Themes and Plugins You’ll Find in My Toolkit

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Things in your toolkit, WordPress themes and plugins.

Have you decided on WordPress for your website but have become overwhelmed by the amount of themes and plugins available?

The beauty of WordPress is the number of developers who have created themes and plugin, some free and some not. Themes are a great way to get started on the design and plugins help you add much-needed functionality especially if you're a non-designer.

But choosing the correct combination is oftentimes stressful when you're not in the trenches every day. And you need to decide if free can work or should you invest in premium.

My process, like many other designers, is streamlined with a starter stack or preferred themes and plugin that make up my toolkit. Will these be right for you? I hope so which is why I'm pulling back the curtain and showing you.

Fair warning – this article includes affiliate links which I may earn money from should you use them to purchase. But I only recommend them because I use them regularly.

responsive WordPress theme
When choosing a theme, make it responsive because that is a must.

WordPress Themes

According to Codex a theme is “a collection of files that work together to produce a graphical interface with an underlying unifying design for a weblog.” WordPress itself comes with a default theme which is free to everyone. But I've found two different options that I use with every website I build.

For my more tech-savvy and custom sites, I use the Genesis framework from StudioPress. I find these themes are easy to use and configure out of the box. Genesis provides a search-engine-optimized foundation and runs pretty fast due to its clean code.

But I love BeaverBuilder (see must use plugins) to create more owner updatable (aka you can easily update) and the Astra theme is built to be more page builder friendly. So that is my choice for sites that don't need custom bells and whistles and will be maintained by the business owner.

While Genesis is a paid theme, Astra is free for the basic theme with a premium add-on that extends design choice functionality.

WordPress Plugins

WordPress plugins are bits of software that can be uploaded to extend and expand the functionality of your WordPress site. Having plugins in my toolkit saves me time since I'm not reinventing the wheel every time I build a website.

WordPress plugin to extend functionality.
Trusted WordPress plugins can be found in the official repository

Must Use Plugins

My ultimate must-use plugin is Beaver Builder, which is a drag and drop page builder with tons of options that allow me to create layouts of all kinds. In addition to the modules for the design, they also include modules that extend functionality like opt-in forms, buttons, tabs, and video embeds. While I prefer Beaver Builder, its competitor Elementor is a wonderful option too.

On top of a great looking site, every site needs a form or forms to collect information. I prefer Gravity Forms which is a premium plugin but well worth the money. Gravity Forms also has add-ons so you can sync your forms with your email marketing program, collect payments and create a quiz or survey.

If you want to help your site in the getting found arena, you should be adding Schema, which is a markup that allows search engines to figure out what your site is all about. I've found that the makers of Astra Theme also have an easy to use schema plugin aptly names Schema Pro.

Speaking of getting found I bounce between two SEO plugins: SEOPress and RankMath. I've used Yoast too but I've found the load speed is a tad slower and they don't have the bells and whistles of the others without paying the annual fee.

I do have to say that SEO plugins don't directly improve SEO, and regardless of which plugin you use, SEO optimization plugins are a tool to make your site search engine-friendly by guiding and pointing out what is missing from the page. They don't do the work for you and as my SEO mentor Brendon Hufford says “it's like having a post-it note to remind you of what to add”.

Moving on to security, Shield it for me because they literally cover all the bases of helping you secure your site from login to comments to file monitoring. And they don't kick false positives like other security monitoring plugins.

Caching is another must-have and some hosts now include caching with their packages. But my go to is WPRocket because there is minimal configuration with immediate results. Plus for some hosts (like Flywheel) they are the only caching plugin officially supported,

And finally, Better Search and Replace is my favorite for correcting URLS like when you add SSL onto your site and need to change the permalinks form http to https. I also use Better Search and Replace to find temporary URLs that may be created when building a site on staging or development servers.

Optional Plugins

I mentioned above that Beaver Builder is my favorite page builder plugin and it's companion UABB, Ultimate Beaver Builder which has custom modules, rows and templates to help create even more beautiful and functional sites.

Google Analytics is a must for tracking because one, it's free and two, you need to know about your traffic. There are many plugins that will pull the data into your WordPress dashboard like Monster Insights or Google Analytics Dashboard for WP by ExactMetrics. I personally don't use either and instead add the code to my theme and look at the reports online.

Social sharing is another must for bloggers who want to extend their reach on their posts. My favorite is Sassy Social Share because they don't use cookies and is GDPR compliant.

Talk about extending reach, I'm a fan of content upgrades and unintrusive pop-ups which is why I use ConvertPro for these functions on my website. It's drag-and-drop and pretty simple to use and it supports fast loading.

And finally, if images are your thing or you're obsessed with speed like I am, Imagify is the perfect solution for optimizing your images.

more tools for your digital space.
Other tools help with creating a perfect digital space.

Other Tools

As always, there are tools I recommend that don't fall into the themes and plugin category but will help you with your digital presence.

  • Email marketingMailchimp is what I use after switching from ActiveCampaign. Both are great programs but I did not need all the bells and whistle of ActiveCampaign. And if you're a DIYer or semi-techie then MailChimp would be easier to set up and use.
  • Spelling and grammar correctness are a must for your website which is why I use Grammarly to provide an extra set of eyes when creating posts and pages.
  • Email – Most use their host for setting up email accounts but what if your server goes down or (*gasp*) gets hacked? You have no way to get your email messages and that's the number one reason I use GSuite for my business email addresses.
  • Local Development – I'm going to get a little nerdy for a minute and talk about creating a website on my computer which is how I start many of my projects. I've found that Local by Flywheel is a perfect option because it's easy to use and with the click of an option sharable to my clients.

It doesn't matter what tools you use, but it's great to have a starter kit or tools of reliable options to use to create your WordPress website. Most of the above tools mentions have been in my toolbox a good while, which says a lot about sustainability.

I'm always finding new and different tools and resources which can be found on my resources page. How about you – what are some of your must have tools?

Themes and plugins to use on your WordPress website.
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5 Myths about Using WordPress For Your Website

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5 Myths About Using WordPress For Your Website

You've heard that WordPress is popular but you don't get what all the hype is about?

Some of the bigger sites like New York Observer, New York Post, TED, Thought Catalog, Williams, USA Today, CNN, Fortune.com, TIME.com, National Post, Spotify, TechCrunch, CBS Local, NBC, and more all use WordPress.

If it's good enough to power those site then it should be good enough to power yours too, right?

If you ask the pro-supporters they can give you tons of reasons why this number of WordPress powered sites is on the rise. But ask the not-so-tech-savvy folks, you'll get the complete opposite reaction.

WordPress is the choice of many because it is user-friendly once it's set up correctly and operational. WordPress allows you the functionality that you wouldn't have had access to several years ago, and you have control over your website.

I agree that WordPress is perfect for most business users, but there is always a downside to the up. 

This reminds me of when I put on my big girl pants and got my first “real” job. I had a few options, and there was one company that I wanted to work for. Not being sure of my choice, I did what I do best, go to dad for advice.

As we talked about the opportunity, I convincingly gave all the pluses. He then added the drawbacks of each item I confidently spouted. At the time, I thought it was his way of gently saying don’t take the job. 

In hindsight, I realized that he wanted to make the decision as clear-headed as possible and to know what I was getting into. Because we tend to focus on the things that allow us to reaffirm our decision and put the drawbacks on the back burner until they insert themselves into our daily lives.

I did take the job, and it was great to do so with a clear idea that it wouldn't be all peaches and cream every single day. That while the decision was ideal for that point in time if I wanted to continue to grow and change I had to have a solid foundation to start.

So instead of writing a gooey, feel good, you need to do this article I am going to give you the flipside of every plus so you too can go into this decision eyes wide open. 

the new Gutenberg editor

Reason 1: It has an active community

There is a whole slew of help out there, everything from Codex and the support forum to WordCamps in your cities. Some of the best and brightest are there to give you the help that you need.

But…there is no hand holding for you. Most will give you the snippets of code that you need or the steps to take to fix the issue, but they are not there to do it for you. Not that you need to be an expert coder but you need the confidence to add the snippet into your theme or site.

Then there's the conflicting information which can be overwhelming having several viewpoints and fixes for one question. WordPress people are the bomb and super helpful but they are also opinionated so there's that too.

The beauty is that the help is there and easy to find, the downside is that there is a lot of information and it can be overwhelming for the beginner user.

Reason 2: Easy to set-up and use

There is no need to know the code, learn various programs or have a webmaster on staff. I like to say if you can use Word (or Pages for my Mac geeks) then you can use WordPress. And now that Gutenberg has arrived with blocks it's even easier to add content and create articles.

Properly installing and setting up the core, well that’s a different story. I have lots of people call me to consult because they are stuck once they decide to use WordPress. Mostly because they want some customizing to their theme of choice or on the flip side, have too many choices to make.

Look in the WordPress repository or Google WordPress themes and you have a million or so choices. Add to that, page builders like Beaver Builder and all-in-one options and you can quickly get overwhelmed on where to start. 

And you don't want to be adding a plugin for every single piece of functionality that you need on your site or worse adding plugins because a theme requires or a guru told you to (which we'll address in a minute).

You also need to make sure that the settings are correct, like permalinks and admin email notification along with removing dummy content that WordPress itself installs tend to add. 

Getting your site set up correctly from the get-go is crucial, and I highly recommend that you have it done for you if you are a complete novice or just beginning. Believe me, when I say it will save you tons of time getting your site up and running.

The best part of WordPress is the ease of use; the downside is that setting it up takes a little know-how and planning.

Reason 3: Hundreds of plugins to add functionality to your site

Hundred is an understatement. A shitload would be more like it. There is a plugin for most anything. That saves you custom coding so that you are able to book an appointment, gather a testimonial or add a shopping cart.

But too much of a good thing can be harmful. With each plugin, there is a chance that it can “break” your site and conflict with another. Some are resource hogs that will slow your site down. Others can be poorly coded and cause problems. And some have been created five versions of WordPress ago which means while it may provide a useful function it won't play nice with your version of WordPress.

And just because there is a plugin to install doesn't mean that you should install it. Sometimes end results can be achieved with a simple line of code or some CSS to make it look the way you need it to be. 

On the flip side of that argument, you also need to be sure that you use all the necessary pieces too. Meaning that some plugins like WooCommerce and Gravity Forms have add-ons to extend the functionality. So for example Gravity forms has an add-on for Stripe and PayPal so you can easily turn your form into an e-commerce option without needing both Gravity Forms and WooCommerce.

