Creating the right user experience for your personal brand:
why & how I changed my site

Site Redesign Comparison

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 everythingReaders 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:

Layout Options

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).

Add in contact buttons everywhere

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.

[vc_row]

[vc_column width=”1/2″]

Motion draws the eye

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.

[/vc_column]

[vc_column width=”1/2″]

Subtle email button

This was built in to the theme and I just think it looks classy

[/vc_column][/vc_row]

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.

Page flexibility

 

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. 

(I use the Google Analytics by Yoast, SEO by Yoast and Easy Social Sharing plugins)

 

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) 

Implement

  • 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.

Challenge: Communicate an acquisition

A few months ago, I was interviewing with a company that challenged me to come up with a communications strategy for announcing a merger. This post includes all the deliverables I put together for them, which I’m posting publicly thinking they might be helpful to someone else.

They challenged me to communicate an acquisition:

A medium-sized tech company is acquiring a smaller firm in the same industry. As the chief marketer for the company, how do you:

  1. Inform key stakeholders
  2. Maximize benefit for the acquiring company
  3. Explain changes to customers

 

I decided to focus on a fictional B2B content management company:

  • The acquiring company (ContentBox) is a B2B content management platform focused on local retailers across a wide variety of verticals. The product includes extensive analytics features out-of-the-box and a huge variety of templates.
  • It is acquiring a video player and analytics platform (VidMedia) to integrate into the existing system. VidMedia is primarily used by freelance or smaller production houses to host and share video content, similar to Vimeo or Wistia.
  • One key challenge in this transition is that a high percent of VidMedia customers do not currently also use ContentBox either because they are not interested in a more extensive CMS (40%) or they use a competitor (20%). Due to resource constraints, ContentBox has decided to keep the VidMedia player available but stop providing support or updating the tool after a 12-month transition period. Customers who use VidMedia but not ContentBox will see no changes for 3 months, then move to the ContentBox back-end interface for 6 months before the VidMedia stand-alone product is phased out at the end of 12 months. VidMedia has data on what CMS, if any, its customers use.
  • Within 3 months, ContentBox users will see new video features and analytics within their existing interface. They will not see any further changes.
  • Communication plans have already been determined for internal stakeholders (investors, employees at both companies) and what’s left now is to determine how to communicate to external stakeholders – existing customers of both companies, industry press and other influencers for potential customers.

 

Here’s what I’d do:

Download (PDF, 4.6MB)

 

This document includes both the overall marketing strategy and the transition plan, as well as a few work samples created for this challenge.

 

Meeting donors where they are: smart phone edition

Web experience: Impact Calculator

At UWATX, the main fundraising vehicle is Employee Giving Campaigns, which rely on fundraisers attending in-person staff meetings to pitch why  donors should give back and why UWATX is the best option. With the rise of smartphones, our fundraisers had a problem: people were on their phones and not paying attention to the pitch.

Goal:

Create a second screen experience for fundraisers to use in meetings when donors are on their smartphones.

Strategy:

Leverage existing high-value content and extend it to a mobile experience through a mobile version of the Impact Calculator. Allow donors to take easily action by filling out a form and receiving an email reminder to donate.

Desktop experience:

Desktop experience - Impact Calculator

Key Insights:

  • Distractions are here to stay: Increasingly, research shows people engage in multiple experiences at once and take tasks from one platform to another. Fundraisers – our front-lines in identifying how prospects were engaging with us – were already seeing this trends, and we knew it was here to stay.
  • Impact drives giving: Over and over, donors say they are motivated to give by seeing the specific impact that their dollars can make. Our existing Impact Calculator made this connection direct by literally allowing users to input the amount of their gift and see how that investment through UWATX could impact our community. We could improve on the experience (adding more giving options for flexibility, playing with the design) to create an even higher-quality experience.
  • People don’t like to give via mobile websites: While mobile transactions and giving are becoming more common, UWATX internal research shows it has not yet achieved widespread adoption as the process remains clunky – it can be difficult to enter so much detailed data on such a small screen. Additionally, UWATX believes strongly in the power of Employee Campaigns, and creating a second screen experience had the risk of moving donors from campaign giving to online. We needed to move donors from the mobile experience to their desktops to give.

Mobile experience:

Mobile experience - Impact Calculator

Results:

The new Impact Calculator generated 1000 views from Jan. to June 2014, a 57 percent increase over previous year, showing widespread adoption in meetings. This included approx. 25 percent mobile views, a 5x increase over previous year. To date, approx. 10 other United Ways have requested further information to duplicate the Impact Calculator for their own communities.

Lessons learned:

While the Impact Calculator did increase engagement, it did not successfully drive individuals to fill out the form and take action. Future iterations should focus on improve the conversion rate of the tool.

Partners: Design – Creative Suitcase | Development – igray consulting