When launching a new website it can be tempting to go overboard with fonts, colors and patterns in an effort to make it one of a kind. But trying too much can backfire, says web designer Lisa Butler.
"If you don't really have an eye for design and don't have the budget to hire a designer, keep it simple," she says. "The busier your design is, the less your content will stand out."
We recently checked in with Lisa, a WordPress expert who offers her creative services to bloggers and entrepreneurs on her site, Elembee.com, to get tips and best practices for building business sites.
Hi, Lisa! Can you tell us a little about your Elembee? What services do you offer?
I design and develop WordPress sites for bloggers and creative entrepreneurs. I also recently released an eBook called Make WP Work. WordPress really is the best platform for bloggers and creative entrepreneurs who want to take control of their websites. But I know it can be a bit intimidating, so I've written all the essentials in one resource, without all the tech speak.
Who should be using them?
I work with clients who have hit that point of frustration with their website where they know it's holding them back. I love working with clients who do amazing work and have a clear understanding of their brand, and are ready to take that next step with me to have a beautifully designed site that showcases their work, represents their brand well, and is easy to use and maintain so they have one less thing to worry about in their business.
What's your background in web design? How did you become interested in it?
I learned HTML in high school, in the days of using tables for page layouts (it's a wonder I stayed interested!). I took more classes in college, then volunteered to take over website maintenance in my first job out of college, when the company decided to bring website maintenance in house. Since I didn't really have a lot of freedom to play around with the actual design of the site at my day job, I started my blog as an online playground, constantly redesigning it. As readers took notice, I started getting design inquiries and launched my business from there.
How often do you think a website should be updated/tweaked/refreshed?
You should always pay attention to how people are interacting with your site and tweak accordingly.
For example, if you're regularly receiving inquiries for a service you don't offer, make it clear on your service or contact page before people contact you. Or, check your analytics to see which of your blog posts are most popular, or what search terms are leading people to your site, and highlight those in a more prominent area to make it even easier for people to find your popular content.
What areas of a site do you think are most important to focus on? What parts do you not need to invest as much time or energy in?
Content always comes first. That may sound strange coming from a web designer, but a huge part of my job is solving problems. To do that, I have to know what your goals are, why people are coming to your site, and what they're looking for. Aesthetics are definitely important - people are going to make snap judgments as soon as your site loads. But pretty only gets you so far. People will spend a few more minutes on your site if it looks nice, but they're out as soon as they can't find what they're looking for.
It's important to know your goals for your site - then you can determine what isn't worth as much time or energy. For example, I actually went eight months without updating my portfolio because I was still getting a steady stream of clients, and I knew I wanted to update my portfolio functionality. That meant I would be spending a lot of time creating and uploading images and descriptions for new projects, only to have to redo all that work a few months later. Instead, I spent my time adjusting my contact form to get the information I need from potential clients up front and save time going back and forth via email to get the details.
What are some cost-effective ways an individual or business can revamp their website or blog on a tight budget?
If custom design isn't in your budget, there are so many great WordPress themes out there for less than $100, some even free. Consider hiring a logo designer if you can - then your brand will stand out more than just using a theme as-is.
What advice can you offer someone who is interested in starting a blog as a potential way to make additional income? What are some basics they need to know right off the bat?
First, remember that most bloggers don't have overnight success. Blogging is a lot of work, and you shouldn't get into it just to make money. You have to really love what you're writing about to keep doing it every day - money is just not enough, especially because it could be a long time before you see any real income.
Second, keep in mind that there are a lot of possibilities. I think a lot of people who want to make money from blogging immediately think of ad sales and brand partnerships, but that isn't the only way to go. I've never posted an ad on my site or received money for a sponsored post. Instead, I make money through blog readers who are willing to pay for my services or myeBook because my blog shows them how I think and work.
How easy is it to make money on a blog?
Like I said, most bloggers don't have overnight success. I wouldn't recommend getting into blogging as an easy way to earn money!
I think the key is to figure out what works best for you. For example, I've used affiliate links from the beginning, but I didn't make any money off of them until I shared things of value to my readers. My readers aren't looking to me for the perfect lamp for their bedroom. They're looking to me for web hosting recommendations, business education resources, and apps to help them manage their blog and business. You have to figure out what your readers need that you can provide.
What are some of your favorite resources for learning the ropes on monetizing a blog?
The B Bar has a lot of great eBooks for getting started, including one specifically on monetizing your blog. They also maintain a great blog full of tips. Jessie Artigue offers personal consulting to help you figure out how you can monetize your blog. ProBlogger offers tons of advice for managing and monetizing your blog.