Whenever I tweak things on this site, I have four goals, many of them conflicting: (1) Make my blog nice to read/look at, (2) Differentiate it from every other blog out there, (3) Rarely mess with the template (HTML, CSS, and other scary acronyms), and (4) Spend little or no money. If that sounds good to you, read on.
STEP #1: GET A FREE BLOG.
Blogger is my favorite. It's relatively reliable and gives me a decent amount of control (though those qualifiers are important). You could also go with Wordpress.com, LiveJournal, or many others.
None of them give you total control, of course. For that, you'd have to buy your own webhost and deal with your own technical setup and issues, which defies goals (3) and (4).
STEP #2: CUSTOMIZE YOUR TEMPLATE.
As far as free templates go, Blogger has only 27 (at the moment). Wordpress.com is better with 148. But since there are a few more than 175 blogs out there, your blog will very likely look exactly like someone else's. That's why you customize the crap out of it:
- Get a custom background. Especially if you're good with a camera/live somewhere pretty.
- Make a custom header. Free fonts and your local Paint program can surprise you. Photoshop and a little design sense is even better.
- Tweak the heck out of it. Blogger, for example, lets you change the format, fonts, sizes, and colors of almost every little thing. Take advantage of it.
Fancy fonts and wacky colors will definitely make your blog unique, but don't go crazy. Everyone's screen and color resolution is different (some folks are even reading you on their phones!). The text needs to be big enough and plain enough to be readable. And the text color should contrast as strongly as possible with the background.
Here's where I tell you to use dark text on a light background. I know people disagree with this, but white-on-black burns my retinas like those creepy Jesus illusions. I won't say don't do it, but at least think twice before you do.
STEP #3: ORGANIZE YOUR INFO.
People come to your blog for two reasons: (1) to read your latest update or (2) to find specific information about you/your blog. Every blog makes the former easy -- it's right there in the middle. It's your job to make the latter easy to find.
Static pages are a good place to put professional stuff. The kind of stuff agents come looking for. Pages put that info right at the top (usually), give you space to write as much info as you need/want, and keep that stuff (which is usually old news to your regular readers) from cluttering your sidebar.
The sidebar is the second place for it. People like to throw everything they can think of in their sidebars, and that's okay, but know this: Visitors will not scroll down past the first screen unless they are looking for something specific. (I will entertain arguments on this only if you've read my blog footer or clicked on the Carpe Editio flag down there. I'll bet money none of you have (until now, of course -- now you're curious...).)
Think about what you want readers to see, and put that on top.
(OPTIONAL) STEP #4: REMOVE REFERENCES TO YOUR FREE HOST.
Free hosts insert their brand everywhere. Search bars on the top, mandatory attributions in the footer, and of course the domain name. You can usually get rid of this stuff, but it requires either messing with the template or paying money.
But often, it's not hard either. Removing the Blogger search bar is a single line of CSS, for example, and a custom domain name costs only $10-15 per year. It's up to you whether that's worth it.
Many of you already have beautiful blogs (I know, I've seen them). So tell me what decisions have gone into your blog? What other tips would you offer?