Website Redesign

Website Redesign: Home Page Layout and Content Optimization

If you’ve been visiting this website for some time, you will certainly have noticed that it underwent quite a few evolutionary steps, ranging from the subtle to the dramatic.

While initially I was mostly concerned with the aesthetics and superficial usability features, the current redesign was driven by the desire to morph the site from a personal blog towards more of a website with resources aimed at aspiring photographers who are looking for ways to improve their craft.

In this article I detail some of the choices I made with respect to content organization and optimization. Aesthetics are very much a matter of preference and I am not a graphical designer, so I won’t belabor those.

My website in 2014

My website in 2014

The Blog Is Dead, Long Live The Blog

The home pages of most photographers’ websites fall into one of two categories:

  1. A gallery of photos or an index to a series of galleries, or
  2. A traditional blog, with a list of the most recent articles

The first kind is very heavy on visuals and light on text. It assumes people will want to keep looking at your photographs. In an era where people see images at every turn, I find it unlikely that they will want to browse your galleries, unless you have some extremely compelling and unique work to show.

The second one provides no organization of content, aside from the strictly chronological one. It’s very difficult for a visitor to get an overall sense of what the site is about, unless the blog is extremely focused on a specific topic. Sometimes there will be a badly thought-out list of categories on the sidebar and that’s it. For a website like mine, that is very broad in scope, I felt the need to offer to the viewer a well-defined set of choices, like “Travel Stories”, “Learning Resources”, and “Photo Tours”.

The aim, in a nutshell, is to reduce the bounce rate on the home page, so that visitors stay on the site longer.

I have also included in the home page, in very prominent positions, a series of calls to action and content offers. There is a newsletter opt-in form right above the fold, an offer for a free ebook a bit more down the page, and an ad for my free “The 7 Habits of Effective Photographers” bootcamp towards the bottom. I expect those three combined will make for a good overall conversion rate.

My website in 2016

My website in 2016

SEO According To DICK

Whereas a blog, in the strictest sense, is supposed to be a chronological diary of someone’s life, my intention with this site, as I write above, it to make it more of a collection of evergreen resources. Therefore, it makes perfect sense that I continuously revisit existing content with the purpose of improving it and making it more relevant and useful.

My approach to this process is based on what I call the D.I.C.K. method (for Delete, Improve, Consolidate, Keep) and was inspired by an episode of the Smart Passive Income podcast, featuring Todd Tresidder.

It consists in nothing more than making a list of all existing posts, classifying each one of them according to those four categories, and then handling them accordingly.

Delete

It might not seem obvious at first, but removing old content from your site can actually make it rank higher on search engines. Content that is outdated, not relevant anymore or simply bad can hurt your rankings. Just remove it.

Besides, I’m sure everyone who has been blogging for years is a bit embarrassed by some of their early posts, so taking them down is not a bad idea, if you cringe at the thought that somebody might actually read them.

Improve

I recommend doing a periodical audit of posts that are drawing traffic, but that might deserve some improvement in quality. Maybe they were relevant years ago, but aren’t so much anymore. Reviews of products that have since been discontinued and replaced with new releases, reports from locations where the situation has shifted (think of how travel to Cuba has changed in recent years, for example) or anything that could be made timeless.

Others might need some editing to improve the writing style and fix grammar errors, or better pictures, now that your photography skills have grown.

Make a list of those posts and dedicate some time every week to fix one or two of them.

Consolidate

Conventional SEO wisdom has it that Google nowadays favors longer posts with a good density of keywords. Sometimes, however, we tend to subdivide longer posts into smaller ones, thinking that having more posts about a topic will make our site look more relevant in the eyes of Google.

I’m no SEO expert and I haven’t done any analysis on my own content to verify whether this is true, but I’ve spoken to some experts and they assure me this is indeed the case. Others tell me having links to other pages on the same site helps with the ranking. I guess the jury is still out on this.

Another reason why authors split articles is because they think that most readers don’t have the attention span necessary to consume long-form content online.

I think this is bogus. If what you write is compelling and well-written, people will love reading it, no matter how long it is and might be slightly annoyed at having to click and wait for multiple pages to load. On the other hand, if they are not interested in it, they will stop reading after a few paragraphs anyway, whether they have to click or not, so it doesn’t make much of a difference.

