Blog Tutorial 6 of 10: Design and Layout - Google ads? Affiliate Programs? Links to other sites and blogs?

Design and layout seem easy with a blogger blog. You're able to choose from a number of templates and be up and blogging within 10 minutes. You can easily add page elements, ads, and links. That's the advantage of blogger for you, but it's very telling to your blog's readers. Most blog readers are bloggers themselves and they can tell from a mile away if you're serious or you're just playing around within 2 seconds of visiting your blog.

How can these masters of the Internet tell if you're a serious blogger in such a short time? Simply by looking at the design and layout of your site, and the placement and number of ads you have posted. If you set your site up, chose a default template, threw in a few AdSense links, and left it alone, we know you are just playing at blogging. There is so much more you can easily do to put your personal mark on things and make your blog a great experience for readers.

In the tips below, I'm going to stick with tools and tips that a non-programmer or anyone off the street could pick up. If you're looking for advanced tips, see my earlier post about Blog Hacks or simply type "Blogger Hacks" into Google. I'll also provide some links to great hack blogs at the end of this post.

So what's non-programmer to do if they want to differentiate themselves from the thousands of blogs coming online everyday? Here is a brief and non-scientific process for getting you started:

Finding Blog Designs and Color Schemes You Like
  1. Start with browsing, yep, that's right, I said browsing. In order to see what's possible and what you like, you've got to take a look at some other blogs. Blogging is social and doesn't happen in a vacuum. While you don't want to copy another blog exactly (the reason why you want to alter you original template in the first place) you'll want to get an idea for what you like, what looks good, and what doesn't. Hop on over to technorati or mybloglog to find an endless supply of blogs to browse.
  2. Bookmark some blogs that you like so you can refer to them. Note what it is that you like - clean lines, graphics at the top, the color of the links on the side? Are there certain color schemes you tend to gravitate towards?
  3. A great resource if you struggle with color schemes, is Kuler, run by Adobe. The sole purpose of the site is for designers to upload 5 colors that work well together. You can find themes to fit any taste. Register for an account to gain access to the color theme settings. Once you've registered, click on the small icon of the computer monitor on the right side of the screen to record the HEX value of the colors you like (these are the values you can use in your blogger template settings and they are on the very bottom of page).
Changing Your Blogger Template - Colors
  1. If you have an idea now of what you'd like, login into your Blogger account and click on "Layout" under your blog's name in the Dashboard. What you'll first see is the "Page Elements" tab. We'll come back to that later.
  2. For now, click on the "Fonts and Colors" link in the top left of your screen. This is where you can alter all the elements of your blog's appearance. Remember those HEX values you copied from Kuler? This is the place to use them.
  3. Within this page, you can change your blog's background color, link color, text color and change fonts as well.
  4. The rest is up to you. Play around with colors, change fonts, see what works and what doesn't. Your edits show in the window below and you can always clear them out later.
  5. For another list of HEX values, see W3 Schools list. (By the way, W3 school is a great online resource if you start tinkering in HTML.)
Changing Your Blogger Template - Layout
  1. Now it's time to get into the "Page Elements" link under the Template tab (right next to the Fonts and Colors link). This is an area where blogger really shines. Here you can easily add the following elements to your page and drag & drop them where you want:
    • List
    • Link List
    • Picture
    • Text
    • HTML/JavaScript
    • AdSense (more about that later)
    • Feed
    • Labels (mine are displayed in the "Label Cloud" of my blog's header)
    • Logo
    • Profile
    • Blog Archive
    • Page Header
  2. I would encourage you to play with all of these, see how they look on your page and what makes people interact with your blog. The main idea here is keeping it simple. Don't add so many page elements that people feel like they're walking in Times Square during rush hour. You want them to focus on the post first and foremost. Secondly, you want them to return and/or sign up for your blog's RSS or email feed.
  3. Try adding a page element. Blogger automatically puts it at the top of the list of items. In most cases, this is not where you want the new element to go, so make sure you drop it into the correct place.
  4. If you decide weeks from now, something doesn't fit - take it out!
Advertising on your Blog
  1. Let me start out by saying 2 things: First, don't create a blog with the sole goal of making a living of your blog's advertising. Unless you're pulling in 100,000 visitors a day (which will take a long time to do), this is just not reality for most bloggers. Secondly, my first recommendation doesn't preclude you from trying out different advertising and seeing what works, in fact, I would encourage that.
  2. There are thousands of online advertising, affiliate, business development, (and yes, even paid posting) opportunities out there. They key is to find those that make sense for you, your blog's subject matter, and readers visiting your blog.
  3. Here is a list to get you started:
    • AdSense - the first and most obvious choice. Easy to implement because Google includes AdSense in the Blogger platform. But if you put these up, please, please, please, I beg you, match the colors of the ads to your blog so they are visually appealing.
    • Commission Junction - the largest marketplace to online advertising and affiliate programs, not necessarily geared towards blogs. You may need to invest in some search engine advertising if you're going this route.
    • AdVolcano- relatively new on the scene. Disclosure: I just signed up and installed the code. I'll update you if anything comes of it.
    • BlogKits - advertising specifically for smaller bloggers with advertising aimed at the heartstrings of your blog readers. Disclosure: I was signed up for this, tried it for about two weeks, but didn't see much action. Perhaps not much of a test period. I may try it out again.
    • PayPerPost - this one is up in the air. Some bloggers hate the idea, some love it. This company actually pays you for writing posts about their customers' products. Love it or hate it, it's best to fully disclose if you're going to do it. Disclosure: I have placed some PayPerPost advertising on my blog as a test. I have not done an actual paid post - I'm still not sure how I stand on that one. But I want to put the option up there if you are interested, scroll to the bottom of this page for the link.
Linking to Other Blogs

