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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.

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.

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.

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. If you do purchase Custom Design, more design options become accessible.)

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 have Custom Design, 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 have Custom Design, 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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  1. Hey fellow blogging201 classmates. Can any of you check out my blog and give me some tips on things.
    What are the best dark themes to use for WordPress that allow for headers of a decent size and sidebar widgets? Is there anyone that can help me in creating a nice header for my site?
    bladeslife.wordpress.com

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Hmmm. I think your best bet is to choose a theme and use a dark background of smoking. I did that. One issue I run into a lot is people using white text on a black background. To me, it just detracts from any blog because it puts a subtle strain not he eye. You could use black background with white space for the posts and black ink. Simplistic, yes, but I find it works best for actual readability. I see no header on your blog. If you choose to only use background black instead of all dark colors for your main body, you can still set a darker, more somber mood by using stylistic headers, image widgets, and more. Make everything work together to elicit a mood instead of trying to conquer it all in one go. Look at some blogs you like that have a darker theme that you actually spend time reading or looking at. What kinds of things are they doing that you can take pieces of. My 2 cents.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Generally, no, but it does depend on the theme. Most themes allow you to mess around with the background for free. And of course, many allow you to do a straight black background if you’d like. You can find it under appearance on your dashboard.

        Like

    2. Hi ShadeBlade17! Why don’t you check out the ‘Dusk to Dawn’ theme? It has some dark sections but the text is on a light background which would be easier on the eye than all grey. You might try putting some photos in your blog posts too just to vary the look and illustrate your stories?
      My own blog is mainly photographic and uses Pictorico so it’s a bit different but a few images in any blog will draw the eye and help engage your reader’s interest. Like your story about Hunter btw – keep writing!

      Like

      1. Thanks for the reference to that theme. I’m trying it out for awhile to see how I like it. Any idea on good places to make headers or ideas for them? I’m not as good at visual things (I’m a writer but I don’t learn well through images, so I never know how to make good ones)

        Like

  2. I recently started my blog and thought that i am done with choosing the theme, font, color etc.; but seems like there is more to it. I will revisit and reconsider these options.
    As mentioned here few tweaks to start with. I will see what best I can do to enhance the purpose of my blog and make the context more clear. If any of you decide to drop by and have a look at my blog please suggest what feature change would make my blog more presentable to you. Highly appreciated.

    Thanks!
    Ruchi

    Like

    1. Hi Ruchi, I have just had a look at your blog. Love your enthusiasm for your subject matter. I have one or tow comments for you.
      I had a little bit of difficulty reading the words in grey on yur header. Think the contrast betweeen words and background would make that easier for the reader.
      Also in your wordings, there are some annoying breaks in words. Maybe play around with the words that you use, so that it gives a more uniform look to it, so that words do not end up being broken up on 2 different lines.
      Hope this is useful for you.
      Blessings Joy

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Thanks for the feedback. I will try and work on placing a header image. It may help for the contrast with the words.
        I also felt the breaks annoying as they appear at random and change the outlook of the post. I will re-write the sentences accordingly.
        I also checked your blog and it contains lots of useful information. It is different then what I get to read daily so I will follow and look for more helpful tips.

        Liked by 1 person

      1. Hi Elizabeth! Thanks for dropping by. I checked your blog and it seems fun. Sure you are having a blend of north at south. Loved your dogs too!

        Like

  3. Hello, Driago Olinde here. Please feel free to check out my blog and see if there is any improvements that you would like to see. I do my best to update my blog and try to make it exciting as well as able to read without being too crowded. Most of the site templates that would work with my blog style would need to be paid for which I don’t have money. Any free theme suggestions would be greatly appreciated. Good luck to everyone with Blogging 201.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Mmm, I actually like it a lot! When you try out different themes, you will find that they give your blog different personalities, so it all depends on how you feel about them. But I like it. 🙂

      Like

  4. Hi, I started my blog over a year ago but then took a long break and just 2 weeks ago I decided to give it a go again. I’ve changed the background, font, photo, everything really and would love to know your opinion. I am not a blogger I’m just starting small steps at a time but hope I’ll enjoy this journey.
    Thanks
    Kate

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Hi Kate, I like the clean crisp appearance of your blog. I certainly know what it is you do. I would like to see you being a bit more positive “I will try……” doesn’t engage me as a reader. (Note to self, will have to see if I have done that too)
        I linked to your FB and website and I have to admit your blog looks cleaner and criper than your website imho 🙂

        On the painful back front. If I can offer any help or assitance please ask. I am a McTimoney Chiropractor and health coach. There maybe more that you can do other than take painkillers and wait for surgery.

