Anatomy of a New Blog Design

Published by 43 Comments

In 2007 I decided my blog was due for a new look, but it was not just about a cosmetic face-lift. I wanted to improve usability, clarity and most importantly, highlight a very important aspect of my business – the Blog Profits Blueprint/Blog Tips newsletter email opt-in.

New blog Design

Blog Designer: Mick Real

I’ve worked with a good designer friend now for over a year – Mick Real – who contributed to the look and feel for Blog Mastermind, the cover for the Blog Profits Blueprint and now, the complete redesign of Entrepreneurs-Journey.com.

Mick and I worked many months, putting together a layout, tweaking it and then implementing it over the top of the WordPress platform. There’s a lot to this new blog design and it was quite a monumental effort for both of us to get it right, but I’m pleased with the outcome and we have plans for enhancements in the future too. It’s great to have a designer who is enthusiastic about blogging and I have to pass on a big thanks to Mick, he’s been a devoted designer throughout the process.

The Importance of the Email List

I’ve already hinted many times in previous blog posts and email newsletters about what having an email list has done for my business. A blog is good, but for all but a few of the very top bloggers, most people will never enjoy significant conversion by marketing purely through blogging, they just never build a large enough following of readers.

Email marketing is more forgiving when you have fewer subscribers and is a very effective direct marketing communication tool. When an email list is combined with a blog as an entry point, it makes for a powerful one-two punch and the basis for an entire Internet business.

I don’t think every blog needs an email list, but I think every blog could benefit from one. Most bloggers struggle with one content commitment – writing regularly to a blog – so to include an email list as an additional outlet that requires content, can be difficult. I would argue that an email list requires a lot less “fresh” content than a blog and is more specific in topic, so can easily be set up and then let to operate effectively without constant attention (unlike a blog), but I digress, that’s a topic for another blog post.

Most bloggers are content to focus on generating income from advertising and don’t think beyond that, so an email list doesn’t factor into the model they are pursuing. I’m trying to change that – and at several points through Blog Mastermind I emphasize the power of email marketing – but for now I’ll probably sit as one of the few bloggers who leverage the blog and the list in a symbiotic relationship.

For me, I’m already convinced about email marketing, so I knew my new blog design had to highlight my email newsletter and better present the Blog Profits Blueprint as the incentive for joining. My last few blog + email list combined promotions have brought in at minimum $5,000, one breaking $10,000 and another closing in on $20,000. I could never have dreamed of doing this with just my blog. I know what a good email list can do and I want to continue to build on the great foundation I have laid so far.

The Opt-in Form

Email Newsletter Opt-in FormFor the new design the key feature that I want draw attention to immediately, is the email newsletter opt-in form. To do this, we placed the opt-in above the fold and used my face in a video still as an attention grabber (faces are huge attractors based on eye-tracking tests done on websites).

For the new design I decide to combine two of my email lists, my very first email list, the Blog Traffic King newsletter and the Blog Profits Blueprint list. I now offer a single list called the Blog Tips Newsletter and you receive a free copy of the Blueprint when you join. Behind the scenes, I have over 50 email newsletters focused on building traffic and improving your blogging, which are cued up ready to go out as a weekly newsletter. It made sense to follow up the Blueprint with this great sequence of content.

This change also made my business model very simple. I have one main list for people who want to build a great blog and learn how to make money from it (my prospects list). The newsletter begins with a quality free report and continues with weekly tips in email format. I spent the previous two years writing a ton of great content about blogging and it’s now sitting in my email autoresponder sending out the emails once a week automatically. I build relationships with my readers over time and it all occurs without me lifting a finger because I’ve done the hard work – I leverage content I already produced.

By the way, all of this content is NOT published on my blog, so if you want the blogging tips and the Blueprint, you have to subscribe to the newsletter.

This newsletter is the first step in my sales funnel, or really, my blog is and the opt-in to the newsletter is the second step. It’s such a simple process. Create value by producing a top blog and thus attract traffic from all kinds sources and then funnel some of that traffic to a list by offering more specific value.

To facilitate this outcome, I wanted to make use of video and create a very clear and powerful opt-in form for my blog. I think Mick did a great job at turning my intentions into reality. The opt-in form on this blog I believe is one of the best you will find, combining video, imagery, some simple dot points, a call to action and lots of white space. I continue to bring in between 50 and 100 new subscribers to my newsletter each day, so it’s definitely doing it’s job.