Of course, some websites will split articles only because they can throw more ads and annoying popups at the visitor, but I trust you’re not one of them.

I still sometimes write articles piecemeal, possibly because I don’t have the time to finish them in one go, or I want to create some expectation of future content, but after some time I will go through those articles and consolidate them into one.

If you do the same, remember to create permanent redirects for the URLs of the old parts that point to the new, consolidated article. Otherwise you will lose all of your search engine “juice” and cause all existing links to break. That is never a good thing.

Keep

During your audit, you will find some content that is good enough. Just keep it. It doesn’t have to be perfect and I do not recommend being persnickety and spending many hours doing small improvements on content that just works. Spend those hours creating new content instead.

Image Galleries

This being a photographer’s website, it stands to reason that photographs should be play a big part in it. As a matter of fact, however, the Galleries section is the most underdeveloped amd unmaintained section around here.

The reason for this state of things is mostly due to the fact that none of the image gallery plugins I found offer the features I need. In a nutshell, this is mostly a travel photography website, so in my mind each photo should be accompanied by a story, some details about the location, the equipment used, how the image was taken and processed. Additionally, each photo should have its own URL.

All image gallery plugins I have evaluated fall short in this respect. Most of them offer nothing more than fancy slideshows, with barely a caption under each image, and the single slides are not individually addressable.

Of course, I could manually create an individual page for each image, but this is too high-maintenance and none of the page templates I have available are what I would consider suitable. Moreover, I need index pages for each gallery, with thumbnails, and those should be automatically generated.

In summary, these are the features I am looking for:

  • A simple page template with one large image (that opens a lightbox when clicked) and space for some text.
  • Each single image page should have links to previous and next images in the gallery.
  • A gallery index page with an  automatically populated grid of thumbnails of child pages.
  • An index of galleries page, again automatically populated.
  • Ideally creating each image page would require nothing more than uploading an image, setting a title and typing some text.

If anyone knows of a WordPress plugin with the above features, please point it to me in the comments below. Thank you very much. If it integrates with print providers, even better.

The Technical Side

From day 1, I decided to use WordPress as the content management system of choice. Even though I could’t code in PHP to save my life, the flexibility WordPress offers, with its huge variety of themes and plugins, is unparalleled and there is pretty much nothing you can’t do with it.

Don’t believe those who say you have to be a programmer to use WordPress. It’s just not true, but of course, WordPress being an Open Source system, you can always pay a programmer to develop some customizations for you.

The theme I currently use is called X. For me, it offers the right mix of flexibility and of canned components and templates. I am sure other themes will offer more features or more flexibility, but I can’t spend my time reviewing themes and changing the look&feel of the site every six months, so I think I will stick with X for the foreseeable future.

Comments 8

  1. Thanks for this, Ugo. It is most timely for me, right now.

    And any article that includes the word “persnickety” so perfectly is quite okay in my book!

  2. Hi Ugo,
    I use imagely pro plugin for galleries. https://imagely.com
    slides have unique urls, you can have description and caption etc. Right now they just have self-fulfillment, but promise to integrate labs until end of year. And they have a huge amount of styles for the galleries. I tried a few plugins and this one was the best one, although it also has drawbacks.
    You can have a look at my site: https://antongorlin.com

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  3. Interesting article. My latest solution to the galleries issue is to integrate SmugMug galleries into my website. I believe this is what Trey Radcliffe does. I always wondered how he was able to serve up such high res images, having discovered (I’m a self-taught ancient) the dynamic tension between image quality and page loading time. So. I have their optimised server providing the images. I switched to Beaver Builder, which offers easy integration. Let me know what you think – any comments/suggestions very gratefully received! http://www.coppinger.blog

      1. Hi Anton,
        Not a plugin as such. Beaver Builder (a highly regarded tool for building websites) has the ability to pull in SmugMug galleries as a RSS or Atom feed using their advance galleries module. Of course you need BB, but having tried several I like this one a lot, not least because it’s fast. I wanted to show you a screen shot but can’t figure out how to. Sorry.

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