Redesigning A WordPress Site: What You Should Know

One of the major advantages of WordPress is, that redesigning a WordPress site technically is quite easy. Doing a proper redesign that grows the impact of your WordPress site on your business is tough.

In this post, I’ll talk about redesigning a WordPress site because WordPress always comes with a standard theme installed. This post will guide you through either creating a new design for your WordPress site or adjusting your existing design. (Just to clarify the term “redesign”).

Maybe you’re thinking about a redesign for your site because you don’t see the interaction you’d like. You don’t get as many optins as you hoped for, or you’re just not happy with the design.

Especially when you’re not a technical person this post will come in handy. I’ll show you how redesigning a WordPress site can be done without any coding skills or design skills.

In this post I’ll walk you through the exact process I’m going through in redesigning my WordPress site. The redesign became necessary because my business saw a lot of organic growth after the WP Summit ended.

The old design and site structure didn’t align with the shift my business had taken. I got different people reading my blog, being interested in different topics, and after all I gained a lot of credibility in the WordPress area, which my old WordPress blog didn’t really convey.

I got different people reading my blog, being interested in different topics, and after all I gained a lot of credibility in the WordPress area, which my old WordPress blog didn’t really convey.

So redesigning my WordPress site to tweak my branding and positioning just was the next consequent step.

And you’ll be right next to me in the redesign process. I’ll show you the exact steps I took and decision I made and explain them to you.

1. Preparation Phase

Redesigning a WordPress site starts with a preparation phase. There are a few things you want to take care of before starting the redesign process.

First off, let me emphasize a few key points you should know:

  • Properly redesigning a WordPress site takes time. It’s not a job for a few days, rather weeks or months.
  • Don’t work on your live website, regardless whether you have traffic on it or not. I’ll show you how to create a test site and transition the final design to your live website.
  • Choosing a new WordPress theme is one of the last steps in the redesign process.
  • You can build great looking websites without having design or coding skills.
  • The design of your website doesn’t matter on your preferences. It should be based on what your audience likes!

Alright, I just wanted to set the tone for this post. I’m not writing this post to create another “set up your Website in 4 minutes” guide. I want you to build a solid platform that allows you to grow your online presence.

Ready to dive into the process of redesigning a WordPress site?

2. Redesigning With Your Business In Mind

The mistake I see most WordPress users make when they’re redesigning their site is that they don’t have their business objectives in mind.

They forget that a website is nothing but a marketing tool for their business. It’s not the business, but the online platform of the business.

When redesigning a WordPress site, you should always have your business objectives in mind. (Tweet this!)

Ideally you’ve already defined these goals before even starting to work on your website. Then you can just grab that list of goals and move on to the next step.

If you don’t have an idea of what goals you want to achieve with your website, let me give you a quick rundown of what’s possible:

  • Your WordPress site can gather leads by turning visitors into email subscribers.
  • You can get people to send you a direct message via a contact form, or to call you directly.
  • You can focus on making money with ads, in which case you want your visitors to either stay on your site as long as possible or click on the ads.
  • Affiliate marketers will want to build trust to their target audience so that the visitors follow their recommendations and click on their affiliate links.
  • You can sell digital products on your website. In most cases that will require setting up a sales funnel, for which the first step would be to build an email list (see the first item on this list).

These are a few options for goals you can achieve with your website. See how none of those directly relate to design? They’re plain business objectives.

Danny Iny knew it in 2011 already. Your blog is not a business.

But your blog (or WordPress site in general) is a tool to GROW your business. And to achieve that growth you need to know what you’re striving for.

In terms of redesigning a WordPress site there are a few goals that set the baseline and should always be kept in mind:

  • Your WordPress site needs to have a responsive design, meaning it adjusts its layout on mobile devices to ensure usability.
  • Your WordPress site should load within a matter of seconds. Speed matters.
  • Decide on one goal per page on your site. Don’t overwhelm your visitors (more on that in step 3).

Let me emphasize this again: when redesigning a WordPress site you need to know what goals you want that site to achieve.

Not defining business objectives for your website is a surefire way to fail. If you don’t know why you’re building your WordPress site, what reason do people have to visit it?

