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Design & Coding

Putting My Blog on a Diet



PingdomEarlier this week, I decided that I needed to put my main site on a diet.

Simply put, the loading time of the site was nowhere near my personal standard and, though no one had complained about the time it took to load, I wasn’t pleased with the numbers I was seeing and even Google Webmaster Tools was providing less-than-subtle hints I needed to improve.

So I set my mind to do just that. I took an afternoon to research the problem and try to devise a solution. Fortunately, I didn’t need the entire time or even a quarter of it.

In fact, after about 30 minutes of research and just nine minutes of actual work, I was able to to shave an estimated four seconds off my site’s loading time. How did I do it? The answer is below.

Diagnosis: Slowdown

I used two different tools to attempt and diagnose the problem. The first was YSlow, an extension for Firebug, which is in turn an extension for Firefox.

Yslow allows you to test the loading time within a page and gives your site a grade from A to F as to how well it performs. Initially, YSlow gave my site an E, the next-to-worst grade, but many of the alleged problems, such as the lack of CDN and Gzip compression, appeared to be errors on YSlow’s part. With other issues, there wasn’t much I could do about as the errors came from external sources, such as statistic programs.

So I decided to change tactics and use Pingdom’s Site Speed Test. This test works by having their server pull down a copy of your Web page and then tell you how long it took to load the various elements. Elements that take a long time need to either be optimized or removed.

Initially, my site loaded in 5.6 seconds, a decent time by itself, but I knew that end users were likely experiencing longer delays.

The good news was that the test provided two very powerful insights. First, I realized that Disqus, which I was using as a comment manager, was adding significant loading time as it loaded all of the variables. Second, two plugins I was using were forcing the download of very large images and/or JavaScript files that weren’t necessary on most pages.

With this information in hand, I went into action.

Taking Action

Using WordPress, I simply went in and disabled the three plugins involved. The process only took a few seconds.

Most of my time was spent purging my site’s cache and making sure that I had a clean copy of my front page stored before going back and redoing the test.

When I did, I was very surprised by the results.

9 Minutes Later

After double checking that everything was ready, I re-ran the test and the results were stunningly different.

Free from the burden of loading many different Disqus elements as well as heavy JavaScripts/images, the load time of my site went from 5.6 seconds to 1.5 seconds, an over four second and an over 55% decrease in load time. Rerunning the test gave similar results, almost always below two seconds (outside of a few outliers).

In YSlow, my grade improved to a “D” though the errors and other issues remained. I immediately sent out messages to many of my friends to test the site and all reported a marked improvement in loading time. Though there were still issues to iron out, and still are, the site was clearly performing much better.

Though I am still not satisfied with the site’s performance, I am happier with it now than I was before I made the changes. Clearly, they were a major step in the right direction.

Some Basic Advice

If you’re a blogger in a similar position, in addition to running the two tests above, here are five easy things you can do to ramp up your site’s performance drastically without changing the look of your site.

  1. Disable Unneeded Extensions: Weigh every extension you are using to see if you really need it. Though different extensions will affect your site in different ways, many will add new elements into your page that can drag it down.
  2. Use Good Caching: WP Super Cache is a great caching plugin for WordPress as is the more advanced W3 Total Cache. Caching plugins are probably the only plugins that actively make sites faster in the long run.
  3. Maintain Your Databases: Routinely repair and optimize your databases (as well as back them up obviously). Doing so will help keep your databases speedy and ensure your server has to do as little work as possible to load your site.
  4. Optimize Images: Make sure the images that you use are sized correctly before being uploaded, are in the correct format and have been optimized for use on the Web. Using large or high-resolution images unnecessarily can be a tremendous drag on your server.
  5. JavaScript at Bottom/CSS at Top: Finally, put non-urgent JavaScripts at the bottom of your template, in the footer, and ensure that all of your CSS files are in the top. Though this may not improve your scores significantly on Pingdom’s test, it can drastically improve the user’s experience.

But while these are some good tips, you should definitely give YSlow a test and see if it can offer you additional suggestions or if any issues stick out in Pingdom’s test results. You might be surprised what happens if you address those issues.

Bottom Line

To be certain, speed is not everything but without a reasonably fast site you do have nothing. The reason is that, if your site takes to long to load, readers won’t even bring up the first page and, if they do, they won’t stick around long or come back.

The good news is that, with a few simple changes, you can probably drastically improve your site’s speed, though you may have to sacrifice some of the more beautiful elements.

The other good news is that, as I was working on this article, Disqus reached out to me on Twitter and said they are working on a fix for their loading issues. So, I may be able to comfortably go back to it again soon.

