The 5 Biggest Design Mistakes Bloggers Make

As we move along in phase 2 of our series about setting up the blog platform, we need to focus on getting the blog design set up well for conversions. In this episode, David talks about the 5 most common design mistakes he sees bloggers making – and these mistakes all serve to clutter up the site and hence lowers conversions. Are you making these mistakes?

Episode #50 | Episode Date: January 28, 2015

As we move along in phase 2 of our series about setting up the blog platform, we need to focus on getting the blog design set up well for conversions. So in this episode, we’ll talk about the 5 most common design mistakes we see bloggers making – and these mistakes all serve to clutter up the site and hence lowers conversions.

Are you making these mistakes?

Once again, welcome back to Coffee Break Blogging! This is our 50th episode and like I said, we are going to be talking about…

The 5 Big Design Mistakes That Bloggers Often Make With Their Sites

So let’s get right into it because we do like to keep this episode fairly to the point, hence the idea behind it.

1. Their homepage is very cluttery.

Now, the traditional blog homepage is that it displays the latest post on the homepage. And a lot of themes, they do that by default. The other thing is that a lot of bloggers don’t know how to make their theme do anything besides what it does by default. So what you do is you go to a lot of blogs and they list out the five or the ten latest blog posts, typically because bloggers got a lot of plug-ins installed for social media buttons and things like that. Then, those are listed that exact amount of time. So if you have got 10 posts listed on your homepage, you have got all those social media buttons showing up ten times on your homepage. You are also displaying all your categories and your tags and a very big complicated sidebar. All that stuff makes for a very, very cluttery homepage.

The thing is it makes the eyes literally go zigzag on each other when a person gets there. And we’re talking here about conversions. We are talking about monetizing our blog. And the thing is you are not going to be able to achieve that if you have got an extremely cluttery homepage.

The one caveat to this would be that if you are in news driven market, then cluttery homepages are a lot more common because people there, they are kind of scanning for headlines and things like that. It is a different mindset. But if you are going into this because you want to actually build a business and make some sales and monetize this thing for real, we need to do this in a much more strategic way. And that means traditional homepage needs to be thrown away and we need to replace it with something simpler.

Now the ideal homepage for your blog is going to have a big branding image toward the top right underneath your header and then right next to that is going to be a call to action to get them to opt-in to your list. And that is going to take up a majority of your homepage. Now if you display anything below that; you might display your latest post but not five or ten of them. Just one. And even then, you keep it kind of like subdued in such a way where you are not showing your tags, you’re not showing your categories; you might just show a headline and a feature image and says, “Click here to read more” and that’s it.

And then, one thing that I do with my homepage is I highlight a few of what I call my money posts. And I will get into that more in a little bit when we talk about the sidebar, but the whole idea is that your homepage is a landing page for your blog. And you need to guide people into what their next logical step is when they arrive on your site. Don’t do the traditional homepage where you are giving the person 50 different things to click on.

2. Having no opt-in or having a really crappy opt-in.

Now, building your list is really the number one priority of your blog. And it doesn’t matter if you are doing this without any business intentions at all. You still need to build that list because it is your leverage point. It is how you are going to build that audience and keep them coming back and ultimately grow your traffic. So what a lot of people do is they either do not have an opt-in form or the opt-in form that they have is very subdued and is very vague like “Subscribe to my newsletter” and they bury it on their sidebar, something like that. And that is a big mistake a lot of people make.

The ideal thing you need to do is you need to have a nice looking opt-in form that offers a lead magnet. Now a lead magnet is just some little chunk of value that you give them. That could be a PDF, that could be a video, cheat sheet, some white paper; whatever works best for your market but you give that to them in exchange for the email. Now where do you put this on your site?

You put it at the top of your sidebar, you put it at your header, you put it in your footer, you put it underneath your blog post; and also, within your blog post where it makes sense.

I don’t recommend you stick full opt-in forms in the middle of your blog content but you can link to things and use a pop-up box in order to get the opt-in. A really easy way to do that would be the Lead Boxes functionality built in to a Lead Pages account. They make this really simple. There are other ways to do it, but then you might have to get a little bit geeky. So quite frankly, the easiest way to do it is by using Lead Boxes built in to a Lead Pages account.

3. Repeating social media buttons way too often.

Now I kind of mentioned in the homepage because that is where it really shows up a lot. Because a lot of bloggers they do not really know how to put these social media buttons in so they rely on the plug-ins. The problem is what a lot of plug-ins will do is they will hook those buttons in certain places on the blog. And then whenever that template of your theme is used it injects those social media buttons in there blindly without really knowing where it is showing up. And an example of that would be that if you go to your list of latest blog posts; if the plug-in is designed to inject those social media buttons right underneath the headline, then any place those headlines show up, it is going to inject those buttons again even if you are repeating it over and over and over again. So the solution here is to use a plug-in that is a little bit smarter as to how it hooks into things.

My favorite social media plug-in right now is simply called the “Share Plug-in” and it is built into the SumoMe plug-in system. So I think it is just SumoMe.com. Head over there; it is totally free, it is very well done because you just basically install the SumoMe plug-in and it is like a little app store. You literally can go in there and look at the different options they have and say, “Oh, that one looks cool.” But one of them is the Share Plug-in, you just install it and you are good to go. And the cool thing I like about it is that on Mobo, if somebody is visiting your blog on a Mobo phone, those social media buttons look very nice the way they work. So that is the SumoMe plug-in. But you definitely do not want to use a plug-in that is going to repeat these social media buttons repetitively. It needs to be smart on how it does that.

