Five Tips to Customize Your Terrible Blog Theme

I’ve been reading a lot of new blogs recently. It’s great to get some fresh voices in the mix, and to hear some new opinions.

But for Pete’s sake, customize your blog theme. The first time I come to a blog, I shouldn’t see the exact same theme in the exactly same layout and colors I’ve seen on fifteen other blogs. This is especially true if you’ve paid a lot of money for an expensive theme.

Readers get impression of your blog and its author not only from the writing, but also the visual layout of the blog. If your blog looks like a website from 1996, chances are I’m wondering if you’re even writing in this decade, rather than focusing on your content.

It’s not that difficult to customize a blog theme. Here are four things you can do:

  • Change the background: Most blogs have options to change the background. Neon pink may not be the best color, but you can choose a color, pattern or image that works well for you. I’m a big fan of white and other light colors because dark text is easy to read on them, but there are multiple ways to pull off a readable blog on a different colored background.
  • Make a cool logo or header: You don’t have to be an amazing graphic artist to make an awesome header for your blog. Start by adding some text on some free clip art.  You can even just make text look cool with a bunch of free fonts online. Unless you’re dead set on a complex idea, start simple. If you find out you’re good at these things, you can always change it later. Also, if you have cash laying around, and your blog means that much to you, you can always find a designer to make something awesome.
  • Customize the layout: WordPress offers widgets a bunch of ways to change how the layout of your site looks. Tumblr has themes with lots of different layouts. Make your layout clean enough so people can find things, but make it cool enough so people have something to look at. No one wants to read six screens of text without anything else to look at.
  • Use Different Fonts: What font is used to display the text makes a big difference in how a blog looks and feels. I use fonts from Google’s Font Directory for my headlines and blog post titles. Typekit also offers a whole bunch of fonts for web use. The small change makes a world of difference from the default Arial or Times. Changing the font gives your site a bit more personality. Some themes have this built into the functionality, but with others it might take some CSS coding. If you do change any fonts though, make sure what you use is readable. This is especially true if you change the color of the font and the background. If people can’t read your blog, no one will care how nice it looks.
  • Make it reflect you: My blog is in black and white because I see the internet and its imbecile denizens in black and white.  Other people use bright and happy colors because they are bright, happy and mindless people. Make the blog design suit you and your blog topic. All the changes yous hould make should enhance your content and people’s willingness to read it.

It’s not too hard to start changing how your blog looks. Learning some basic HTML and CSS will make a huge difference in your understanding of how your blog and the internet works. Always save a back up, so if you do mess something up, you can go back to what worked.

But for the love of all that’s holy on the internet, try something with your blog after you apply a theme. You want to stand out from the crowd, not look like just another blog of pointless drivel. Even if you fail, you can always go back to that bland theme you spent way too much money on.

22 Responses to Five Tips to Customize Your Terrible Blog Theme

  1. Björn Sennbrink January 6, 2011 at 7:07 am #

    Hey man, your logo looks like something I did back in kindergarten. I hope you did not pay for it *smiles*

    • Jay January 6, 2011 at 11:38 am #

      I did pay for the paper like over a year ago.

  2. Chris Ferdinandi - Renegade HR January 6, 2011 at 9:15 am #

    A few thoughts:

    1. I LOVE the Space Jam site - nice find!

    2. I agree that it’s a bit obnoxious to see 17 thesis-theme sites with the same exact look and feel, but…

    3. Clip art? Funky fonts? Those things have nothing to do with good blogging. Great content is important. So is an easy to navigate layout. A less-than-sexy theme? Not that important.


  3. Björn Sennbrink January 6, 2011 at 9:56 am #

    In my opinion the logo should be a H1 with the number one keyword first. I use a logo in the H1 on my company site (that looks like a blog) but text (my name) on my personal/company blog. Other than that I try to keep it as clean as possible. And no, I do not use Thesis.

    • Jay January 6, 2011 at 11:38 am #

      I can see that, but that’s a little too SEO for me. Then again, I could always stand to get some better SEO.

  4. Lisa January 6, 2011 at 3:39 pm #

    Definately no clipart please! Clipart screams old, has been, fuddy duddy. Please direct people to the Creative Commons on Flickr.

    • Jay January 6, 2011 at 9:12 pm #

      Great suggestion. I’ve used it myself for a couple of projects and I can’t believe I forgot it!

  5. Kimberly Roden January 6, 2011 at 7:43 pm #

    This is great — thanks for posting this! It’s just what I needed because mine is sleepy and dull and I hate it. Just starting figuring out some of the basic HTML stuff but all good tips are helpful! I do agree that content is important but I like a splash of creativity provided it’s not terribly distracting.

    • Jay January 6, 2011 at 10:48 pm #

      Exactly. Give it some personality, but make sure we can read what you’re writing. Not too crazy.

    • Björn Sennbrink January 9, 2011 at 10:52 pm #

      Before you get started: Creativity / Personality gone So F’cking Wrong: =)

      • Jay January 10, 2011 at 12:24 pm #

        That’s horrific.

  6. Leslie January 10, 2011 at 3:57 pm #

    Would love your honest opinion on the look of my new blog. Was trying to go for serious with it, but I’m fearful it’s just DULL. Just let me know - thanks!

  7. Tim Arthur January 11, 2011 at 4:16 pm #


    I really enjoyed this post. I’m currently working on making my blog look the way I want it to. It definitely takes time and effort. Since I am on the blogger platform, I have been doing a lot of research on how to customize templates in the blogger template.

    Your post is definitely helpful.

    • Jay January 11, 2011 at 5:25 pm #

      Glad I could help! I’ve personally found it useful to have a “test blog” which I keep private to test the layout on, and once I’ve perfected it, then I apply the theme, settings, graphics and everything on the original.

      • Chris Ferdinandi - Renegade HR January 11, 2011 at 5:29 pm #

        +1. I have a test blog I use too. Great for trying out new stuff without ruining what you’ve already got!

      • Tim Arthur January 11, 2011 at 6:08 pm #

        That’s a good point. I always setup test environments for my IT infrastructure at work, so it makes sense I would do the same for the blog. Would be incredibly simple to use another blogger blog as a test bed.

        I manage a word press blog for my church, so I am really familiar with word press too. Maybe I will switch platforms someday. Y

        • Chris Ferdinandi - Renegade HR January 11, 2011 at 6:11 pm #

          Tim, I started on Blogger and very quickly moved over to WordPress self-hosted. The $70 a year is well worth it to me for the flexibility that WP brings over Blogger.

          Best of luck!

        • Chris Ferdinandi - Renegade HR January 11, 2011 at 6:12 pm #

          PS: Just checked out your site - looks really great (even for a Blogger site)!

          • Tim Arthur January 11, 2011 at 6:16 pm #

            Thanks Chris!

            I’m working on it… :)