I’ve learned some about how websites work since starting The Zarf last spring. My good buddy created the site on WordPress, so I thought I should learn more about it. Jean Egan is a friend I met on Google+. She’s a multimedia designer and WordPress consultant. Jean shared some of her knowledge, updating my website smarts to 2.1.
Travis Blair: I like that WordPress allows people from all walks of life to create an online location. Why do you like to work with it?
Jean Egan: WordPress is the most intuitive content management system around. Before I settled with WordPress, I searched for a CMS that would be easy for non-technical people to understand.
I love that my clients can update their site content without having to hire me for every little update. I know that’s crazy to say, but I love to see empowered clients who feel comfortable updating their own site. Having this much control used to be unheard of!
Travis: What is the most important thing to know when creating a WordPress site?
Jean: Hmm… I think the most important thing is to choose a host who will deliver WordPress’ PHP pages well – or be very sure to use a caching plugin. I’ve seen a lot of clients who are unhappy with the big guys who offer “cheap” shared hosting. (You get what you pay for.) Development time and cost can substantially increase if page updates take too long to (re)load during development. I’ve also seen sites get shut down due to them not caching during development. That is extremely frustrating. Finally, when your site is live, if the pages take a long time to load you could lose traffic.
The host you choose is very important.
Travis: Are there any common mistakes you see on sites that are easily remedied?
Jean: Even if you don’t have a WordPress site, here are some site recommendations based on common mistakes I’ve seen: Be SEO conscious. Collect analytics. Make sure your site pages are being served quickly. Responsive themes, not separate mobile sites are the way to go. Be sure your site design fits your company image and lastly, be sure to give yourself time to continually improve your site.
SEO: An SEO mistake I commonly see is the permalinks structure not being set to “pretty”. A page URL that says “?p=42” rather than “/interesting-article-title/” is doing a disservice to the site owner by not having title keywords within the page URL. Additionally, having the date in the URL is often not recommended, as people may pass over a pertinent article because of it’s age. Also, when linking to pages not on your site, be sure they open in a new tab or window. You don’t want to lose a visitor!
Collect analytics: By collecting analytics, you can see how people find your site – and what they do when they’re on your site. This allows you to see what others find interesting and important on your site. Having this information allows you to explore those areas next time you’re searching for a new blog post topic.
Use plugins sparingly: When you add a plugin to your site, take some time to consider exactly what you’re adding. Each plugin can slow the delivery of site content. Be sure it’s worth the extra load. There are tools to see what your site pages are delivering and how long it takes them to deliver – and other tools to help you get your load time as close to – or optimally – under 2 seconds.
Mobile: Another area of interest is to really consider what your site looks like on a tablet or mobile phone. Full-out mobile sites are a thing of the past. Today, “Responsive” themes are an effective way to serve optimized content within a layout that is suitable for any device.
Design: If your site looks like it came straight from 1985, and you’re not in a contest for the “World’s ugliest site”, you may want to consider updating how your content looks. Design helps set the “mood” for your site. For example, if your business claims to be upscale, yet your design says “cheap and old”, you’re not conveying the proper message. Don’t underestimate how well good design can help your message!
Invest your time: As with everything – there’s always room for improvement – on any site. Often, it’s just finding the time to focus on improving your site. What I love about web (over print) is it’s always changeable. Nothing’s set in stone.
Travis: What advice do you have for people who have an idea of what they want, but cannot find the right theme?
Jean: Look for a theme that has layout design flexibility built in. (Modular site building.) Themes that offer that flexibility often offer flexibility with colors, fonts and other graphic elements. You’ll be able to make your site unique by how the parts are arranged and by color and font choices.
Functionality (i.e. HTML5 animations, slide shows, contact forms, etc.) can be added to any site using plugins. Although functionality should be top of the list when you’re considering what your site needs, don’t choose a theme solely on functionality unless you can not find that functionality within a plugin. By using plugins rather than relying on a theme, that also allows you to update the look of your site without having to say “good bye” to a functionality if you update to a different theme.
Travis: If I were to peruse through your bookmarks, what would be some of the best resources I would discover for people with WordPress sites?
Jean: Oh Travis – I bookmark so many helpful sites! If you have a WordPress site and are looking for some helpful resources, Below is my
short list of sites I often use and recommend to others.
WordPress training & learning
Speed test your site:
Optimize your site images:
Grade your website & get recommendations for improvement:
Webmaster Tools: Track if your site goes down or if robots can’t access your site, (among other things):
Find good keywords within Keyword Planner (You have to create a (free) AdWords account to access this page. You can freely search for new keyword ideas without spending any money.)
Google Fonts: free to use on your site:
Create a favicon for your site:
Create hex colors quickly:
Validate your site’s code:
Generate CSS3 code:
If your CSS isn’t working in all browsers, this site is often helpful:
Malware site scan:
If your readers are considering creating their own WordPress site and have any questions along the way, I’d love to help. I enjoy mentoring and fostering community and enjoy helping people hit the ground running. Thanks again for this opportunity to share!
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