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New site is finally in workable form. Pretty much. We think..

Spent the better part of last month finally wrestling this site into a new format. We announced a “soft launch” last week. Now’s time for the “hard launch” announcement. No choice really – our old site is well & truly gone (hope you like the new digs – we’re well past the “point of no return” now.) It’s been a long time coming – our (now) old site was a mess. Here’s the main reasons we had no choice but to change things up:

1) The site wasn’t responsive.

A site that’s not viewable easily via tablets and smartphones is yesterday’s news and we weren’t. Google started warning folks that they needed to get with the program a while back – there was a drop-dead deadline back in April – so it was something that we needed to attend to sooner rather than later (though I never believed Google would penalize sites that weren’t responsive – way too many authoritative sites aren’t for that to happen.) As an aside, I’ve been watching Google analytics for the past few days and the number of people coming to our site via phones and tablets is around 30%. That’s a lot higher than I thought so having a site that’s pretty-much mobile friendly can only help in the big picture.

2) The clown-show vibe was cool and all but..

My personal style notwithstanding, we needed to clean up the “look” of our site. It was a little too much clutter and “whoo-hoo” in the visuals department. Ironically, this site uses some pretty large imagery on splash pages, but (hopefully) is a little more cohesive in total. Truth to tell, it’s a bit slick for my tastes, but I tried setting up a new version that would be appropriate for buyers, as opposed to modeled around my admittedly zany design style.

3) Now that we’ve fixed it, I can now admit this..

The WordPress version we were running was old and cranky, about four major updates behind. This was obviously a major, huge, awful problem. We hadn’t updated in a while as every time we tried it broke our cobbled-together theme. Rather than try to fix the theme, we always planned to rebuild instead, but never managed to get around to that either. I can sleep a little bit better at nights knowing that we’re finally current and up-to-date.

4) It was difficult to add any new work to our portfolio.

Even when we did, it was lost in the cacophony. I like to feature the occasional new project or design example (due to rampant knock-offery, I’m still hesitant to add new client stuff until it’s in the wild) but neglected to do it as regularly as I would have hoped. Uploading new project files involved setting up HTML pages(!) and then manually adding images to gallery indexes. There was no real way to find new stuff, so anything was lost in the overall noise of the site and I came to view it as a waste of time and not worth the considerable effort it took to do. We’ve set up an entirely different way of serving logo design examples that’s easier to find, search and review. It’s also a helluva lot easier to update, so hopefully I can stay on top of that a little better with fresher material and fully fleshed-out case studies with stories about our work rather than just pretty pictures.

5) Clean up multiple WordPress installations..

For reasons that escape me (there was probably a really good rationale at the time) our (now) old blog was on a completely different WordPress install than the site proper. Not that this is a terribly big deal, and it actually saved our bacon a few times when we had site issues, but it did meant that the blog was out of the loop when the search function on the top level worked (which apparently was never) but it also meant that the search function on the blog (which did work) didn’t look through pages on the top level either. This blog is integrated into the site proper, so the search function rummages through everything when you ask. The (now) old blog search still only searches through its own pages, but we’ve clearly marked it with a hint that says “Search The Archives.” We’ve left everything at the old location as a “legacy blog” – still some interesting stuff  – but I won’t be posting there any more.

6) General boredom with the old site.

I like to mix things up every couple of years or so, just because. This makeover is way past due, partially due to some personal issues and the malaise that had set in because of them.

7) The site was missing OUR point..

Our help features and design articles are pretty decent, but they were scattered over the old site willy-nilly and there was no real cohesion between them. When put in the proper context and sequence, they were meant to be a “getting a logo” treatise that covered the entire process from start to finish. These features have all been amalgamated under our Design Help Center umbrella, and now work like they should. Start here, work your way down the side-bar and (hopefully) you’ll see what I’m getting at.

8) Typos, glitches and over-optimization..

The old site was riddled with typos (still is a little, but we’re working our way through them) and that needed (needs) to be cleaned up. More importantly, the verbiage was over-SEOed to death – the phrase “logo design” crow-barred into every possible place it could be crow-barred into. That was fine for its time – that kind of stuff DID work with Google even though they said it didn’t – but it read horribly for anyone that was, well, trying to read it. Everything was cross-linked like crazy (that used to work in the SEO department as well) and that needed to be dialed back significantly too. These edits and changes would have taken so long to do, might as well start from scratch, went the thinking. Ironically, we’ve already taken a hit in Google after we removed some of this spammy drivel, but I’m gonna trust big G that this is a result of shifting pages, some linking snarl-ups (see below) and is only temporary.

