Web Site Redesign for the Kingwood Connection

Web Site Redesign for the Kingwood Connection

Winston Churchill once said, “To improve is to change.  To be perfect is to change often.” I’m not sure about the perfection part, but that quote is a good one to keep in mind when it comes to marketing your business online.

Things are constantly changing:  search engines change, the sites we use and how we use them change, and platforms and technologies are constantly evolving.  Assuming a web site has no major site design revisions or platform modifications in the interim, the average lifespan of a web site design is anywhere between two and five years.

However, most web sites don’t stay static.  With sites on a content management system, there are usually gradual evolutions and updates over time.  Just the platforms and extensions alone require updates, which is why we offer WordPress and Joomla maintenance plans.

 

To improve is to change, to be perfect is to change often - Winston Churchill

Redesigning a Web Site

I’ve talked before about web site redesigns.  There are pluses and minuses when redesigning a web site.  The first is that the site owner usually has a clearer idea of what they really need in a web site and what they want.  Also, depending on how well organized the content on the original site was ,you may start out with a basis of good content.

However, this is not only always the case.  Many times you start with a site structure that’s a mess, with no strategy, and it can take thorough analysis and a plan to migrate the  content (even if it’s on the same platform) to one that is more effective.

Joomla Migration and Redesign

The Kingwood Connection is a news site that I have published since 2004.  It was my second in depth experience with an Open Source PHP platform.  The first was a shopping cart system called OScommerce.  It was an amazing platform at the time; however, the code was horrendous to extend and update, the development stalled, leading to several forks off of the original platform.  Many of the popular open source shopping carts today have their roots in that original platform.

While I was still working with OScommerce, I came across a platform called Mambo which was specifically designed to be a news portal and publishing platform with front end and back end user levels and publishing levels.

When I found Mambo and it’s easy XML installer for templates and extensions, it was heaven after my experience with OSC.  I was an instant fan.  The Kingwood Connection site was launched on the 1.0 version of Mambo.

But . . . things change.

There were changes with how the platform was licensed and many of the third party developers left the project to start their own fork of the Mambo platform called Joomla. (You can read more about the history of Joomla here.)

The site went through a migration taking it from Mambo to the new Joomla 1.0 version.  Another redesign was completed in 2007.  Joomla itself had a roadmap for development with several major points that would require, not simply platform updates, but major migrations to the new version.

When to Redesign a Web Site

The challenge as a site owner is deciding when to make the leap to the new version.  If you have a site where the information stays the same, it is not as big of an issue. The new version can be created on a development server and made life when it is completed.

For sites such as the Kingwood Connection, it is a much bigger issue.  User accounts are constantly being created, events and articles published, it’s not as easy to decide when to freeze the site to take the platform up to the next version.

The Pitfalls of Custom

The great thing about open source platforms such as Joomla, WordPress, and Drupal, is that you are not locked into a software with a certain set of features.  The platform can be expanded with extensions, both those that are released as readily available third party extensions as well as custom development.

Here is the issue with custom features.  One has to be prepared to continue that custom development throughout the life time of the use of that feature or extension.  It is not a one time thing.  If the core platform goes through an update, there will be times when that custom feature will also have to be updated.  If your web site is the only one using it, you will be paying for the entire cost of a developer’s time to make it functional.

That is the issue that precipitated the redesign of the web site for Wood Duck Farms.  They had a custom ordering system.  The original developer was no longer available, and while the system had been patched by at least two other developers, it had reached the point where it was more economical to switch to a new platform than try to reverse engineer what each previous developer had done.

This was also a challenge in the redesign for the Kingwood Connection.

I’ve taken numerous sites through various Joomla migrations.  The issue is never the content, it is always the extras, particularly when there are custom extras.  The site was using a couple of extensions that were not only not available for the new version of Joomla, but they were customized as well.

Other than adapting the existing content to the new format in Joomla 3 that provides an option for both featured thumbnails and images, the time consuming part was finding and testing replacement extensions that were not only compatible with Joomla 3 but also with each other.