Advertising Placement

Second only to affiliate income as a revenue source, is direct advertising, so the new blog design had to include various positions for banners and other advertising elements. We still use OpenAds (err…OpenX) to manage advertising campaigns on this blog.

Mick and I played with different banner sizes and placements, but in the end we settled on some standard formats, including the ever present 125*125 box that so many blogs use today. I swapped out my old tower banner from the previous design and now have a leader board in the footer of site, and the standard 468*60 and 250*250 banners came through from the old design. We added a new text rotator at the top (using the Zazz Post Ticker plug-in), which at one point was a floating bar, but I decided I liked the more elegant and less intrusive “locked” bar, where we can highlight some popular posts and offer space to advertisers.

I’ve got a few more ideas for sponsorship, but for now three packages are on offer. I have plenty of space available and as long as you are NOT promoting the thousanddollarprofits program (we are maxed out of sponsors promoting that campaign), then please see the advertise page and consider sponsoring Entrepreneurs-Journey.com.

Making Use of Audio

Two years ago when we did the first custom blog design I included three audio buttons to describe certain areas of this website. At the time, I was one of the only bloggers to embed audio in their blog design and I wanted to continue to make use of it in the new design.

I love my audio testimonial recorder, so when it came to decide what elements we would keep in the right sidebar, that was one of the first things I selected. Mick went to work and tidied up the presentation nicely and I expect with the new design, this may be the first time you even realized there is an audio testimonial recorder on this blog. I encourage you to leave a comment using the recorder and remember you can mention your blog address, so it’s free promotion for you too! – just be sure to say nice things :) .

I kept one audio button from the old design at the very top in the right area where I introduce myself and this blog. As a new audio feature, I decided to include a podcast player embedded right in the main design in the footer, inspired by Steve Pavlina’s use of the audio player. This little player takes some of my best podcasts and makes them available directly from any page in this blog. You can get the podcast player from Wimpyplayer.com.

Podcast Player

I’m always surprised how few bloggers make use of video and audio when they are such powerful tools, so if you are thinking of doing a new blog design, consider how just a little multimedia can make your site jump to life.

Catching Up on WordPress Plug-ins

With the new design I had the opportunity to include some WordPress plug-ins that were becoming mainstays at many other blogs, including the top commentators plug-in, the threaded comments plug-in and the popularity contest plug-in for listing the most popular articles at the top rather than using a static list that never changes.

Mick also worked some custom magic creating some tabs so I could highlight my own favorite articles and point to the reviews of products I have written in the past to help drum up more affiliate sales. These are controlled using the WordPress blogroll function, so it’s easy for me to add new links, plus they rotate, so I can put more than four in and highlight many of my previous articles to increase the length people stay at my site and how many articles they read.

Organizing Pillar Articles

One of the greatest challenges for Mick was the creation of a system for me to handle my pillar articles automatically.

Previously I created a page in my blog called “Articles” that I manually updated by including my best content under broad categories I made up (not the same categories I used for my blog content – which was definitely a silly thing to do in hindsight!). I would manually copy and paste the HTML to update this article archives page, clearly not the best way to do it because of how much time required for upkeep.

For the new blog design I wanted an articles page was easily updated. To do this, we created a separate set of categories and if I tick the box when writing the article, it will automatically appear down the right sidebar on the articles page (or reviews on the reviews page or podcasts on the podcasts page). To see this in action, have a look down the right sidebar in the Articles page.

I only do this for my best content, not every blog post I write. I think it’s important you have a page that highlights your best content so people don’t have to wade through your archives month by month or category by category. It’s one of the first things I tell Blog Mastermind students to do when setting up their blog structure.

The custom hack was not easy and there is no plug-in out there that can do it how we have it set up. Hopefully that will change so more bloggers can automatically create archive pages and easily highlight just their best content in each category. Maybe Mick will release the function as a plug-in ;) .

Giving Away a Free E-Book To RSS Subscribers

Following in the footsteps of Chris Garret who offered a free e-book to his blog subscribers, I decided to give my book – How To Start An Internet Business – away only to my RSS readers.

RSS Free Ebook Bonus

We haven’t quite worked out all the bugs for the delivery of the book via RSS for all feed readers, but so far most people using the more common readers can access it (download instructions are here). We accomplish this by using the RSS Feed Signature plug-in to add some extra content to the end of every blog post read via RSS.