Having a dynamic website has never been easier but adding too many bells and whistles can cause analysis paralysis for your user or worse slow your site down. Speed is a critical element of a successful website and proper setup will help keep your site sleek and speedy.

Reason 4: Search engine friendly

On top of having a great coded site and optimal plugins, it had never been easier to get some SEO juice to get found on the interweb. From pretty URLs to easy to add links, getting Google to recognize your content is something that everyone can do. 

But designing your site, adding content and then thinking you are done is a huge myth.

Search engines love fresh content, especially when it is targeted to your market and user. WordPress is the perfect CMS for SEO and building websites that rank well with the ability to modify meta titles, headings, categories, and tags.

But in order to take advantage of these features, you need basic knowledge of how to properly use heading, categories, and tags on top of having fresh content to utilize these items. 

The bottom line is that you need to keep SEO going with fresh content. You cannot expect to create a lovely site with all your information, and then let it sit and marinate. Fresh content is the key to ranking.

Google love WordPress, well almost. Google loves fresh, and relevant content and WordPress makes it easy for Google to find such content.

Reason 5: It’s cost-effective because it's free

Because it is open-source, there is no cost to get the files that make up WordPress. There are also many free themes and plugins, so you do have everything at your fingertips to get started. 

Well, almost everything. To begin you need to put everything somewhere and this is where the free ends. Hosting, while fairly inexpensive, is still a cost. Without a host, you don’t have a site. Enough said.

Then add on premium themes and plugins, free just went out the window. Not to mention the help you will need to get everything set up correctly. See where I’m going. 

To make your site appealing, you need some eye-catching images, a few professional images or you or your products, and some brand guidelines for consistency. Calling all graphic artists and branding experts. How about the copy? Words, without great copy your site will be crap. You need a targeted message, speaking to those who seek out your service without being sleazy or salesy. Send in the copywriters. Not so free anymore huh?

WordPress is a free program but investing in your business is not. The downside, you need to invest in your business and gather a team that is going to contribute to making your site work for you.

Bottom line…

WordPress is the way to go if you want an easy to use and maintainable website. You do need to know that not everything is puppy breath and unicorn farts because it takes work to keep it hip and happening.

If you want a web presence that you have control over and can easily make changes to the look and feel, WordPress is your choice. You don’t need to be afraid to take the leap or continue to be stuck and overwhelmed

Stop letting the myths of WordPress hold you back from having the site of your dreams. Is this what's holding you back?

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Adding Protection To WordPress For A Secure Website

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Are you worried that your site will get hacked or overtaken by questionable characters?

WordPress powers 14.7% of the top 100 websites in the world because of its popularity has become a target for spammers and hackers.

You want to protect your investment in both WordPress and your site, so it's critical that you block these hackers and lock down your site for peace of mind.

There are many plugins out there that will do this job for you but choosing the right one is a decision most don't want to have to make. That's why I'm introducing you to my favorite security plugin Shield Security (WordPress Simple Firewall)  from One Dollar Plugin. Don't let the name through you off because this super slick plugin is brought to you by the same behind iContolWP.

Shield is the easiest security plugin to set up with a step-by-step wizard that walks you through the configuration. And it gives you a dashboard that tells you the things you need to address.

And there are no false positives that other security plugins tend to report, which for someone who doesn't work intimately with WordPress can send you into a panic.

Securing Your Website Has Never Been Easier

Here are some of the protection that Shield provides:

  • Beautiful, Easy-To-Use Guided Wizards – help you configure Shield and run scans like a Pro
  • Limit Login Attempts / Block Automatic Brute-Force Bots – all automatically
  • Powerful Core File Scanners – automatically detects malicious file changes and hacks you’d never see
  • Automatic IP Black List – no need for you to manage IPs!
  • 2-Factor Authentication – including Google Authenticator and Email
  • Block 100% Automated Comments SPAM
  • Audit Trail & User Activity Logging
  • reCAPTCHA
  • Firewall
  • Security Admin Users
  • Automatic Updates Control
  • and much, much more

When it comes to securing your website install Shield (free or pro), set up the sections and site back worry free as the magic of website protection happens, and you don't have to lift another finger while Shield does all the work for you.

Using the free version is an easy way to start with no additional money spent, but we recommend the Pro for a small investment of $12/year (we add this for you in all our maintenance packages). The Pro version gives you added protection especially if you're looking for protection for your WooCommerce customers (incl. Easy Digital Downloads & BuddyPress).

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The Next Step For Your Live Site is Website Maintenance

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Next steps for a healthy website is website maintenance.

You've spent weeks, or maybe months to get the perfect website and then let it loose into the wilds of the interwebs. Now, what do you do? Sit back and wait for the traffic to come and the sales to generate?

Wouldn't that be nice if you could set and forget your WordPress website? The reality of having a WordPress website is it continues to need love and attention after you make it live to your audience. And there are two parts to website maintenance: health and growth.

Let's keep going as we talk about the health of your WordPress website and steps to keep your marketing asset doing the job you spent your time to perfect

The Most Basic Of Website Maintenance

You need to run the updates, make the backups and monitor the site, but there's more to maintain that those tasks.

It's like planting a garden for the first time so you can enjoy fruits and vegetables all summer long and beyond. Sowing the seeds is not enough. You need to make sure you provide water and nourishment to keep those plants from withering away to a pile of useless weeds.

Tending to the basics is the first step to giving your WordPress site the love it needs. You do need some eyes on your site to regularly check, monitor its growth and make sure that it's producing the way you are hoping.

Having an ongoing maintenance plan for your website adds another layer of security too.

Set A Schedule For Ongoing Website Maintenance

With so many other things going on, it's easy to forget to log in and run updates on your site or make sure your backup ran (and is stored in a secure location) or monitor to be sure that your site is still live.

As soon as your site launches, you need to create your post-launch plan which is essentially a website maintenance schedule.

Here are some recommendations:

  • Backup: If your host runs a complete site backup make sure you have a way to download them off the server and this task should run at least once a month (preferably more like weekly). If you regularly make structure changes, then you want to be sure the site backup was running after those changes. On top of that, you need to run database backups at least weekly but set the schedule based on how much you publish content.
  • WordPress, theme and plugin updates: WordPress feeds you updates as they make changes to functions and security, so it's useful to set a reminder to check in at least weekly for website updates. Themes and plugins are the same. However, they often make changes after WordPress version releases to combat compatibility issues. So check for all updates while you've logged in.
  • Uptime monitoring: You can easily automate this task and should be 24/7 so you know when your site goes down and for how long. If it's usually a few minutes tops, it could be a server update; but if it's longer, you'll want to find out what the problem is.
  • Speed optimization and monitoring: Nothing is worse than a slow website that your visitor needs to wait to load. By monitoring your speed and optimization, you'll combat issues before they arise and become a big patch of weeds in your garden. I recommend looking at these numbers weekly too.

Add these recurring dates to your calendar or hire someone like us to run your most basic of maintenance. Trust me when I say that the small investment is worth the time and I've had many clients pass for the first few months only to realize they can't put another thing on their plate.

Don't Forget The Time-Sensitive Updates

Hopefully, you are running promotions, offers, and other seasonal themed items on your website. And if that's the case, you not only need to get it scheduled before the event but make sure it's removed after.

Who wants to see a Christmas theme promotion on the 4th of July?

Maybe you've written a killer article to help promote a time-sensitive birthday sale. Then when the deal is over you forget to remove the “birthday” reference so when your visitors come they see you turned 50 in October 2016 and it's now September 2018.

That's ancient in internet years.

You don't want to waste good content by dating it with old promotions or offers. And you certainly don't want to remove the indexed page, so when people find the link (and they will), it leads to a 404 error page.

404 error page not found.

It's like picking the ripe items in your garden. If left on the vine (stalk or tree) they will rot and die making the plant unappealing all the way around. But pick the fruit, vegetable, flowers and more will grow and flourish giving you a bounty for a long time to come.

Schedule these times on your calendar so that you don't forget to close out the time-sensitive materials and update them to be evergreen or redirect to another page/post/product on your website.

Add-In User Experience Maintenance

User experience is where it's at on your website. If it's not friendly or cohesive, your people may leave frustrated, angry or puzzled. No sales can come from this.

Regular site reviews for usability need to be part of your continuing website maintenance plan.

Regular site reviews will allow you to see where you can improve on the user journey to get the information they need and the conversion you desire. The reviews will help you to identify places you can streamline, revise and update.

It will also help you to find missed and forgotten content like a change in hours, features, prices, etc. Reviews also give you a chance to see broken links, forms that aren't working and images that won't display.

Google Analytics and Google Search Console are your friends in this stage. By looking at your GA reports on a regular basis, you will find if people are bouncing, leaving without taking any actions or abandoning the check out cart. Search Console will also help you find the broken links and other issues that can hinder good user experience.

I like to review parts of my sites monthly, quarterly and annually with my support team to see where we can continue to improve.

Google Search Console gives you helpful information as part of your website maintenance.

Keep A Content Marketing Plan

Lots of people feel that maintenance are routine tasks to keep the site from getting hacked, but without fresh and relevant content your shiny new site can become stale and dated soon.

Think about your garden. Without new plants and other varieties, it may become not so appealing. Same goes with your content and copy. Forget to add some new stuff, and there's no reason for me to come back and visit you again and again.

Some like to create a content plan monthly, others every 90 days and even some annually. Do what works for you as far as planning and creation but try to keep updated at least monthly.

What to include in the plan? Start with a content audit. If you don't have one, get one. It may be a big undertaking at first but can save you time in the long run. Maybe you previously have created an asset you can reuse or repurpose instead of needing to develop new every time.

You also want to freshen up old and outdated content. So instead of creating another article on planting a killer garden, you can update one that exists with new techniques you've learned. After the content update, schedule with updated published date and there you have it.

Using this technique allows you to give your audience relevant information without losing any search rankings you might have had from the first publishing. It could also let you find new ways to present information like a Facebook live or video of you practicing the techniques.

By having a content plan and calendar, you'll be able to keep your site relevant easily and your content up-to-date.

Continued Website Maintenance is a Must

One thing is for sure; your WordPress website will need support. With a little planning, it's easier to hit these tasks head on or find the right support team, so you don't have to think about it.

Keep an updated record of your logins, hosting credentials, email addresses, and other items at hand so that if something happens (or your site goes down) you have everything you need to make things right.

Mostly, don't panic and be prepared.

