Website Design 101: How to Not Suck

It has come to my attention lately that some writers’ websites (and blogs) are, shall we say, lacking. While I generally refrain from passing judgment, especially on my own blog, the reality is that I am human and I do judge. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t.

You see, I tend to stroll around various writing and blogging groups on Facebook and often take a look at what members are doing on their own websites.
One thing that has stood out to me is that most bloggers have well-designed, clean and overall easy to read sites.

Writers, on the other hand, tend to have websites that look like they have not seen an update since the 90s dotcom crash. Bloggers, some of yours look the same way.
Although I am not a website/blog designer, my four years of blogging and plenty of “What the fuck was I thinking?” mistakes have helped me learn what separates the good, the ugly and the, “Holy shit! Hire a designer, pronto!”

So with that said, here are 5 tips to make a knock your socks off blog/website:

1. A clean and easy to navigate layout wins.

Employ the KIS[S] method when it comes to your layout/design: Keep it simple (let’s just leave the word stupid outta this). A white background with black font for the main text is fine. Black backgrounds, funky textures and other random colors make it hard to read and are a turn-off to readers. This is your professional website, not Myspace circa 2003.

2. Be smart when choosing fonts.

If you want to be viewed as a professional writer, don’t use annoying script fonts for your main text, sidebars or your social media and contact info.

If you want to be viewed as a dumbass who is clueless about using the right font, then go right ahead and use that weird illegible script font.

3. Have fun with color…but don’t get crazy

For the love of everyone’s eyesight do not use colors like neon green. Or, if you must, use it sparingly. No one wants to reach for their sunglasses while trying to read your website. Color can be a good thing when done right, but can be all sorts of bad when used incorrectly.

4. Use a professional (or as close to one as possible) photo.

That duckface selfie you snapped in the bathroom mirror screams rank amateur. The same is true for any photo that is blurry, under/overexposed, or looks like something taken while out barhopping.

If you cannot afford a professional photographer (please, avoid portrait studios a la Picture People or Sears, they look cheesy and fake), find a friend who is reasonably competent or get a membership of stock photos website. Use good lighting and a non-distracting background and you’re good to go.

5. Take the clutter out to the trash.

If you have old, outdated widgets or ads that are not relevant to your website, send them packing. Clutter says, “I don’t care how this looks.” If you’re like me, you tend to thrive on a bit of clutter. But, in the interest of maintaining a professional website, keep the clutter to your personal desk where no one, other than family, your spouse/SO or your cat can see it.

BONUS TIP:

6. Learn how to work with code!

I cannot stress this enough. Often times in various forums I read something like: “I am not tech savvy. I know nothing about web design or HTML/CSS.”

Stop that crap right now. You can learn how to do it.

Is it challenging? Well, yea, a little bit. There is a learning curve, much like many other things in life. But one of the best ways to maintain your own website is to learn a little about coding.

Firebug, a plug-in on Mozilla Firefox, is a great way to learn. Hover over a section on your site and BOOM! It tells you what it is and where to find it in your stylesheet.

For self-hosted WordPress users, it’s usually stylesheet.css in the editor section on your dashboard. Need more help? Google is definitely your friend on this one.

Website design doesn’t have to be a nightmare that causes you to cuss like a sailor or wake up in cold sweats.

Remember this: Your content can be phenomenal but if the packaging design says 1995, it may be time to go back to the drawing board. Yes, I know how you feel about your website is important, but if you want to stand out in this competitive world a good design is crucial.

Now, stop playing Solitaire and get to work.

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