We have a great WordPress round-table discussion with a great WordPress community panel we begin the show discussing the biggest WordPress news stories of the week. Then in the second half of the show we discuss our main show topic “Website Redesigns: What Should You Consider?”
1- WordPress 4.6 “Pepper” Released, Streamlines Plugin and Theme Management
2 – US vs THEM
The round table panel for this Saturday show.
Sallie Goetsch of WP Fangirl
Jackie D’Elia of Jackie D’Elia Designs
John Locke of Lockedown Design (Lead-host)
Jonathan Denwood of WP-Tonic (co-host)
On the WP-Tonic podcast, we had two news stories this week. First, WordPress 4.6 “Pepper” was released. Notable things that changed in this release are Open Sans was replaced by system fonts in the admin view, he WP_Post_Type class was added, changes were made to term meta, and plugin updates now happen on the same screen, so it the experience is smoother.
The panel remarked that getting used to the new look in the backend takes some getting used to. Jonathan noted that if your theme or plugin isn’t coded to the letter of WordPress 4.6, it can cause issues with your site, and he has seen an increase in the need for WordPress site maintenance with this release.
The second WordPress news story was centered on the WP-Tavern article entitled, US vs THEM. The gist of this article is there seems to be a perceived lack of communication between the WordPress core team and everyone else.
The comments on this article were provocative and seemed to elicit strong reactions from both sides. John noticed that internal teams develop an internal language that is hard for outsiders to relate to. Jackie suggested there should be a long-term roadmap for WordPress that everyone can see. This would go a long way to helping the communication issue that seems to have been simmering for some time.
Johnathan felt the organization needs a structural shakeup, since the project is very large now, and it is not the same as it was a dozen years ago. Sallie pointed out it was easier to get in on the project in the early days, and now there are more barriers to participation in the core, though it is not intentional. She pointed out most of the work is done on a volunteer basis, and that adds another layer of complexity to the overall project. John felt the problem is more a human problem than a WordPress-specific problem.
Main Topic: Website Redesigns, What Should You Be Planning For?
The first question posed to the panel was “Why do businesses need to redesign their website in the first place?”
Sallie said last year’s Mobilegeddon and specific events are what drive people to redesign their site. Jackie said diminishing returns on your website can motivate a business to seek a website redesign. She also said static sites need to evolve by adding social media or dynamic content, and also noted that mobile use is making businesses reevaluate their websites.
Jonathan had a really profound observation when he said Envy and Fear were the two biggest motivators for a site redesign.
He said when businesses see competitors with a great site, or if they are moving into a new sector, the Envy of more impressive websites makes them spring to action. When businesses see revenue and leads falling off, then Fear takes hold of them, and they seek to have their website redesigned, in order to gain some of that business back.
The key seems to be that when someone the business owner trusts tells them they need to invest in upgrading their website, that seems to make a difference.
John noted that the fear of dropping out of search rank, or the realization that they already have dropped in search rank makes businesses invest in a site redesign.
Jackie had a great insight when she stated we judge businesses by their website. When customers see your competitors all have modern looking sites, and your business has a site that is older, business owners start to fear their customers will judge them, and think the rest of their business is also out of date and not up to par.
Sallie said this was a valid fear. Jackie said if you look at a website and the copyright date is six years old, it makes you hesitate about doing business with them.
Johnathan asked whether we notice things (as web professionals) that regular people do not notice. Jackie said that regular people are after usability. She said customers who go to an outdated site aren’t going to critique the design, but they are going to notice that they can’t easily use the website.
Sallie added that even people in small towns are exposed to what websites are expected to look like (she mentions Amazon as an example). Sallie says that even if they cannot discern if the style is up to date, customers still have an expectation of how a website is supposed to look, feel, and function.
Jackie said sites that are not mobile-friendly are unusable, and regular people notice that fact. Jonathan mentioned some enterprise sites are atrocious looking, and they can definitely afford the redesign, but those projects have not yet moved forward. Sallie says enterprise companies move slower, and require more people signing off on a project before it can go forward.