Your website is your biggest marketing asset and a powerful tool in your business. And by using the above tips, you can keep it growing, flourishing and a stress-free piece of your online business.

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Do This One Thing Before You Create Your WordPress Website

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before you create your website.

How many of you have started to create your website with one person in mind? No, not you, but your ideal client. Your website needs to do one thing, reach the person who needs your solutions.

When I first stated my business I was too afraid to narrow down my perfect clients and so I operated as a generalist. But in doing in that I took on some crap clients and projects that I absolutely hated.

It wasn't because the people who were coming to my website and connecting with me were terrible people. It was because they were the types of clients I didn't want to work with.

So how do we change that and narrow down our focus so your website can do the job it needs to – attract the right clients and projects?

Use This Client Formula To Create Your Website

Who – Who is your ideal client?

If you don't define who it is your talking to, you'll be talking to everyone. And here's the secret – everyone doesn't listen.

When trying to define our ideal client many times we get stuck on the details like age, income, where they vacation and so on. Instead try to think about the stage of business they are in or what transformation they need to make to get the ball rolling.

Your ideal client might be a DIYer or side hustler who wants to quit their 9 to 5 and go full time with their business idea. Or maybe they are a supporter and want to become a consultant or teacher.

Their details of their story today may not serve the purpose of tomorrow.

finding your ideal client is step one.

Solutions – What is the main problem you are trying to solve?

In order to tell people the solution(s) you provide you need to address the problem head on. What exactly is the goal your ideal client is trying to get to and more importantly what is stopping them?

Imagine your in a room of potential clients in an industry that you want to focus on. Let's say you at BlogHer Conference because you support women who are health coaches that blog as part of their marketing strategy. And you offer WordPress support like scheduling posts, writing social updates and tweetable, creating images and such.

Do you know what the main problem of your ideal client is? There could be a whole room of them right in front of you?

Instead of addressing what you do, talk to your ideal client about how you can make their life better with the solutions you provide. Hit them where it counts, the WIIFM factor. Don't just say I provide WordPress support (we're a dime a dozen supporters).

Instead tell them that you take care of making sure there articles are optimized for SEO by adding the correct images, picking the perfect social share updates and getting them scheduled so they go out consistently.

Turn that into awesome copy on your website and you are now telling people you've got their back when it comes to optimization, promotion and updates on their site. Sounds sexier right?

Add In Your It Factor

Credibility – What is your trust factor?

To continue to build confidence about hiring you as the right solution, you need to have some credibility indicators.

A lot of times we think that's a testimonials page is the answer. Jam a bunch of text on a page from people who love us enough to write something nice. Who ever put a bas testimony on their site?

Testimonials are great to have but people don't view them the same way as they used to. Don't get me wrong, having people give you kudos is awesome but we only display the best of the best projects. That's why it's important to mix it up.

Adding proof of your abilities can include interviews, anywhere your work is featured, appearances you've made, relevant certifications and so much more.

Use embed social accolades so people can see what they've shown to their audiences. Or case studies with real results carry a lot of weight because people get to see the journey.

Uniqueness – What makes you so different?

For every business out there, there are many others that offer the same solutions. Google the term WordPress designers and you'll see at least 146,000,000 results.

That means that WordPress designers have competition from a lot of other designers. And you'll need to set yourself apart.

Sometimes it's a skill, other times its your business personality. Fortunately for me I have digital strategies coupled with design and development skills. But that isn't what makes me different.

My super power is I can explain things in plain English and it starts with the strategies. Plus I'm a little snarky and try to add humor into whatever I do.

For you it might be that you brew a certain kind of beer or are the ultimate coffee aficionado. Or maybe you can find every statistic on a particular subject. Or that you've been to every national park, twice.

be yourself, everyone else is taken.
Img Src: Unsplash @impatrickt

Speak To The Potential Client When You Create Your Website

Before you can begin to craft the perfect website and user experience you need to know who they are and more importantly what makes them seek the solution you provide.

It's about building relationships and being authentic so you need to do the work first.

Building a relationship whether online or off starts with knowing who it is that you want to spend your time with. Those who won't annoy the crap out of you or only want from you without nothing in return.

These qualities are what will provide the solid foundation for your website and overall strategies. Don't you agree?

Need more help? Schedule your consulting session today.

When you begin to create your website, you should be focusing on this one thing. You need to concentrate on the ideal client you are trying to attract. Find out the key pieces you should be concentrating on to make that happen.
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DIYing Your WordPress Website? Do These First.

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Are you DIYing your website?

Are you creating your very first WordPress website? You know the DIY version where you pick a theme, add some content and site back waiting for traffic. But it never appears and you not happy with the results. Keep reading as we talk about the three things you MUST do to start your WordPress project.

Creating a WordPress website is getting easier and easier with the popularity of page builders, drag and drop options and the upcoming Gutenberg changes. But that doesn't mean that you buy a theme, set up WordPress, add your content and stop creating.

Let's talk about the first steps you need to take when creating your website.

Are you a do it yourself at heart? You know the kind who hunkers down and dig in to create from scratch and pat yourself on the back when you've shared with the world. Me too! Only my guilty pleasure is home remodels and repurposing. But that doesn’t mean that I wing it.

When repurposing furniture and other items, there are some steps you need to take to prep the item and start the process. Same goes for website creation. There are a few things if you have right from the get-go, it makes the creation process go all that much smoother.

Search Google, and you’ll see ten, twenty or fifty things every website needs. Many are essential, but I’ve whittled the list down to the top three items.

Keep in mind we’re setting aside design and development and getting back to basics by addressing planning issues and items. Because let's face it your website isn't about you and you need to keep that in mind with every step.

First Step: You Need a Goal

Your website is the first step people have in learning about you and your offers. You need to make a great first impression. To do that you need to have a goal in mind of what you want from your people.

You need to set a primary goal, and it should be relevant in the top part of your website (aka the above the hold space). And there are different goals that you should be addressing with the different parts of your website.

The key to beating user overwhelm is to set a focus and try not to have your visitors do too many things at once. Especially on your home page. Your overall goal might be to sell one-t0-one services which means you may want to have your clients book a vetting call with you

You could also structure the remainder of the page to funnel visitors who are starting the buying journey with you by having them read blog posts or sign up for a freebie. But have structure to the page: important item above the fold, underneath that you can address objects and have the next action. And so on.

sales funnel for WordPress design

After the home page is laid out you'll want to move on to all the inner pages using your funnel or buying journey as a guide. Each page and action should address the end goal and how you move the visitor to help you achieve your primary goal.

Think about what kind of goal you want your visitors to achieve.

Do you need to vet your clients before signing them up? Then schedule a call it is. Are you trying to build your list and awareness? A strong opt-in will do the trick. Are you building authority? Learn more will do then.

Action: Define your funnel based on your primary goal. Use that information to create a buyers journey and outline your website structure.

Second Step: The Legalese

Creating a website also includes protecting yourself and your clients. There is legal stuff that every website needs – Terms and Conditions and Privacy policy are the two minimums.

Terms of Use explains the actions that are allowed or not while using your website. Privacy policies address information collected like tracking and personal information. In addition to those, you need to include copyright and trademark notices too.

You know what the basics are, but it’s important to understand the why behind it. You are warning people who come to your digital space that there is a slim chance they can be harmed in some way by acting on your advice or purchasing your materials. And at the same time, you are informing them that you won’t be held responsible for those damages.

It’s like coffee. You know it’s served hot, and if you spill it on yourself, you’ll get burned. But there is that one person who will try to act like they did not know it was hot and come after you with everything they've got. Don’t let that one person get away with that in your web space.

Terms also outline of what is an acceptable use of your information. Can they share it freely with others? What are the standards for linking your information or using your brand assets? In addition to acceptable use, terms also outline your refund and return policies.

There are several terms of use and policy generators on the web but you really should consult professional legal help to make sure your legal pages are crafted for your business and not just a generic overview.

Action: Determine if you need these additional legal pages: Disclaimer, Accessibility Information, Trademarks, Patents, Corporate policies or Affiliate Disclosure

are you hiding from people contact you.

Third Step: Ways To Contact You

Having a Contact Page or ways to contact you seems like a no-brainer, but you’d be surprised that people only give one way to get in touch with you. I’ve seen many websites leave off important contact information like an address, phone or public email.

People want to know where you are and that you are a for-real business. They need information that will not only let them get in touch with you but to add some credibility. So when adding an email address, it should be your public business email address that is branded with your site or company name and not myspiffybusiness@gmail.com.

Keep in mind that everyone does not want to fill out a form. Especially if on mobile or if it's super long. Sometimes a quick question is all you need to answer to make an immediate sale, but if you have no way to call you, then you’ve lost that opportunity. Or maybe someone connected with you on Twitter and they want to be sure you are the same person.

Live chats are popular now because they give a quick response. Adding a chat box is simple with the addition of a WordPress plugin, Facebook chat code or an embed from some scheduling software. Before adding a chat box though be sure that there is someone to man the chat or an option to contact you if you are away.

Action: Review your site contact information and make sure you have more than one way for people to connect with you or contact you.

Conclusion

So there you have it, three simple things you can add to get the ball rolling. When designing a website, I start with these three steps in the planning process. Keep in mind this is the start, and there are still ten, twenty and fifty things that will need to be added but by address bite-size chunks of information, the process won’t be overwhelming.

Still not sure what to do to get started with your website? Schedule a chat with Lee or better yet, get your FREE mini audit to see where you can improve the web presence that you already have.

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Designing Your Website – 5 Things You Should Know

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Designing Your Website.

You are looking to hire a web designer or don't know where to start when designing your website? Keep reading to be in the know for five things that will help you begin your website project.

I remember when we bought our first fixer-upper house. I was handy, and crafty, and savvy, but I was so out of my  league on some things. There was no plan, no strategy, and no timeline. Big mistake. This was way before HGTV and other fixer-upper shows were popular, so the hubs and I winged it.

That strategy cost us extra money but, more importantly, lots of extra time since we had to make changes to changes to the original change. The same goes for your website. Like a house, some things need to happen first so that you don't have to tear it down and start over again.

The idea of having a website designed to be a friendly, informative user experience is to set it up correctly from the get-go so that you can continue to enhance and not keep reinventing the wheel.

Ready to get started? I'll share with you my favorite tips and steps that make up my Roadmap Strategy for designing a client engaging, useful website.

1. START WITH THE FOUNDATION

Before you begin planning your website you need to know the who, what and why of your perfect client. Your website is not about you, it's about them. You should know exactly who you will serve, what offers will address their needs, and what message you will put out there to start the conversation.

