Posts Categorised: Website Advice

How to be a Web Designer: My Story

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One of the most common questions I get asked about web design and development is how I came to do what I do. Did I go to school to learn how to make websites? Where did I learn the ins and outs of WordPress? Here’s the first in a new series, starting with my story, sort of like X-Men Origins.

Since I started messing around on the internet back when I was around 13, I’ve always tinkered with HTML and CSS. From an early starting ground of Geocities, to wanting my livejournal posts to look prettier, I became pretty competent with how the whole HTML thing worked.

I didn’t go to school for web design or development, I actually studied “Interactive Arts” at University – it’s basically Fine Art with a modern slant. Throughout my degree, which was very much self led anyway (read: we did whatever the fuck we wanted), I started building websites. I wanted to make a website for one of my projects which is where I discovered self-hosted WordPress sites.

I spent a cold, grimy, Saturday afternoon in Manchester during my third year of University installing and setting up WordPress on an old domain. Luckily Adam was out with friends, my first foray into WordPress was sooo frustrating. Lots of swears. But, when it was there? And working? Ah. I was kinda hooked from then on in. 

While looking for work as a fresh-from-university-graduate (with a ridiculously unemployable degree), I stumbled across an advert for a Front End Web Developer. I didn’t even know that that was a thing! The job description seemed to fall inline with what I’d self-taught myself over the years, so I applied.

I interviewed, did a website building test, and got the job. While not technically qualified, I proved I could do what was needed which was, apparently, more than a lot of the graduates in the actual web design/development field could. Plus, my two bosses had completely irrelevant degrees too, and they both ran web design/development companies.

I spent a happy 4 years working at Common Agency in Huddersfield, learning as I went, and becoming somewhat of an expert at Wordpress simply by trial and error. Common Agency turned their sights more towards app development, and I started getting itchy feet for something new. I quit the day job in 2011 to concentrate on my own freelance web design and development career, and to work more on my brand, Finest Imaginary.

The rest, as they say, is history.

I’m still learning how to be a web designer/developer, the learning never stops. That’s one of the things I love about this side of my career, there is always something new to learn. Technology has moved on so much since I started being a web designer/developer, there was no such thing as RWD (or we didn’t have a name for it, at least) or mobile optimisation back then, and I’m pretty sure I used to build my earliest websites with iFrames and tables. Erk.

The moral of my story? Don’t think that not having a formal education in something means that you can’t be successful (unless you want to be a surgeon or something, then it’s pretty necessary). If you want to be a web designer then just get stuck in. Make websites. Learn stuff. There’s a wealth of free, brilliant advice and tutorials available on the internet, I’ll be sharing my best resources next time!

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WordPress 101: Back that shit up

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When was the last time you backed up your WordPress database? Or files?

Mm-hmm.

We’re all guilty of it.

As much as I love WordPress, it can be dodgy. Plugins can be corrupt, causing all manner of problems to arise within your database. There are security holes that can allow hackers to cause irreversible damage to your files and database. And then, of course, there’s good old fashioned human error.

One way or another you need to backup. Here are my top tips for making sure you’ve got the safety net of a backup for your WordPress website or blog.

What is a backup?

A backup is a carbon copy of your WordPress website. Your WordPress website consists of files (that you can see via your FTP, these are your themes, images, and WordPress itself) and your database (this is where all the information is stored). A backup can consist of just files, just the database, or both.

Here’s what WordPress has to say about backups.

NB: I don’t usually backup plugins unless they’re premium/have been adjusted in any way. They’re generally easy enough to re-download, and it saves some time/space by leaving them out of your backup.

Regularity

The regularity of your backups depending on how often you update your website. I tend to go for a weekly backup of the database, and a monthly backup of files. It might sound tempting to do a daily backup, but this can cause a lot of server load and is generally unnecessary (but if your hosts offer it, then awesome!).

Most backup plugins offer you control over when and what you backup, and offer their advice on regularity.

I’d also suggest manually backing up at least once a month, and checking that your automated backup solution is still working correctly!

Before and After

Along with a regular schedule of backups, you should take time to backup before and after any updates. That includes WordPress core updates, plugin updates and theme updates. Better safe than sorry!

Check if your hosts offer a free backup

There are some really great dedicated/managed WordPress hosts out there, and many of them offer backups as standard. WP Engine, for instance, offer a free daily backup of both your database and files.

It’s not just the dedicated WordPress hosts, either. My host of choice here in the UK, Krystal, offer daily backups with all of their plans.

