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When you take an in-person meeting with a prospective freelance client, do you ask them to meet you in a dark alley and then stagger up late in a pair of ripped jeans with your hair uncombed?
I'm going to bet you don't. You make the effort to choose a businesslike venue and come professionally dressed and groomed.
When prospects visit your freelance blog, it's like you're inviting them to take a meeting at your office. Does your blog look professional and ready for business?
If not, you may be losing a lot of clients -- great clients who were turned off by what they saw on your blog and left without ever trying to contact you.
Just as it's important to write blog posts that attract clients, the design and layout of your blog is critical, too. A great design and feel on your blog will help attract better-quality clients -- the ones you really want.
Those of you who are design professionals probably have this side of things down cold, but if you're a freelance writer, you may not have been paying much attention to blog design. You should, though -- it'll really pay off.
What do you need to know? Here are eight basics of blog design and layout every freelancer's blog should have to attract clients:
1. Graphical Header
The header of your blog is like the front door -- it needs to welcome prospects in and orient them. The header should both tell visitors the topic your blog discusses and show a bit of your personality. Many visitors will scan your blog for only a few seconds before deciding whether or not to stay, and they start at the top, so your header plays a critical role in keeping readers on the site.
Remember, the internet is an impersonal place. You need to convince visitors you're a real person, with real freelance skills.
Visitors are not going to get the warm feeling you want from the default graphic for WordPress's 2012 theme, or a boring white rectangle, or simply some big letters that spell out your name.
If you're not a graphic designer, it is well worth working with one to get a professional-looking custom header for your blog. I started with a couple cheap images I slapped up, and I can report that the minute I switched to a pro header, I got more leads.
Good headers don't need to be overly elaborate -- for instance, take a look at how this simple header graphic and splash of color from Web and graphic design team Duoh! quickly communicates that they're a savvy, two-person design shop.
A word about rotating headers: Use with caution. For graphic pros they can be a great way to show off your work...but fast-spinning headers can also frustrate visitors as they struggle to understand or click on what's shown before it disappears.
2. One Sidebar
Too many blogs have two or even three sidebars. Remember the important thing you want prospects to do here -- read your blog posts and decide to hire you! Multiple sidebars leave readers scanning around wondering what they're supposed to read first.
One right-hand sidebar is ideal. People read blogs by starting in the upper-left-hand corner and scanning from there. So put your blog content on the left, not sidebar miscellany, to draw them into reading.
You do want one sidebar, though. Without a sidebar, your lines of text in your blog posts will be very long. People find long text lines daunting and will tend to give up and leave instead of reading -- that's why newspapers have those short columns.
3. Images at the Top of Posts
Speaking of making your blog posts' text lines appealingly short, the other great way to do that is by placing a photo half-column wide at the top of each blog post, like we do here on this blog. An appealing image there adds visual interest, draws your prospect's eye -- and gives them a few extra-short initial lines to tempt them into reading the post.
Tune in to the sightlines your image presents, and use them to drive interest in your blog post.
If you're not a freelancer in the visual arts, there's one key concept to know here that will help your blog look a lot more professional. Tune in to the sightlines your image presents, and use them to drive interest in your blog post.
How? Align your photos so that faces look at rather than away from your text, and more readers will think your blog post is interesting. By the same token, any prominent slanting lines in the photo should slant toward the text rather than pointing away from it.
4. Reduce Clutter
Once you've got it down to one sidebar, the next move is to de-clutter that sidebar. Delete extraneous widgets such as your tweetstream or lists of most recent comments made on your blog posts. Badges for blog carnivals you participate in, awards you've won, or associations you've joined also create visual clutter.
Realize that each element you add is another request that your readers pay attention to something and possibly take another action: "Follow me on Twitter!" "Download this free report!" "Check out all my Facebook fans!"
You want to simplify and make your goal clear -- for a freelancer, that's usually to read your blog posts (or scan the headlines), and then call you.
If you're really hot to get hired, consider putting your contact information right in the top of that sidebar, so it's visible all the time, rather than hiding it under a tab. Barring that, a nice photo of yourself with a mini-bio that links to your more detailed About page is a good top-of-sidebar choice. Allow prospects to visually "meet" you on your blog -- if not on the home page, definitely on the About page.
5. Simple Navigation
Complex drop-down menus with dozens of choices only create more visitor confusion. Also, on first glance those drop-downs are hidden, so many visitors may never realize those subpages of information exist.
Double and triple rows of navigation tabs also tend to boggle readers with too many choices
Pare this down to one row of simple tabs. (Hint: You can shorten page names to make more room on the nav bar.) If you have more pages you want to spotlight, use the sidebar to offer reference or resource links.
6. Few or No Ads
It's a tricky situation when you're trying to earn directly from the same blog you're using as a client sample. On the one hand, showing that you've built a blog-based business can impress prospects. But confronting dozens of moving, flashing ads is a major distraction and may make prospects wonder if you're too wrapped up in blog monetization to be bothered with their assignments.
If you’ve got ads and nobody’s buying, take them off. They’re probably doing more harm than good.
One solution is the route I've gone -- do your selling on email, or hide your sales offers under subpages. Keep ads out of the sidebar and off the Home page.
If you've got ads and nobody's buying, take them off. They're probably doing more harm than good.
If your ads do earn for you, experiment and see what gets you the best results. Remove low-earning ads and offers and concentrate on your best sellers to avoid alienating prospects.
7. Big, Clean Fonts
Tiny blog fonts are a plague upon the Internet. If your blog has 10pt or 12pt type, boost it up to at least 14pt, and you'll immediately retain more readers.
By the same token, using elaborate faux-handwriting, curlicued and other hard-to-read fonts doesn't give your blog a professional feel. Substitute clean, sans-serif type fonts for a more businesslike look.
8. Add a "Hire Me" Page
If you don't advertise that you're for hire on your blog, most visitors will assume you aren't. Spell out that you're a freelance pro by adding a "Hire Me" page on your blog.
If you don't have a freelancer website, this is your all-in-one place to state the type of client work you do, link a few portfolio pieces, and drop names of any big-name current or former clients. Be sure to include easy-to-use contact info such as a clickable email link -- not one of those horrid fill-in forms that no one wants to fill out.
If you've got a separate freelance website, give them a short pitch and contact info, but include a link to your full portfolio on your freelancer site so they can learn more.
You may be surprised what happens when you add a Hire Me page. If you already have strong blog content and a nice clean design, you could see results quickly. I've known more than one blogger to score great freelance gigs within a week or two of adding this page.
How's the design on your freelance blog? Leave us a link so we can check it out, and tell us how it's working for getting you clients.