My typical experience is that in blogging substance generally wins out over style. No matter how pretty the blog, if the content isn’t worthwhile and the writing isn’t good, the visitors won’t come. At the same time, you could have the best content, but it will be tougher for people to find if your layout isn’t easy to navigate. Chris Garrett at Performancing (who has become one of my favorite reads very quickly) offers up: Make A Great First Impression In 30 Seconds Or Less.
It has some great points about titles, navigation, writing skimmable posts, and some general design guidelines that will keep visitors reading instead of clicking through.
I’d imagine many sports bloggers’ strengths probably don’t lie in CSS or HTML, and as a result there isn’t a lot of attention paid to design. If you’re not experienced with layout, you could easily get wrapped up in design and neglect your content. This probably helps explain the number of default templates in use. It is also a pretty compelling reason to join a network where the layout is done for you.
Personally, an area I need to work on the most is writing skimmable posts. This entails making good use of sub-headers, lists, and graphics. Too often I have long, long blocks of text. Maybe that can be my New Year’s blog resolution?