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Using WordPress the wrong way

I have been using WordPress the wrong way, and I have just realized it. 

I often wondered why anyone would want a website built with WebFlow or with SquareSpace when WordPress gives you the power to customize everything you want.

The answer is so simple and evident that it is a little embarrassing that I have not seen it before.

Most people don’t want that power. 

Most people want a website that will help them get closer to their business or personal goals. And if you are not a web developer, those goals do not include customizing every aspect of your site. 

I have watched a video presentation with a project hand-over where the client could only add new items on their site: new beer flavors. I am looking at this, and I am thinking: “wow, that customer is powerless. He is so limited in what he can do with the site. For every little change, he will need to hire the developer again.” 

But I was wrong. The client was not into doing minor changes on the site. He wanted a professional website that he could be proud of, and he only wanted to add more beer flavors. Being so limited in what he could do also meant there was no way he could make a mistake or break the site. He could relax into doing what was important to him. 

When delivering a website built in WordPress, it may not be a good idea to hand over the admin account. The administrator account can feel overwhelming with all the buttons available, and it is also very easy to break the site. 

What you should do instead is to create custom post types, custom fields, and custom capabilities and then set up an account that can only work with those and hand over only that account. This way, the client cannot break the site, and they can only customize and update the items they need to. 

Of course, you have to discuss a maintenance plan for the cases where admin access is needed, but that is a different discussion.

Would you be offended not to have administrative access to your site? Or would you be relieved? 

Design is Not Everything

When building a website, you may think that all you need is the web design, which is all you may be willing to buy.  

And this is understandable because it is what you see and what your customers see. 

It is also why page builders like Divi and Elementor are so popular with WordPress. You can quickly and visually set up how your website will look. 

But once traffic this your site and the business takes off, you realize other things are just as important if not more important than design:

  1. Is the site functional? Does it do what it is supposed to do for the user? Is the sales process working smoothly? Does the contact form send you all the messages? 
  2. Is it fast? With the Google update in May 2021, site speed is a factor in their ranking system, which means that slow sites will get a penalty and fast sites will get a boost. But that is not all. From a user experience point of view, if they have to wait 10 seconds for the cart page to load, they will abandon the purchase process. 
  3. Is it clear? This item is where design can shine when it focuses on clarity first and aesthetics seconds. It doesn’t matter if your site is beautiful if your users have no clue how to navigate it or what they should do on the page that just loaded. 
  4. Is it responsive? Does it work perfectly on mobile? Today’s data suggest that you should develop the site on a mobile view first and then check the desktop view. 
  5. Does it handle well spikes in traffic? You don’t want to have your site crash in the middle of a successful marketing campaign. 
  6. Is it secure? Is your customers’ data safe? Is your site well insulated against hacking attempts? Are you using the best security practices?
  7. Do you have a recovery plan in place? What happens in case of a hardware failure? Or if you get kicked out by the hosting company?

If you still think your site needs a stellar design to bring in revenue, look at Google.com or Amazon.com. Most designers would argue they can do a much better job. But how many can create a much better revenue stream? Or handle that level of traffic? 

I suggest you start your website by investing in a solid foundation, don’t just buy a “pretty picture” of a website.  

Lack of Clarity leads to poor results

While it is common sense, it is not common practice to ask “WHY” when doing something. 

Building your new website, or revamping the old one, needs to have a strong “why” behind it. 

If you are doing it because everybody else is doing it, or because your competition is doing it, that is not good enough. 

Drilling deep with the “why-questions” can help you uncover clear, measurable goals. When you have clear, measurable goals, not only do you know what to ask from your vendors, but it is effortless to see where you are headed and when you have reached your destination. 

Clear, measurable goals also cut to the clutter of questions like: “what colors should I use?” “what size should the logo be?”, “what layout should my home page have?” The answer is very straightforward: choose the option that gets you closer to your goals

If you don’t know which one gets you closer, you can either default to what works in your space or A/B test it if you have a large enough audience. 

Getting clarity is hard but is the step that has the most impact on the project’s success. I’d rather delay something until I get crystal clear than building a solution that brings me to the wrong place. 

