Is WordPress best for small business web design?

What, exactly, is a “Small Business?”

In case you didn’t know, the term “small business” is not an indication that a business is so small it can barely be seen under a magnifying glass (although this may certainly be the case). What it indicates, according to Vangie Beal of Webopedia, is that it is “a privately owned and operated business that typically has a small number of employees.”

This leads us to the fact that “small” is a relative term, and can mean having as few as one employee or  (according to the SBA), as many as 1,500 employees. The SBA also says that a small business must “be organized for profit, have a place of business in the US, operate primarily within the U.S., is independently owned and operated and is not dominant in its field on a national basis.”

Wherever your particular business falls within these criteria, the most important thing to know is whether you actually have a small business and whether WordPress is the best choice when you decide to create a website for it.

What is WordPress and why is it so popular?

Chances are you’ve heard the word “Wordpress” before and you know that it is the name of an amazing software that many, many people use to design websites of every kind. But in case you’re just not sure what WordPress is, here’s the scoop:

iThemes defines WordPress as “a free online, open source website creation tool written in PHP that has become the easiest and most powerful blogging and website content management system (CMS) around today.” That’s right—it’s free. And it is so flexible that you or your designated WordPress design professional can create almost any type of website for your small business that you can think of. Once your small business website is up and running, you’ll find that WordPress software is so flexible that it is easy to customize the site to your own taste.

One of its best features is ease of content management. If you’ve ever tried to write posts, revise written information, change a layout or upload images via FTP, you know what a nightmare it can be. In this case, you’ll definitely appreciate WordPress’ admin panel, with its step-by-step customization tools, wide selection of plugins, easily accessible menu and widget options, and the way it plays nicely with membership-, event-, and even geo-location plugins.

Here are a few more statistics you need to know about WordPress: As of December, 2016, there were approximately 76.5 million WordPress blogs in existence. An additional 50,000 WordPress sites are launched every day, and 409 million people (give or take) view over 19 billion WordPress pages each month. Large and successful companies like the New York Observer, the New York Post, TED (TED Talks),  USA Today, CNN, and more all use WordPress.

Every month there are at least 37 million global Google searches for “WordPress.” According to John Rampton of Hostt,  as a CMS (content management system), WordPress is nearly 12 times more popular than Drupal; and in the US in 2014, WordPress was preferred by 50% of all users, with Drupal at 17% and Joomla at 6.44%. In fact, ManageWP.com says that WordPress.com gets more unique visitors (126 million per month) than almighty Amazon.com (96 million per month).

If you think that’s a mouthful…there’s more: CodeInWP.com’s Ultimate List of

WordPress Statistics says that “major versions of WordPress are released every 152 days—which is great news because it means WordPress is always improving. WordPress.org features tens of thousands of plugins in its directory, and that number is growing all the time. There are multiple WordPress camps (called WordCamps) held in at least 29 countries (as of 2014), and hundreds of WordPress meetup groups that cover everything you always wanted to know about WordPress.”

This myriad of facts and statistics may be overwhelming for you. If they are, never fear. All you really need to know about WordPress is that it’s easy to learn (which means a smaller learning curve for you),  it’s free (meaning you get to reserve your spending money for other business items),  and it’s always improving (meaning you won’t have to worry over-much about it going out of style).

What can WordPress do for your website?

Matt Mansfield of Smallbiztrends.com say that “WordPress really is the best site builder for small businesses” like yours. First and foremost, it’s a great blogging tool, because that is what it was originally built for. No matter what type of business you have in mind, you’ll need a blog page for the site so that you can keep your visitors up-to-snuff about the latest news or goings-on in your business. In addition, you can make it easy to find out what your customers are thinking by allowing visitors to vent, leave comments on your posts, or even make suggestions.

Mr. Mansfield also says that WordPress gives small businesses room to grow by offering fast and easy setup and launching, and the option to use a Hosted Website Plan so that a professional team takes care of the technical side of the website while you take care of the content side. Of course, if you don’t like tight restrictions on the look and feel of your website, you can forego the technical side and “do-it-yourself” instead. This means that you can decide on color, layout, content, options and many other features you want to offer to your customers.

WordPress has many other features that will benefit your small business. But one of the best benefits is WordPress’ massive amount of users, developers, and software fans. Many times, a novice or fledgling WordPress user can surf over to a free forum and get his or her question answered in no time.

Other obvious ways in which WordPress can help your small business website is that the easy admin panel and content management features will save you lots of money because you won’t have to send every single change to your webmaster. Its B2C (business-to-customer) format allows fast communication (via email) or even instant communication (via live chat). It’s also social network friendly, SEO friendly, has a fast learning curve and unlimited growth potential. In addition, the layout, flexibility and features inspire repeat customers…and what could be better than that?

Should you choose to use WordPress, all the above advantages and more would be at your fingertips. Remember, as mentioned, there are over 37 million global Google searches for “WordPress” every month, and WordPress is said to be more popular than other CMS software like Drupal and Joomla. It’s practically a no-way-to-lose scenario.

What types of websites can you build with WordPress?

You can build a myriad of small business websites with WordPress. Here are a few of the more popular types of business themes:

1. Affiliate. If you’re thinking of starting a small multi-vendor business, an “affiliate” site where various vendors can become members and sell their goods on your site may be just the answer. One excellent affiliate theme example is REHub – Price Comparison, Affiliate Marketing, Multi Vendor Store, Community theme..

  1. A blog is a type of journal page that is written in an informal or conversational style and which you update regularly. Since this article pertains to small business websites, it is assumed that you will be interested in creating more than just a blog; however, most business WordPress themes already include a blog feature, so we’ll forego any examples here.
  2. Business/Corporate. This includes everything from photography to medical to university or college. Whatever type of business you have in mind, there’s a theme out there for it, or if there’s not, such a theme can usually be built by a WordPress design expert. Some great examples of business WordPress themes are Enfold Responsive Multi-Purpose WordPress theme, and UDesign Responsive WordPress theme.
  3. A directory theme is also a “business” theme, but because it is rather unique, we’ve listed it separately. You can create any kind of “niche” directory you want, including business niches, job boards, restaurants, or city listings. Two great directory theme examples are Directory WordPress theme and Business Finder Directory Listing WordPress theme.
  4. Digital download. Sites like iTunes, Amazon MP3, and Spotify are excellent examples of the types of digital download sites you might create with WordPress. One great WordPress example is Marketify Digital Marketplace.
  5. If you want a site that allows you to accept payments through your website, use a shopping cart, and categorize and manage your inventory, WordPress can manage it! Two great examples of ecommerce themes are Flatsome Multipurpose Responsive Woocommerce theme and The Retailer Responsive WordPress theme.
  6. There are some excellent WordPress themes out there that will allow you to start your own online learning school “in-an-instant.” These sites feature online enrollment, paid memberships, online quizzes, printable certificates of completion, etc., and include universities, colleges, MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses), and so on. There are many WordPress themes that can accommodate this type of small business website. Two excellent WordPress education theme examples are WPLMS Learning Management System and Academy Learning Management theme.
  7. Knowledge (Wiki Websites). Nowadays, WordPress theme developers use accompanying Knowledge Base sites that act as “Question and Answer” sites for the most frequently asked questions about the themes they create. Two excellent Wiki themes are Woffice Intranet/Extranet WordPress theme and KnowPress Knowledge Base/Wiki for WordPress.
  8. Magazine/News. If your business is a print magazine that offers news and celebrity, political or other activity, and if you want to add an online presence to expand your exposure, WordPress can handle all your online publishing needs. Two great examples are Newspaper and Sahifa Responsive WordPress News.

As we have mentioned about other lists in this article, this is not an exhaustive list. Many more kinds of sites, small and large, can be created with WordPress. All you have to do is imagine the type of site you want, and then search for examples via Internet—or hire a WordPress design expert to make your dreams come true.

What features should be included in your WordPress Small Business website?

Whatever theme you choose to use—or whatever design you adopt via your WordPress design expert, you’ll need to include the appropriate content to make your site easy and fun for your users. We have covered the topic of what to include in some of our earlier articles, and are covering it again here as a courtesy. However, for the sake of brevity, we will only use a sentence to explain each concept. We encourage you to read the other articles in our series for more in-depth explanations of what to include in your WordPress website.

  • Puts users first. This means to put your own likes, quirks, wishes and desires aside and think like your user. Think of what might make the site easier to use, more pleasant on the eye, and more fun overall.
  • Understand the way a user should be interacting with the site. What exactly is it that you want your user to be able to do on your site? What do you want him or her to take away from it? That’s what you should focus on.
  • Use white space, color and other visual elements correctly. In other words, your site should be easy on the eye. It should not make your user’s head hurt.
  • An intuitive navigation bar. No user should have to fumble around to find what he or she is looking for on your site. Your navigation bar is your map. Make it a good one.
  • A clearly-visible contact box. Your users should never have to hunt for how to contact you. There should be a contact box on the site’s footer or at least in every sidebar so the user can contact you whenever the thought crosses his or her mind.
  • Visible call to action button. Every website owner wants to inspire their users to “do” something—even if it’s only to join the newsletter . Be sure to include an easy-to-locate call to action button.
  • Use the appropriate font. Don’t make your users squint by using a font that’s too small, and don’t make their eyes water by using a fancy font or a font with a bright red or bright yellow highlight color. Times New Roman 12 or Georgia 12 always display well.
  • Your business’ mission. Your user will probably be very interested to know why you started your business and where you want it to go.
  • Your bio. Most users are curious about the founders of various businesses. Don’t be shy; tell a little about yourself.
  • Try to think of all the questions your users might have and then create a “Frequently-Asked-Questions” page to answer them. This saves both on your part and on theirs; it also eases any frustrations they might experience if they had to wait for you to reply to their email before they get an answer.

This, of course, is not an exhaustive list, but it’s a great starter list to help you make your small business WordPress website better. You can add to or take away from the list as you see fit.

When is it time to call in a WordPress Web Design Professional?

Even though there are hundreds—perhaps thousands—of quality WordPress small business themes out there, and even though you may choose to purchase one of them, this doesn’t necessarily mean you should try to upload, lay out and launch the website yourself. Most of the themes out there can be configured to meet your needs, but “configuring” is rarely as quick and easy as it sounds. You may need to experiment with colors, font, page layout, and plugins that extend functionality like “Events,” “Memberships,” “Price Comparison,” and so on. Although configuration is possible, this doesn’t guarantee that you can make all the tweaks and changes you desire at lightning speed. Yet you need to get everything up and running as quickly as possible, because the fact is, you need to spend your time being CEO and primary decision-maker of your small business and not fumbling around with a WordPress theme. In this case, you’ll probably want to call in a professional.

On the other hand, let’s assume that you find a fantastic premium WordPress business theme that has practically every feature you could ever hope for. It just needs a few minor tweaks—which you can do yourself.  In this case you still may be better off calling in a professional WordPress developer. Why? Because as we mentioned above, WordPress is always constantly improving. As it does, themes and plugins need to be updated. Unfortunately, updating themes sometimes overwrites any tweaks or core file changes that may have been implemented (unless you’re using a Child Theme – but that’s another story). This means that in lots of cases, a simple “update” can throw your business website in chaos, and you may have to start over from scratch to get your site looking like it once did.

