More WordPress Woes

Earlier this week we received an email from a potential client who'd taken out a WordPress deal. They were working with a company that provided WordPress hosting for a monthly fee, a basic installation, a bit of tutoring and then, they'd been left to their own devices.

The result was weeks of frustration and a chaotic one page website. It wasn't their fault. It probably wasn't the WordPress company's fault. The two just weren't a good fit. The client works exclusively in Word - it's what his profession uses all day every day - and this, coupled with a meagre understanding of picture file sizes and WordPress' 'distinctive' back end had taken its toll. And the more time the client spent trying to fix the site - and get the value for money he'd been hoping for - the worse it got.

We're going to try and convince him to move away from this unsuitable - for him at least - platform and build something straightforward using Rapidweaver. We'll include a self-hosted blog and leave the build open for adding more CMS-style features going forward. These will be customised to fit in with his way of working.

We'll let you know how it goes.

WordPress? No thanks...

Just over a year ago, we announced that we'd be offering WordPress as a platform for clients who wanted to be able to manage their own websites. With such a huge installed base and so many excellent themes, it seemed like a logical choice and despite our reservations - about security of neglected WordPress installations, mainly - we embarked on this new path with enthusiasm.

But no matter how much we wanted to like WordPress and no matter how pervasive its influence and adoption, we just can't bring ourselves to build sites using it. This is in part because WordPress increasingly feels like a behemoth on spindly legs, massive torso always in danger of over-balancing (a bit like something from a Dali painting) and in part because the program we use to build sites - Rapidweaver - has come on in leaps and bounds in the last 12 months.

The deciding factor however, has been the arrival of technology which allows us to build custom content management pages with instructions specific to each page, element and person who's doing the updating, that is streets ahead of anything that's possible using WordPress. The result? The easiest, most customisable content management system imaginable which makes updating the content on your websites a doddle, especially when compared with the cack-handed way that WordPress tries to implement this.

So farewell WordPress. You tried, we tried, but some things are just not meant to be.

Website for business to business company

Darwin Cooper
The key with this new business to business website was to match the company's existing, related site. As an established buyer and seller of businesses in the UK it was important that the new site matched the livery and style of the other site. We used the free-form Foundation framework to match the existing site in lots of different ways but softened the overlays and panels by introducing subtle corners to each one. We mimicked the fonts closely as well, in order to deliver a looked-for 'family feel' so that the site would immediately feel as if it came from the same stable.

In terms of copy, we went for slightly more casual, friendly tone of voice, since the business at hand is often a very personal matter - a vocation more than just another job - and the client wanted to communicate clearly how well the company understands the specific needs of the veterinarian community.

New website for Electrician in Hove

GB Electrical
When Geoff at GB Electrical Installations Ltd came to us he already had a website but felt it didn't reflect the nature of his business as well as it should. The site was too wordy, difficult to navigate and placed too much emphasis on the domestic side of the business, whereas in fact, the company does mainly commercial work - mostly in schools and larger firms. We kept some of the look and feel of the existing site - horizontal navigation, same logo (though re-done in a more modern, flat style) and a similar colour scheme, but opened the design up, made it properly responsive - so it works well on smaller devices like mobile phones and tablets - and added some funky masonry portfolios which are able to incorporate photos of different shapes and sizes. The result is a slick, simple, easy to navigate modern website which didn't cost the earth.

New website for local accounting firm

Walker Brown
We've just finished a complete re-design of a website for Walker Brown, a firm of accountants based in Southwick but serving Brighton, Worthing and the rest of Sussex. The company had run their own website for a while using an online website builder, but had discovered that it didn't allow them to produce something that looked good, got their message across and was mobile-friendly. We used the Foundation framework as the basis for the site, added a simple slider with some compelling message text animated on top and then linked the site to a specially created Tumblr blog. In addition we added a small, friendly content management system that allows the company to add useful links to go alongside the blog in the sidebar. The whole site was delivered on time and to budget.

Save money on your website #2: Photos

When it comes to building a website on time and therefore on budget, photos - good ones - are often the cause of an avoidable bottleneck. Your smartphone may have a 22 megapixel camera but it's still a cameraphone and it doesn't necessarily turn its owner into a photographer- no matter how clever the technology. Indeed with a few exceptions - outside shots in good light where the subject doesn't move - home produced photos will rarely be good enough to use on your website; and they certainly won't match the clarity and composition of those that come from the camera of a professional snapper. There are other exceptions of course - Instagram-style pictures that have been filtered up the wazoo can sometimes be effective, and deliberately scrappy photos in the naive style have their place - but on the whole if you want a professional job, then use a professional.

