So much is written about blog content.
Much less is written about the container of that content.
But the design and structure of the blog are a big part of your visitors’ experience. If we are thoughtful when we design the blog templates, we can create a better experience for our readers.
The content will be easier to find, easier to read, easier to share, easier to sign up and get more.
There are two templates on every blog: the blog main page template and the blog post detail template. They hold everything in your content marketing together.
We looked at 100+ top marketing blogs to see the design trends, and what features appear on the blog post templates in 2021.
Here are the research and recommendations, along with decision criteria for what might work best for your blogging platform, starting from the top of the blog layout.
Even with careful curation, blogs are still piles of articles, listed in reverse chronological order. The search tool is a popular way to help visitors find relevant content quickly.
76% of blogs have a search tool. About half of those just show the icon (click to see the search field and enter your query) and half show the open search field.
The blog designer is making a decision about the visual prominence of the tool. Should it be a very prominent, big open box? Or tucked away behind an icon? On every post or just in the main blog template?
Analytics can help inform this decision. If you have a search tool (and Analytics is set up properly) you’ll get insights in your site search reports. These reports show how popular your search tool is.
These reports also show what your visitors are searching for and when they don’t click after searching (% search exits) which usually means they’re unhappy. Here’s how to do analysis of the site search reports in case you’ve never checked.
Should I add a site search feature to my blog?
If your blog is a resource with a large body of content on a variety of topics, add a search tool. If Analytics shows that the search tool isn’t popular, remove it or reduce its visual prominence.
Author name and photo
Virtually all blogs show the name of the author. Most blogs also show the picture of the author. 63% of the blogs in our dataset show the author’s face in the template.
Seeing the author’s face helps build a connection between the reader and the content. It makes the content more human, maybe even giving a boost in social engagement. “They look friendly, I should look them up on LinkedIn, Facebook or Slapchat.”
The identity of the author is also important for thought leadership marketing. The visual just makes their identity stronger.
Should I put the author’s face into the design of my blog?
Unless you are not active in social media and no one involved in the content program is interested in personal branding, add the face.
Most blogs show the date the post was published. Some show two, the date published and the date updated. In our review of the 100 marketing blogs, we found that 71% of blogs show the publish date for each article.
More blogs are showing more dates. See how this CXL post shows both the publish date and the updated date.
But there’s a downside to dating your content: it makes your articles look older sooner.
Although the content may be evergreen, filled with tips that are just as relevant today as they were years ago when the visitor sees the date they bounce. Or worse, the publish date appears in Google search results and they never click at all.
Removing the date from the template may increase CTR from search and time on page.
If the publish date isn’t built into the template, you can still mention the date to the headline and in the body text. We do this for research-based articles. If the article is called “2021 Blogger Survey” no one will wonder when it was published.
This is a controversial recommendation, I know. In my defense, this blog is written to help you, the marketer, get better results from your website. This is about your ROI, not your readers’ preferences. And those do not always exactly align. If they did, there would be no pop ups on the internet.
Should I put the date on the design of my blog templates?
If your content strategy includes news or trends, build the date right into the template. If you don’t put the date into the layout itself, don’t forget to date any timely content in the header and body text for any timely posts.
News or no news? Should news be part of your content mix? Not sure?
This post may help you answer that big content strategy question.
Obviously, these are popular features on blogs. There are a lot of places designers can add share buttons. So where do share buttons appear in blog designs? Often in more than one place. Here’s the breakdown:
- 36% of blogs have share buttons at the top of search post
- 33% of blogs have share buttons on the side, often as a sticky element that follows the reader down the page
- 28% of blogs have share buttons at the end of each post
- 12% of blogs do not have share buttons at all
The most popular place to put social sharing buttons is at the top of the post. But why put the buttons at the top? The visitor hasn’t read it yet!
Actually, there is no correlation between reading and sharing. People read without sharing and share without reading. So putting the share buttons at the top of a blog post template makes sense.
Share buttons are often added through widgets, which creates some issues. Often, these are visually noisy. Sometimes they’re the most colorful element on the page. They can distract from the content.
Also, those little widgets affect load time. This may not affect the visitors actual experience (they should load last, after the content is already visible) but it will show up in page speed reports. Because they connect to social networks, share widgets can make the site look very slow in reports like Page Speed Insights.
Where should I put the share buttons on my blog?
Put share buttons at the top of the article template, and potentially on the sides and bottom, but make sure they’re not too distracting.
Email signup box and calls to action
Visitors who start their visit on a blog post are very unlikely to become a lead, but not unlikely to subscribe. One of the best outcomes of having a blog reader is a new subscriber.
But getting the visitor to subscribe is all about the little signup box. This is conversion optimization for email list growth and it happens in many places.
Signup boxes can be built into the blog design itself, often built into the WordPress theme. They can also be added using a plugin (in the CMS) or widget (in Google Tag Manager).
CTA boxes sometimes appear as overlays, on top of the content. There are three main types of these overlays: popup windows, slide-in boxes and sticky elements, that stay visible regardless of scroll depth.
Here we see how common these features are on blogs. Keep in mind that some blogs use all three.
