About a year ago, I had a dialogue with a fellow blogger about career advice. Somehow, it morphed into blogging, probably because there are parallels to developing one’s blog and one’s career. I am the old fart who already went through the ringer and he is the young gun wondering what lies ahead.
We differed in our beliefs that grades matter (I believe they do, he believes not so much), so it was no surprise that we also differed in our beliefs in the importance of website design (I believe less so). Website design matters to a point, and I can certainly appreciate a well designed site. However, how much can you really design on one page until your head starts spinning?
If it was up to me as a reader, I’d prefer to visit a website with as little clutter as possible. If it was up to me as a blogger, I’d prefer to have a website that has the most salient information as possible that doesn’t drive readers away. There is a balance somewhere out there.
WHEN WAS THE LAST TIME YOU WENT TO A BLOG DUE TO DESIGN?
Unless you are a design blogger who lives design, I’m venturing to guess that you’ve never had the tug to visit a blog just because it looks nice.
On the other hand, there are probably blogs out there which have horrendous designs and layouts which make you not want to visit. As a result, the key is to simply have a non-offensively designed site!
A good enough design, is good enough. Just because you have a prettier header, or two columns instead of three columns doesn’t mean that you will gain more traffic or more authority.
The only thing that matters after a good enough design is your content and your connections with other readers and bloggers in your community.
THE REALITY TEST
When I first started Financial Samurai in the summer of 2009, I hired someone to help get my site off the ground because I had little technical knowledge. We discussed colors, layout, plugin options, and themes. It was a fun process that took only about a couple weeks.
I thought the combination of black, gray, and red was unique, so we went ahead with this three color combination. The font for the header has some metalicness to it which matched the imagery of a sword slicing through money’s mysteries. We went with a two column design for simplicity, some helpful plugins such as Most Commented Posts and Sexy Bookmarks, and a certain number of posts on the homepage which to match the amount of information on the sidebar.
For the past three years, the FS design has not changed. The basic theme is also free. When the blogger started asking me why I still use a free theme, I answered, “Why not? Does not having a custom design make my site less worthy?”
He responded, and I paraphrase, “Well, other bloggers have custom designs and change often, and probably have more traffic, so I’m just wondering.”
It does seem like bloggers change their design once every year or two, and I was also considering changing my design after the second year. The main reason is that when I publish pictures in “large” format, they get scrunched because my site’s layout is not wide enough. Furthermore, my right sidebar is only 270 wide instead of the standard 300 wide for some reason, which means I’ve always got to create custom banners. I need more efficient use of real estate.
I then asked my friend, “So how many pageviews do you think I get a month with my site?”
He responded, “Around 50,000?”
For some reason, he and perhaps others equate a free theme to lower traffic. In fact, I told him that I had well over 100,000 pageviews a month, a 100%+ difference. He was shocked! It was as if there was no way a blog with my design layout, which he’s seen many times before could have such a viewership.
PERCEPTION = REALITY?
I customized the graphics, fonts, and colors around my free theme. So far, traffic has doubled from a year ago as any blog’s traffic will grow if content consistently gets published. There is no mystery here.
I don’t think design beyond “good enough” really matters for growing traffic. However, if one person can judge a site based on design, and not so much on content, perhaps thousands and thousands of others will as well. Perception does matter!
What I think is most important is having a design that is non-offensive and easy to navigate. The one thing I do enjoy is adding pictures to each post to add dimension. After that, it’s all about content.
But finally, in January 2014 I redesigned my site and it’s made a positive difference due to the responsiveness of the layout on different devices.
STARTING A MONEY MAKING BLOG
I never thought I’d be able to quit my job in 2012 just three years after starting Financial Samurai. But by starting one financial crisis day in 2009, Financial Samurai actually makes more than my entire passive income total that took 15 years to build. If you enjoy writing, creating, connecting with people online, and enjoying more freedom, learn how you can set up a WordPress blog in 15 minutes like this one.
Leverage the 3+ billion internet users and build your brand online. There are professional bloggers now who make way more than bankers, doctors, lawyers, and entrepreneurs while having much more fun, much more freedom, and doing less work. Get started. You never know where the journey will take you!
Updated for 2017 and beyond.