All the Whys and Hows Behind My Site Redesign

March 18, 2013

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!)

Let's face it: I'm more likely to put makeup on my blog than my face. (Image)

Let’s face it: I’m more likely to put makeup on my blog than my face.

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.

Why bother with a redesign?

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.

Here’s why:

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 morethanbloggers 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.

The Logistics, Tools and Awesome People Behind the Redesign

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

Total: ~$3,050

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.

The Result

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 =)

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17 Replies to “All the Whys and Hows Behind My Site Redesign”

  • Iain says:

    It is funny you should mention your dissatisfaction with dream host. I am with them as well and I am not digging the performance of my sites.

    Having said that, I am considering switching to another host.

    The site looks great by the way.

    I loved how you broke down early hours of the processes. It opened my eyes to the actual cost of a couple things.

    May your business be Profitable

    Iain

  • Lisatella says:

    I’m so glad you’re willing to share the names and sites of those you’ve worked with and loved. After you told me about your web design experience I began thinking about a big design transition of my own””and was just about to ask you who you chose as your coder. Now I’ve bookmarked Kate’s site for when/if I need a web fairy!

  • Ooh, I like it! It feels fresh and calm, and your new tagline’s perfect. I like the landing page design, too – clear and friendly, and it doesn’t leave me hunting for the “Blog” link like some blogger’s landing pages do.

    Money well spent. πŸ™‚

  • Linda Gartz says:

    Hi Alexis,
    I’ve just about finished a web redesign too. It’s a huge project, even if someone else does the design. I totally agree that it pays to have a professional work on it. My time is better spent in what I do. Question: Did you use an existing theme for this site, or did your designer create it from scratch? That’s, of course, more expensive, but then you probably don’t have as many limitations as with a theme. If it is a theme, which one and why did you choose it? Right now I think the site looks great, and I agree, that Traveling Writer no longer fit your message. I love the header — really clear, but interesting font that makes it seem friendly and accessible. What font are you using?
    I’ll come up with more questions in the future.

    • Alexis Grant says:

      Hi Linda,

      Kate (who coded the site for me) built it on top of the theme I was already using, Thesis, because I wanted to keep some of the features. But I’m using an old version of Thesis, and it turns out the new version is much different and wouldn’t work as well for me. (Long story.) I’ve never built my own theme from scratch, but I do like how certain themes like Thesis and those from Woo Themes make it easy to drap and drop, choose from dropdowns, etc.

  • Hi Alexis,

    First, congrats on your redesign! It’s gorgeous! I’m grateful to hear about your journey, too, as I’m undertaking a similar process right now myself. Looking forward to celebrating your arrival at the “next level!”

    With love,
    Tara

  • Gargi Mehra says:

    I love blue “β€œ and your blog throws plenty of variations of my favourite colour! The design and the colour-scheme is warm and inviting. I love the ribbon at the top!

  • The content of your newly designed website is definitely aligned with what you’re trying to do – and it’s better showcased as such. And while I do like the new visual format, it’s the language that really make the impression, Lexi.

    I just wrapped up a 3-month strategic branding engagement with a consultant who specializes not only in branding in general, but in online presence. I have revamped the content of my professional website (http://www.MKMStrategies.com), which is hosted on Go Daddy which I can’t stand, but I have yet to really change the design, switch hosts, and align my blog with my professional website. All on the to-do list, right after having a baby in a few weeks!

    It’s very tough to do the strategic communications and branding work to refocus yourself and your market. You have to be clear on what doors you want to open and close. But I think you get clarity from that process, and ultimately get to focus on the work you want and can do best.

    Congratulations!

  • Jen says:

    All I can say is that I feel your pain. I just got my business “Make Mention Media” up and running (lots thanks to you and your books that I bought.) I set up most of it myself but still had to pay someone to do a bunch of coding on the back end. I paid a designer for my new logo and another one to help with the graphics on the site. I’m pleased but it was so much work on my part. We’ll see where it goes.

    Your site looks great! I think the redesign makes a big difference. I’m off to explore some more.

  • Benny says:

    Thanks for sharing the behind the scenes of how it went.

    Good decision on cutting ties with your designer before you went too far. I’ve had to do the same with designers for my apps. I saw their first draft and I didn’t like it at all. Better to pay them a little then pay them for the full thing and not like it at all.

    The new redesign looks great! The landing page is awesome. Like someone else said, the blue theme looks great as well.

  • drewtewell says:

    Thanks for sharing all the info on your site redesign. I’ve been redesigning my site, some with a designer and with another web design person. I like the landing page idea. Is it working well for you?

  • Michael says:

    A good reminder to me, as a developer, that projects go much better and more quickly when I can work with a designer. Having a designer frees my mind of more than half of the decision-making load.

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