Website branding can make or break your website. Even if you have great content, if your site doesn’t stand out and isn’t easy to use, it might be difficult to increase traffic.
Money Stir launched in mid-December 2018 and traffic is increasing. I started tweaking the site to improve performance and usability in January. The speed and look of the site progressed, but I wasn’t satisfied with the look of the website. I’m a PHP developer, so the visual design is not one of my strengths.
I decided that if I was going to put massive amounts of energy into Money Stir to make it successful, I wanted to be proud of how my site looked. This idea led me to implement the following.
The original Money Stir logo was put together quickly through an online tool. It wasn’t very interesting or eye-catching. Not having a strong logo hurts the overall design and brand of your site. In my opinion, it is one of the most critical design elements of a website. And I wanted a logo that set Money Stir apart from other finance blogs.
I ended up going to 99Designs to create a “contest” to have a logo designed. The way it works is you decide how much you want to pay for your contest. The higher your budget, they claim the more designs you will receive, which might end up producing better logo options. I went with their lowest tiered option ($299) and added some extras like having it featured and guaranteeing the contest (where designers know I will pick a winning logo). You can use their services for any design related tasks, including website design, logo, print materials, etc.
I decided to have the contest run for three days since I needed a logo to finish implementing the new theme of the website. You can see the logo contest by clicking here. The logos you currently see on that page are the best logos (there were a ton of logos I ended up rejecting). We had 150+ total designs submitted. The logos that we liked I communicated with the designer to have them make tweaks to the logo (changing colors, recommending tweaks, etc.).
Here is the logo we landed on:
One aspect of the logo we wanted was having an icon that we could use throughout the site and social networks for branding.
Here is a larger version of the icon.
I am ecstatic with how the logo turned out. The designer that created this logo was responsive and friendly. I would use their service again in a heartbeat.
The new logo is great, but it wouldn’t be as effective without a great looking and usable website design. After creating the logo, I decided to switch themes.
I was using a Genesis Premium theme called Magazine Pro (from Studio Press). The previous site design wasn’t using all of the available features of this theme, but it didn’t have options for what I wanted, once I got in there. I also ended up creating custom code for the home page and related article feature. One annoying thing about Studio Press premium themes, is they are child themes. Which means all custom code you write will have to go into custom plugins to change parts of the theme. This child theme issue wasn’t a deal breaker, but I found it annoying.
After researching different premium theme options, I landed on Soledad. Soledad costs $59 and has a lot of options.
Below is what I was looking for in a new theme:
- Lots of layout and theme options.
- Having a theme that was performant was vital.
- The theme needed to be easy to use and customize.
- A demo that I could use as a starting place for the new design.
- I wanted the responsive version of the theme to be excellent.
- Having AMP or Instant Articles would be a great benefit. I’ll talk more on this below.
I found a demo that was an excellent place to start and began customizing the theme. It took a lot of time to figure out the ins and outs of Soledad, and I had to solve some annoying issues. For example, having the latest posts display in the slider on the home page but not in the recent news area was a major PITA, and it required some custom PHP code.
Most of the customizations were dealing with options in the theme through the WordPress admin. But I did create some CSS to change some minor spacing and styling issues throughout the site.
Overall I’m delighted with how the new theme looks and functions.
At first, I thought AMP support would be a huge benefit. Soledad does have AMP support, but it isn’t fully functional and lacks some features. Apparently to get all of the features on a WP site to work in AMP takes a lot of work, especially if you want things to look similar to your main site design (including having post comments, forms, etc.). Currently, since the responsive version of the site works well, I’m less concerned about getting an AMP or FB Instant article version working for the site at this stage. That could change in the future.
Last month I switched from Mail Chimp to Convert Kit. I’m still building up my follower base, but I’m happy so far with their service.
But I wasn’t satisfied with the convert kit plugin I was using in WordPress. It handled the basics, but I wanted something with more options and flexibility in how and where to show a newsletter signup form. These issues led me to implement the MailOptin service.
You might have noticed there are three areas where the newsletter signup form shows up on the new site:
- The sidebar of the home page.
- A slide in form that appears at the bottom left of every page of the site.
- After every post and page.
MailOptin has full integration with Convert Kit. I’m hoping this increases how many newsletter signups I get on the website. I don’t have very many subscribers at this stage and this week is when I’ll start sending out an email every 1-2 weeks. See my weekly stir post from yesterday on what I’m currently thinking.
I became obsessed with trying to improve the performance of the new theme. I made a lot of progress. According to GTMetrix I currently score 97% in Pagespeed and 98% in YSlow. The site fully loads in 1.5s.
One thing I implemented that drastically improved performance was installing WP Rocket. WP Rocket is a premium caching plugin that currently costs $49/year. Last year they added support for WPEngine, which is where I currently host. WP Rocket is simple to set up and has some solid options to increase website performance. Their HTML, JS and CSS minification is top notch. WP Rocket improved the percentage score of the site on the new theme by 10%!
The GTMetrix score is high, but some things still bother me about the performance of the site. There are quite a few font files being loaded, the CSS file is massive, and there is a lot of JS. I’m not sure how much I can continue to improve things using Soledad. Later this year I might decide to go re-create the current look of the site with a 100% custom theme. This will probably be a massive lift, but I bet I could get the site to load under 1s. I might consider pursuing this option later this year or next year. But I’m happy with where the site is at now.
Image sizing on article posts was another issue I resolved to increase performance. Since the new theme added new image sizes in WP, the originally uploaded images were loading on the site. These large images increased the bandwidth usage and slowed down Money Stir. I ended up deleting all the post images and re-uploading them to generate the image sizes displayed on the frontend. Some of the original post images were 120KB large, which is way too large, even for the photos in the slider on the home page.
Better Default Images
A side benefit in having a new logo with a suitable icon is creating general graphics for specific types of posts. These could be book reviews, app reviews, weekly stir, etc. Any post that is published, but doesn’t have a unique graphic that goes well with the post, is a great candidate for these types of images.
Below are the general graphics I created as part of the new site launch:
I need to be careful about not making every change I want to make a priority. There will always be ways I can improve things, but I need to figure out what is the most beneficial in where the blog is at now.
With that said, these are the main things I want to focus on outside of content writing and promotion over the next 1-2 months:
- Continually test the new theme as I write content and hear from the community.
- See if there are any minor improvements I can make with the performance of Money Stir.
- Option: Remove all theme and plugin CSS/JS and manually put together everything in the child theme that is used on the site. If I think I can do this in a way that isn’t going to break the site with future plugin/theme updates, this might be worth pursuing. But I also think it is going to be a lot of work. If I think I can get the site to load in less than 1s, it probably is worth the effort.
My short term goal is to get to a spot where I don’t have to think about changing design elements or code on the site, and can focus on writing content and promotion. I can’t maintain how much time I’ve been working on the blog long-term. But the push to get it to where it is at now was worth it.
What do you think about the new logo and new theme? Have you noticed any issues?
Chris Roane is a financial blogger who loves to be transparent about money-related issues. He’s paid off massive amounts of credit card debt and is the blog author of Money Stir. His main focus on Money Stir is talking about how money relates to our relationships, personal development, and how to plan for the future we want. He’s been quoted on Market Watch, The Ladders, and other publications.