Do you ever look at your blog design and wonder what happened? You thought that design theme you picked was beautiful and exciting but now you feel like it’s all a bit bland and ugly?
What can you do to design a better looking blog and hook your visitors with a gorgeous experience? How can you present your content in a beautiful and memorable ways?
Let’s explore the steps you can take to design a blog and make it look pretty.
WordPress is the blogging platform of choice
What blogging platform is that ugly blog of yours hosted on by the way?
The first step to beautify your site is to pick a blogging platform that allows you a wide range of design possibilities. WordPress is my platform of choice. I love it and run all my blogs on it. Here’s why:
- It’s open-source with a large community of people using it, loving it and contributing to it. What does that mean for your design? You benefit f by having access to thousands of free design themes that can change the look of your site with a click. All without any design know-how.
- It’s the most popular blogging platform used to host more than 34% of all sites. Very flexible and extensive so it’s used by everyone from institutions such as The White House and NASA, corporations such as Facebook and CNN to independent blogs such as my one.
I hope these reasons are enough to convince you to give WordPress a look. Your visitors would love it.
How to get started with WordPress
You need a domain name and a hosting server. This is in order to make your site available and accessible to anyone in the world.
Disclosure: This article contains affiliate links. This helps support my blog and allows me to continue making guides like this. If you click my link and make a purchase, I earn a commission at no additional cost to you. I only promote products that I truly believe will be valuable to you.
The one that I recommend is the one that I personally use. My blog is hosted on GreenGeeks and they have everything you need for a great WordPress design experience:
- They specialize in WordPress hosting, have over 10 years of experience and are home to hundreds of thousands of sites.
- Based in Los Angeles, California with a 24/7/365 customer support via live chat, email, and phone. They also have a 30-day money-back guarantee just in case.
- You get a free domain name and a site that’s loading fast, is easy to maintain thanks to the automatic updates and is secure to use. Your site will be eco-friendly and carbon-reducing too.
- It will take you 10 minutes to get your WordPress blog up and running and to host one blog costs $2.95 per month.
These are the step by step instructions to install WordPress:
Step 1: On GreenGeeks WordPress hosting page, choose your plan. I pay for Ecosite Pro at $5.95/month as I run more than one blog. Ecosite Lite at $2.95/month is the best value for those with one blog only. Click the big green “Get Started” button.
Step 2: Register your free domain name. Type your chosen domain name and click on “Check Availability“.
Step 3: Fill in all your personal details in “Account Information“.
Step 4: In “Package Information” you see the summary of your chosen plan. To get the best value monthly price you need to sign up for 3 years. This is the way most hosting companies set their pricing.
3 years of hosting on Ecosite Lite is billed $106.20 total. If you wish to purchase one year only, the total price will be $59.40.
You can choose your “Server Location“. The default is the United States. The other options are Canada and Europe. Pick the server location closest to where the majority of your target audience is.
“Coupon Code” with the highest value is automatically applied. You always get the best possible deal.
Step 5: Fill in your credit card details and click on the “Create Account & Get Started” button. Wait for an email with your account login details.
Step 6: Log in to your GreenGeeks account and click the “CPANEL” button. Search for “Soft” in the top box to locate the “Softaculous Apps Installer“. This is the easy way to install WordPress.
Step 7: Click on WordPress and on the next page click on the “Install Now” button.
Step 8: In “Site Settings” type your Site Name and Site Description. You don’t want your blog to be “my WordPress blog” or “just another WordPress site”.
Step 9: In “Admin Account” select a new personal username and a strong password. Don’t use the defaults. These will be your WordPress login details.
Step 10: Click on “Advanced Options” and choose to Auto Upgrade WordPress to “Any latest version available”. Auto upgrade plugins and themes too. Set “Automated backups” to “Once a week”.
Step 11: Click the “Install” button and wait until your blog has been set up. You can log in on yourblogname.com/wp-admin/ with your WordPress username and password. You’re ready to blog!
Action Point: The first step towards a beautiful blog design is to choose a blogging platform that’s right for you. I recommend self-hosted WordPress.
How to install your first WordPress design theme
Using WordPress will save you weeks of time and a lot of money as you won’t need to build (or pay someone to build) your blog design from scratch.
The community behind it has created more than 7,000 of WordPress themes that are beautiful and feature-rich. You’ll have plenty of choice for selecting the blog design template that works for you.
