Notice anything new today?
Alexisgrant.com got a makeover! And a pretty FUN one, don’t you think?
(If you’re reading this in an RSS feed, click over to the blog to see our new look!)
Behind every site redesign, there’s a story. This post explains WHY I went for a new look, HOW I got it done, and which TOOLS AND PEOPLE helped make it a success. We’ll also delve into several LESSONS LEARNED, so you can avoid the mistakes I made and benefit from my experience.
I decided to redesign the site for four reasons. But before I get to those, let me reassure you that NO, the content of this site won’t change. You can continue to visit alexisgrant.com for advice and tips on careers, writing, social media and travel — it’s just my look that’s changing.
1. Make my focus crystal-clear
Last year at the World Domination Summit, when I told new friends about my site and its tagline, The Traveling Writer, they thought I was a travel blogger.
While I do write occasionally about travel — and I’ll continue to do so going forward — that’s not really my main gig anymore. My new tagline, Make Your Own Luck in Your Career & Life, better portrays what I’m about.
You want your website to cater to loyal readers, people who come back again and again. But you also want new visitors to be able to tell in a split second what they can expect to gain by spending a few seconds or minutes or even hours on your site. You want your value to be crystal-clear.
That’s what I’m hoping to do with this new look and tagline: make my value crystal-clear. Do you think it works?
2. Better showcase my newsletter and products
Speaking of appealing to first-time visitors, that’s why I’m trying a new landing page that showcases not only my blog, but also my newsletter and products. Since the landing page lives at alexisgrant.com, that means the blog is now at alexisgrant.com/blog.
This will NOT affect your RSS feed, if you subscribe that way, so no need to make any changes. It just means that if you want to read my latest update, you can go directly to alexisgrant.com/blog or click through to the blog from my new home page.
A quick note on this landing page approach: it’s not for everyone. For new bloggers, I usually recommend showcasing your blog as the first thing readers see, because that will help you grow an audience.
But now that I’ve spent several years growing my community, I want to give my newsletter and products just as much love as the blog. Plus, I see a trend in landing pages becoming more popular (here are a few more–than–bloggers who use them), so I wanted to give this a try. I’m considering this an experiment, so if it doesn’t work, nothing’s preventing me from making the blog my main page again.
3. Help you find old content
One weakness of my old site was that it didn’t make it easy for you to look through content that’s more than a week old. And the truth is, I have a lot of solid content on this site, posts that could help you reach your goals even though they’re a month or year or several years old. I want to make them easier for you to find, read and put to use.
So you’ll now find a short list of categories in my right sidebar. If you want to read more about a particular topic, you should be able to discover what you’re looking for by clicking those blue buttons.
I’m still thinking of other ways to help you navigate my archives, so if you have suggestions, let me know.
4. Look more professional
Until now, I designed most of my site myself, turning to an artist to create my header and a CSS coach for help with minor tweaks I couldn’t figure out.
But I was ready to take this to the next level, to a fully professional level, the level I think my site deserves. And that was something I couldn’t do myself. Or maybe I could, but it would take me hours, and those are hours I’d rather put into building my business.
We can’t do everything well, so sometimes it makes sense to outsource.
Now that you understand why I went this route, you want to know the HOWs, right? These logistical details will help you redesign your site when it’s time.
Here’s how we got this done:
STEP ONE: I first began by working with a designer/coder who came recommended by a friend. I really got along with this designer and loved her as person, but after she gave me her initial designs, I realized her work didn’t jive with what what I was going for.
So before I made much progress on this project, I took a giant step back, severing ties with this designer. It wasn’t an easy decision to make — both because I didn’t want to hurt her feelings and because I still had to pay her for the hours she spent on the project — but I realized that if I wasn’t happy, she wouldn’t be happy either, so it was the right decision to go in another direction.
The bright side: I did end up using a few of the components this designer suggested, including how publication logos are displayed at the bottom of the site (which I love!). And working with her helped me solidify what I was looking for in a design. So even though this felt like a detour, it was really just a sideways step toward my end goal.
