The first step toward creating a great blog is to choose a blogging platform, and there are a lot of great ones out there that make blogging so easy you can start writing and posting to the web within minutes. Once you’ve decided to launch a blog and chosen a blog interface, whether it’s custom-designed, self-hosted, or a popular service like WordPress, Typepad or Blogger, it’s time to face the initially daunting aspects of design and content.

1. Choose an appropriate layout and design

If your site is going to be very informational, with multiple fact boxes and links, then a 3-column layout may work best. It will give you more space to post information, and you will be able to place titles and boxes higher on the page so readers will see them when they first log on.

However, if you plan to write in a personal essay style, the 3-column layout is too busy-it will distract readers from your message. For this type of blog, a simple 2-column layout is best, one for writing, and one for links and information.

Choose a color scheme that is similar to your website, but give some thought to what colors mean to people. Strong colors imply action and confidence, pastels are soothing, dark colors have connotations of danger and mystery.

Busy backgrounds-plaids and prints-draw the eye away from content and slow down the page loading time. Also, backgrounds that look to others like grandma’s wallpaper may be intuitively perceived as unprofessional. Use these designs sparingly, in thin blocks or borders, to add emphasis and visual interest.

2. Simplify the sidebar

Don’t feel you have to use every option and widget available. If a calendar function or photo albums are not pertinent to your blog, then don’t use them.

Do use pictures in your sidebar. It breaks up the text and draws attention to important links. Long lists of links are boring and hard to read, so a long blogroll should go at the end of the sidebar. Put your shortest and most pertinent lists at the top. If you have a lot of friendly links to share, try to categorize them, or at least alphabetize.

3. Evaluate your blog’s appearance

First impressions are important, and the appearance of your blog can attract or detract regular readers. As computer and laptop screens increase in size, a font which looked good a year ago may be too small now. Look at your blog from several different computers and platforms so you can evaluate how it appears to others.

Dark backgrounds with red or light fonts are extremely difficult to read. If you want to stick with a black or dark background, use it for the header, margins, and sidebars, with a lighter shade of gray, blue, or a contrasting background like buff for the main body.

4. Topics

Change them up! Approach your topic or business from several points of view. When I first started blogging, I had a list reminding me to alternate posts among topics-wine releases, vineyard and vintage updates, winemaking vignettes, and industry news. With practice, you will begin to naturally discover a rhythm and explore fresh angles on every subject.

Another approach is to ask employees, or even customers, to contribute short articles and photos for the blog.

Sometimes it’s easier to write several shorter posts on a topic which is currently interesting to you-a new brand, impending legislation, current products or projects-and then set aside some of those pieces for later publication. Most blog interfaces offer a publishing feature that allows you to schedule posts for future dates. This is useful if you are going to be on vacation, or if you find yourself writing on the same topic frequently-you can schedule posts on that topic to publish at regular intervals, and interject other posts to keep the material and viewpoint fresh.