Here are some really easy ways to make your blog look more professional.
1. Use large, clear images
Beautiful, large images greatly enhance the content of your blog. Even if they're taken from a phone camera, making your pictures well-lit, in-focus, and beautiful will make your blog look more professional.
2. Make images the same width
When your images are all the same width (mine are all 640 pixels wide), readers' eyes can easily travel down the post. Regardless of whether it's a landscape or a portrait image, always make your images the same width, which will ideally be the same width as the body of your blog posts. I usually resize my images when I'm editing them for my blog, but if I forget, I go into the blog post HTML after I've uploaded them and resize there.
3. Choose a color scheme
The most beautiful and professional blogs I follow all have a specific color scheme. Color schemes can be great because they help readers identify your blog and remember it when they see it again. Usually, this will involve no more than 5 colors, and some of those colors will be neutral. Neon colors are great, but usually unprofessional (unless you use one neon shade to accent your neutral shades).
4. Stick with one or two fonts
The most professional blogs I know always have one font for the body of their blog posts, and sometimes one different font for their headings. And did you know that using Comic Sans is a big blogging no-no? (See this hilarious site for why you shouldn't use Comic Sans in a blog). Fancy, looping fonts are really hard to read and shouldn't be used for the body of a post either. And whatever you do, don't write all in neon pink! Lots of my very old posts were written in bright colors, and I switched fonts almost every phrase. Those posts are hard to read!
5. Declutter your sidebar
Like a lot of things in graphic design, sidebars are a constantly swinging pendulum. When I first started blogging for profit, the more buttons and widgets you had on your sidebar, the more popular and successful you were. Now, it's almost the opposite. Remove all those old widgets and blogging awards you won three years ago and real-time visitor trackers. Clean, minimalist sidebars are the way to go these days.
6. Buy a domain name
This is the one thing on the list that costs money, so therefore it's a little harder to do than the rest. But, if you can afford to buy a domain name (they're not nearly as expensive as you think!), it makes your blog automatically appear more professional. It sends the message that your blog belongs solely to yourself, and that you're here to stay.
7. Don't be afraid of white space
I was majorly guilty of this as a beginning blogger. My philosophy was that if my readers saw blank, white space, they would think I wasn't spending enough effort on my blog design. How wrong I was! Blank space is one of the most effective ways to make your blog look professional. Plus, it draws the readers' eyes to the most important part of your blog - the content itself!
8. Remove intrusive ads
Ads on your blog are fine, but if they frequently pop up, don't go away, or take up too much space, your readers will go down because they find it's simply not worth the effort of navigating around them. Test how your ads appear on mobile sites, too! More people read blogs on their phones than on anything else these days, so make sure your popup or banner ads aren't intrusive on the mobile version. I had to stop reading my friend's blog on my phone because between her two banner ads, I could only see a few lines of text at a time.
9. Update your pages
When a potential sponsor company looks at your blog, one of the first things they do is check your About Me and Sponsor pages. Those pages are a good place to get a feel for you, your personality, and what to expect from your blog. I'm always surprised with how many views those two pages get. Update your pages often, and make sure they're a thoughtful and accurate representation of your online presence.
10. Professional does not mean boring!
Sometimes people think that professional means bland and boring. It doesn't! Don't be afraid of color, bold design, or big personality on your blog! As with anything involving creativity, there really are no rules, and if you have a stellar idea, go for it!
What else would you add to this list?