9) The logo was on the top right. And didn’t link to the home page.

This is a small issue I realize (there was a link that clearly said “home” in the navigation bar) but that was apparently some design commandment that I had broken, when we did it to be “different.” FWIW, here’s what it looked like:
old-nav-barMany folks had kittens over this. “You can’t do that!” was the usual refrain (though the non-linkitude was admittedly pretty dumb.) In any case, we’ve got with the program and our logo is now at the top left like everybody else. And it links to the home page. Like everybody else.

10) Our portfolio and logo samples were all over the place.

Over the years, our logo examples and case studies had become scattered all over our site. There was the Daily Logo. Then the Daily Logo Archives. We had case studies on our blog. Then our logo galleries. And our legacy portfolio. And.. well, you get the idea. All our work samples are now going to be located in a central graphic design portfolio, which in turn will “feed” a sortable logo design gallery (if logos are what you want to look at.) As we’re talking several hundred pages, this will necessitate re-formatting old material (image sizes are bigger) and moving them in for a while (with 301 redirects on the old pages to get them out of Google.)

Complications & Best Laid Plans..

Like all (hopefully) good things, this new site roll-out was not without its complications. Here’s a few of the issues we had to deal with..

1) Theme Learning Curve..

I saw no reason to reinvent the wheel (our old site was coded from scratch and caused nothing but headaches) so we used a commercial WordPress theme – DIVI, a magnificent bit of code sorcery from the folks at Elegant Themes. I had never worked with DIVI before, had to grapple with its unique module thingamajigs in real-time. It’s a brilliant bit of software but there’s still some hinky stuff we had to sort out as we went along. To make matters a lot more complicated, 50% into this rebuild, Elegant went and updated their software, which when installed over the old version, blew up all the work we’d already done with new tags and module overwrites. Ah well, as I’ve often said – “it’s always faster the second (third, fourth, fifth) time around..

2) Moving WordPress installations around is an art..

Not a science. We tried to keep all our URLs the same when moving stuff around, but somewhere in the export and importing of XML files, WordPress lost all the child/parent page relationships and sent everything to the root level of our domain. Not a big deal until you realize that these are the URLs that have been in Google’s site for years and would have gone 404 when GoogleBot came back to revisit. Hard coded internal links were broken too, leading to a mess of epic proportions that you may still run into here and there. I was able to rebuild the structure without much hassle, and luckily, was able to find a few plug-ins to help out – a broken link checker, an URL replacer and an on-the-fly 301 redirect gizmo. I also created a custom 404 page that’s a little more helpful than the one I’d originally intended. Just in case..

2) There comes a time when you have to pull the pin..

Whenever you’re changing a website from one that’s working on all fronts, to one that you hope works, there’s that moment when you have to take the leap. You can test, and test, and test some more on a development server, but at some point you gotta go live and hope for the best. That by the way, is generally when this happens..

3) Internet access will go down. At the worst possible moment..

My internet access started to get flaky around 3 am one night, right in the middle of pulling said pin, and just as I was trying to fix the link mess described above. My modem started to boot me off the network, let me back on, only to boot me off a few minutes later. I couldn’t get a tech out until almost a week later (that’s supposed to be today – I’m having a helluva time writing this because of said issues,) so I had to motor on with intermittent access to our site, right in the midst of our largest update ever. If you want to experience teeth-grinding frustration, try building a website when your machine will only reach the web with something approaching a 60% success rate. There was more than a few times when my Mac Book Pro almost went through the window or my fist through its screen (though to be fair, not his/her fault, so apologizes are owed to my Titanium pal..)

4) We don’t so much design websites as build them.

I don’t care how tight your wireframes are (ours weren’t) or how well thought-out your flow charts might be (ours were pretty good,) when it comes to putting websites on the pipes, things are going to morph and go sideways. See, what looked great on paper may not work so well when it comes to actually clicking on links and moving round a live version. I tossed our carefully-laid plans about fifty percent of the way through and started assembling the site hierarchy on-the-fly based on my intuition and what I “feel” works best.

So when you click around this site and think to yourself – “wow, that’s a stupid place for this” or “why can’t I find this bloody thing?” – you only have me to blame.