The Spiritual Software Engineer’s Guide to building your Online Presence

START HERE – Build an audience

Connect with people around you (online or offline) that share some of your values and interests. You need to build a bridge between “i/me/myself” and how it assists “we/us/ourselves.”

Contribute to what they post and share online. Build a conversation with them. First and foremost, try to understand them. You aim to create a community.

PAY ATTENTION

Pay attention and take notes:

– what do they ask?

– where do they need help?

– what inspires them?

– what is the problem they have?

Create content generously answering these questions: meaning for free and with the best quality you can (don’t try to be “perfect” that is just hiding from posting the work. Just do your best)

Save this content in a library (folder with documents in GDrive, Dropbox, local PC). You will thank yourself later!

GET’EM EMAILS

Once you get a feel of your audience, get them to subscribe to a newsletter. Use a free landing pages feature from AWeber, MailChimp, or some such.

By now, you should have a list of topics of interest that you can write about:

– full newsletters – best

– a weekly or monthly update where you send the best posts from Social Media – OK

– curated content – where you recommend other people’s work that relates to your audience – lazy, but it can save you in an emergency when you don’t have something scheduled.

WAIT FOR THE QUESTIONS

At some point, you should be getting inquiries about private consultations or help with a specific problem. The way to respond is to send them to the appropriate post or article that talks about possible solutions and, at the end, let them know that you are available for a one-on-one session for this price.

People will likely choose the free alternative initially, but eventually, some will pay for the “one-on-one.” Regardless, take important notes of these questions as they are ideas for valuable content or a potential product.

KEEP TALKING – KEEP CREATING

Continue the discussion with your audience.

When you have collected some 4-5 excellent questions to address, announce a free Zoom call where you will talk about those. Invite your audience to participate. At the end of the call, be sure to mention your one-on-one offering for those who need to get specific details. As a reward for giving you their attention so far, you can discount that price just for the live participants.

Be OK with the fact that this first call will not be so great. Things will not work; you will forget to mention something important. All that matters now is to practice. You cannot get to “mastery” by skipping over “beginner.”

LOOK FOR FRIENDS

Continue the conversation with your audience.

Look for collaboration opportunities.

The WRONG way to do this: “Hey, can you feature me on your blog/podcast/FB page?

The RIGHT way to do this: “Hey, your work is awesome! Do you mind if I feature you on my blog/FB page/newsletter?

Continue the conversation with your audience.

CAN YOU CREATE A PRODUCT/SERVICE

Based on your work so far and the community’s interaction, get an idea for a product or a premium service. Before you start working on it, ask your community what do they think? Are they interested? Would they pay for it? Bounce some numbers off of them. If you get a YES, then it’s great! If you get a NO, then also great! Ask what would need to change for the product to be more useful? (and it may not be the price!)

ONLY NOW YOU ARE READY TO BUILD A WEBSITE

– you have a much better idea of the name of the site – in some cases, it makes sense to use your own name, in some cases the name of the solution, in some cases the name of the problem.

– you have a massive content library

– you know what your audience wants, so you know how the home page should look like

– you know if you will sell a physical product, or if you will teach or if you will do coaching

If you will sell a physical product, check out Etsy or Shopify. (there is a difference between the two, but that’s a story for later)

If you sell teaching or coaching, have a look at Teachable.

If you don’t plan on selling anything, but you want to level up your blogging game: get a WordPress website (you can even start with free hosting at WordPress.com). This will build your brand and authority in your field, but you still need to have some offers to sustain the project.

BECOMING KNOWN

Continue the conversation with your audience.

You are much better at this now. Collaborations happen more often. You may be invited to podcasts, or live YouTube shows, or even get speaking engagements, if that’s your thing. Always be prepared to say in one line what do you do and who do you help.

YOU NOW HAVE A BUSINESS

At this point, you have some history with your audience:

– you know what works and how well

– you know how many people become customers

– you have a rough idea of a monthly income

You now have a business, and it is at this point when I would suggest you hire a business coach or participate in some business workshops to help you move forward efficiently.

GET READY FOR LEVEL 2!

Quick SEO Setup for your WordPress website

SEO is a large and complicated subject. And it can feel challenging and overwhelming to get everything right.

