Stop. Do I have your attention? Good. Now take a moment and think about your blog. Yes, I know it's weird to be thinking about your blog while you're on someone else's, but give it a try. Think about what your blog looks like. Do you have that image in your mind? Great, we're ready to talk about your blog.
One of the most important parts of blogging and branding is to create a blog that is easy to navigate, read and feel at home with. In some ways, a blog is like a house. You've probably been to houses where it was such a cluttered mess you felt like you were walking through some complicated maze just to get from the front door to the living room - and the living room was only 5 feet from the door. Hopefully I didn't offend anybody.
Then you've been to other homes where everything was neat and in its proper place. Of the two, you are much more comfortable as a guest in the clean and organized home. I grew up in a home such as this. My mother was a very neat person and her love of clean rubbed off on me. My father is a graphic designer and much of that rubbed off on me. Combined, I am a design freak with a love of clean, uncluttered designs. This was true when I was a newspaper editor and I believe it's true of blogs as well.
A large part of branding is creating a culture where your visitors feel comfortable and have a desire to return. If your blog is the digital version of a messy house, your readers' anxiety level will rise - even if they don't realize it - and they will be less likely to return in the future. On the other hand, if your blog is neat and everything has a proper place, your readers will feel comfortable spending time on your blog and will continue to return again and again.
So, what makes a blog cluttered? For starters, layout plays a big role in a blog. Your layout describes the way your blog looks. Blogs, like most websites, are modular in nature. This means everything is divided into rectangular areas. Most blogs have a header at the top, which identifies the blog. From there, blogs can differ, but most tend to have a main content area and one or two sidebars. This is probably no surprise, but putting it together in a neat, organized way can be difficult.
Let's start with the header. Your blog header is the first thing that attracts the eye when you land on a blog. It has to instantly be inviting and tell the viewer exactly what blog they are on. Good headers should not take up more than 1/3 of the screen. I've been to some blogs where the header takes up nearly all the vertical space of my screen. Screen sizes may vary, but its best to plan on a blog header that's no more than 320 pixels high.
Moving on to the main content area. The main content area of a blog is where the posts are found. Your blog service largely takes care of maintaining this area, but there are a couple things that can improve this area. First, try to avoid super long blog post titles. Blog titles that are longer than two lines are distracting and difficult to read. They also send a subconscious message to the brain that the article is too long and complicated to bother reading. Also, make sure the font you choose for your body text is readable. If it's smaller than 10pt, it's probably too difficult to read.
These are the most difficult part of keeping a blog uncluttered. Sidebars are meant to store extra information or gadgets. With thousands of gadgets out there and more being created daily, there will always be a temptation to put the latest and greatest gadget on your sidebar. Before you know it, your sidebars can be so long and convoluted that a reader can scroll for 30 seconds and still be seeing new things on a sidebar. This is a bad thing. Sidebars should be used to display important information, not everything under the sun. If you're using Blogger, you have access to pages, where you can store many of the things you like to put on your sidebars: blog rolls, gadgets, buttons and photo galleries. The best way to maintain clean sidebars is to place your most important gadgets at the top and limit yourself to five gadgets on each sidebar. If you have two sidebars, make the right sidebar the longer sidebar. Readers often expect the left sidebar to be some sort of navigation and when it becomes cluttered with many gadgets, the reader can become lost.
Taking the time to clean up the blog can be a pain, not unlike spring cleaning, but it's a necessary step that will help you create and/or maintain your blog brand.