Monthly Archives: January 2015
How to Design blogs
As designers, we each develop distinct styles, and usually gravitate towards different kinds of projects when we have a choice in the matter. For me, it’s content-driven websites and nothing is more content-driven than the good old-fashioned blog.
There is something that simply feels right about putting a whole bunch of meaningful, interesting text, pictures, and/or video together in an aesthetically pleasing way. Blog content is all about ideas, and ideas are meant to be read, appreciated, and if everything goes well, discussed at length. Facilitating that process is personally fulfilling, and often challenging.
For people who own blogs, the advantages are clear:
- The format is flexible. They are free to discuss a variety of topics. Even if a blog has a central theme, they can occasionally break away from it to explore other ideas that intrigue them.
- Posts can be as short or as long as you like.
- Posts don’t have to be text. Video and photo blogs can be engaging, and some are pretty popular.
- Blogs can be used to establish someone as an expert in their field, thereby increasing business opportunities.
- Blogs are incredibly easy to create and experiment with, thanks to services like WordPress.com, Blogger, and so on.
Blogs haven’t Changed much
No matter what blog you go to, you’ll see a variation on the following system:
- a home page with the latest articles, either displayed in full, or as a list;
- a list of categories – probably in a sidebar;
- an archive, with links to listings of articles sorted by month or year;
- individual articles with an attached comment thread;
- usually, an “About” page, and/or a “Contact” page.
This is not a bad set of defaults. By and large, this structure works and it’s familiar. This does not mean, however, that it’s right for you, or your content.
As UX designers, our job isn’t just to make sure that text is big enough to read, that navigation is easily recognizable as such, or that buttons are big enough to tap on. We solve problems. We make sure that it’s easy for users to find what they’re looking for, and quickly. We have mere seconds to engage readers and keep them on our site, so we have to get creative.
In this article, I’m going to look at features which are common to the majority of blogs, and see how we might make them easier to use, more engaging, and/or irrelevant. Let’s start with my absolute favorite pet peeve:
One problem that I have with the sidebar is that too often it distracts me from the content as I try to read. It might be a colorful animated ad, or worse, one that comes with sound and no mute button, or the sidebar itself just clashes too harshly with the rest of the site.
Sometimes, sidebars are rendered next to unusable by people who try to cram far too much information into them, making the text smaller and smaller all the time. Sometimes, sidebars are much much longer than an individual article.
Here’s a hint: putting five years of archives, sorted by month, in one sidebar is not a good idea. This might sound like it’s just a personal irritation to some people, but there is no reason why a sidebar should be twice the height of my 1600×900 screen.
Many blogs have solved this problem in one of a few ways, the most notable of which being that they often drop the sidebar altogether. Navigational lists such as categories and archives are moved to their own section, usually under the main content.
Now let me be perfectly clear. I am not saying that sidebars should go altogether. In fact, when I move my personal blog from my main domain to its own, I actually intend to use a sidebar for some rather important things.
What I am saying is that sidebars should not be stuffed with more information and widgets than is reasonable, and they should not dominate the page. They are meant to be navigational aids only. Let’s treat them that way.
If you want to display more information than can comfortably fit in a sidebar, display it elsewhere.
I’d like to talk about individual articles before the home page because if you’re doing well as a writer, the home page will rarely be the first thing that people see. People will be sent directly to individual articles by search results, links provided by friends, and services such as Stumbleupon.
For this reason, make sure that navigation options like categories and search are available on every page of your blog. The article that your users find may not be the one they’re looking for, so you’ve got to make it easy for them to find your other content.
A lot of self-styled blog “gurus” will talk about the importance of having “related articles” listed for each individual post. As much as I hate to agree with anyone who calls himself a “guru”, they have a point. Reading through a blog is all about discovery, and that discovery process should happen quickly. Users are more likely to click on an eye-catching related headline than look for the category link to see similar articles on your site.
Make sure that there’s a bit of descriptive “About” text on every page. If it’s a really short paragraph, it could go in the sidebar. If it’s longer, you could put it in the page footer, where users are likely to see it after they’ve finished reading/skimming the article.
Finally, if there’s one thing you learn from this part of the article, remember this: on a blog, you should spend more time designing your post content than your home page. Your content is what people will see first, in all likelihood.
The Home Page
Many people design the home page of their website as though it will be the first thing that every user sees. This is a mistake. The users most likely to view a home page are regular readers who don’t use RSS feeds (which should always be available), and those first-time visitors who’ve just read an article, then clicked “Home” because they felt like it.
So yes, the home page of most blogs is essentially a glorified RSS feed. This is where users come for updates.