Perhaps the best solution to this and other “details” problems is to hire a professional WordPress developer to help you launch your site. You may not need them in the same capacity after the launch, but you can always keep them on retainer so that they can come to your rescue quickly if anything goes wrong.

Conclusion

If after reading this article you decide to use WordPress for your small business website…congratulations! You’ll love WordPress’ creativity and flexibility–and you’ll love seeing your very own website making its mark on the web even more.

 

 

 

What is a small business “Ecommerce” Website and Do I Need One?

These days, all you hear about is WordPress ecommerce websites. (Well, you may actually hear of other types of ecommerce sites, like Joomla or Magento, but for purposes of this article, we’re focusing on WordPress).

If you sell any type of goods or services (or even if you’re just thinking of selling goods or services), you’re more than likely going to be encouraged to get yourself a WordPress ecommerce site to do business on the web.

It wasn’t always this way. When ecommerce—the ability to buy or sell over the Internet—was first introduced, people seemed petrified. The thought of sharing crucial personal information like social security numbers, home addresses, and home phone numbers was simply unfathomable. And forget about using a credit card over the ‘net. It just wasn’t done.

But as always, Time heals all fears, hesitations and misgivings. Now people across the globe are engaging in ecommerce activities with nothing short of a vengeance. We buy, sell and trade any- and everything—from clothing to toys to shoes and music and books, and much, much more.

We have even tossed our early inhibitions to the wind and now share every juicy tidbit about every aspect our lives with complete strangers on social media, including what we had for breakfast and where we’re thinking of going for drinks this evening. But that, of course, is another story. For purposes of this article, we will focus on using the Internet to meet and satisfy the world’s rapidly-expanding ecommerce needs.

Which brings us to the crucial question: what exactly is “ecommerce” and how important is it to have a WordPress ecommerce website if you sell goods or services? We tackle these and other important questions below.

Definition of Ecommerce

Ecommerce is a blend of two words: “electronic” and “commerce.” According to NetworkSolutions.com, “electronic commerce or ecommerce is a term for any type of business or commercial transaction that involves the transfer of information across the Internet.” The information in question includes the buying, selling, and/or trading of goods and services, and the transmission of funds (money) and/or data necessary to complete the transaction.

Ecommerce is modern-day trade that is conducted in one or more of several ways: business-to-business, business-to-consumer, consumer-to-consumer, and consumer-to-business. TechTarget.com says that “e-commerce is conducted using a variety of applications, such as email, online catalogs and shopping carts, EDI (File Transfer Protocol) and web services.”  By the way, the term “ecommerce” has other nicknames, including  “e-business,” and “e-tail” (transactional processes).

Whatever term you may be familiar with, ecommerce boils down to one main activity: buying and selling things on the Internet.

Pros and Cons of Owning an Ecommerce Site

Every year, ecommerce becomes more wildly popular than the year before. The truth is, ecommerce brings in a staggering amount of money each year and seems to be out-performing the brick-and-mortar commerce that we all once knew and loved. But despite the amount of money it brings into the business community (see The Future of Ecommerce at the end of this article for some estimated dollar amounts), it’s still a good thing to examine the pros and cons of ecommerce to decide if it’s best for you and your small business WordPress website.

Here, in no particular order, are some of the pros and cons you should consider before you choose to establish and run a WordPress ecommerce website:

Pros:

With a WordPress ecommerce website, you can sell your goods and services “around the clock.” That’s right, because your business is on the web, it’s never really closed. This means that anyone anywhere can buy from your small business website any time of the day or night, whether you’re actually monitoring your site or whether you’re asleep and getting your snore on.

You can reach a national or international audience. As long as your prospective customers have access to the Internet and can understand your site’s language, and as long as you can ship (in the case of tangible items) to those countries or areas, the sky is the limit for your business.

Because your ecommerce site is actually “virtual real estate,” there is no real need for a brick-and-mortar store and all the associated overhead and maintenance required to keep it running smoothly. We’re not saying to get rid of your brick-and-mortar store if you have one; we’re only saying that you don’t need the traditional “store location” unless you really, really want one.

Your prospective customers can browse your site at their leisure, instead of only during set business hours. Because you never actually have to close when you’re on the Internet, your clients should be able to get any- and everything they need from you anytime of the day or night (with the exception of live phone or chat assistance—which happens to be one of the major con’s listed below).

If you or your professional WordPress ecommerce developer build your small business website correctly, it should have everything your online customers need to understand who you are, what you sell, and how to complete a purchase on their own.

For example, aside from the typical “About us” and “Shopping Cart” pages, your WordPress ecommerce website should have a “How to Use This Site” page that explains how to make a purchase set-by-step. There should also be a detailed FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions) page that addresses the most common questions and annoying occurrences that customers experience so that new customers can find quick and satisfactory answers to their questions.

There should also be an easy-to-find “Contact” page with an auto-response feature so that once customers “send” a question, they will instantly know that it has been received, and that you will answer the question within  “X” number of hours.

You control the ads on your own WordPress ecommerce site. This is important, because there is nothing worse than having a competitor’s ad sitting right next to your ad on a website—especially if the competitor is offering the same product at a lower cost! If you use an ecommerce provider like Wix or Etsy, your competitor’s ad may show up on your page.

That is why, according to an article by Brittany Klontz on BPlans.com, “the media tends to take you more seriously on your own site than on Etsy,” especially if your site is well-designed and full of features and flexibility. Ms. Klontz goes on to say that “your own eCommerce site can also be better for customer referrals, as there’s less brand confusion and customers have an easier time of remembering your personal URL than that of your Etsy store.”

Of course, you may not have even considered using Etsy to establish an ecommerce site. We mention it here simply to bring to your attention the fact that having your own personalized, custom-built (or premium theme) ecommerce website rather than a website offered by an ecommerce provider can definitely offer the flexibility and branding possibilities you want in a business website.

Cons:

Sure, your WordPress small business ecommerce website is “open” 24 hours per day, but you aren’t. You can’t work 24 hours a day. Nobody can. This means that during the times you or your designated employees are away from the site (typically during off hours or the times they are asleep), your customers on the other side of the country or the other half of the world will be subjected to limited or automated customer service assistance (versus live service representatives).

Face it, online customers don’t expect you to need sleep, or even to take a break. Ever. Plus, lightning-fast technology typically leaves people feeling that they shouldn’t have to wait for anything—especially an answer to a question about a product they’re considering purchasing from you. Even if you place a display in large, clear letters that says you will respond to customer requests within 24 hours, most customers will still feel this is way too long to wait for an answer—and this delay may actually lead to lost interest or sales.

Yes, your virtual business is open 24 hours a day, but so is your competition’s. Yes, the same Internet advantages your WordPress ecommerce business enjoys are also available for other Internet businesses that are in direct competition with you. Author Tom Caporaso of Sbnonline.com wrote an article that examines whether ecommerce is actually good for your business at all. In the article, he reminds business owners that just as you are able to reach a wider audience and possibly sell more items since you have no “open” and “close” times, so can every other merchant on the Internet.

Virtual shopping leads to shipping fees, delayed gratification (having to wait days for the item to be shipped—and even longer if the item is shipping to another continent or country), and not being able to try on, touch, or test an item before purchasing. Although society has become adept at the art of shopping for virtual items, the fact still remains that “one size DOES NOT fit all. Therefore, such purchases may lead to a higher rate of exchanges and/or returns versus actually having customers try out the item before buying.

Websites require maintenance, upkeep, and constant revamping in order to keep up with the latest features and dodge the latest viruses. This means that you or a WordPress website design expert will need to constantly monitor your site to keep it working at maximum efficiency and capacity. Since website monitoring is an ongoing activity, it can be pricey and time-consuming.

Security issues may make your head spin like a top. Credit card fraud, data security issues, and liberal credit card charge-back allowances are enough to turn anyone’s hair white, and yet these issues will definitely demand attention if you are going to run a safe and secure WordPress small business ecommerce site.

There are many more pros and cons associated with establishing, maintaining and running a successful small business ecommerce website: everything from the trauma of trying to restore a crashed or compromised website to avoiding fraud, scams, hijacks and data hacking. For a more complete list of the pros and cons of owning/running a small business ecommerce site, see author Ajeet Khurana’s TheBalance.com article entitled Advantages and Disadvantages of Ecommerce.

Ecommerce Solutions for Your Small Business Website

Just like everything else in the world, WordPress ecommerce website designers can offer a  variety of solutions for your website. Listed below is an assortment (though not an exhaustive list) of ecommerce cart solutions. The list is alphabetical and is presented only as an illustration of some of the choices available as you consider establishing and maintaining an ecommerce site. The exclusion of other known or even popular ecommerce solutions is not a statement of any kind. There is no preference or endorsement of one solution over another. This list is presented simply to get you started.

3dCart – This is software that seems to hit the floor running, with store, blog, email, newsletters, CRM and Point of Sale features already built into the software.

Cart66 – This is a WordPress shopping cart plugin that allows you to sell music, accept donations online, sell subscriptions and more. The fact that it’s a plugin means that you should be able to integrate it into any existing WordPress website so that you don’t have to start your business website from scratch.

Easy Digital Downloads – This is a popular free ecommerce plugin that, quite simply, allows you to sell digital downloads and track download activities. It is a plugin, which means that you should have no problem integrating it into any existing WordPress website you may already have up and running so that you don’t have to start your business website from scratch.

Magento – This is open-sourced software  that is an alternative to WordPress. It boasts “a global ecosystem of 150,000 developers and a network of 300+ highly-trained solution partners.” This means it’s always improving. It also means that there’s a ready-made community out there that will probably be able to answer your questions and lead you in the best direction for establishing and maintaining your ecommerce website.

Shopify – This is a software provider that gives business owners “everything they need to start and maintain an online store and sell online.” Shopify provides the theme/website and offers all the support you need to keep your site up and running.

Woocommerce – This is a free eCommerce plugin that allows business owners to sell anything online. It boasts of being “built to integrate seamlessly with WordPress.” It also gives store owners and site developers “complete control.”

Setting up Your WordPress Small Business Ecommerce Site

Once you and/or your WordPress website design expert decide what type of ecommerce solution you will pursue for your business, you’ll need to decide how you’re going to set it up. We have covered some of the following options in earlier articles about how DIY’ers (do-it-yourself’ers) can set up and manage their own WordPress sites, or entrust their setups to professional WordPress website designers. However, for purposes of this article, we’ve decided to briefly mention these options again:

  1. You can buy a pre-designed WordPress ecommerce template. By now you should know that you have several options for getting your site up and running. The most economical option is to purchase a pre-designed ecommerce template. You can find these WordPress templates in many places out there, including org and Themeforest.net. You can also find out more by clicking on the links in the above “Ecommerce Solutions” section.
  2. You can have your ecommerce site custom designed by a professional WordPress (or alternative software) website designer. Some professional designers also host the websites they develop. If you go with one of these hosting plans, it means your ecommerce site would reside on someone else’s server and they would be responsible for upkeep. This type of arrangement helps you dodge the headaches of server problems, down-time, hackers and malware. Just know that it may cost a lot. Providers like Shopify would be a start to finding a great designer and web host.
  3. You can self-host your own site, but depending upon your arrangement with the template author, this may mean that you have to update your own site, fix your own server and software errors as they occur, and navigate your own upkeep.