You might not have this figured out just yet or maybe your smack in the middle of a rebrand and still working out the kinks, and that's just fine and dandy. If that's the case, stop right here because you're not ready for a web designer yet. Instead, I recommend putting up a landing page to have a presence because once you become clear, everything will change.

ADD IN A MARKETING STRATEGY.

2. ADD IN A MARKETING STRATEGY

Website design consists of at least 50% planning because you need to know everything about your clients, their journey, how they fit into your journey, and how you will attract them. Many people think to build it, and they will come, but why throw spaghetti at the wall to see what sticks when you are talking about your single most important marketing asset?

Your website is the base for your business to convert leads into clients and sales, and before you can do that, you need to attract that person to your website. There's a lot of ways to generate traffic and attract new visitors, but you can't do that without a marketing strategy. A few things you need to take into account is your lead capture process, your content strategy, and how you'll promote your business. If you're not sure where to start you can schedule a website audit today.

3. DON'T OVERLOOK YOUR COPY

There is no website development without website copy because they go hand in hand like PB& J. Website design is there to add pretty to your message, grab the attention of the visitor and complement your written words. The copy (aka words) is what makes the reader connect and lead to the sale.

Your copy will determine if someone will buy what you are selling, it's that important. Writing for the web is different than writing an essay or book. And it's easier to write for others than it is to write for yourself. Telling your story is key, and using the right words is essential. If you're challenged about writing for yourself, then it would be better to hire a copywriter or, at the very least, learn some good tips for writing your web content. Whatever route you take, you need to have some copy nailed before development can begin.

4. STRATEGICALLY SELECT YOUR IMAGES

There are two types of images you need on your website: images to enhance your message and images to build trust. Enhancement images are those that add visual interest to your messages like stock photography or illustrations. Trust images are headshots, lifestyle shots, and other photography that show the real you.

When using stock images make sure you have the right to use them. Don't jack images from Google and plop them into your copy. There are plenty of free stock sites that allow you to use images without attribution, and there are even more where you can purchase a license for use. Using other's images without permission is a costly mistake many people make. To be a little different, you can crop, edit, and brand your images, so they look different from the others who use the same photo.

Professional headshots and photography have become affordable, especially with digital cameras and media delivery. Please don't use selfies and think that is going to help build trust even if they are a personal brand, get a good round of headshots. Professional photography can make your best self-shine with their knowledge of lighting and positioning. Some photographers offer make-up and hairstyling, too, but be sure that they enhance your look and not completely change it.

STRATEGICALLY SELECT YOUR IMAGES.

5. ALWAYS INCLUDE THE LEGAL STUFF

Every website needs the legal basics to keep you covered while telling visitors how they can use your site and how you protect their privacy. These pages are often overlooked because you might not think they apply to you. Remember all the GPDR notifications when the new guidelines were implemented in May of 2018? That applies to you, too, if you are an online business.

Your Privacy policy is essential to stay in compliance, and before you say just a small local company, when you're on the web, you're as global as they come. Anyone anywhere can reach your business on the interwebs, so you need to protect yourself by playing within the rules.

Plain and simple, it's a good business practice to have the necessary pages. There are some good templates and resources available that while generic are great starter options but you may want to check with a legal professional to have a policy tailored to your online business.

Some other legal pages you'll need are disclaimers, including affiliate disclosure because you are making money from selling other's offers.   The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has provided the “Endorsement Guide” document that addresses many social media advertising and marketing best practices and requirements, including the need that there must be disclaimer made available when affiliate links are used on a website.

Conclusion

By following these five tips, you will be well on your way to hiring a designer that has your best business interest in mind or have a good foundation if you are taking on the project yourself. Remember, though; you need to factor in a realistic budget for your project.

Your website is an investment, and it should be treated like any other essential business expense. When hiring a web designer, be cautious if someone quotes you at a lower price that is generally below the norm. Prices are subjective, so it's crucial that you truly understand what you are getting for the cost. At the very least, part of the process should include the tips above.

There are no such things as good, fast, and cheap. And I'd use caution when your designer touts fast and cheap. For your budget, you'll want something that looks appealing, but more importantly, you'll want functional and user-friendly.

Have other website questions?

Schedule your complimentary website audit where we put the fun back in the web design process while giving you down to earth actionable website tips.

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Website Clutter: Clean Up the Chaos On Your Website

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Do you have website clutter?

Website clutter is real and can affect how your visitors interact (or not) with your website.

I have a friend who operates in what she calls organized chaos and it’s amazing what she gets done in a day. When there is a lot going on around me (repetitive loud noises, fast moving things, and clutter, oh the clutter) I get easily distracted and tend to forget what was happening at the moment.

That happens a lot in the digital realm and the distraction includes clutter and chaos on websites.

According to web credibility research from Stanford, 75% of users admit to making judgments about a company’s credibility based on their website’s design.

So can you imagine someone landing on your site and there is so much going on they don't know how to process any of it. They're even left to wonder if this is how they run their business. Chaos and clutter.

Now imagine the challenge of reviewing a website that has everything and the kitchen sink. Not knowing what to do first, where to begin or whether a visitor will want to stay.

Trying to make a decision is hard. Really hard.

Is your website filled with clutter and chaos?

Steve Krug once wrote a popular web usability book called Don’t Make Me Think. The idea behind the book is to get visitors to navigate your website without having to think too much.

We are a point, click and scroll nation. And many of us are impatient because we know that it's now or never. Distractions drive our lives and simple is welcome.

Website clutter can be a killer for conversions especially in the age of the distraction economy. Information overload that is causing a gap between the amount of information we're faced with and the capacity to consume that information.

When someone comes to your website, they want clean, clear and well-organized information (UI) so they can find what they need as quickly as possible. And they want this without getting distracted.

Then there’s this thing called website accessibility. Basically, it’s a set of standards to make your website easy for those with disabilities to use. You need to factor that in too.

What is Website Clutter?

Clutter, or chaos as some call it, is the context of web design that allows the website to live up to its purpose.

A cluttered website will turn someone off from your site. Because the overwhelm sets in they won't stick around to try and make heads of tails of your information.

Cluttered designs usually lacks order, both visually and organization wise which leads the user struggling to understand which part is important.

It's easy to identify the three parts of the design that can cause clutter.

Three Main Parts Of Website Design Clutter

1. Too much content on the screen

Wondering how to fix this clutter mistake? Planning is the answer.

how to combat website clutter.

You'll want to plan your website around results, the results you want your visitors (and potential clients) to achieve. Rather than throwing text and images onto the page and trying to see what sticks, figure out the end goal and work people towards that.

You'll find that you may not need as much information or many steps to get them there and this alone can cut down clutter. You'll have a clear vision of what action will need to be placed where and how many objections the visitor may have.

And remember with every link you place in your content and on your pages can be a potential distraction. Those distractions can lead to the visitor to forget what they were originally there for.

Action: Use your funnel as your guide defining what steps each part of the journey will require. Plan your page(s) based on that funnel.

2. Content is not organized in a logical manner

Content is king, queen and everything in between.

Your content is paramount to the success of your site. High-quality content should inform, entertain, and gauge or sell a product. And it should be organized so that it is accessible or findable to the visitor.

The best way to do this is to prioritize your content making sure your visitors are finding the information you want them to find by arranging your content to reflect what is most important.

structure of information is important to combat website clutter.

Using your funnel that you've outlined, the first thing you need to determine is your goal. Once you have determined the goal you can tailor content to fit each step of that journey. If you're selling products, you'll need to hit on the benefits of the product and answer customers questions and most importantly telling them how to buy.

If you get stuck on this step visit sites that are similar to yours that you think will be of interest to your target audience. How are they arranging the information? Is there things that they are hitting on or maybe missing or hard to find?

Action: Make a list of all the contents that are necessary to reach your goal. Then prioritize that information to determine the placement of the content. Make sure that you think about what the user wants. This step might take some time but it is really a key part of organizing your website.

3. Too much visual noise

When we think of visuals we, for the most part, think of pictures and graphics. But visual design including visual clutter also can encompass colors and fonts and other visual elements.

The first step to making a website visually clean or appealing is to make sure that there is cohesion in your style and your brand. Because this is what first catches the eye and our brains are sense-making machines.

Color is the most powerful subliminal visual tool that will influence a buyers decision. So you want to test different colors to determine what is most effective and you certainly don't want to vomit too many colors to wear the brain can't process your information visually.

And remember a picture tells 1000 words, but a wrong picture won't enhance your message and multiple images may confuse your message. So you want to use your images sparingly to make sure that they are adding to the story and not distracting from it.

A study conducted by Adobe found in that more than 66% of website users judge a website on the quality of their graphics within the first 15 minutes of landing on the homepage.

And finally you have whitespace, whitespace is an undervalued commodity. It's the breathing room on your website. Whitespace is like a welcome break in your busy day. It allows you to take a moment to focus on what's important.

And remember the mobile does not give you a lot of visual room. So don't stuff it up with images or videos or other visual clutter. Besides it being busy and noisy, images take up a lot of bandwidth so you want to remember that for your mobile visitors.

Action: The first thing you want to check is to make sure that you're using the right color scheme and keeping your fonts choices to a minimum. Then you want to move onto your elements, you don't want to be sticking things willy-nilly. Make sure that the visual cues you are using enhance your message. Don't add an icon just for the sake of adding an icon. You might be able to do away with the images and add a little more whitespace or breathing room.

Recap

Website clutter is the main reason that people don't engage with your website so remember that simple is better. Removing distraction and creating clear paths to get information that will help with solutions is key. Need some help getting your website ducks in order? Schedule a consult to help you get a game plan in place.

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WordPress Site Speed Optimization With These Three Tips

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what are you doing to optimize your site>

Slow sites suck, and worse they drive people from your website because nobody has the patience anymore. So if you're site takes forever to load you need help with WordPress site speed optimization, this article is for you.

Before we dig in there's some pre-work to get you started. Test your site speed using a service like GTMetrix or Pingdom. A speed test will give you a starting point to improve your site.

Here are three easy (and quick) tips to help with speeding up your website.

1. Do a plugin audit

Slow sites usually have too many ineffective plugins. Notice I said ineffective. So if you have 25 plugins but ten support your WooCommerce shop you are in a different boat than someone who has ten junk or crap plugins. WordPress site speed optimization starts with a plugin audit.