Mobile and Joomla 3

Gone are the days of the table based templates of Joomla 1.5.  Joomla 3 is based on Bootstrap (responsive and mobile friendly) for both the front and back end.  Regardless, I found several extensions that had a conflict with the jquery and CSS of the Bootstrap themes.  Once the replacement extensions were decided on, the rest of the migration was a straightforward, albeit extensive, process.

The video below is a glimpse of what the site has looked like through years.

The Upside of Updates

The upside of the updating of the web site platform?  This is a site I work with constantly and the time savings are tremendous.  The weekly newsletter, which used to take almost a day to compile under the old system, can be completed in 30 minutes to an hour with the new Joomla 3 compatible extension.  The now native tagging system gives me a lot more flexibility in content aggregation.  The platform is now working for me rather than having to fight against it.

The current release of Joomla as of today is 3.4.1.  The support for Joomla 2.5 (meaning there will be no further development releases for that version) ended December 31, 2014.  If your site is currently on 2.5, you don’t necessarily have to switch tomorrow it is something you should probably put on your priority list and working into your budget.  If your web site is on any lower version than 2.5, it is definitely time to migrate the platform.

Time for a Change?

Is it time for your Joomla web site to be redesigned, migrated, updated or maintained?  Contact us for a custom quote!

New Site Design Launch for Wood Duck Farm

New Site Design Launch for Wood Duck Farm

Last week we launched a new web site redesign for Wood Duck Farm.  The farm is located in Cleveland, Texas, and offers a farm CSA program with delivery to a number of locations around the Houston Metro area.  Each week members of the CSA receive a box of fresh produce with what is currently in season on the farm.  They also periodically have farm dinners on site.  Their summer CSA program is currently closed; however, you can sign up for their mailing list for notification when the fall season opens.

Like many of us who have been online for awhile, their site had gone through several renditions from basic HTML, to php includes, to the most recent version on WordPress.  They liked the WordPress platform; however, updates to the platform and plugins were hindered by a custom add on that had compatibility issues with the most recent version of WordPress.

So we started on a fresh platform, but migrated all of the content, both the WordPress content as well as the static pages, to a new WordPress site.

With the distinctively colored logo, as well as the wide selection of farm pictures, the design itself just fell into place.   Their mobile viewers, which between phones and tablets approach 50 percent of their traffic, are accommodated with a responsive design which adjusts based on the width of the viewing device.

Does your web site need a new look?  Contact us.

 

Launch of New Look

Launch of New Look

I”m sure you’ve heard the adage, “A cobbler’s children have no shoes.”

That has pretty much summed up the condition of this web site for the past couple of years.  In focusing on other projects, both for clients and our own, this site has been allowed to coast.

When someone asked, “Do you have a web site?”  Well, of course, but it was so out-of-date, I hated to send people to it.

When a new client asked, “Do you have examples of work you’ve done?” I had to literally send links because I hadn’t updated the site portfolio in so long.

Making the Decision to Upgrade

Part of the issue was I wanted to redesign and upgrade the site all at once.  During the time I was considering the update, Joomla (which the base site is on) was going through a series of updates.  The major updates usually require some editing to the site template, so I wanted to wait until that settled.

Also, as I have mentioned previously, the biggest issue with migrating a Joomla site through a major update is not the content and the core system itself.  That is usually fairly easy.  Where it gets hairy is all the add on components and plugins.  The time consuming part is looking through all of the existing add ons you are using and checking to see if they are compatible with the new Joomla core as well as with each other.  If not, a new solution has to be found.

The second issue was deciding how to accommodate mobile devices.  Now responsive designs are the accepted standard; however, even as late as 2012 Google was recommending a separate subdomain for mobile.  It wasn’t until 2013 that responsive gained wide acceptance..

Beyond platform and mobile considerations, I went back and forth on the look I wanted to move to.  I actually liked the previous design, it was just starting to look dated.  I actually design two other layouts that were never launched.  The first one was based off the design of this tri-fold display that I really liked.

trifold panel

 

The next design, looked like this (the press release package page is based off the design as well.)

2012 web redesign

 

That design was actually implemented on a development server and very close to going live when I changed my mind.

A lot of marketing is visual; however, what it a message boils down to is words.  Words are black and white and that is the direction I decided to take the site.

