1. Is WordPress Just for Blogs?

    This is a question that comes up often – “Isn’t WordPress just for blog sites?” The short answer is: No. The more elaborate answer takes us into what makes a good CMS (content management system) platform. This is an issue that comes up for each website project, regardless of the project’s end result. Choosing the right platform can mean either smooth sailing or endless headaches right from the start.

    A CMS needs to be user-friendly

    When starting any web project, the decision needs to be made as to which CMS to build upon. Every developer will have a favorite, and part of the decision should be based on which system best accommodates the project. That being said, I always consider the client’s need to maintain and edit the site once I hand it over. If they can easily make changes and manage the site, it’s a win-win for both of us. If I hand over a site that is complicated and hard to update, the client isn’t happy, and the site will ultimately suffer since nobody will want to maintain the content.

    WordPress as a blank slate

    One of the requirements for any good CMS is versatility. WordPress is built on a codebase that offers a wide variety of functions for the developer to leverage when adding features to a site. Many of the custom-programmed add-ons that would normally require many hours of development time are available in WordPress as ‘plugins’. These save the developer time and the client money…’win-win’ again.

    Many CMS systems have much more built-in functionality than a site may need – we call this ‘bloat’…which can possibly slow down the site’s performance and make things difficult to troubleshoot when things go wrong. With WordPress you have the ability to trim down the functionality for the theme you are building – choosing exactly which features to load and not load, which can speed things up considerably and clean up an otherwise bloated coding environment. The less junk a developer has to wade through to find things, the better.

    So why is WordPress primarily known as a blogging tool?

    When blogging became very popular, developers were constantly getting tasked with jobs that required building a blog platform, often from scratch, or using frameworks that we built for other projects and re-used on others. There was a huge need for a standard, flexible platform that could offer the functionality needed and reduce the time for creating a site. WordPress managed to rise to the top of this heap pretty quickly, because of it’s fairly simple architecture and ability to adapt to the client’s needs. It’s theme architecture also made it easy to change the look of a site while maintaining the core content.

    As the WordPress platform matured, developers quickly started finding that they could use WordPress for other types of sites then just blogs. Most websites have a set of basic functions that every developer will use, from logins and user accounts to email, syndication via RSS, social media integration, etc… Any good CMS will have these basic functions built-in, as well as allow the developer to add custom functionality on top of the existing code without actually altering the codebase. This way the core system can be updated without overwriting the changes and modifications added to it. Plus, the changes will be written in a way that any developer worth his salt can step in and understand the code, make changes or edit as needed.

    This all brings me to my last thought on the matter – will WordPress eventually branch off into a system that is not so ‘blog-centric’? Will developers push to create a system that runs on the same general platform as WordPress, but does not lean towards a blog site? It does seem like a good idea…perhaps there will be two versions, or at least an option within the package that tunes it either way. The future should be interesting indeed!

  2. Small Business Website Design and Credibility

    In today's increasingly computer-centric world, many businesses are discovered online first, brick and mortar second. The customer's first impression often comes from how nice a website looks, not how the actual store looks. While this is certainly a new frontier for most business owners, it should definitely be something that is embraced, not ignored.

    The Online Gauge of Trust

    When a potential customer first visits a site, they start with a clean slate of trust—a clear, unclouded opinion of this world they have just entered. As they take in the information and graphic treatments that make up a site, they judge the site's credibility by the presentation of info, imagery, and general usability. If the site is for a photography business and the photo work is second rate, the visitor is immediately going to lose some of that trust. Likewise if the site is for a copywriter and there are misspellings or bad grammar on the site, there is an instant drop in that gauge of credibility. And all it takes is one tiny slip!

    Watch Those Pixels!

    The human eye has an incredible ability to detect spatial alignment. Even the tiniest inconsistencies in typography, graphic elements, or form elements will be noticed by the observant web surfer. Setting proper CSS margins, padding, floats, and line heights are crucial for a designer, not just because it ‘looks pretty’, but because when things are not well styled, the business takes the hit, not the designer.

    As I mentioned, a site visitor shows up with an unbiased opinion of the business behind the site—after a bit of clicking around, how much of that opinion is still positive? How many times did they think “Hmmm…that looks a little Off…”
    Each little moment of “hmmmm…” is a ding for the business.

    form field and buttonWhat's wrong with this form submit button? Even a quick glance and you can see that the 'Password' label is too high in relation to the field, the 'sign up' text is too far down within the button's border, and the button itself is not lined up with the password field above. In other words, a big mess! And that is only subtle alignment issues. Poor grammar and misspelled words look even worse, lowering that gauge quickly.

    Spending the extra time it takes to polish up every piece of type, layout, or imagery on a website can mean the difference between new customers and lost ones. Don't let tiny pixels make a giant dent in your bottom line!

