Category Archives: Website Tips

- all things that involve the designing, building, and maintaining web sites

WordPress Redesign: Choose a Layout

The advice I shared at my new post on darkbluesun.com (my personal blog I will be giving a makeover for the next few weeks) is all about Website Layouts.
The advice shared in the article is geared toward people with personal and startup blogs. And it is a warning for all of you technically inclined enough to try and do-it-yourself.

Anyone with a professional or ecommerce blog: Hire a professional developer or purchase a theme geared for professional use.

What this article will teach you:

☑ Why it’s good to go with a theme that is close to what you want:

☑ Why it’s bad for professional websites to go with a theme that is free and used on other websites:

And why changing your WP site layout is NOT just as easy as changing your theme!

Visit: darkbluesun.com for Choosing Personal and Blog Website Layouts

Website New Layout: Step Two

The advice I am sharing here is geared toward personal and startup blogs. Anyone with a professional or ecommerce blog: Hire a professional developer or purchase a theme geared for professional use.

I had to get a new theme.

I started this website using the old “default” theme that was based on the Kubrick WordPress theme. It was about as basic as I could get it while I was working on my PHP and CSS development skills.

This is my screenshot for step 2:

This still needs QUITE a bit of work, but the menus, and some of the errors I left until “later” have been cleaned up a bit. The layout is improving from step 1.

Why it’s good to go with a theme that is close to what you want:

The trouble with basic though, is that I am constantly having to sort of “re-invent the wheel” just to add special features to my site. This definitely helped me learn a LOT, but because I ran out of time to do all of the coding, as you can see my site got neglected! :(

I went to the WordPress.org Free Themes Page and decided to go with a sort of veteran theme called: Mystique.

I really like Mystique because it has the menus with drop-downs and some really decent social media integration. (Some integration that you would have to massively dissect current widgets to reproduce. Believe me, I’ve had clients who have seen options like ones on other Mystique blogs that were only available because they were hardwired into this theme. – I had to reinvent the wheel again for those)

Why it’s bad for professional websites to go with a theme that is free and used on other websites:

As of this morning, Mystique has been downloaded more than 7,000 times! (That is from wordpress.org alone, it isn’t counting all of those that have been downloaded at Digital Nature’s Website – the author of Mystique!)

That means there are thousands of copycat websites out there that look exactly like this ->

Don’t let yours be one of them!

Now comes the fun part.

Customization

Remember this if this is the first time you’ve heard it:

Changing your WP site layout is NOT just as easy as changing your theme!

WordPress is tricky, something that sounds so easy can turn out to be untangling a web of code to find the code that you need to be moved with you when you move to a new theme! If you aren’t sure about what you are doing…

BACK UP EVERY SINGLE FILE IN YOUR ORIGINAL THEME FOLDER!!!

Do NOT attempt to change your website template unless you know how to make sure you will still have the custom code to watch your traffic, update your rss feed if you use a service like feedburner, or even just keep track of your branding items like: favicons and logos. Next week I plan to edit my layout colors and add my logo back in. :)

Fixes, Adds, and Re-Adds:

☑ My favicon

☑ Google Analytics code

☑ Nav menus: I love navigation menus… They aren’t the easiest thing to write from scratch, so that’s one of the main reasons I was pleased with Mystique for my personal blog.

☑ New (more generalized) categories: I added some better “parent categories” including: “Business, Entertainment, and Technology” I left “Life in General” as a main category for my nav menu.

There is still MUCH to do, but I am finished for tonight. See you next week!

I Am Redesigning My WordPress Blog!

Do you want some tips on fixing yours up?

I am going to be moving my Monday posts to darkbluesun.com while I take the next few weeks to redesign the entire thing! I am so excited about this.

You know how it is. I work on websites professionally all the time, so of course, mine gets neglected. :)

I will post an outline of my progress here though since most of you are used to coming here for my articles.

My plan is to:

  • Choose a new layout.
  • Add Better Navigation.
  • Completely redo the homepage content.
  • SEO, SEO, SEO…. <- There are so many fixes to this I will share with you!

15 Easy Free DoFollow Backlinks to Your Website

Remember from the “Website Backlink Popularity Tools” post: “Backlinks are incoming links to a website, web page, or blog post.” And just so you know, I use the words linkback and backlink interchangeably. :) Also please note that these links will help websites or businesses that are still in the startup phase. I don’t think any of these links have a higher Google Pagerank than 2 or 3. ** This means that creating backlinks from these resources are worthless to a site that already has a pagerank of 4 or higher. **

General Places to Get a Listing for Good (Meaning Not the “NoFollow” Kind) Backlinks / Linkbacks:

1. Merchant Circle is a definite must have business listing. Here’s mine: http://www.merchantcircle.com/business/Virtual.IT.Assistants.317-670-9977

2. http://www.haiku.com/VirtualAssistants This one isn’t one of my favorites, but it works.