So this layout was designed.  The main company site on Joomla was upgrade and a theme for the blog, on WordPress, was created as well.  It was ready to go aside from a couple of content additions.   This was November 2012.

Then time outside of that dedicated to client projects got consumed and it sat.

Until now.

A Look Back

Redesigns are a Process

If you have a web site that you’ve always had on a particular platform, such as WordPress, where you’ve never changed the content structure and changing the design is truly as simple as uploading a new theme . . . count yourself blessed.

I’ve done numerous redesigns for clients, a redesign is a completely different process than developing a new site.  There are a different set of considerations . . . they are apples and oranges

The other thing that had me dragging my feet was knowing that I really needed to do a complete overhaul. I cleaned out the server, moving all those left over client demos and test script installs to another domain.  I restructured content, got rid of areas that distracted focus and redirected all the old urls to the new.

The clean up took as much time as the redesign and migrations.

While I was at it, I changed the url structure on the blog posts to include the category rather than just the post name.  I know some people don’t feel that is necessary; however, I went to a conference that gave a very persuasive argument for it.  From personal experience, the sites that I have that utilize categories have held their rankings and maintained traffic volume in spite of al the antics of Google’s zoo.

So while I was at it, I changed the structure and redirected all of those urls as well.

Now the site is ready to serve as a focal point for some projects in the works.  I hope you like our “new shoes.”

If you come across a url or link that I missed, please drop me a note.  What are your experiences with a major site overhaul?

 

 

Google’s April Fools Joke

Google’s April Fools Joke

Today Google users had a little shock to their system with a new look and new name on Google’s home page.  Rather than the familiar “Google,” the name “Topeka” was prominently displayed.

A little confusing without the back story.  At first, I didn’t make the connection to April Fool’s day.  I was thinking, “Is this supposed to be a cool spelling for Topica?  As in search for topics?”

The official Google blog had an explanation:

Early last month the mayor of Topeka, Kansas stunned the world by announcing that his city was changing its name to Google. We’ve been wondering ever since how best to honor that moving gesture. Today we are pleased to announce that as of 1AM (Central Daylight Time) April 1st, Google has officially changed our name to Topeka.

Topeka’s name change is Mayor Bill Bunten’s attempt to spotlight the city of Topeka as a contender for Google’s “Fiber for Communities” project.   Google plans to install ultra fast broadband networks in up to 50,000 communities in an experimental project that will deliver connections at up to 1 gigabit per second.

Bunten is not a huge techie himself; however, he does realize the vital role the internet plays in business and commerce.   He sees the project as a way to ensure the continued growth and economic vitality of Topeka for the upcoming generations.

The submission period has ended.  The project page displays a map of communities that applied.  The response was overwhelming and staff at Google noted:

If one message has come through loud and clear, it’s this: people across the country are hungry for better and faster Internet access.

No kidding!  I wish someone would tell Suddenlink that.  For the past month, I have been battling dropped connections and dial-up level speeds even though I pay through the nose for the highest internet package available.  Do you know how long it takes to upload graphic files for print at that level?  It’s a nightmare. Since Hurricane Ike, the internet connection has been horrible and our electricity goes out every time a squirrel sneezes.

That 1 gigabit transfer per second would almost be enough reason alone to relocate.

It will be interesting to see if Bunten’s stunt pays off.  Personally, I think it would be a shame not to reward that creativity.

Local Bloggers Network at Inaugural Bloggers’ Breakfast

Local Bloggers Network at Inaugural Bloggers’ Breakfast

Today we had our first “Blogger’s Breakfast” here in Kingwood.  I planned on pictures, but I walked out of the house without my camera. 🙁

Since working with quite a few online publishers and bloggers locally, I thought it would be fun to have a monthly get together to exchange tips and ideas.   Before planning the event, I asked a friend of mine, Sahnya Shulterbrant, if she would be willing to cohost the event with me.  I met Sahnya when she called needing some updates and modifications to her Joomla based site. As we have a lot of similar interests, that project led to a friendship.  She and her husband, Gene, publish TexasontheGo.com which provide information and opportunities for doing business in Texas.  They were recently recognized by the City of Austin for their efforts.

