How Do You Use Your Pen?

Cup with pens, pencils and brushesGo read any post from a major blogger on what it takes to be successful at blogging and you’ll find that certain tips get repeated ad nauseam. One of these tips is that your blog should have appealing web design.

It only makes sense, right? Visually appealing layouts are a common denominator on sites that pull in serious visitors and are generally considered a ‘success’. No avid reader wants to read words on a page that resembles a scattered dump yard.

But here’s something interesting that most people fail to see – having a good web design is a process, and almost all successful bloggers began with a design that wasn’t exactly great. There are individuals that started with designs so bad they’re a little ashamed to admit it.

I happen to be one of them. I started with Blogger and somehow, through the stroke of pure genius, I f**ked up my theme beyond recognition of its original, dull counterpart. Only “I” can manage to do something like this when it comes to technology.

Still, I didn’t care, because I realized something essential from the experience: It’s not the pen you use; it’s how you use it.

Let that saying be a lesson to you or anyone else thinking of starting a site, a blog or even a business. A perfect example of a site that is completely wiping the floor with everyone else in its niche is stevepavlina.com Do a search for “personal development”…

…and feast your eyes on the most boring layout that exists today.

But read the content, and you immediately realize why Steve dominates his field.

There is a good reason why my site went through a drastic design change after 6 months. There’s good reason why I chose to do another complete makeover for 2010. I had traction. I had an audience that actually gives a sh*t. My blog is now a (somewhat) authority site in my niche and therefore I have responsibility towards those who spend time reading it to make it a nice place for them to visit.

I wrote some rock-your-face-off content. THEN I took some time to make everything spiffy, shiny and just plain sexy.

The truth is, if you were to take away my slick site features and replace it with something boring like a generic, puke-inducing default Thesis theme, I’d still whup some booty. I admit that I’d miss out on some ad revenue and affiliate sales but the core of what I offer would stay.

And if you don’t think your blog could survive without your fancy themes and geeky plug-ins, then you might as well take that fancy pen of yours and stick it where you shouldn’t (in a pen holder), because it won’t matter how you use it either way.

While he has a passion for writing and oozes entrepreneurial spirit, FJ is foremost the fitness expert and runs his own Fitness Blog, where he focuses on impeccably accurate advice delivered in a straightforward, no-BS style.

Post by Agent X

Agent X is the name many mysterious and intriguing people take on when they guest post at our site. Their mission is to slip in like a thief in the night, leave you with entertaining, valuable and useful content, and slip away again - without getting caught.

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  1. It’s really not about the pen you use, definitely. It’s what you are able to compose with it that matters.

  2. People sadly underestimate the importance of design. It really does have a huge impact on the effectiveness of our sites. Your new redesign looks terrific.

    Too often people who are unfamiliar with design end up not doing anything with their design at all. They fail to realize that, as you said, it’s a process. It’s important that you continue to learn and that you continue developing your theme. I’m constantly making little tweets at Site Sketch 101.

    Again, terrific work on the redesign here. I really love it.
    .-= Nicholas Cardot´s last blog ..The Growing Power and Force of Social SEO =-.

  3. Good post, I’ve had my site for about a year and it’s very very white and plain…

    Which is why I’m getting the Men With Pens team to go to work on it. I realised if I wanted people to take me and my business seriously, then I have to take it seriously, and my readers and clients deserve a good lookcing site to enjoy 🙂
    .-= Amy Harrison´s last blog ..Goals Day Five: Don’t Miss The Gold For The Goal =-.

  4. Mary E. Ulrich says:

    Thanks for your ideas FJ. The redesign and discussion are basically deconstructing the learning process of blog/website design.

    You are right, that first reaction to a website/blog is usually gut level and/or unconscious. We like it, we don’t like it. We sign up, we don’t. Unless the design really sucks, we don’t spend any energy analyzing it, we are looking for content.

    On Men with Pens, Site Sketch 101 and a few other blogs we get double blessings because the “content” teaches us how to critique good design and content. We learn, we become more sophisticated, our reactions are now informed–instead of gut level. We have a new “level of awareness” about blogs. We evolve into design snobs, geez–that is an improvement, right?