I suggest you access your WordPress admin and get yourself familiarized with the “Appearance” section on the left-hand side navigation.
Majority of your blog design options will be in there. You can search for, preview and install themes there.
See how easy it is to install and activate a WordPress theme:
Time needed: 2 minutes.
Here’s how to install a WordPress theme.
- Visit the Appearance menu
Click “Themes” within the “Appearance” menu in your WordPress dashboard.
- Click on “Add New”
Then “Add New” on top of that page to discover the different design opportunities.
- Explore the different WordPress themes available
Browse through “Featured”, “Popular” or “Latest” themes. Or use “Feature Filter” to find more specific themes with exact features that you are looking for. Sort by color, layout, features and specific subjects.
- Click “Install” to activate a specific theme on your blog
When you find a blog theme design that you like simply click on “Install” to activate it on your WordPress blog.
It’s easy to switch between and test different designs until you find the perfect one. It doesn’t affect your content at all. All of it remains untouched no matter what WordPress theme you’re using.
What are the signs of a great WordPress design theme?
Each WordPress theme has a page with further details. This can help you make a better decision. You can learn more details and see how the theme would look on your blog.
Some signs to look out for in order to discover a quality WordPress theme:
- Last updated date should be recent. You want your theme to be compatible and functioning correctly with all the latest WordPress updates. Older themes might break in most recent versions of the software. WordPress is continuously changing and your theme needs upgrades and latest bug fixes to continue serving you.
- The number of active installs shows you how many blogs use the theme right now. The more the better as it shows that the theme is quality, but watch out not to have your blog look like thousands of other blogs.
- Rating number between 1 and 5 stars. The higher the rating the better the theme may be.
- Look through the reviews to see what people are saying about the theme.
- Does the developer actively respond and help people? Is the theme actively maintained, updated and supported by a reputable developer or company? It would be ideal if the developer is active and helpful.
Mobile phones and responsive blog design
Smartphone sales have overtaken computer sales. Mobile traffic has surpassed desktop traffic worldwide. Mobile and tablet devices account for more than 55% of global internet traffic.
How to design a blog that looks great on smaller screens or touch screens is another key consideration.
Responsive design is smart and adapts itself to the screen size of the device the user is browsing with and provides optimal viewing experience for visitors.
It works on everything from large desktop monitors to small screens on mobile devices.
Google recommends responsive design as the best way to configure your blog look because it is easier for the user and there is no need for redirection like on other mobile solutions.
If you want to check how your WordPress theme works on mobile devices, take this Mobile-Friendly Test from Google.
What WordPress theme is that blog using?
An alternate way to nice blog design is to go to your favorite blogs and discover what theme they use. When you find a blog that you love it’s pretty simple to see what design it uses. Here’s how:
- Visit the blog in question
- Right-click anywhere on the blog page in your browser window
- Click on the “View Page Source” in the right-click menu
- On the HTML source page, search for and find “style.css” or “/themes/“
- The line of code you find will look something like this: domain.com/wp-content/themes/theme-name/style.css
- In place of the “theme-name” you would have the name of the WordPress theme that blog is using
- Alternatively, you can also click on the “style.css” link
- On the top of style.css file, you will find further details such as the theme author and the URL where you can learn more about the theme
So now you have all the details that you need to find what theme a blog is using. Takes two minutes. No fancy WordPress theme detector tool needed either.
Now you can go to the Appearance menu in your WordPress blog dashboard, search for and activate the theme that you just discovered.
Note that some blogs use a custom WordPress theme solution that’s built from scratch. Some try to hide their theme name for one reason or another.
This makes it pretty much impossible to know the theme name unless you ask them.
Action Point: Install and activate a nice WordPress theme or two to get more comfortable with the process and understand how it all works. You’ll see how easy it is to change your design.
Best free WordPress design themes for 2019
This is the list of some of the most impressive free WordPress themes that I have handpicked for your inspiration. They feature everything you should be looking for in a blog design.
They’re beautiful, minimalist, mobile responsive, clean coded, fast loading, lightweight, constantly updated and fully supported by the developers and the community.
- Twenty Nineteen: This is the official theme created by the WordPress team
- GeneratePress: This is a lightweight theme that I use on my blog now. This is an affiliate link
Recommended Reading: A list of the best WordPress themes with most active installs.
