Does design matter for a blog?

I find it interesting that for all those bright and spectacular design and design-related information flying around most sites look… Typical. Boring.

Custom design is complex and expensive investment. The one I implemented month (of dust settling) ago. I was not so much dreading as expecting little impact.

So does custom individual design makes a difference?


  • Pages/Visit +0.39%
  • Bounce Rate +0.49%
  • Average Time on Site +22.24% (I think this is a fluke, had several unusually high days).

Design change had no discernible impact on the way visitors use the blog.

Design is not content. It frames the content, but even major design change has little impact on how [not] appealing content is to visitors (and search engines that herd good chunk of them).


Now let me show something more interesting. AdSense terms of service forbid sharing specific numbers. It still little in absolute numbers, but change is striking:

  • Unit Impressions +48.95%
  • Click Through Rate +207.74%
  • eCPM +134.41%
  • Revenue +121.26%

Advertisement is not content. It is kicker (not exactly appreciated by many) and design can make it or break it.


Design (or lack of one) is not something that defines a blog. But it does hold content, navigation and advertisement in one cohesive experience.

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  • Damian #

    Although I think your new site design is an improvement certain elements (eg the huge red lines marking hyper links) make it very hard for me to speed read comfortably and it seems to put the article content into a little thin strip in the middle of my browser screen which again thwarts my text hungry eye bulbs. This makes Google Reader useful to me as it throws everything up in the same (ish) format and as I dont see, let alone click, on ads and very rarely comment anywhere I dont feel like I am missing out by very infrequently visiting your site. I completely agree with your conclusion to this post however I would suggest that the design of your blog is very important as you write about it so it becomes content :)
  • Rarst #

    @Damian I think it is better to have very distinct links, even if it may seem over the top. Links that are hard to distinguish is one of the most frustrating mistakes in web design. I completely understand you on RSS reader equalizing format of text. I am also quite fond of Readability (posted about bunch of similar tools to format pages on the fly, but somewhat outdated by now).
  • Damian #

    I agree that distinct links are the way to go however its the underlining that makes the difference - coloured text is no issue but I guess its pretty subjective. Thanks for the links I will have a good look as Google Reader just dropped one of my favourite features (the ability to monitor sites that *gasp* dont use RSS) so I have been looking for alternatives. One thing I would love to be able to do (and btw this would solve my RSS addiction!) is to have some tool, code or witchcraft to be able to make each web page I visit scale to my damn screen size! Check this to see what I mean ;)
  • Rarst #

    @Damian I was quite excited when Google added that function, but in practice it didn't work for me at all. Perfect scaling isn't easy to achieve... Too many variant of layout and coding techniques. It is easy to change zoom level in modern browsers, but that is manual (unless you keep zoom default for all pages). As above - take a look at Readability. it isn't automatic or applies to whole page, but perfect when you want to actually read main content. Your screen has way too high resolution for that physical size. I find such combination uncomfortable (for the record I am very near-sighted).
  • Angelo R. #

    I think a lot of people just want their site to look distinctive. Sometimes they go for over the top graphics, sometimes they tone it down. In either case it shouldn't be the design that's showcased, it should be the content. Regardless of how incredible the design looks, a regular reader isn't there to look at that. They just want to see your content. A great design can be ruined simply because a designer put the design before the content. While your new website is very minimal, it does serve the function of drawing your eyes directly to the content - which is exactly what a blog should be doing.
  • Rarst #

    @Angelo R. I agree completely. At times you land on some site and think "so this is all very pretty, but I can't read damn text". And I am happy that there was a moment in building this theme where I really stopped myself and thought "Do I want visitors to look at content or at sidebar fluff?"
  • Relequestual #

    Thanks Rarst, this has made me realise I SERIOUSLY need to get back to work on my theme. No more minecraft for a month!! (or not). Any suggestions on how to stay focused and avoid distractions? (could make a good blog post =] )
  • Rarst #

    @Relequestual This theme took well over year to put together... I am probably last person to ask about avoiding distractions. :)
  • Relequestual #

    Id like to implement the word count and time to read in my new design, but Id feel like I was copying you too much hehe
  • Rarst #

    @Relequestual Neither are mine (or exceptionally original) ideas so feel free to. :)
  • Relequestual #

    I just want it to be magically done, but getting freebies from designers when its a big project ends in half finished work. Gotta do it myself! Need to re learn some skills though. Really REALLY love your new design though. Awesome insight into the effect too! Quick question, what determines ad displays on your blog? is it just posts after a x no of days?
  • Rarst #

    @Relequestual Never take freebies from designers. Lesson I learned early and carved in stone for myself. Yep, currently ads simply appear on older posts. It gets out of regular reader's face and to those search engine visitors who are more likely to find them useful. I hadn't started on serious optimisation with ads, so far I am only collecting kinda baseline for a new theme.
  • Relequestual #

    A lesson I wish I had learnt a while ago ;] Very good point. I think I am going to do something like that for sure! Will continue to read =]