s design is only as good as the blog designer.

That’s the truth. Like it or not.

If you know what you are doing and have the experience to do it, then go for it, knowing your blog design will still be only as good as the blog designer, based upon your expertise with web design.

If you have the time and desire to learn by trial and error, you will get a blog design designed by trial and error, fixing it as you grow and learn.

Web design, especially blog design, is not about moving a sidebar to the left or right or changing your header art. It’s not about making the background blue instead of green and adding pictures to the overall design.

Web design is about matching the design with the content, the design with the blogger, the design with the blog’s purpose, the design with the audience, and about making the connections between all these pieces come together.

In its most simple element, a well-designed blog for a race car fan would not feature flowers and pink colors. It would feature race cars and race car design elements. Design matches content.

The more complex aspect of web design typically ignored by beginner to intermediate level designers, is the ability to match the design with the blog’s identity and brand. Branding is a more subtle art form and every detail either supports it or not.

A blogger who specializes in presenting articles on life structure, organization, improvement, and “cleaning up your life” would not have their brand well represented with a cluttered web page design.

A blogger blogging on photography has a hard time getting the point across without some good photographs on their blog and blog design, incorporating the presentation of their images and content as if it was a gallery or magazine.

A blogger covering political and/or international news needs to have a “newsy” clean design so the words jump out with only a few eye catching images and a lot of links to categories and popular content deep within the blog and to other informative resources to support their point of view. Without it, it’s just another blog.

A blogger blogging on web design better have the most lovely and well-built web design as a portfolio of their web design capabilities.

Seeing these connections between the blogger, blog purpose, blog identity, and blog branding, and the overall details of the blog design comes with a great detail of experience and education. It takes a comprehensive understanding of advertising, marketing, demographics, psychology, accessibility, web technologies, branding, and public relations in addition to a comprehensive and well tried and tested understanding of web page design.

There is another aspect to web and blog design easily overlooked by those who have blogs and websites and are designers. Proximity. When you are too close to the subject, too familiar, and lacking the perspective of distance, it’s hard to view the site with a fresh point of view. It takes new eyes to see what you are standing too close to.

I know many web designers who rely upon other web designers to help them design their own blogs. This is also why there is a growing trend in blog reviews, with professionals volunteering or being paid to review blog designs, helping their owners put together all the pieces appropriately and professionally.

When Should You Hire a Professional Web Designer?

The time to hire a professional web designer is:

  • You don’t know how.
  • You don’t have the time to do it right.
  • You understand your blog’s brand and identity is critical to your blog’s success.
  • You want to focus on content, where your expertise lies, and let a web design expert do their job to improve your blog.
  • You understand that you need a second pair of experienced and educated eyes to design your blog.
  • You want it done right.

If the bottom line is your blog must help you make money and you want it done right, then hire a professional to do it right.

But who do you hire?

You do not hire your friend, neighbor, or family member unless they have 3-5 years of blog design expertise. You do not hire someone who volunteered web designs and has not been paid for blog design work. You do not hire someone based upon a recommendation unless you research their portfolio and talk to the blog owners.

You do hire someone with 3-5 years of graphic design, web design, and blog design expertise. If you go with less, you will get less. Remember, a blog design is only as good as the blog designer.

You hire someone who understand blogging and all of the intricacies therein. They must understand blog identity, branding, interactivity, communication, and relationships, and how to maximize your blog’s design to accommodate all of these without cluttering up your blog.

They must be able to listen, and to really hear your concerns and ideas for your blog design.

They must have a history of meeting or beating deadlines and follow through. And most of all, they must commit to at least one year of technical support.

Most of all, you hire someone whose reputation, career, and roof over their head is dependent upon their ability to design your blog.

From there, it’s a matter of negotiation details. You can negotiate for the ability to tweak and edit the design without permission, define the terms of their technical support including dramatic improvements or additional features you may need over the course of the contact, and other details.

If You Are Serious About Your Blog, You Hire a Web Consultant

If you are very serious about having your blog design be professional, understanding how much it plays into your identity, brand, and market value, you can hire a web consultant. A web consultant acts as the manager for the design and development of your blog. I think of a web consultant as the image consultant for your blog. She works directly with you to help you understand the purpose and presentation of your blog as your adviser and then coordinates your blog’s design with a professional web designer.

