Mobile-first Design

In 2018, 58% of site visits were from mobile devices. It’s projected that this number will continue to increase year-over-year. So, what does this mean for marketers developing new web sites? It means they should be focusing their design efforts on an ever increasing mobile audience. 

Mobile-first design is simply referring to the priority in the design process. Rather than focusing efforts on the desktop experience, designers are beginning to design the mobile version of the site first. The result of this shift does not only affect the technical layout of the site, but also introduces minimalist design thinking into the process. The outcome tends to provide better user experiences as the designer was forced into solving technical design challenges rather than focusing on just aesthetics.

It’s important to note that not all website categories embrace mobile-first design thinking. It’s critical that your audience behavior is considered when taking on any design project. For example, desktop e-commerce conversion rates still outpace mobile by more than 2:1

Staging Environments

Staging environments (aka: sandboxes) are designed to give marketers and developers a place to test out new website content and features in a safe, private environment. They are typically a copy of your live or “production” site and content can usually be pushed to the live environment after it’s been vetted.

Beyond content, it’s critical that new functionality is tested on staging before it is pushed up to live. This is especially true if you are running a CMS like WordPress or Drupal where updates and plugins can disrupt and even take down a live site.

Most managed hosting providers like Flywheel or Pantheon include staging environments for this very reason. It’s a key step in maintaining quality content and ensuring your uptime isn’t disrupted.

Information Architecture

Information Architecture is way more than simply your page and content hierarchy. Your website should tell a story and answer three primary questions before you can begin developing a content outline: what is this website about, who is it for, and why does it matter to them? Once those three questions have been answered, you can then begin building the content structure of the website. We call this the Information Architecture and it is very much linked to your brand strategy. 

With those three questions answered, you can then begin to outline your messaging priorities. If you have a product site, then you might address the “what” question first to promote the product you are selling. 

If you are a well known luxury brand, you might not have to focus so much on the product, and would rather focus on the “who” and elaborate on the lifestyle to illustrate a certain aspiration or connection with the audience.

No matter how big or small your website is, spending time on your content and strategy before you jump into any creative work is always time well spent—and critical to establishing a well organized site architecture.

Plugins

Most marketers who have experience with WordPress are familiar with terms Plugins (or Modules for Drupal). These are the functional building blocks for websites that allow developers to quickly and easily add website functionality without writing a single line of code. Of course, this saves a ton of time and money on the backend and is why plugins are so widely used.

While there are a myriad of free plugins, there are also many “Premium” plugins. These are plugins that usually have license or a subscription fee. Premium plugins tend to be updated more often since the developer is being compensated for their work.

When working with a website developer, make sure you understand if there are any plugins that require an on-going license fee. This is important for two reasons: 1.) As the end user, you want to make sure the plugin license is in your name and not the developer 2.) In order to ensure your plugins are always up-to-date, you’ll have to keep you license current. Many developers drop support and updates if the license is expired. 

Themes vs Frameworks

There is a lot of confusion when it comes to themes and frameworks. Below is a quick cheat sheet to help you decide which is best for you project.

Themes are essentially pre-designed templates that are created for a specific industry or business. Some themes offer a lot of design flexibility while others are very rigid with very little customization. There are thousands of themes available for WordPress both free and paid and are typically designed for the DIY’er or designer who has very little budget to work with.

Frameworks can be thought of as a blank canvas. They typically have no preconceived design direction and can be designed to fit the needs of the project. Technically, they offer excellent flexibility in terms of customization. Quality frameworks like Divi and Genesis are mobile-responsive out of the box but tend to require a more experienced developer to fully customize. 

Unlike predesigned themes, many frameworks allow you to make a custom or child theme from their core components without modifying the original code.