Consider also some niche themes specialized in different topics such as those for travel blogs or fashion blogs. See for instance how to start a fashion blog for more details.
Premium WordPress themes
You’re not only limited to the free themes. There are many great premium WordPress theme providers. You typically need to pay per theme you want to use or you can buy the total packages of all their themes in one.
Here are some of the big names in the WordPress premium themes space:
- StudioPress: Genesis by StudioPress is one of the most popular premium themes. They have created a large variety of themes for different use cases. I use the Academy Pro theme on this blog now.
- Pixelgrade: More than 20 different premium themes for WordPress blogs. Everything from magazine themes to themes created for small businesses and restaurants.
- TemplateMonster: Not exclusively focused on WordPress but they have a large range of premium WordPress themes too. More than 2,000 at this time.
Action Point: Explore the list of the top WordPress themes. What do you like? Anything that feels essential and that you want on your blog too?
How to use the WordPress Customize to improve your design theme
WordPress “Customize” section within the “Appearance” menu allows you to preview how your blog and your content looks like when using a particular theme.
You can also create your navigation menu, change your blog’s header logo and edit the widgets in your sidebar.
Here are the essential elements to think about for your “Customize” section:
Fonts and font sizes to use
Font, font size, the spacing between letters and line-height all have a big impact on how your visitors feel when reading online.
Screen resolutions are increasing which means that you need to make your content more readable for these new screens. Larger font makes your blog more clear and easy to look at.
Sans-Serif Fonts are best suited for digital content while you want your font size to be a 16pt at a minimum and should go even more to 20pt+ for best results.
Some WordPress themes are very well optimized for typography out of the box. Page Builders make it easier for you to change the font type, size, and colors too.
You could also install the Easy Google Fonts plugin which makes it easy to change your fonts and font sizes in the different areas of your blog in a simple and visual way.
The plugin gives you access to hundreds of beautiful web fonts for you to pick from and use.
A color palette of your choice
All the good themes already come with their own color schemes if you’re going to customize your post background color, font color, logo and more, it’s good for you to learn a bit about colors.
Color palettes can make or break your blog post. As a non-professional designer, I tend to get inspired by big brands and colors that they use.
This is a perfect website for you to see what color palettes big brands use. These companies have many people working on their branding and have done extensive research, so it’s useful to learn from them.
Colors also convey meanings so it’s useful to be aware of what your content is projecting when you’re using a certain color.
Your logo and navigation menu
Having a great header section is important as that is the first thing people see when entering your blog. It’s what makes you stand out and be recognizable in the endless pool of bloggers.
Make sure your header looks professional and showcases your personality and what your blog is about. Here’s how:
- Include a descriptive but brief tagline. Tell visitors what’s in store for them, what your blog is about and what problems your content will solve for them. The purpose of your blog has to be clear and immediately evident to your first-time visitors.
- Introduce yourself right off the bat with a welcoming message and smile. Ingrain your personality. Include your image. Your blog is unique, but only because of YOU, so make sure your visitors see this as soon as possible.
- People like familiarity so make your visitor feel at home. Include a clear navigation menu at the top. Think about what pages or posts you want to put into your navigation to best present your blog (contact, about page, services, etc).
- Consider making your navigation sticky. Many sites now fix their navigation menus to the top of your browser window so the menu follows you as you scroll down the page. This helps the visitor easily navigate your blog at any time and gets them to explore your content deeper.
- Distinctive logos can work wonders. Many blogs feature text-based logos. These can work great, especially if you’re using one of the cool fonts I mentioned earlier in this post. There are also some fast logo makers for non-designers such as this one.
- If you want people to stick around, make it easy for them to find your content. Display popular posts, key guides, and have a prominent search field. Consider a live search plugin that works very much like Facebook or Google search works. Upon starting to type a search query your visitor will get a drop-down of your posts. It is a faster way to search.
- Display social proof such as social media follower size, number of social media shares and number of comments. If visitors see that your blog is popular, frequented and shared a lot then there is a greater chance they will stick around. If all these people like this blog then there must be other good stuff around. Use WordPress plugins to integrate social proof.
To sidebar or not to sidebar
Sidebars tend to be very cluttered with things like social media buttons, search buttons, archives, ads, and even word clouds.