A web consultant knows all the ins and outs of web design, but has the added experience and education of advertising, marketing, public relations, professional writing, and business communications.

There are two main reasons to hire a web consultant. One is to help you improve your blog overall, through the design, content, SEO, and marketing techniques. The other is that a good web consultant may have a stable of web designers to call upon, choosing the one or more who will best meet your needs, personally and professionally. If not, the web consultant will work directly with your web designer to ensure the follow through of the blog design and marketing plan.

Most bloggers are worried about their budget, not seeing the earning potential inherent in their blogs. But if you are one of the bloggers who do see beyond this year, into year five of your business, consider hiring a web consultant and not just a designer to work with you to build your blog and associated business.

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25 Comments

  1. Posted June 10, 2007 at 5:50 am | Permalink

    But where is the bottom line to hire a webconsultant? I mean if you earn $1,- a day with adsense or when you start earning $10,- a day.

    I’ve been thinking about this, but don’t know if i should do it because of the costs.

  2. Posted June 10, 2007 at 6:10 am | Permalink

    I’d love to have somebody professional to review my site too, but I’m not going ahead because:
    (1) I can’t afford a professional review; and
    (2) I can’t afford a professional designer/consultant to make the changes after getting the review done by the reviewer.

    Hmm..

  3. Posted June 10, 2007 at 9:31 am | Permalink

    Thanks, pelf.

    Here’s the bottom line. You look at your year’s budget, not day. This information comes from having a blog for six months to a year or more so you have something with which to work with, not a week. ;-)

    If your estimated income is $365 (dollar a day) from ads, and you have a goal of making $2,000 a year, then obviously you have to do something to reach that goal.

    You can spend money and time (which is also money) on advertising, marketing, networking, guest blogging, business cards, and all kinds of methods to try to increase your blog’s revenue. Or you can spend money on web design or a web consultant. Some web consultants, like me, will review a website for a lessor fee and give you all the recommendations. Then, it is up to you to do them yourself or hire a professional designer to do them. The web consultant will not be responsible for the end results, but you got the advice and it’s dependent upon you on how you use it.

    There are also free consultants who review and critique blogs for free or a very low fee as part of their marketing strategy. There are a lot of choices.

    It takes money to make money. If you spent, say $500 for a web designer this year, and your annual income is $400, then you have a loss. But next year, with the same design, bringing across only $100 in debt, your blog or website could make $1000. It might even make $2000. I’d say that was a worthwhile investment.

    Too many bloggers, and people who want to start their own business, think short term. Weeks, months, a year. Think longer and plan accordingly. You can also try Do-It-Yourself but that can be a lot of work if you don’t have the time or expertise.

    Of course, without content, pretty doesn’t matter. You have to be willing to see it through a one, two, three or more year course in order to get the return on your investment.

    And if you still doubt the potential income that can come from working with a good web consultant and designer, see Is Your Blog Template Holding You Back by Wendy Piersall on ProBlogger.

    Remember, a blog started out as an online journal. It continues to be just that, a method of expression and creativity. Since when did we start thinking our diary had to make us money? It doesn’t. So it you aren’t willing to do it right, and take the risks involved to do it right, keep journaling and enjoying that. Nothing wrong in that in any way.

  4. Posted June 10, 2007 at 2:55 pm | Permalink

    Thanks, this is a very good writeup.

  5. Posted June 10, 2007 at 3:08 pm | Permalink

    Great points Lorelle, my issue is having owned and operated a web design business I figure I know what to do and how to do it – the issue of proximity is valid – the #1 reason I have never paid to build a theme for my WordPress blog is that I did not know what I wanted!

    My business has been evolving as have I. Plus I have been getting more familiar with WordPress and started playing with things. It will be two years for me on June 15th and I finally figured out what I wanted – so I bit the bullet and designed my own theme.

    I purchased a couple of books about CSS, built a few CSS style sheets from scratch, then I purchased CSSedit which is an amazing tool for building and validating a CSS style sheet to modifying a blank wordpress theme.

