Using 3rd-Party Blogger templates: Why you probably shouldn’t

by Maskil on July 24, 2008

Those of us who – for whatever reason – remain committed to Blogger/Blogspot can still suffer from “Wordpress envy”. I enjoy working with Blogger, but there can be little doubt that WordPress still has the edge when it comes to aesthetics and visual appeal.

Since becoming a blogger, I’ve started looking at each blog I read with new eyes. Almost invariably, the blogs that are most pleasing to the eye run on the WordPress platform.

It’s therefore no surprise that some of the most popular (especially 3rd-party) Blogger templates have been ported across – more or less successfully – from WordPress.

In a previous post, I talked glibly about implementing new 3rd-party templates across all my blogs, old and new. I was hoping to get some of that WordPress visual spice for my blogs, and I was particularly interested in the 3-column layouts popular these days (my preference being to have the text column on the left, with two sidebar columns on the right).

(I’ve removed mention of the source of the templates I was planning to use from the previous post, as I don’t want to single out any one particular provider. The one I selected was one of the better ones and this is, after all, Free Stuff.)

How did the implementation go? Well, as you can see, I’m back to the good ol’ Blogger supplied templates. This was my second attempt at implementing 3rd-party templates, and will probably be my last. I simply wasn’t happy with the result, and backed out the new templates as best I could.

What did I get out of my investment of a day or so of wasted effort, both technical and as to principles? Here’s what I learned; hopefully some of this will benefit you:

Most free 3rd-party Blogger templates are poorly designed, i.e. they are simply not aesthetically pleasing. This includes designs ported across from WordPress; something is being lost in translation. My observation was that many look good until you overlay them on your content. Then the shortcomings are more apparent.

Most of them are poorly implemented, and do not support the Blogger model, e.g. Fonts and Colors, and more importantly, Page Elements. Not properly supporting Page Elements is, to my mind, a deal-breaker. I have no wish to edit the Template’s HTML just to change a widget’s properties.

They trash your widgets. Admittedly, some of the Blogger-supported templates may break widgets too, but the 3rd-party templates have transformed this into an art.

They may inflict permanent damage to your layout, in the sense that they make it impossible to restore the original in need. Notice the header on this particular blog? I’ve tried everything, from restoring my original template from backup to reverting to the Classic Template (gasp), but nothing will fix the heading. Admittedly, most will only be concerned with the transition one way, but if you do ever need to back out a new template, this is an issue.

They are, of course, not supported by Blogger. Support, if any, needs to come from the 3rd-party provider or its user community. While Blogger also uses Google’s model of relying on peer support, the user community is huge.

To sum up, your template needs to provide a sound platform or framework for your blog; your content (posts, images and comments), any customization you make and any widgets you care to add. In my experience, the templates provided by Blogger fulfill this role. 3rd-Party templates simply do not.

If you do insist on using a 3rd-party template, however, ensure that you backup your existing template first, using the functionality provided by Blogger (Layout/Edit HTML – Backup/Restore Template). As I discovered, however, even this precaution is not foolproof.

Better yet, start with an empty blog, and use Blogger in draft’s marvelous new functionality to migrate your content (posts and comments) to the new location (Settings/Basic/Blog Tools – Import/Export/Delete blog).

The bottom line?

  • Unless you’re at home tweaking CSS, HTML, XML and all that good stuff, and
  • Unless you have the time to experiment, and preferably have a non-production blog you can experiment with, or
  • Unless you have the funds to commission a custom 3rd-party template design from a reputable house

Rather stick with the boring old Blogger-provided templates!

Of course, it would be nice if Blogger would come to the party and, each year, commission a different web design house to add another couple of classy, quality templates to the selection built into Blogger. Blogger could also have an impact on the overall quality of 3rd-party templates by providing some form of developer guidelines and SDK, as well as an automated testing and approval process. Templates that conform to Blogger’s requirements would be awarded some form of coveted “Yes! Blogger Tested & Approved” logo. (Borrowed from Novell).

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