I noticed a jump of about 500 RSS subscribers after releasing the book, so I think this tactic can be an effective incentive to help boost your RSS, but of course it’s always the strength of your content that matters most.

More to Come…

Mick and I have laid a solid base foundation with this new blog layout. I haven’t talked about all the new features but I covered most of the main changes.

From your point of view, you should look at some of the ideas I have implemented and consider whether they apply well to your blog design and more importantly – can they help meet your objectives quicker?

In my case the main focus is my email newsletter, hence the attention to the opt-in. Your goals may be different but I’m sure there are ideas in my blog design that could serve as inspiration for changes to yours, especially if you have similar goals as I do.

In the future we plan to make further use of marketing techniques, like split testing opt-in forms, testing different offers to build segmented lists and promote different products, and maybe even some form of personalization or membership integration.

As many people recently commented to my last two posts, none of the design changes matter if the content at this blog is not quality. If you don’t bring in the traffic, no clever design elements will make one ounce of difference, so my focus – and of course your focus too – is always on creating quality content first. However, a great blog design can help you derive more from your efforts at building a readership, so do not underestimate the impact of a strategic blog layout.

Yaro Starak
Blog Marketer

About Yaro Starak

Yaro Starak is the author of the Blog Profits Blueprint, a report you can download instantly to learn how to make $10,000 a month, from only blogging 2 hours per day. You can find Yaro on Facebook, Twitter and .

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43 Comments

  • Hey Yaro,

    I love the typography of the new design and the sidebar.

    The print option is great too because I like to read your articles in hard copy.

    Keep up the good work,
    Hafiz Dhanani

  • I like this layout.

    But I wonder one thing, the color has “something”
    with it. Have you consider using the blue like in
    the old design?

    This blue looks a little bit comical. (just my opinion)

    Pete

  • Hey Yaro,

    You’re an awesome example to follow, this of course is great advice for me as I’m in the process of a new design as well so thank you.

    The one thing I know that I need to jump on and work on hard is the autoresponder. What a great key thing for anyone’s business.

  • Congratulations on all the work you put in your new design. I can see it took a lot of thought and planning.

    Rita

  • Hi Yaro

    What I love about reading your blog is that you explain clearly what you’ve done and the thinking behind it so anyone can model for their own blog. You’re also not afraid to be ‘human’ and let us know when things didn’t quite go as planned!

    Keep up the good work.
    Louise

  • I’m really interested in the way you are using audio and video effectively on your blog. I am only just starting to tinker with these technologies and trying to figure out how best to put them to use.

    I’m also struggling slightly with the newsletter thing. I’ve been intending to launch a newsletter for months and now that I use Aweber there is nothing stopping me technically. The difficulty is figuring out exactly what kind of content should go in it. I have some ideas but I’m still hesitant. I’d really love to see an article about tying in a newsletter to a blog.

    • It’s a tough choice Caroline and not something you should expect to get right straight away.

      It is important to present a very clear offer with your email newsletter, but remember you can always start a new list on a different topic if the first one isn’t the direction you eventually take.

      The topic of your email newsletter needs to be related to your blog, but more focused. The information it provides is specific to a problem/desire and relevant to a good chunk of the people who read your blog.

      Beyond that, you need to consider all the same variables you consider when choosing a blog topic – competition, profitability, market interest, etc

      In your case Caroline, I suggest looking where your success has come from so far and see if you can find a specific brand you can further develop. Your idea with twitter is a good one, but I don’t see that being the only thing you focus on.

      Perhaps a newsletter focused on how to market with social media would suit you since the topic is broad enough, yet there really are not that many specialists out there (Maki is one of the only I know and I don’t see him putting out an email newsletter any time soon).

      Experiment with it, see what your audience responds to and evolve the topic as you go along. If that means focusing on a twitter tips newsletter in the short term to sell a twitter course, that sounds like a good place to begin.

    • agree about audio and video.

      Yaro, for how long where you doing your new design

      • Many months – too many months! It dragged on because of lots of little changes and hiccups with making the technology work.

  • You’re a true giver Yaro. I like that about you. You never hesitate to tell people how you have journeyed to your current level of success. That is another key to your success – over deliver on your promises.

