How Important is Design to a Blog's Success?

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Those of us that read and visit tons of blogs everyday have grown to expect certain designs and styles. In many cases blog design tends to be less attractive and less innovative than website design in general. Part of this obviously is because of the emphasis on content rather than appearance. There are certainly plenty of blogs that stand out as being beautifully designed, but these are the exception to the rule. Just how much of an impact does a blog’s design have on its ultimate level of success?

Frequent Changes

First of all, it’s important to remember that most blogs change themes more frequently than traditional websites experience re-designs. So a poorly-designed blog can quickly improve its look.

Part of the reason blogs tend to change themes fairly frequently is because of the availability of thousands of different themes (especially for WordPress), and most of them are free. I think another contributing factor is that blogs have more to gain from a fresh look than traditional websites do. When compared to most other types of sites, blogs experience much more repeat traffic. Many readers come back day after day, and as a result a blog can grow stale much quicker.

Because of the frequent theme changes, a blog that has a great design didn’t necessarily become successful because of the design. Many bloggers have built their blog using free themes of lower quality and then upgraded the look after the blog had already become successful.

What Contributes to a Blog’s Success?

A high-quality design will no doubt help a blog, but there are obviously other factors that play a significant role in a blog’s success. While design can help or hurt a blog, it certainly has far less impact on the long-term success of the blog than the quality of content. Blog readers like to see a nice design, but content is what really keeps them coming back.

Marketing is another important factor for blog success. Some bloggers spend a lot of time, effort, and money of promotional efforts, and some others create the content and wait for others to market it for them. Regardless of what marketing strategy a blogger chooses, gaining exposure and receiving, links, referrals, and buzz are important.

When looking at long-term blogging success, consistency is also crucial. Most bloggers don’t make it very far and those that do have been willing to work through the ups and downs, the disappointments and setbacks that are involved with blogging.

So, if Design isn’t that Important, What Role Does it Have?

If you look at the top blogs in any niche you’ll primarily see blogs with custom theme designs. The question then becomes “Is the blog successful because of the design, or is the custom theme a result of being successful?”

With so many blogs out there and so many themes, a good blog design will help the blog to stand out and be easily recognizable to visitors. This, in my opinion, is the most important benefit of a custom theme. As readers keep coming to your blog several times a week, they’re increasingly less likely to pay attention to your design. They’ll know what to expect after a few visits, and the content will have to keep them coming back. On the other hand, the blog’s design can have a huge impact on the first impression of new visitors. Part of branding a blog includes the image that its appearance creates in the minds of readers. These factors should not be ignored, because they mean that the blog’s design and appearance can have an impact on its level of success.

The blog design can also seriously help or hurt the level of success of the blog by how it emphasizes or de-emphasizes the content. Readability is key. In order for visitors to appreciate the content, the design should emphasize it and not distract visitors away from it.

What Are Your Thoughts?

How do you see the impact of design on a blog’s success?

Published March 5th, 2008 by

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37 Responses

Comments are now closed on this post.

  • Hun Kim, March 5, 2008

    Absolutely yes.

    Guess it also depends on your definition of ‘success’ (high traffic? subscribership?)

  • pablopabla, March 5, 2008

    I am still contemplating whether I should make any changes to my food blog design…. :(

  • Andrew, March 5, 2008

    A big differences with high profile sites is that the tend to have more content.

    If all you have is your posts then then the design, at most, will help cross promote, and so there is limited upside, and limited downside to a particular design.

    If, however, you have articles, tools, galleries, multiple posts per category each day, then a good design is essential for success. Frustrate visitors and they won’t bother.

  • Goal Setting College, March 5, 2008

    I certainly belong to the camp that says design is quite important. In end Dec 2007, when I switched from a rather amateurish free wordpress theme (minimalist design) to a premium design with images and saw my bookmarking ratios jump by 20%. SEO and RSS signup rates improved too. There wasn’t much change in my writing style or content nature. And I know of a couple of sites that uses that

    No matter how superb one’s content is, it’s certainly don’t hurt to for a image overhaul. I did and I certainly didn’t regret!

    Cheers,
    Ellesse

  • Caroline Middlebrook, March 6, 2008

    It depends on what aspect of the blog you are discussing. When it comes to attracting and keeping blog readers I would say that the impact of the design is negligible because how many people actually go to a blog’s web page every day to read it? Not that many – we all use RSS now and even that is becoming unmanageable!

