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Blog Exercises: When Your Site Design Owns You

Blog Exercises on Lorelle on WordPress.Yesterday a long-time client called me up in tears saying, “I can’t do this any more. My site design owns me, I don’t own it. It’s too confusing. It’s too much work!”

Several years ago, she’d chosen a Magazine-style WordPress Theme. The structure was based upon the standard magazine-style, sticky posts for the slider/carousel at the top of the front page and content on the front page divided up by titled categories in a column format.

We met this morning and went through the step-by-step process of what it takes to publish a post using that WordPress Theme.

  1. Write the post in a text editor.
  2. Copy it from the text editor and paste it into a new post.
  3. Add the title to the post.
  4. Set the “more” point for the front page excerpt length.
  5. Choose the post category.
  6. Add the tags.
  7. In the Publish box, click Visibility, then “Stick this post” and Okay to make it a sticky post for the slider.
  8. Review, edit, and publish when ready.

The task list appeared to me to be fairly simple and basic. “Oh, that’s just the beginning!”

WordPress Theme example of a front page with slider and posts displayed by category - Lorelle VanFossen.She also has to monitor how many posts are set in the slider and edit the older posts to remove them from the slider and make room for the new posts. She’s learned how to use the bulk editor in WordPress to make this easier and quick to change.

Again, all simple and easy to do in WordPress.

“Remembering all those tasks are easy, though I forget sometimes. I have them written down on a list next to my computer monitor to keep me on track. That’s not the problem. The problem is that my site owns me!”

Looking at her site, I see that the front page is set with bold headings for each category of posts. For this example, I’ll describe them as fruit, vegetables, meats, and dairy.

She explained that she spends a lot of time writing about fruits and vegetables, and while she covers meat and dairy, she doesn’t post as often there. “The same posts will sit in the meat and dairy category spots for months. People will think I have nothing new to say about those two topics and I’ll lose clients.”

I explained that this is not necessarily true. I checked her stats and see that her visitor count continues to grow at a fairly consistent rate.

“I hate looking at them. They guilt me. They shout at me daily. ‘You don’t care about me. You don’t know anything about meat and dairy! Why are you wasting our time?’”

Instead of writing naturally, focused on the topics of her choice, the past six months has found her in a race to keep her front page active and updated regularly, keeping equal numbers of topics across all the category topics. She’s become a writing machine, often writing articles she doesn’t have a vested interest in, just to keep the posts in the categories on her front page fresh.

“Instead of writing once or twice a week as planned, I’m churning out four to six posts a week, keeping those categories cycling through new posts. I can’t keep up!”

Add to this the stress she feels when she clicks on her “blog” link only to find the posts set in the slider as sticky posts to be locked down as the first 10 posts in the Blog pageview queue. “When people click ‘blog,’ they think I haven’t published anything new. All they see are those same posts at the top of the page. I keep changing which posts are sticky and in the slider so people see something fresh when they visit the blog page.”

There are many ways to fix her WordPress Theme to make posts featured in the slider be set by an alternative method to sticky posts, and add a script to the Theme’s front page template that cycles her posts through past posts in that category to make the front page look fresher, but that’s not today’s blog exercise.

Blog Exercise Task from Lorelle on WordPress.Today’s blog exercise is designed for you to think about how your site’s design owns you.

For my client, the design’s structure and process makes her feel obligated, responsible, and guilty. It requires some extra steps to put things in the right places so they appear on the front page correctly, and messing up some other features of the site. So much energy is put into maintaining that front page look, she forgets about the rest of the site’s design elements, layout, and structure. She feels owned by the front page of her site.

Another client of mine complained last week about how he has to add three extra steps to every post he publishes, another web publisher owned by the front page of his site. He must remember to choose where and when the posts appear within the front page design for every post he publishes.

I’ve argued with clients and students over the years about adding tasks to the basic task list of publishing. Over time, it gets old, getting in the way of updating the site quickly and easily. There is just so much to constantly remember. Few listen.

They are not the only ones. I’m owned by many design decisions I’ve made over the years.

On , I have to add my custom signature at the bottom of every post. I’d love to not waste time with this graphic element, but is has become part of the branding of my site to see my signature at the bottom of each post. I feel like that signature owns me.

Years ago, Taking Your Camera on the Road required six steps before I could hit publish. I finally gave that up, forcing me to edit hundreds of pages to remove the custom scripts in the content and complicated code in my WordPress Theme to generate all this unnecessary fuss.

