How to design a blog

For those of you just turning in, check out part 1 of this series, where I describe why I’m redesigning, and why you’ve been invited along for the ride.

Ok, so what I’m going to do here is basically review the purpose for having, and look at how the current site stands in relation to it’s purpose. We’ll look at what the site does well, what needs to be improved, what needs to be taken away, and what needs to be added.

First things first. Let’s ask an obvious question. “Why does exist?”. The easy answer is to say to help us earn new business. But that’s too general. More specifically, the site’s main purpose is to let our target market know we exist show off our work position us as experts in our field give a sense of our character keep visitors coming back elicit inquiries

Let’s look at these points in a bit more detail
Take the first point – to let our target market know we exist. I could build a very successful, very busy site if my intention was simply to get traffic. But that wouldn’t help my business. I need targeted traffic. I need to get my site in front of people who have made the decision to hire a web designer at the moment they are making their hiring decision.

In other words I need to consider my strategy for reaching those people right off the bat, before I even think about the design.

So how can we do that? Search engines obviously play an important role here, but as important as SEO is, it pales in comparison to personal referrals.
Luckily, blogging by its very nature tends to build both search engine ranking and inbound links. Inbound links are the online version of word-of-mouth recommendations. I believe that they are the most effective marketing tools available, due to their cumulative effect of directing targeted traffic and indirectly bumping page rank.

A year or so ago I made the decision to try to boost my inbound links by offering free WordPress templates for download. This was quite successful, and I definitely want to make the downloads section an important part of the new design. Not only does it help business, but it’s fun.
We’re also going to be including more tutorials and tips. The purpose of this is three-fold: to help our fellow bloggers make the most of their sites, to earn some inbound links, and to highlight our specific expertise.

Another way to earn inbound links is to have a lively conversation going in the site’s comments. Our current site does a pretty good job of this. Like everything though, it can be improved.
Once folks have landed on our site, we need to consider the site’s next four purposes – to show off our work, to position us as experts, to keep visitors coming back, and ultimately elicit inquiries for our services.

This is a perfect segue into examining what I don’t like about our current site.
Setting aside aesthetics for the moment, the current site doesn’t do a good job of highlighting our work. Obviously the site itself is very plain. Plain can be good, don’t get me wrong. But it’s too emotionally uninvolved – too cold. Aside from that though, all our work is hidden away in the portfolio, and I find the portfolio too complex.

True, the current portfolio does hold a lot of work – there’s something like 100 images in total in there. But there isn’t really a good way to get a quick at-a-glance overview of our style.
The previous site did a much better job of this. It was a one page portfolio, with only a single image for each site listed. It was perhaps a bit too spare. I’m still searching for the ideal balance.
The site also falls short on positioning us as experts. Visually, it doesn’t do anything to inspire confidence. Nor does it highlight the accolades and acclaims we’ve received in our short time in business.

As for my goal of giving a sense of our character, I started to do this with the addition of the flickr photos on the home page. I want to expand on this some more. The fact is that we’re not a large, anonymous firm. We’re small – on purpose. We inject a lot of our own personalities into our work. I want our site to convey the personal passion we have for design in general and blogging in particular.

Our current site falls way short on the “make it easy to subscribe” scale. I’ve got to totally redesign the subscription process. The number of RSS subscribers has barely budged since the redesign, so something has got to change.

Lastly, I want it to be very easy for potential clients to get in touch with us. We’ve started to go down that route with our “request a quote” form on the home page. This has been helpful. We get quite a few “how much will it cost” request via that form, which is fantastic of course. But we need quite a bit more information before we can give a reasonable quote. So I’d like to develop the quote request form into a more robust info-collection tool.

These six points will be the measuring stick with which we assess the rest of our decisions moving forward with the project. We’ll refer to them frequently throughout our process to ensure we’re keeping our goals front and centre.

I hope this exercise helps illustrate the importance of properly planning a web design project. In essence what we’ve done is built the foundation that our site will be built on. We’ve created something that we can mentally grasp.

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