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The Content-Driven Design Process

Content-driven design is the process of using the content that you have to determine the design and layout of the site. For decades, it has been the normal order of things to create a great-looking design based upon demographic keywords (mood, feeling, industry, etc.) and then create content to fit that space.

Though there is nothing wrong with this, per se, it leads to a lot of frustration between designer and company. The designer works hard to create a strong design only to see compromise after compromise until his design is no longer recognizable. The flip side is that the design is so great that no one wants to compromise it with the content. Therefore, the company isn’t always able to say what it needs to in order to reach the target customer.

In comes content-driven design. Start with the content first and then let that lead the direction, feeling, mood, etc. of the design. It’s a more harmonious way to design for the Web, ensuring that both the design and the content work together instead of against one another.

There are two parts to content-driven design: content and design.

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Speed Test Case Study: Upstairs Hair Affair

Q: Why care about how fast a website loads?

A: One of the major ranking factors in the Google Search algorithm is how fast a page loads.

Page load times also can negatively affect the user experience of your site. If it doesn’t load quickly enough, visitors will abandon the page.

Here is a speed test case study for one of my recently completed projects: upstairshairaffair.com.

pageLoadCaseStudy1This speed test is made using the tool at pingdom.com. What I really love about this speed test is that I can see how the page load speed performs over time.

Before we get into how we helped this client bring her load time down from 6s to 1s, it should be noted that the design and development of a website are only a part of the speed equation. In a test like this one, you will quickly see that your hosting server also plays a huge part in the load speed of pages. The more photos, videos, or interactive elements you have on a page, the slower the load times, as well. A good web designer will keep this in mind when developing a site. The site here consistently comes in at 1-2 seconds across all of the pages on the site. The fastest page to load is actually the image gallery, so it’s possible to have media and still load a page quickly.

In this image, we can see that I first tested the site at the end of October. It took 6.65 seconds for it to load the home page. After a complete redesign of the website, including a switch to the fantastic Site 5 hosting servers, the load time came down to under 1s (see image above). That’s a full 5s off of the original home page load time!

pageLoadCaseStudy3This image gets to the heart of the speed issue. It wasn’t like I went through and hacked out every image or process on the website. I didn’t strip it down to nothing. In fact, there is a larger hero image on the front page now than before! What happened is that the size of the page increased but the request count decreased. That, with a quicker response from the server, saved this site a lot of time loading. Choosing simplicity over complexity and focusing the message of the page greatly decreased the loading time of the site. It also allowed us to put heavier content on the front page without making any sacrifices.

pageLoadCaseStudy4Finally, here is the overall page speed score from this test. It went up almost 10 points from the time I checked the page load time in October.


So, what does all this mean? There are several takeaways from this case study on page load speeds.

  1. A good web host is vital to a fast website (I recommend Site5.com)
  2. It is possible to have media and interactive elements without slowing page load to a crawl
  3. If you simplify and focus what is happening on each page, it will greatly decrease the page load time
  4. Simplifying processes, not necessarily elements, on each page will speed up a website


Website Complexity and Maintaining Your Site

Everyone wants an amazing, complex, do-everything website. A key question to ask, however, is, “What do I have the time and expertise to maintain?” The more complicated the website, the more need there will be for complex maintenance.

Think about websites as new cars. You buy a car and the dealer hands you the set of keys. It’s easy enough to just take the car home and begin driving it. But what about maintenance? Eventually, it will need some work. The two big concerns are: 1) Where will you go to maintain the site and 2) how much will it cost?

Before the complexity of the modern car men and women all over America would fix their own cars. They were relatively simple combustion engines and electrical components. While major work required the help of a certified expert (or a more knowledgeable neighbor) most everyday maintenance was within the reach of car owners. As cars began to grow in complexity (e.g., the introduction of computerized components) car maintenance began to move beyond the capacities of most car owners. Today, owners don’t handle as much of the maintenance and repair as before.

A website is like the cars above. It was once relatively simple to maintain a website. If you knew HTML and CSS, you had all the tools you would need to create and maintain a very nice website. With the introduction of more complexity in web design, however, much of that maintenance seems out of the scope of the normal site owner. Site owners must learn not only HTML and CSS but also other, more complex, languages such as PHP, Javascript, and AJAX. There are also third-party management systems to learn. These systems make creating a beautiful and complex website possible for the average person but do require some time and experience learning.

I’m sometimes asked to create a complex website, which I’m happy to do. However, with that complex website comes complexity in maintenance. A simple brochure-type website created in WordPress will be a breeze for the average site owner to maintain. The introduction of more complex (i.e., interactive) elements, however, requires a significant investment in time learning how to maintain those elements.

So the next time you ask your developer or designer to add in complex functionality, consider whether or not you have the expertise already–or the time to gain the expertise–to maintain those complex functions. If not, then it’s either time to hire someone to care for your site or scale back the complexity of the website.