    Geoff

  • Great points Yaro how ever its a bit hard for a startup to pay thousands for a design that has all of those features, most free wordpress themes do not have all of the things you mentioned so new sites have to wait a long time before they can invest in a professional theme like yours if the site does not bring a lot of money right away.

  • @FreePSDLogo,

    You might want to take a closer look at the article, and notice that over half of the additions to EJ were tools that are either freely available, or easy to implement without a professional designer. The AWeber autoresponder, OpenX, Winpyplayer, RSS Feed Signature, the Top Commentators, Threaded Comments, Popularity Contest, Zazz Post Ticker, and a picture of your own face are all features that can be added at no or nominal cost.

    Yaro used to organize his pillar articles by hand, and automating that does require some professional coding if that’s not your talent, but there’s a lot of room for tricking out your blog if you’re willing to do the work.

  • Yaro, this post made me feel really smart. I purchased onemansgoal from Bryan a week and a half ago. The number one reason I bought the site was the free e-book giveaway to opt-in list. 384 and counting.

    I’m with Caroline in the fact that I’m not sure how much free information to giveaway before trying to sell to the list .

    If you could break that answer into two parts. 1) How long until I start selling to the people that have opted in since I’ve bought the site and they are familiar with me and 2) How long until I start selling to the people that signed up under Bryan?

    My thoughs are to give the new subscribers 3 bi-weekly newsletters choke full on useful information and during those 6 weeks focus on finding and reviewing a affiliate program that will really bring them value. As for the people under Byran, perhaps 5 newsletters (10 weeks).

    I don’t mind waiting for the income as I don’t see the make money online niche going anywhere. I really want to build trust and sell products that will help the people that buy them leading in higher conversion rates in the future.

  • Yaro, you mention using video to promote the opt-in. This is effective because it shows people that you two, are in fact, a real person. However, on my site I have my brand/logo on the top. Should I replace it with video or overlap it. If you would click through to my site via above link and advise. Well, that would be pretty cool. Thanks and have a great day either way.

  • Hey Yaro, the new design looks good. I was checking out your advertising rates (or at least trying to) and the Advertise Here spots don’t go anywhere? Just wanted to look at your rates.

  • Yaro-

    I love the new blog design. Your blog is such an inspiration to everyone. Thanks for all that you do. I just started my blog a little over a month ago and I just recently purchased a new wordpress blog design for my site but I am constantly reminded by the content that you post that pillar content comes first.

    I love how you share what you have learned through your experimentation over the years. Thanks for all that you do,

    Jarrod Clark
    Entrepreneur Ideas

  • Yaro,

    Great new look, yet you were able to retain enough that it still looks “you”. That’s great! Also, very clean, and organized. Been following your blog since 2005, and progress has been nice and steady, but always quality.

  • I like this layout a lot! :]

  • Well first thing I saw of your new design was your face so you are right about that and in fact I frequent your blog after signing up for the newsletter. Unfortunately I dont remember why I signed up in the first place.

    I hate the video and audio stuff on sites but then again I have always been different. I cant believe it is as effective as you say.

    How much did your designer cost out of curiosity?

    Your post answer some questins for me but they create twice as many as I solve. I am always left pondering ideas…..

  • I recently updated my blog as well with a new custom design and it was a big effort. Luckily my designer was way more versed in CSS and coding than I and it came off very good. Having a good designer who knows their stuff is essential.

  • I am definitely digging the new design. Thanks for sharing the brainstorming process!

  • Hello
    Your blog is having layout problem.
    I see the sidebar down the content.
    please check. i have firefox. :)

  • The new website looks great! I like the way you maximize the space by increasing the width of your blog page. You have been careful to keep the same theme, but smart with the changes to ensure that everything new is in an optimum location.

    Using audio and video as additional interactive channels are something that your subscribers would truly readily welcome. And on the email list, I’m sure with such a huge subscriber list, engaging your readers through this channel would be a necessity at your level.

    I’ve just migrated my blog from Typepad to WordPress, and have begun to see the great flexibility WordPress offers. However, I hope to one day achieve the level of maturity your blog has. The biggest hurdle I have at this point is to update it regularly with quality content. It’s pretty easy to write something and post it up each day, but coming up with a post that is well researched and well thought up needs greater effort. I guess, having the willpower, determination and commitment to do this consistently, would be the attributes that would differentiate one blogger from another.

