Saturday, January 7, 2017

Technicalities, Technicalities – Or, 3 Ways to Redesign Your Blog Without Making a Mess

When you’re building a brand new website, it doesn’t matter if things look a little wonky for a while, or there’s a big error message at the top of every page, or your navigation bar is broken. When you’re making over a live site, though, you’ve got to be careful. You don’t want visitors to arrive only to find broken links, images out of alignment, and clashing colors. Yuck!

So what can you do when you want to make over a live site? There are three methods that work, depending on how confident you are with the technical side of things.

This handy little open source project lets you install a web server on your computer, so you can create and run a WordPress website (complete with its own database) right on your home PC. MAMP runs on Apple computers, and WAMP runs on Windows machines, so there’s a flavor for everyone, and they’re both available as a free download.
They are a little on the techy side, though. So if you’re not comfortable with port numbers and databases, they might not be for you. The advantage of this method, though, is that your site will be completely unavailable to the general public, so no one will see it but you.

Development Server
If you’re familiar with how subdomain works, then creating a development server will be a piece of cake. All you have to do is create a subdomain, such as, and build your new site there. Once you’ve completed it, simply move the theme to the live domain and you’re ready to go.

WordPress Theme Test Drive
This handy little plugin lets you, as an administrator, see one theme, while your visitors see another. That means you can be working behind the scenes developing a new theme without anyone knowing the difference. You can download this plugin here:

One thing to note about Theme Test Drive, though: It’s not perfect. Your sidebar layout won’t work properly, for example, because the sidebars in your new theme won’t be named the same as the sidebars in your old theme. In addition, any relative links (those that don’t contain the full path to your site) that point to your theme files won’t work. So if your new theme calls it’s header with a link that looks like this /images/header.png you won’t be able to see the header in your test drive. That’s because WordPress will be looking in the wrong folder. Don’t worry, though, when you make your new theme live, everything will work as expected.
The final way to develop a new blog theme is to simply put your site in maintenance mode. There are a lot of plugins that do a very nice job of that, and if you plan to complete your makeover in a day or so – perhaps over a weekend – that might be a good way to go. Again, when you’re logged in, you’ll be able to see your new theme, but everyone else will just see a “Down for maintenance” message.

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Give Your Readers What They Want

People are creatures of habit, meaning that change isn't always welcomed. In fact, most people resist change and want nothing to do with it. Don’t believe it? Consider the complaints every time Facebook revamps something. Your blog makeover is no different, so it pays to prepare your fans before the big reveal.

You could simply let them know you're going through a blog makeover and the new design will be up and ready to go shortly. But why not take this a step further and make things fun by involving your readers? Get them engaged in what is going on. You could do this by asking their input about a header or other design element. For this to work best, you will need to create a few different ones and then have them vote on which one they like best. This is a good way for you to get a feel for what your readers like and what seems to evoke more excitement out of them.

You might even host a contest, asking your readers and fans to submit new designs. Choose your top 3 or 5 favorites, then put them up for a vote, with the designer of the most popular header winning a prize.

If you're changing or adding a tagline, ask your readers to vote on some different ones you came up with to see what resonates with them. Or ask them to make their suggestions of what a good tagline would be. A simple survey is a good way to collect a lot of responses fast.

Here’s another way to know exactly what readers need/want from your site: your analytics. What search terms bring in the most readers? What pages get the most traffic? Those are the elements you need to make more prominent. For others, split testing will tell you exactly what readers want. You can set up a split test of your opt-in form, home page layout, even your entire site design by using the tools in your Google Webmaster account or email management system.

Remember, your readers are important to your blogging success so you should value them enough to make sure your changes are what they want and need from your site. This will be especially important if your blog is going to look completely different than what it used to.

Just because people are creatures of habit and tend to not like change, don't let it deter you from doing a blog makeover, though. This can be a positive and experience for you and your readers, and can help bring in more traffic – especially if your current design is outdated.
Whatever you're doing - a makeover on a personal blog or professional - just have the courtesy to give your readers some warning about what's going on. They’ll be thrilled to be included, and you’ll end up with a design that’s much more engaging and attractive to them.

Monday, January 2, 2017

More Than Just an Afterthought: The Power of Your Blog’s Footer

If you think the footer is obsolete and unimportant, you haven’t been paying attention to the trend towards larger footers. In fact, many blog owners and developers are looking at the footer as another place to further engage readers with additional navigation, video content, social media feeds, and more.  

Besides being a new location for housing valuable resources, the footer also contains some of the more boring information on your site. Some of the more standard footer expectations include:

  • Affiliate and earnings disclaimers. This legal stuff is a must have if you promote products for commission, or if you advise people about how to earn/save/spend money.
  • Terms of service. If you have a membership site or sell things on your blog, a TOS page is important. It contains information about refunds, guarantees, and your cookie and privacy policies. Put a link to it in your footer.
  • Sitemap. While not as important as it once was, your sitemap can help readers (and the search engines) find pages that aren’t readily available via your primary navigation.
  • Login information. If your readers need to sign in for any reason, the footer is a good place to put a link or the form itself.
  • Copyright notices. While not strictly necessary (you own the copyright for your work whether you declare it or not) some people like to put copyright information in the footer.

In addition, you can use your footer to get other important information out to your visitors, such as:

  • Social media updates – real-time Twitter and Facebook feeds can let readers know where you’re most active and how to find out more about you.
  • RSS feeds from other sites you own – Help drive traffic to your other web properties by linking to the articles you post there. An RSS feed automatically updates itself, so this is an easy way to create dynamic content.
  • Awards and recognition – Were you interviewed on NBC or featured in the Huffington Post? Add the logos (make sure you have permission first) to your footer for powerful social proof of your expertise.
  • Top comments – Let readers know about active discussions going on with a top comments list in the footer.

Most themes have “widgetized” footers, meaning whatever you end up putting in this section can always be changed later, so maybe a blog makeover is the perfect time to try something different.
As with anything else that has to do with the design of your blog - just because something works for one person doesn't mean it will work for someone else. You have to always be testing and tracking what you're doing, including the footer section of your blog.