No one of these methods is necessarily better than the other. Rather, it all depends on how much work, thought, prayer and money you want to sink into developing and maintaining your own WordPress ecommerce website. The final decision is up to you.

The Future of Ecommerce

Quite simply, ecommerce isn’t going anywhere. In fact, TechTarget.com says that “online sales totaled $341.7 billion in 2015 and accounted for more than a third of total U.S. retail sales growth in 2015 (data from the U.S. Commerce Department).” In the meantime, Emarketer.com estimated that “global retail ecommerce sales—which include products and services (barring travel, restaurant and event ticket sales) ordered via the internet over any device—will reach $1.915 trillion in 2016.”

Even if ecommerce sites brought in only 10% of the predicted $1.915 trillion of 2016, that would still total approximately $1.915 billion. That’s still a lot of money…and since the world’s goal seems to be to get everyone on the planet “online” as quickly as is feasible, it seems to reinforce the prediction that ecommerce is here to stay.

All you need to do is decide whether a WordPress ecommerce site is the right move for your small business, and start planning and developing from there.

 

Ready For A Small Business Website in 2017?

Although the total percentage of Internet users world-wide is growing by leaps and bounds, it is a fact that many small businesses still have little or no Internet presence. Tess Townsend of Inc.com says that a recent survey shows that “about 60 percent of very small businesses (made up of one to five people) don’t have websites.”

These businesses depend upon platforms like Yelp, Angie’s List or Facebook to establish their presence. Otherwise, they depend wholly upon word-of-mouth to help get the word out about their business services.

Why, in this world of Internet connections and networking, do many small business still not have websites? Ms. Townsend’s article claims the survey shows that 35% of small business owners perceive themselves and their businesses to be too small to merit a website; 21% of them feel that they “lack the technical expertise” to build and/or maintain a website; and 20% of them feel they simply cannot afford a website.

In addition, a large number of these small business owners feel that maintaining a social presence on Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, Twitter or other such platforms offer all the exposure they really need, with none of the costs associated with building and maintaining a website.

Whatever the reasons small business owners concoct for hesitating on taking the website plunge, this is 2017. In other words, it’s a new year, and as such, it’s definitely time for a change.

Why a small business website is important

Before we explore the elements of a great small business website, let’s first get an understanding of exactly why a website is important in the first place.

First of all, being on the web makes your business easier to find. Fewer and fewer people use the yellow or white pages to find businesses. And although websites like Yelp and Angie’s List are popular resources, they are on the web…which means that potential customers will need to access the Internet to use them.

Even customers who use voice-to-text search apps on their phone are actually accessing the Internet to find telephone numbers and locations. This is why establishing a presence on the Internet is an all-around great idea. What could be easier than typing or “speaking” your business’ name into a favorite search engine in order to gather information about you or contact you?

By the same token, being on the web is great advertising without paying exorbitant advertising fees. How? Because when potential customers find your business name and address in Google, Yahoo or Yelp pages, it gives your business an aura of credibility.

It makes customers feel “you have arrived;” that you’re legit—especially when there are also accompanying reviews from other satisfied customers. On the other hand, NOT having a website can give customers the impression that you are not a true professional or that you’ve had some sort of problem in the past and don’t want people to know that you exist.

Establishing a web presence with a small business website can greatly improve customer experience, including the fact that customers can browse your stock and learn all  about your business at their own leisure. This includes reading various reviews or checking out any customer ratings you may have accumulated.

Being on the web can also bring in new customers who may not have even known your business existed, but were instead searching broad keywords as they browsed for services and then managed to land on your website by accident. In fact, Rehan Fernando, CEO of Eight25Media, says it is crucial for small businesses to have a website because that is the way most customers will find your business. Says Fernando, “studies have shown that over 70-80% of people will research a company on the web before making a purchase decision, usually by visiting its website. Even having a one-page website can establish credibility. It shows that the business is actually real and has taken the time to put out a presentation.”

Finally, Max Elman, founder of RazorFrog Web Design says, “if you have customers, it’s necessary to have some sort of information online, at least a page describing who you are and offering contact information.”  In other words, even a one-page website is better than nothing. At least when you’re being researched, some type of information will come up, and even if it doesn’t answer the searcher’s questions, at least they will know how to contact you for more information.

Elements of a Great Small Business Website

Now that we’ve established all the reasons why it is important to establish your presence on the web, we can discuss the elements that go into a great small business website. For brevity’s sake, let’s assume you already know that your website must be comprised of the correct colors, the proper symmetry and layout, and appropriate clear and crisp images that are not hard on the eye. Besides these, what, then, are the elements of a great business website?

Domain name: You would first want a modest, easy-to-remember domain name. By modest, we mean that you wouldn’t want a name that’s so long there is no way your customer would ever remember it. For example, let’s say you sell big and tall suits for men at amazing sale prices. You would want an appropriate, easy-to-remember domain name like BigandTallMen.com, or ClothesForBigandTall.com.  You wouldn’t want a domain name that is impossibly long, like BigandBiggerSuitsandCoatsForMenOnSaleEveryday.com. It is entirely too long, even if it does spell out what your services are all about. In short, a long domain name would make it too easy for your customer to make a mistake when typing the name.

Logo: You want a great logo, a catchy tag line (or slogan).

Contact Info: You want an easily visible section with Contact information (name, telephone number, street address and email) so customers can contact you in the way that is most comfortable for them.

Navigation bar: You want a great navigation bar with titles that are self-explanatory. For example, you’ll notice that most navigation bars have an “About us” section. This is self-explanatory, and lets you know that on the other side of that title is an explanation of who owns the business and how it came into existence. Likewise, you want other self-explanatory titles on your navigation bar. For example, if you sell big and tall suits for men, you might have the title 6ft+ on the navigation bar. This title is self-explanatory, and lets customers know that everything on the other side of this title will be geared toward men who are at least 6 feet tall.

Gallery page: You’ll want to provide a way for customers to browse your inventory to see what you offer and how your prices compare to other stores. You might even have features like Wish List or Price Comparison to help customers save their favorites or determine whether your prices are the best out there.

Shopping cart: If you actually provide products that can be shipped to customers, you’ll want to either offer a shopping cart on your site, or at least offer the ability to surf to Paypal or some other payment vendor when the customer is ready to make a purchase.

Other Necessary Elements: Other great elements include your mission statement, your business hours, your return policy, your privacy statement, and any online chat features your site may offer. You’ll also want to display your social platforms (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, Youtube, etc) where customers can reach you or learn more about who you are and what you do. You might also have a blog page where you talk about day-to-day deals, what’s new in your business, or future plans; and a FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions) page where you answers popular questions for your clients.

In addition to all of the above, your website should definitely be responsive and mobile-friendly. Why? Because more and more people conduct their Internet searches on phones, tablets and other mobile devices, and not desktop pc’s or laptops.

How Much Will it Cost?

What a new website will cost remains the “million dollar question.” Most small businesses are trying to save money, not spend it, and a new website may be far down on their “to do” list. Still, according to Clutch.co’s Small Business Websites in 2016: A Survey, “the cost of not having a website is much higher than the cost of building a website…” Why? Because “a website is not only useful for capturing new customers, it is also necessary for credibility, visibility and meeting current clients needs.” In other words, a business without a website is viewed as not credible and not able to meet clients’ needs.

That being said, the cost of a great small business website will vary widely from one business to the next. Paying a WordPress or other web design expert to create a website with flexibility, appeal and numerous features can run anywhere from thousands to tens of thousands of dollars. And even if the cost is only a few thousand, the type of server (dedicated or shared) that is required to run the site can cost several hundred dollars per month.

We have written several articles about how to get started finding the right company to build your  Wordpress website, and what to expect as far as prices are concerned. Here is a summary of these articles to give you an idea of what you may need to spend to get your small business website up and running on the Internet.

Do-it-Yourself: If you understand basic or advanced coding , you can always create your own website. In this case you would spend $0 to build your site, and whatever it costs to purchase the domain name and host your site on the web. Just keep in mind that whatever you save in dollars you’ll probably spend in the time it takes to actually design and launch a functional, pleasant, eye-appealing website.

Pre-made Templates: Another option to do-it-yourself is to purchase a premium pre-made template and lay it out on the Internet. In this case, you would spend anywhere from $50 to $200 and up to purchase a template. You may also have to spend a few hundred dollars for customization to make the template look unique to your business.

It may also cost extra to keep the template updated and functioning well. For example, most Themeforest.net themes offer lifetime updates free-of-charge, but other theme companies charge a membership fee in order for you to have access to updated files and widgets.

Free templates: Free templates are…well, free. But as such, they often lack originality and they are not updated as often as premium templates. This means that you may need to spend an inordinate amount of time finding someone to keep your files updated and running. You may also need to spend money on customizing the site to give it something more than that “cookie cutter” look that so many free sites have. Just as a FYI, sites like Weebly.com, WordPress.com and Wix offer free website templates.

Hiring a professional website designer: If you cannot bear to think of spending time coding your own site or trying to keep your site updated, you can always hire a professional WordPress (or other software) website designer. Costs will vary, of course, but it’s safe to say that you can expect to pay anywhere from $2,000 to $10,000 for a unique, multifunctional, responsive, aesthetically pleasing site that is also mobile-friendly.

This cost would not include the cost of your domain name and the amount you’ll need to pay for an appropriate hosting account. By appropriate, we mean a hosting account that can accommodate the type of website you have. For example, some sites do well on shared hosting accounts, while other sites need dedicated servers with plenty of resources to keep the site up and running smoothly.

Conclusion

It’s a new year. Whatever your reasons for not establishing a web presence last year, now is the time to act. It is not only easy to get up and running on the web, it’s also fun. Plus, as we mentioned above, these days it costs more to not be on the web in terms of lost customer opportunities and missed sales than it costs to establish a presence and build credibility. Whatever you do, don’t miss out.

 

WordPress Plugins For Lazy Web Designers

Putting web design and lazy in the same sentence might raise some eyebrows, but being lazy is not necessarily bad.

It may mean the designer wants more efficient solutions, or to save client’s money.

It may also indicate a desire to spend more time designing websites and less working on technical and development issues.

Many choices

In the WordPress universe, it seems there is a plugin tor just about every need or application. In the WordPress Plugin Repository alone there are just under 50,000 plugins.

Add to that the thousands sold my marketplace websites like Codecanyon, and the umber becomes staggering.

Plugins are wonderful devices that allow web designers to reduce development time. They are mini-software applications that enhance functionality and solve problems.

However, like too much of anything good, plugins can cause a problem. If a website uses too many, performance will suffer. It will talk longer for pages to load, and in some cases may cause more serious problems.

Knowing where to draw the line is essential. A good rule of thumb is if you are in doubt about whether you have reached the limited- assume you have.

If you have not reached the limit, and want to take advantage of the benefits offered by WordPress plugins, here are a few of our favorites.

Tracking Code Manger

Keeping track of visits from ads run on social media sites like Facebook, Twitter, Adwords, Google Re targeting, and more, is a requirement for digital marketers.

Learning as much as possible about those who visit your website is the only way to optimize and improve performance. But, tracking codes can be confusing and complicated to install.

Working with tracking codes from multiple providers adds additional complexity. It can easily become a time consuming and cumbersome process.

