Things to consider when setting up a website

In Platforms, Themes by Tom Rogers0 Comments

My Own Worst Enemy

When I set out to rebuild my website, I figured it would take a month or so depending on how much web design work I was doing. Little did I realize it would take over three years!

I had all the best intentions. I worked with a graphic designer on a new logo, and found a cool looking responsive template that I could re-skin to match my new logo and color scheme.

But what got me, and this is something I hear all the time from my clients is – what am I going to say? Every time I sat down to work on the site, I got totally flustered.

It’s fairly easy to advise someone else on how to arrange a website, and to assist with minor editing. But when it comes to doing work on your own website, you quickly learn that you are your own worst enemy.

Weeks turned into months, and I soon lost interest. A personal tragedy got in the way, and before you know it, 3 years went by.

It was embarrassing because I was lecturing prospective clients that they should have a “responsive website”, but then I’d have to say “but don’t look at mine, as it’s not responsive”. I was like the cobbler whose kids had no shoes.

In January, I finally decided that I just had to get this thing done. I soon learned that my template was outdated, so I went on a quest to find a new one. But first I had to decide what platform to go with.

Will it be static, or dynamic?

There are so many choices to make when choosing a platform. First off, you have to decide if you want to have a static website, or a dynamic website. I’ve been creating and managing both types of sites for years. Having a dynamic website provides so much more in terms of functionality, I figured that was what I was going to do.

Being a Business Catalyst Partner, I could host my website on that platform and take advantage of the built in analytics, newsletter capability, CRM, etc. But it was just a bit more complicated than I want at the moment.

I’ve worked with Joomla websites for years, but it left a sour taste in my mouth. Joomla is an open source platform, much like WordPress. But I had seen too many websites get hacked, including two that I was managing. The last straw was a website for a local sports org that one day turned into an anti Armenian website.

Since then, I have decided to stick with self-hosted WordPress websites, and that’s what I figured I’d do for myself.

Then there’s the template / theme

The terms template and theme are pretty much interchangeable. When working with WordPress, you need a theme.

Having used the Avada theme on four projects recently, it would have been a no-brainer. But I didn’t want to be a one-theme shop, so I found a new one to play around with.

What to look for in a theme

There are over 10,000 themes available for WordPress. Luckily, with each theme, you can see how many people have downloaded it, and read reviews to see what people are complaining about.

There’s a good lesson in my experience with the theme I picked three years ago. It was from a developer that did this on the side, which is what you see more than anything. Being a one-man-band, he had to field support requests while trying to keep up with changes to the underlying WordPress software.

After a while, he stopped supporting the theme, which left me high and dry – I ended up tossing the theme in the proverbial trash.

Lesson #1- Only buy themes from developers that are taking in a significant amount of revenue. You want them to be able to support you going forward, and they are not going to be able to do that if they’ve only sold a few dozen themes.

Find themes that offer lots of choices

The next thing I look for is the number of ways that you can use the theme. If you look at the Avada theme website, they offer 29 different home page designs, multiple inner page designs, blog layouts, store layouts, etc. They also offer all sorts of bells and whistles that make the website more interesting, and you can easily change the color scheme. In addition, they provide 19 fully loaded demo sites, so you get a jump-start on the design. In addition to the default Classic theme layout, they offer the Classic Shop, a Landing Page product, Modern Shop, Gym, Forum, Church, Café, Law, Hosting, Architecture, Hotel, Lifestyle, Travel, and more on the way.

ThemeFusion, the company behind Avada made a bold move. They decided that they would create just one theme, and make it as robust as possible. Avada is the top selling theme with over 200,000 customers, so you know that they are not going anywhere.

Lesson #2 – Only buy themes that can be used in a multitude of ways. If you find one that fits your needs, then maybe this isn’t as important. But perhaps you should think down the road a bit; will you need more options?

Look for a robust user interface

I find it quite important to work with a theme developer that includes a sophisticated user interface. Don’t get me wrong; WordPress has an excellent user interface, and it gets better all the time. But, websites have gotten quite a bit more complicated with the advent of responsive design. I’ve worked with some themes that I found totally confusing, and I’m working with them every week.

The Avada theme includes “Fusion Builder”, their intuitive page builder that provides “what you see is what you get” drag and drop page building.

I’ve also worked with the Divi theme from Elegant Themes, another multipurpose theme, powered by the “Divi Builder”, a drag & drop page builder plugin that works with any WordPress theme. Elegant Themes is a club membership where you have access to all the themes they have, but it’s a yearly cost that I didn’t want to sign up for. According to their website, they have about 333,000 members. So you can bet that they will be around to support the software.

My last recommendation is the X theme from ThemeCo, which comes with “Cornerstone”, an advanced and intuitive 100% frontend page builder. X comes with four “stacks” which are different layouts, each of which has about 10 variations. In addition, they have five expanded demos: church, restaurant, agency, spa, and education.