- 44% of blogs use popup windows
- 13% of blogs use sticky footers and headers
- 12% of blogs use slide-in boxes
- 43% of blogs do not use CTA overlays of any kind
Sarah Noel Block, Tiny Marketing
“Adding a sticky footer to your blog is one of the least used, but most effective ways to get passive subscribers onto your email list. I have found that my weekly newsletter (which also has a sticky CTA) has been a huge win for my business. I get to have real conversations in my inbox with prospects and provide weekly value.
So many people are afraid of email marketing, but – done right – it can grow relationships and be the main driver for sales. But, without subscribers, email marketing will just not work, will it? So, add that sticky footer!”
Wherever the CTA appears, it should be visually obvious (prominent), tell the visitor specifically what they’re going to get (promise) and remind people that it’s good (proof). Prominence, promise and proof are the keys to high-performing email signup forms.
The most common feature on blog articles is more blog articles. 79% of the blogs we reviewed show related articles. They are generally under a subhead such as “You might also like…” or “recent articles”
Traffic is hard to win and easy to lose. A great blog design pulls visitors deeper into the site. Related articles are really just a very visual approach to internal linking. It’s simple and powerful …why don’t we do it on this blog?
Marketing sites have an average bounce rate of 62%, but it’s much higher for blog posts. Adding “related articles” to the bottom of each post can help.
There are CMS plugins that will add them automatically to every post. If you have a WordPress blog, you can use Jetpack. It pulls the featured image from the post for better visual prominence.
Should I add related articles to my blog design?
If you have a lot of relevant content, especially content that does well in social media (which means the headlines likely have high clickthrough rates) and very little low-value content, you should add related articles to your blog template.
Still a popular feature, we found comments on 51% of the blogs we reviewed. But it’s a big decision for the blog designer. The hopes and fears sound something like this:
- At their best… comments are a listening/feedback tool and an opportunity to build a community and network with your readers.
- At their worst… comments are spam magnets (“check out this post!”) or negative social proof (0 comments)
Like those share widgets, this is another feature that will destroy your load time reports. There’s a lot of code and database calls in that comments plugin you installed. But no, the additional load time doesn’t actually affect the visitors’ experience. It loads last.
Should I allow comments on my blog posts?
If you have an engaged readership that is likely to comment AND if you publish thought-provoking articles (especially strong opinion) AND you have the time and resources to moderate (approve, reply, mark as spam) then you should add comments to your blog post template.
The least popular feature we tracked was estimated reading time. Just 14% of the blogs we reviewed include this feature.
The idea is to give the visitor an idea of how much content they have in front of them, similar to the way videos show total duration.
This blog used to show reading times, but since we publish a lot of long-form articles, we eventually worried that a big number (“11 minute read”) would scare away visitors. So we removed it.
Did it make any difference? Not really. The time on page and bounce rate didn’t change.
Should I add reading time to my blog layouts?
Probably, it’s not a very consequential decision. But if you feel that it looks nice and your readers will appreciate it, give it a shot! Check the engagement metrics to see if there was a measurable impact.
So which features are the most (and least) common in blog designs?
We put everyone into one simple chart. You can see the relative ubiquity of some UX features and the rarity of others. It quickly gives you a sense for blog design best practices.
If your blog isn’t performing well, think beyond the content itself. Maybe it’s time for a design refresh. Share this with your web design team. Combine these UX ideas and blog design tips with your own brand identity. Add a pinch of little design inspiration and your readers will reward you with low bounce rates.
Wait, what about those other blog design elements?
Yes, there are other features that we didn’t track. Here’s a quick list and a few considerations for each:
These appear at the top of the blog layout, below the header image and above the content. If your content is organized into clear, helpful categories, they may be useful to your readers.
These are drop down menus on the blog homepage, allowing the visitor to apply several criteria (such as format and topic) to narrow down the reading options. If you have a very large body of diverse work, they may be helpful. But after reviewing many Analytics accounts of many blogs with these filters, we’ve noticed that they are not popular with visitors.
- Progress bars
Similar to reading time, this subtle design element shows you how far you are into the content. They are typically a sticky element (the progress bar on the sticky footer of this blog as an example). They’re just a few pixels tall. Since they take almost no space there’s really no downside.
- Print button
You readers may want a hard copy. If you have a print button, you won’t be able to see its popularity without adding event tracking using Google Tag Manager. Of course, any reader can use the print feature of the browser. That is untrackable.
Final design tip
Let’s give the last word to UX and design expert Rafal Tomal. Rafal has done UX work for some incredible content companies including Microsoft, Smart Passive Income, Social Media Examiner, James Clear and a lot of other sites you’ve probably visited.
I asked him for his best advice for how to design a blog. His answer may surprise you…
Rafal Tomal, Tomal Design
“Focus on designing very clean and readable typography.
You don’t need to make it beautiful, but make sure it’s easy to read. Keep your font size in an 18px – 22px range with 150%-175% line height and in between 60-75 words per line.
Make sure the subheadings are clearly visible by making them bolder with some proper space before and after. It’ll help to scan the content.”