Helpful Internet Business Tools:

3. Outright is a cool accounting service that Jen uses for her business. I’ll bet that when she first setup an account with them she didn’t realize they’d give her a free good backlink! See her profile: http://entrepreneurs.outright.com/virtual-assistance-by-jen

Social Network Profiles:

4. Fast Pitch Networking is an internet business social network site. A profile here is worth setting up for the good linkback to your business site: http://www.fastpitchnetworking.com/profile.cfm?ContactID=52366547

5. YouTube Got videos? Get them on YouTube and be sure to fill in your business site into your profile for yet another good linkback. See my profile: http://www.youtube.com/user/virtualitassistants (Scroll down to my avatar and see my link under there. If you are curious about where it shows up.)

6. Inbound Marketing University If you are into internet marketing of any kind, you should already have heard of this place . Even if you are already an experienced inbound marketer, you should at least have a profile here. See mine: http://inboundmarketing.com/user/3906. It also gives you a good link.

Twitter: (Of course, the master tool for getting backlinks and traffic. )

7. Mashable Twitterlists See Kena’s Lists: http://mashable.com/twitterlists/user/KenaRoth/ She may not have realized this when she shared her lists here, but it gave her a free link back to her site from mashable.com. Bonus!

Add Yourself to Local Twitter Lists:

8. Twitter States

9. Local Tweeps

(P.S. Find twitterers near you and follow them. It’s great to have friends all over the world, but you be surprised at how practical it is to get tweets regarding events closer to home)

Website and Blog Site Tools with Profiles That LinkBack:

10. Sitemeter Do you like sharing your site analytics? Create a profile at sitemeter.com for your domain.

11. MyBlogLog If you have a blog, then you need to signup for a free account at mybloglog anyway. – Never mind the free backlinks! See some of my blogs: http://www.mybloglog.com/buzz/members/darkbluesun/

These next profiles may be a little less practical for brand new businesses, but you should still know that they are available to anyone.

12. Act.ly Twitter petitions at act.ly include your web address that you use in your twitter profile. I created one about cybercrime awareness a long time ago: http://act.ly/uo. When you stop by, you should sign it! It’s been awhile, but all the info is still very relevant.

13. Quibblo is a  free online quiz creator. It links back to your site when you set up a profile. See mine: http://www.quibblo.com/user/virtualitassistant

14. Google Knowledge Profiles (called Knols): If you have a knol, or have some good content to start a knoll, you should definitely link back to your business site where appropriate. (Only create one or two links. That should be sufficient.) See mine? http://knol.google.com/k/darkbluesun/the-abc-s-for-work-at-home-parents/1jq3j1sfpra4f/1# I just happened to link to myself within this old business starter e-book.

15. Squidoo lens Do you have one? Do you know someone who does? If you create a linkback to your site from it, then it does give you a good link as well. http://www.squidoo.com/darkbluesun#module29853702

Who is linking back to you right now? Check it out at Link Diagnosis. Look for the ones where the link type equals good. And let me know if I missed any other easy linkbacks.

Another great way to get linkbacks is to guest post for a great blog like this one! ;) We had to take a break from that little opportunity for a little bit due to the volume of responses and the lack of extra time to find the best ones. There are still so many great guests we will have before the end of this year I promise. However, we still want to fit you into the rotation as well to get your turn in the spotlight! So signup to be a guest blogger today. If you haven’t heard from us and it has been more than 2 business days since you sent your response then please let us know.

Does This Header Make My Brand Look Big? 5 Ways to Assess Your Online Image

Shalon IronRoadIn the spotlight today is Virtual Assistant Shalon Ironroad, Human Swiss Army Knife.

“You never get a second chance to make a first impression.”
- Author Unknown

This weekend, I was invited to a presentation about a “Work from Home Opportunity” for stay-at-home moms (sound familiar?). I am hugely skeptical about any kind of “opportunity”, so I got the URL prior to the presentation so I could do my homework. My findings were my inspiration for this post.

I was told that the goal of the company was to help young moms make money from home. With that information, I expected to see a website that was professional, fun, and appealing to Gen X mommies. Not so much. The website was a standard sales page (white background, blue text, cheesy graphics), with broken links and typos. I was turned off immediately. While this is an extreme example, it got me thinking about the message we project through our websites. In the offline world, it has been proven that the bulk of our communication is non-verbal. How does that translate to the online world, where most of what we see is written text? The overall feeling you get within the first 3 seconds on a website is that non-verbal aspect, and it can either help businesses or hurt them.

