Remember when I said there were changes ahead for the blog? Well, a lot of them are here now that my new blog design is live. If you're reading this in an RSS reader or as one of my e-mail subscribers, I invite you to visit William Beem Photography to see the changes. I'd be very happy to read your feedback, likes or dislikes.
Blog Design Goals
I had some specific objectives in mind that sparked my blog design overhaul. Here are a few:
- Performance – the site took too long to load.
- Appearance – I loved ProPhoto Blogs theme for many reasons, but my blog was looking like thousands of other photo blogs.
- Security – I had some issues with my Shared Hosting plan that caused outages.
- Growth – I needed an architecture that was poised to enhance and manage a growing number of visitors and subscribers.
The Hosting Environment
The first milestone was to move from a shared hosting plan (actually, a few of them) to a Virtual Private Server (VPS). That change alone enhanced my performance, security and ability to grow. A VPS is scalable, so I can add resources like CPU, RAM, bandwidth and disk space as I need capacity.
Unfortunately, the transfer didn't happen without some pain. My hosting provider, which has truly served me well for about a decade now, botched several parts of the transfer. To be fair, I also made two errors. The difference is that I didn't make the same errors over and over again. Despite some anguish and a lot of time on the phone with support, the web servers are in place and performing well. I'm still waiting for them to sort out my e-mail, but I'll live without Black Friday ads for a while longer.
The New WordPress Theme
After a great deal of research and soul searching, I decided that it was time to move away from ProPhoto Blogs to something else. I chose StudioPress Themes for WordPress using the Genesis architecture. In fact, I went whole-hog and bought the Pro Pass with all current themes and all future themes. With multiple sites to manage (e.g., I also run Suburbia Press and Aperture vs Lightroom, among other sites), it seemed like a good idea to give myself some variety. I tried a few different Child Themes before I settled on Minimum for this site.
The folks at StudioPress really made my day with their customer support. You see, they very rarely give any discounts at all on their products. Buying the themes in one big bundle was the best way to save. So a day or so after I bought the themes, they announced a Black Friday discount.
Ain't that the way? I decided it couldn't hurt to ask if I could qualify for the discount. Not only did they agree, they issued the refund before I even got their reply telling me about it – $87.50 back in my pocket. They got it back, as I decided to use it to buy another product from StudioPress. I've been very pleased with the quality and help from these folks so far.
If you'd like to take advantage of that same sale, you have until 5:00pm PST today (11/26/2012) to save money on Copyblogger Media's Black Friday Sale.
The Performance Difference
I did some basic performance testing with Web Page Test to see if these changes made a difference or not. Here's what I found. When using the Shared Hosting environment and ProPhoto Blogs, the time to load my home page for a first-time visitor was 17.241 seconds. The time for a repeat view, with some of the elements in cache, was 6.033 seconds.
After the transfer to my VPS and loading the StudioPress theme, the time to load my home page for a first-time visitor was 5.044 seconds. That's already better than the cached performance of my old blog design! For repeat visitors, the time to load my site was 2.280 seconds. Suffice it to say that validates a few things for my plans with this blog design.
More Changes to Come
I still have some issues to update and new features to implement. There were elements that my old design handled differently than the new theme. For instance, my Contact page isn't showing the form to reach me right now. My Articles and Review pages used to have a grid to launch into the various articles. You can still reach them from the menu above, but the pages need a clean design update to replace that grid.
I'm doing more to encourage people to subscribe to my email updates, so there are some prominent Subscribe buttons on the new theme. It's a great way to have fresh, unique content delivered to you instead of having to remember to come back for it. Why not have updates delivered to you, instead?
My Social Media links are very prominently displayed on the Home Page, and there are links to even more social media connections on the footer of every page.
My content is also changing to meet my goals. I still plan on sharing my images with you under a Creative Commons License Attribution-NonCommercial CC BY-NC license, but I want to put more emphasis on sharing the techniques I use to create my images. I've had requests for more tutorials, so I'm going to venture more in that direction.
Oh, and there's one more thing
There's something that's been bothering me lately. A number of social media sites allow viewers to embed code so they can easily share a photo on another site, like their blog, Facebook or a forum. The problem is that those sites get the link back from sharing, not the person who created the photo. I decided it was time to do the same thing here and make it easy for people to share my photos by providing code to embed them on other sites.
Now you don't have to remember to write any code to provide attribution and link back here under my Creative Commons license. It's all done for you. All you have to do is cut and paste the code to use my images. You'll find the embed code at the bottom of each post. It's going to take some time, but I plan to visit all of my old photos and add this code, as well as provide it for future photos.
I really want your feedback on the new blog design. I still have a few kinks to iron out, but it has a fresh, new feel for me. I hope you like it.