ThemeCo is fairly new on the market, but has already sold about 100,000 copies, and like ThemeFusion (Avada), they are putting all there energy into one theme.

This is what I decided to try, and I’m glad I did. I started out with their Agency theme which is designed with the Ethos stack. As I set out to “re-skin” the theme, I ran into lots of questions. Their support has been fantastic, often getting back to me in less than a day, and going out of their way to assist with custom CSS.

If you’re curious, check out the sample theme. You’ll notice a few background images are the same, but for the most part this website looks completely different.

Lesson #3 – Look for themes that include a beefed up user interface.

Look for plugins and functionality as part of the package

Finally, it’s important to work with a theme that comes with an assortment of plugins that extend the functionality of the theme. If you may one day try your hand at selling online, you should check if the theme is compatable with Woo Commerce.

Although it’s debatable weather it’s good to have a rotating slider on your home page, you’ll want that built in if possible. Otherwise you’re going to spend a ton of time trying to set it up, and more time modifying it later on. The most popular is called Slider Revolution, and it’s a bear if you try to install in on your own.

Lesson #4 – Check to see if they offer decent plugins and if the theme is compatible with Woo Commerce.

Content is king, but sometimes it’s elusive

I started out talking about how I had such a hard time getting started. I was at a loss for words, which impacted everything.

I know from experience, that I’m not alone. The last 4 web design projects we completed took an average of 5.7 months. It’s not that we’re working on it the whole time; more often than not, we are waiting for content. When the client finally sees it up on the web we end up editing it, then maybe editing it again, or moving it somewhere else, more maybe we delete it!

These are smart people, it’s just that when you’re doing it for yourself, it can get complicated.

So, my suggestion is, to consider working with a professional who can help you with the wording, and overall concept.

Lesson #5 – Get help with your content.

Perfect is the enemy of good

Working through the nuts and bolts of the website was good therapy for me. But, after I got the color scheme, typography, menu layout, page configuration… figured out, I was still struggling with what to say.

One day, I was on a webmaster’s forum, when a women asked “Is anyone else having a hard time doing their own website?” The response was incredible. Some had been working on theirs for 6 years! One guy thought he was ready to go, so he took down his old website, and six months later still hadn’t put anything up!

What turned the tide for me was a guy that mentioned an aphorism – “Prefect is the enemy of good“. His advice was to get something up, get anything up, and then come back to it later to edit. Then edit it some more, and keep at it until you’re happy. Most people won’t know the difference, it’s your own sense of perfection that is the downfall of a completed project.

Lesson #6 – Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of good. Get something up, even though it’s not perfect. Come back to it later to edit it, and keep at it until you’re happy.

Stay in touch with your developer

While the site is being worked on, there will be a million little decisions to make. Nothing greases the wheels like good consistent communication with your developer.

If you don’t have time for that, then your developer will have to take matters into their own hands. So if things don’t work out to your liking, it will be partly your fault.

Sometimes just a quick call or meeting can clear up a ton of questions.

Lesson #7 – Stay in touch with your developer – don’t make them guess what you want.

A few things that you will need to do

Your developer will install a bunch of plugins that extend the functionality of the website. These are usually free, but you can open up more functionality by paying extra.

There are three core plugins we always install:

  • Jetpack opens up a great deal of functionality, and allows you to piggyback on the significant infrastructure and tools that WordPress.com provides
  • Akismet, also from WordPress “is an advanced hosted anti-spam service aimed at thwarting the underbelly of the web.”
  • UpdraftPlus makes copies of your WordPress site on a schedule, and uploads them to your cloud account. If something goes wrong with the website, you can use those files to restore the website.

I recommend getting a free cloud storage account with DropBox, but there are other options.

In order to get these plugins working, you will need to create accounts at WordPress.com, and DropBox. People often have personal WordPress and DropBox accounts which can get confusing, especially if you’re part of a larger organization.

So we recommend that you use an email address related to the website.

We do not host email accounts anymore, and highly recommend setting up an account at Google for Work. More info at the FAQ page.

Here’s a tip – It’s better to have “yourname@yourwebsite.com” than crazyjohn@hotmail.com”.

Lesson #8 – You’ll need a company email address. Plus, you will need to register with WordPress, and set up a cloud account for backups.

I could go on forever…

There a many other things to consider when setting up a website. You need a domain name, and of course a hosting company. And hopefully your developer can help with nameserver settings, DNS settings, etc. (all of which we do)

I only touched on the plugins, as there are many that will come into play.

You’ll want to run it through it’s paces before officially launching, and for this we recommend password protecting it until you’re ready to go live.

And once the site’s live, you will want to get noticed on the internet. That’s a conversation for another day.

Until then, good luck with your website!

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