Do you have a website that is too much for you to maintain? I can help. I offer two maintenance packages that are priced to fit your budget. I can help you maintain your WordPress website so you can spend your time and energy growing your business or organization. Find out more about my maintenance packages or contact me today.

It’s Time to Give Focus to Your Website

Give your visitors the shortest path to what you want them to do

A change is taking place in the way that people use the Web. That means that the way we create and present websites must change, too. Sadly, much time and energy is spent utilizing old trends to fit new user behaviors.

What do I mean?

There is a lot of Web out there these days and people have to traverse it each day. They hit the normal social sites several times per day, but there is always a chance to discover something new. When a site visitor comes to your site, you have a very short time to tell the visitor what it is you really want to say and what you want him to do.

That’s it. What is it that you really want to say? Is that on your home page? Is that the first thing the visitor can take action on?

I was working with a client recently who wanted to add 20+ options on the front page for visitors to click through to categories. Functionally, it was doable and would have worked out fine. But if I were a visitor to that site, I would have over 20 choices to choose from initially. It was a digital magazine so she could get away with that, but for most sites 20 options would be way too many. (I advised her to cut it down to her 12 best-performing categories, which she did.)

Your website is like a funnel

Regardless your topic or brand, think of your website as a funnel. The front page of your site is one entrance into the top of the funnel. It’s okay to have more than one entrance but the fewer you have the more clear the choices will be. The more clear the choices, the more you will weed out visitors. So there is a trade-off there.

I like to think from the end to the beginning. What is it that you ultimately want visitors to do before they leave your website? That is the bottom of your funnel. No matter which path they take to enter the funnel, it should all be moving down to that action you want them to take.

Some examples of actions would be giving a donation, buying a product, sending an email, or making a phone call. It must be an action that leads to something valuable for your organization.

You could have more than one funnel on a page, but the most effective sites will have one funnel with multiple entrances. You’ll appreciate the simplicity when it comes time to manage it all.

So the important thing here is to rethink your organization’s website from back to front, bottom to top. Consider where you want the user to be at the end and then build the path to get them there.

You have control of your website and content. Create a site where visitors think, “This is exactly what I needed and was looking for. I can’t wait to sign up/call/email/find out more.”

(You don’t have to tell them that’s what you wanted them to do all along.)

Use WordPress Plugins Wisely

Using WordPress PluginsClients often call me to look at their websites when they are stuck or having issues with their previous web designer. When this is the case, I don’t know exactly what I’m going to find the first time I log into the back end of their WordPress websites. It’s often not a pretty picture, especially in regards to the diversity, and number, of plugins.

Most modern themes–both free and premium–include many bells and whistles that weren’t available three or four years ago. Some of the special functions that had to be added then through plugins are now coded into themes. This is great news for those who have updated to a modern theme or are looking to upgrade.

A problem with plugins is that they require resource usage on the server end. If you have any monthly transfer limits from your web host, the extra resource usage will count against that each time the page is loaded. The second problem is that for every plugin you’ve added to your site that plugin has to load, slowing down the load time of your site. Finally, it just gets messy on the back end of the site for the people who try to maintain it. It’s possible to filter out the deactivated plugins, but it’s far better to just delete plugins that you no longer actively use–or will use in the future.

Here’s my best advice on using plugins: Only use them as a last resort, not as a first choice.

(Feel free to quote me on that, by the way.)

When considering adding a plugin to your site, go through these simple steps to be wise about the way you use WordPress plugins.

Determine what you want your website to do.

This is the key to everything you do online–from your website to your blog to social media. If you’ve downloaded plugins that aren’t essential to what you want to do, then you’re wasting resources and slowing down load times for no reason.

Find out if your theme can help you do what you want to do.

Like I mentioned before, if you have a modern theme, you might not need to download as many plugins as you have before. For example, many themes include an option to include your social media links without the need for an extra plugin. This has the added bonus of keeping everything in one place for easy maintenance.

Search for a small piece of code that will add what you need without a plugin.

Plugins were made so that designers would not have to touch the code. However, if you can add a quick style or line of PHP that will do the same thing, then you’ve created a situation where you can “set it and forget it.” It will become a part of the theme or child theme and you’ll no longer have to worry about whether or not a plugin gets updated or maintained.

Search through the WordPress.org database of plugins to find what you’re looking for.

Always check the ratings and read the reviews for each plugin. Also, look at the support forums to see if there are a lot of issues with the plugin and if the developer answers them. If there are a lot of questions with no answers, you might want to find a plugin that offers more support.

There you go. My best advice on using WordPress plugins wisely. Remember, there is a trade off of speed and simplicity for every plugin that you use. If the plugin does not give you enough added functionality to justify slowing your website and making it more complicated to maintain, then seriously consider another option or leaving the plugin out altogether.

Go. Choose wisely.


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Check out these great articles about choosing WordPress plugins