This is where Tracking Code Manager comes in to play. This plugin relieves you of having to place each tracking code in the <head> or <body> tag of your WordPress site. The plugin provides one location for all the codes, and you can designate their specific location.

There are immediate and long term time savings when you use Tracking Code Manager. For example, social media sites revise their codes, and often require replacements. Remembering where those codes were placed is not an exciting prospect, but it’s one you won’t have to face if you used Tracking Code Manager.

Black Studio TinyMCE widget

Speaking of time consuming, tedious tasks, is there anything as annoying as having to drop everything in the middle of a big design project to style a widget?

The TinyMCE Widget makes this a lot easier, and is therefore one of our favorite time saving plugins.

The plugin is as simple as it can be, but over the course of many developments, it can save a ton of time.

The TinyMCE Widget allows users to insert media objects and rich text directly into their editor, and while it may not be difficult to paste HTML into widgets, for example, it can sure be time consuming. The plugin’s WYSIWYG capabilities let’s you avoid that tedious task.

But there’s more. Here is a rundown of the features offered by the TinyMCE Widget:

  • Directly insert from the WP medial library (videos and images).
  • Move from HTML to visual mode.
  • Edit in full screen mode
  • Widgets accessibility mode support
  • WordPress networks (multi-site) support
  • WPML (multi-language) support
  • Live preview
  • 20+ language availability

All-in-One WP Migration

From time to time, web designers are asked to do site migrations. They can be done at the sever level by uploading data bases, and at the WordPress admin level.

If you are not familiar with server technology, uploading files can be daunting. Even with the help of support offered by most hosts, it’s not an easy process.

This leaves the option of working at the admin level. There are many plugins that simplify this process, but in our experience, the best is All-in-one WP Migration.

The concept is simple. First, you download the contents of the site to a file stored on your local hard drive, or 3rd party cloud service like Dropbox).

Then you upload the new file via the dashboard to the new domain – and that’s pretty much all that’s needed.

The All-in-one WP Migration Plugin is also a handy way to save a backup copy of your site. You can save it on your desktop, or on a 3rd party cloud host like drop box.

The free version of the plugin is somewhat limited. It will handle sample sites, but an upgrade to the premium version is needed in most cases.

Shortcodes Ultimate

If you use a WordPress theme that includes a page builder, you can skip this plugin. But, if you are creating a custom development, or starting with the WordPress core theme,  Shortcodes Ultimate may become your new best friend.

The plugin offers many of the exact same features you get with a premium theme builder – only for free. There is a premium version on Shortcodes Ultimate, but the basic plugin gives everything needed to save massive development time.

As the name implies, the plugin consists of a wide variety of development shortcodes (over 50). Additional features:

  • Shortcode Generator
  • Modern design
  • Fully responsive
  • CSS3-powered
  • Custom CSS editor
  • Custom widget
  • Multilingual
  • RTL support
  • Works with any theme
  • Easily extendable

The plugin is very easy to use, and has a handy ‘demo’ feature that enables short code viewing before it’s actually implemented.

We have used this plugin over, and over, and over again. We bought the premium version, but seldom find it necessary. We can’t say enough good things about Shortcodes Ultimate.

Local SEO and Business Listings

Local SEO is very different from regular SEO. It’s based upon the quality and quantity of listings (AKA citations). Locating the right listings is a time consuming process.

The Local SEO and Business Listings plugin makes this a lot easier. The plugin offers a tool to scan local business listings, and a way to create local  listings on the largest business listings sites like  YP.com and Yelp.

In addition, the plugin offers the following local SEO tools:

  1. Competitor Analysis
  2. Web Analytics
  3. Search Metrics
  4. Social Engagement
  5. Web Buzz Monitoring
  6. Website & Content Submission Tools
  7. Backlink Quality Check
  8. Competitor Backlink Spy
  9. Landing Page Optimization Tools
  10. Website SEO Audit
  11. Sitemap Generator
  12. Internal Link Audit and Optimization

All in all, a pretty great plugin.

ShortPixel Image Optimizer

There’s nothing more important to visitors and search engines than fast loading pages.

There are numerous plugins to help maximize site performance, but getting the most from them requires some degree of technical expertise.

One group of plugins that are easy to configure – and effective, are image optimizers. Among these, we particularly like ShortPixed Image Optimizer.

It’s super easy to use; you can optimize your entire media library with one click.

The plugin enables both lossy and lossless compression, and works for common image types (PNG, GIF,JPG) and PDF.

There is a free version (100 credits/month), and upgrades starting at $4.99 for 5,000 images.

That’s it for our suggestions. If you have any, please let us know!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

WordPress Theme ‘Newspaper’ Offers Stylish Options

afewdemos

 

In case you haven’t guessed by the name, the wildly popular “Newspaper” WordPress theme is, according to the authors, “focused exclusively on news, magazine and publishing themes.”

Whatever your subject matter and however you prefer to disseminate it to your waiting audience (i.e., written content, video, audio or blogging layout) Newspaper wants to be the theme to help you carry out your mission.

It has more than 24 demos (which will be discussed in more detail later), and it integrates smoothly with bbPress, BuddyPress, Forum, and WooCommerce. All of these features—coupled with the hope-inspiring promise that “no coding experience is required,” make for great possibilities for developing and designing the site of your dreams.

The Newspaper theme came into existence only a little more than three years ago (in 2013), and yet it has already garnered over 32k+ sales and 3,000 5-star ratings. Now, that’s nothing to sniff at.

Block Sample
Layout Sample

The theme in a nutshell

According to a WordPress theme review article by Joe Fylan, most WordPress themes strive to be “multipurpose”—or rather, “to include as many features, page templates, customization settings and options as possible to enable you to build any type of website with one package,” and the Newspaper WordPress theme does all of this and more.

It is optimized to help web designers handle an extremely high volume of video, image and written content without slowing down its load or speed, and it has unique and useful widgets to expand well past the basic features. Specifically, there are weather widgets, ad widgets, and special category and social sharing widgets, to name a few, and they are all designed to help give your site a unique feel and experience.

With Newspaper, you can have your own bright and colorful newspaper magazine up and running in moments. There are dozens of design templates, multiple grid styles, smart lists, and smart content blocks to choose from that are designed to make your website seem like one-of-a-kind, plus the authors offer video support (Vimeo, YouTube, and Dailymotion), which is always good news for a budding journalist who has lots of content to share.

There is also has a “built-in structure dedicated to small screen users” which makes the theme more mobile-friendly – and web designer-friendly than ever.

Getting Started

Setting up

As we’ve mentioned in our previous articles about laying out new WordPress themes, you must first make sure you have installed the latest WordPress software on your server. Once the installation is complete, you can then upload the Newspaper theme via FTP, and then activate it. The theme authors, Tagdiv, have included some very detailed theme documentation that will practically hold your hand and walk you step-by-step through the installation process.

Once the theme is installed, you’ll go to “appearance” and “theme” on the left side of your control panel and prepare to choose the demo that best represents the website you would like to have. This “best representation” gives you a starting point so that you don’t have to begin with “thin air.” You already have a great demo to build upon.

Demos Galore!

Like many of the more innovative WordPress themes of today, Newspaper is just teeming with demos. There are 24 (and counting) demos. You can use the Magazine demo for…you guessed it, the magazine look.

If you’re into recreational travel or you’re a professional travel writer, you can use…right again: the Travel demo. Other demos include Food Recipes, Global Medicine, Babies, Cars, Health, Sports, Car Enthusiasts, College, Animals and Breaking News.

Each demo is designed to be built upon so that you don’t have to reinvent the wheel. Each can be installed in just one click, and each is, according to the author, “unique down to the smallest detail.”

Newspaper Theme Home Page Option
Home Page Option

Installing a demo

For purposes of this article, we’re going to assume that you already know how to install and activate your Newspaper theme. Like most WordPress themes, you will be required to insert your license number to prove that you have obtained the theme legally. The license number activates all of the theme’s functions and possibilities. Once your purchase has been verified, you can then decide which demo you would like to install.

Special Note: When you install a demo, you get all the wonderful demo content that comes along with it. That’s the beauty of today’s sophisticated premium WordPress themes. However, if for some reason you change your mind about your chosen demo and you decide that another demo better suits your needs, you can roll back your choice by clicking a handy “uninstalling” button and choosing something else. Just be aware that when you uninstall a demo, you remove everything: content, sidebars, navigation bar and any other customizations or additions you have made to the theme. In other words, your site will roll back to the way it looked before you chose a demo and you must start over from scratch.

Tweaking your demo theme

  1. Necessary Plugins. Premium WordPress themes make it easier and easier to decide which plugins you need to optimize your theme, and where to find those plugins without having to browse through hundreds of other plugins with similar names. That being said, Newspaper theme has a handy “Install premium plugins” section in the admin panel that makes installation and activation as smooth as silk. These plugins include Slider Revolution, Visual Composer, and the Tagdiv Social Counter for all the social sites you subscribe to.
  2. The Theme Panel is divided into intuitively small and logical parts to make customizing “parts of the whole” easier. For example, customizable sections begin at the top of the website—the “header,” and then the “footer.” Next, users can decide which ads will be shown on the site, and then they can move on to the layout section (templates, categories, posts, etc.) and so forth. There are sections for translating the theme to other languages, customizing colors and fonts, and even inserting custom coding, if you want. By the way, each of these sections can be designed to follow the global (default) settings, or they can each be tweaked for a unique result.
  3. The Page Builder (Visual Composer) – comes with 60+ pre-defined web design drag-and-drop layouts that help you be your most creative.
  4. Posts and Pages. These can be as unique as you want to make them. There are multiple ways to display content: you can format your content as a standard post and show a featured image, or you can format it as a video. You have the option creating a unique sidebar (See item “f” below) and then choosing which of your original sidebars will show up on each page, including what side (right or left) the sidebar will show on. You can also create custom fields.
  5. Categories and Tags. This flexible theme allows you to decide what you want your category page to look like, your post page style including the type of grid it will use, how the page will be paginated (with numbers or with the “more” option), and what sidebar will show on the left or right of the page. The icing on the cake is that every category or tag you use can be tweaked so that no two look alike.
  6. Unique Sidebars – This is one of the site’s best features. It allows you to fine-tune your categories by creating a sidebar for each one. For example, if you own a book review site like I do and one of your categories is “Science,” you can give this category its own sidebar. You might include the Social Counter, a Google ad customized specifically for the science genre, and any other widgets you can think of. Take a look at my book review website, which uses the newspaper theme. Here is a science category article called Ocean-Pedia, which uses my unique science sidebar. Now take a look at this second article. It has is the fantasy/creative category and is called Books Do Not Have Wings. Notice that the sidebar is different. Now notice that although I have some universal features (the social network widget and an ad space) on all sidebars, the sidebars are still unique because the ads are based on the subject matter on the page, and the related content is based on the category. If there is any drawback with unique sidebars it is that you may have so many categories that you grow tired of creating unique sidebars for them.
  7. Other great stuff – this theme is brimming with useful surprises. It has 21 styled smart content blocks that adjust columns on the page to fit your needs. It has “random” features so that each time a user lands on or refreshes the Homepage, he or she will see different article titles. This should diminish the inevitable boredom that comes with sameness, and make for an adventurous experience.