John said that comparison within a vertical determines whether a business will be willing to invest in a site redesign. He provides an example of accountants, where many of the sites are outdated and not modern. Because there are not a lot of modern looking sites in this sector, John says there is no pressure for other accountants to upgrade their websites.
Sallie and Jonathan said these comparisons can be excuses to not move forward with a site upgrade. Jonathan said that if businesses have been burned by a previous developer, they are more reluctant to invest in a website redesign. He noted that many business owners are ill-equipped to properly evaluate a web designer, and either hire the first person who is referred to them. Or they go the opposite direction and spend six months screening developers for their web project.
John asks the panel who should business owners be looking for to do a site redesign – a solo consultant, an agency, or should they hire in-house? He also asks the panel what the advantages and disadvantages are to each approach.
Sallie says if the site is large and has a lot of information to sort through, then an agency may be a good choice for a redesign. She said smaller sites lend themselves to a single freelancer.
One of the most important things that Sallie mentions is you should get a consultant to go through a discovery process with you, and be sure to have a needs analysis done before you embark on your website redesign. She says you need to figure out what you are trying to achieve before starting a redesign, or work with someone who can help you figure this out.
Jackie says the budget of the company is going to determine who you seek to do a redesign. Smaller projects lend themselves to a single individual; agencies work better when you need a lot of roles filled. She maintains that a website is not just a container, and you need someone to help you fill that with content that is going to get you to your goals.
Jonathan echoed this sentiment, and said the content is what needs to get sorted out. He also said anyone who agreed to unrealistic timelines, like two weeks, are not to be trusted. Web projects need a proper timeline, and if someone is agreeing to unrealistic timelines, they will likely take your deposit check and ask for more money halfway through.
He said many clients are looking for good value, but end up going with the cheapest option available, and as a result, end up getting burned. Sallie said there are lots of people who can do a quality job, but are not confident enough to ask for what they are worth. Her point was, most times you get what you pay for. She said the best way to check up on agencies is to talk to previous clients and ask what their experiences were working with them. Do your research!
Jonathan said the unfortunate reality is, if you go to a top agency with a small budget, the work will be farmed out to a junior developer, and your site will be based off a $50 ThemeForest theme. (Editor’s note from John: This is 100% true. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve seen this happen.)
Sallie compared this to hiring a law firm, where an intern is doing the work, but you are still getting billed at the partner rate.
Jackie says it is important to pay attention to the types of questions they are asking you when you are interviewing the developer or agency. If the people aren’t taking time to get to know your business, that is a red flag. She says the first question she asks prospects is why are they reaching out to do a site redesign at this point in time.
Johnathan goes on a stellar tangent, and says he gets frustrated with developers who say, “It’s only a marketing website, how hard could it be?”
His response to them is, “Yeah, it might be just a marketing site. But you try and produce a marketing site that converts. That actually gets real paying clients to their door. That has a methodology and navigation, and has content that leads to real conversion. You just try and have a go at it, and see how hard it is.”
Sallie agrees with this, and John says, “Preach, brother!”
John says when you hire an agency or developer, you are paying them on a one-off basis, which is a huge advantage. He says, when you hire someone in-house, you can have them on payroll for six months or even a year, and still not have a finished site or something that converts. (Yes, this happens all the time.)
John asks the panel what should clients be focusing on or gathering leading into a redesign. Sallie says she does a thorough discovery process with clients, to find what’s broken, but also to find things that the clients don’t even know they can do with a website. She sites some specific content strategy and information architecture that would not be apparent to a client or a consultant without doing discovery first.
Sallie also states she doesn’t feel like she can write a solid proposal without doing discovery first. She says even if you hire a developer, who only cares about solving technical problems, you should hire a consultant first, to figure out what technical problems need to be solved.