Each plugin adds extra resources even if you are not actively using them. That, in turn, can decrease your site load speed. And plugins that are poorly coded or have errors in the files contribute to load time issues too.

How to tell if a plugin might cause problems? You can try PluginTests to see if there are any code errors or if it will slow your site down.

PluginTest helps with WordPress site speed optimization.

It's time to remove any inactive or unused plugins.

And it goes without saying that the next step is to make sure the others are up-to-date. Now if you've never run an update, you might want to contact your developer or use a maintenance service. And remember to back-up first.

Now you'll want to review the remaining to see if they can stay or go. A plugin should enhance the user experience or make a difference for your website.

Here is a short list of plugins you will want to keep:

  • Plugins that improve security (I recommend Shield)
  • Plugins that improve loading speed (caching falls into this category)
  • Plugins that improve user engagement (social sharing anyone)
  • Plugins that improve your conversion rate (my love Gravity Forms)

And finally, stop installing plugins because someone recommends it or it's the new flavor of the month.

2. Optimize your media

The biggest contributor to slow sites is super huge images and media files like audios and videos. We all want pictures that enhance our message and give some visual cues but the large the image the file, the more it adds to load time. And the next step in WordPress site speed optimization is giving your images and media some attention.

Best practice it to crop your image to the right size and compress before you upload your image but that does not always happen. There are tons of free tools like ShortPixel or TinyPNG to help compress your images without losing the quality.

Next, let's talk videos. Video files size is quite large. Large videos use a lot of bandwidth and resources which when loaded can cause your site to load pretty slow. Video sharing sites like YouTube and Vimeo make it easy to watch your videos. WordPress even has built-in shortcodes to make it easy to add videos to any post or page.

If you're using videos for banner backgrounds that need to be uploaded to your website try to limit the video to 5-10 seconds, and the video file size to 6MB or less.

ShortPixel for image optmization

3. Use a CDN

Let's talk CDN (Content Delivery Network) which is a collection of servers around the world that hold a copy of your website and when someone goes to your website it picks the closest server. Adding a CDN is the last tip for WordPress site speed optimization.

The good news is that there are some great free options and Cloudflare is my choice. And it's easy to install. In most cases, you can stick with the preset settings, but if you need more, you can tailor to your needs.

If you're not sure how to get started, contact your web host and ask for their help. Siteground which we recommend makes this part of their cPanel and you can be set up with a few clicks of the mouse.

WordPress Site Speed Optimization Recap

Now that you've made it through the three tips it's time to test your site speed again using the same service and see if any of these changes made a difference for you. Did you see a difference after…

  1. Optimizing your active (and inactive) plugins
  2. Optimizing your images and media
  3. Adding a Content Delivery Network (CDN)

If not then you might want to enlist some help to get your load times as low as possible. Check out WPSpeedGuru who know website speed and has several options to help your need for speed.

WordPress speed optimization is only the beginning of keeping your site in tip-top shape. Continuing to give your site love and attention is the key to keeping it healthy and working for you. Tell me where you're stuck in getting your site to perform at its best.

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Three Things That Should Be Above The Fold on Your Home Page

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finding key things to include above the fold.

We're talking home page layouts today. Take a look at your home, do you have several ways you can get inside? Me too but I don’t always have keys to access all those ways so I rely on my garage door opener. Even when I go out with someone else, I take my door opener to get back in. Why because that’s the easiest access point for me.

But the hubs, although he has keys, and usually I’m home working in my office, so he just wanders through the front door. Because for him that’s the easiest access point. And this is the same way for visitors to your website.

Normally there are lots of access points to get the information your visitors need but more times than not they come through the front door or the home page. Which is why the purpose of above the fold area on your home page is to turn visitors into leads and customers.

Basically, the one thing your home page should do is answer, “Can I help you find what you are looking for?”. So what do you do to catch the attention of your visitor's eye?

Best Practice Number 1: Express your Value Proposition

By now you know that the best way to start a home page design it to find the primary and secondary goals for your business. But before we can tell people to take that action we need them to know what we stand for and more importantly why.

Your Value Proposition needs to answer their questions:

  • What is this business/company?
  • Does this website help me solve my problem?
  • Why should I choose this business to address that problem?
  • What do they want me to do?

Without a clearly stated statement, your visitor can get lost, confused or bored and never move on to convert.

Here's LastPass's example below. Notice how they make it as easy as possible to convey their value proposition to their visitors.

LastPass password manager home page addresses concerns

Best Practice Number 2: Simple Navigation

Do you have a junk drawer? Mine is in my kitchen, and the hubs hates opening that drawer. Me, I know everything that is in it and where in the drawer I need to dig. Having a cluttered navigation is like an unruly junk drawer.

Deciding what to have on your navigation can make the difference between someone moving further into your site and leaving entirely. And here’s the best part, you can have more that one navigation. Especially if you’re commerce or membership based.

Here are some good rules to follow:

  • Limit the number of choices between five and seven with Home being in the leftmost position and Contact at the rightmost.
  • If you must use drop-down keep them to one level.
  • Note drop-down menus with a visual cue.
  • Make sure your menu is responsive for different devices and sticky if your home page is long.

And another good rule of thumb is your money making items should be in the leftmost position after home. And if you have user accounts you can have menus for those logged in and those not.

It’s all about addressing these concerns in the pre-design, planning process.

Evernote uses simple navigation

Best Practice Number 3: Use Correct Calls To Action

Someone coming to your site usually has a certain reason for visiting. Some will come for information, others for one of your products and still others through referral. Your home page should be designed to move your people through the journey and different calls to action will do that. Here are some of the typical actions:

  • Lead Generation/Form Submission is the most critical even if you're not selling to your list. Since you want to turn visitors into leads, you need a way to capture their information and what a better way than a freebie. Lead gen is part of the awareness phase and can include white papers, fact sheets, webinars.
  • Read More/Learn More entices your visitors to read a full article or visit another page. This action is also part of the awareness phase by allowing people to get information on a particular topic or problem.
  • Social Sharing is the simplest call to action that encourages people to share your stuff and expand your reach. It’s also a low-commitment way for people to engage with your brand. Part of the awareness phase, people who want to connect but don’t want to give up their goods, will share with their audience.
  • Testimonials/Case Studies because we all love a happy customer. It makes us feel better about our decision to seek you out. Part of the evaluation stage, it helps the customer decide if this is right for them. You can also use FAQs to address concerns too.
  • Coupons, Trials or Demos gives people the extra push to buy from you and is part of the Decision phase. Usually, this is for people who’ve made the decision that you solve their problem but need to narrow down a solution.
  • Schedule A Call/Consult is the ultimate call to action for many since it’s a key part of their sales process. Part of the purchase stage consults allow you to vet your potential clients and let them ask key questions to convert to the sale.

Take a look at Smart Passive Income's home page. See, how the call to action is clear and straightforward? Is yours?

Smart Passive income uses a clear call to action

Whether you considering creating a new website or revamping an existing one, using these three pieces of information as a guide can help you have a conversion machine instead of a brochure site.

Need help creating an effective home page? Request a free consult or web review.

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Five Free Commercial Font Sites You Need To Know

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Five Free Commercial Font Sites .

Fonts can certainly give your website personality and flair, but it’s important to realize that all fonts available on the internet are not web-friendly or free of charge. Commercial font sites are favorites of web and graphic designers for their client projects to add visual flair to their creations.

There is a difference between a font and typeface with typeface being a set of letters, numbers, and other symbols or the overall look of the characters. The collection itself is what is considered the font. So essentially the typeface is the design collection, and the font is the digital file.

And some free fonts in the typeface collection are good for personal use only meaning you can’t use on your website. Let's find some free commercial font sites that you can add to your resource list.

Note to self: Like images, typeface follows copyright rules. You can't use a font free of charge if it's copyrighted or on your website if the license doesn't apply.

Google Fonts

Google fonts are a popular choice for many since they come with the code you need to display them. Another reason they are popular is Google fonts takes care of hosting and licensing so you know you can use any of the fonts on your website, computer or in your commercial products.

And the revamped search function allows you to find the perfect font by category, language, thickness, slant, and width. They also have a feature that lets you change the background so that you can see the contract in addition to style.

What we like best: Google makes it easy to use the fonts by providing a hosted web version that you can place directly onto your website.

Creative Market

If you are not familiar with Creative Market it’s an online marketplace for independent creatives. Creative Market usually charges a small fee but their weekly freebie section contains at least one free font. The limited-time period freebie does come with a commercial license and is an excellent way to build up your font library.

What we like best: You clearly understand the use of the font and other terms of the font

Hungry JPEG

Like Creative Market, Hungry JPEG is a marketplace for designers and crafters that offer design resources at affordable prices. The fonts on HungryJPEG are not free but inexpensive and like Creative Market they have a weekly freebie that comes with a commercial license, the same as will all paid products. Also, they have an extensive freebie area that applies commercial license use.

What we like best: The recommended fonts you may like allow for variation without a steep price tag.

FontSquirrel

Another favorite commercial font sites we use regularly is Font Squirrel. FontSquirrel has taken the guesswork out of what is acceptable for use by selecting typefaces that are available for commercial purposes. They do recommend that you read the license because a designer may change their mind after FontSquirrel lists them.

For fonts acceptable on websites Fontsquirrel uses a row of symbols to indicate it is okay to embed on websites and digital products.

What we like best: It’s a well-designed site with easy to find symbols to show usage.

FontSpace

FontSpace boasts a collection of over 31,000 free fonts with lots of categories for the user-submitted fonts. The browse function allows you to easily find the style of font you may need for your website or next project but if you want the free for commercial use you need to add that to your search terms.

What we like best: Each font is clearly marked whether it is for commercial or personal use.

Bottom Line of Commercial Font Sites

If you are looking for the safest best go with Google Fonts first. But if you need fonts that are not so commonplace then try Creative Market and HungryJPEG. When adding fonts to your website remember that you want the body text to be easy to read so “every day” fonts that are popular are a safe bet. But when you're looking to add visual interest to images or call out words try the other sites for fonts that have more personality.

Remember to choose web ready fonts as part of your brand assets so that when visitors come to your site they see it as you intended and it is still on brand.

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Font Choices: Find the Best For Your Website

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there are many great free fonts.

Ever try to find that perfect font and then you end up down the rabbit hole of font choices and selections? Every day new typefaces make their way to the web. But not every font, no matter how cute, is right for your website.

When picking the perfect font(s), you have to think about a few things. Readability and design are a given, but you also need to consider load times and acceptable use.