However, it is essential to get it right because it affects the “first” impression that your potential customers have when they are about to click a link on Google or Facebook that sends them to you. Not to mention the amount of organic traffic that you will get.

The easiest way I know to add this to your WordPress site in a technically correct way, but a breeze to configure, is to use the YOAST SEO plugin.

I am not associated with them in any way, but I do recommend them as I used them on all my WordPress websites.

After the initial plugin install, it will guide you through a configuration wizard. You will answer simple questions, and in the end, everything is configured for you.

Every time you write a new post, or create a new page, take some time to inspect the Yoast block as it will have recommendations about how to improve your SEO for that particular content.

What I like most is the super-easy way to control the image and description that social media platforms will use with links to my websites. It takes the guesswork out of it, and you can even add different images for different platforms if that is important to you.

Subscribing to their free newsletter is another good way to get free SEO training and reminders to keep your website in shape.

Developers like us do things like this…

Developers like us use version control because we understand the value of being able to roll back.

Developers like us do backups because we understand our customer’s need for safety and insurance.

Developers like us have a process because that is key for delivering quality results consistently.

Developers like us ask questions because we understand the pitfalls that come with assumptions.

Developers like us understand business because the perfect solution, delivered too late, is no solution.

Developers like us are good communicators because we don’t expect the client to navigate technical jargon.

Developers like us are honest, simply because honesty is good for business.

Developers like us own our mistakes because it is the way to build trust and get hired again.

Developers like us don’t hide bad news because it shows care for the client to let them know you will not meet the deadline. It gives them time to plan accordingly.

Developers like us value privacy because the client needs to know their private data is safe in your hands.

Developers like us are generous because helping others along the way makes things better.

Developers like us are flexible because it is not always possible for the client to adapt to our workflow.

Developers like us are more expensive because we always deliver more than we got paid for.

Developers like us minimize risk because they understand the client has their reputation to consider when she places it in our hands when we deliver a solution.

Developers like us work fast because we don’t reinvent the wheel and use the best practices available in the field.

Developers like us never stop learning because we know first hand how fast the software world changes.

Developers like us future proof their code because it is never safe to assume how it will be used later on.

Developers like us prioritize customer needs because the final product is for them, not for us.

 

Note: this is a manifesto based on Seth Godin’s idea of “Tribes”: people like us do things like this.

Automated “downtime” alerts

Do you know that frustrating moment when you realize that your website has been offline for three days? Or that your shopping cart stopped working last week? 

That moment is also valuable because you now know that something is broken, so now you can fix it. But at the same time, you wish you learned of this faster!

On a community website, this may not be an issue, as your users will let you know when the site is broken, but that is not the case for a blog, or an online store, or a landing page that is collecting leads. 

You could set a daily reminder to check things are OK, but that will chip away at your precious time, and it quickly becomes boring, so you will begin to forget to do it or begin to think that you don’t have to monitor the website anymore. 

I am all about automation, so let’s automate this! 

Google Analytics

The easiest way that is also free is to use Custom Alerts from Google Analytics. The logic is simple. You have an expected value of daily traffic (based on historical data), so you create a custom alert to let you know if it drops below that. Of course, you need to have Google Analytics installed on your pages for this to work. 

Pingdom

Another way is to use a tool like Pingdom. I have used them for a long time in the past. They no longer have a free tier, but the value you get from the service I think is well worth the $10/month they ask for it. I like Pingdom because they provide more than just “your web site is down” notifications. They provide performance analytics too, which, as we know, is a factor in how your website ranks in Google searches. 

But the real power of Pingdom is transaction monitoring. Transaction monitoring helps you know if a process is working, not just a page: a process like the signup form, or progressing through making a purchase. These are incredibly difficult things to set up tests by yourself, and you get that for $10/mo.

In House Tools

You can also write mini scripts that load your webpages and inspect the results for clues to determine if the page functions as you intend to. Since I am a software developer, that is what I use today for most of my projects. 

The downside is that you have to write these scripts, test them, and maintain them. Depending on your team composition, that may cost you more than using something like Pingdom. 

The upside is that since it is your code, you can do all sorts of interesting things with it, not just email notifications. You can use that to trigger different processes and even attempt an “auto-fix” by restarting relevant processes or clearing out the caches. 