  5. The new site looks much better!

    A hula hoop for weight loss? Really?! Who would have thought? (Of course, what I know about fitness would fit in a thimble.)

    I haven’t done much redesign with my blog, but my main site has gone through several makeovers. The last one was mostly behind the scenes stuff (I hired someone to clean up my messy coding).

    Content first. Beauty school later.

    Good design is important, but ultimately the blog (or site) is there for people to read. The words matter.
    .-= Jodi Kaplan´s last blog ..Do You Make These Three Common Web Site Mistakes? =-.

  6. My site re-design completely changed the way my brand appealed to people. Since then, traffic has quadrupled, and it sticks. Funny how that works.
    .-= Nathan Hangen´s last blog ..Understanding Desire =-.

  7. Great points Agent X!

    First off, I like this new look.

    As someone who’s gone through three transformations on her site (and still isn’t quite where she needs to be), I can relate to the truth of what you are saying.

    One key that I’ve found is to learn from your mistakes. As long as you are willing to do that nearly anything is possible.
    .-= Laura Spencer´s last blog ..Are You Trapped in the Writing Web? =-.

  8. @Amy
    You’re the perfect example of a person I’m talking about. You focused on content, now it’s time to step it up. NOW is the time for a re design to take place… so good luck with that. I love it when my shit can be backed up with real life examples.

    @Mary
    Hah, “design snobs”… yes the ever-famous term.

    @Jodi
    Exactly, words matter. And I bet the “behind the stuff” coding clean up will provide a better experience for the end user. Faster load times = faster access to content. Men specially… like faster access. Right James? 😉

    @Laura
    “Agent X”… That’s not a bad name for me either. Yeah your current design looks more than adequate. Though I’d stream-line your menu system. Looks a bit like my room at the moment. Cluttered. Everything else looks clean and tidy.

  9. Hey buddy, glad to see you writing here. I noticed when you change things around. Very, very wise.

    I use my pen to fight off marauders in the night.
    .-= Josh Hanagarne´s last blog ..My Unexpected Lunch With Seth Godin =-.

  10. @Josh
    Yeah man, good to see you drop by. Btw, I saw your “lunch with Seth Godin” post. That’s one hell of an opportunity, looks like you had a good time. And standing next to you, he looks like a hobbit. Albeit, a very wise hobbit.
    .-= FitJerks Fitness Blog´s last blog ..FitJerk Friday#5 – Focusing On The Positives =-.

  11. Content is definitely key but useability and having a lovely design to look at is also important. By the way, I like the new design!

  12. I remember reading a blog post that made reference to stevepavlina.com and zenhabbits.com being 2 different blogs in many respects but both being hugely successful. I think that is what makes blogging a great adventure…. many different parameters for success.

    Like Chris from AONC said …. something to the effect that with blogging, it is fine break some rules but probably not all of them at the same time.

    I intend to have a new design for my new blog in the next few weeks. I think that if one cares about design and they can manage one, it is wise that they go ahead for a site redesign. Of course the age old advice of GREAT AND VALUABLE CONTENT is something that makes sense.

    Thank you for the insight.
    .-= Christopher Kabamba´s last blog ..7 Things you DON’T NEED to transform your Life =-.

  13. Personally I think it is impossible to separate the two. While there may well be people prepared to plough through a poorly designed site, they will be many others who give up straight away.

  14. Part of what matter to whom depends on who your readers are. If you write for those who are looking for the heart of the textual content, layout and design are important as long as your content can be easily read and followed. Yet, it’s not possible to ignore the importance of the eye=catching design. By the way, let’s not forget the search engines: if a site is gorgeous, but takes a long long time to load, just forget it!

    If your content deals with something that is somewhat related to the visual sense of your readers like travel, fashion, etc, it’s 100% sure that your audience gives you a lot more credit if you have a beautiful site. Of course, valuable content should be considered as well. Search engines are to be satisfied too!
    .-= Rahman Mehraby´s last blog ..How to Protect Your Twitter Reputation =-.

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