I remember when I first started in business, I didn't give a second thought to fonts for my website. I didn't consider what they would look like across devices. I wanted pretty and to hell with everything else.

That's the point that I discovered not all fonts are created equal. That's also the point that I learned all about commercial licensing and acceptable uses.

Now I was lucky that I chose web safe fonts for my website body text but my headings, that's a different story. The result, different looks in different browsers on different devices. See mobile was up and coming, and I'm not sure that iPads and tablets even played a part in web browsing. Who would have thought that mattered?

A graphic designer I was not. I had a lot to learn about typeface, kernings, weights, contrast and everything else that goes into making these choices.

Here are some tips that I picked up to help you find the perfect web-friendly font choices.

Font Anatomy

There are five basic types of fonts: serif, sans-serif, cursive, fancy and monospace. The two most popular for large blocks of text come down to serif or sans serif.

font choices through typography
Src: Canva Design School

Let's start with the differences of font choices. Serif fonts have small strokes that extend from the end of the letters. Some people call them feet or tails. Serif text is easy to read in print media and has been a favorite for books and newspapers.

But for web text, it's not as appealing. Serif fonts are great for headlines and documents that may be downloaded and printed.

Sans serif, on the other hand, is a simple font and lack the tails. Many websites now use sans-serif for the body text because people find it easier to read on most devices.

And remember different font styles communicate different messages. So one sans serif font will work for one type of business but not another. Remember readability is a must for any font choice.

can you read this font styles

Font Personality

We all have different personalities; some are extroverts who feel at home in any crowd while others are introverts and prefer a more quiet environment. And some creatives tend to be more casual and comfortable.

The same goes for fonts.

When picking fonts, think about the type of personality you want to represent:

Traditional, reliable, corporate or respectable. These fonts are timeless and give the impression of trust. Try these, Times New Roman or Georgia.

Strong, impactful, and defined. These fonts tend to be bold and robust. The purpose of these fonts is to grab attention. Wanted to make an impact, try these – Mohave, Franchise, or Speakeasy.

Modern, minimal and contemporary. These fonts are clean and crisp and contain white space between the letters. Some of my favorites are Raleway, Infinity, and Simplifica.

Romantic, elegant and vintage. These fonts are usually handwritten-type fonts that are curvy. Use these fonts sparingly since they can be hard to read in large blocks. Some popular ones are Alex Brush, Black Jack, Good Vibes and Great Vibes.

Freestyle and stylish. These fonts are different in their right and usually used for unique, fun brands. Some that I found appealing are One DayVanity and Matilde.

Now that you have the basics under wraps let's talk where to find web friendly fonts.

Font Pairings

We no longer look at websites on desktop and laptops. Just because your site looks beautiful on full-width screens doesn't mean they look good on other devices.  Most of us get the bulk of our traffic from mobile devices, so it's important that your fonts look good on these too.

And, the good news is that you can create differences in your text copy with different types of fonts. But you need to put some thought into the combination so that they do work well on all devices.

Usually, that means two (not more than three) complimenting fonts. To add more variation, you can use colors to highlight important words and phrases. Here are some of our favorite sites for font pairing suggestions:

Canva Design School

Font Pair

Google Font Project

Font Sources

There are many places to find typefaces for your website and brand. If you have a graphic designer, start there. And if not, here are some of my favorite resources.

Google Fonts: All Google fonts are free and open source which means Google takes care of the licensing. You can safely use these fonts on your websites, social media and any of your digital spaces. Most builder programs and template based sites integrate Google fonts for easy use.

Font Squirrel: Font Squirrel tries to list fonts that are commercially licensed. But, not all fonts are free for web use. Most of the fonts have free desktop licenses meaning they are allowed in commercial graphics and images with no charge. Embedding on a website or in an e-book requires different licensing. Be sure to check before using on your site.

Adobe Typekit: Typekit has an array of beautiful fonts that are available for sale or by subscription. These fonts are not free for use, but they do have simple licensing, so there is no guessing on what is acceptable use. They also make it easy to add the fonts to your website using kits.  And the kits allow you to make changes if you want to try different fonts later.

Final Thoughts on Font Choices

Of course, this is just a start to web-friendly fonts and typography. You also need to consider things like:

  • color scheme
  • kerning and leading (the space between letters and space between lines – line height)
  • contrast (light and dark), and of course,
  • alignment (left is easier to read)

Selecting the perfect web font can either be fun or make you want to bang your head against a wall. But you can find a typeface that works for your website and appeals to your audience.

How did you choose the fonts for your website? We'd love for you to share your tips below.

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Why Page Speed Matters. 3 Things Your Need To Know

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page speed matters for all devices.

Think about the last time you landed on a website, and it took forever to load because the page speed was turtle slow. Did you stay? Or are you impatient like me and moved onto something else?

If your bounce rate is high or your traffic is non-existent, this may be a problem for you. To provide a more user-friendly experience, you need to make sure your page speed is fast.

 

page speed for LeeDrozak.com

A little while ago the hubs and I went to this newer and trendy microbrewery. It was average busy, with the line out the door. That happens with growing pains and sometimes it takes some tweaks to get all the processes right.

But the hubs is a little less patient than I am and was not willing to wait because he was hungry. I was on the fence but ready to wait because I'd heard good things about the food and the beers.

It's the same thing with your website. You may have everything that I need but if I have to jump hoops or wait, what you offer might not be so appealing.

It's all about convenience. Convenience to the visitor and the customer. That's what page speed is convenience.

Yes, it matters!

Consider these three things that you should know about page load times.

GOOGLE THINKS ITS IMPORTANT

Google is a business, and they want to deliver excellent service to their customers. That's us, the web browsers. And they want us to get our questions answered, and they want it as quickly as possible.

Consider this from the Official Google Webmaster Blog:

Speeding up websites is important — not just to site owners but to all Internet users. Faster sites create happy users, and we’ve seen in our internal studies that when a site responds slowly, visitors spend less time there. But faster sites don’t just improve user experience; recent data shows that improving site speed also reduces operating costs. Like us, our users place a lot of value in speed — that’s why we’ve decided to take site speed into account in our search rankings.

So in a nutshell, Google likes happy users and happy users want answers now.

Google even has a test for our websites to check load speed. You can see how you rank at PageSpeed Insights

YOUR VISITORS THINK ITS IMPORTANT

A good indicator of visitor frustration is a higher bounce rate. Slow load times do affect your bounce rate. And a high bounce rate indicates that people are leaving your site without sticking around.

We're on information overload, and with short attention spans, we are more impatient than ever. So, your pages need to load fast and display relevant information for their interests. No matter how awesome your content, if it takes forever to load they won't care.

Still not convinced? Let's look at these numbers
47% say they expect a load time of 2 seconds or less. SRC: Kissmetrics

YOUR CONVERSION RATE WILL THANK YOU:

The better a user experience, the more you are likely to sell.

Studies have shown that we like control, and a faster page load gives the user a perspective of having control over the process.

When it comes to buying decisions you have seconds to make or break the decision. The longer the sales page or the cart takes to load the more likely the customer will change their mind. A one-second delay will make a difference.

Still not convinced? Let's look at these numbers

A 1 second delay will cause a 7% loss in conversions and 11% fewer page views
SRC: http://loadstorm.com/2014/04/infographic-web-performance-impacts-conversion-rates/

If you find that you've done everything you can to speed up your site but nothing is working it's time to look at your host. A recent switch of hosts found a significant increase in load times.

What is a good page speed?

The average speed is 3-7 seconds, but you want to get that number as low as possible. Anything over that and you need to consider fixing what is wrong.

To check your speed, I recommend using Pingdom to see the solid numbers and GTMextrix to get some solid fixes for what could be bogging you down.

Still stuck? We can help you with your page speed and keep your WordPress website maintained.

 

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7 Things Your Must Do To Keep Your Site Maintained

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You Need To Keep Your Website Maintained and Secure.

You Need To Keep Your Site Maintained and Secure.

I recently got a new car because I lease, and my lease was up. The reason that I lease is that the hubs and I like a new car every few years because mechanics we are not. I can change the oil and the tires, but that's the extent of my car maintenance knowledge. So knowing I'm covered by warranty is essential in my book.

The best thing they ever did for cars was to add the maintenance reminder icons on the dashboard. Now I don't even have to think about when maintenance needs tending too. That's why we have WordPress support and maintenance plans offered here, to keep your site maintained.

To keep your car running like a well-oiled machine, you need regular maintenance. Your website is the same.

Each car I lease must have a maintenance plan. While I can change the oil, I'm not hip on rotating the tires and checking other fluids, gears, and such. I'm always afraid something will go wrong, or I'll miss something, so I leave it to the pros.

That happens to many WordPress owners; they are afraid to break the site when updated or adding to the site. So they do nothing. And so I become like emergency roadside help, getting a call to tow them out of a jam.

No need for that. We offer Back Pocket Support, but for the ultimate DIYer, here are seven things you can do right now.

1. Backup and Store Offline:

Backing up is like having insurance coverage on your car. If anything happens, your insurance kicks in to get you back on the road. But like insurance, all backups are not created equal. Backups are the first step to  keep your site maintained.

To ensure you have the best-laid plan, you need to start with a good backup option. I recommend UpdraftPlus, but there are a lot of other great options available. With a program like Updraft, you can set backups to happen automatically.

Keep a schedule based on how much you update content. Here's a glimpse at mine:

Full site backup happens weekly or when changing your site, including running updates.
Database backup: daily with three backup versions available.
Manual backup: before any major updates or changes to my theme.

But backups themselves are not enough. You need to send those files to the cloud. Keeping the backup within WordPress on your server is like not having the backup at all. What if your host server crashes and you can't get access to anything. How would you be able to restore?

Sending your files to Dropbox, Amazon S3 or even Google Drive is simple with UpdraftPlus. You link your website up with your cloud account and tell Updraft to send your files once they are ready. Easy peasy lemon squeezy.

2. Keep Out The Bad Guys:

Hackers are always searching for weaknesses in your site from outdated themes and plugins. They want access to your resources for free because who doesn't like free.

The number one reason sites get hacked  is due to outdated plugins and themes. Because of vulnerabilities with these, hackers can easily plant destructive code. You should check your website for updates to plugins and themes.

While you're at it, take a look at the plugins that you are using on your site. Do you need them? Are they outdated? Were they created by someone reputable? Can a newer one take the place of several older ones?

