There comes a time in the life of every web site when a re-design is in order. This can be driven by a new brand image, making better use of advancing web technologies or simply the need to provide a better organizational structure.
Needing to re-organize was the driving force behind a design shake up of Creative in Chicago, a craft and home decor blog and the outlet for my personal creative endeavors.
When I first started this blog I opted for a quick and easy Blogger template, simply adding a custom header and working with the template designer to add a unique background and set the blog layout. It was fully functional but not the most appealing site in the world, but as I had no idea if it was something I was going to write on a regular basis, I didn’t want to invest a load of time in setting it up.
As it turns out the blog now has over 200 posts with over 30K visitor a month and was in dire need of a shake up, so it underwent a redesign . For regular blogging I generally recommend using WordPress but because I did not want to spend more time than necessary, I decided to stick with Blogger.
During the redesign process I wanted to address
- Look and Feel
The overall look and feel of the blog was very bland and I wanted to punch it up a notch but still let the content of the site do most of the talking.
The posts in the blog had all been categorized but I wanted to refine the categorization process and then use it as a navigational structure, making posts and topics of interest much easier to find.
To enable visitor to quickly scan new content from the home page or a category page I wanted to move from the full post to a summary post format.
The site receives around 30K visitors a month and I wanted to explore the advertising opportunities available for generate revenue from the site.
- Responsive Design
Around 20% of the traffic comes via mobile devices so it was important that I provided a site that was optimized for those visitors.
Look/Feel and Readability
In re-designing a site I wanted to keep some semblance of the original site so not to completely alienate my readers with something totally new and unexpected. I kept the background patterns and type face of “Creative in Chicago” the same but completely reworked the header, creating a little more pop with the use of color and simple design elements and also integrated social media icons and RSS feed subscription.
I also moved away from the full post format on the home and category pages. Instead the reader is now offered a summary of each post with an thumbnail picture. It is much easier to see at a glance the content of the site.
Although I had been using categories to define content there lacked a definite structure which I could use as navigational tool. I reassessed and ended up with five main categories : Art – Crafts projects – Decorating – Free Stuff – Garden projects and within these categories I defined a number of sub categories. For example the category Decorating has five sub categories: Before and Afters – Painting – Decorative Accents – Wall Art Ideas- Windows . The navigation bar was reworked to include these main blog categories, with drop down elements for the subcategories. A search bar was also prominently placed. Posts that were buried deep within the blog are now much more accessible.
I decided to incorporate Google Adsense into the site and allotted a spot high on the sidebar for placement. I wanted a position that would work both well for click throughs but not to be too invasive for my readers. I am also experimenting with in-line advertising through infolink. Both are working nicely!
Fortunately Blogger makes this really easy and it is as simple as selecting a pre-made template to display when anyone accesses the site with a mobile device.
in Blogging, Chicago Web Designer, Responsive Web Design, Web Design Projects
A good website is a “living” marketing tool that can evolve to accommodate different approaches to engage with it’s users. Our long standing client, The Rockwood, a St Louis retirement community, understands this and recently asked us to revisit their site and make suggestions on how it could be improved.
The site has now been overhauled so it performs better in the search engines and offers interactions with it’s users through social networking sites Facebook and Twitter. We also built them a custom WordPress blog which was seamlessly integrated into the site.
© Chicago Web Designer
in Blogging, Facebook, St Louis Web Designer, STL Marketing, Web Design Projects, Wordpress
If you have just started blogging, or even been blogging for a while here are a few tips that will make your images more friendly to both the search engines and your site visitors.
Before you upload: Optimize your image
Scale your photographs to the exact dimensions which you wish to use them, don’t rely on your blog to re-size your photos, they will download much faster if they are scaled pre upload.
- File size vs quality
Ideally your photographs need to be small in file size but in great quality, large files can take a long time to download frustrating your readers and driving them away.
- Most image editing software will allow you to easily optimize you images to be web ready, however if you don’t have access to anything suitable try Pic Monkey . It will allow you to crop re-size and add text and graphic overlays
Rename your images
Most camera will name photographs some like D03456, an arbitrary number that means nothing. Re-name your photographs so they encompass the following.
- The content of the photograph
- The content of your blog post
- A phrase that someone may search
e.g You are about to write a blog post all about how to make some rope pencil pots.
The image below is named rope_pencil_pots.jpg, which reflects the composition of the photo, the content of the blog post and could feasibly be a phase that someone would use as a search query. Each word with an under score _, but is perfectly OK to separate with a hyphen instead (rope-pencil-pots.jpg)
When search engines visit you site they are unable to “see” a photo of a rope pencil pot, all they understand is the code (HTML) powering the site which in this case looks like this.
<img border="0" height="320" src="http://3.bp.blogspot.com/-_lBtkHUaGZQ/TxhQ30_6TJI/AAAAAAAAA78/YYvdehrboig/s320/rope_pencil_pots.jpg" width="320" />
By giving the photo a meaningful file name it essentially helps the search engines ” see” the photo.