So take out a pen and paper and write down the reasons why you’re building a WordPress site and the goals you want to achieve with it. These might be big goals like “make $10k in monthly revenue” or small goals like “get 100 daily visitors”. I recommend starting small and then growing over time.

3. Planning The Contents And Site Structure

3.a Why Content Formats Matter

Now that you know what you want your website to achieve, we can take the next step in the redesign process: planning the contents and site structure.

To summarize Jason Amunwa in his interview of the WP Summit:

If your content doesn’t spark the attention of your readers, the best design in the world won’t help you. - Jason Amunwa

Contents are blog posts, videos, podcast episodes, checklists, cheat sheets, webinars, whatever medium you prefer to deliver value to your audience.

Knowing what kind of contents you’ll creating is mandatory when redesigning your WordPress site.

Bloggers who publish daily will need a different blog layout than those who publish once a month. Daily blogs will prefer a magazine style layout whereas blogs will fewer contents will prefer a one-column standard layout. Chris Ducker created an outstanding design for his blog.

If you’re producing a lot of videos, you’ll want to make them very easy to consume on all kinds of devices. You need to think about WordPress plugins for video players vs. using embed codes from Youtube, Vimeo, etc.

Podcasters will need to hook up their audio hosting to their WordPress site. Award-winning podcaster Omar Zenhom recommended the free BluBrry PowerPress Podcasting plugin during his WP Summit interview. Pat Flynn also created the incredibly good looking Smart Podcast Player.

You see, the content formats matter.

3.b The Site Structure

The site structure matters as well, in fact it’s one of the most important aspects in redesigning a WordPress site.

You should be very clear about the strategy for each page on your website, because each page serves a different purpose.

Especially in the beginning I didn’t pay attention at all to the pages on my blog. I created them when I got a new idea, and soon I had a true mess.

I had pages for different purposes, for contents that should rather be blog posts, and I just copied strategies I saw working on other blogs - that didn’t work at all for me.

Even more than 2 years after starting my blog I’m cleaning up that mess. The problem is, that each page is now linked to from other websites. Since I don’t want to lose that traffic, I’m creating redirects to other pages on my website that actually make sense.

Yes, I’m an expert for WordPress, I know how to build profitable online businesses, and how to run global virtual events. But I started small, not knowing what I was doing - just like most of us. And now I’m using this opportunity to show you how I’m cleaning up the mess I left behind 🙂

But I started small, not knowing what I was doing - just like most of us. And now I’m using this opportunity to show you how I’m cleaning up the mess I left behind 🙂

And now I’m using this opportunity to show you how I’m cleaning up the mess I left behind 🙂

Let me give you an overview on the pages of my WordPress site in the new structure, and the goals attached to each page. This is a raw shot of my website in the redesign process.

This is a raw shot of my website in the redesign process.

Homepage header

Home page

Every site obviously has a home page. In my case most visitors land on this page.

The home page makes it incredibly easy to decide for a visitor whether to stay or leave the page. My tagline is “Learn Proven WordPress Strategies For More Traffic & Leads”.

If you’re not interested in these topics, you’ll better off visiting other sites than mine. But if you’re interested, you’ll LOVE my content.

But if you’re interested, you’ll LOVE my content.

I also have an optin form on that page, so that visitors can become email subscribers.

The main goal of my home page is to generate email subscribers, as my email list is the most important asset in my business.

I treat my subscribers like gold and go above and beyond for them. If you’ve been in touch with me once, you’ll know that.

Below that optin area I have a row dedicated to the WP Summit.

I give visitors a quick rundown of the event, and share interesting statistics about it. Of course a link to the website for the summit is there as well.

The WP Summit is obviously a big part in my business, and honestly I’m proud of it.

So to give new visitors a comprehensive first impression of me and my business, the WP Summit has to be on the home page.

Note that I’m not selling it on the home page though, as that would immediately destroy trust. And it wouldn’t make sense.

Would you buy from a person you just came across for the first time? I certainly wouldn’t.

In the third row on the home page I have the excerpts of the latest blog posts, highlighting the latest episode.

