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Blog Design is NOT for Dummies

by Fadra Nally on December 10, 2013

My friend Melissa Culbertson, the genius behind the blog Momcomm, is officially a published author but I hesitate to tell you about her book. Because it’s called Blog Design For Dummies. And frankly, I don’t think blog design is for dummies.

First of all, there’s knowing the difference between a blog and a website (not too much). Knowing what platform you want to publish on (I’m a girl all the way). And then finally picking out a template and coming up with a design for your blog that’s pretty (or manly?), eye-catching, easy to read, and follows good elements of design.

Yeah. Easier said than done.

Luckily, Blog Design for Dummies could actually be called Blog Design for Beginners.

As a beginner in blog design (not necessarily blogging), Melissa’s book takes you from 18 extremely detailed chapters starting with understand the principles of design and ending with examples of some of the most well-designed blogs out there.

If you’re looking for a step-by-step guide on how to do-it-yourself (yes, she even includes some of the techie details) with full color examples and an easy-to-read style, you won’t be disappointed. You should, however, have a lot of time on your hands. It’s a long book and rightfully so. It’s a very complex topic and one that I couldn’t even begin to tackle.

I know what I like and what I don’t like. I’m very good at critiquing others and knowing what they should do differently on their blog (I also do this with interior design so keep this in mind if you ever invite me over to your house). But sometimes, starting from scratch on my own blog or trying to modify what I have puts me at a standstill.

Once I do kickstart my process, I can get an idea of what I want but them I’m limited by the knowledge and technical capable of ensuring that it’s something I can actually do.

I recently switched my personal lifestyle blog, All Things Fadra, from Thesis to Genesis. I had been on Thesis for years but had heard unkind things about their latest release and support (although this blog is still running on Thesis). And with a theme (or framework, in this case) change, came a perfectly good excuse to redesign my blog.

This is when Melissa’s book really came into play for me because it serves as a reference book on my shelf. I pull it out, search the index, and go straight to what I need.

For example:

With my new design, I knew I wanted the header to be strictly text-based. And that meant I needed a font to keep it interesting. I knew about “web-safe” fonts, or at least I thought I did, and didn’t like anything I was seeing. So I turned to Chapter 6: Selecting Fonts and Colors.

finally learned about Google web fonts (they’re pretty cool) and earmarked a whole page of free fonts available for use in design. Believe it or not, this was the longest part of my design process (second only to choosing the theme on Genesis). For the record, I ended up using “Beautiful Every Time” as my header font, with “Mossy” for my tagline.

But my site redesign isn’t even close to being done. And if you’re a do-it-yourselfer like me, you’ll always be tinkering with things.

  • I still haven’t implemented a footer. And for that, I’ll be referencing Chapter 8: Customizing Your Header, Footer, and Background.
  • I have to build a sitemap. For that, I’ll be using Chapter 10: Navigation and SEO Basics.
  • For my Charitable Influence site refresh, I’ll be changing the layout and looking closely at Chapter 11: Laying Out Your Navigation Menu and Sidebars.
  • For a work project, I’m moving a Joomla intranet site to WordPress and in the process, heavily consulting Chapter 12: Making Content Easy to Find.

Even with all of this great content at my fingertips, I have a confession to make. Melissa sent me a complimentary copy of her book shortly after it was published a few months ago. And despite her even thanking me in the Acknowledgements (we’re friends as well as colleagues), I still dragged my feet on reviewing this book.

Can you review a dictionary and tell me how good it is? Can you highly rate a thesaurus? (Those are rhetorical questions – I’m going somewhere with this). Melissa’s book is an absolute must-have reference book for any blogger who wants to learn about blog design, needs a reference for where to begin, or simply wants a sounding board for their design choices. But my review has been late in coming because it sits on the shelf and I use it as needed. I’m just glad it’s there.

If you haven’t made out your blogging holiday wish list, put this on it.

Disclosure: There are some affiliate links in this post which would help me out if you bought the book but it would actually benefit Melissa way more if you decided to make the purchase!


Why Bloggers Should Stop Promoting Each Other

by Fadra Nally on April 3, 2013

You read that right. Bloggers need to stop promoting each other. But don’t worry, as with most statements, there are some caveats.

Let’s start with the why.

Way back when, in the early days of my blogging career (circa 2009), I stumbled onto the blogging scene. I was a newbie to the extreme not really even knowing that there was a whole community surrounding the world of bloggers.

I remember receiving the first comment on my blog from someone I didn’t know. I went through the same emotions many bloggers do early on in their career:

How did they find me?

What compelled them to leave me a comment?

Should I comment on their blog?

How do I keep them coming back?

Frankly, it was all about relationship building. I might read something I like and share it with my friends. I might visit someone else’s blog who visited mine and leave a comment for them. Or I might attend a Bloggy Boot Camp and find out that there are real people behind all of these online blogs. These real people became real friends and reading their blog was like checking in on them on a regular basis.

But that’s all changed. Or at least, it seems that it has.

Not to put the blame on Triberr but I think a lot of the relationship building ending around the time that Triberr really catalyzed the idea of link sharing. Triberr was meant to be a group of like-minded content creators interested in sharing each other’s content to audiences of similar interests. Instead, it evolved (very quickly) into hundreds of bloggers in many, many groups resulting in a Twitter feed of nothing but link sharing.

Triberr certainly wasn’t the first to come up with this idea. They simply automated it.

