[Case study] How to make a big difference to a simple blog

How to make a big difference to a simple blog

Did you know that about 95% of blogs are abandoned? Usually this is because their owners are either bamboozled by the technology, or the enthusiasm that stimulated the original desire quickly evaporates when they realise it’s a bit more than just writing one post.

Now creating a blog needn’t be a complicated affair. You just need to know how to transform a simple blog into something that communicates properly to its readers, and designed in such as way it becomes a joy to add new content to it on a regular basis.

This is what happened to Miriam’s blog. Here’s what it first looked like:

Miriam's first attempt at creating a blog
First of all I want to congratulate Miriam for getting this far. It’s quite an achievement to set up your own blog by yourself.

However, looking at this blog, you can see how soul destroying an ’empty’ blog can be. It’s best to look at this generic template and realise it gives Miriam’s simple blog a shell that needs to be furnished, populated, made more functional.

Let’s look at what Miriam’s got so far:

  • The blog’s title is probably the same as Miriam’s username
  • The strapline obviously needs some work
  • What is a ‘Sample Page’?
  • The image doesn’t relate to anything Miriam writes about
  • There isn’t a post written yet
  • The sidebar looks very empty and neglected
  • It all looks very boxy and the colours are depressing

There are a number of things that can be done for this simple blog to make it look more professional, more customised, more purposely created for Miriam.

1. What is Miriam writing about?

Every blog needs a purpose, an objective, a raison d’être. In this case Miriam said she likes to write about what she sees around her. It is these observations she records in her blog, and then adapts them into a book. In fact she’s already written her first book! Which is pretty amazing, Miriam, way to go!

I explained to Miriam that blogs can have static pages, of which one can become a homepage. This means the blog post listings (which is what you usually see on the opening page of a blog) can be transferred over to another page called ‘Blog’, usually accessed via the navigation bar. I reassured Miriam that she essentially still had a blog, even though its homepage didn’t show the blog listings any more.

This means the homepage can contain a proper welcome message, introduce Miriam’s book and welcome her readers to go further into her website to read her posts and invite them to connect with her on social media.

2. How can I see this is Miriam’s blog?

This ’empty’ simple blog doesn’t show anything that suggests it belongs to someone called Miriam, except for its strange title.

When your blog is first created, WordPress uses the information it has to hand. So the first thing to do was to pop over to the Settings and correct the blog’s name. Miriam also added a strapline, which is a simple sentence that succinctly describes or explains her blog to her readers.

But with personal blogs or websites, it’s always nice to see who the blogger is. You can either hide away in your About Page (more about this next), or you can add in a banner at the top which shows a professional photograph. Miriam gave me a very nice one, which I used as a major feature of her banner.

The start-up blog’s theme supplied Miriam with an image of a depressing tree. All I did was to swap this over for the blog’s new banner, much more appropriate!

3. How can I find out more about Miriam?

WordPress gives its new blogs a ‘Sample Page’ by default. It is naturally assumed that this will become the ‘About Page’ of the blogger, which Miriam duly adopted. She changed its title to ‘About me’ and continued her story about herself with lots more pictures.

Miriam realised she could also create another page focusing on her book. I suggested making this plural, as it could accommodate all the other books she will be writing in the future. Her present book will take centre stage on the homepage and first positioning on the books page. Miriam busied herself writing more information about her book, as well as including a link to Amazon where her readers could buy it.

I also suggested another page called ‘Contact me’ to provide readers details of how they could reach her, ask questions and find out more about her and her books. It is important to be seen as approachable, and Miriam didn’t want to miss out on any opportunities just because she made it too difficult for anyone to contact her.

4. How can I see what else Miriam has written?

The sidebar is often a missed opportunity. It can contain a lot of information that is important to the blogger and valuable to the reader.

Even though there is now a nice link called ‘Blog’ in the navigation bar, it is often overlooked. However, having the titles of the most recently published blog posts as links in the sidebar encourages readers to venture further into the blog. Miriam chose to list her latest three posts, and she soon realised the importance of well written and enticing headlines to encourage readers to click on them.

Miriam also wanted to list the categories. She saw the value of allocating her posts into topics, allowing her readers to be directed to a subject they were more interested in. She also found this helped her to focus her writing better. Oh, and we made sure there wasn’t an ‘uncategorized’ in sight!

Miriam very enthusiastically wanted to write lots of posts to keep the blogging part of her simple blog going. I suggested both a search mechanism to enable readers to find specific posts more easily, and a blog subscription service so her readers could receive an email notification whenever she published a new post.

And to spice up the sidebar with a bit more colour, we added social media buttons to encourage her readers to find out a bit more about her. Miriam was delighted that the contents of her sidebar showed on every page in her website, so she didn’t have to keep adding them to any new post or page she created.

5. Can Miriam’s simple blog look any better?

Yes, it definitely needed a new theme! It was also nice to adopt purple as the main colour, as Miriam said it was one of her favourites, and she had also used it on the cover of her book.

Miriam's new website and blog

You can see it is a marked improvement than before. Suddenly her simple blog had sprung into life. You can sense Miriam’s involvement and her personality through the content she had added, and there is a lot of information and relevant links to encourage the reader to respond more favourably.

Her simple blog now has:

  • A welcoming banner introducing Miriam and her blog’s title and strapline
  • More pages in the navigation bar to provide more information for her readers
  • A homepage rather than blog listings, so she can introduce herself and her book more appropriately
  • A well populated sidebar, offering a subscription service, links to her posts and categories, and social media buttons to show she is active elsewhere
  • A design that reflects Miriam’s favourite colour and compliments her book’s cover

However, I didn’t state earlier which kind of WordPress Miriam was using. Actually it doesn’t really matter for this case study, as the information I have included can be applied to both the .com and .org versions. However, since Miriam created this simple blog to promote her books, I advised her to set up a WordPress.org blog with a paid domain and hosting, so she can add payment buttons for her books and later a newsletter subscription service to communicate better with her followers.

And there is much more scope for design possibilities too. Miriam may have a simple blog at the moment, but as her reputation increases, it could be adapted into a fully fledged website perfectly designed to match her growing needs.

Like what you see here?

You could take on board all the tips I’ve shared here, and have a go yourself, but not every blog or website is the same. I don’t believe that blogs come under a one-size-fits-all like a pack of socks from Primark! They are as individual as their owners, and need to be treated as such.

The best way I can help you is to talk to you about your blog, and what you want to use it for. Together we can mash out some ideas and get the whole thing a lot clearer before we venture forth in improving it beyond your wildest dreams.

Take advantage of my over a decade’s experience of blogging and creating blogs. I specialise in simplifying the process of explaining how blogs work, as well as making them simple to use. Simplicity enhances understanding, which in turn encourages participation and enjoyment.

If you think that you would like your blog transformed the same way as Miriam’s has been, then why not make contact? You could email, telephone, tweet, Skype, carrier pigeon, whatever is most convenient for you. All you need to do is to click the button below:

Go on, what have you got to lose?

I look forward to hearing from you.

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Alice Elliott writes the award winning Fairy Blog Mother blog for beginner and post-beginner bloggers to “explain things really simply” about blogging and WordPress. She provides simple, easy to understand, highly visual courses and tutorials using ordinary, everyday words. Visit her new Beginner Bloggers blog to find her latest learning resources.