Working to help companies connect to audiences with digital tools, I regularly preach that your website is your home online. A site offers a lot for you and your users: it’s a one-stop-shop for all the content you are ideally producing, it allows users to connect to you directly via comments and contact pages AND (hopefully) it communicates your brand through a dynamic and delightful experience.
With that in mind, I recently spent a lot of time clearing out the cobwebs, installing new features and just generally sprucing up my digital home to do more work for me. Here’s the why & how, so you can do it too and do it faster.
Step 1: Align content to long-term brand goals
I first built this site a few months ago as a digital resume to showcase my work to prospective employers. After months of professional development, I’m now thinking of how to develop my career well beyond this job search, to position myself as a top-notch digital strategist and industry expert (girl’s gotta have goals!), so the site needed to evolve.
Based on my experience, the roles that appeal to me now and the ways I hope to continue growing as a professional, I laid out a set of goals for my personal brand and then developed the site based on those goals.
Brand Goal #1: Be known for my writing skills > Strategy: Showcase writing through blog posts
For me, writing is a core competency and integral to my personal brand, so I wanted to make sure my writing had as much opportunity to shine on this site as anywhere else. If your content is special, it should get to dress up in special clothes, right?
To make my content stand out, I added a few features:
- Featured image – The large image at the top makes posts more visual and compelling, it draws readers in. We process visual content XX faster than written text, and that’s an insight I regularly employ in my professional work, so I wanted to use it here too.
- Full width everything – Readers just don’t look at sidebars… they just don’t. So I took them out.
- Better styling for headlines – It’s a cliche today to say that users don’t read, they scan. Well-styled headlines make it easier to create scannable posts.
- Author Bio’s – While I intend to be the only writer on this blog, I also want to brand myself as a writer which means making my bio visible on every post.
For more inspiration, HubSpot recently relaunched their blog to prioritize discoverability and integrate different sections.
Brand Goal #2: Become an industry expert > Strategy: Highlight expertise on site
Thinking long-term, I hope to some day be an industry expert who speaks on panels and so on, which means my digital home need to reflect all of who I am, not just my full-time work experience.
I prioritized my unique selling proposition (data drive funnel optimization + delightful execution in one package) and highlighted both my overall expertise and key results, alongside examples of my work in leading blogs:
Special thanks to Michelle Nickolaisen for the expertise & results design and how to highlight guest blog posts.
Brand Goal #3: Be an accessible resource > Strategy: Add friendly contact CTAs everywhere
Though I am an introvert at heart, I’ve been blown away by how welcoming and helpful others have been as I look for the next step in my career. With that in mind, I want to be accessible to anyone who may have an interest – from those who can help me (like employers and guest posting opportunities) to those that I can help (like anyone looking to build their personal brand in digital marketing).
With that in mind, I added calls-to-action everywhere to contact me, because if you don’t ask, you can’t blame people for not doing it.
Powered by AppSumo, the scroll box is the only contact form that jumps on to the screen, the idea is that motion draws the eye.
This was built in to the theme and I just think it looks classy
Special thanks to Paul O’Brien, who inspired the “Let’s Get Coffee” language and overall friendly tone.
Step 2: Make the site sustainable to further growth
Working on a project basis, you learn quickly that your time is the most valuable asset you have, so you have to prioritize spending time on activities that generate revenue and automate as much of the rest as you can.
With a website, that means thinking critically about what you are and aren’t good at. I, for example, am not a developer, but my brand is about delightful user experience, so I knew a site that was responsive and ran quickly was important.
Time saving priority #1: Flexible WYSIWYG page layouts to save you time debugging
While I really liked the homepage of my old site, it was the only option available in my theme. That tied my hands if I wanted to create any more pages. My new theme includes Visual Composer, which I’m a big fan of. It’s an easy-to-use, visual way to edit page layouts that adds a ton of options.
Time saving priority #3: Balance quantity and quality of plugins
WordPress is great because there are countless resources from themes to plugins to forums. However, adding too many can plugins slow down the load time of your site, and that makes users bounce, so it’s important to find balance. Site speed comes down to more than plugins and not all plugins are created equally, but finding a balance and being thoughtful about your plugins is still important.
Because it focused on the resume template, my previous theme did not include nearly any UI shortcodes like buttons, accordions, etc. Those types of elements are critical to the look of the site, so they should be baked into the theme.
On the other hand, my new theme includes Google Analytics tracking and social sharing integrations, as well as some SEO options, but I’m not using them. In both cases, I want more measurement options on the back end, and that extra functionality is worth it to me to use a plugin.
By balancing the quantity and quality of plugins, I’m balancing the delightful experience my users deserve with my functionality needs.
Time saving priority #2: Find a credible theme author to get quick support
With my previous theme, there were some strange bugs when adding in new plugins, so I contacted the author. Four months later, not a peep from them.
As a non-developer, it was important to me to have access to someone who could answer my questions and debug.
I purchased my previous theme and this one on Themeforest, which is a great storehouse of design and code starting points. To make sure I didn’t repeat the same negative experience, I looked for the ‘Elite Author’ badge on any theme I considered. I had an answer to a support ticket question within 12 hours.
(Fellow freelancers also suggested looking through an author’s support feed on ThemeForest or buying from reputable theme shops, like WooThemes.)
As with everything, process is key
I find figuring out how to something to occasionally take as long as actually doing it, so here’s my website process for reference:
Begin with the end in mind
- Define your target audience – Like you would with any campaign or communications product, narrowly define who you’re doing this for. I wrote up a one-page brand guideline document for myself including target audience, value proposition, key messaging and keywords.
- Look for inspiration – Once you have a sense of what you want to do, find others who do it well. I reached out to the Austin Freelance Gigs Facebook group for feedback and spent a while Googling.
Pick a theme
- Look at LOTS of themes! – As much as other websites can be an inspiration, I find that theme stores can give you a lot of ideas, so I browse for a long while and bookmark my favorites for review later.
- Make a matrix – Once I have a collection of lots of themes, I try to figure out what I like between them and how important each of those things is. Then I grade each theme based on that criteria and with a little Excel magic get a numeric value for how good a fit each one is.
- Leave it up to your gut – Ultimately, a theme is more than a list of features, it’s a big part of a user’s experience on a site and that, for me, comes down to gut feel. I try to narrow it down to about five themes with the matrix analysis and then consider them individually (research shows humans need limited options)
- Create a sitemap & wireframe sketches – If I worked with a developer, a sitemap would be the first thing on my list after research, but in this case, I knew I couldn’t necessarily get everything I wanted in a purchased theme. With that in mind, I waited until I knew the boundaries of my options to create a site map & sketches of wireframes.
- Collect & copy all of your theme-specific content – While changing your theme won’t make your blog posts disappear, anything stored in custom objects created by your theme will go away. To save heartache and time, copy all of this stuff into a document for later use.
- Write copy & create images – If there are extra or new pages, I would write all of the content and images at this point.
- Go! – Once all the elements are in place, it’s just plug-and-chug till it’s all done, including ad-hoc testing throughout. Word of warning: have coffee and something comforting on-hand, this is the stressful part.