In the meantime, I’m going to keep an eye on my site’s loading time and keep tweaking it until I’m finally happy with it.

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Design & Coding

4 Uncommon Design Tricks That Improve User Experience 100%




Everyone’s concerned about improving conversion rates. The general consensus is that user experience is the place to start.

There are several ways to improve user experience on your blog. Most strategies center on tweaking the design of your website, but sometimes it’s how you organize your navigation. You’ve probably made basic changes like switching to WordPress or alphabetizing your drop-down menu’s items.

Here are some strategies you may not have tried:

1 – Color-code your menus with matching page color schemes

If you’re like most bloggers, you probably created a workable color scheme for your site and called it a day. If you want to improve user experience, that’s not enough. Consider coordinating the colors between your main menu links and each of your pages.

In an article describing why color-coded, hand-written notes improve efficiency of thought, blogger Kevin Purdy reveals that “color improves recall time for graphs and charts, and can be a very effective performance factor if not overdone.” The article also summarizes the work of Michael Tipper, a speaker and consultant on mind mapping and organizational software. Tipper says that color-coding the branches of a mind map stimulates the creative side of your brain, and visually separates distinct themes (which improves recall).

This same idea can be applied to your website for optimal results. Improve user experience by color-coding your main menu with a matching color scheme for each page you link. For instance, Pioneer Seeds implements color coordination extremely well. From one side to the other, all mega menu drop-downs have a unique background color that matches the color scheme of the pages listed within that particular section. There are no complicated color schemes. Each page presents one solid color.

The continuity of matching colors feels good, it’s easy on the eyes, and it helps people keep track of what section they’re viewing.

2 – Hire a design agency to create a custom design from scratch

The era of templates is here to stay, but not without consequence. Templates are easy and cheap (sometimes free), but they lack the flexibility you need to create an impactful and smooth user experience.

For example, most templates feature a gigantic header that encourages you to create an enormous header you don’t need. The most popular templates today force users to scroll endlessly through horizontal sections containing nothing but large icons with a few words underneath. You can change a template, but not without effort and the frustration of having to settle for “good enough.” This is especially useful for anyone trying to making their mobile site look similar to their desktop experience. This is best accomplished when having a fully responsive theme in place for all platforms.

A design agency can give you exactly what you want from the beginning. When your website design is created from scratch, you don’t have to spend hours tweaking a template only to find out your final tweak – the one that matters most – isn’t going to work.

Men With Pens is a well-known design agency that has created custom WordPress themes for years. They specialize in design, and know exactly how to create a better user experience. Their website embodies their expertise in user experience.

Check out their tips for bloggers and see if you notice anything unique about the page design. The design fills the entire page, and the graphics extend outside the lines and boxes. When you land on the page, you’re engaged right away. Capturing a visitor’s attention is your first priority to improve user experience. If you don’t have a user’s attention, they won’t have an experience at all.

3 – Simplicity

Simplicity never goes out of style. Simplicity in design embraces the approach that “less is more.” It’s a cliché, but it’s true.

Nobody knows simplicity better than Steve Pavlina. He’s been publishing articles on his personal blog for over a decade, and until recently, his site was as plain as plain can be. He recently switched to WordPress, but managed to maintain the simplicity responsible for his success.

Simple designs are easier to read, navigate, and interact with. Less menu items, less distractions on the home page, and minimal or no sidebars is what simplicity is all about. A simple design draws attention to what’s important.

4 – Create a unique design for mobile

Don’t just optimize your website for mobile users. Create a custom design for mobile users based on your original design. When you optimize your existing design for mobile, you often sacrifice important aspects of your desktop design. Using code, you can program your site to display a different design based on a user’s device.

Statistics show that 83% of people say a seamless experience across all devices is important. By creating a custom mobile theme based on your existing theme, you give mobile users that seamless experience. It’s the best of both worlds. Just be sure to include all of your navigation links. Some people suggest limiting selections for mobile users, but that will crush the seamless experience.

How to Best Prepare Your Site for Design Success!

User experience can be improved not just by tweaking your design, but by applying principles of color, navigation, and organization. Instead of chasing the latest revelation in conversion gimmicks, invest your time and money in fact-based strategies that improve user experience. Shift your focus away from the minutia of testing every tiny design element, and toward creating a psychologically-sound foundation for your users.

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Design & Coding

Fotor Photo Editor – The Perfect Graphic Design Tool for Bloggers



As bloggers and content creators, it’s important to always have visual content built within our best articles and site designs. Infographics, clip art, stock photos and more… but customized and original images will always grab the most attention.