You have uploaded your photo now what?
Add an ALT tag to your photo
What is an Alt Tag?
Alt stands for “Alternative text” and adding an alt tag to an image further enhances the ability of the search engine to understand the content of the photo.
In the case of my rope pots my alt tag would be
alt=”rope pencil pots”
As you can see the phase I am using is the same as the name I gave the image file.
How To Add an ALT Tag
The ease in which an alt tag can be added to a photo depends on which blogging platform you are using, WordPress is much easier than Blogger.
And because this is difficult to explain in words I have made a video which covers adding an Alt tag to your images in both Blogger and WordPress (and just in case you are wondering the accent is English!)
Is it worth the effort?
And here is a little test to show you this effort does pay off. Click the link below, it is the Google image search for Rope Pencil Pots …now look at what they have listed as the first image!
©2012 Chicago Web Designer
Launched today are two new wordpress powered website for celebrant Ruth Hasser.
Ruth has two sides to her business, weddings and funerals, or life tributes. As you can imagine the target audience for each is very different.
A first generation site, designed and developed in 2009 for her wedding business, served her well and really helped grow her client base as a lead generation tool.
“Last year at this time, pre-website, I had one wedding scheduled for 2009. By the end of the year I had done 25. Right now, I already have 17 weddings scheduled, and I have been receiving an average of one lead per day since the beginning of January- outstanding!”
But like all tools they need to be refined to offer maximum effectiveness, so this second generation site offers social media integration allowing her clients to connect with her via Facebook and YouTube and we took the opportunity to move the site to the more robust blogging platform WordPress. This has the added advantage that Ruth now has full editorial control of the content of the the site. Ruth was happy with the look and feel of the first generation site so we kept the design the same but did increase the width to accommodate the most common screen resolution.
A website dedicated to the funeral side of her business is a new endeavor. We kept the brand image the same as the wedding site but used different imagery and a more muted color palette.
Switching from Blogger to WordPress can be a little daunting for a client and there is definitely a learning curve. As well as training we also provided Ruth with a set of screen cast videos which outline how to do the most common updates such as publishing a new blog post and uploading photographs.
© 2012 Chicago Web Designer
in Blogging, Social Media, Testimonials, Web Design Projects, Wordpress
I am working with long a long standing client at the moment to convert her website to be powered by the WordPress platform. Her current site is constructed of static HTML pages and a blogger powered blog but the conversion will put everything under one roof and give her much more control of not only her blog posts but the rest of her site too.
Pros of using WordPress?
- CMS: WordPress is a powerful content management system and gives you complete control to update the content your website yourself instead of relying on your web designer.
- Design: The design options in WordPress are limitless. There are plenty of free templates around but with some technical knowledge a completely custom look can be created and you are not limited to using an identical template across every page on your site
- Pages: With a self hosted WordPress installation there is no limit to the number of pages you can have on your site, pages can be easily ordered, sorted into menus and even hidden. The look and feel of pages can also be changed by apply a different template to the page.
- SEO: Compared to blogger WordPress offers much better SEO ( search engine optimization) functionality. Using a plugin like ” All in one SEO”, enables each blog post to be given a search engine friendly title, description and set of keywords. The same functionality can also be applied to pages
- Users: You can set up administrator, editor, author and contributor accounts, which allow different users different levels of access to the site.
Cons of Using WordPress?
- The main con of using WordPress, for a client, is the learning curve associated with the administrative dashboard. It is definitely more complex than Blogger but we offer comprehensive training on posting, editing and uploading images/files etc.
Ready to move?
Do you have a static web site or blog that could benefit from power of the WordPress platform? We can make the transition as seamless as possible. Contact us today for a free evaluation of your site or blog/
Tested a useful application from screenr.com today which allows you to capture your screen and make screen casts. It is easy to use, requires no download and is FREE.
Here is a very quick video tutorial I made on how to subscribe to our blog “The Chicago web designer”
© 2012 Chicago web designer
in Blogging, Free!, Social Networking, Videos
Here is a list of 7 things you, as a small business owner, can do TODAY, to increase the visibility of your web site. The better visibility, the better rankings in the search engines . End result more site visitors.
- Start a Blog
Google’s blogger or WordPress.com are both good candidates for the novice blogger. They are easy to setup and require no technical knowledge . Ideally your blog should be integrated into your web site and given the same look/ feel for a seamless branded image (we can definitely help you with this). However having a standalone blog gives you a great platform to test the blogging waters and find your voice. Write regular blog posts relevant to your business expertise or product offering and make sure to create linksto your web site. Here are some articles on blogging which will help you get the most out of your blog.
- Comment on blog posts
Commenting on blog posts is a great way to increase the visibility of your site. A fitting comment and a relevant link to your site where applicable can lead to considerable traffic. Tread carefully though and do not spam.