  3. How to Make Your Website Mobile Friendly

    It’s all you hear these days – “There’s an app for that . . .” or “Get it on now your mobile phone . . .” The fact is, more and more people are surfing the web on these tiny No mobile website yet? mobile devices, so if you don’t already have a mobile site or app, you are certainly missing valuable traffic and possibly losing money. Already have a website?  Read on.

    Been a While Since Your Last Site Redesign?

    Your site probably has fallen behind in some (or many) respects, since web technology moves faster than most of us can predict. In fact, If you don’t freshen things up every few months, your search ranking will suffer, and in turn, your bottom line. The mobile phenomenon is still gaining steam and shows now signs of slowing down. On every website I manage, the number of hits from mobile devices has increased greatly over the last couple of years. If you want your site to stay up-to-date and accessible, you need to learn what it takes to deliver content to these mobile platforms.

    Mobile Devices Have Smaller Screens

    The web browsers on today’s mobile phones are capable of almost the same functionality as their desktop brethren, with one big difference – screen size. Instead of multiple columns like on regular sites, single columns are required for layout and vertical scrolling is expected. Go easy on the images, as they eat up bandwidth and slow down the user experience. While you’re at it, rethink your content—just present the most important stuff, not the fluff.

    A mobile site is often a stripped-down version of your normal site, with mobile-friendly navigation and content that loads quickly. Big, clear buttons and text that can be maneuvered around with just a single clumsy thumb. Let’s hope they’re not driving as well…

    How to Direct Mobile Devices to Your Mobile-formatted Site

    The web browser on every computer and device has what is called the ‘User Agent String’ that identifies the browser type. With some clever site coding, you can use this bit of info to direct visitors to the appropriate version of your site. Other modern techniques such as CSS media queries can detect a device’s actual characteristics such as screen size, enabling you to deliver device-specific styling without altering the actual content.

    Many sites actually create a full mobile-friendly version of their content and put it on a subdomain of the main site, such as: m.google.com or mobi.somesite.com, etc… The ‘.mobi’ domain has even become available, enabling sites to have ‘sitename.mobi’ addresses. There are valid arguments for choosing these different options—your specific situation can determine which way to go.

    Once the user gets to the mobile site, they will see the content presented in the stripped-down format that works on a small screen, but (if you planned well) they won’t miss any important stuff. I sometimes prefer the mobile version of sites because they are simpler and faster to get around in. You can maintain enough of your branding and stylistic flair to keep your marketing team happy, but just stay lean and mean in terms of content.

    The Latest Trend – Responsive Web Design

    Well, maybe not the latest as of the writing of this article, but certainly a new approach if you judge by the sites using it – responsive web design is an amazingly refreshing approach for delivering content that adapts seamlessly to the device being used. Whether you view the site on an iPhone, iPad, Desktop, or some oddball screensize, the site will adapt itself and look good.

    Instead of building separate sites for mobile and desktop, you create one site to serve all. Ethan Marcotte’s Book has some groundbreaking insight into this method, and should be required reading for modern web developers. The simplicity of the concept was enough to grab my attention, and the benefits for a client are: reduced site maintenance costs (you’re only maintaining one site…not two), wider audience reach, more versatile content (folks with 32-inch screens won’t see a narrow little column of content down the middle…) to name a few. The responsive approach may not work in every situation, but it is definitely an exciting tool to have in the box.

    Don’t Treat Web Design Like Print Design

    Print designs require strict pixel-perfect representation of imagery and text. Advertisers spend unheard of amounts of money to make sure their graphics look just right in every situation. When you’re dealing with web displays, (especially mobile devices!) you can’t expect every user to see the same exact thing. Each device, monitor, browser, user setting and more will have an effect on the display of your site’s content. The goal should be delivering content that makes sense and functions as intended, while adapting smoothly to each platform. The old-school method of coding a bunch of hacks and workarounds so that every pixel is a certain fixed way…well, you can see where I’m going with this . . . Focus more on ‘solid & flexible’ than ‘rigid & unyielding’. The number of mobile devices and tablets will continue to skyrocket, and trying to learn all the little quirks that each display presents just isn’t an option. Concentrate on a flexible, adaptive user experience and you will save a lot of headaches.

    Mobile Doesn’t Have to Be a Pain

    Many popular content management systems (CMS) like WordPress (you are reading a WP blog right now) have built-in mobile styling via plug-ins that handle the mobile-specific formatting for you. Mobile users will automatically see the small-screen formatted pages and desktop users still get the full-screen version. Slick!

    Just Don’t Say I Didn’t Warn You!

    If you don’t jump on the bandwagon, you’ll be losing visitors or money or both. the choices are simple: If your website doesn’t work well on a mobile device – have it redesigned to adapt gracefully to different platforms, or build a separate mobile-formatted version of your site. Hurry up – time’s a-wastin’!