This gives my visitors the option to directly dive into the contents I’m creating.

The About Page

The About page is one of the most important pages when it comes to building relationships with your audience.

Most likely a new visitor will check out your website like this:

  1. Open the home page or land on a specific blog post
  2. Skim through the page and see if there's anything particularly interesting or unique
  3. Feel the urge to get more information about the website / the host of the website
  4. Open the About page

Even if that page is called "About", it's not about you. It's about your visitor. Show them why they should stay on your site.

Build a great About page.

The Blog Page

The blog page is the archive for my blog posts. I switched the design of that page drastically in redesigning my WordPress site.

Similar to Chris Ducker’s design I’m now highlighting the latest blog post right on top of the page, and just showing the headlines of the other posts.

This makes it incredibly easy to navigate through the posts. And it forces me to come up with better blog titles.

Now they need to be precise and to the point, so that visitors can pick the posts they’re looking for.

I don’t have featured images on the blog posts anymore.

In the interview with Oli Gardner I learned that images can kill conversion rates, meaning featured images may lead to less people actually reading your posts.

And thinking about it made it pretty obvious:

If you come to my blog, you most likely want content on WordPress. You don’t come to my blog to see the featured images.

A major change on the blog page (and on the single blog posts) was the sidebar.

It’s now a custom-coded sticky sidebar, showing only an optin form and info about myself.

Sticky means, that it stays visible when you scroll through the page.

My intention is to increase conversion rates for that optin, I’ll keep you posted on how the conversion rates evolved (it’s too early to share results yet).

A Single Blog Post

The design of a single blog post didn’t change that much. Of course the post itself is in the main focus of the design.

I voted for a font combination that’s easy to read and conveys a modern design. Also the fonts should be lightweight, so that loading them doesn’t slow down the website.

These are the fonts I came up when redesigning my WordPress site:

Headlines - Montserrat (bold)

Body text - Georgia (regular)

Callouts / quotes / other special text: Lato (thin)

These three fonts give a pretty neat looking combination. And Georgia is pre-installed on Windows, Mac OS X, and Linux (which means that it doesn’t slow down my site).

The biggest change in the redesign process is again the sidebar. It’s the same sticky sidebar as I’m using on the blog page and all archive pages (don’t forget about archives of tags and categories!).

Resources Page (to be created at this point)

On the resources page I’m describing the products and services I use, so that you can see exactly how I’m building my online business.

Most of the links to the resources are affiliate links, which means I earn a small commission if you buy a product through one of those links.

However, I’m not recommending these services because I’m affiliated with them - but because they helped my business. Most of those resources are mentioned through all my blog posts, they don’t just sit on the resources page and generate income for me.

On that page it’s specifically important that the products are presented nicely. Each one has it’s own row, showing a logo or graphic, the name of the product or service, and my thoughts on it.

Contact Page

This page is how you can get in touch with me. It shows a contact form and links to my social profiles.

Before the WP Summit my goal was to have people approach me for WordPress projects through that page. Now that focus has shifted a little bit.

I’m still doing project based work (feel free to reach out if you’re interested), but I’m also shifting my business more towards educating online entrepreneurs on using WordPress.

That’s why the contact page now also mentions that I’m doing speaking gigs and interviews for podcasts or summits. I didn’t have that information on the page before, but now it makes sense.

The WP Summit (to be created)

As I mentioned already, the WP Summit will play a major role in my business. I worked day and night on it for a few months, so it would be pretty dumb to run it as one-time event.

On the new website redesign I'll have a dedicated page for the WP Summit, giving away the three most popular interviews of the complete event.

These interviews where chosen from 25,000+ page views and 15,000+ video loads, so you can be sure they're helpful for WordPress users.

These stats also let me hope that they're pretty solid lead magnets to grow my email list.

Align The Design With Your Content Plan

In the last post I wrote a detailed guide for content plan creation. It walked you through the process I used to create the new content marketing plan for my personal blog.

That content plan I created is based on the takeaways of the WP Summit interviews with experts like Dan Norris from WP Curve, Jason Amunwa from Digital Telepathy, or Rand Fishkin from Moz.

