Ever in the pursuit of the perfect website design…
One of my biggest weaknesses (yet also a strength) is the fact that I like to fiddle with the design of my site. I feel like I have a very specific vision of what I want my site to look like.
The trick is that I have to balance that with how to best design it in such a way that I can work on serving information on community memberships, showing tasteful ads, display affiliate partnerships, etc. I’m trying to make a little money here and I want to show you how I do that along the way.
While my Hermes wordpress theme was very fast, it didn’t seem to allow me the ability to add a simple righthand column to display a little extra info. I experimented just a bit but decided for now to switch to the Twenty Sixteen wordpress theme. I love the classic and clean blog look of this theme, and it shows the full posts on the main page…which is nice because people who land here can spend more time on the page vice having to click around. (Although…do I want people to click around?) The only downside is that when I tested it over at Pingdom.com it failed the “speed test” miserably. Ugh. So I’ll be working on that.
All that to say, if you visit my site over the next few days you may seem some changes. Don’t worry, content will always be king and my content isn’t going anywhere. Hopefully I will just make it easier to peruse it all.
Drop a comment if you prefer the old design, like this one better, or just don’t give a damn.
If you didn’t consider speed when picking your WordPress Theme…
In my research on SEO for a small website, one topic I came across a few times was experts saying that my site should have a “modern design” and that it needs to be “mobile ready”. The writers of these articles almost always mention website responsiveness, speed, and loading times.
Websites should load in under 1 second!!
Said many of the articles I read…referring to short attention spans, mobile internet speeds, etc.
With my past websites, I would dabble in trying to make my site a little more lightweight, but I never really cared too much. If it loaded in a couple seconds then I was good.
However, a couple years ago I came across this website speed test over at Pingdom.com. It opened my eyes as to how slow some sites are, including my own past blogs!
But no more!!
After a bit of research, and some fiddling with various WordPress themes, I’ve found a theme that has significantly sped up my own site. I also adopted some tools and tips on things to consider when trying to make your website faster. While load speed isn’t quite the same as mobile SEO…if your SEO is amazing but your site won’t load, will people read it?
WordPress hosting and themes aren’t just for the little guys either. Here are some pretty big sites and companies that use WordPress.
The New Yorker
The Official Star Wars Blog
What is a WordPress Theme?
Essentially the theme you pick is the layout of your website. According to WordPress…
a theme is a collection of templates and stylesheets used to define the appearance and display of a WordPress powered website.
This is basically how your site will look and your theme will dictates how your readers will interact with your site. If things are not laid out well, your bounce rate (when people come to your site and leave without clicking around) will be much higher.
Why Does a WP Theme Matter?
Design matters but not 100%. This is largely because you probably don’t want your website to look like something from the 90s…unless that is what you’re going for. You will want to get your site looking like you want, and how you want people to interact with it…but load speed will be a HUGE component of your initial traffic inlet…or at least what lands people on your front page or keeps them reading your blog link they clicked. You are MUCH MORE LIKELY to have someone come to and browse your website (or conduct a session as Google Analytics calls it) if it loads as fast as possible when they click that link.
I mentioned Pingdom.com and the speed test tool that it has. If you are curious, try out your own site, then try out some of the one I listed below in that speed test tool. (Or just look at the results for each that I screenshot and put below)
I was surprised when I saw that my website got the best grade out of all of them. Especially Daring Fireball, as John Gruber is known for his take on design and simplicity. Yet, as you can see…if you are a giant news outlet or popular apple blogger…you don’t have to worry about it as much because in the end…
Content is King
How do I pick a good WP Theme?
First it helps to have a vague idea of what you want. Don’t be afraid to preview a WP theme for your site and go ahead and activate it, throw your URL in to the Website Speed Test tool and see how it does. Make sure you write down what your current theme is so you can switch back if you don’t like the ones you are testing, and I would also do this in the off hours of when your readers normally come to your site. (Google Analytics has a great readout for higher traffic hours if connected with your site)
Read some of what Pingdom.com says is slowing your site down (large images, url redirects, etc) and see if you can find ways to improve in those areas. Or…find a theme that does those for you, like I did.
I use the Hermes Theme by Themes Harbour and it was mostly by accident that I realized how fast it was. I was actually looking for a specific design, tried this one a few others out (Canard, Verity, Dyad 2, Carbon) and once I saw this one in action I was sold. I had to customize it with some of my own CSS to tweak it to my liking, but that is a post for another day.
Ultimately it’s what you want…and I used to accept that C or D grade as long my site looked the way I wanted. Now, with more than 50% of internet searches generated via a mobile device, mobile SEO and site design has never been more important.
The past few days I’ve been looking into getting my site to be quicker. This quest was sparked by something that Ben Brooks wrote a few years ago and I’ve always remembered. In his post he goes through his brief take on web design and what makes a site readable, comparing and contrasting some popular sites. Go read it…he breaks down some website design standards that you didn’t realize were there…good stuff if you’re looking to make your own site better.
During my own quest, I came across this free website speed test over at Pingdom.com – and this site’s results were less than optimal…or at least much slower than I was hoping. Pingdom has a great tool to see how long your site will take to load, what all is loading in what order, and how big your site is when loaded. Initially, mine was over 6MB and took 5 or 6 seconds to load. I thought this was odd since I didn’t have any crazy graphics, but upon further digging I saw that all the pictures I had with my blog posts were drastically increasing the size of my home page. (the blog page at the time) In the past I had other things that were slowing down my site load times – some custom CSS as well as Bigfoot.js that I spent some considerable time figuring out so I could have those handy pop-up footnotes. (my past sites had them…not going to bother with them here right now)
I am not a programmer by any stretch of the imagination, and I used to host my sites on Squarespace for the WSYIWYG simplicity (what you see is what you get). With that, there wasn’t a lot that I could do other than poke around and see if any specific templates were faster, change my site to text only, or move to another web host. This time around (this is my third website) I decided to switch where my website is hosted and I landed on WordPress.
I may be an edge case as I like to tinker, and have messed with this site’s template here and there. I enjoy that. But it got me wondering, what is more important to someone browsing the web looking for a place to settle in and read for a bit? Aesthetics or Speed?
Most folks who read my past websites did so by subscribing to the free RSS feed, so those folks were looking for content and page load times aren’t as important. Completely fine, that’s what I do too. While I would love to have numerous readers visiting my website every day, week, or month…I’m not a full time writer and doubt that will happen any time soon. However, internet speeds have really picked up over the past few years and website design sites like Squarespace and WordPress are REALLY good at giving you plug and play templates that get you both a fast and good looking site. So RSS is not as “necessary” as in years past when you didn’t want to jump online to slog through links to get to your favorite blog.
Additionally, with 5G coming to the U.S., I think we’re entering an era of being able to have both aesthetics AND speed in the palm of our hand.
I do find it apropos that it was Bill Gates who is credited with the saying:
Content is king
In the end, we must keep reminding ourselves that it doesn’t matter if a blog page is fast or beautiful to look at…if there is no content, none of it matters.
Bill would probably tell us to stop sweating the design and google speed-tests – and to just get to writing, vlogging, creating.