I participate in many Facebook groups of bloggers who believe in promoting each other’s content. Whatever it is. Share it on Facebook, pin it on Pinterest, tweet it on Twitter. And the members perform the obligatory tasks knowing the same will be done for them. And it goes beyond the basics as well. There are groups just for pinning or for stumbling or for Klout or for Alexa rankings. Everyone’s trying to game the system and I can’t say that I blame them.

I have to imagine that it works for many bloggers. By the sheer volume of distribution, I would imagine that there is a increase in traffic, which perhaps makes it all worthwhile for them.

But here’s why I recommended against it.

Bloggers have lost a lot of their authenticity and credibility. Now, I don’t mean as writers. That a whole separate topic when it comes to writing with/for/about brands. I’m talking about a blogger’s opinion.

When I tweet a link on Twitter, it’s because I’ve read it, I like it, and feel it’s worth sharing with my followers. The end.

When I share a link on Facebook, it’s because I’ve read it, I like it, and feel it’s worth sharing with my friends. The end.

When I pin something on Pinterest, it’s because I think it’s cool. The end.

Call me old-fashioned but that’s how I think things should still be done. Let me give you some examples of what I consider the right way and the wrong way.

Now, I have nothing against @richiekawamoto (I don’t actually even follow him) but if you look at his timeline of tweets, you’ll see something like this:

Based on Richie’s bio, he focuses on strategic marketing and PR for brands. It makes sense that he wants to share content that is relevant to his field and his audience. But what he’s lacking is his endorsement of the content. These days, a retweet DOES NOT equal an endorsement and people will even tell you so! I want to know why Richie thinks we need to read this content. What he found interesting or compelling.

Let me show you some examples that strike my fancy:

I don’t follow Stacey but I do follow @jaymelamm who retweeted this. She tweeted a link and then added a comment and a link to her friend, making this tweet personally relevant and appealing.

Here’s another one:

Carolyn tweeted out a link from a Yahoo story and added her own commentary. And it certainly caught my eye (humor always does).

However you choose to format it, when you’re sharing content on Twitter or Facebook, add your thoughts and opinions and tell your audience why you read something, what you liked about it, and why they might like to read it too. If you are linking to support a fellow blogger, those few words will carry your share so much further.

Finally, I’m not here to say we should never share each other’s content. If you have a “tribe” of 5 to 10 bloggers and you all read each other’s blogs and really want to help each other out, by all means, do it! But take the time to share with purpose and give it a proper endorsement.

This post has been brewing in my head for quite some time but really came to light last night when a Twitter friend “shouted” out amidst all the Twitter parties and links being shared:

What do you think? Have we lost true and authentic communications? Do endorsements mean anything to you anymore or is it all about the numbers? Weigh in!




Thinning Out the Twitter Herd

November 13, 2012

I joined Twitter back in 2008. I wear that like a badge of honor that indicates that I, for once, was an early adopter. The fact of the matter is that while I joined at an early date, I didn’t really get Twitter until I started using it in earnest in 2009. And then a love [...]

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5 Reasons to Celebrate a Blogoversary

October 11, 2012

Let’s get something straight. There is no correct way to spell “blogoversary.” You’ll see it as blogoversary (my preferred spelling), blogiversary (like anniversary), or blogaversary. But let’s face it. It’s a made up word. Does that make it a made up celebration? Of course. But here are a few reasons I think you should pause every year [...]

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Pitch of the Week: How Cheated Me – UPDATED

September 27, 2012

I should know better. I read bad pitches on a daily basis. Most I casually discard because they are so poorly written or completely irrelevant to me. But I do usually read them. I do a quick scan for the following: What product or brand is this pitch for? Who is contacting me on behalf [...]

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Just Say NO to Blogging Contests (and other rules about compensation for blogging)

September 11, 2012

As I celebrated my third “blogoversary” this week, or the third anniversary of my very first post on my personal blog I took a little time to go back and read some of my early posts and reflect on how much I’ve learned in those three short years. I must admit that I’m not offended [...]

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The Problem with Blogger Lists

August 28, 2012

Every time a top 100 Blogger List come out, I find a problem with it. And no, it’s not that I’m not on it. The problem is that they are subjective and subjectivity reigns supreme in the blogosphere. Looking at tools like Klout or PeerIndex, everyone is trying to assign a score. They are trying to [...]

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The Blogger-Brand Experience at BlogHer12

August 16, 2012

It’s been over a week since I returned from NYC, home of this year’s BlogHer conference. I pondered over the experience from a personal blogging standpoint. I wrote about it three time over (see my BlogHer12 posts on my personal blog). I loved it. I hated it. But I shall return next year for the [...]

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When You Sponsor a Conference: Top Five Tips for Brands

July 26, 2012

Nakeva Corothers via Compfight Last week, as I was jumping all over bloggers about their behavior in regards to conferences, brands, and swag, I linked to a post about what brands can expect after BlogHer. In fact, after I wrote that post last year, many of those brands visited my site and read the post. [...]

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Dear BlogHer Sponsors… They Don’t Speak For Me

July 17, 2012

This post is for brands and bloggers. For brands, it’s more of a caution and clarification about who bloggers really are. For bloggers, think “What Not to Wear” for blogging. We’ll call it, “What Not to Do.” Blog conference season is in full swing with the grandmommy of them all right around the corner. BlogHer [...]

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