Is your Online Image helping you or hurting you? Here are 5 areas to check:

1) Website Layout
Is your website too cluttered? Is it too simple? Go to your website on your computer, then take 5 steps back. From a distance, where does your eye go? Is there a focal point, or does your eye wander? Now figuratively step back and look at your business. If your message and your personality is simple and clean, make sure your site reflects that.

2) Color
Take a look at your color scheme. Now think about your personality. Now your color scheme. Now personality. (sorry…just thinking about the Old Spice guy) If your personality is more subdued and mellow, don’t use hot pink or neon yellow on your website. People will be confused! Instead, go with softer tones like pastels. Same goes for you more outgoing and bubbly ones. Using black and all neutral/muted tones does not automatically make you look professional. Be yourself, and your clients will love you for it.

3) Graphics
There is a common myth that all graphics have to be flashy and complex (and expensive). Wrong. Think about your personality and what you want people to know about you, then work those pieces into your graphics, especially your logo and header. Symbolism is fun…get creative!

4) Voice
When a client calls you for the first time, wouldn’t it be great if he/she felt like it was a continuation of a previous conversation? This is do-able if you use your own voice on your website (and in social media). If you’re not used to writing this way, record yourself speaking, then transcribe the recording word for word. I guarantee your clients will feel more comfortable during that initial phone call!

5) Energy/Movement
The web is full of some really cool (and free!) ways to add energy and movement to your website. You want the energy level to reflect the same energy level you naturally have. This helps people get to know you before they even meet you. YouTube videos are always fantastic, or try checking out Widgetbox.

For more tips, tricks, tools, or just to get to know me better, visit my blog or my business website.

Wishing you the very best in your Work at Home Life!

Cheers,
Shalon Ironroad
Human Swiss Army Knife

The Thesis WordPress Theme

Benefits and Drawbacks of Thesis

This past week, I had the “privilege” of completing a project working with the Thesis WordPress Theme. It had been a while since I had seen the back-end workings of this theme, and I was pleasantly surprised by some of the improvements. Thesis has always been a decent, robust theme for beginners to work with. Would I recommend you buy it for your website? No, I really wouldn’t.

Start Quote MeLeaving any WordPress theme in its default layout is guaranteeing that your website looks exactly like a 1000 other sites.Quote Me End
    The Drawbacks

  1. You can end up looking like everyone else if you don’t take the time to customize.
  2. It starts you out with two sidebars side by side. (Two sidebars make usability more confusing for most web surfers.)
  3. It has its own set of hooks to learn about.

Hooks

FYI for experienced web developers
Leaving any WordPress theme at its default layout is guaranteeing that your site will be the exact carbon copy of thousands of other websites out there. When it comes to learning about new features like hooks, you just have to dive right in. Hooks can be very helpful, or they can just be a royal pain.

Even if you know plenty about hooks, I recommend installing the Thesis OpenHook plugin. In Thesis, you are working with the custom-functions.php and custom.css files to do a lot of your changes. Because Thesis has an unusual (at least unusual compared to most themes I work with) of requiring you to use hooks instead of editing a header.php file or footer.php file.

The Benefits of Thesis

The idea behind it is that anyone can customize it, but it is not fully customizable like it boasts to be unless you really know what you are doing.

    Thesis is:

  1. SEO Friendly (This should be number one concern on any website owner’s list.)
  2. Semicustomizable (and hooks don’t make this much easier in Thesis, even for seasoned developers)
  3. The Featured Box (nice, but you still need to use a plug-in or write some serious PHP functions to get it to do anything cool)
  4. 4. Post Excerpts (I really like post excerpts with thumbnail sized images. : )

You are able to change fonts and background colors (background images are another story). See the screenshot:
Thesis Theme Design Options
Any real changes that you want to make to a professional website, you really have to jump through some hoops to get it done.

Popular and Not-So-Popular Examples

The most notable example site that I can think of who definitely use Thesis is: CopyBlogger. They have definitely customized Thesis with their custom navigation bar and homepage post excerpts.

The site: Simple Mom (which I love) is a less edited version of Thesis. If you are a WordPress designer and happen upon this website, you instantly know it is a Thesis Theme.

A classically generic Thesis themed site: Stephanie Woods. This site has some decent content, why do you think she would be OK with blending in?

Customize everything.