A more powerful subset of this is writing automated tests for your web apps using a tool like “TestCafe” to simulate a user interacting with your web application going through a purchase or signup process. 

You can create custom monitoring and analytics tools to aggregate data from multiple signal sources that can provide insights not readily available in Google Analytics. For example, you can monitor how a campaign is affecting not only your website but also social media engagement across all the networks you care to track. 

What does the client want?

Some time ago…

Some time ago, the conversation with a potential client would be something along the lines of:

“How can I help you?”

“I want a website to sell my products.”

“OK, great, this is a price and you’ll have in a month.”

A month later…

I’d show her the site, and the reaction would be: “Well, this is not even close to what I had in mind…”

I had to change the game and ask more questions 🙂

“What colors do you like?”

“Red and blue.”

“Great, and font wise?”

“I want something elegant, precise!” 

“For images?”

“Oh, something joyful and warm…”

“Excellent! This is the price; you will have the site in a month”.

A month later…

I’d show her the site, and the feedback is: “This red is not red enough, and now I realize the red and blue are a bad combination! Can we try yellow instead of blue? And the font is too girly for what I have a mind. We are going to need new images as well. The top one is ugly, and the rest don’t match the brant at all.”

Oh, the frustration.

At some point, I’ve spent two weeks back and forth, trying to nail down the shade of blue. That was a waste of my time and the client’s time!

I had come to believe that the clients don’t know how to communicate (I had a much shorter description for this). I had resolved that I would never even discuss with someone who could not write a technical specification that we can agree on, and that I could deliver. 

This decision blocked many customers, but more importantly, blocked important learning. 

The Breakthrough 

I was watching a video from Chris Do. He’s a designer who also teaches business, and I admire his style. To me, it feels like he is talking to me specifically. The kind of decisions you need to make in design apply in software and for anyone who uses creativity to solve a problem. But I digress. 

Back to the video. 

He was taking questions from the audience, and someone asked: “How do you deal with clients who don’t know how to communicate what they want?” Ah! The golden questions! I had the same struggle. I perked up, waiting for the knowledge to be bestowed on me. 

Chris looked into the camera, and you could tell that the question was really testing his patience. Hm… And he said: “How many times do I have to tell you that the good-communication is on you! It is your responsibility to help your client articulate her problem and then discover if you can help her.”

All the pieces began to fall into place in my mind. I suddenly understood that in blaming the client, I was not only asking the wrong questions, but I was not developing a critical communication skill. 

In the present time…

When a client wants to work with me, they better be ready for a ton of questions :). As someone jokingly said, they need to feel like they’ve been to the shrink after the first discovery session. 

Here is how the conversation might look like:

“I want a site that can help me sell my products.”

“Sure, that is something that I specialize in, but out of curiosity, what problem are you trying to solve?”

“Well, I need to increase my revenue, obviously”

“OK, that makes sense. How do you know that having a website is the best way to solve this problem?”

“I don’t know… everybody does it… what other options are there?”

“I am glad you ask. Before I can answer that, I’d need to know more about your business. It’s OK if I ask you a few questions?”

“OK…”

“At the moment, how do you generate your revenue…”

And this would go on for a while. 

In the end, what I need to know is:

– what is the biggest problem that this customer is facing 

– how can I help them discover this problem if they don’t know it

– how can I help them articulate their underlying needs 

– in the end, are we a good fit? Can I help her with what she really needs? Can she afford me? Do we like each other well enough to work together for a few weeks or months? 

And by the end, the client would also need to know

– how do I work

– can she trust me

– what is my price range

– what kind of a solution can she expect

– is hiring me the right choice for her

In Conclusion

Make sure you correctly diagnose the problem before you prescribe a solution. If the solution you’re thinking of is not the right one, you need to find out as soon as possible, not at the end of the process.

If you found value in this article, let me know in the comments below or on Facebook. This feedback will help me understand what to focus on in the following posts. 

Go create the New Paradigm today!

Automation with Zapier

What do you value most? I hope that your answer is: “TIME.” 