        Oh one other thing about your blog. When you do have the time, you could write 2 or 3 posts and then schedule them to go out a couple of days apart. Maybe just add a photo of a seasonal item or something.

        Hope my comments have been helpful.
        Blessings
        Joy

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Hi and thank you 🙂 OK I will be more positive in my blog (I’ll try, as that’s how everyone sees me in real life 🙂 ) Writing few posts and scheduling sounds good but it isn’t as easy as I’d like it to be lol English isn’t my 1st language and it takes me a while to make it ready to post (I get back to it few times to check grammar etc.)
        As for my back – my disc slipped and is pressing sciatica nerve, I went to chiropractor but it only made it worst (couple of visits and I couldn’t sit as a result). My consultant says only operation can help (but it’s just 70%) if you have any ideas where I should seek help feel free to email me kate@katestreasures.co.uk

        My website… yes that’s a bit of pain and I am constantly trying to make it look better I just need more time to think what I really want to do with it 🙂
        I really appreciate everything you wrote
        Thanks
        Take care
        Kate

        Liked by 1 person

  5. I am currently rebranding myself. This article has helped more than you can imagine. Updating small parts of your site does make things feel different. In fact, it inspires you to write new content – something I have found myself doing.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I love PicMonkey, and I’ve found that Canva.com is also a good online tool for creating banners, post images, etc! I used it to create one of the buttons in my sidebar, as well as my Stitch Fix review visuals. Super easy way to help keep a consistent brand style throughout your blog!

    Like

  7. Great ideas! I’m looking forward to trying these out. We kind of used the first thing that looked good to us instead of trying out a lot of things. So now we will go back and try to experiment more.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Wow! blogging 201 just paid for itself. It seems like a simple idea to create a test blog to play around with. Since going public, I’ve been reluctant to try out new changes because it would disrupt anyone who was watching the blog.

    Is it possible to copy an entire blog (including content) to facilitate creating a test site?

    Thanks for a great class.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Thank you for the pointer to last years 201 blog. Is it possible to copy design elements (Theme, selected widgets, etc) and content (pages, posts, etc) from one blog to the other? Being a lazy person, I don’t want to recreate every choice I’ve already made in the design, but want to be able to experiment from a faithful copy of the published blog.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. No, you can’t copy design elements, but you can copy pages and posts by exporting them from your current blog and importing them into your test blog. The export/import functions are under “Tools” in your dashboard.

        Like

  9. Hi everyone in Blogging201! I wanted to ask if any of you could take some time out of your day to spend checking out my blog that I just recently decided to properly start up and give me some advice on anything you’d like to see from the blog or aesthetic changes that could improve my blog’s experience?

    The focus of my blog is a lifestyle blog where I simply share my experiences from food I’ve eaten and places I’ve visited. It’s relatively new so there isn’t too much content on it yet!

    Thank you in advance!

    Like

    1. I like it. You’ve done some things to liven up the side bar and draw people into your posts with a simple theme. If I might make a suggestion, you might want to go with a more food themed header if you’ll be concentrating mainly on that. I didn’t immediately get the food connection until I looked at posts. You want to grab people immediately so they kind of know what’s going on with the blog even before reading the about page. Great start!

      Liked by 2 people

    2. I like your blog, and I think theme fits it very well. You may want to experiment by trying to add some colours to it. This would obviously depend on whether or not your theme supports such kind of customisation though.

      Like

    3. Hi Carla,

      Congrats on starting a new blog! I’m a new blogger too, with a primary focus on travel and secondary focus on food, preferably food while I’m travelling!

      I agree with what everyone else said. I think your header photo is pretty, but maybe a food or travel related picture might help to grab people’s attention straightaway as to what your blog is about. Also, maybe try to link the colours of your header picture to the colours of your blog. Your header is currently pink, yellow and green, but the colours of your blog are black and blue. Can the text colours be changed to something that matches your header photo? Or vice versa?

      As we’re both new, I’d appreciate if if you’d like to take a look at my blog too 🙂

      Thanks!

      Like

  10. I too can only go with the “free” features of the theme until I pay to get access to change fonts etc. but I don’t want to pay until I absolutely love the blog’s name.

    At present I’m happy with everything except the Title “Pawcific Purrsea” and I’m grappling at what else to call it. Its a blog from a real cat’s perspective, and the cat goes boating and performs cute cat tricks.

    The purrfect name would be something along the lines of “Bailey Boat Cat”. What about “Powerboat Purrsea” or “Purrsea Cat”? (He’s also named after the greek hero Perseus.)