Example of the Blog Your Passion site about blogging, a photoblog WordPress Theme - featuring the category pageview - by Lorelle VanFossen.On Blog Your Passion I am only allowed one image per post with that WordPress Theme. The Theme is designed for photoblogging and I’m pushing the limits of that Theme’s capabilities by adding story to each post along with the photograph.

The Category Pageview features thumbnail images to each post with no post title or excerpt. Unfortunately, the images do not usually represent the post’s content, making categories for this site useless unless you like looking at the beautiful photographs by myself and my husband from our stock photography inventory.

In the case of the How to Blog category, I have a series of how to blog articles. I use the same image on every post in that article series so there is a visual tie to the series, which looks odd on the category pageview. I had to create a How to Blog article series Page to list all the articles in that series in the main navigation.

While that site appears simple, offering Zen-style tips for how to blog better, the structure of how the site handles categories and content is also frustrating. As I continue to build the body of work on that site, I may have to change WordPress Themes for a better fit.

In Blog Work Flows we talked about the flow of content from idea to your site, and often that flow included going through a pre-publish checklist like a pilot does before flight. Some of these tasks are part of the process, some may not be. Take a look at your site’s design and the work flow you use to make each post work right on your site.

What is wearing you down? Can you remove it? Can you change how it works to make it more automatic and less work? Or are you willing to let it go.

Remember, the gateway to your site is rarely the front page any more. Search engines and incoming links direct visitors to a single post pageview. A visitor must want to see the front page of your site in order to see it.

Give some thought to how much it might own you and how you can channel that energy into a more positive and rewarding area of your blogging life.

You can find more Blog Exercises on . This is a year-long challenge to help you flex your blogging muscles.


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5 Comments

  1. Posted August 21, 2013 at 5:42 am | Permalink

    I have learnt to type in the text editor on WordPress recently. Thank you for teaching me how to do it better.

    The main reason is it is safe for me to type Chinese characters.

    Strangely I have been unable to type Chinese directly in the visual editor anymore. Because of my work, I normally have 2 keyboards (Chinese and English). I normal switch between two languages, but on my WordPress theme, if I forget to switch to the English keyboard when typing English, my page will refresh immediately. It means I lose my work. It has happened so many times and I’ve decided to stay with text editor.

    I changed my setting to Chinese, but the problem remains the same.

    I wonder if it is because the visual editor or the particular Theme cannot cope with the two byte characters. I wonder if it is because I’m using Mac. I used to be able to type in visual editor with another theme. I wonder how visual editor copes with other languages. If it is unreliable, the text editor is important for people writing in non European languages.

    I have no technical knowledge to know why my visual editor can’t cope with Chinese. I’ll leave it to experts to find out.

    • Posted August 21, 2013 at 1:30 pm | Permalink

      Language Settings — Support — WordPress.com is the WordPress.com support doc on publishing in a different language. All WordPress and WordPress.com sites have a setting on the General Panel for setting the language of the site. This changes the database setting to permit the characters to be generated properly by the browser.

      It also requires your computer to be set up to type in the letters, which I’m sure you know how to do.

      Changes to your site are from that point forward, not past published posts. You may need to edit them and update them to get WordPress to generate the characters if they do not appear.

      Our buddy, timethief has a whole post on WordPress.com Multilingual Blogs that will also help.

  2. Posted August 21, 2013 at 3:47 pm | Permalink

    I read your links, but they didn’t answer my question. I simply do not understand why visual editor does not allow typing Chinese texts. I change my interface setting and it didn’t solve the problem. Mystifying. I’m keen to find out if it’s a single issue or it affects other users. It’s not a problem for me at the moment, as I could use the text editor.

    Don’t worry about this too much. I just thought you may want to know this problem exists.

    • Posted August 21, 2013 at 9:41 pm | Permalink

      Not clue why the visual editor in WordPress isn’t working with Chinese. That’s best asked of the WordPress.com support team. I wonder how much of this is the browser. Have you tried a different browser? Wish I could help more.

  3. Tony Carter
    Posted August 23, 2013 at 3:46 am | Permalink

    Nice for providing step by step information about owning our site design..If the front page is attractive, it means that the entire site is informative.


2 Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. […] Blog Exercises: When Your Site Design Owns You […]

  2. […] A message on my phone from an old friend shook me when they informed me that their employer’s site had been selected recently by the Web Pages That Suck team as a site that sucked. They couldn’t figure out why and they needed me. I took one look at their site and screamed, knowing exactly why they sucked. Explaining it to them was another matter. They liked it. It owned them. […]

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