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Blogging 201: Audit Your Brand

To build a strong brand, you have to assess your blog, top to bottom. Today you’ll figure out what’s inconsistent or unhelpful — and start to fix it.

Welcome to Blogging U! This course isn't currently active, but you can learn more about what we offer and register for upcoming courses on the BU home page.

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Some of us have purely personal sites to discuss the day-to-day, while others are using our blogs as a springboard for other projects. No matter which describes you — or whether you’re a bit of both — you’re not just a blogger: you’re a brand.

You may never be Coca-Cola or Apple, but you can still use good branding to grow your blog.

Today’s assignment: audit your brand — look at all the ways you communicate information about your blog, and make sure they’re consistent, focused, and say what you want them to say.

Bonus points: make a test blog to use as your personal playground for testing changes.

Why do this?

  • Because every choice you make, from header image to background color to widget title, contributes to you brand (or hurts it).
  • Because a strong brand creates an emotional connection with readers, and that connection is what keeps them coming back.
  • Because your design choices aren’t just about appearances — the colors, fonts, and layouts you choose have a big impact on your words and photos. Good design makes good content even better.

Editor’s note: We know there’s a lot here! We don’t expect you to try all of these, nor do we expect you to finalize every element of your brand in one day. We do want you to start exploring how each element of your theme influences your brand and the perception of your blog, so that by the end of this challenge you’ll be able to make design choices with confidence.

A strong brand is more than a logo: it’s a guarantee. When readers see something associated with your brand — a post on your site, a guest post, a tweet, an email — they know what to expect, be that a laugh, a great DIY project, a recipe, parenting advice, or whatever else you kids are blogging about. It’s unique to you, and it’s distinctive.

The good news: you’re already a brand! As soon as you chose a theme, picked a blog name, and started publishing, you announced to the world, “This is the place on the internet where you come to find XYZ.” The better news: you can shape it even further, and make sure your brand is helping you meet your goals.

First, focus on your goal. Think back to yesterday: why do you blog? What do you want to accomplish? What is the thing you’d like your blog to be known for? This will be the lens you use to dissect your blog.

Second, examine your blog from header to footer. Consider your theme. Look at every widget, page, and image and ask: does this clarify and reinforce my focus? How will this help me meet my goal?

Here’s a checklist to get you going. Each point includes a link to more info:

Third, start introducing changes that reinforce your brand. Make one update today. You don’t have to burn things down and rebuild — just start making tweaks that move your site closer to your vision, and watch them add up. Here are some easy starting points:

Even if you’re happy with your look, we encourage you to experiment and preview new themes, colors, and fonts. They can drastically alter the feeling of your text and photos, and you may discover that a design tweak is just what you needed to make your posts pop. Pick at least one of these, and give it a try.

(By the way: if you think customizing means spending money, think again. Lots of modifications don’t require an upgrade; you can use a free site with a free theme, make your own header image or custom widgets with free images and fonts, and upload a free background image.)

More on Fonts, Colors, Backgrounds, and Headers

If you’re still developing your look or trying to figure out what you brand is, you’re probably trying to decide what you want to do with your fonts, colors, background, and header — four major elements that impact your blog’s look. Here a bit of advice and inspiration for each.

Fonts say a great deal — they can scream, whisper, or purr. They can be elegant or punchy, playful or stern, modern or ornate. They add color and depth to your words and set a mood.

Whether or not you’ve upgraded your site, you can experiment with fonts in your header image. Try choosing and pairing typefaces, matching them to your brand’s personality, like these sites have:

http://photofocus.com/ chose a background image, logo, site title, and color palette all fitting of their content.

http://photofocus.com/ chose a background image, logo, site title, and color palette fitting their modern, photography-focused site.

http://hobbybotics.com/ chose a font, site title, and header background image that all fit the content you'll find on their site.

http://hobbybotics.com/ uses a technology-oriented font to immediately set the stage for a blog about robotics.

http://bigalittlea.com/ plays with fonts and color, showing with the images of the mixer and the sewing machine that they cover making many things.

http://bigalittlea.com/ plays with fonts and color in a header that evokes the fun, crafty feeling of the blog.

If you do have an upgrade, head to the Customizer to try different fonts for your post and page titles and regular text. (You can preview these even if you don’t have the upgrade, to see what you like.)

Paint the Picture with a Palette.

Colors can be warm (reds, yellows, oranges) or cool (blues, greens). Some colors, like purple or gray, can go either way. Colors can also be saturated and bold (a deep crimson, a rich midnight blue) or soft and washed-out (a pale pink, a barely-there yellow). Think about yesterday’s assignment, and figure out which colors complement the brand you’re trying to build.

The need for color also varies with your content. If you’re an artist or photographer, consider a neutral palette to let your work stand out. Longer-form posts need a simpler palette to keep from distracting the eye; shorter posts can handle bolder color.

http://isabellescurlycakes.com/ dives in with chocolate and cherries for this cupcake shop.

http://isabellescurlycakes.com/ uses a sweet pink background and icons to reinforce her sweet creations.

http://buildingblockslanguage.com/ uses pastel colors that match the books the baby is reading.

http://buildingblockslanguage.com/ uses pastel colors that match baby books and create a playful yet soothing mood.

Brand your Header from the Beginning

What does your header say about you? Is it legible? Can visitors tell what your site is about just from looking?

http://gamemoir.com/ worked a joystick into their header image.

http://gamemoir.com/ worked a joystick into their header image.

A great header doesn’t require a graphic design degree and expensive image editing software. You can create a custom header completely free using images you already have and easy-to-use online tools like PicMonkey — here’s how.

Background Wins for Best Supporting Role

Think your background is just that — in the background? Take a look at how different the same site feels just by varying the background color.

Choose a background that doesn’t overwhelm your content, whether a solid color or a small repeating image. You can find free patterns and images perfect for backgrounds at sites like Subtle Patterns, Background Labs, and bgpatterns.

Although a subtle background is recommended, don't let that deter you from trying something fun like stacks of paint swatches on the http://jandlpaintingpros.com/ site. If it fits your content, try it out.

Although a subtle background is recommended, don’t let that deter you from trying something fun, like the stacks of paint swatches on the http://jandlpaintingpros.com/ site. If it fits your content, try it out.

A few background caveats:

  • Beware of using photos where the most important part of the image ends up hidden behind your posts — it looks messy, and doesn’t allow the image to communicate anything about your blog.
  • If you’re not sure where to start, pull a color or two out of your header or another image on your home page.
  • Animated GIFs: just say no.

If you want to try all of this on a test site, so your blog’s appearance isn’t constantly changing, here’s a tutorial to get you started.

Chat more over on The Commons.

Now, go play!

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