Designing a Custom Website

The Homepage

To reiterate, the Newspaper WordPress theme is designed for news, newspaper, magazine, publishing or review sites. In my case, I am a professional book reviewer and I need a review website that is bright, lively, easy to navigate, and capable of handling a large volume of images and video links. Newspaper WordPress theme turned out to be perfect.

My site is called PICTURE BOOK DEPOT. The site has been through several WordPress themes. The first theme was a simple blog layout that was purchased on eBay nearly ten years ago, and cost all of $8.  From there, I purchased a great “review” theme from Themeforest, but it was neither very flexible nor visually appealing. I abandoned it within a year and moved to a third theme that was what I call “eye-popping” as far as visual appeal goes. But too soon I discovered that it was not responsive, and as technology improved, my site was left in the dust.

Finally, I stumbled across Newspaper, and it was just what I needed. I needed a flexible, responsive and sexy-looking WordPress theme that would be like an adventure for fellow book lovers. I wanted it to show the most crucial posts first: the “Latest Reviews”, because everyone in the writing world always wants to know what just debuted or what’s trending. I decided to use the “most recent post” feature in this section so that users knew they were seeing the most recent book releases.

Next, I needed a theme that would allow me to feature a “shortcut” option to finding the books my visitors loved, and this theme complied. I was able to create as many categories as I desired, all patterned after those categories you find in a real brick-and-mortar bookstore: “Girl”, “Boy”, “Humor”, “Multicultural”, “Science”, and “Animal” books.

Because I am familiar with how quickly children—and, unfortunately, their parents—get bored, I knew I needed some way to make my content seem fresh and new all the time. There was no way I could post new articles everyday to keep my audience interested; I just don’t have that kind of time. So I knew I needed the “random” option to display the content dispersed across my multiple categories. This way, each time a user lands on the home page, or each time a user refreshes the page, a different book cover shows. This keeps users feeling that they are seeing something they have not seen before.

These random and/or stationary options demonstrate the flexibility of this theme and its ability to give the user what they want.

FYI: Same Theme, Different Look

Just as a FYI, here’s a comparison of the Newspaper theme as it is used on two separate websites with two separate focuses. First, let’s return to my book review website called Picture Book Depot. Take a moment to scroll down the site and re-examine the layout, keeping in mind that it was built to accommodate avid picture book readers.

Now take a look at a second site called Women’s Golf. I chose this site at random at Newspaper’s Showcase page. I suggest that you take your time and browse through these sites to get a feel for Newspaper’s flexibility and style possibilities. Notice the unique Homepage? And if you click on any of the articles, you’ll notice that these posts look nothing like the posts on Picture Book Depot. Yet the two sites have the same theme in common.

Individual Posts

There are 12 post templates choices in the Newspaper theme. For my book review post called “Molly and the Bear”, I chose to display all the categories the review matched with at the top of the page. If displaying these categories makes your page look too busy, you have the option of not showing them, or you can color-code the categories to make them a bit easier on the eye. You can also show your social sharing buttons at the top or bottom of your post (or in both places) if you like.

Depending upon what type of review you have just posted, you can choose from among the various sidebars you have created (as explained in an earlier part of this article). Since I happen to review lots of children’s books that are peppered with humor, I used the “Children’s Humor” sidebar for Molly and the Bear.  I used the “circle” style of social sharing buttons, but if you browse through my site, you will notice that I sometimes choose the slim bar style for social sharing…just to spice things up a bit.

I included a custom Google ad based on the category, and then I added one of my own humorous inserts: a turkey reading a picture book and trying to figure out how to avoid being eaten on Thanksgiving.

The Footer

Your theme panel will give you several options for how your footer can look. I chose what I call the “double decker.” The top half displays a visitor counter and a few other custom videos and links I want my visitors to be aware of. The bottom half sports my logo, my “About us” information, and a link to the website’s email address.

Conclusion

Newspaper is a multi-faceted, super-flexible theme with a world of personality and a world of options that are too numerous to feature in this one simple review. The current price tag is $64, and that comes with 6 months of support and a lifetime of free upgrades. If you want to be certain that this is the theme for you before you buy, simply surf over to the theme Demos page, choose a demo that interests you.

Experiment for awhile. In fact, jot down any pre-sale questions you may have and then go to the theme’s Themeforest comment page and chat with the author. Themeforest authors love pre-sales questions, which help to insure that buyers know exactly what they’re getting. This way, they are more likely to become satisfied customers—and that’s always good for the bottom line.

In the meantime, I highly recommend Newspaper WordPress theme. It isn’t called “The #1 Selling News Theme of All Time” for nothing.

Rita Lorraine Hubbard is a full-time author of contemporary and historical books for children. She founded and manages two WordPress book review sites: Picture Book Depot, which celebrates picture books for children and adults; and The Black History Channel, which provides content, music, current articles and book reviews for people of color. She also writes technical “user manuals” for WordPress theme developers for whom English is not a first language.

 

 

What To Expect from WordPress 4.7

Scheduled for release on December 6, 2016, WordPress 4.7 promises some exciting new features for WP users and developers. In this post, we’ll look at some the highlights, both for basic users and some of the more advanced features available to developers. We used the WordPress Beta Tester plugin to give the new version a try on a test site.

(Note: It is not recommended to install the beta version of WordPress 4.7 on a live site prior to the official release).

Twenty Seventeen

For new WordPress users or those in the early phases of building a new site, deciding on a theme is an important step. There are hundreds of free and premium WordPress themes available, but the new Twenty Seventeen theme is by far the most customizable default WordPress theme yet.

Rather than scouring theme marketplaces for the perfect look, even users with minimal WordPress experience may find that they can easily achieve a distinctive design with Twenty Seventeen without touching a line of code. Those users who are comfortable with CSS will be able to take this theme even further without having to directly edit any core files.

• The new Twenty Seventeen theme offers some exciting new capabilities as a default WordPress theme.
• Twenty Seventeen is modern, highly responsive, and notably caters to businesses or those looking to create a portfolio site.
• Emphasis on a highly responsive static front page that showcases content in stylized, easily editable, full-width panels.
• Dark and light skins are available, with the option for custom site-wide color schemes.
• Bold use of featured images and subtle animations give Twenty Seventeen a clean, mobile-friendly aesthetic.
• For developers, this theme provides an excellent, easily extensible framework to build upon for the creation of child themes or custom themes.

Header Images and Videos

Incorporating video elements into websites has become an increasingly popular design trend over the past few years. WordPress 4.7 allows users to add full-width header videos to sites simply by uploading or adding a link, rather than dealing with iframes or embed codes.

• In WordPress 4.7, the Theme Customizer enables users to add full-width images or video headers to pages very easily.
• From within the “Header Visuals” tab, you can choose to upload your own video or simply provide a link to a YouTube or Vimeo URL.
• Twenty Seventeen’s demo content includes royalty-free stock images that you can use to populate site sections for rapid prototyping.
• Parallax background image functionality in site sections.

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Add Custom CSS Directly From the Theme Customizer

• One of the coolest features of WP 4.7 is the ability for users to add custom CSS directly into the Theme Customizer and preview the changes in real-time.
• CSS styles added using the Customizer will remain intact throughout future site updates, unlike in previous versions where changes made via the Editor would be overwritten following an update.
• In some cases, this feature may eliminate the need for child themes.
• While this is a fantastic feature, users without a robust knowledge of WordPress CSS classes may find themselves relying on the !important property to overwrite certain styles. This may not be an ideal solution in every instance.

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3

Drag and Drop Site Builder

For new users, and for developers working with clients who want control over their sites, the new drag and drop interface build into the Theme Customizer is a powerful update to the WordPress platform. Users have the ability to rearrange components and experiment with page layouts in a visual way without adjusting template files.

• With WordPress 4.7 much of the functionality that previously depended on navigating through the Dashboard is now accessible directly through the Theme Customizer.
• The Theme Customizer lets users create new pages, edit elements directly from within the live preview area, and use a drag-and-drop builder to arrange content panels on pages.
• Site components in the live preview area feature clickable icons that allow users to edit directly from within the customizer.
• Demo content is included with Twenty Seventeen, which makes quick prototyping extremely viable.

4

Navigation and Social Media Menus

• Users can easily create, edit, and configure navigation menus from within the Theme Customizer, rather than needing to visit Appearance -> Menus.
• To create your primary menu in WordPress 4.7, you can simply select the “Menus” tab from within the customizer, create a menu, and populate it using the intuitive “Add Items” button.

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• The Theme Customizer’s “Social Links Menu” tab allows users to quickly integrate social media links without the use of a plugin or custom code.
• By default, social media links display as stylized icons in the footer area of the Twenty Seventeen theme.
• Appropriate icons will automatically populate the social media menu for most popular social networks, such as Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

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Visual Editor Built Into the Theme Customizer

Even if you’ve never used WordPress before, version 4.7 makes it really simple to create basic websites in minutes. One major perk in 4.7 is the addition of a streamlined visual editor within the Theme Customizer. Rather than navigating to different areas through the Admin Dashboard, users can now edit elements directly from within the Theme Customizer. Users can easily customize widgets, titles, layout and more in real-time.

• The visual editor makes editing sections within the customizer extremely intuitive.
• For example, to edit the “Recent Posts” widget on the sidebar, rather than navigating to the Appearance-> Widgets area, you can now simply click the pencil icon next to that widget and the corresponding module will appear in the customizer.

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• Let’s say you’d like to change the title of this Widget from “Recent Comments” to
“Latest Comments.”

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• As you make the change directly in the customizer, you will see it displaying in the live preview. This makes editing widgets and other site elements really simple.

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Updates to the Visual Editor on Posts and Pages

• The visual editor area on posts and pages has been rearranged for a more streamlined experience.
• The “Paragraph” dropdown is now on the top row, eliminating the need to expand the toolbar to format text.
• Tooltips display keyboard shortcuts for different elements.

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Easily Preview Alternative Themes

• Twenty Seventeen is a great starting point for new WP users, and it is definitely more versatile than previous default themes.
• If you’re looking for something different, however, WordPress 4.7 also makes it quick and easy to preview different themes from within the theme customizer.
• Use the “Change” button next to your Active Theme to browse themes and try them on for size.
• Note: If you’ve purchased a premium theme from a marketplace like themeforest, you may need to upload that theme before you will be able to preview it.

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New Functions & Hooks

Theme developers can look forward to some exciting new functions, hooks, and behaviors in WordPress 4.7.

• One highlight is the new get_theme_file_uri()function.
• This new function works in a similar way to the get_template_part()function that was introduced in WordPress 3.0.
• get_template_part() looks for a particular file within a child theme and falls back on the parent theme if the file is not found.
• get_theme_file_uri() applies the same child theme functionality to theme URLs.
• An example use scenario would be when enqueuing a JavaScript file, such as:

wp_enqueue_script( ‘myScript’, get_theme_file_uri( ‘js/myScript.js’ );

• Here, the new function would enqueue the URL js/myScript.js from your child theme. If it didn’t find the file in the child theme, it would then default to this same URL within your parent theme’s directory.
• The new {$type}_template_part_hierarchy filter lets a theme or plugin filter the complete template hierarchy of a request.

Post Type Templates

• Post types templates will bring the functionality of page templates to post types, allowing developers to implement different styles and layouts for specific post types.
• This will allow theme developers to incorporate a variety of different post styling options within a theme.