When it comes to actually creating such visuals, you will have many different options to choose from. Whether you are looking for a free application, one that is browser-based, or even if it’s a premium software you need to download and pay for — it’s important to know what’s out there.

Today we are going to be looking at Fotor photo editor which is a free and powerful tool that lets anyone get started with their own graphic design in just a few short minutes.

This tool allows anyone to start using it through a web browser or even with their mobile application. Whether you need to edit a photo, make a collage, or create a custom and original design, it can all be done through the power of Fotor.

The most popular features of this tool are it’s one click filters and fixes that allowed anyone to make their images pop and stand out like never before.

Let’s take a look at some of the many benefits to using Fotor photo editor for your website, blog, or just everyday life.

With most people looking to customize their mobile screenshots on photos with a few simple click of a button, and this is exactly what fotor photo editor will allow you to do. It will also allow you to create custom YouTube banners that can be used to liven up your channel as well.

You can see a few of these examples in the screenshot below.

When comparing Fotor to other graphic design applications like Photoshop, you are going to find many similarities, but it’s also important to note that premium applications like Photoshop are much more advanced, but also more costly in the process. The software is free to use, you can upgrade to Fotor Pro and find even more upgrade and options available.

What makes this design application and tool great for site owners and bloggers, is that it has a unique set of design tools and features — which are what most content creators are looking. In short, it provides users with what they need, while not overwhelming them in the process.

Fotor also offers a nice selection of design templates to choose from, which makes the process of creating new and original content even easier. These template designs scale across the many different design themes, sizes, and concepts on the site.

In addition to everything else mentioned, there is also a nice collection of resources, guides, and tutorials that can be found on their site blog. Such resources will provide users what the information and walk-through processes to get the most out of Fotor.

If you are currently looking for a new design editor to improve the look and feel of visual content on your site, be sure to give Fotor a try.

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Design & Coding

4 Essential Elements of Web Design (No.3 Will Shock You!)




If you’re a small business owner take note of these four elements of web design. They’re essential for boosting your online presence. Click here for more info!

Have you ever wondered why most business websites tend to look the same? It’s like you’ve seen one and you’ve seen them all.

The truth is a lot of business owners prefer the easy route. That means going for a website builder, which offers templated designs.

If you want something different, you’ll have to go custom. But that takes a lot of time. Plus, you’ll have to look for a skilled designer/developer.

Whatever route you choose, you need to understand the elements of web design. After all, it’s your website. If you choose to hire a pro, you need to know what to ask for.

And if you opt to DIY it, then you can steer clear of cringe-worthy web design. That said, here are 4 web design elements that will help boost your online presence.

1. User Journey

You can scroll through countless website design guides and you’ll never see one that says, “ignore what users think.”

Consider mobile apps. Would you download something that’s hard to use and has a lot of annoying ads?

When you design your website, put yourself in your visitors’ shoes. Is your website hard to navigate? Does it load fast?

But how do you know if your user interface is good? Aside from consistency, it has to be simple, intuitive, responsive, and flexible.

This is why it’s good to test different designs first before committing to one. It saves time and eliminates the need for major changes later on.

2. Content

Designing for the web doesn’t stop when you have a “pretty” website. Sure, your target customers will appreciate nifty graphics and all. But if your content doesn’t offer value, users will leave your website.

Now, this doesn’t mean huge blocks of text that will drown your visitors with information. Opt for conciseness. Give your target audience content that’s easy to digest so they can process it better.

Depending on what CMS you are using, content creation is usually the easy part. This is especially the case when using platforms like Weebly, WordPress or Wix. Since most of these platforms are drag and drop, it’s simply a matter of getting familiar with each platform, and knowing how to create great content. There are no programming or design skills required.

3. Accessibility

Did you just check the title again? If yes, you may be wondering why this would be shocking. Shouldn’t this be part of any website designing guide?

The thing is there are plenty of websites that use low contrast for text because it’s trendy. But you have to take into account users who have vision problems.

There has to be enough contrast between text and background. And you also need to choose your colors well. You don’t want to alienate color-blind and blind users who use assistive technologies.

4. SEO

Some people approach website design as a separate entity from search engine optimization. But there’s a way to be strategic about the process so that design elements improve the SEO of your site.

The easiest way would be to outsource to an all-in-one design company such as When they build your site, they also take care of the backend coding stuff. This ensures your title tags, meta tags, etc work for better search ranking.

Want to Know More About the Elements of Web Design?

Knowing the elements of web design is your first step to a website that looks and functions well. But getting them all right takes a bit of trial and error.

For more web design tips, don’t forget to check out our other blog posts.

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