If you don’t have created a content plan for your WordPress site, I highly recommend checking out that post.

4. Choosing A Theme For Your WordPress Site

Finally we’re starting to talk about WordPress themes, is that what you just thought? Well, WordPress themes are important, yet useless without the foundation we just built.

If you skipped reading the first steps and don’t know the exact site structure of your site, the content formats, and your major goals, READ THE OTHER STEPS!

Back? Great, let’s move on and dive into WordPress themes.

First off, be honest with yourself. If you’re not a designer, chances are you should stay with a premium theme and use it as it is.

It’s totally fine if you’re not a designer, you can still build a great looking WordPress site. In fact, you’re the perfect customer for premium WordPress themes.

Don’t go with a theme that comes with countless customizing options, because those will be confusing and intimidating. Instead pick a theme that already looks good right out of the box.

I heavily recommend the themes from StudioPress, these guys do an amazing job. In fact, for this redesign process I completely built my WordPress site on their Genesis framework.

However if you know what kind of colors, fonts, and layouts you want on your website - and you’ve got a feeling for what looks good, you should try your luck on platforms like ThemeForest.

Visual Composer

The themes on ThemeForest often are highly customizable. The often have easy-to-use layout builders which let you create custom designs without coding. But you have to be able to create a good looking website yourself.

In comparison StudioPress themes look stunning right out of the box, but lack these heavy customization features.

My thoughts are that you don’t need these customizations until you’ve grown to at least 200–300 daily visitors. And even then you’ll be fine with a StudioPress theme, as it’s the content that matters most at that level.

If you really want a ThemeForest theme, I have a tool for you: ThemeBro. That was created by my good friend Heidi and will help you choose themes based on your individual preferences.

4.a. Setting Up A WordPress Site To Work On

Now let’s actually dive into the redesign itself. Now we’ll talk about setting up a clone of your WordPress site, on which you can install the new theme and tweak the site until you’re happy with the outcome.

Working on a cloned website is mandatory when you’re redesigning a WordPress site! Never do the redesign on a live website, regardless if you have 1 or 1,000 daily visitors.

For now I’ll link to a great post by WP Beginner, that explains step by step how to set up a clone of your page: How to Create Staging Environment for a WordPress Site

Here’s also a WordPress plugin you can use for this purpose: Duplicator

Soon I’ll record tutorials on this process for Bluehost and WP Engine, and will embed those in this post. But unfortunately I don’t have the time to do that right now 🙁

5. Testing The Redesign

This is the last step in redesigning your WordPress site, now it’s time to test the outcome.

By testing I mean:

  • verify the responsive design is working, by opening your site on a mobile device
  • test the site in different browsers
  • make sure there are no glitches in the content design
  • ensure all plugins and the theme are working hand-in-hand
  • get objective feedback from your target audience (give access to a few people you trust)

In testing you want to make sure that the new WordPress site is ready to be moved to your production site again, to be published to the world.

That’s why you have to take care of many things. Test it in Chrome, Firefox, Safari, (and I hate to say it) in Internet Explorer.

Test it on various mobile devices, as many as you can grab a hold of. Ask your friends to use their smartphones and tablets to open your site and to play around on it.

Here are a few questions you need to answer before publishing the design:

  • Is the most important information visible at first glance?
  • What information to new visitors notice within the first 10 seconds?
  • Does the navigation menu work?
  • Is the responsive design adjusting properly on mobile devices?
  • Is the site loading in less than 5 seconds (faster is tough on cheap web hosts)
  • Do the call to actions (like optin forms) stand out from the rest of the website?
  • Do the call to actions work?

——————————

This is the exact process I used for redesigning my WordPress website.

That process was based on my experience from working with clients all over the world, and from the interviews on design and conversion optimization during the WP Summit.

I created this post to guide you through the redesign process of your own WordPress site, and to explain what thoughts go into the design of a website.

If you want to learn more about bootstrapping great looking WordPress sites, finding the right WordPress themes, and optimizing your conversion rates, check out the WP Summit.

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Jan Koch

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