In this period in the evolution of the internet, where even the most fledgling independent blogger is competing with and being compared to the big boys ticking off posts for corporate web properties it’s important — no, absolutely necessary — to have a blog that looks good. The internet is like Manhattan, whereas print media [...]
In this period in the evolution of the internet, where even the most fledgling independent blogger is competing with and being compared to the big boys ticking off posts for corporate web properties it’s important — no, absolutely necessary — to have a blog that looks good.
The internet is like Manhattan, whereas print media is like Ashville, North Carolina. To get noticed you have to look good; to be listened to, you need to have the elevator pitch down to a science and the product to follow it up. This game is no longer about getting attention — a homebum screaming bloody murder on Wall Street will get attention — but keeping the focus on you. Like Manhattan, where there are millions of people scampering about, walking fast, being busy, there are billions of webpages for a reader to chose from at any given time. To get them to stop and chat with you for a while rather than clicking away fast you need to present what you offer immediately in a visual pitch that has barbed hooks.
Contrary to popular belief it is easy to get visitors to a website, but it is incredibly difficult to keep them there. In point, your website has to look good AND be good.
But there is a fine line between making a blog look professional and allocating an imbalanced amount of resources to do so. To be blunt, web construction is a bottomless pit of adaptions, alterations, updates, and overhauls that nobody can do anything about. To blog in this era you need to be ready to devote hours each week to coding. But the styling that goes over this back end/ framework coding, well, that can push anyone’s time allowances over the edge.
Changing the look of a blog can turn into an endless obsession, and many webmasters doddle their work hours away on presentation rather than substance. You need both, but one can be neutralized on auto-pilot
I have a mass of articles to write at any given time, I will never be able to complete all the research that I need to do, and I will never cover everything I want to cover. But yesterday I began doing some styling tweaks to one of my blogs. It ended up not being as easy as I thought it would — I ran into a couple of problems and glitches. What I thought would take me a matter of moments sucked me into a full fledged day of coding. After implementing the new styles on one blog I went to do so for some others. On and on this went until 3AM. This morning I woke up with some new ideas and continued ticking them out. By noon I looked at what I spent the past day and a half engrossed in and realized that it truly wasn’t much better than what I had before I began. A lay user probably wouldn’t even notice the differences if they weren’t pointed out.
I realized that I allowed myself to fall into a downward spiral of obsessive behavior, not unlike someone in the mania of a crossword puzzle or Sudoku, and wasted a day and a half of work that could have went towards writing and publishing new content or ticking out a another chapter in my book. In disgust with myself I went back through my CSS code and undid it all. I wanted to be sure that I would bookmark the emotion I was feeling for the future. The emotion I was feeling was regret. Regret for pissing away my time on something that was very much impertinent.
I will never be able to run my sites, write my books, and pen my articles with as much flourish as I would like. The reason for this is simple: time. For everyone, this resource is finite. If I chose to do one thing it’s at the expense of everything else. Therefore, I must triage my tasks, and at the bottom of this list should be styling the front end of my websites.
This isn’t because styling and coding for aesthetics is not important — it is — but because it’s a never ending task that isn’t that important. You or I will never have our sites styled the way we want them for very long. Sure, we can tell ourselves that after the next makeover we’re done for good; but two, six, nine months down the line we look at our blogs and see something that can be tweaked, we get an idea, we come upon design element on another site that we would like to borrow, on and on down the black hole of coding.
What’s bad about this is that there is often only small gains to be made from making a professional blog look a little more professional, from making a good looking blog look a little better. Some of the top online writers today write on blogs that look like they came right out of the box. They personalize them just enough to have them branded, and then seemed to forget about design. These are the people that don’t need other’s approval, they know what they’re doing is good and how big their balls are. Their blogs are professional, but they are not over the top with stellar customization. Simply put, they don’t have to be.
Sure, the styling of your blog is a big part of it’s elevator pitch, but too much fast talking is just going to make people suspicious. What is this guy hiding under the slick suit and hair gel? A super good looking blog with all the latest jive and jazz is like a super expensive sports car. Sure it looks good, but it’s often a front to hide what the owners knows they lack. Internet readers have become wise to facades, they can see through the pinstripes. Nobody can hide behind a flashy blog design for long.
Sure you need to look good to make the passerbys stop in the street, but it’s what you can do for them that’s going to keep them talking with you. On a website, that means content — what it is you have to say.
I wasted a day and a half of content creation coding nonsense. This isn’t much time in and of itself, but when all the time I’ve put toward unneeded web styling over they years is added up I probably could have written and publish more books, ticked out numerous more articles, blogged hundred of times more, or made more memories with my wife and daughter. When put against the grand scheme of an online writer’s priorities, front-end web styling belongs near the bottom of the to do list. Stomp it down and keep it underfoot.
I lost a good amount of time yesterday, but I earned a valuable lesson:
Once you have a professional looking site, leave it alone.
About the Author: VBJ
I am the founder and editor of Vagabond Journey. I’ve been traveling the world since 1999, through 90 countries. I am the author of the book, Ghost Cities of China and have written for The Guardian, Forbes, Bloomberg, The Diplomat, the South China Morning Post, and other publications. VBJ has written 3679 posts on Vagabond Journey. Contact the author.
VBJ is currently in: Papa Bay, Hawaii
September 24, 2012, 10:55 am
Yes, exactly. I’m helping a web-neophyte pal out and trying desperately to convince her that simpler is better, that she doesn’t need to spend bags of money she doesn’t have on a schmancy website (like I did the first time), which also means she has to continue using and paying her webperson every time she wants to add something. Ditto a blog. Learn to do it herself and she can tweak away to her heart’s content until she learns what you learned. She’ll be here in two hours to set up her first blog. Yikes.
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