Customized Bulk Actions

• In WordPress 4.7, developers can register custom bulk actions on list tables.
• In previous versions of WordPress, bulk actions were limited to “Edit” and “Move to Trash,” but now developers can really explore the power of Bulk Actions.

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Other New Features

Language Options for Administrators

• For diverse teams working on a site, each Admin now has the ability to manage the site in the language they are most comfortable with.
• Once you install multiple languages, each Admin can simply select which one they want to use from their user profile.

PDF Thumbnail Images

• Any PDF files uploaded to WordPress will now display with thumbnail images making it easier to distinguish between different files.

A New Taxonomy Class

• $wp_taxonomies has become an array of WP_Taxonomy objects
• The get_taxonomy() function has been updated to return a WP_Taxonomy object
• The function get_taxonomy_labels() will now accept a WP_Taxonomy object

Conclusion

WordPress 4.7 is a major update to the platform, and it comes with some exciting developments. The shift towards being able to build and control more of a site directly through the Theme Customizer without bouncing around the Admin Dashboard makes the setup process much more streamlined. The ability to add custom CSS directly from within the Theme Customizer and watch the styles change in the live preview without having to refresh your site is a huge asset. For users without a deep knowledge of the WP CSS classes it may be necessary to employ the !important property to target certain elements.

For developers, the updates to the REST API will open the door to a powerful new level of interactivity between WordPress and emerging apps and plugins, particularly in mobile environments. The Twenty Seventeen theme, with its emphasis on a business-oriented static front page, reflects a broader shift in the WordPress infrastructure as it continues to extend well beyond its early iterations as a blogging platform. Of course, WordPress 4.7 is still great for blogs, too.

Web Design Schools In Southern California

Southern California Based Web Design Schools Offer Career Training

Author Jason Nazar of Forbes Magazine says that “approximately 543,000 new businesses get started every month in the United States.” Of course, many of these do not survive, but for purposes of this article, we will focus only on the fact that the owners of these businesses are going to need the perfect website to represent their companies. This means that the job potential for web developers and web designers is excellent.

According to the United States Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics, “employment of web developers is projected to grow 27 percent from 2014 to 2024, much faster than the average for all occupations. Demand will be driven by the growing popularity of mobile devices and e-commerce.”

Twenty-seven percent growth is excellent news. If you are among those who are considering a career as a web designer or web developer—and you want to ensure employment, you should consider attending a college that offers a web design curriculum to get your career started.

If you happen to live in Los Angeles, there are many custom education plans to choose from. You can choose from among numerous web design and web development certificate programs, or you can choose a program offered by one of the city’s major universities. You can even select a program at a smaller art college or independent school.

Whatever you decide, just know that these programs vary considerably in their curriculum. Some emphasize web design, while others emphasize web development. The two may seem interchangeable, but in truth, they’re quite different. Therefore, it’s important for you to decide which area (design or development) is of interest to you before you enroll in a program.

DEFINITIONS

Before we explore how to jump-start your career as a web designer or web developer, it is probably best to distinguish the similarities and differences between the two professions.  According to an article by Eric An on CareerFoundry.com, the easiest way to understand the differences between the two skills is to imagine what it would be like for the web designer and web developer to come together to build a car.

Mr. An says that the web designer would be the one responsible for the aesthetic design of the car, which includes “the comfort of the seats, the layout of the dashboard, etc., as well as the convenience in driving and riding in the car.” In other words, the designer sees to visual appeal, comfort, and even the element of fun that should be woven into the final product. The web designer will have mastered color, typography, image manipulation and more, and will know how to use graphic tools like Adobe Photoshop and Illustration, as well as Adobe Dreamweaver. Many designers learn to use these tools on the job or through self-education.

On the other hand, the web developer would be responsible for “various components like the engine, transmission, wheels, etc. to construct a fully-functional car that is error-free in its technical aspects.” In short, the developer builds a strong, reliable, flexible, and fully-functional website that is bug-free and does all that it’s supposed to do.

Just remember that while the two areas are often mixed, in many cases a design team will contain both dedicated designers and dedicated developers.

THE WORDPRESS WRINKLE

According to a thread on WebHostingTalk.com, if you type “how to build a website” in your favorite search engine, “most if not all of the top results mention WordPress and how easy it is to use.”  In 2014, an article called 11 Online Places to Learn WordPress Inside and Out claims that “WordPress is running over 17% of the Internet nowadays and that number keeps growing. It’s being listed as a job skill on job boards [and is] what the technical and non-technical alike are using to build websites.”

Since WordPress improves by leaps and bounds each year, it’s easy to understand its popularity among laypersons in need a quality website for their business or personal use. It is indeed super-easy to use, and what makes it even better for those who are looking for the perfect website is that the Internet is simply teeming with WordPress designers who offer stunning multi-purpose themes at the low, low price of $50 to $80. When you compare this small charge to the thousands (and sometimes tens of thousands) that will probably be charged when using a web designer or web developer, it is easy to imagine the challenge that experts in these two fields may face trying to stay afloat in the business.

As inexpensive as WordPress may be, there are certainly valid arguments as to why a person in need of a website might decide to by-pass the WordPress bargain and opt for a pricey web designer or web developer instead. Here are two of those arguments:

  1. “Lack of uniqueness.” Since WordPress theme developers sell their themes over and over again (for example, the Avada WordPress theme has currently sold over 265,000 copies), it will be challenging for buyers to make their website completely unique without hiring a 3rd party to customize the site to fit their business’ personality. At the very least, buyers will need to have basic customization skills to make their website seem different and unique.
  2. Rails Developer Scott Radcliffe says that “WordPress is built around a core set of features like pages, posts, users, etc. This is usually enough to get most companies going. But…business cases and processes are different. And as such, those businesses need an expert to analyze their needs and build them a solution that helps them make money.”

Even with these convincing arguments about why a layperson should consider hiring a web designer or web developer, there are many viable reasons that you might choose to learn WordPress in addition to any formal web design or web development courses you might take to enhance your career.

According to an article on 1stWebDesigner.com, by choosing to learn and utilize WordPress to build websites “you are already setting yourself miles ahead of other web designers” because WordPress allows you to build websites “at lightning speed” and then use your extra time to help clients reach their specific goals and objectives. This would improve the economic viability of your web service business and allow you to “give the people what they want.”

In short, WordPress is not the end-all of all web designs; however, because of its immense popularity, you should seriously consider adding it to your list of professional courses. Online schools like Udemy, Chaffey College, and Lynda.com (which offers over 100 web development courses) offer courses in WordPress theme development, including how to use simple HTML and CSS to customize a site’s overall appearance, how to use plugins to enhance and expand features, and how to “turn a site into an ecommerce powerhouse and improve search engine page results.”

Granted, these courses are mostly written for laypersons with no web design or web development courses in their backgrounds, but they still offer a viable option of learning WordPress online simultaneously while you are pursuing your web design or web development career.

LOS ANGELES WEB DESIGN SCHOOLS TO CONSIDER

When it comes to web design and web development, choosing the right school is just as important as acquiring the right skills and hands-on experience in your field. Following is a list of schools you might consider:

Art Institute of California, Los Angeles campus

2900 31st Street
Santa Monica, CA 90405-3035
Phone: 888-646-4610 or 888-624-0300

The Art Institute of California, Los Angeles campus offers web design as two of four modules under the heading of Visual Design. The first of these modules is called ‘Graphic and Web Design,’ a course that gives students a comprehensive view of the graphic skills required for web design, including:

  • Color & Design Fundamentals
  • Image Manipulation
  • Traditional Typography
  • Layout & Concept Design
  • Web Page Scripting
  • Digital Illustration
  • Interactive Motion Graphics

The second module is entitled ‘Web Design and Interactive Media,’ and covers graphics, media, software, and programming. Topics include:

  • Fundamentals of Design
  • Color Theory
  • Typography
  • Image Manipulation
  • Programming Logic
  • Introduction to Audio
  • Design Concepts
  • Introduction Scripting Languages
  • Design Layout
  • Introduction to Authoring
  • Intermediate Authoring
  • Digital Illustration
  • Introduction to User Centered Design
  • Usability Testing
  • Project Management
  • Designing for Dynamic Web Sites
  • Designing for Server Side Technology
  • Integrated Information Design
  • E-Learning Design

Both modules offer a comprehensive course selection in web and graphic design. They begin with the basics areas like “color, illustration, and image manipulation” and then move on to concept development and implementation. The Institute offers a traditional print concentration as well as a web design concentration.

California State University, Dominguez Hills

The certificate program
1000 E. Victoria Street, Carson, CA 90747
Cell Phone: (877) GO-HILLS

The California State college system is well known for providing students with an excellent education at an affordable price, and offers a variety of solution-oriented classes and job certification programs.

For example, California State University, Dominguez Hills offers a web design certificate program that focuses on teaching the basic skills and tools needed for a career in web design. The program, which is part of the College of Extended and International Education, does not offer comprehensive training; rather, it is intended for business professionals and students who want a thorough knowledge of web design and web development in a short period of time.

Course topics include html and CSS. In addition, students learn how to use Adobe power web tools like Photoshop and Dreamweaver, and Web design and coding tools like Dreamweaver, Fireworks, and Flash.

Full Sail University

Phone:  844-706-0683

Full Sail University offers a Bachelor of Arts in web design and development that students can achieve in just 32 months. Full Sail reminds students that web technology powers almost every aspect of our lives and it takes a specialized skill set to build great websites and applications. Therefore, if you are passionate about the programming and design that goes into a well-designed website, Full Sail University’s online Web Design & Development bachelor’s program is a great place to develop your talents.

OTIS College of Art and Design

9045 Lincoln Blvd
Los Angeles, California 90045
(310) 665–6800
(800) 527–OTIS (6847)

OTIS College of Art and Design is highly respected and nationally recognized. The college was established in 1918, and is a national leader in art and design education. Its mission is to prepare diverse students of art and design to enrich our world through their creativity, skill, and vision.

OTIS offers a wide variety of undergraduate and graduate level courses, as well as a Digital Media Arts certificate program. The program consists of 18 classes that provide in-depth study in media arts and digital media. The courses teach students to use the same software applications and technical tools used by today’s web design professional.

The web design sequence of classes include:

  • Introduction to Graphic Design
  • Typography I
  • From Idea to Launch: Web Design & Strategy
  • Digital Imaging II: Photoshop
  • Flash I
  • Web Design I
  • Web Design II
  • Web Design III
  • Final Portfolio: Professional Practices

Platt College School of Graphic Design

Platt College Anaheim

1551 S. Douglass Road
Anaheim, CA 92806

1-888-80-PLATT

Platt College offers career training in locations throughout Southern California. The school’s mission is “to provide a balanced program of instruction for our students, to help them acquire the specialized knowledge and skills they need to take advantage of exciting career opportunities in many of today’s in-demand fields.”

Platt students can earn a Bachelor of Arts in Visual Communication, with comprehensive courses in every phase of web design and development.  Their School of Graphic Design’s Bachelor’s degree program in Visual Communication helps students build the skills they need. They can choose to specialize in Web Design, 3D Animation, or 2D Print. Each of these specializations provides graduates with the skills necessary to pursue careers in these dynamic industries.

