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How many websites a day do you go through that just look disorganized and messy? Probably more than half of them feel that way to some extent. Blogs that are clean and easy to look at stand out from the crowd. With a little care, it isn’t hard to get this advantage. People will enjoy reading it more, they’ll be able to find the material that interests them, and they’ll be more likely to share links to it.
Here are ten ways to clean your blog so it will be a pleasure to read.
- 1 1. Have a clean, well-composed layout.
- 2 2. Make navigation clear.
- 3 3. Put quality over quantity.
- 4 4. Use taxonomies consistently.
- 5 5. Clean out outdated stuff.
- 6 6. Stay on top of the comments.
- 7 7. Limit add-ons and widgets.
- 8 8. Use colors with restraint.
- 9 9. Use responsive design responsibly.
- 10 10. Break the rules when necessary.
1. Have a clean, well-composed layout.
An artistic painting pays attention to composition. It should draw the eye to one or just a few points of focus and guide the viewer from one point to another. If there are too many competing ones and the paths between them feel chaotic, the effect is confusing and disturbing.
Similarly, a web page should have a main focus and a path to follow. Lots of elements vying for attention fatigue the reader. It should be easy to distinguish the parts and to see how one item follows another. A recent fad is to fill the page haphazardly with article titles. That’s ugly and drives readers away. Keeping elements aligned makes underdstanding the page easier.
The main point of a blog is its content. Other things are useful, but too many are a distraction. A sideshow (or sidebar) is OK, but don’t let your site look like a three-ring circus.
Use enough white space. Visibly separating items helps people to sort them out.
These tips from ThoughtCo can help in planning a page’s composition.
A blog generally has at least a few static pages and could have a lot. They aren’t useful if people can’t find them. Your navigation menu should be obvious, and the items in it shouldn’t be cryptic. Kissmetrics has some recommendations for navigation design.
Some sites have menus that are practically invisible, with absurdities like yellow text on a white background. The menu needs to stand out enough that people will notice it, without being excessive. Information should be where people expect it. The top of your main page should make it clear to newcomers what your blog is about.
On some sites, finding basic contact information is a game of hide-and-seek. If you have a “Contact” page, it should go there. Just having a form to fill out isn’t enough, unless you’re actually trying to keep your name and location obscure. If you don’t have one, the “About” page or the main page is reasonable.
3. Put quality over quantity.
A blog needs regular updates, or it will look abandoned. However, this doesn’t mean adding content for its own sake. Badly-written and repetitious articles are just clutter. One good article a week is better than seven pieces of junk.
Whether you write your own material or outsource it, run it through a spelling and grammar checker such as Grammarly. Use a consistent capitalization scheme for headlines, and be especially careful of spelling errors there.
Keeping quality foremost applies to everything in a blog, not just posts. Pictures are great, but they need to look good and be relevant. Link lists should include sites that you really want to call attention to, but filling up the list with every link that’s vaguely relevant waters down the value of the good links.
4. Use taxonomies consistently.
A taxonomy is a system of classification. Blogging software uses terms like tags, categories, and vocabularies for taxonomies. They help you to keep your content organized and help your readers to find the kind of articles they’re looking for. Every article should have some tags that related it to other content, but normally shouldn’t have more than three or four. Don’t invent tags too freely, but use new ones when they’re highly relevant and might get more use.
Some taxonomies, such as WordPress categories and Drupal vocabularies, can be hierarchical. Grouping related categories makes them easier to keep organized. For instance, if you write about dogs and cats, you could have a category for each of them and group them under “Pets.”
Think from the reader’s standpoint, not your own. The topics will people want to read about should dictate the terms you use. Elegant Themes offers some suggestions on taxonomy which focus on WordPress but can be applied to other blogging systems.
5. Clean out outdated stuff.
Outdated content can be a serious embarrassment to a blog, especially if it’s the voice of a business. People who see expired offers or incorrect contact information won’t like the experience.
The copyright date should always be current. If possible, automate it so that you don’t have to remember to fix it right after the New Year’s party.
If you have static material about events, holidays, or current news, remove it in a timely way. An invitation to last month’s meeting doesn’t make a good impression.
Old posts can be a tricky issue. If they just have outdated material, that’s not a problem. Just be sure that each post displays its date so readers know which ones are old. It helps if you include full dates when creating a post. An announcement says “next Tuesday, November 14, 2017” is less likely to confuse people than one that just says “next Tuesday.”