    On the other hand if you are talking about a blog’s success in terms of income, then blog design is usually far more important because a certain amount of income would come in the form of ads which have to look good on the page and sit well with the content.

    So if you’re blogging for readership then your design doesn’t matter too much. If you are John Chow and pulling in $15k a month purely from private Ad sales then it matters a lot!

  • Chriss, March 6, 2008

    I believe design in blogs is very important, some designs are very professional and readable yet some look very untidy. Ok, usually they have to follow a template design yet isn’t it valid for all of web sites.

  • liam, March 6, 2008

    While I believe that good design deployed anywhere is no doubt a great help. I think its particularly true if your blog has very little or no followers.

    Although its clear to say that your writing is the most important aspect of any blog, you do need to give people a reason to return. And a good looking easy to use design is one of many reasons why people may return.

    It’s interesting that you chose to say that you need to make your blog design stand out. Because I don’t think thats true with blogs. I’ve always felt that a blog should let the content do the shouting rather than the design. In my opinion your blog does not need to stand out (in terms of design) but it just needs to give the feeling of a comfortable and inviting place for people to be in.

    Nice post overall!

  • TzuVelli, March 6, 2008

    I think design is very important. Let’s take an extreme example. What if ProBlogger used the default WordPress theme. Would Darren’s blog be as popular? I don’t think so.

    It is true that once readers become subscribers they tend to visit the blog less often. But, the blog’s design played a strong role in determining whether or not they subscribed.

    Also, the impact that a blog’s design has on long term search engine traffic is rather significant as well. First impressions are everything. Bad design equals bad first impressions.

    Having a good blog design is like your house having great curb appeal. If your house’s curb appeal is horrible then that is what people will think of your house and vice versa.

  • David Airey, March 6, 2008

    Simple, easy-to-read and navigate designs are what attracts me (besides the content of course).

    If a blog had great content, yet the design was black with small white text, I’d probably never leave a comment.

  • Chad Mueller, March 6, 2008

    To me, design is a huge key element that creates a nice blog, if you look at all the popular blogs out there, they stand out for each other, and they should be. Blogs are more dominate now then ever and for the web to stay nice and clean… designers, blogger should be designing to create excellent blogs. FreelanceSwitch, ProBlogger, Web Designer Wall, all amazing designed sites.

  • Vandelay Design, March 6, 2008

    Hi everyone,
    Thanks for all of the great, thoughtful feedback. It is very much appreciated.

    Ellesse,
    Thanks for sharing your personal experience. I’m not surprised that the new design did have some impact. You’re right, it certainly doesn’t hurt.

    Caroline,
    Your comments are my thoughts exactly. In the long-term aspect of retaining readers I don’t think it matters as much as many other factors. On the other hand there are some definite areas where design is important, as you pointed out.

    Liam,
    I think your opinion and mine are closer than you may think. I certainly didn’t mean to imply that the design of a blog should overpower the content, quite the opposite. What I meant by saying that a design should stand out is that when a visitor comes back to a blog a second time, he or she should remember being there before. With many of the common free themes you could visit a blog a few times and still be wondering if this is actually the blog you visited before.

    Beau,
    I agree, ProBlogger wouldn’t be as popular with a basic free theme. I don’t really think of the design as being important for search engine traffic. To me that is separate from design, although somewhat related. You could create a really ugly and unattractive blog theme that is very search engine-friendly. Nice analogy with the curb appeal, I like that.

    David,
    That is typically the type of blog design I prefer as well (and that’s why yours is one of my favorite blog designs).

    Chad,
    The top blogs do tend to have nice design, which makes sense. Some of them have really improved since their early days though.

  • Rob, March 7, 2008

    More important than the design is the freshness of the content. Users will make do with a crumby design as long as the content is up-to-date and useful.

    Although there is an important place for good design. Good design is pleasing to the eye and can attract repeat visitors IMO.

  • Buy instant degree, March 7, 2008

    I think that the design of a blog is the most importan because it is the first thing that a visitor will see on your blog. A blog must be an attractive webpage. If you have a nice design you will have more succes. Now I am referring to the design generally,for example,if you have a blog with a free template ,it will be very simple.I admire personal templates made by the owner.