Time is our most valuable resource because it is non-renewable. Wasted time is lost forever. And it could be argued that the reason we work so hard is to have enough resources. Resources that will allow us to spend more time doing the activities that we enjoy: activities like following your dreams, working on your business, spending more time with friends and family. 

I don’t know of any better time-saver in the online environment than automation.

Automation means to identify and formalize processes for the flows that make your business work and then use various tools to set them on “automatic.” This way, they can work even when you are not paying attention. It is like having an employee that is almost free and never sleeps or rests. 

In today’s world, the leading tool for automation online is Zapier

The idea behind Zapier is quite simple and yet profound because of the market they are speaking to. 

What happens is that in the online world of business, you have your website, your store, your payment gateway, customer engagement, webinar, emails, and so on. All these components need to talk to each other. What used to happen before, is that you, as the business owner would have to create and manually maintain this communication, usually based on email notifications you would get from various systems. 

The alternative was to hire someone to do it for you or hire a developer to write a custom program that would automate these processes. Both options could get pretty expensive.

There has been a shift in the past few years. Each of these services exposes an API. This API allows them to talk to each other in a clear and standardized way. With this option available, you would need somebody to integrate these APIs. To connect them in ways that make sense for your business. 

Here in comes Zapier! The beauty of it is that they have put together a platform that allows non-developers to visually express their processes and to connect all these components in a way that makes sense. This flow is testable (which is very important, you want to make sure that your automation works as intended), and you have analytics and an overview of what is happening.

There is a free tier for Zapier, but I want to get into the paid one because I think that is where the power is. You may shy away from paying them the monthly fee. So let’s explore that a bit. 

The way to think about choosing a paid plan is to make a business decision. Would paying Zapier a monthly free enough time and generate enough sales to cover for the costs and then some?

If you get their $20/mo plan, you need to only generate an extra $20/mo in sales for this option to make sense to you. But not only that. Also, consider the free time you now have to do something else, and how much you value that. Consider the money you would spend on a developer to set this up for you and then have it maintained. (By the way, I am not an affiliate for Zapier, I am just using them as an example to talk about automation)

In conclusion, we live in exciting times, where with a bit of patience and thinking through your processes, you can build your website and connect the required components with no need for a developer if you use a tool like Zapier. And this excites me because it enables even more people to express their creativity cost-effectively!

If you are reading this and you are a developer, then seriously consider exposing and API for your services and products and have them seamlessly integrate with Zapier. 

The Power of Using APIs

Many years ago, I had set up my very first website. It was a Sudoku generator based on a selected difficulty level.

To promote the website, I wanted to have a newsletter so I could email my subscribers a daily puzzle to print out.

At the time, I was using AWeber as my newsletter service.

I was very annoyed with the fact that to capture the email of my visitors I would have to send them to a new AWeber page where they would fill out a form, and then instruct them to go to their email to click the confirmation link, and that would get then to a confirmation page on AWeber, and then finally back to my website.

Those were way too many clicks to get yourself a printable sudoku puzzle!

What I wanted, was a way to plug into the AWeber service, and communicate with them, on my visitors’ behalf, while the visitors were staying on my website. What I wanted was an API, which is short for Application Programming Interface.

They did not offer that at the time, so I decided to simulate one by using a “fake browser” to make it “as if” the user has opened their page instead of my mine.

I was very proud of my solution, and it worked very well for about ten days until my account was banned for violation of terms of service.

Today they do offer an API, so I don’t have to resort to “shady tactics” to keep the users on my page.

I use this little story to make it evident why APIs are so powerful. I am all about automation and integration and the APIs make all this possible in a way that is reliable and makes sense and does not violate any agreements 🙂

I don’t think it makes sense to create an online service in today’s world and not to develop an API for it. Interconnectivity and interoperability increase the rate of adoption of your service. And you open it up to be used in ways that you may not even have imagined before and if you connect it, for example, to a platform like Zappier.

In conclusion, I feel that all software development is moving towards building APIs that will talk to each other. Even the front-end of websites will be a templating API making requests to a back end API.

This change will bring about dramatic shifts it what software developers do and will open the doors for non-developers to be even more expressive and sophisticated in their creations. Add AI to this mix, and we can only guess at the limits 🙂