That can mean hiring a photographer (we know some great ones right here in Brighton and Hove) or using what's called a stock photo from a picture library. Although the latter have a bit of a reputation for cheesiness, there are so many libraries offering such a wide range of photos and photo styles that we can almost certainly find something that works for your website.

So here are our top photographic tips for your website:

  • use good quality, professional photos where possible - this is especially important for people shots
  • If you want a slideshow of images, try to pick ones that are the same dimensions (rather than all different shapes and sizes)
  • If you want a gallery of thumbnail images that appear in a lightbox when a visitor clicks or taps on them, then you can mix and match images of different proportions
  • If you've got a photo that looks a bit fuzzy to you, don't use it - it'll look fuzzy to everyone else as well!
  • label your photos, give them names that make sense so it's easier for us to work out which one is supposed to go where
  • if your photos are supposed to include a caption, make sure you provide one (and try and make sure it's roughly the right length)

If you can hit all these marks with your photos, incorporating them into a website will go much more smoothly and increase our chances of bringing everything in on time and on budget. Next time: text.

Save money on your website #1: Be prepared

checklist blog
If you really want to help us stick to a budget then you need to be prepared, be prepared and be prepared. We'll help you with the initial structure of the site if you need it. We've got a handy free Website Checklist that will help you to refine your ideas and really think about what you want from a website, why you want a website and what you think it might look like. We couch this is simple terms and ask you what you like and don't like, as well as suggesting various features you might find useful to incorporate on the site. This helps you to get organised and helps us to understand what's going to go on each page.

But before you press 'go', the most important thing is to have the material you want us to use, ready and waiting. That means:

  • a logo
  • any existing branding like a typeface/font or colour scheme
  • good quality photographs that are the right dimensions for the job (a banner slideshow that has photos that are the same size and shape will look better than one where they're all sorts of different shapes and sizes)
  • Links to any professional bodies or societies, so that we can source logos from them in the correct file format
  • And most important, the text you want to use on the site (this may not be perfect or finished, but the closer it is to the real thing, the quicker this will all go)

If you can have all these things ready to go when we start creating the site, we'll have a much better chance of sticking to the budget. Next time, we'll look at photographs in a bit more detail.

Want to save money on a website?

piggy bank
Of course you do. Everyone does. That's why we give you an estimate at the beginning of the process and do our level best to stick to it.

Now, whatever people may think, web development is an unpredictable science and various technical gotchas can lay in wait along the way, which may result in us having to spend more time on this or that than we'd originally anticipated.

This isn't helped by web technologies that are constantly changing and - sometimes anyway - evolving. That's because even when it turns out to be a change for the better, everything on a website tends to depend on everything else - and if you change the notches on the belt, the trousers may fall down.

But what clients don't often realise is how much they can affect the final bill - how much control they can exert over what they end up paying.

We're not going to name names, for obvious reasons but let's take two examples at opposite ends of the spectrum.

* client one has a firm idea of the new web site's purpose; they have the pictures and most of the text; they're routinely available by email; they make decisions quickly (not hastily, there's a difference) and they're engaged in the project. Result? The website comes in on time an bang on budget. No nasty surprises.

* client two has a firm idea of web site's purpose too - they've even got a written spec; but they change their mind a lot; they know what they don't like but are less certain of what they do; most significantly, they're completely blocked and unable to deliver any content at all; the site has now been in 'development' for a record 18 months. It won't come in on budget.

Over the next couple of blogs we're going to suggest some ways that you - as a client - can help us to ensure that a website comes in on budget. See you then.

Adding a blog to your site

Blog blog entry
Here at Hove Web Design, we're big fans of regular blogging and we've come up with a really simple way for you to add a blog to your website so you can add new content whenever you like - without having to pay for our time. Here's how it works.

We use an external free blogging service - Tumblr is our current favourite for blogs that suit individuals and small businesses, though Google's Blogger also works well - and then use some behind-the-scenes jiggery pokery to integrate that into your website so it looks and feels as though the blog is completely integrated into the rest of the site.

So what's the process?

Let's use Tumblr as an example.

