Loved this video from Doner for its beauty and storytelling: poignant and resonant.
On a whim, yesterday I changed the theme of this website. I did it for my own ease of use, but the simplified layout now makes fewer points more clearly. Everyone wins!
Reasons I Switched – Simplicity, Ease, and Cost
My Fancy Design Was Too Busy
Previously, I had been using a theme that had lots of bells and whistles (sliders, images that changed size on mouseovers, featured pages, lots of color and typography settings). The front page was fancy…and because the theme had so many fun widgets and things to customize, I had an awful lot of stuff on the homepage. I had so much stuff on the homepage that I suppressed the sidebar that had my calls-to-action (newest book, newsletter signup).
I am embarrassed to admit that the visual clutter was not the motivating factor for my abrupt switch.
The theme got harder to use
I had been struggling with customizing the theme. Some of the things that I wanted to change were not available within the customization panel inside the WordPress dashboard. When I wanted to adjust how the buttons looked, I tried editing a child theme’s CSS, I tried inserting custom CSS in the panel…I had to surf the theme’s support boards and found out that I had to add that the change I wanted was “important!” in the CSS, and even then the change only “took” some of the time. The theme was as complex inside as it was on the outside.
Then, in the last few weeks, the customization panel would blink out. I noticed this when I went to fix an editing error on a page—yikes a typo!. The error was in the featured pages on the homepage, and the only way to edit it was to use the customization panel…and the panel wouldn’t stay on the screen!
To troubleshoot, I
- turned off the other plugins in case there was a conflict.
- changed browsers.
- tried to click really fast before it blinked away (I tried this more times that I should admit).
- searched for the featured page snippet in the theme files, including the database. Likely it was there, just poorly labeled.
None of this worked.
Through trial and error, I discovered that I could trick the customization panel to stay on screen when the theme was in “live preview” mode. So I had to change my site’s theme to a different one and then I could make changes. Ugh. I put up with this oddness, because for me customizing a new theme was enough of a pain that I could tolerate temporary workarounds. Then, yesterday, I had enough.
They asked for more money
I got a friendly letter from the theme vendor (I had started with the free theme and upgraded to a paid theme with an annual fee). They wanted me to know that my premium support would run out at the end of February. I should make sure to reup!
It really didn’t seem like they had been maintaining the theme enough to deserve another payment. When I had tried to monkey with the theme by customizing it, I realized that the theme was doing a whole bunch of fancy stuff in its files that made it really hard for me, a mostly non-coder, to make changes to a child theme. Worst of all, when I went into the admin panel, the theme customization panel still blinked out. I would not repay for defective software. Bad timing on the theme developer’s part.
Simplify to See
I gradually fell out of love with my old theme, and then I suddenly jumped to a new one. I made the commitment yesterday afternoon and republished the site last night. This new theme has way fewer things to customize in its WYSIWYG editor/customization panel. This new theme does not have featured pages, sliders, or resize-on-hover image fun.
After removing sliders and featured pages from the homepage, I realized that the homepage copy was….weak, and I rewrote it. I had not noticed that before.
Too much stuff cluttered the sidebar on interior pages, so I simplified the sidebar. The new layout and retouched copy, although less fancy and photo-filled, better emphasize what I am seeking now – new book projects.
Under the hood, I was able to deploy Google Tag Manager directly (the old theme resisted my efforts). So now analytics tagging will also be simplified. Hooray!
The more minimal layout fits my personal style better. It’s also better suited to visitors on mobile devices. I loved the photo of the snow monkeys in the hot spring, but as cute as they are they were irrelevant to the real message. The one thing that I miss is the orange line at the very top of the page. You might see the orange line return….
What do You Think?
How do you like the new look? Clean and tidy? Or too simple/generic? Anything seem missing?
Last Friday morning, Robert Pasick, Ph.D., and I spoke at Leaders Connect, a networking event at Zingerman’s Roadhouse in Ann Arbor. Our topic was “Ten Steps to Meaningful Goals for 2017,” based on our recent book Self-Aware: A Guide for Success in Work and Life.