- Open a Twitter account
Twitter is a micro blogging tool, each Tweet, or post can have a maximum of 140 characters. Spend a little time setting up your profile which can include a picture, an all important link to your web site and a short bio. Next find some people to follow using the tools offered on the Twitter web site, then tweet away. The more you interact the more you will get of Twitter.
- Create a Facebook Fan Page for your business
To get started with Facebook you first need to create a personal account. Then visit this page https://www.facebook.com/pages/create.php
Select a good name and populate the info section of the profile with your business information. You are now free to start sharing your thoughts, ideas, products, links, video and anything else you think is relevant to your business via the Facebook status window. You will need to build up your fan base so include a Facebook “like button” wherever you can e.g In your email signature, on your blog, on your web site.
- Get listed on YELP
Yelp is a local directory allowing users to search for all sorts of services, everything from hair dressers to website designers. Once you are a member (free) you can post reviews on any listing.
See our listing on Yelp
- Upload a video to YouTube
YouTube is the world’s 2nd most popular search engine ( Google is the 1st) so it stands to reason a presence there is worth the time and effort. Creating your free account is easy and uploading a video a breeze.
See our videos on YouTube How to select a great Domain Name and How to add video to your Internet Marketing Mix
- Pin something on Pinterest
If you have visually appealing images on your website particularly if they relate to your products or services e.g You are a landscaper and have a portfolio of completed landscape projects, Pinterest is a great place to share them. Pinterest is one of the newest and fastest growing social media platforms. It is a virtual pin board allowing you to organize and share all the fabulous images you find on the web. Boards and images can be shared and repined .
Check out our profile on Pinterest
in Blogging, Facebook, Google, Indigo Image Tips, Internet Marketing, Pinterest, SEO, Social Media, Twitter, Wordpress
So back in March I casually announced I had started a new blog “Creative in Chicago” which follows my decorating adventures as I turn my ever so brown 1970′s Chicago house, into a light airy home. While this blog has nothing what so ever to do with my web design business it’s very rewarding to see the practices I preach to all my blogging clients actually working.
So what is it I preach?
For a new blog I recommend posting everyday if possible and a minimum of 3 times a week.
Have meaningful well thought out keyword rich post titles
Search engines will like this
Offer different ways to subscribe to your blog
Everyone likes to read blogs in a different way so the more ways you can provide your content the better. Signing up with a web feed management like Feedburner offers your readers great options and can also be configured to offer email subscriptions.
Comments can be configured so they are moderated and given the thumbs up before being published to your site. Write blog posts which encourage dialogue between you and your readers and be sure to answer any questions they pose. It can also be useful to visit your commenter’s blogs and leave a message thanking them for visiting.
Commenting on other relevant blogs is a great way to promote your blog but be careful that your comments do not come across as spam.
Take part in other bloggers “parties”
Link parties are very popular with certain blogger groups, particularly those who write about something that can be photographed, think home decorator, crafter’s, artists, gardeners, cooks.
The host of a link party will offer the opportunity to promote a post from your site , quite often for nothing in return. The parties run for a predetermined time and generally result in a very high quality selection of projects as the host has complete control over what appears and any spam is weeded out.
Link parties really deserve a complete blog post and I will write that another day!
Take every opportunity to promote and link to your blog. Include it in your social media profiles, participate in forums, tweet about it, start a Facebook fan page.
All of this takes time and effort but really does pay off. My Creative in Chicago blog has gone from zero to nearly 7000 visits per month in just four short months.
©:2011 Chicago web designer
Many of the websites we have created in the last year of so have been built on the WordPress platform. WordPress is more than a great blogging platform it is also a very powerful content management system (CMS) and for those clients who wish to maintain their site themselves it is a good option.
Once we complete a WordPress site we don’t just turn it over to the client and let then figure stuff out for themselves, we provide an interactive training session. Here is what we generally cover.
- How to login
- The anatomy of the WordPress dashboard
- Writing a new blog post
- Adding and assigning blog categories
- SEO techniques for blog posts
- Dealing with comments, approving, editing and trashing
- Adding links
- Uploading photos
- Uploading documents
- Viewing and editing website pages
- Adding new pages
While this is not a comprehensive list of the all the things capable from WordPress, it is the perfect collection of “need to know how’s” for clients who want to edit and update the content of their sites.
©: 2011 Chicago Web Designer
WordPress may be the preferred blogging platform for many but Google Blogger is still hugely popular.
Over the years the administrative dashboard has changed very little but yesterday a much needed and completely new design to the dashboard for Blogger Draft was implemented .
I use Blogger in Draft for a personal blog I write “Creative in Chicago”
The overall appearance is a very clean and sleek design with a lot of the clunkiness of the old dashboard gone. A top navigation has been replaced by a left hand side drop down tool with intuitive little icons and a simple color palette is easy on the eye.
Here a a few screenshots
As with any new release it will take a bit of getting used to, especially as I have been using the old interface for over six years. From what I have seen so far I like the direction Google has taken in this redesign.
© 2011 Chicago Web Designer