Our old blog theme was crumbling. It was 10 years old – certainly no spring chicken in the design-obsessed blogosphere. The developers hadn’t updated it in 7 years, WordPress retired it 3 years ago, and we suspected a mischievous poltergeist was wreaking havoc in our house.
So, what to do? … There was just one answer.
We needed a Blog Makeover. It was time to renovate this old house and make it sparkle.
We’re big believers in“Making the most of what you’ve got.” On the plus side, our blog had good content – some popular posts and engaging photos. So what did we need? This old, wonky structure was crying out for “good bones.” It required a new theme that would provide a solid foundation and framework to house its bulging inventory.
We decided to make a list of everything we loved about our old theme … then we brainstormed all the things we WISHED the new one would do. Now we were ready to go shopping for a new theme to accommodate all our stuff.
Whoa!!! Back the train up.
We were getting way ahead of ourselves. Any good renovator knows that it’s the prep work you do that determines the eventual success of the project. There were several valuable lessons ahead that would make a huge difference in the end result.
So, we started this project back in December of last year. And just like any renovation, you’re never quite sure how long it’s going to take. But as James is fond of saying, “It takes as long as it takes.” Now here we are 7 months later, to tell the tale and share the lessons we learned during our blog makeover. Many of you may be considering – or in the middle of your own blog renovation. We hope our story gives you encouragement (and hopefully won’t frighten you off), and lets you know you’re not alone. All it takes is a little help from your friends.
So on that cold December day, we agreed that we needed to:
1. Create a Vision of Our New Blog
For us, Gallivance is our “digital homestead.” It’s where we live in cyberspace. We want to make it inviting for all who visit … and hopefully you’ll come in and sit a spell. Our goal is to:
- Feature content we love that helps and entertains people
- Encourage community and spark quality conversations
- Build a site chock-full of choices that people want to explore.
But what were we trying to achieve with our Blog Makeover? First we had to imagine how our new blog would look and perform. Our previous theme was clean, minimal, and sparse – displaying only our posts and photos. It was the perfect minimalist backdrop as we worked to simplify our life.
We decided that even though we’re still keeping things simple, we were craving more movement, engagement, and fun. We envisioned a blog that felt energized, looked more like a magazine, and encouraged exploration and discovery.
2. Start With The Essentials
After blogging for 9 years we finally learned what Readers crave. First we had to start with The Essentials. For us that means including the:
- About Us Page to let you get to know us
- Start Here Page to give you a sense of your options
- Top Menu to enable you to easily navigate our site
- Search Bar to help you quickly find what you’re looking for
- Archive Widgets, both by Category and Dates, to encourage you to explore
- Subscription Box to invite new Readers to follow along
- “Hugs” Widget to celebrate friendship, appreciation, and accomplishments.
3. Declutter To Let The Quality Shine Through
You may think that decluttering is just for your over-stuffed sock drawer or dust-magnet tchotchkes. Not true! We’ve learned that blogs get cluttered, too.
Over the years we’ve watched our number of posts grow. First 100, then 300, and by 2020 we were up to nearly 700 posts. Upon closer inspection, we confirmed our suspicion: Not all of our posts were created equal. We had some serious stinkers in the mix!
Why were we hanging on to the old posts? Because they were part of our history. So the questions we had to ask ourselves were, Do they belong on the blog? Are we proud of them?
It was time to suck it up, swallow our pride, and eliminate the posts that were poorly written, really lame, or downright boring. And you know we don’t like boring.
We braced ourselves for the big purge, and “retired” over 120 old posts. They won’t be coming back. Then we moved another 50 posts back into draft mode because they had potential, but needed some serious rethinking. So, now we’re happy with our 500+ posts … and working on creating new, quality content.
4. Curate Our Own Collection
Any lover of museums knows that although an institution may have a vast collection, the job of the Curator is to select the ideal pieces to display in an exhibit … and then interpret their meaning. As creators and custodians of our blog, we have the same responsibility.
After reading all of our below-par posts, we decided to use the same philosophy on our blog that we used when we simplified our home – Only include the things we love and have meaning to us.
It was time to up our game by improving the quality of our content. So back in January we created a Punch List of things that needed to be fixed, then set to work. This included:
- Repairing broken links and creating new ones
- Replacing missing photos
- Upgrading art on many posts
- Combing through our Media Library to eliminate duplicate photos that were eating up our storage space
- Editing our writing in many of the articles we planned to keep.
