Published on September 17, 2008
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For several years, the predominant blog layout has remained unchanged. Posts, usually shortened to fit neatly, sit on top of each other in descending order, headlines over each post. This creates a “log” feel from which the term “web log” or “blog” came.
However, redesigns at two of the web’s best-known blogs, Techcrunch and Mashable seem poised to shake up the traditional layout, offering slight variations that make the sites appear more like a traditional newspaper.
The trend appears to be spreading. While no hard numbers exist, magazine layouts are among the most popular themes for existing blogs. These themes are generating some of the most hype among bloggers.
Although the design of a blog is not always of particular import, as many readers read the content in an RSS reader, it is still an important consideration. It is one to which many novice bloggers don’t give adequate weight. Choosing the wrong theme can make a site look dated or unprofessional, completely destroying any attempt to modernise one’s web presence.
For those seeking to enter the blogging realm, or to modernise an existing platform, a magazine theme may be a major step in the right direction.
Defining a magazine theme
The premise of a magazine theme is to provide greater focus for the reader, to help them quickly find most important and newest information. This is done in much the same way that print publications arrange stories on the page, with more important stories getting more “real estate”, being accompanied by larger images. Older or less important stories and photos are assigned less space on the page.
Most blogs have always put newer stories at the top, where readers are likely to look first. Magazine layouts take this further by putting the top story in its own area, usually accompanying it with a large image. They also have other pullouts and features to highlight various elements of the site, such as static pages or feature articles.
While no two themes are alike, most magazine themes have at least some of the following elements:
- Featured article: Nearly all magazine layouts have a feature article front, centred on the page. The featured article, which may or may not be the newest entry, is given more space and is usually accompanied by the largest image.
- Focus on navigation: The sidebars of sites with magazine layouts are wider than those in traditional blog layouts. This makes room for more elements and also narrows the content portion.
- Sections: Instead of the posts being bundled together regardless of topic, most magazine layouts provide some means of dividing the site into sections.
- Images: Where a traditional blog layout tends to be very text heavy, a magazine-style theme is very heavy on images. It usually includes at least one image, of varying size, with every post.
- Short excerpts: Where a traditional blog layout will display either the full post or a lengthy introduction on the front page, a magazine-style one uses much shorter excerpts, usually ones less than 50 words in length.
In short, magazine layouts are an attempt by bloggers to emulate the successful tactics employed by mainstream media outlets in conveying a large mount of information in a small space.
The advantage of magazine layouts
Since many bloggers have tried to distance themselves from the mainstream media, the move to layouts that emulate newspapers and magazines may seem odd. However, these layouts provide advantages to bloggers, including the following:
- Greater visual appeal: With a stronger visual centre, more images and less copy, magazine layouts are more visually pleasing to most readers and appear more professional.
- Better organisation: Not only is there a clear centre of focus in a magazine layout, but the other posts can be broken down better by category or type, making it easier for the reader to find what they need.
- Easier advertising insertion: With most blogs, one is limited to either adding ads into the narrow sidebar or injecting it directly into the content. The former is viewed as relatively ineffective and the latter as being ugly. Magazine layouts provide more opportunities for placing large ads separate from the content.
- More stories displayed: Where a traditional blog, layout is limited to about 10 stories on the front page, unless it has very short posts. A magazine layout has virtually no limit. Many have several dozen stories teased on the front page.
- Greater flexibility: With a magazine-style layout, the newest story doesn’t always have to be at the top. Featured articles can be chosen at will. The blogger gets to chose what to or what not to promote.
When you consider all of the advantages of magazine-style templates, it is easy to see why so many bloggers, especially professional ones, are drawn to them. For a site trying to earn revenue or display a great deal of information, it is a very good fit. However, this is not to say that such layouts are for everyone.
Drawbacks and problems
As powerful and compelling as magazine layouts are for blogs, they do come with some heavy drawbacks. Consider:
- Extra effort: Blogs are renowned for being a “write and publish” system that requires minimal formatting. Magazine themes greatly impede that. Every post has to include a certain number of images, an excerpt and a headline of the correct length. These formatting issues take time and slow down the publishing process.
- Search engine drawbacks: The shift in focus on the front page from text to images means that the search engines have less to read. While individual pages, which do not change much under such a layout, will still have lots of text and will rank well, the home page will likely suffer.
- Slower loading: Due to the heavy use of images, magazine templates usually load slower than those that are mostly text. Likewise, they will be less accessible to those who are visually impaired and use screen readers.
While these problems haven’t deterred many bloggers from trying a magazine-style layout, they need to be considered. Fortunately, they can be mitigated by using readily available tools such as image editors and sitemaps. Still, they can still bog down even an experienced blogger.
For most news organisations, using a magazine layout on their blogs doesn’t make a great deal of sense. If the homepage of the site is well-designed, the blogs that branch off of it can afford to be traditional. Magazine layouts are mainly for the homepage of the site, not for sections within it.
Exceptions might be made for companies creating stand-alone blogs that have no connection to the main web presence. But such stand-alones are still relatively rare.
Simply put, the drawbacks of a magazine layout make them a poor fit for a journalism environment, especially when reporters are trying to squeeze in their blogging duties between their other tasks.
For bloggers, especially professional ones, magazine layouts may make sense. But for journalists trying to incorporate blog content into an existing web presence, such a layout is much less practical.
Tags: blog, design, layout, magazine, template,
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