    I agree with everything you said, except I would just add that you first need to know hat you want before you start working with a web design consultant or web design firm.

    Been awhile since I stopped by and just wanted to say hello. Still looking for articles for your blog about writing?

    Live Large!

  6. Posted June 10, 2007 at 5:52 pm | Permalink

    My biggest issue (aside from funding) with bringing in a professional designer for my site is keeping them from touching the code. I assume that this isn’t a common problem with most blog owners (inspite of the number of tech blogs out there), but will be a unique challenge for me when my blog grows enough that this type of expense is justified.


    Kevin

  7. Posted June 10, 2007 at 7:07 pm | Permalink

    It depends on the person as a designer and the blog imo.
    I am a professional coder by day and night :) and I think if:
    ONE: you are a designer, yes
    TWO: if it is not that popular, yes

    BUT if its popular or you have the money, you should spend the money and get one built for you. These days it does not need to cost an arm and a leg either with many people willing to do it for a cheaper price..

  8. Lincoln
    Posted June 10, 2007 at 9:34 pm | Permalink

    She works directly with you to help you understand the purpose and presentation of your blog as your adviser and then coordinates your blog’s design with a professional web designer.

    “She” you say? I wonder who you might have had in mind here. :-)

    Seriously, I’m realizing that professional blogging is a three pronged process: design, promotion, and content building. Each of these is a full time job in itself. Just today I spent all day adding/removing the “Share This” plugin (had to remove it after I tried for hours to get the email feature to work, to no avail), adjusting my CSS, cleaning up some clutter here and there, and before you know it the weekend’s over and I still haven’t had a chance to blog some actual content. Promotion is just as time consuming, unfortunately. By the time I get down to doing some actual blogging, my creative energy is completely exhausted and I just want to sink into bed and sleep for the rest of the week.

    I have to admit though, after reading an article on the most heavily trafficked blogs on the net, some of the blogs are hard to navigate and have awful, AWFUL designs. Just goes to show that sometimes content truly is king.

  9. Posted June 10, 2007 at 9:51 pm | Permalink

    I use she frequently on this blog for no other reason that it needs more exposure. ;-)

    Even if you know what are you doing with web design, it helps to have a second eye.

    I’m glad this topic is getting bloggers thinking about their designs and their options for improving their work. As Lincoln described, design takes time as well as expertise, and as much as the books help, Greg, you know it takes experience to do it right, helping you to understand what you need to know before you begin. That’s the job of a good web consultant.

    If you just want to blog and run your business which benefits from blogging, then hire a professional to do it right so you can spend your time doing what you do best.

  10. Posted June 11, 2007 at 1:26 am | Permalink

    Bonjour Lorelle,

    I try to order your book for international shipping.

    But can’t pay with my credit card on PayPall.

    What’s wrong ?

    Do you accepte other payment process (Moneybookers, other….)

    Thanks and bravo for your blog

    Claude

  11. Posted June 11, 2007 at 6:57 am | Permalink

    Thanks, Lorelle, for the lengthy explanation.

    See.. You were right when you asked, “Since when did we start thinking our diary had to make us money?” My blog isn’t a kind of business (OK, I know you wrote in your book that placing an ad in one’s blog automatically turns it into a business, but I’m not talking about this particular point) — so I’ve always thought about whether I should spend a huge amount of money (anything in USD is huge to me) on it.

    One side of me wants it badly because I’m like that — I’ve started it, and I want it to be the best I can possibly afford. Heck, I even have plans to move my blog into a subdomain (something like http://chenpn.com/blog) so that I can have my resume on my main page (something more professional that I’d need in the future when I start job-hunting).

    So yeah, I think I’ve made a point. I want to go ahead.
    Perhaps you can recommend me a consultant who wouldn’t charge me an arm?? :)

  12. Posted June 11, 2007 at 9:44 am | Permalink

    Claude: Currently, only purchases made through PayPal are accepted and the issue could be with your credit card, though I have heard from several people that PayPal is having a minor glitch. Try again in a few hours or tomorrow and it may be fixed.