If you’re interested, you can watch the entire hour-plus of video on YouTube here.
I thought I’d share a quick video excerpt here, about three minutes of Rob and I chatting about how we collaborated on the book.
How do you learn Google Analytics without practice? How can we train new people when analytics accounts are held private – like trade secrets.
Reading vs. Learning Google Analytics
You can find lots of resources to teach yourself Google Analytics. One of the very, very best is the informative, insightful, and thought-provoking writing of Avinash Kaushik. If you don’t already follow his blog – Occam’s Razor, do it! You should also subscribe to his email newsletter, The Marketing < > Analytics Intersect.
Yet, reading gets us only halfway. I learn best when I can apply my new knowledge directly and immediately. Don’t you?
When we wrote Internet Marketing Start to Finish, I sought an open Google Analytics account for students (see my post on the Pure Visibility website). For its instructors’ resource guide, I offered access to the analytics on this site. While better than nothing, it remained incomplete and unsatisfying. For instance, this site has no AdWords or e-commerce.
Demo Account to Learn Google Analytics!
Earlier this month, Google opened up a great resource for learning – a demo e-commerce account. From Google’s Official Announcement:
It can be difficult to gain practical experience since not everyone has access to a fully-implemented Google Analytics account. To fix this we’re introducing a fully functional Google Analytics Demo Account, available to everyone (get access here).
This account has AdWords data, e-commerce functionality, and more. Hip Hip Hooray!
I love this. Very cool. Have you taken a look? What do you think?
Avinash Kaushik shared more info on the Demo account and how you might use it available via Occam’s Razor post “Be Real World Smart: A Beginner’s Advanced Google Analytics Guide.”
OK when something happens twice in the span of a week, it’s officially a theme. Test web forms frequently. Your leads are hard won and too important. Don’t let your tech to get in the way.
Even if you’ve made no changes to the form, other changes can interfere. Over the span of the last week, I’ve seen personnel changes in the business and scripts elsewhere on the website cause problems. Watch your step: double check that your forms are working well and going to the right place, at least monthly.
Why Use Forms?
What do you want people to do when they visit your website? If you want them to get in touch, you need to give them a way to do it.
Sometimes small businesses like to post an email address on a website as a contact method. Yet, email addresses on websites are hard to track. Your analytics script will only track whether the person clicked the email address (to open a message to you). It will not track the actual email being sent, because the message is sent from the visitor’s email program, not from the website.
I also personally dislike pop-ups, where a link opens in another program (such as a PDF or email app). I find the context shift jarring.
Web forms are trackable. Your web analytics can track the form submission as an event or can track visits to a “thank you” page.
Web forms are easy to deploy. Although I happen to like Contact Form 7 for WordPress, there are lots of options, free and paid.
Why Test Web Forms
Yet, like everything internet marketing, web forms are not set and forget. It’s basic quality control to check the forms at the site’s or the form’s launch. While it may seem redundant to keep verifying that all is well in the weeks and months after the form has been published, it’s a critical business process.
Cautionary Tale #1 – Personnel Change
A few months after the launch of a website, a team member moved on to another role with a different company. His email address was where the web form submissions went, and so became, unintentionally, a dead letter box. A prospect contacted this company after not receiving a reply from the company.
- Clean up your email accounts at personnel transitions. Don’t let untended email accounts cause communication bottlenecks.
- Use role-based rather than “personal” email addresses for critical business processes such as leads and communications.
- Avoid having a single point of failure in a key business process.
Cautionary Tale #2 – Script Conflict
Yesterday, someone contacted me via LinkedIn and let me know that she had tried to use the form on this site and it had not worked. Although the form did work, her message stayed on the screen after she hit “submit”. So she got in touch another way and let me know. I was able to debug the issue and the form gives useful feedback again.
How to Test Web Forms
- Inspect their settings – review where the form contents go (to a database? to a person?)
- Send a test email and verify it is received by all parties and systems.
- Check that the form provides useful feedback/confirmation.
- Do this monthly. I set a repeating reminder in my task manager.