STEP TWO: I looked around for a while trying to find a designer I wanted to work with. But anyone who has gone through this process knows it’s not easy to choose a designer. There are so many out there, but how do you know they do good work? How do you know they’re right for you?
When I looked through designer portfolios, I often liked some of their projects but not others, and after my first failed attempt at a designer marriage, I was hesitant to throw myself into a relationship again.
So I ended up turning to 99designs, a crowd-sourcing design site. This community has a bad rap with some designers, who say it devalues all design work. But if you don’t know who you want to work with or exactly what you want, running a 99designs contest gets you lots of ideas for an affordable price.
I’d used the site for smaller projects like my Twitter Power course logo, but never for this big of a project. I paid $1,049 for two pages: a primary design (that’s my landing page) and a secondary page (my blog). This might sound like a lot, but compared to quotes I got from some experienced designers, it was a bargain.
The site promises you dozens of designs to choose from, but in all honesty, a lot of them are crap. Still, all it takes is ONE design you love, ONE designer who gets what you’re going for — and that person entered my contest! I walked away with a design I absolutely loved and a designer who was pleasant to work with.
Here’s a quick tip for using 99designs: The more direction you can give designers, the more you’ll like what they create. Be as specific as possible about what you want. (This is where my failed marriage with my first designer came in handy.)
STEP THREE: The next challenge was to find someone to code out the design for me, so I looked around at a few sites I liked, figured out who coded them, and asked the site owners whether they’d recommend those people. After a recommendation from Marianne Elliott (because I love her site), I landed with Kate Harding of Artemis.
Kate turned my designs into a functionable site, first on a test site so we could work out the kinks, then on my actual website. She did an AWESOME job, and she was affordable: I paid her about $800 for the primary project, plus $50/hour for a bunch of other tweaks I’d wanted to get done that weren’t part of the design.
So all-in-all, this project cost me:
Work done by Designer A: $1,000
99designs contest: $1,049
Code wizard to implement design: ~$1,000
If I had skipped the failed marriage, it would’ve cost me about $2,050.
That might sound like a lot, but remember: this is an investment in the core of my business. And since I’ve bootstrapped my company, I haven’t made many investments like this. For me, this is totally worth it.
Plus, as I mentioned earlier, the price is more than reasonable for the result. Lots of experienced designers and firms charge double or triple that for the entire project.
THE LESSON? I thought I wanted to hire one designer/coder to do the entire project for me, but if I had to do this all over again — and I will, because I’m scheming on launching two other sites — I’d follow the 99designs + coding whiz (Kate) model.
STEP FOUR: Since we were doing all this work, I figured I might as well make a change I’ve been wanting to make for a while now: changing web hosts. The host I’ve been with for years, DreamHost, has NOT lived up to my expectations. Even after corresponding with their support team a dozen times, my site has far too much downtime, time that costs me money.
So I’m in the process of leaving DreamHost and transitioning to WestHost, a site recommended by an online friend. (That’s his affiliate link.) I paid $112 for a year of hosting, plus $10 to move this site. (I could’ve saved that $10 by doing it myself, but it wasn’t worth the frustration of trying to figure it out and I wanted to make sure it was done properly.) I’ll pay another $10 to move each of the other domains I own.
The transition isn’t complete yet, so I can’t yet give WestHost my full endorsement, but so far, so good.
There are still a few tweaks I want to make to specific pages on this site, but overall I’m super happy with how this has turned out. It took longer and was more complicated than I expected, but I do feel like this change will help me take my business to the next level.
What do you think of the redesign? Anything you don’t like that I could do better?
Also, I’m in the midst of making sure all my communications — this blog, my newsletter, etc. — showcase my new header, one that matches this site. So if you see anything that still has the old look or come across a link that doesn’t work, please let me know! It takes a village to raise this baby =)