    Pelf: If you are looking for an expert in WordPress Themes, WordPress development, WordPress Plugins, or other WordPress-related expertise, check out the list of WordPress Consultants on Automattic, the parent company of WordPress, and the WP-Pro mailing list. They come in all shapes, sizes, experience, and prices.

  13. Posted June 11, 2007 at 7:18 pm | Permalink

    Thanks for the suggestions, Lorelle. I’ve browsed through the WP-Pro Archives and found a gold mine in there, so I subscribed to it! Thanks again :)

  14. Posted June 12, 2007 at 1:14 am | Permalink

    Interesting read. Thanks for it. It brought me some great insights now I’ve released several themes. I think theme development should also cater to all these recommendations, targeting the type of audience, providing a reputed look to the blog,etc.

    I also think that your 3-5 years of experience is a good advice, since new designers tend to put their own ego, taste and like in front instead of the client’s ones. Sometimes the customer want a specific type of design according to his own likings but then the designer comes and suggests things according to what he thinks suits things in his opinion. A good designer should be able to bring his expertise to meet the recommendation of his customer.

  15. Posted July 8, 2007 at 6:42 am | Permalink

    I want to have my own blog and I don’t know how to make it?

  16. Posted July 8, 2007 at 9:02 am | Permalink

    Yes, you do. First, do not paste instructions, personal, or private information into your blog. A blog is not a great note keeper. It’s a public form for your thoughts.

    Start writing. I recommend with new bloggers that they pick a WordPress Theme or three and play with those but to focus totally and absolutely on writing content first. Write, write write.

    After two or three months when you are comfortable with your writing and what you have wrote, then start learning how to change the look and feel of your blog. Until then, you will only be playing with the code and messing things up, not understanding why you should make changes.

    Learn how to blog before you learn how to design.

  17. Posted August 7, 2007 at 2:59 pm | Permalink

    I’ve just stumbled upon your blog. I must say it’s great information. On the topic of web consultants. Can you refer me to one? Do you do this yourself? Can you contact me about pricing?

  18. Posted August 7, 2007 at 3:30 pm | Permalink

    Check out the list of WordPress Consultants on Automattic, the parent company of WordPress, and the WP-Pro mailing list.

    I do not give personal recommendations, but these tend to be the best of the best on these lists.

  19. A
    Posted June 16, 2008 at 4:55 pm | Permalink

    They are all good points but nothing is set in stone is it. I agree that having the experience in design goes a long way, but I also think there’s good designers out there who don’t need 5-6 years under their belts to come up with a great theme.

  20. Posted June 16, 2008 at 4:59 pm | Permalink

    @ A:

    If your income is dependent upon your web design, hiring someone with 5-6 years experience might serve you better than hiring someone who just finished designing their sister’s best friend’s uncle’s blog. :D

  21. Posted August 2, 2011 at 5:00 pm | Permalink

    Gorgeous post. And eternally valuable. :)

  22. Humby Valdes
    Posted September 19, 2011 at 10:31 pm | Permalink

    Design isnt a template or theme that can be swapped out. I think to truly design you own blog, your content needs to be designed.

    • Posted September 20, 2011 at 11:46 am | Permalink

      I agree with you about the content. Design is something that covers every detail. I tell all my clients that design means paying attention to every pixel on the page.

  23. Aruba
    Posted October 30, 2011 at 1:44 pm | Permalink

    Great article. I am a DIY’er although I agree with the fact that if you plan to have a blog with the purpose to generate income, then why not invest? I think marketing is the single most important activity of every company and you must not hesitate to invest. A well designed blog can and will give you your return on investment as long as you make sure to keep feeding it with content.

    • Posted October 31, 2011 at 9:55 am | Permalink

      Invest in what? With a professional you work hand in hand with to create your site to match research, testing, analytics, and your subject matter and demographics? I got no problem with that. Paying for a “template” design doesn’t help generate income. In fact, the design often doesn’t do anything to generate income. It helps branding, helps improve navigation, but I’ve seen some seriously ugly sites make tons of money. There are better ways to spend money than just for pretty. Put that effort and money into quality service, products, and content, and you will see a return on your little investment just as great if not better than money thrown at pretty.


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