This is perhaps one of the most underestimated traffic generators by new bloggers and scoffed at by seasoned bloggers who have been around for several years. I've heard from some of our clients "I've been blogging for 3 weeks now and no one is commenting. I can't even find my blog in the search engines." 40,000 blogs or more are created EACH DAY! Try keeping that in mind when you find yourself struggling to post. Use it to motivate you to provide something useful to readers.

You have to ask yourself, what makes your blog stand out from the rest and worthy of attention from another living, breathing human being? It takes a solid 2 to 3 months of regularly posting to create a blog worth promoting. If you put up one or two posts and expect the Internet to come calling, you're in for a big surprise. Without a content library don't bother - BUT, if you have a reasonable number of posts, get out there!

Start by searching Technorati for blogs on similar subjects. Read these blogs, sign up for their emails, keep in touch with them. When you find a core "stable" of blogs you regularly read, you can do several things that will help increase your own blog's traffic:
  1. When you feel comfortable and have something to add to the conversation (meaning, more than just "Yes, I agree.", post a comment on someone else's blog. The reason for this is two-fold. Your blog URL will be listed on their blog, creating a link back to your site for the search engines to find. You may also find other bloggers, including the blog's author, visiting your site, especially if you've made particularly erudite comment.
  2. If you find a blog you like, write a blog review in a post on your blog. Provide a link back to the blog you're reviewing and notify the author of the blog if possible. They may just put up a link to your review.
  3. Ask another blogger to write a "guest post". 9 times out of 10 the guest blogger will feel honored and will let their readers know they are doing a guest post, providing a link back to your blog.
  4. Submit your posts to Digg, Netscape, and any of the large number of Internet news sites. You'll get visits from new readers, increase your visibility, and create yet another link to your site.
  5. Create a blogroll of other blogs you find particularly worthy. You can use the "Add a Page Element" Link widget in your blogger template to easily do this or you can write a separate post with blog links and provide a link to that post in your sidebar. The second option is useful if you find yourself linking to more than 10 blogs.
Whew! If you've made it through this post, congratulations. There is a lot here and it might be best to take on one sub-heading at a time. If you have any questions on the items in this post, comment below and I'll do my best to help out. And now for those Blogger Hacks I promised in the beginning:
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