How + Why I Redesigned My WordPress Website with Thrive Themes
If you come round these parts often, you may have noticed I recently redesigned my website!
2015 was a year of refocusing and reassessing my blog and my biz. I spent a lot of time thinking about where it’s been and where I want it to go. And that’s important, because Miss Malaprop turns 10 in 2016! It was time for a new look and better functionality, and luckily Thrive Themes made it really easy for me to redesign my WordPress website myself.
Here’s how I did it and why I made the choices that I did…
Disclosure: this post contains affiliate links, which means if you click through and purchase one of the tools mentioned here, I receive a commission. It does NOT cost you anything extra, and it helps me afford to keep bringing you tons of free content! Everything I’m telling you here is absolutely my honest opinion, based on my personal experiences redesigning my website.
Why I redesigned my WordPress website…
This website has evolved a LOT since I started it back in 2006.
While it’s always run on WordPress, I’ve used a lot of different themes over the years. Early on, I used free themes that I tweaked with a little bit of coding know-how I picked up during my LiveJournal days.
Then I switched to the Thesis Theme by DIYthemes, which I continued using until my brand new redesign. Thesis is great in a lot of ways, and it served me very well for many years. There was a point at time when it seemed like every other website out there was built with Thesis. But things change, and the Internet evolves…
Last year, I killed off my second website, CoolStuffWeLike.com, and combined some of the best content with Miss Malaprop. When I merged the sites together in spring 2015, I changed up a few things with my old theme, but it never had all of the functionality I wanted.
When I first discovered Thrive Themes last summer, I wasn’t quite ready to commit to the task of a total redesign BUT I’d been wanting to do some things that were difficult to do with my old theme without hard coding.
I opted to purchase the Thrive Content Builder plugin first to make sure I liked it.
I used the plugin to update a handful of other posts and pages on my site over the next few months, including my Funny White Elephant Gift Ideas post.
(I’ll tell you the story about how my Content Upcycle Method made me $4,700+ via Amazon Associates from that single blog post in December 2015, but that’s a story for another day!)
So when Thrive Themes announced that they’d be bumping up the annual membership price, which gives you access to all of their themes and plugins, in early December, I jumped at the chance to lock in the lowest possible price I could, and used this as incentive to start planning for a website redesign.
Plan for content and user experience before you design.
This site has been around for ages, and my content has evolved a lot over the years.
Disastrously, or thankfully, depending on how you want to look at it, I accidentally deleted my entire site via FTP in 2012, so I’d already lost a lot of the really old content. (I was relying on my old hosting company to have a backup of my site. Which they didn’t. I’ve since switched to Siteground for hosting and they provide free daily backups.)
That said, after combining another site with this one last year, my archives were still a mess. So before I got into the nitty gritty work of designing, and even thinking about how I wanted my site to look, I thought a lot about what kinds of content I wanted to focus on and how I wanted a visitor to experience it.
I spent a good chunk of time going back through my archives and my WordPress media library and clearing out the “cruft” as Rand Fishkin would put it.
I removed old posts that were no longer relevant and not generating any traffic.
I made a plan for what posts I wanted to create or update in 2016 and mapped out an editorial calendar.
I decided I wanted to remove my blog’s sidebar, as more than half of my website visitors see this site on their mobile phones.
Next, I sketched out a wireframe on paper of what I wanted to include on my home page, in my main navigation and in my footer.
This is a critical step.
I audit websites for SEO and user experience daily at FSC Interactive, and yet even I wasn’t going to skip this step.
It’s really important to step away from the computer and think critically about the most important messages your website needs to convey before you begin the design process. Otherwise it’s really easy to get distracted by shiny bells & whistles, or to get totally overwhelmed by all of the design options.
Don’t be a cowboy coder.
I’ll admit it. For many years, I was what’s known on the Interwebs as a “cowboy coder.”
Any time I made design changes or tested new themes, I did it on the live version of my site. For a long time, I just didn’t know any better.
After I started working at FSC, I began helping with more website development projects and I became familiar with the benefits of using a staging site or “dev” site.
I actually had a little bit of a hiccup setting up the staging tool, but I reached out to their support staff and they quickly set up the staging environment for me.
At the end, when I was ready to push my new design live, it really was just one simple click.
Website design, made fun and easy with Thrive Themes!
After the staging copy of my website was all set up, I logged in and installed a few different Thrive Themes that I liked.
I activated them, one by one and tested out a few customizations with each until I found the theme that was closest to what I had in mind.
I ended up going with the Rise theme.
I had to make a few CSS tweaks to get it looking exactly like I wanted it to, but luckily there’s an easy way to do that built into the theme:
I was able to figure out the changes I wanted to make by heading to their customer support forums. Someone else had already asked the same questions I had and the Thrive Themes support staff had answered with the exact CSS code I needed. (I just had to swap out the hex color codes.)
Things I Love About Thrive Themes:
- Awesome customer support forums, plus tons of tutorials, webinars and helpful blog posts
Ever since I purchased the Thrive Content Builder plugin last summer, I’ve been getting email updates from Thrive, and they are always full of great information and SUPER helpful, high quality blog posts and tutorials.
- Lots of functionality from one theme, eliminating the need for a ton of extra plugins
I’ve learned a LOT about running a website on WordPress over the years, including the importance of website security. I’ve definitely been hacked a few times in the past, which makes me hesitant to install new plugins on my site. I always try to minimize the number of plugins I’m using.
Thrive Themes offers a lot of bang for your buck: their themes include features like mailing list opt-ins that integrate with Mailchimp and other email services.
Want to add an author box below your blog posts or add a related posts feature to your site? All of that is included in the theme, eliminating the need for a plugin for each bell & whistle you want to add.
- The Focus Areas feature makes it really easy to highlight different information throughout your site
If you spend some time exploring my site, you might notice that below most of the posts, you’ll see an author box and then another section of content, which is powered by the “Focus Areas” included in Thrive Themes:
I can set up different Focus Areas for different blog categories, or even change which Focus Areas show up on a given page or post.
You can set Focus Areas to show up on the top or bottom of a post or page, or on the main blog page between your posts. You can use them for email opt-in areas, advertisements, bonus content, or whatever your heart desires.
Each theme by Thrive comes with some Focus Area templates that are designed to go with that theme, but you can also custom design your own.
Drawbacks of Thrive Themes:
- It can be time-consuming to convert old pages & posts to the Content Builder (although the end result is worth it!)
When I started re-building some of my older blog posts with the Content Builder, like Funny White Elephant Gift Ideas, it took me forever. That’s because any content you want to arrange with the Content Builder needs to live inside of it, and not inside of the regular WordPress editor, so I basically had to copy & paste everything and add all of the images back in from the media library.
That said – for me it was totally worth it. I spent a lot of time “upcycling” my best content last year and making it better, and I will continue doing so this year. I wasn’t simply copying everything into the Thrive Content Builder. I was also adding more content, so that made the entire process take a lot more time.
I’ve been using WordPress for nearly 12 years now. So I’m pretty freakin’ comfortable with it.
That said, I don’t feel like wrangling code all day just to make something look pretty and behave like I need it to. I’d rather focus on creating awesome content.
Thrive Themes may not be for everyone.
I’m a big fan of Squarespace instead of WordPress for newbies who don’t want to spend their time on the tech stuff. But I personally want more customization than Squarespace can offer, and quite frankly, I like the ability to wrangle code when I need to.
Thrive Themes is perfect for me, with tons of features and beautiful, responsive web design. I joined their yearly membership plan to get access to all of the tools they offer, but you can also go the route I started out, and pay for just the options you need, a la carte.