Yes, as an inbound marketer, your blog content has to be amazing. However, even the best content can be hampered by bad design. As a business becoming a blogging machine, it is easy to focus 100% on content and ignore valuable design elements of your blog that can act as powerful boosters of traffic and leads of your business.
Think about it this way: Would you buy an expensive sports car and drive around with four flat tires? You'd still be able to go fast, but not nearly as fast as you could be. A clear, lead-focused blog design will help turbo-charge the results of your inbound marketing content.
So what does a great business blog look like? The design itself could be one of an infinite number of choices. However great business blog designs share common traits of success.
10 Traits of Perfectly Designed Business Blogs
1. A Call-to-Action in Every Blog Post - In a post about blog design, it would be simple for us to start out with some "fluffy" design advice. But that wouldn't help your company's bottom line, would it? Even if you stopped reading this post after this tip, you'd still leave with its most important takeaway. You MUST put a call-to-action in each of your blog posts. Yes, you should test the design and placement of your calls-to-action, but first and foremost, you need use them in your posts. This is one of the most powerful levers for transforming your blog into a well-designed lead generation machine.
2. Post Previews - Marketers must think like publishers. It's easy to think of your blog as just a blog. Instead, you should think of it as a digital publication. Your blog is just like a trade magazine for your industry. One trait of magazines that people love is the table of contents that provide a preview for all of the articles in that issue. Instead of displaying your entire, most recent blog article on your blog's homepage, display only an excerpt and an image from several of your most recent posts instead. This will allow visitors to scan some of your blog's content and give them a choice of what to read first.
3. Clear Subscription Call-to-Action - Every visitor to your blog isn't going to convert into a lead instantly. Some visitors will need to learn about your business over time. A way to help expedite this process is to get more visitors to subscribe to your blog via email or RSS. To do this, you need to have a clear call-to-action that encourages people to subscribe via either method.
4. Clear Connection to the Core Business Website - Your blog isn't an island. Instead, it is one part of a successful website. You blog design must make it clear and simple for a blog reader to get to key parts of your core website. It is great if you have awesome content, but it needs to be connected to your products or services to help move relevant visitors further along in the buying cycle. Have a clear blog navigation that connects to your website, and consider using some sidebar real estate to direct visitors to key website pages.
5. Limit Social Media Sharing Buttons - Too much of a good thing can be bad. Yes, you want people to share your blog posts, and having social sharing buttons on your blog is important. However, giving people too many sharing options is distracting. It actually causes users to become overwhelmed and subsequently take no action. Instead, limit the sharing buttons on your blog to only those networks that send traffic and leads to your business. If you don't get any traffic from StumbleUpon, then why clutter your blog with its button?
6. Allow Simple Sorting of Content - Depending on how prolific of a writer you are and how long your business has been blogging, your blog design needs to make it easier for visitors to find older and relevant content. As a marketer, you have several design elements to help achieve this, including blog search, tagging, recommendation widgets, etc. As with social media sharing buttons, you don't need to use all of these. Organize some user testing sessions to understand what people unfamiliar with your blog find to be the best methods for discovering past content.
7. Prominent Post Image Display - A great blog is visual. You shouldn't knock readers over with block and blocks of text as soon as they arrive. Look at your blog design. How are you using images to draw in readers? There are many ways to showcase images from posts in the design of your blog. It can be as simple as an image next to an intro paragraph on your blog's homepage or something far more customized. The important thing to remember is to not make assumptions on what your readers want. Again, conduct user tests to collect feedback and determine the best option for your audience instead.
8. Prominent Headline Formatting - In your blog design, make sure that your headline is formatted correctly. This means it needs to be the star of the show when it comes to the text on a page. Make sure it is significantly larger in font size than the body or subhead text on the page. This may seem like a small detail, but making your headers pop makes a huge difference!
9. Fast Page Load Times - Online readers are impatient. When they are looking for information, they want it NOW. If your blog post takes too long to load, then your visitor will bounce and go elsewhere. In order to prevent this issue, you need to test your blog's load time. This free tool from Pindom will tell you how long it takes for your blog to load. Ideally, the load time for your blog would be under 2 seconds.
10. Clean Sidebar - A blog's sidebar can easily become the junkyard of the page. It's all too easy to keep cluttering a sidebar until it has a seemingly endless list of useless widgets. Look at the sidebar of your blog. Look at each widget or design aspect of that sidebar. Does it really serve a purpose? Is that individual element encouraging the behavior that you want your readers to take? If the answer to either of these questions is no, then delete it from your sidebar. It's about time: De-clutter that blog sidebar and get users to take the actions you want.
What other blog design best practices would you add to this list?