  • We start by setting up a free Tumblr blog that allows you to add new content in date order (newest entry at the top) from any web browser using any device (yes, even your smartphone); this means you can blog from anywhere.
  • Next, we set up a blog page on your site, styled to fit in perfectly with all the other pages.
  • Then, we link that to your Tumblr blog.
  • This is the clever bit. From now on, whenever you sign into Tumblr, create a new blog entry and post it, that entry will be sucked into the blog page on your website automatically, using the same design, fonts and colour scheme as the rest of the site. You can add new content when it suits you, go back and edit old blog entries, delete short, you can do whatever you like and you won't get charged for it because you're adding the new content, not us. It's a great system and as we said before, means you can blog from pretty much any device at any time you like.

Why is blogging important? It's a great way to engage with people who visit your site, good content makes them stay for longer, it makes them keep coming back, it allows you to sign up subscribers, and it really helps your ranking on search engines, because they love new, relevant content.

New website for exhibitions project manager

Hamish MacGillivray, a freelance exhibitions project manager came to us because his existing website was too fragmented and disorganised; he had plenty of material and a good story to tell but it just needed knocking into shape and incorporating into a new, responsive design. Hamish is a great user of notebooks so we found a theme which echoed this and used it as the basis for the site. The front page is a blog powered by Tumblr, while his CV is presented in the form of an innovative timeline. The website build went quickly and easily and on-budget, at least in part because Hamish had all the materials he wanted to use pretty much ready to go; and as the site developed he was very good at providing feedback so we both knew we were moving in the right direction. Here's a link to the new Acme Museum Services website.

New website for solicitor

Wisdomlaw is a solicitor based in Hove which specialises in dental negligence claims. Since it's probably not a good idea to show images of dental disasters it was important to get across the three main planks of the company's offering as quickly as possible - hence the banner photo montage showing a library, an open mouth and Brighton Pavilion; this establishes the company as authoritative, local and tells visitors very clearly that the service is associated with dentistry. The centrepiece of the site is a relatively complex form which allows visitors to provide the background to their potential claim and which is designed to respond with an automatic email outlining the next steps.

Responsive websites - why they're important

If you've got a website that's a few years old and have been thinking about refreshing it, you should probably think a bit harder and stop putting it off. Chances are the website isn't 'responsive' - which means when someone visits it on a mobile device like a smartphone or tablet, they see a miniature version of the main site - complete with tiny menus - that needs a lot of pinching and zooming to navigate. This is bad news for your visitors because it's fiddly.

Worse, Google really doesn't like it. In fact, starting last year, if people search for your website using a mobile device and your site isn't responsive, you will slowly start to slip down the search engine's list of results; and you'll be replaced by any of your competitors whose sites are responsive.

What's a responsive site? It's one that takes into account the different amounts of real estate that a mobile device has compared with a desktop computer, that has an interface you can tap and swipe, instead of clicking with a mouse, and that maybe adjusts the actual content that's displayed so as to serve up a condensed version of the main website that's more suited to being viewed on a small device.

Unless you specifically request it, all our websites are responsive and will look great and work well on mobile devices, so if you've got an old site that needs a refresh, why not get in touch to see about ringing the changes? Your visitors will thank you. And so, in its own weird opaque way, will Google.

Why you should blog

Whenever we're designing a new website we'll usually offer clients the ability to include a blog, and it's still surprising how few actually take us up on the offer. 

Some don't see the point. Some think they've got nothing to say while others agree that it's a good idea but don't think they'll ever be able to put aside the time to do it consistently; and the world knows that there's nothing that says 'unloved' as much as a blog that hasn't been updated for a year or two. 

But blogging doesn't have to be onerous or complicated, and it doesn't need to take up too much of your time. Here are a few tips to get you started.

  • make your blog manageable by updating it just once a month
  • keep it short - between 200 and 300 words is usually plenty
  • keep it on topic - if your web site is about wedding hair and makeup then make sure that's front and centre of every post you write
  • include links to longer articles on the same subjects or videos or Facebook pages and Pinterest boards
  • remember that you can always write several blogs at once and then post them individually at a later date
  • if you get  a really good idea, try splitting it into two parts so your visitors come back for more
  • include an RSS feed in the sidebar so that visitors can subscribe to your blog
We know that those clients who blog see the benefit, both in terms of returning visitors and Google organic search rankings (the Googlemonster loves fresh content). 

So what are you waiting for?