Some items are worse than just outdated. If you gave a restaurant a glowing recommendation and it’s been poisoning customers lately, leaving the post up could be embarrassing. You can edit it or unpublish it. Just a note at the top saying “This article contains outdated information” is often enough. Unpublish posts rather than deleting them; you might later want a record of what appeared. Sometimes the best thing is to post a new version of an old piece and have the old one redirect to it. Search Engine Land has more suggestions for dealing with outdated material.
Every blog has a few old posts that people still view regularly. Check your analytics to identify them, and occasionally check if you need to change or withdraw them.
Dead links are another problem. You don’t have to go through all your old posts for link problems, but you need to check your link lists and other static material periodically. Plugins and websites are available to help you with this, such as the W3C Link Checker.
6. Stay on top of the comments.
We’ve all heard the warning, “Don’t read the comments,” when someone points us at an interesting site or article. You don’t want to have the site people are saying that about. Comments from spammers and trolls annoy people, discourage legitimate contents, and clutter your database. If they have links to disreputable sites, they can lower your search rank.
One approach is to moderate all comments except those from approved people. If the volume of comments is low, this can work. Once spammers find your blog, though, the task can get overwhelming. Spam filtering add-ons are available for all the big blogging platforms.
Your blog’s settings can limit nuisance comments, with or without add-ons. Letting only logged-in users post comments will eliminate almost all the junk. Disabling comments on posts older than a certain number of days will ease your job as a moderator. You have to strike the right balance between openness and comment quality for your blog.
National Public Radio’s article on how it handles comment moderation is interesting reading. It’s worth looking at just for the “troll” picture.
7. Limit add-ons and widgets.
Blogrolls, archival lists, and social media links are all good. Too many of them on one page get overwhelming. The main point is the article content and calls to action. The extras should keep the reader interested without being a major distraction.
Aside from visual clutter, many of these widgets use computing resources and net connections. The more of them a page has, the slower it will be to load. Lifewire has an informative piece on how to use and not abuse sidebars.
You don’t necessarily have to give up all that material. If it’s got some value but clutters up the sidebar, consider moving it to its own page.
Sharing buttons are a related source of clutter. Having some encourages readers to share your articles, but having too many is confusing. Four or five, representing the places where you get the most sharing, should be the limit.
8. Use colors with restraint.
Color makes a page look nice. Used well, it marks off sections of the page and draws readers’ attention to important elements. Used badly, it’s confusing and ugly.
Some designers make a specialty of picking the perfect colors, but common sense and some general principles will take you a long way. Smashing Magazine presents a moderately detailed but easily understood approach in “A Simple Web Developer’s Color Guide.” The main point is to use a consistent scheme that fits the site’s mood and not have too many different colors.
Some sites, perhaps getting kickbacks from the eyeglass industry, use horrible, low-contrast color combinations for text. The easiest to read is very dark text on a very light background.
9. Use responsive design responsibly.
Every up-to-date blog uses responsive design. When it works, it makes the site easier to read on small screens. Mistakes in it can result in problems that show up only in certain situations. Checking a site in multiple sizes and environments helps to make sure it will always look tidy.
If you do your design work on a desktop browser, there are two ways to do this. One, of course, is to view it on a phone. The other is to simulate a small screen in the browser. Most browsers have developer tools or plugins for simulating a mobile device. You should look at the page in phone and tablet screen sizes, and in portrait and landscape orientations.
Small-screen views hide some elements in order to make the rest readable. If the body text is too small, people won’t be able to read it. If hiding things makes it hard to navigate the site, they won’t get past the homepage. The blog’s theme should take care of the details. If it does a bad job, you need to look for a better theme. Take a look at this article by Talia Wolf on how to get a clean, uncluttered responsive design.
10. Break the rules when necessary.
Rules and principles aren’t the same. A principle says what you need to do; a rule says how to accomplish it. “Communicate effectively with your audience” is a principle; “use good grammar” is a rule. When the best way to communicate a point is to be deliberately ungrammatical, it ain’t nobody’s business if you do.
Each blog has its own style and personality. If your style means running a little wild with color or having an anything-goes comments section, then it can work for you. Just be aware of what rules you’re breaking and consider the cost. Even a specialized audience will get annoyed if your blog is more about itself than about giving them something of value.
Lots of blog sites don’t even pay attention to neatness and organization. It’s easy to get a competitive advantage by creating a site that’s easy to follow, loads quickly, and doesn’t have hidden or outdated information. A small amount of regular attention is all that’s necessary.