    Congratulations and Cheers!
    Samantha
    http://www.what-sells-online.com

  • Nice design, Yaro! I like the way it profiles the full breadth of your business better. I also like how it helps point people to your best content — it is less likely to get buried as in a traditional blog layout.

    My compliments.

    – Anita

  • Dave

    Hi, like the new theme/look – it looks great in firefox and camino but the sidebar ends up below the main content when using Safari (OS X).

  • I love the new look! I lost all of my RSS feed bookmarks in a crash, it was ugly! Finally getting back to “normal”.

    Great idea on combining the two lists also, I have been thinking of merging a few of mine to make life and management a little simpler.

    Keep up the good work, and can’t wait to see more in the future!

  • Hmmm, looks kinda weird to me after getting so used to that old one, but I can see where you’re going with it, and after reading some lines I noticed that it’s also a bit easier to read posts on your blog now, the post field seems to have more space.

    Nice job!
    Allen

  • Hey Yaro, great tips once again, thanks for sharing! I like the new look on your blog.

  • Yaro,

    I change my mind – I love your new design! After navigating back and forth, I realise that this blog design is easier to navigate than your previous design. Your content is better arranged.

    However, IMHO, I love your previously ‘packed’ category list – I usually browse your posts trough this category list in your previous design’s sidebar. Yes, you have archives section at your blog’s bottom section, but I simply love your previous category list.

    Congrats for your new, professional looking, blog design!

    Cheers!

    Ivanpw
    http://www.noobpreneur.com – resources for entrepreneurs
    http://www.englishfair.com – bidding web directory

  • Congratulations! It must have taken some great planning and hard work to put up this design. Nice Job you did here. The blog is looking better. ;-)

  • I really like the new design and the way you have arranged all the essentials. I have currently redesigned my blog as well. I used a minimalistic approach to my design. I still have to work out some details, like a more prominent “Get Rss Feed” box. Besides that, I should really start building a list. Have a look at my site. My WordPress Theme is available for free on the WordPress Themes Page.

  • I am new to blogging and I found so much useful information on your site. I love the layout and may one day start my own blog about my experience with building my business. There is so much information out there that one can be overwhelm with it. The key is to stay focus and organized. You must also remember the BIG WHY….why are you doing this.

    Cecilia
    http://www.ceciliacreary.com

  • This is a useful post Yaro. I’ve been reading around elsewhere plus from what you mentioned, a good design (with good content) can make a visit so much more pleasant.

    I’m in the process of re-theming my sites too.

  • Interesting post. But I think that blog design is little more important than you said. If blog doesn’t have a good look, even if he has good contents it will be hard to make people read it’s contents because most of them may just leave the blog as soon as they see it.

  • Hey Great Post, eh!

    I enjoyed you discussing some of your new usability concept improvements such as the opt-in box, the use of audio and the new WordPress Mastermind theme. They all look great.

    However, I was just wondering if you could comment on something? I was noticing that there appears to be some text that overlaps from other text or pictures directly above the opt-in box.

    How do you fix these glitches?

    Daniel.

    • Daniel – We’re still working on a few display glitches for certain browsers. Mick hopefully one day will get them all figured out, but it’s does take some fiddly work to make a new blog design perform how it should across all browsers.

      • That kind of work should really be done before the blog design is released, I know it can be a pain but its got to be done at some time.

  • Hi Yaro

    Thought you might be interested to hear that we’re getting close to a public beta launch of OpenX Hosted. Shoot me an email if you’d like some details ahead of the launch.

    cheers,
    Oliver George
    OpenX Limited

    oliver.george@openx.org

  • I love your new design. A fresh new design is important as it shows to your readers and subscribers that you are serious about the brand and image your blog represents.

  • Yaro,

    Thanks for all the great advice. I really like your Opt In Form on the sidebar that you’ve discussed. Did you have this made for your professionally? Or create it yourself? Maybe using a Plug In or something?

    If you could address this topic it would be greatly appreciated. If anyone else knows the answer to this question please feel free to comment.

    • My blog is custom work, so yep, that includes the opt-in as well. Just find yourself a good designer and ask them to copy my style.

  • It is important to present a very clear offer with your email newsletter, but remember you can always start a new list on a different topic if the first one isn’t the direction you eventually take.

  • I agree with the changes to site. I also constantly search for the best mixture of items, my latest being high school science fair projects.

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