  • record retention, March 7, 2008

    the design is one of the most crucial parts of keeping views on your blog. if they find it too hard to navigate or if they see it as an eye-sore, you can count on them never coming back

  • Vinh Le, March 7, 2008

    A blog’s design is so important that I focus pretty much all my time on writing about it, helping others design their blogs better, and improving my own skills in designing blogs. It is a careful balance between being innovative with your design in terms of breaking the mold yet still being highly usable and functional.

  • Chris Stormer, March 8, 2008

    According to me designing the blogs is very necessary as it creates attention of the viewers. For success the modifier should continue with frequent changes in the blogs.

  • Polskaya, March 8, 2008

    It is not the design that makes the blog, it is the content.(Confusius- 551 BC – 479 BC )

  • Glen Allsopp, March 9, 2008

    I’ve updated my blog theme a few times, partly due to my new skills in graphics and design that I want to give certain things a try.

    I’m always willing for change but think you have to let a theme last quite a while or your readers will get confused

  • Toronto Servers, March 9, 2008

    Design can change many thing.It is the first look.If the first look of your blog is not good then the success rate will decrease.Thanks for the post.

  • Pugsley, March 11, 2008

    I really like what you say in this article, I think that all the gurus have put so much stress on good content, that design has kind-of been left in the cold.
    I think some blogs over-do their design, but I do agree that a blog should have some design and I thank you for the article.

  • Work from Home Guru, March 12, 2008

    Well I would have to look at this question from a business standpoint than a designers, because a designer I am not. With that said I used to think that the design or look of your blog was very important to its success. Lately though, I have noticed a lot of blogs and websites in general that have, how do I say this nicely, a really bad design, and they are souring through the serps making a fortune. So I am starting to change my beliefs on the “must look good” idea. I think that in the end it all comes down to content, that is what the readers want, that is what they come there for, so I would place more focus on that leading to your success in the web business.

  • Vandelay Design, March 12, 2008

    I appreciate your perspective from a business standpoint, that’s what I’m interested in. The designer’s standpoint that I have is obviously biased, so it’s good to step outside that little box and look at the big picture.

  • Tom, March 12, 2008

    Hey we really appreciated your message about how blogging and good blog design helps your business/blog. We recentlty launched our site
    http://www.performancelogo.com
    We feel great about doing what we do well, but are really struggling with driving traffic to our site.
    Hence I’m blogging!
    Is this really how it works?
    Thanks – Tom B. Rochester, NY

  • Bill, March 12, 2008

    Yes, I’ll have to say when I first saw http://www.FreelanceSwitch.com and http://www.NorthxEast.com it had that WOW affect on me. I couldn’t stop going back.

  • Website design, March 19, 2008

    A website design is more than just assorting few good looking images with HTML pages. A professional website design process can influence ones’ web presence in a great deal and detail.

  • Vinod, December 1, 2008

    Actually design gives first impression to the eye of visitor . If your design is good the visitor can subscribe your online journal and you can make money from your subscriber . So accounting to field you must choose your theme of templates because if template is not according to your professional writing . It will harmful effect on the eyes of your visitors.

  • Mike @ Toronto SEO, August 3, 2009

    my personal idea is: design is not important…
    that is funny because I am…well..I’m web designer…I’ve been working as a freelance web designer in Toronto since 1999 and I really like stylish well designed and coded sites with decent level of usability and (one of the most important things nowadays) SEO friendly. but I noticed that all sites tat gained serious success were literally ugly…
    first facebook, first myspace….damn…youtube…
    I can continue…so what really maters is teh idea! unique idea that would attract attention…plus MONEY =)) yeah…financial support.

    Best regards from Toronto
    Mike / Toronto Web Design

  • John, November 17, 2009

    Yes…design of the blog play a definite role in the success of blog. However, quality of content as well as regular updation is important in the success f blog.

  • freelancing career building, January 8, 2010

    Yes design is important but what about usability and readability? Why dont you discuss that too in your future postings?

  • blog, January 12, 2010

    I think the content is important than design! of course, if a blog have high-quality design,be better.
    I agree with Mike! many nice site’s design are ugly ! but people love them

  • Freelancing career, February 12, 2010

    Thanks a lot for sharing the ideas But design does make first impression to the eye of visitor. Cool and attractive design is one of most essential part of professional web designing.

  • londeed, March 18, 2011

    If the blog style make me tired when I reading, I may not visit it again