To me, one of the keys to my blogging success thus far (“success” being a term I use loosely in this case) is that I am keenly aware of both my strengths AND my weaknesses. On the Strengths side of the ledger, I have two things going for me—I can write, and I can market myself. But on the Weaknesses side, I have one major hole in my skill set: I can’t design my way out of a wet paper bag. To prove my point, I encourage you to compare my blog design with my friend Ira’s blog, GlassyEyes.com. His site is what a creative, professionally-designed blog can (and should) look like. It also stands as a constant reminder that a few Art classes in college probably wouldn’t have killed me.
So . . . once we artistically-deficient bloggers finally switch from the default blog template to something a bit more customizable, how do we add at least SOME visual appeal without having to spend $1,100 on Macromedia Creative Suite and another $2,000 learning how to use it? Plugins, of course! Sure, most plugins are designed to work behind the scenes by protecting our blogs from spam, managing our databases, and running our traffic reports. But a select few can actually add things like formatting, graphic elements, and even a bit of interactivity—without tempting us to download a pirated copy of Photoshop.
With the above in mind, below are five types of plugins that can add some sorely-needed visual appeal to any blog, with very little design effort or skill involved.
PLUGIN #1: ANY SORT OF RETWEET BUTTON
Most people view Tweet-related plugins as a great way to encourage republication of blog postings (please feel free to click on mine, by the way—scroll UP). But those of us with no design skills see this plugin and think one thing: page anchor. Everyone knows that starting a post with a graphic or a blue bird makes your content three to five times more interesting to readers. And more importantly, keeping a running count of your Retweets is a great way to give yourself a quick ego boost when you realize how crappy your blog design really is. Added Bonus: buttons can often be presented in different sizes and colors for enhanced appeal.
PLUGIN #2: GOOGLE ADSENSE
Moneymaker? Sure. But design element? Damn right. Unlike Retweet buttons, Google Adsense plugins give bloggers not one, but THREE opportunities to add customizable colored squares to any post or page. And colored squares are good. The “Mid-Post Ad” setting in Google Adsense also gives blog readers an opportunity to briefly pause and ignore something obnoxious halfway through literally any blog posting. Added Bonus: the perfect ‘triple-threat’ when it comes to plugins—revenue generator, design element, and content breaker-upper.
PLUGIN #3: CAPTCHA
In preparation of a Trivial Pursuit game ten years from now, you need to know that the acronym CAPTCHA actually stands for Completely Automated Public Turing test to tell Computers and Humans Apart. Translation: this plugin protects our blogs from automated comment spam and iFrame injections. But more than that, CAPTCHA almost always includes a really cool graphic with a bunch of letters and lines in it, where our blogs are most in need of a little ‘flair’—at the very bottom of the page. Added Bonus: CAPTCHA functionality on a blog makes the owner look sophisticated.
PLUGIN #4: AN ‘ABOUT THE AUTHOR’ BLOCK
If there is one thing most blogs lack regardless of platform, it is boxes. I love boxes. And quite frankly, it frustrates me that you can’t just insert a box or table into a blog posting whenever you want. That said, an About the Author plugin not only allows you to make a box in your blog, but also put your picture in it. And who doesn’t love looking at a great headshot of themselves? Added Bonus: will save you the trouble of creating a “Profile” page for yourself.
PLUGIN #5: SOCIAL BOOKMARKING
Depending upon which one you use, a Social Bookmarking plugin could allow the addition of between 4 and 400 icons to your blog—the equivalent of winning the lottery for any lazy blogger. And more importantly, each of these icons is professionally designed, and completely customizable in terms of placement. Some Social Bookmarking plugins even include a bit of animation, as evidenced by the six-pack at the bottom of this post (how cools is THAT?). Added Bonus: use of multiple Social Media plugins will ensure even the most obscure social networking sites are forever represented on your blog.
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