UCLA DESIGN MEDIA ARTS

Broad Art Center
240 Charles E. Young Drive
Los Angeles, CA 90095-1456

Phone: 310-825-9007

Fax: 310-206-6676

UCLA offers an Advanced Web and Interaction Design certificate for industry professionals or students who have complete the Design Communication Arts certificate. The program is for students seeking advanced training in problem solving, UX/UI, dynamically delivered content, and more, and consists of 24 units, with 3 required courses and 3 electives.

  • Web Design II: JavaScript and jQuery
  • User Experience I: Survey
  • Web Design IV: Real World Application
  • 3 Elective Courses (12 units)

 USC Web Development

3650 McClintock Ave.
Olin Hall of Engineering
Suite 412
Los Angeles, CA 90089-1456

Telephone:  (213) 740-4542

The University of Southern California is a nationally known institution of higher learning that is an integral part of the Los Angeles community. USC provides both undergraduate and graduate level studies, and offer specialization in web design as part of their information technology curriculum. The curriculum is for students who want to learn how to make web pages and learn the basics of adding additional functionality such as interactivity and databases. The courses introduce students to the major topics in web publishing and development.

USC’s web design and development course selection (including HTML, DHTML, CSS, layers, Flash, JavaScript, Java, mySQL, Adobe Dreamweaver, Adobe Photoshop, Eclipse, and PHP) gives students a glimpse at their future and paints an appealing picture of the web design field by promising students that they will gain the foundational knowledge needed to enter into the multi-billion dollar industry of web design and web development.

Some specific courses include:

  • Web Animation and Interactivity (2 units)
  • Interactive Web Development (4 units)*
  • Advanced Web Publishing (2 units)*
  • Web Application Project (4 units)**
  • Advanced Web Publishing (2 units)*

West Los Angeles College

9000 Overland Avenue
Culver City, CA 90230
Phone: 310-287-4200

West Los Angeles College is part of the Los Angeles Community College District, and though it does not offer a web design certification, it does have an excellent curriculum of web development classes.

West Los Angeles College focuses on the skills currently in most demand, including server-side technologies like Ruby on Rails, PHP, and SQL. Students learn how to use today’s key web development tools as they develop mobile responsive websites, and are also introduced to essential web technologies like Javascript, HTML5, CSS, and more. The college program also offers training in important database programs like Oracle and mySql.

The Training Connection

The Training Connection has offered courses in web design and development in Los Angeles for the last 10 years. They also have a location in Chicago.

Courses given by The Training Connection are short in duration (3 days), and packed with information. According to the website, they allow students to repeat their training for free if they feel the need.

That sounds like a pretty good deal, and it lends credibility to their stated philosophy:

These days there are a lot of different training choices available, online, webinar etc. but if you are looking for the best and highest quality learning experience then nothing compares to one of our face-to-face instructor-led classes.

  • Live trainer (actually present in the classroom
  • Emphasis on providing a real world learning experience
  • Free class repeat valid for 6 months
  • Money back guarantee (some conditions)

The Training Connection has a mix of classes in web development and for Adobe training.

On the web development side, they offer training in HTML5, CSS basics, PHP, JavaScript, and JQuery.

The classes are shown in list form on their website, and linked to detailed descriptions. We really like the degree of detail they provide:

The HTML and CSS Fundamentals class show above runs three days. The charge is $1295

The Training Connection employs industry professionals teach the classes. It’s a proven approach that offers students many benefits,  including exposure to teachers who are actually in the field making a living. The classroom material is likely to reflect what the marketplace is currently demanding.

On the other hand, the teachers are not vetted in any independent manner. The school attests to the knowledge, skills, and teaching abilities, and they are highly motivated to pick good people.

Nevertheless, without a demonstrable track record, it’s really just blind faith.

We agree with the Training Connection that web design is best taught in the classroom, but of course along with that goes a hefty price. $1295 for three days is expensive.

It’s a lot of information to digest in a short time. This may be great for quick learners, but not so great for those who need a bit more time.

The Training Connection
915 Wilshire Blvd
Suite 1800
Los Angeles
CA 90017

Tel: 888.815.0604
Fax: 866.523.2138
Email: [email protected]

CONCLUSION

This is an exciting time for web designers and web developers. An article called How Is Technology Impacting the Changes in the 21st Century Workplace reports that “for the past generation, technological inventions and improvements seem to be introduced every week.” What should be acknowledged is the fact that people and businesses that ride the “Internet wagon” are going to need a web presence that reflects these constant changes, and this presence must be accomplished through the use of a web designer or developer.

The alternative, of course, is that these individuals and businesses would need to possess the basic skills to know how to update, backup, tweak or enhance the site they already have. Some will have these skills, but many will look for an expert like you to handle the details for them.

As long as the Internet keeps changing and there is a need to “keep it fresh,” your web development or web design services should always be in demand. How much in demand they will be is, of course, another story. In the meantime, all you need to do is choose the right school and the right customized education to ensure that you are the solution to these ever-changing needs.

WordPress Theme Avada – The Truth Behind the Hype

You’re a DIY-er—a “do-it-yourselfer.” That means you’re not afraid to tackle anything. It means that even if you ultimately have to hire someone else to finish a task for you, you’re at least willing to try your own hand at it first. Like, for example, tackling your own website.

These days, it’s easier and easier to tackle laying out your own website. Since we covered this topic in our last article, DIY Web Design Basics, we’ll assume that you’ve already purchased the perfect domain name (Namecheap, Godaddy) and have chosen a beautiful WordPress theme (WordPress.org, Themeforest) to upload to your FTP files.

We’ll also assume that you have heard all the hype about the Avada WordPress theme—that it’s possible to build almost any type of WordPress website you can think of with it, and you’ve decided to give it a try.

After all, it has over 254,000 sales under its belt, so that many customers can’t be wrong.  Plus, nearly 17,000 of those customers have given the theme a “5-Star” rating. Therefore, for purposes of this article, the question is not whether a DIY-er knows what he or she is doing when it comes to uploading and activating a WordPress theme, but whether it is truly as easy to use the Avada theme to build a website to specifications as the theme developers claim can be done.

This article is written to offer a heads-up on what to expect when you—the DIY-er—decide to take on Avada Almighty.

Why Avada?

To answer Why Avada?, we should first address who you are. You’re a business-savvy do-it-yourselfer who also happens to be tech-savvy enough to know where to find the best WordPress themes and how to get them up and running on your own. As such, you’ve heard the legend of Avada, the WordPress wonder-theme on Themeforest.net.

You’ve heard that Avada is a super-flexible WordPress theme that allows buyers to “design the website of their dreams without needing to know one word of code.” You’ve read that some buyers call it “the Swiss Army Knife of WordPress themes,” insinuating that it can do just about anything with the click of a mouse.

You’ve also seen with your own eyes that it comes with eighteen pre-designed demos (including Photography, Gym, Church, Café, Travel, Law and Fashion, to name a few) so that you don’t need to reinvent the wheel; you can simply decide on the business of your dreams and then click to import the perfect demo and build from there.

It sounds like heaven and you want to try your hand at it—not only because you’re trying to save money, but also because as a DIY-er, you love learning new things. That brings us back to the mission of this article: determining whether the Avada theme is actually as easy to upload, install, lay out and customize as it is said to be.

Ready, Set…Upload!

Again, for purposes of this article, we will assume that you are not a newbie when it comes to WordPress sites. We will assume that you understand how to upload a WordPress theme to your FTP files and that you understand that before you can upload Avada, you need to have already installed WordPress. HOWEVER, in case you weren’t aware that you need to know these things, here’s a quick refresher:

Avada is a WordPress theme. When designing ANY WordPress theme, before you upload you must make sure you have already installed the latest WordPress software to your server. If you       haven’t already done   this, you can install using Avada’s WordPress Installation article, or you can go directly to WordPress.org for a free WordPress download and follow their           installation instructions.

FTP: The Avada authors were thoughtful enough to include a FTP Installation article        that is a type of crash course in how to install via FTP.

Roadblocks: System Status

Assuming that the WordPress and FTP installation crash-courses above were a breeze for you, we can continue our up-close-and-personal look at Avada.

Once you activate your Avada theme you’ll see a dashboard display that prompts you to register your product (to be sure you are licensed to use it), install the demo of your choice, and activate the necessary plugins to run the theme.

You won’t have to search for the plugins via the WordPress.org plugin panel that is typically integrated into the WordPress theme; Avada tells you exactly which plugins you need. All you need to do is click “install,” and then later, “activate.”

As you progress through the plugin installation and activation steps, you will eventually arrive at a dashboard tab called “system status”—a section which could prove to be a bit of a monster for the novice WordPress user. The system support tab summarizes your server’s actual resource settings, and an accompanying display suggests the necessary resources required to run a humongous theme like Avada.  Following are the challenges you may encounter:

Challenge #1 – WP Memory Limit

One of the first red flags you may notice when you visit “system status” is that the typical WP Memory limit setting is 40mb. Unfortunately, Avada needs at least 128mb to run smoothly—and all of 256mb if you’re planning to import the Avada Classic demo.

If your setting doesn’t match Avada’s suggested resource number, you’re going to have problems. First of all, you will most likely receive an error message when you try to import your demos. The message may look like this:

Fatal error: Allowed memory size of 134217728 bytes exhausted (tried to allocate 644 bytes) 

You may also get trapped in what I like to call the “memory fail loop.” This is when you cannot complete a task because there isn’t enough memory, but you also cannot get back to your admin panel to log out. If by some miracle you do manage to log out of your website, your landing page will still display that annoying error message. Following is what you should do to fix the problem:

How to Solve It:

  1. a) FTP the theme: Let’s assume that as a DIY-er, you already know how to extract your Avada files from their “zip” format.  Once that’s done, you can use your FTP client to upload the necessary files. You would use the path:

FolderName (whatever your site will be called) > wp-content > themes.

You would upload your Avada theme, then login to your site’s url and open the admin panel and find “appearance” and activate the Avada theme.

  1. b)  Edit some files:  Simply put, you’re going to need to edit your ini file, .htaccess file, and possibly even your wp-config.php to help resolve your issues. This article has not included a lesson about what these files are, because the assumption is that you know enough of the basics to attempt to set up this WordPress theme on your own.

To edit your php configuration files, .htaccess file and wp-config.php file, you should run a search called “How to increase WP Memory Limit” in your favorite search engine to pull up the various articles, videos, pdf’s and other resources that are available to help you.

Let’s assume you find some great articles from this link. Aside from the fact that editing your php configuration files, .htaccess file, and wp-config.php sounds like a scary process, many novices agree that the process is nowhere near as easy as all the experts claim it should be. For example, adding the specific wording to the wp-config.php file does not always work—and many of the articles out there concede that it might not work.

If the wp-config.php file doesn’t work, you would make the changes in the php and .htaccess files. You should know upfront that the php file is not always easy to locate. In fact, it is often deliberately hidden, and trying to find it can lead to hours and hours of frustration.

The .htaccess file is much easier to locate, and most instructions will give you the exact wording that should be included in the file. Unfortunately, they don’t tell you where to include the wording. They assume that since you’re doing everything yourself, you should already know.

If the thought of trying to change these files is unsavory for you, you can always pay for installation.

