Re-designing a Website: 5 Things to Consider

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.

Creative in Chicago

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.

redesign website

During the redesign process I wanted to address

    1. 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.
    2. Reorganization/Navigation
      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.
    3. Readability
      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.
    4. Advertising
      The site receives around 30K visitors a month and I wanted to explore the advertising opportunities available for generate revenue from the site.
    5. 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.

creative in chicago blog


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.


creative in chicago website navigation


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!

Responsive Design

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.

New Web Design for Authors Web Site

Last week saw the release of a new book by one of our clients, Edward Bison. His book, Mr Bison’s Journal,  is a very funny collection of stories and observations and is a laugh out loud read. I was commissioned to not only illustrate each of the stories but also design the book cover.  It was a fun project and fingers crossed it will become one of the top humor books of 2012/2013.  It would make a great Christmas gift -see it on Amazon as a paperback and Kindle ebook

As part of the launch we updated his website moving it from a blogger powered blog, to the  all singing and dancing WordPress platform and giving the site a mini design overhaul.

The home page now features a prominent call to action to buy the book and a video clip of a sample chapter. The site navigation was revised to include such as his Facebook fan Page

mr bison website chicago

We also took the opportunity to re-code it as responsive website – I’ll fill you in on the ins and outs of that tomorrow.

Tips for Making your blog images more search engine friendly.

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
    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.
  • How?
  • 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.

  1. The content of the photograph
  2. The content of your blog post
  3. 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)

 rope Pencil Pots


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="" 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!

Google Search for Rope Pencil Pots
And just in case you are interested in making some rope pencil pots for yourself check out a tutorial over at Creative in Chicago

©2012 Chicago Web Designer

Moving from Blogger to 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/

Looking for a Chicago web design company?

A quick Google search for “Chicago web design company” producing a whopping 68,700,000 results. This is a big town and there are lots of players. Not every design firm will be right for every project and finding a company you are comfortable working with and a good fit for your project, can be a challenge.

Here is a brief snapshot of what we offer

  • Design Services
    • Web site design
    • Web redesign, we can rework what you already have to bring it up to date
    • Blog design
    • WordPress templates
    • Identity design, including logo, letterhead and business cards
    • Complete corporate branding
    • Graphic design for projects such as brochures, posters, trade show banners, advertisements etc
    • Presentations, powerpoint
    • Email templates
    • Banner ads
  • Web Services
    • Domain registration
    • Web hosting
    • Website coding – need a design turned into a working website?
    • eCommerce
  • Marketing Services
    • Search Engine Optimization ( SEO) and keyword analysis
    • Pay per click programs e.g Google Adsense
    • Social networking e.g Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn
    • Video internet marketing

We have been in business since 2000 and have many very happy clients under our belt, see what some of them have to say here

We are located in Lincolnshire, in the North Shore area of Chicago.

© 2011 Chicago Web Designer

Growing your blog audience

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.

how to grow your blog readers

So what is it I preach?

Post Regularly
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.

Allow comments
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.

Write Comments
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.

blog stats

©:2011 Chicago web designer

Blogger in Draft has a new dashboard

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

Dashboard Home

Blogger in draft new dashboardPost Page

New blogger in draft dashboard

New Post page
Blogger in draft new

Post Page

new blogger in draft

Layout Page

new blogger in draft

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

Extreme Couponing for Web Designers

I watched my first episode of  TLC’s Extreme Couponing last week and was amazed at the ingenuity and lengths some people go to,  to get stuff for free. The internet plays a huge part in their ability to get the best deals on all sorts of products.

So in the spirit of that program I thought I’d do a series on Extreme Couponing for web designers.

Let kick off with What you can get for FREE – no coupons required for this stuff

Google Products:  Google offers a load of free products, from the  igoogle home pageyou can fill with gadgets to manage your bookmarks ( even have a folder for all your coupon web sites), see the weather for the week, read the news etc, to Gmail for your email needs. They even offer free storage of photographs through Picasa and you can build a basic website using Google sites

Blogging Platforms
Google’s blogger is great for simple blogs but WordPress is better for the more complex.

Content Management Systems
WordPress is being used more and more these days as a CMS system ( I read recently that 14% of all new web site being built today are built using WordPress).  Joomla is a great application for building member type web sites, Drupal is another good contender.

Internet Marketing
Set up free social networking  accounts with Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook and monitor traffic and SEO efforts with the wonderful Google Analytics

Next time coupons for domain names hosting and stock photography.

© 2011 Chicago web designer

The Challenges of Writing a Business Blog

In a recent post ” Chicago Web Designer: The power of 10” I alluded to the fact I strive to write 10 blog posts a month.  That really doesn’t seem that many but after writing for 5 years, read my first blog post here , keeping this live and interesting can be a challenge.  Looking at my blog stats I am falling a just little short of my monthly goal!

So what are the main  challenges of writing a business blog?

  • Fresh Content
    I keep a running list of topics to write about which really helps the despair of sitting down to a white screen and drawing a blank.  The nature of my business means it is important I keep abreast of  all the latest technologies and how they can impact my clients, from design trends, coding languages, communication and marketing tools , where were Twitter and Facebook five years ago? This evolution of technology provides a good source of fresh content.
  • Finding Time
    Sometimes, especially recently, following my move to Chicago, there are just not enough hours in the day to accomplish all I need to do. It is easy to let blogging to fall to the way side. However blogging is an important part of my internet marketing strategy so I make a concerted effort not to let things slip. Setting aside half an hour,after pressing emails have been dealt with, first thing in the morning works best for me.
  • Technicalities
    It is important to select a blogging platform that can accommodate your requirements as you evolve. For my business it was important that all blog posts could be stored on our server rather than a third party server. I started off using Blogger but they moved away from the self hosted functionality earlier this year. I then transferred to WordPress which is a self hosted application.

How about you, what challenges do you face writing a business blog?

2010 © Chicago web designer We have a new blog!

Inspired by my original  “Eye of the St Louis web designer” and now Eye of the Chicago web designer” series I have decided to launch an additional blog dedicated to my “Eye of the Chicago web designer” posts.

Chicago is a rich city full of inspiration for us web designers … my camera has hardly stopped clicking since I arrived here! I didn’t want to swamp this blog with my photos.

So without further ado click and take a peak.

2010 © Chicago Web Designer