Unless you’re running a tumblelog – a blog made up of very short posts, images, and videos – I would recommend displaying no more than a headline, an excerpt, and an optional image thumbnail. Blogs that display entire posts on the home page force readers to scroll down and down to make sure they haven’t missed anything.
Some people get around this by displaying a list of the most recent headlines in their sidebar, but I see this as redundant. Such a list can be useful on every page of the blog except the home page.
This is not the only way to make a home page for a blog, of course. There are other ways to present your content, but I believe that this approach makes the most sense from the perspective of a reader.
Need more proof? Look up a newspaper or magazine site. All they do is display the links to the most recent articles in every major category.
It’s typical to put a date on every post published, and to allow users to navigate the site’s content by month or year. For some writers, this makes sense. If you’re writing about design trends, reviewing technology, addressing political issues, or doing anything else that’s time-sensitive in any way, use it.
However, is chronological navigation always necessary? Probably not. Examine your content. If you’re writing about things that aren’t going to change in a hurry, like history, human nature, or less-than-contemporary art, you may want to leave date-based navigation options out altogether.
Look for other ways to organize your content based on your subject matter. Categories will never go out of style, but let’s take art, for example. You could design the site in such a way that people can browse your posts by which artists are mentioned, or by the art styles and mediums you discuss.
You know your audience. How would you like to be able to find the things that interest you?
Ah, comments. The place where everyone can virtually gather round and discuss the post at hand without getting off-topic, starting pointless debates, or insulting each other. And just as we’re all about to indulge in a quick drink before we peacefully disperse to go about our lives, I wake up.
All jokes aside, having a comments section can provide invaluable feedback, and the interaction and user engagement can help bring your readers back for more.
One thing I’ve seen many blog designs and themes do is make their comment areas too small. This is especially a problem when you consider two things:
- Threaded comments are a standard these days. As people reply to comments, and then to other replies, the content area of these sub-comments tends to get smaller and smaller.
- The problem above can be exacerbated when the website’s design is fluidly responsive.
Squarespace vs WordPress – Which one is better? (Pros and Cons)
WordPress is the most popular content management system in the world, but it is not the only option. There are other platforms that can help you build your website. Recently, one of our users asked us to to compare Squarespace vs. WordPress because they were seeing a lot of Squarespace commercials on TV. In this article, we will compare Squarespace vs. WordPress and list the Pros and Cons of each. Our hope is that after reading our comparison, you can pick which one is better for you.
We have broken down this comparison into different sections. We will look at each section and see which platform offers the most benefit to a beginner level user.
It’s important to note that we’re comparing Squarespace vs. self-hosted WordPress (not WordPress.com). See the difference between self-hosted WordPress vs WordPress.com.
Ease of Use and The Learning Curve
Most beginner level users are not familiar with HTML, CSS, and other code related things. They want a platform that helps them build their websites easily. Let’s see how both WordPress and Squarespace stack up in this category.
WordPress is a robust platform with a lot of choices. It can be used by a beginner level users as well as advanced level users. It can be used to build a personal blog or a highly professional website (big name brands using WordPress).
While WordPress is fairly intuitive and easy to use, there is definitely a slight learning curve. Beginners will need to familiarize themselves with WordPress terminology and concepts such as difference between posts vs pages, categories vs tags, understanding themes and plugins.
The default WordPress post editor is fairly easy to use even for beginners. It comes with a visual editor as well as a plain text editor for advanced users. Adding interactive content such as: images, videos, and audio is extremely easy
Despite the slight learning curve, in our experience most users quickly adapt to it. However there is still room to make the platform simpler and easier for beginners.
Unlike WordPress, Squarespace does not come with too many choices. However, this lack of choices make it very simple and easy to use. Even the absolute beginners can quickly write content and publish it.
Adding images, videos, and audio files is simpler than WordPress. With its drag and drop content editor, creating new pages and posts is extremely easy even for users who have never worked on a website before.
Squarespace lets you customize your templates and pages using a visual editor. However you are limited to the options available in the customizer.
Squarespace fares a little better than WordPress in terms of ease of use for absolute beginners. On the other hand, WordPress offers beginners a lot of choices right from the beginning which might be confusing at first, but it is a lot more flexible in the long run.
Knowing how much each platform can cost is important in making a business decision. Let’s look at how much Squarespace cost vs. how much WordPress cost.
WordPress is free as in freedom not as in free beer. You are free to download, use, change, and build upon WordPress. It is an open source software licensed under GNU GPL.
In order to build your website with WordPress, you will need a web hosting provider. Depending on your needs, you can choose a shared hosting plan, a virtual private server, or even a dedicated server. Shared hosting plans work for most small personal and business websites. See our guide on how to choose the best WordPress hosting.
The cost of web hosting and domain name vary depending on which hosting provider you go with. You are in charge of how much resources you need for your website, and how much you will pay for it.