3. Delete The Spam:

Spam comments are one of the most forgotten areas of your WordPress website. Before those comments have a chance to make it to your site, you need to stop them. There are several plugins available to combat spam, including Akismet, Antispam Bee, Anti-spam, or WP-SpamShield.

Depending on your website, you can receive hundreds of spam comments on any given day, which in turn created several entries in your database. Spam comments can cause you site speed to be slower. The more comments you have  the more entries in your database. Keeping your database optimized is a great way to  keep your site maintained.

Besides being annoying, there is no benefit to keeping spam comments around. Unless you're the spammer, of course, and one may slip through and give a backlink to your site.

4. Examine Your Frontend:

Your site is like your baby. You see it every day and are immune to things that aren't working or don't look right. It's a good idea to visit your site as a prospect or new visitor.

Start by opening a private browser. How do things look? Browse your site as a newbie would. Fill out the forms to make sure they are working. Click on buttons and links to see that they take you to the correct place. Open external links in new tabs or pages, so your user does not entirely abandon your site.

If you have a sidebar, is it overrun with widgets and fluff? It would be best if you made sure that all the elements of your website and pages contribute to your goals. Drop what you can that will cause a distraction.

And don't forget mobile devices. They have become a source of web browsing for many users.

5. Fix Broken Links:

Broken links cause 404 errors, which happen when a visitor or search engine bot goes looking for a page. It might not be a dealbreaker from Google's perspective; it does lead to poor user experience. You don't want to annoy your visitor.

It's easy to find dead links by checking your Google Webmaster account or a site like Dead Link Checker. Once you've found the broken links, you can fix them, replace them, or remove them.

To make sure your visitor hang around or find useful information, a custom 404 page will do the trick. A helpful 404 page will funnel visitors to things they may find valuable on your site.

6. Create Strong Passwords:

We know we need strong passwords, but that doesn't mean we always use them. I am surprised by how many clients come to me with the same password for every application.

While you need a secure password on your administrative account, it's just as important to insist on strong passwords for all users too. As much as your users might not like this, it's for their protection and yours.

I use a program called LastPass to keep all my passwords strong and secure. If the reason that you don't create strong passwords is a memory thing, you should check them out

7. Use SSL everywhere:

SSL certificates ensure that data transmitted from and to your site uses encryption. SSL encryption helps to keep your data secure, which means there's less chance it's spied on.

It would help if you used SSL on your site is you are collecting any data, including contact and opt-in forms. Many web hosts offer a free version of the certificate, so there is no reason why you can't have one. Plus, Google boosts ranking scores of those with SSL.

Another bonus is that when people see the little green lock in the browser, they tend to trust the site more. It's a small, subtle thing, but it's a thing none the less.

Wrapping It Up

It can be hard to stay on top of the maintenance of your WordPress site. These seven tips are the beginning to keep your WordPress site more secure and optimized.

If this list seems overwhelming to you, check out our maintenance programs. Whether you are looking for simple solutions or more support, we have an option for you.

So what do you think? Do you have any more tips to add or questions about keeping your site safe? Let me know in the comments below.

 

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Non-Techy Way to Improve Your Site Navigation

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Non-Techy Way to Improve Your Site Navigation.

Have you ever gone exploring, only to come to a neat little town and have no idea where to go or what to find because there are no street signs? Worse yet, there are a bunch of “things to do 5 miles this way or 3 miles that way” and you wonder which way you should go. Ugh!

That’s how your visitors feel when they visit your website, and you’re spewing choice after choice at them without any real direction.

If your website visitor can’t find the answer to their problem or what they’re looking for quickly, your website is failing its purpose.

Here are a couple of common mistakes and how to right the wrong.

Problem: You Have Too Many Choices Or Your Menu Is Vague

Does your menu list every possible page on your site or contain so many sub-menu items that it looks like the grocery shopping list instead of a way to quickly move around your site? If so, you might have a problem.

When your visitor lands on your site can they look at your menu and immediately know where to find the solutions to their problem (it’s all about them you know!)? Or do they find navigation to everywhere without direction they are looking for?

Imagine this; you’re standing at a fork in the road and right smack in the middle are signs for cool things to the left, geeky things straight ahead and must-see things to the right. Which way should you go? And why is cool better than geeky or must-see? Where is all of the information???

If you can’t tell me where to go or the reason why I might miss out on something extremely helpful, I just may not come back again.

Solution: Keep Your Site Navigation Menu As Simple As Possible

You should NOT include everything and the kitchen sink. Your main navigation should be five things, seven max. The main navigation choices should be clearly labeled and make sense to your visitor. Multi-level navigation is not the answer either because hundreds of links are too much (and just plain overwhelming).

Be clear on your navigation text

Use commonly used terms as labels such as Home, About, Services, Start Here, and Contact. Also, make sure your navigation labels are descriptive because generic labels like Products and Services don’t communicate much to the visitor.

Let’s take Start Here. When most see this choice they know this is the place to be next, hence the start here phrase. On this page, you should tell them what to expect and use on-page links to guide them further into your site and to finding the solution.

You may be a coach who is also a speaker and an author. Using Start Here will allow you to funnel your potential clients into the area they need.

Not only does clear wording help your visitor but it helps the search engines too. Pro-Tip, plan your navigation with search engines in mind and terms your visitors will use.

Use Sub-Navigation only if it makes sense

Drop down menus are not recommended by many because they’re hard to crawl by the search engines, and it can be annoying to your visitor. Why? Because we move our eyes faster than we move our mouse. Usually, we move our mouse once we’ve made a choice and decide to click.

But if it makes it easier for the user to jump right to the solution, then sub-navigation is an option. Let’s use an author site as an example. One of their nav options may be Books, so when you land on that page, it lists all their books and information on each. But wouldn’t it be helpful for returning users to be able to easily find the newest released book?

A sub-menu would show them the list of options. Under the primary category would be their choices that lead directly to a recognizable item. BOOKS >> Book 1, Book 2. Book 3 But, you wouldn’t use that to list everything related to the book. BOOKS >> Book 1, Book 2, Book 3, Ratings, Resources, Reviews.

See how quickly you can overwhelm someone.

Problem: Readers Don’t Know What They Should Do Next

Does your home page look like an obstacle course of buttons, choices, menus, and links?
Navigation isn’t limited to the menu bar at the top of the page or in the sidebar. If your site is not structured in a helpful way, your reader will wander aimlessly through your site, get confused, irritated and leave feeling disappointed and frustrated.

When this happens, it reminds me of walking into that super cool variety store everyone is talking about. It has everything people say. But all you see are aisles and “stuff”. You have no idea where to start first. So you start walking, and shiny object syndrome comes into play. You get overwhelmed and walk out thinking that “the super cool” shop kinda sucks.

Solution: Look At Your Site With A Fresh Set Of Eyes

First things first, if you can’t objectively look at your site like you were visiting it for the first time then grab some outside help to do it for you.

Use headings, subheadings, and lists as they were meant to be used. Make your site easy to scan and understand and most importantly, make sure everything is clean and uncluttered.

Make your site easy to scan and understand and most importantly, make sure everything is clear and uncluttered.

Begin with a clear starting point

Give your visitor a clear starting point in the “above the fold” area. One Action. One Item. Think about something like “Get Started,” “Learn More” or “Book Now”. Not all three but ONE. And the most important one at that. What is your money maker? If your first step is to get them on the phone then lead them to book now. If you need names on a list, signup here works. If you’re building trust, learn more.

Still stumped? Crazy Egg and heat maps will show you what your visitors are doing once they land on your page. This is helpful to find things that are poorly labeled or confusing.

Use action words in your site navigation

A 2014 study found that links that take the form of an action “enhance usability”. Similar to being clear on navigation terms, you need to be clear on your actions that lead to the next choice. For example, page navigation is different than the navigation bar and should make sense to the flow of the process.

Let’s say your primary call to action is to lead them to your blog, tell them to “read more articles” or “visit the blog now”. Or maybe you want them to book that appointment, so try “schedule with me now” or “find a time to chat”.

Do what makes sense to your flow and their problem.

Bonus Action: Fix Broken Links

You can have the best navigation in the world but if the links to the pages are broken it will surely piss off your visitor. Broken links can impact your SEO, too.

Here’s a handy tool to help you check your site. Don’t worry if it finds some; we’ve all been there!

Regularly check the links in your navigation and on your website. If they are broken, replace them or redirect them to another area on your site.

Great site navigation comes down to two things: Keep It Simple + Keep It Actionable.

Need help with your site navigation or how to get started with these simple fixes? Schedule a clarity session today.

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3 Critical Mistake You Could Be Making With Your Website

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critical website mistakes you could be making.

Providing technical services to my clients has given me a great look into the not-so-tech-savvy way things work. Lucky for me, technology has always come easy. I’m able to find ways to explain it to my clients, so they understand at a minimum, the basics of keeping your website up and running, which is a win for everyone!

There are three website mistakes that I see people do (or not do) that could be the difference between having a functioning site or constantly having unprepared issues.

To avoid website shutdown or the white screen of death (eek!) try these three simple things you should have in place to keep your website healthy:

1. Know Your Access Details

I’ve gotten my share of frantic calls from clients being locked out of their site because they did not set up the account and don’t have the information they need to log in. Or, worse yet, they simply didn’t understand the service, so they left it in the hands of someone else, without getting all of the details they needed at the end of the project.

So how is one supposed to be prepared and get control of your accounts?

Problem: You can't access your hosting account, domain account or WordPress dashboard because your web designer set up the accounts without sharing the details with you.

Solution: Contact your designer and ask for the account information. You can use a spreadsheet, password journal or an app like LastPass to keep the information safe for the following three key pieces.

What you’ll need:

a. Hosting Account – login information for your account and cPanel. Make a note of your IP address and name servers. Your host can help you gather this information.
b. Domain Register – login information to review your account information. Be sure that the registered domain is in your name with WhoIs.
c. WordPress Dashboard – login information. To keep things safe I create two user accounts: admin and editor. I do this, so my admin account always stays safe and non-published.

2. Have Backup Access with FTP (File Transfer Protocol)

Sometimes when your WordPress site goes down, it's because of a conflict or glitch on your particular site. But what happens when the entire WordPress site is down, and you can’t even access your account to fix things? Use FTP (File Transfer Protocol), which is a program that allows you to connect to your hosting account and files for your website.

Disclaimer: Let me say that you can do ALOT of damage if you get into your files and delete or move the wrong one. But it is important that you have the FTP information to access your account in the event of errors or white screens. Just tread carefully!

