Monday, March 09, 2009

Revamping your blog's appearance

Those of you who follow this blog will notice it has a new look. After spending the last couple of days converting it from a two-column format to three columns, and creating a banner for it, I have renewed respect for individuals with specialized coding knowledge. I know just enough HTML to be dangerous (mostly to myself!), so this conversion was not easy for me.

Many of you have already customized your Blogger templates, but I'm certain there are many out there who are novices just like me, waiting to make the "jump" for fear you will forever ruin your blog's appearance, and have to start over again. While I am no expert, I'm going to describe some steps I took and some resources I used to help me customize the design of my blog. If I can do it, you can, too!
  1. Get acquainted with your template. Most Blogger users take advantage of one of the 16 style sheets, or templates, that are available when they start their blog. This is a good starting point. All templates allow you to click and drag your "Page Elements" to new locations. You can also add and subtract widgets (Web gadgets such as counters, quote-a-day posts, temperature converters, lists of useful links, and much more) using "Page Elements." By selecting "Fonts and Colors," you can modify your typeface, change the color of hyperlinks and your background, and more. The "Edit HTML" tab represents the guts of your template. Never make changes to it without a backup in place! From this tab I learned that the Scribe template I am using was designed by Todd Dominey back in 2004. If you don't like the template you are using, you can switch to a different one using the "Pick New Template" tab; you can even preview your blog's potentially new appearance first. "Monetize" allows you to earn income from ads placed on your site. To get to all of these options, visit your blog's Dashboard, and select Layout.

  2. Make a backup copy of your template. Before you make any changes to your template, save a backup on your computer. This way, if you make changes that don't work, you can always go back to a previous version of the template.

  3. Consult an expert. No, I don't mean you should pull out your pocketbook and plunk down a chunk of change to hire someone to modify your blog (although it's nice if you have that option; I don't). But I do think it's helpful to consult resources that enable you to build on the template you have, instead of reinventing the proverbial wheel. To help me convert the two-column Scribe template into three columns, I found the Tips for New Bloggers blog tremendously helpful. In the right side bar are multiple lists of the most commonly-requested modifications made to blogs. From the left side bar I learned that only 5% of Blogger users select the Scribe template, while 38% of users prefer the Minima template, likely because the latter is easier to modify. Still, the blog addressed most of my questions. Thanks to Liv of The Filigree Garden, who designs beautiful Web sites in her spare time, I also was able to tweak the list styles in my template. Liv referred me to HTML Dog, which bills itself as "The Best Practice Guide to XHTML and CSS." I found the information on this site to be straightforward and easy to follow.

  4. Give your blog a facelift. When I converted my blog to three columns, it become apparent that my two-column, text-only banner needed to be replaced and given a facelift. An easy way to design your own banner is to upload a photo to the photo-sharing site called Flickr, where you can take advantage of its image editing software to customize a banner. I used Picnik to crop an existing photo, add text and borders, and size the banner to fit my blog. Yes, you can use any image-editing software you prefer, but I found Piknik to be intuitively easy to use, powerful and fast. Just make sure that the image you use is one that you own.
The above four steps don't really reflect the hours that went into customizing the appearance of this blog, but they certainly represent how I got started. Next on my agenda is going through the tutorials on HTML Dog. Hopefully the next revision of this blog's appearance won't take quite as long the next time!

© 2009 Judy Nolan. All rights reserved.