In the end we wanted to make sure that we were putting our best foot forward.
5. Capitalize On Our Prime Real Estate
In the grand scheme of things, a blog’s Home Page is its most prized real estate. We learned that specific areas of our Home Page have different values.
Above the Fold. Many of us grew up when people read newspapers – perhaps you still do. Kudos! And although print newspapers may be vanishing, the lingo still remains. “Above the Fold” refers to the top half of a folded newspaper. It was the only part customers could read at a newsstand, so the editors wanted to feature content that would entice shoppers to buy the newspaper.
The concept is the same on a blog’s Home Page. The section that first fills the screen of your computer, tablet, or phone is “above the fold” – the Prime Real Estate. This is the place to put the most valuable enticements. We studied our stats and decided to focus on our:
- Unusual blog name
- Most recent post and 2 hidden gems in a slider with alluring art
- Top Menu that tells you everything about us in a nutshell – Our Story, Where to Start, Simplify Your Life, Travel the World, Explore New Cultures, and Expand Your Horizons. From this simple menu you can get to everything on the blog.
Below the Fold. Continuing with the newspaper analogy, this term includes what you see when you flip the paper over and read to the bottom of the front page. If we don’t hook our readers “Above the Fold” then this area is our last chance to engage readers before they leave. We realized we needed to make the most of it.
On our Home Page, when you scroll below the fold, you encounter additional recent posts bordered by a sidebar and footer. How could we leverage those areas?
Sidebar. Well, first we included the Essentials (see above), but we realized we could also use the area to solve our biggest challenge: How do we entice Readers to take a look at our older articles? Enter the:
Post Carousel. We stumbled across this marvelous feature and knew instantly it was the answer to our conundrum. With a Post Carousel we can design a self-contained merry-go-round of 3 posts on a specific topic. For instance, we could create one on The Quest to Simplify Our Life that contains our 3 best posts on the subject. And the fantastic thing is that it MOVES – providing the burst of energy and fun we were longing for. We plan to change the carousels regularly and hope to highlight subjects that will tickle your fancy.
Footer. This is our last place to capture your interest before you leave. We decided to use it as our “Snapshot Area” – a place to quickly tell you more about us and share a new hidden gem each week.
6. Be Authentic. Be Ourselves.
When you start a blog you get to make a lot of choices. First off, are you going to use your real name … or go by a nom de plume … or no name at all? (Please don’t do that. Be somebody! People want to engage personally and it helps to have a handle.)
Long ago we decided to be ourselves because we wanted to tell stories – our stories – and celebrate your stories. So we chose to show you the real us as we’ve moved through various phases of our lives. As our lovely British friends say, “Here we are, warts and all!”
7. Before The Big Reveal, Get Feedback From Your Friends
We often joke that we can talk and research a topic to death … but it’s true. We’ve learned that the more we know, the faster we can think on our feet. And that’s a good thing if you’re changing blog themes. Because you really don’t know what’s going to happen when you flip the switch to install a new theme – which means pulling the plug on your old theme. And WordPress had already warned us in no uncertain terms that we couldn’t go back to our old theme because it was retired.
Talk about a leap of faith!
So we did what we’ve learned best: Ask your friends for help. And you came to our rescue! Our heartfelt thanks go out to:
- The Forums at WordPress that offered inspiring ideas and problem-solving techniques for our new theme.
- WordPress Happiness Engineers who answered our endless questions and provided code to a couple of CSS-challenged bloggers.
- All of you fabulous Readers who volunteered ideas, found flaws, and told us how the new theme looked on your phones. You rock!
Possibly the most valuable lesson we’ve learned is this:
Blog themes are like fashion – one day you’re in, the next you’re out. But you never go wrong with the classics. We’re going for timeless.
We know that many of you have recently gone through a blog makeover. You have our admiration. What lessons did you learn from the experience?
Terri & James
Photo Credits: 1. Brigitte Tohm 2. Cristian Escobar 3. Diego PH 4. Brooke Lark 5. SockDrawer.com 6. Vienna Reyes 7. The Creative Exchange 8. Matthew Daniels 9. Gnomesville on Facebook 10. Yusril Permana ali