  1. c) Pay for installation: Like many WordPress theme developers, the Avada authors realize that novices and do-it-yourselfers can often make things more difficult than they actually are. Therefore, they offer the option of installing the theme for a small fee. You might also decide to pay a 3rd Party vendor to install the theme, import the demos and fix the technical problems.

avada3-copy

 

Challenge #2 – PHP Max Input Vars

On the system status page, you will see a recommended limit for the PHP Max Input Vars. Your system’s PHP Max Input Vars is probably set at or just above the typical 1,000 level, but to run Avada, you’ll need to be at 1500. Otherwise, many actions (such as working with menus) won’t complete or will time out (freeze) in the middle of the actions.

How to Solve It:

The Avada theme offers an article on how to solve the Vars issue, but like the article on increasing the WordPress memory limit, it may not help the novice. It instructs you to either find or create a php.ini file and input the following line of code:

max_input_vars = 1540;.

If this doesn’t work, it instructs you to locate your .htaccess file and insert this line of code:

php_value max_input_vars 1540.

However, it goes on to say that sometimes the .htaccess file is hidden, so there is yet another article you need to read about how to find the file so that you can change it.

By now, these issues probably sound like a belly ache waiting to happen. You may want to avoid the stress by contacting your ISP and asking them to make these changes for you, but don’t be surprised if they tell you that you’re basically on your own. Some ISP providers may offer links to instructional articles that will help accomplish your goal, but it is more likely that you will be offered actual assistance only if you are willing to pay a small fee.

Set-up Summary:

If none of the above “fixes” work, there are other options. As a licensed Avada theme owner, you can submit a ticket to the theme authors and get specific help on how to make the above necessary changes to your theme. Just be aware that as of this article’s press time, Avada has over 254,000 customers. This means you may experience an extended wait time before your questions are answer.  Therefore, you may want to consider paying a 3rd Party vendor to make the changes.

avada6b-copy

PART II

Let’s assume that you have solved your WP Memory limit and Max Input Vars problems—at least for the time being, and your demo site is up and running. You are now ready to build your dream site. Following is a personal account of what I experienced. Your own experience (based on your personal knowledge of WordPress and the amount of time you have to spend on learning Avada) may render different results.

Just What Can Avada Do?

The first thing that a DIY-er like yourself will learn is how easy the Avada authors have tried to make it for you to get your new site up and running. These authors tried to think of every type of business you might possibly be planning to engage in and then created a demo for it.

These demo themes (shown above include: Photography, Classic Shop, Avada Classic, Modern Shop, Hosting, Agency, Architecture, Hotel, Lifestyle, App, Gym, Church, Agency, Café, Travel, Law, Fashion and a Landing page. By the way, as mentioned in Part I, you will need the maximum amount of resources (Vars and WP Memory limit) should you choose to install the Classic Avada theme.

I selected the Classic Shop demo. Importing it was quick and painless, and after activating the theme and demo content, my site was “live” in no time flat. All I needed to do was begin customizing my navigation menu, posts and pages. To do this, I began with the following Avada documentation and training links:

 Quick Start Guide

 Online Documentation

 Training Videos

 KnowledgeBase

Even though the Avada option panel is easy to manage (as most WordPress theme admin panels are), the sheer number of variations that are possible can be quite overwhelming—especially for DIY-ers and novices who have no design experience in your background.

For example, in addition to the ability to change the font, padding, background, height and navigation layouts, every page can have a different footer, title bar, slider, background, or custom shortcode on it.

In fact, settling on the immense number of features that can be mixed and matched to give your website your own personal touch can actually take longer to decide upon than it takes to physically get the site up and running on the web.

avada4-copy

Thankfully, the authors created a safety net feature that quells the fears of those novices and DIY-ers who have no usable design experience:  the “reset section” option. Any novice who has ever customized a site knows how terrifying experimenting can be.

If you don’t know what you’re doing, changes made to the default design can leave your site looking like a 5-year old has been working on it, and you can’t always figure out how to go back to the way things were. Avada eliminates that fear by allowing you to play with colors, sizes, padding, font, banners, background elements, menus, etc., and then simply resetting them to the default if you don’t like the results.

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As mentioned, Avada offers an entire video series (see topics above) to help the novice build the site. These videos come complete with voice-over explanations of how to master the global theme options, pages, posts and shortcodes.

While not unheard of, this “voice-over” feature is quite rare. Many WordPress theme developers do not speak English as a first language, and since many of them speak with a distinct accent, they may feel it is easier to offer silent videos where users need only follow the moving cursor to learn how to customize the site.

Unfortunately, many times those cursors move at lightning speed; after all, the developers know their own product front to back and move quickly through the video, almost as an afterthought.

It can be quite frustrating to try to follow the demonstrator as he/she zooms through the soundless video lesson at an accelerated speed. Thus, the Avada video series voice-over—which is done at a slow and even pace with good, clear diction—is like extra icing on the cake.

Can You Set Up the Site of Your Dreams?

It should be re-emphasized that Avada is a powerful theme with a host of features, and no matter how good a DIY-er happens to be, he or she is going to have to overcome the learning curve. That being said, the question is: can a DIY-er really use the Avada theme to build the site of his/her dreams without entering a single line of code? The answer is: “I think so.” You will understand what I mean as I explain my own experience.

Of all Avada’s many demos, there was no demo to match what I wanted: a “talent agency.”  I wrote to the theme authors and asked whether a talent agency demo might be added to their to-do list. Their reply was that what I wanted was doable using any of the demos already in existence.

They instructed me to simply choose a demo, then use the Fusion page builder to create a page for each model. From there, could insert images, videos, maps, and an information box about the type of modeling experience each model had.

It sounded simple enough—except for that darned learning curve. How steep the curve is depends upon how much you already know about laying out WordPress themes, and how much time and attention you have to devote to articles, knowledge bases and video training. Building and/or laying out WordPress sites full time (or even part time) is not what I do.

I’m a writer who happens to convey most of her content on the Internet, not a web designer. Therefore, to succeed with the Avada theme, it became necessary for me to split my time between researching and writing, and reading Avada’s extensive documentation in order to lay out the site to my specs. This division of time made learning, understanding and applying the theme’s features extremely slow.

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For example, the Fuse Page Builder (right) was a challenge. I’ve used Page Builders before, but for me, the Fuse Page Builder had different terms and options (like “Menu anchor” and “Toggles”) that I was not accustomed to, and this made creating/designing unique pages a challenge.  I also found “Widget Sections” for mega menus to be different from what I’m accustomed to.

A big plus was that the theme comes with forty (40) pre-built templates that you can choose from (see right). There’s no visual example of these templates, but you can input each into a page and then click “view” to find out what you’re dealing with. The theme also allows you to save one of your own custom designs as a “custom template” so that you don’t have to keep re-creating the page again and again.

Since I wanted a “talent agency” website and Avada had no available demos, I went to Themeforest.net and found a talent theme with lots of sales (and 5-stars) under its belt, and I attempted to pattern my site from it.

The image below represents the very beginning of my talent website. I used a pre-built Avada Homepage layout and changed some of the images to reflect what my site would be all about. I did need help from the theme authors to figure out the image sizes (and they’re still not right!).

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Notice that the words on the images in the second row (Acting, Art, Dance) are faded and almost completely unreadable.  This can be fixed within the Avada customization panel—after I conquer the font and color learning curve.

In the meantime, I found one or two excellent “model talent” websites from Themeforest and was able to determine what I wanted as far as page features, however, building these was a bit beyond my skill set. As the days turned into weeks, I finally conceded that I needed more direct help from the authors.

The online documentation, knowledge base and pre-built templates simply didn’t offer what I needed, and I had questions.

Creating and submitting a ticket was extremely easy, but with over 254,000 customers, I knew I would have to wait at least 24 hours for an answer. That’s not a bad thing; it’s actually quick in the world of WordPress design; however, as I explained before, I must split my time between writing and researching and laying out this particular website, so I had very little time to spare.

As I slowly but steadily built my new site brick by brick, I got another surprise as I worked to tweak my site. I found that every change/addition I made to the site changed the amount of resources needed. So even though I paid a 3rd Party vendor to change my WP Memory Limit and Max Input Vars, my resources were soon in the red again.

After several weeks of wrestling with system resources (which still aren’t where they should be), writing to the theme authors, waiting the customary 24 hours to hear back from them, and plodding through the theme documentation, I finally replaced Avada’s default posts, logo and settings with my own.

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Here is what my blog page will look like. I have not customized the posts, nor have I tweaked the colors, typography and visual appeal. That will come in time. Again, I’m not a designer and I’m fully aware that I may have to pay a 3rd party vendor to take care of the cosmetics for me.

All in all, I’m happy with what I have so far, but I must offer my answers to two vital questions that have been at the forefront of my mind as I’ve worked with this theme.

Question #1:   Have I built (or even simply worked on) the site of my dreams without entering a word of code?

Answer: No, I’m afraid not. I had to pay a 3rd party vendor to increase my WP Memory limit and Max Input Vars, and as things stand, they need to be increased again.

Question #2:  Can I indeed build my dream site using the Avada theme?

Answer:  I think so, but the final results remain to be seen.

FYI: Quibbles

Here are my quibbles with Avada:

  1. The theme needs extra resources. Even though the theme is billed as “not needing a word of code,” the novice often has to write code in the .htaccess or php.ini file in order to increase the resources to get the theme to work smoothly. I didn’t want to tackle this myself so I paid a 3rd party vendor. Even after the 3rd party vendor took care of this for me, I found that every change I made placed my resources in the red. Several times, my php “timed out” and my website froze because the theme is so big. Also, any time I needed to insert a feature inside a widget area, the theme timed out. This leads me to wonder if the Avada people should advise buyers to use a dedicated server or a VPN to run Avada, because a shared server (which is what I use) just isn’t working.

2. The theme has so many options, variations, and possibilities that it can be quite overwhelming. If getting a product on the web in a hurry is your goal, Avada fits the bill. But if customizing that product and using it as quickly as possible is your goal, you may find yourself hindered by the learning curve and distracted by all the available features.

  1. YES, you can build a great site with Avada (I’ve seen Avada’s showcase examples–though I don’t know if DIY-ers did them or if they hired 3rd party vendors), but unless you have days and days to dedicate to nothing but learning the theme’s features and possibilities, your dream site may be weeks or months down the road.

I do want to advise you that NONE of these quibbles are catastrophic. Avada is just so huge and has so many features that the average novice WON’T get up and running in a matter of minutes. There’s just too much to learn. This, I think, means that a user MUST make use of the Ticket System to ask those evasive questions that never seem to make it to the knowledge base

Showcase Sites

No matter how much a theme author may promise you that you can make your dream site with their theme, nothing convinces more than the opportunity to look at actual websites that utilize the design. The Avada Showcase includes a long list of websites that use the Avada theme. Some of them are dashingly beautiful. However, there is no way of knowing whether individual users tweaked the themes to look this way, or if they paid a 3rd party vendor to do design and/or programming work to get the results they wanted.

Conclusion

Avada is truly a magnificent WordPress theme, but with magnificence and flexibility comes a learning curve (however steep) that may slow or even halt a novice’s progress. After all, nothing is ever as easy as it’s cracked up to be…right?

In the meantime, I promise to return when my dream site is complete. Stay tuned!