Johnathan says some clients are reluctant to pay for a discovery phase, but many of their problems come from not hiring someone to write a good discovery document and scope of work. Without discovery documents, the client will not have a realistic sense of what the budget or timeline should be. He says with a project roadmap, the client can take it to other companies and get realistic quotes. He says without a proper roadmap, any quotes you get from a web development company will be meaningless, because they do not know the true scope of the project yet.
Jonathan and Sallie say if the quote is incorrect, the development company will either disappear, ask for more money, or be pissed off for the rest of the project.
Jackie says business owners know they need a website, but they aren’t always sure why they need it. Discovery and consultation help them determine the benefit of the project. She states that projects get off track when the site content is left until the last minute. When you understand what the site content will be, it makes the design and the rest of the project go much easier, as well as adding more value to the project.
She also says not every project should be a full blown website. Web professionals should have a network of people that they can refer to for specific solutions.
Sallie says it’s not a crime to have a restricted budget, but you should also have restricted expectations. Jackie says when you do a website, you should be planning for the future, not just today. If you can’t afford a feature today, you still need to plan the infrastructure.
Jonathan says it is more important to have four pages of strong content than twenty pages of mediocre content. He also says the person you hire needs to be strong enough to tell you No when you need to hear it. Managing expectations is vital.
Twenty Minutes Bonus Discussion
John asked the panel what role analytics plays in a website redesign. Jackie and Sallie thought it was great to see how people are searching for things, and how they are finding you. Sallie said not every site has analytics, but most hosting companies have crude analytics.
Johnathan said if your budget is under 10k, you are better served going to a consultant rather than an agency, because you will get better service. Sallie said this is true in most cases, it all depends on the agencies. She said some agencies can find a specialist to help you. She said she can do many things, but she cannot do them all at once. She said if you cannot wait for someone to do things sequentially, then an agency is a good option.
Johnathan said even bad web companies still get business, and John said this happens everywhere. He said do your research. John also said most people either pick the first person who gets recommended to them, or they Google the top five and choose from those. The implication is that more extensive research should be done when it comes to hiring a company to redesign your website.
Jackie said it is better to find someone who is familiar with your particular vertical, industry, or technical problem.
Johnathan recounted a story of business that is doing okay, but has an outdated site, who requested some SEO. He rebuffed them and said if he did SEO and sent them to their current site, it would hurt their business, as the site was decrepit, although their business is actually quite good. His point was that your site should reflect the quality that exists in the rest of your business, and that is not always the case.
He said paid advertising, PPC, and Facebook ads are not doing you any favors if they are sending customers to a run-down website.
Sallie relates a story of a time she was hired to analyze why a specific advertising campaign was not resulting in sales. What she discovered was that people were coming to the home page from a link in the ad, but there was no call-to-action or link to purchase the product on the Home page. This was a great example of where either the ad needed to link directly to the shopping page, or the home page needed to be redesigned to have a Buy button.
John tells a story of seeing a tweet about a company spending five figures a month on a PPC ad, only to have it go to a broken page. He says many clients want to pay consultants to “flip the SEO switch”. But he said if your website looks like “it’s straight out of 1995” it does you no favors.
Jonathan said if customers go to your site, and it looks awful, they are more likely to go to your competitors.
John says there are people who cannot see the vast differences between the site that their nephew made and the sites that their competitors put lots of resources into, and those nephew-created sites do more harm than good most of the time. He said the hard reality is your nephew can’t always design your site and make it turn into ranking or sales.
Jackie says she didn’t want to spend money on ads, so she got really good at developing content. She says SEO is not a light switch and it takes time to develop. She tells a story of a site she built where she outranked the company selling the original product (which she later sold), and how the site still ranks in the top three for that given term many years later, with no additional tweaking. She says it took a year to get there by refining the content and developing strong link profile. She says this is more valuable than five years of AdWords. Sallie says that “people don’t want to hear that SEO is hard work.”
Jackie and Sallie plug their episode of Rethink.fm (which we encourage you to listen to).
Johnathan compares finding a good web person to finding a good car mechanic. It often takes time, and sometimes you go through people who are not a good fit. But if you can find a good consultant or agency, you should keep them around.