One of the reasons for the immense popularity of WordPress is that the overall cost of building your website with WordPress is very low. Apart from that, you can change your hosting plan as your site grows. This means you only pay for the resources you will be actually using.
For more details see our guide on Why is WordPress free? What are the costs? What’s the catch?
The personal plan for Squarespace starts from $8 per month. That’s almost as affordable as a shared hosting plan for WordPress. However, unlike a shared WordPress hosting plan, this personal plan comes with very limited features. You can only create 20 pages, a blog, and add only two contributors to your site. You can sell only one product and accept donations.
The professional plan which costs $16 per month allows you to sell up to 20 products. You can create unlimited pages and enjoy unlimited space and bandwidth.
The business plan allows you to sell unlimited products for $24 per month with unlimited pages, blogs, galleries, space and bandwidth.
WordPress beats Squarespace with flexible plans available from a variety of web hosts from around the world. The cost depends on how much resources you use, and you are free to use your WordPress site in any way you want.
Design and Features
As your business grows, your website will too. Let’s take a look at how WordPress and Squarespace compare in terms of design and features.
The real power of WordPress is in its extensibility. There are thousands of free and paid WordPress plugins which you can use on your site to add new features. Ranging from simple social sharing plugins to robust membership site plugins, you can create almost any kind of website you can imagine with WordPress.
Similarly WordPress has thousands of free and paid themes available which you can install on your website. Themes control the visual appearance of your website. There are WordPress themes for almost every industry, business, or any kind of website that you want to create.
This is one area where Squarespace seriously fall behind. There is a very limited number of templates that you can choose from. You can change only a limited set of features by using the site customizer feature of Squarespace.
Same goes for the plugins, you can only use the plugins and features built-in Squarespace. There is no easier way for you to extend the functionality of your website by installing an external plugin.
Squarespace does offer limited integration with selected services. But again the options are very few and strictly limited.
WordPress beats Squarespace in terms of extensibility and abundance of design and feature choices.
Are you building an online store? Let’s compare the eCommerce functionality of WordPress vs. Squarespace.
WordPress allows you to integrate and use any payment processor or platform you want. There are many WordPress plugins that allow you to easily integrate PayPal, Google Checkout, Stripe, 2Checkout, Payoneer, Skrill, and even Bitcoin.
WordPress has plenty of eCommerce plugins that can turn your website into an online store within minutes. There are countless WordPress themes designed specifically for eCommerce websites. Apart from that, you will find some awesome tools to manage affiliate tracking and add affiliate links to your site.
There is no limit on how many products you add to your website. You can add as many products as you want.
eCommerce is limited on Squarespace. You can only use Stripe for payment processing which is only available in select few countries. There is no other payment system available which restricts your ability to accept payments from a larger global audience. For a growing business, starting with such limitations is not a great idea.
Apart from that, there is a limit on how many products you can sell on Personal and Professional plans. Lets say you want to sell only 22 products, you will still have to pay for the Business plan, and the yearly costs of hosting a site with just 22 products to sell will be way higher than a shared hosting plan or VPS for WordPress.
As for third-party services, there are very few external services that you can integrate with your Squarespace website. Even these integrations are controlled and very limited than the original features of the services you are adding.
WordPress is way ahead of Squarespace when it comes to running an eCommerce website. The limitations of Squarespace are not so good for the growth of an online business.
When signing a business agreement, you always have safety clauses. Such as if you’re not happy, then you can leave without any hassle. This concept extends to online businesses as well and is referred as data portability. If you’re not happy with the platform, can you take all your work and move it somewhere else.
Let’s look at how WordPress and Squarespace compare in data potability.
WordPress comes with built in tools to easily export all your data. Not just your content and images, but you can also backup your themes, plugins, and the entire database. See our list of the best WordPress backup solutions.
You can then easily move this content to any other Content Management System you want. You can store your content anywhere else and change web hosts at anytime you want.
Just like everything else, the export feature on Squarespace is also very limited. You can only export certain parts of your content in a XML file. This includes your pages, galleries, and one blog page with all its posts.
Your product pages, album pages, text, audio, and video blocks will not be exported.
The content you create on your site is yours, and you should have the freedom and tools so that you can move it elsewhere. WordPress again beats Squarespace with easy to manage tools to export your entire site.
WordPress is far superior than Squarespace as a web publishing platform for any kind of website. Squarespace can be a good choice for small sites that need limited functionality. Squarespace is also slightly better in ease of use when writing posts. Apart from that, WordPress outperforms Squarespace in every possible usage scenario.
We hope this article helped you learn more about WordPress vs Squarespace, their pros and cons and helped you choose which one is better for your needs.