Secrets to a successful blog: Aesthetics

How your blog looks is more important than you think. These are the secrets.

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Isaac Mao, a Shanghai-based software engineer, shows off China's first online blog site during a 2007 interview in Shenzhen. After discovering blogs in 2002, he was struck by the freedom of expression they offer ordinary citizens, so he created to bring blogging to China. Your blog can cover any topic that interests you, but if you make it ugly, readers won't stick around.

Template: There are some ridiculously ugly blogs out there, most of them are on Google's Blogspot platform. Switch to WordPress, take one of their simplest templates and then spend a few hours learning basic HTML so you can manipulate the code and personalize it a bit. This costs you nothing other than time well-spent. You can get a WordPress designer for $500 to whip you up an original looking site if you want.

URL: Buy your own domain for $13 dollars. No more .blogspot or .wordpress or .typepad or .tumbler. If you're going to do this then really do this.

Color: Stop blogging on black backgrounds. I know it looks cool but I promise you that twice as many people will read your stuff if you listen to me. They will stay on longer and read more. Even Bloomberg went from "noir" to white, do you know more than the most successful financial media company in the world? I'm not saying your background has to be as white as Nicole Kidman's thighs; FT Alphaville and Barry both write on a light beige and it looks terrific. Just stop with the black.

Text: If your visitor clicks a link, hits your page and is greeted with a wall of text, that visitor is gone. No one wants to read something that looks like homework, no matter well written it is. Your first paragraph should never be more than one or two sentences. Each paragraph thereafter should be 3 to 4 sentences maximum. If you're over 500 words for the whole post, you better be writing something important or brilliant, otherwise just stop. The markets are moving and people won't even give your post a chance if it looks unconquerable.

Font: Keep font color or font style changes intra-post to a bare minimum or your stuff will look like a ransom letter. Your post titles and headlines should be huge and bold. They should scream READ ME - there is no captive audience on the web, it's not like you're writing a Victorian-era newspaper that gentlemen will be reading cover to cover on a steam locomotive.

Images: Charts are cool if there are three or less, ditto for infographs. Don't throw lame stock images into a post like you're the Associated Press or something. Goofy or quasi-pornographic pictures are cheap and a sure way to get serious potential readers to discount you as a credible voice.

Pages: Six is too many, two is too few. An about page is essential even if you're anonymous. For the third page of a blog, think of something interesting that you want to have its own tab and to be accessible from everywhere. I have a "Managed Assets" page for obvious reasons as well as a "Best Of" page because I'm a vainglorious bastard in love with my own writing.

Widgets: Don't turn the margins and columns of your blog into a carnival midway. Flashing stuff, data tabs, chunks of other people's posts all need to go. Blank space is cool, it lends import and directs focus toward the main event - your content. Don't clutter your page with Geocities-looking nonsense, it's tacky and takes away from your work. Your blog isn't a MySpace page, we don't need to see the cover of every book you've read or a running list of your favorite songs that start with the letter D. And your badges are lame, no one cares if you're a "Super Special Contributor to the Scraped Content Farm Network" so get rid of them.

Ads: This will be controversial but I don't care. Get the ads out of your text. If I roll over text on your site and an ad pops up in my way while I'm reading it, I'm out. Contextual ads are counterproductive unless you're writing for ad clicks (if this is the case stop reading because I can't help you). Also, if you're gonna pop something up at me, fine, I get it, but just do it at the beginning and get it over with. Nothing is more insulting than a pop up ad that hits me two paragraphs into reading you. As far as banners, keep them - but keep them out of my way. No banners in the middle of a post, it's beyond gross and can't possibly be paying you much anyway.

Look at me over 700 words! Gotta go! And I'm right about everything here.

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