Problem: You cannot log into your WordPress dashboard because a plugin is corrupt or worse, a hacker got into your files.

Solution: Having FTP access will allow a web developer or problem solver to access your account through your hosting account back-end. FTP access allows a direct connection to the hosting files, so even if you cannot log into your WordPress site, your developer can get to the information to solve the issues. Phew!

What you’ll need:

Hosting FTP Access – create an account that is not the main FTP account. Be sure that it links to your access public folder. Your host can help you set this up. There are key parts: the FTP address (ftp.yoursite.com), the user account (this will look like an email address) and the password. Make sure you have all three parts for successful FTP Access!

3. Move Your Backup Off Your Server

Let’s start with the assumption that you are regularly backing up your website. Score one for you! The million dollar question is, are you moving your site to an off-server area like Dropbox or Amazon S3?

Backing up your files and leaving them on the server is like not backing up at all. If your files are on the server, and the server gets corrupt, or your host server goes down, you have no recourse other than to start fresh.

Problem: Your site server goes down, and you have to move your site, but your backup files are on the corrupt server, as well.

Solution: After you make your backup files, send them offsite to a cloud storage system like Dropbox. Also, you could use a service like VaultPress that will backup and send them to a secure area.

What you’ll need:

A Backup program that will send your files to a cloud area or offsite. Set up your backup program to automatically create the backup and then send it off. If you’re having someone do this service for you, be sure you have access to the where the files are sent to so you can get to the files anytime you may have an emergency.

Having control over these three areas will give you the extra protection you need to keep your site safe and functioning with no issues. If you’re having trouble gathering the information or don’t know where to start, schedule a Tech Talk with me today, and we’ll get you all set up so you can take this off your task list!

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Building Websites The Amish Way

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what the amish taught me about building websites.

Who would have thought a move to Amish country taught me some lessons abut building websites.

A little backstory first. In the last five years, I’ve moved four times. The first move was to get away from the hustle-bustle of the big city. The second, we got an offer on our acreage and 100-year-old farmhouse. The third was due to transfer that the Hubs got which moved us to our “ideal” area. Turns out our ideal city didn’t gel with our idea of our forever home.

This last move presented itself as an opportunity to once and for all move to our dream area. Not many houses come up for sale here in our price range that don’t also need tons of work. We never thought we’d find a home, let alone the perfect home. But we did.

It was in an Amish community that doesn't embrace modern technologies — not least of which includes building websites. I moved here because I’m an old soul who cherishes this Mayberry type community and the simple people who surround it.

Kinda clashes with the WordPress, technology-driven geek that I am.

Not really…I’m slowly learning how to marry the two worlds. Having the best of both parts of me working together instead of clashing is such a refreshing way to live.

The Amish are a different type of people.  They’re savvy business owners who sustain themselves and continue to thrive.

I’m fascinated by this.

Every time I visit a farm, shop or stand it gives me a chance to how they run a business.

Daniel, for example, is a furniture maker. I’m helping him build an addition onto his home for his in-laws. Not helping in the physical sense. Every time I walk into Daniel’s store, I buy another piece of furniture. (Coming soon…a beautiful oak desk and chair for my office). Enough lately to fund his expansion.

Why?

Because of the quality. Because of the one-of-a-kindness (is that even a word?). Wish I could bottle that when I'm building websites for everyone.

The Groundwork

Take the wood for example. Daniel uses only oaks and maples. Fine hardwoods. They may be a little more pricey, but you know the finished piece will hold up and last for years.

This is why I choose premium themes for building websites on WordPress. With a premium theme, you get a well-coded site that Google loves. And because there’s a team behind the design, you also get updates when new versions of WordPress come out.

The Customizing

Daniel customizes his furniture to fit the needs and desires of his customers. Everyone starts with a blueprint or plan and then he makes it work for them. Could be the color stain added, the pulls on a drawer or in my case, adjustment to the width and length.

I love to customize premium themes for my clients, too. Every business and business owner is different. Their needs are different. Their vision is different. Their processes are different.

Which is a lot like WordPress. Everyone starts with the same framework, but you choose a theme and plugins that will make your site work for you.

With so many options to choose from, it’s best to get advice from someone who stays on top of timeless resources, as well as today’s trends. Having a designer who knows the best options makes creating the site easy.

The Production

You'd think that with Daniel making all these custom pieces it would take forever to get my order delivered. That’s not the case.

Daniel embraces his version of outsourcing. He works with another craftsman to supply some of his inventory. He’s great with tables and chairs but gets china and curio cabinets from another Amish woodworker.

This reminded me of the many partners I work with to supplement my skills and available time. I partner with copywriters, graphic artists and marketers so that I don’t water down my craft.

This allows me to concentrate on pulling your site together to make it work for you and your visitors. Having the best resources at my fingertips means it won't take me months to give you the site or page you need now.

The Reason

Daniel does business the way he does because spending time with his family and on worship is important to him. He also recognizes that he's honed his skills with particular furniture types, but others would take too long to get right.

This simple relationship with my furniture builder has helped me to shape and change my business. Because of the coding and usability skills I've acquired, WordPress is my tool of choice. This doesn’t mean that I can't offer support on other technologies, but WordPress is what I’m best at and love to do.

I’ve stopped spending time providing everything to everyone and started offering WordPress production, support, and maintenance. I’m now able to do the things I love while providing the services that make me excited to get up in the morning.

How about you…need an awesome website or an update to your existing one?

If you need help with WordPress or your website, let's talk digital. Stop struggling with your site and start honing the thing that makes you a kick-ass business owner.

What is one thing you would change about your website? Let’s talk about it in the comments below.

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Online Payment: Shopping Carts, Gateways and Merchant Accounts, Oh My!

Posted in , ,
Online Payment: Shopping Carts, Gateways and Merchant Accounts, Oh My!.

4 Crucial Points You Need to Understand Before Choosing  the Right Online Payment System

E-Commerce is big business. Whether you're a small solo shop with a couple of ebooks or full on with tons of products, online stores are the way to go.

No matter the size, there’s one thing all online shops need – an online payment system. And, not all are created equal.

The Hubs is not a shopper, or, at least, he wasn’t. He hates getting in the car, fighting traffic, spending all that time in crowded stores and then having to take me for a meal, after all was said and done.

Then he learned about online shopping. He thought it was just awesome to be able to sit in the comfort of our home and get everything he needs while still watching sports.

You would think. But he stops short of actually completing the purchase. Why? Because he doesn’t understand all, that's involved in making the online payment.

I was telling a client, who is also a friend, about this and how it drives me crazy that I need be his checkout girl. She, too, confessed that the reason she hasn’t added her digital books to her website was because she didn’t understand the inner workings of an online shopping cart. They totally frustrate her.

Then it dawned on me; not everyone is so jazzed about the way the online payments work. At least, not enough to wade through all the boring, snoozefest information and instructions.

So let’s break it down.

What is a Payment Gateway?

A payment gateway is the online equivalent of the cash register at your favorite brick and mortar store. It connects you, the client, their credit card provider to your bank.

Your shopping cart software sends the card numbers to your payment gateway to authorize the purchase and process the payment. If the information submitted matches the information on file, then the charge is approved, and the gateway will transfer the money into your merchant account.

What is a Merchant Account?

This is the point of the process that people get confused because a payment gateway and merchant account are not one in the same. A merchant account is the most complicated of the two. It's an area that holds your money until it's transferred to your bank account. This can take anywhere from a couple of days to a week. In most cases, the money is automatically transferred from here to your bank account.

Many of you are familiar with Authorize.net. Authorize is a merchant account that processes payments once they’re through the gateway.  Some services such as PayPal or Stripe have their own merchant account which is why they’re a little more expensive and easier to sign up. These types of services are known by the terms dedicated versus aggregate accounts.  Dedicated being just for you and aggregate is a pool of money to draw from.

What’s a Shopping Cart?

The beauty of WordPress is there are many options to add a shopping cart to your site. However, just like no two payment gateways are created equal, no two shopping carts are either. Some are easy to set up while others need lots of add-ons to make it function as you need it to.

Four Things to Look For and Understand Before You Choose:

To make the best choice for you, you need to know what to look for as far as terms, services, and fees.

Payment Types

You need to know what kinds of payments you’ll accept. Credit cards are the most popular type of payment, but there are others. Electronic checks are another option, but they do take longer to process. Then there’s gift cards. There are two choices there too: store-specific and those issued by a major player credit companies.

And let’s not forget PayPal, a popular (and recognized) choice of many.

Transaction Fees

There are no free options, so it is important that you know about the fee structure. Some gateways will keep a small percentage of the sale while others will be a flat fee. Sometimes it’s both. It’s best to start with anticipated sales and compare fees based on that number.

Be sure that you check to see if there are any additional fees such as set-up or monthly subscription fees. And watch out for additional gateway costs.

Hosted Accounts

Several gateways will take you to their own server to complete the cart process. This means that the customer is taken to a page on their site and uses their form to checkout. Then they are redirected to a confirmation or thank you page.

Because of PCI compliance rules, hosted payments are popular since the host is responsible for maintaining and keeping your customers’ information safe. Without a hosted site, you’d need at the very least an SSL certificate and dedicated hosting that will add fees starting at $10 per month to your website hosting costs.

Several hosted gateways now allow you to “slurp” your site — which is a fancy way to say mimic the look so that customers don’t get confused when being sent away from your site to the host for payment.

Shopping Cart Integration

When choosing a gateway be sure to check that it can be easily added or integrated with your cart of choice.

The popular options such as PayPal or Stripe are included in many of today’s WordPress shopping cart plugins. Stand alones such as 1ShoppingCart or 2CheckOut are not. You don’t want to be stuck paying additional fees for a plug-in you can’t make work or pay a programmer to customize your cart.

The Final Stop

Having worked with many e-commerce stores, most don’t need their own dedicated merchant account It’s simply not worth the length of time and trouble to get everything approved and set-up. Unless you’re consistently doing high volumes of sales each month (e.g., > $5,000), an aggregate service like Paypal or Stripe will be just fine.

My suggestion for credit card processing is Stripe. There is no monthly fee with Stripe and like PayPal, they have a fee structure of 2.9% + $0.30 per transaction.

With an easy online application, you can be up and running in about 15 minutes.

While some are not keen on PayPal, it is a great second option. Most shoppers are familiar with it and for those doing international transactions, it takes the guess work out of the currency conversion process.

Do you have an online store for your products and services? Got a question? Let’s start a discussion about what works, or doesn’t work for you.

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