    With thanks I welcome any thoughts on the blog’s name/title 🙂

    Like

  11. Thank you so much for this post! I started my blog 2 years ago as a 101 in 1001 list and have kept up with it as a day-to-day “here’s what I’m doing” type blog. But now, I’m really interested in using my blog to promote local business and connect people in the community. This has given me a lot to think about… I think my first step will be a logo. Any pointers on how to design a pretty logo (for someone who isn’t a design guru)?

    Like

    1. I love that theme. I went with it for a while myself. You’ve got a great color palate and you’ve knocked out having great categories. I’d make 2 suggestions. 1) since it’s a cycling blog (or at least it says so in the title though I know you talk about travel and culture and other things) I’d include more pictures of cycling on the side bar near the top. More bike pictures in general, perhaps even themed image widgets, bringing everything back to the theme of the blog. 2) Related, you’ve got a lot of great writing going on. I’d be a little worried it might seem overpowering to a person just showing up. Perhaps image widgets instead of so much writing on the sidebar. Just a couple of thoughts. Good stuff.

      Like

      1. Ok, I’ve always wondered about too much writing on the side bar. Thank you. I’ll think about cycling imagery: I also have regular readers who are not cyclists! Don’t want to turn them off either.

        Like

    1. It depends on what you want to do with your blog, but I would add a bit more colour, photos, background pictures, this kind of stuff, rather than just text. You definitely have got contents, which is the most important thing in a blog, so just need to make it look pretty now. 🙂

      Anyway, I am a new follower, do check my blog out too and hopefully follow back.

      Liked by 1 person

  12. Hello everyone,

    I think I ask this question a lot but I just want advice on what can I do to make my blog better? I want to bring a lot of different topics to my readers of just daily life topics that we discuss randomly but, I also want promote my freelance writing which I have yet to do. So any tips, advice, and constructive criticism is welcome. http://www.chatwithkesh.wordpress.com

    Like

  13. Wow, I updated my header (after a LONG time) with the title of the blog (instead of using the automated title). My headers rotate between 3 pictures. It too way longer than it should have. Sigh. Suffering for my art.

    Like

  14. Hello! Yay finally 201 has begun. I have been examining my blog and I decided to create a separate page for awards (only because I don’t want the post to take away from the theme of the blog), but I am not sure how to put my postings on a “Home” page. Also, how would I go about moving the post I wrote about the award to the “Awards” page. I realize this is probably 101 discussion but in examining my brand these type of posts kind of mess with my blog theme. Thank you for help.

    My blog site is http://givealittleclap.wordpress.com/

    Like

    1. The easy way: cut and paste the post content onto the page.

      You can’t actually move a post onto a page. You can display a post on a page, but the post is still it’s own thing, and will still be part of the main stream of posts.

      Like

    1. I have no idea, unfortunately… but I like what it looks like at present. I am a new follower, so do stop by too. I blog about music as one of my topics, so I do hope you’ll follow back. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Margo I love your use of words, “excuse the potholes” lovely. A suggestion here, Could you come up with something more in keeping with your language than “blogs I follow”? This doesn’t seem in keeping with your beautiful use of language. You are able to change this, in the widget area i think, you get the ability to put your own words in. Blessings Joy

        Like

  15. wow thats a tought taks, i think i need more as one day to get that done:) but happy to try and learn. Rather do it really on a test page as to mess up what i tried to work out so hard latley!

    Like

  16. Hi all. The more I blog, the more I realise that branding is important and the better I get at it. Unfortunately, my theme is apparently too old, so can’t be customised much, but I love how it fits my blog’s personality. I have decided to use the logo for my FB page as well as my Twitter account and think it looks good. 🙂

    Like

    1. Hi Angie K, I’m sure having the theme fit your blog persona is more important than it being customisable – bit like buying ready to wear and looking great in it rather than haute couture and looking like a turnip! I like your theme/outfit, it suits you 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Hey, at last I managed to find how to reply to your comment! Thanks very much for your comment, I just visited your blog – looks beautiful! I am now a new follower, and I do hope you’ll follow me too. 🙂

        Like

  17. Hi all, I have been blogging for a few years and I can’t remember the number of times I have changed the theme of my blog, backgounds are usualy seasonal or it changes with my mood, I love trying new themes, only got go back to bueno theme..do you think it is bad to change themes so much? The appearence of WP changes all the time and we don’t seem to be put off by it.
    http://huevosfritos.wordpress.com/

    Like

    1. I can’t believe you had the patience and determination to change themes over and over again. I have the Bueno theme too and I was pulling my hair out learning it! The thought of changing to a new theme makes me want to cringe!

      Like