Besides Sahnya and Gene, Matt Russell with MTR Financial and Ellen Delap, a professional organizer, also attended.  Both Matt and Ellen have written articles for me for the Kingwood Connection so I was familiar with their writing.  I knew that Matt had a blog, but I didn’t know that Ellen had added one to her site as well until today.

Blogging Platforms and SEO

It was interesting that we had people using each of the three main blogging platforms.  Sahnya and Gene use Joomla, Matt is on Blogger/Blogspot, and Ellen uses WordPress.  I have sites on both Joomla and WordPress.

One of the things we touched on is SEO optimization for blogs and/or database driven sites.  There is a widespread belief that if you use a content management system (CMS) or blogging platform that you don’t have as much control over SEO elements and are at a disadvantage.  This is just not the case.  Think about what those key SEO elements are: a unique page title, a title meta tag, a meta description, and meta keywords.    There is no reason that a database driven web site can’t populate that data, it is just that most of the time a stock install doesn’t.

The easy answer to this issue is to make sure that your platform is set up to allow you to enter that information.  Most people are familiar with the All-in-One SEO pack for WordPress that allows you to specify the title, description and keywords on a page or post basis.  It is one of my stock plugins that I install on every single WordPress site I develop.

Not as many people are familiar with how to do the same for Joomla.  I’m going to tell you my secret for developing search engine friendly Joomla sites . . . SEF Patch from Joomla-at-Work.com.

This component is even better than the All-in-One SEO pack for WordPress.  Not only does it allow you to set the article title, description and keywords, but it also let’s you set the author meta tag and the robots index/follow setting for the page (you can do this with WordPress as well, but it’s a separate plugin.)  It also adds the option in the site global configuration for the default description and keywords.

So far, all this is pretty similar to the WordPress plugin, but here is where it starts to pull away.  If you have used a Joomla site before, you know that everything hinges around the menus.  What is displayed is determined by the menu item’s settings.  The SEF Patch ads the ability to set the meta information for any menu item, excluding an individual article link.  So if you link to a category page, normally this would have the default meta information (WordPress does this as well,) but this component allows you to specify unique meta information including the page title.  This has a huge impact on your site’s search engine rankings.

Trust me on this.  There is quite a bit of competition for my Kingwood site, but if someone submits an article or press release to my site as well as the two other online community sites and newspaper sites, my site will rank #1 in Google for searches related to that article 75% of the time.  Most of the time with a double listing.  It just takes a site that is properly configured and some basic SEO tactics.

How much is this component?  It is ridiculously inexpensive.  There is even a free version, although you have to hack the core files to install it.   The paid version is an actual component that you install through the standard Joomla installer.  It is only € 14, so around $20 to $21 depending on what the U.S. dollar is doing.  Compare that to what you would spend on a pay per click campaign if you can’t get your sites to rank organically.

We are going to hold the Bloggers’  Breakfast the first Wednesday of each month.  So if you are in the Kingwood area, check the Facebook page for the next date.  If you’re in the Greater Houston area, we would love for you to come.  I promise we don’t bite.  🙂

If you don’t have a blog yet and aren’t sure where to start, contact me to start your blogging journey.

Special Offer:  $100 off Brochure Printing

Special Offer: $100 off Brochure Printing

brochure-special-blog

I just got a call from my printer and they are running an amazing special on brochure printing and I am passing that savings along to you.

Save $100 on brochure printing from now until July 10th.

The special offer is on 8.5″ x 11″ trifold brochures, full color on both sides, on 100 lb gloss book paper.

With this promotion, it is a great time to stock up for your marketing efforts for the rest of the year.

If you would like to take advantage of this offer, your order needs to be in no later than the 10th to get the pricing of $229 for 1000.   To get the best results, your brochure file should have a resolution of at least 300 dpi.

If you would like me to design a new brochure or make changes to an existing one, please let me know as soon as possible because we have to have everything completed by the deadline of the 10th.

Either give me a call at 713.289.0819 or you can order online as well.  Click “Update Cart,” and at the next screen enter the promo code, JULY09, to get the savings.

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