And for mobile visitors, they load all the way at the bottom of the screen contributing to slow loading speed.
Review your sidebar. Do you really need everything that’s in your sidebar?
How can you make it more focused so it leads your visitor to discover your content deeper and access your key posts? Do you need a sidebar at all?
When scrolling through a post you would have the sidebar towards the top but the more you scroll, the more white space there would as the sidebar is finished. This is a waste of valuable space.
Put in a sticky widget in your sidebar so it scrolls through with the visitor. You could have a subscription widget sticky to increase the number of subscribers or social media followers.
Or you can stick your popular posts to get more clicks and help people discover more of your content. Q2W3 Fixed Widget plugin allows you to do this.
Every post is a potential starting point
It’s not all about your blog’s home page design. Majority of your first-time visitors come directly to your individual blog posts.
Social news feeds and search engines tend to drive people deeper. These visitors might never see your home page.
Bloggers tend to focus on their home page too much spending a lot of time prettying it up and neglecting the rest of the site. This is a mistake.
Action Point: Customize section is where you can change many aspects of your theme. Explore it, test things and see what’s possible.
Use a Page Builder to build on top of a theme
The easiest possible solution to design a blog is to simply pick a theme that you really love as it is and have no need to customize.
Then you’re ready to go and conquer your niche as soon as you activate the theme.
If you’re not comfortable with coding, then it’s best to choose a theme that makes it easy to edit and customize even with no coding skills.
The ability to customize your blog design with a simple and easy interface varies a lot from one WordPress theme to another.
Some have drag-and-drop, user-friendly interface. Some can only be edited and customized by CSS and coding.
Most themes are not easy to edit and that’s where page builders come into the picture.
Page builders are plugins that work on top of any theme and allow you to build and customize your layout with a simple drag and drop interface and no need for coding.
Page builders allow you to create a professional and unique looking blog without any design know-how.
- How would you like to present your content?
- What colors do you want to use?
- Would you like your posts and pages to be very unique and different from each other?
- What about one sidebar or two sidebars or maybe none?
How about sidebars on the left or the right or both sides of the content? Would you like a big call to action? Or a full-width section? All these and many more are easy to do with the help of page builders.
These are the three most popular Page Builders that I recommend you try and choose the one that fits you best:
Action Point: Page Builders are useful tools that help you build on top of your theme and have some unique page designs. Activate a page builder and explore the options it gives.
“Keep it simple, stupid” to have a fast loading blog
First-time visitors take less than a few seconds to decide if your blog is worth exploring. You have to get their attention and get it fast with an effective blog design.
Think of usability. Visitors should enjoy not only the aesthetics of your blog but also the ease of use, page speed, and user-friendliness.
Consider how the design affects your blog’s speed and the visitor’s experience and aim for your blog to be loaded within a couple of seconds at most.
Make your blog easy on the eyes and clutter-free. Less is more in the modern blog (and web) design. Simplicity rules.
It gives your visitors a better experience when browsing your content. It puts more emphasis on the content itself and makes your blog load faster.
Just because you’re starting a YouTube blog doesn’t mean you need to place five YouTube embeds on every page. Consider these things:
Recommended Reading: How to speed up WordPress and get PageSpeed Insights score 100.
- Ignore and remove inessential design elements that don’t matter. Remove buttons, widgets, ads, pop-ups and other distractions. Just because every other blog has them, it doesn’t mean that you need to have them too.
- Do you actually need all those social media share and follow buttons? Do they actually get any clicks or do they just distract people? Focus on those buttons that have the biggest impact on your audience. And use the lightweight versions instead of the official buttons.
- Refrain from adding what is not necessary in the first place. Think about what purpose any design element has? You don’t need features that nobody has asked for and that nobody is using. Focus on quality, not on quantity to make room for those elements that do make a difference.
Action Point: Blog loading time is a key aspect to think about. With a slow loading blog, even the most gorgeous design in the world will not work.
To a beautiful blog design
Feeling a bit overwhelmed? Whatever you do just don’t spend too much time thinking about blog design.
No matter how beautiful your blog is, it will never grow without you spending time on creating great content and attracting visitors.
It’s the real world and the actual visitors that will lead you towards making better design decisions in the future. So pick one of the nice design themes, customize it a bit and get it out into the wild quickly.
What To Do Next: Learn how to write a blog post that attracts visitors and social shares.