4. Showing the tags and categories and all other things way too often.

A lot of bloggers, especially on their sidebar they would be like, “Well, there is a widget for that, let’s throw it in there; there’s widget for the tags, let us throw that in there, too!”

And that is how these big tag clouds sitting in their sidebar… or when you go to their blog post, then right underneath the headline you will have a big list of tags or all these categories or you go down to the bottom of the post and it will all have this big author box on who wrote it which doesn’t make any sense! If you are the only author of your blog, why would you have that author box there, repetitively?

So you need to think about this in a strategic standpoint. Because a lot of bloggers when they go to the blog post, they just take up too much space with all these extra garbage that goes along with the blog post like the list of categories, the tags, the authors, the author bio; all these stuff that is just not necessary because it detracts from the post. Literally everybody just glosses right over all that stuff to get to the meat of the content. So why are you going to distract them?

The most important thing here is the headline and the content and the call to action. That’s the thing. That is what you want people to concentrate on. And just because there is a widget for something and just because your theme has a thing in a certain place, does not mean that it has to stay there. Everything is changeable. So definitely a lot of tags don’t display lots of categories. You don’t need them. People don’t navigate that way as much as you think they do. If you display a big list of tags or you go to your sidebar and there’s a list of about 20 different categories there; trust me, people won’t click on them. They just won’t. It’s a waste of space. But that brings me to the number 5 design mistake and that is…

5. Having an overloaded sidebar.

Now the sidebar is one of those areas that I often see people get wrong. And that is because they clutter it up. They put way too many things in that sidebar. The other thing I see people do is make the sidebar too narrow. So let’s talk a little bit about what should go in your sidebar.

First of all, let’s talk about left and right sidebar. It is very common for the sidebar to be on the right. And I think that that’s fine from a customary standpoint with regard to blogs but one thing you might need to think about; and this is especially true if you are running banner ads on your site, is you might want to explore moving your sidebar over to the other side, on the left. Back when I ran a blog that was using advertising, I found that I got higher click-through and better revenue by having my sidebar on the left side of the site whereas most blogs will display on the right, something to test; something to think about. And if you have an opt-in at the very top of your sidebar and that is what I think you should do with it, you might want to explore testing a left side sidebar because it does put the opt-in right on the central part of the screen where most people are likely going to land first with their eyeballs.

There is this pattern called the “F Pattern.” It is literally shaped letter F. And if you look at your blog with the letter F and plan it right on top of it, most people are going to start off at the very top and left, like you were in a book and then they are going to scroll across. And then they are going to go down a little bit and they are going to scroll… not literally scroll but I am talking about with their eyes. And it forms the letter F and how it actually works. So by putting the opt-in in the top left component; which would work great if you got the sidebar on the left, you put that opt-in and that lead magnet right in the place where people’s eyeballs are usually going to land by default.

Now, what goes in your sidebar? The sidebar should contain an opt-in… And then what I like to do underneath that is have what I call my “money posts”. Now I mentioned this earlier; money posts are essentially blog posts that are very well developed; I really put a lot of work in the content but they also work as a form of marketing for something that I want to sell. And that is something that could be an affiliate product or something that I personally have created so I’m selling it direct as one of my products. So it is basically a form of native advertising on my blog. Native being that it fits the context of the format that it sits in. On Facebook, you see a lot of ads in your newsfeed. That is a form of native advertising. They look just like the other posts in your newsfeed because the format of the content in the newsfeed looks like the standard newsfeed post.

Well on a blog, a blog post is that form of native advertising so you can actually have content that is designed to sell something; is extremely valuable and you can link to that as one of your core money posts of your site but it is actually a form of marketing for something that you want to sell. And you could link to those things in your sidebar. Now, you will see a lot of blogs will link to most popular posts or something like that and that is a good way to do it. But what you do not want to do is use a plug-in which would do that automatically based on traffic because that might not be your money post. It might be that one of your blog posts is performing really well, but “Ah, crap” you know? That wasn’t really what I intended.

So the big thing there is you can actually go and manually select the posts that you want to list on your sidebar. And then just simply link them there. So from a user perspective you have got a lead magnet at the top which is your opt-in form. Right underneath that will be a list of your best posts but these are ones you selected from a strategic standpoint and then beneath that will be some type of social connection option. That could be one of those Facebook widgets to fan up your page or whatever that might be.

Other than that, I really wouldn’t load up your sidebar a whole heck of a lot. I see people who overdo it. It is really the whole idea of “Well, there is a widget for it so let me do it because it makes my site look busier” and that is just not the way you want to think about it.

So those are the Big Top 5 Design Mistakes that I see on blogs.

Let’s review them real quickly.

  1. A cluttery homepage.
  2. Having no opt-in opportunity or a really understated one.
  3. Having those social media button repeating constantly all over the place.
  4. Having those tags, categories and those author boxes and all that stuff .
  5. Having a sidebar which is just way too overloaded.

Okay, hopefully that was helpful for you. I definitely encourage you to put these things to use on your own blog. If you are making some of these mistakes, don’t feel bad about it because many, many people are. But the thing is you can go in there and do something about it. For example, right now, just go to your sidebar and if there are a lot of things in there, remove them, thin them out. That right there is going to help, okay? Just simplify things. There is power in simplicity. It is something I live by and it definitely works when it comes to monetizing your blog. Busy blogs do not necessarily convert very well, alright?

With that, I will see you in Episode 51 where we are going to talk about how to create the perfect About Page for your blog.

I’ll see you then! 😉