Check Out My New Look!

I like change and wanted a new blog template (check it out here – for those reading this post through a blog reader and didn’t already see it). One that was unique to only my blog. So, I set out to figure out a way to get it done.  I had three criteria for this change: 1. it had to be for free (or really close to free), 2. It had to be pleasant to look at and 3. It had to be better than (or just as nice as) my old template.

The main challenge was in the first criteria. Most of the blogs I love to visit have custom templates that could cost anywhere from $50 to who knows how much. My blog is just a hobby for me and since it doesn’t generate any real income (yet- I’m still hopeful ;), I couldn’t justify spending so much money on it. That’s also one of the reasons I use Blogger, not WordPress.

So, I set out to create my blog template for free. There was a lot of time, trial and error that went into it. It’s not the perfect template and I’m definitely no graphic designer, but I like it much more than what I had. And I learned a whole lot doing it!

Here are the steps I took:

  1. Research other blogs– When reading other blogs I made sure to note the features I did and did not like. Then I set out to find out how to implement the ones I liked. The blogs I found most insightful were the ones in the same genre as mine.
  2. Find a free template– I did a search for free templates- Google was my friend. Some of the free templates online are so professional looking that I figured I can download it and then customize it. When I compared the free templates I saw with the custom ones on some of the blogs I frequented, they didn’t seem all that different. I think the main difference were the custom pictures and logos. My thinking was that it’s cheaper to pay for a logo (if it came to that) than for an entire custom template.
  3. Testing my template– Once I had the template, I created a fake blog to test it out in and modify it in. Before moving the template to my site I wanted it to be absolutely perfect! Well, it’s not perfect yet, but it has all the key elements I wanted it to have. And they all work.
  4. Customizing the template– This step wasn’t as hard as I thought it would be. I have a limited knowledge of HTML, so I was able to stumble my way through to make the changes I wanted. Some changes I made were- fonts, link colors, image borders, line spacing, and other small aesthetic changes that may not have mattered, but definitely made me happier 🙂
  5. Add in the extras– the logo, slide show and the signature. The logo was important because that’s the first thing people see when they come to your site. The slide show was in the template, so I decided to use it… I may remove it later. The signature wasn’t really necessary, but was a feature I really liked in the other blogs I read, so I needed one too! I think it makes each post a little more personal.
  6. Recipe index– I would never call this a recipe/cooking blog, but when I first started blogging, I decided to add in some easy recipes so I‘d have a place to look them up. My sister had already typed up a bunch of them, so I just added them in. One thing I absolutely love is when any blog with recipes has an up to date index. Knowing myself, I didn’t think I’d be very good at maintaining a page with links on an ongoing basis. After a lot of research I finally found a super easy way to automatically index only my recipe posts. Again, it’s not perfect, but I think it’s pretty darn good. Let me know what you think!

After completely re-doing my blog template I noticed that I don’t even go to blog websites anymore. I use Google Reader and the template doesn’t shine through to the reader… so were all my efforts made in vain? I’m going to answer that question with a question- does it really matter if they were?  I enjoyed the process and like the results, so that’s what counts. Who knows, maybe one day my blog will be so popular I’ll have a whole staff of graphic designers out there to help me, but for now, I’ll just do what I can on my own.

So, I want to know what you think! Which features do you like, dislike or don’t care about? Do you pay attention to a blogs layout? How much does design impact your decision to follow a blog?

Until next time,