Where to store your Backup

Depending on your backup method, you can store your WordPress backup in a variety of places. The most usual place is on your server, where your actual WordPress install lives. This isn’t ideal, and I really wouldn’t recommend relying on just this version of your backup.

To be safe, you should have your backup stored in a variety of places, here are a few options.

  • Your server
  • Your computer
  • Dropbox
  • An external drive
  • Google Drive
  • A different server

The more backups, the safer your ass.

The Best Plugins

Don’t worry if your host doesn’t offer backups, there’re a variety of other ways that you can backup your site using some free and premium WordPress plugins. And even if your host does offer backups, I’d always suggest going ahead and generating a backup of your own elsewhere… just in case.

Here are a few of my favourites to get you started, but there are plenty of other options available (give “best wordpress backup plugins” a google, and check out recent round-ups).

Updraft Plus is an awesome – possibly the best – free plugin that makes backing up your WordPress site super easy. There are LOADS of options with this plugin, including backing up to Amazon S3, Dropbox, and your email.

Another of my favourite free backup plugins is WordPress Backup to Dropbox. This is a free plugin, and connects your WordPress site with your Dropbox account, creating automated backups on a regular schedule.

A premium plugin that’s definitely worth a look at is BackupBuddy, offering some great features alongside automated backups, BackupBuddy makes automated backups easy as pie, and does all the fun stuff of storing your backups on external storage areas! In fact, this is the plugin that I use.

VaultPress is another premium (paid for) service, but it’s one of the best Wordpress automated backup plugins.

For instructions on manually backing up your WordPress website, check out the information over on WordPress itself.

What to do with your backup if your site dies

Your backup will let you restore your WordPress website without much stress. The plugins above offer instructions on restoring your site (and most of the time the restoration process depends on the plugin you’ve used), and your hosts will also provide instructions (or do it for you).

It can get quite technical, so don’t be afraid to reach out to a developer if you’re struggling.

 TL;DR

  • Backup with regularity
  • Don’t rely on automated backup plugins, take the occasional manual backup through that plugin too
  • Store your backups in a variety of places
  • Always backup before any updates to your WordPress site
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10 Questions to ask yourself before a website redesign

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I often get emails from people who know they want a website redesign (or to start a brand new one), sort-of have an idea in their mind, but really don’t know where to start. Well, here’s a list of 10 questions you should ask yourself while you’re in the early planning stages.

The outcome? Clarity, y’all! You’ll be able to approach the early stages of your website redesign with a good understanding of what you actually want.

#1 What’s the aim of your website? Who are you serving? What should your website do?

Are you selling something? Who’s your customer? Are you a blogger? Who’s reading your blog? Do you want to promote something? Use your website as a portfolio? Get clear on this.

#2 What’s not working about your website at the moment?

What makes you audibly groan whenever you hit your home page?

#3 In an ideal world, with no monetary constraints, what super awesome features would your website have?

Do you love how pinterest works? Would you fall down at the knees of any developer who said they could “totally build you one of those kick-ass content sliders that your favourite website has!”? Go on, go crazy. I’m not saying all these things could be done within your time and budget constraints, but don’t put a line through anything without asking first!

#4 How much money can you invest in this project?

Websites are costly. Either in monetary terms if you’re bringing in the big girls, or in time if you’re DIYing. What can you currently invest in this project? What’s your current maximum budget?

Many designers are happy to let you pay in installments, but it’s always a good idea to start saving up for a new design well in advance. If you can’t afford the quote for the work you want, ask the designer what they could do within your budget without completely throwing out your brief, and if it’s possible to ‘bolt on’ other aspects further down the line.

#5 How flexible are you?

When do you want the work to start and end? Can you work in phases? Or do you definitely need it by a certain date?

#6 Should you DIY or bring in some professional help?

I’ve made websites since I was 13, I learnt on the job because I had to. I know DIY is perfectly fine for some folk, hell, my first websites were geocities monstrosities. They still did their job. Maybe you’re at a stage where a simple wordpress theme would be totally satisfactory (check out Themeforest), or maybe you’re ready to supercharge your online presence with a professional’s help. Either way, figure it out.

#7 Future proofing

Do you have grand plans for the future of your website? Maybe you want to start selling products in a year or so? Or create an iPhone app based on the content? Get all those things you have in the back of your head written down NOW, because there could be some things that your developer could put in place during this phase to make everything go smoothly down the line.

#8 Which websites do you love? Which do you hate?

Figuring out what you love and hate about websites is a huge consideration when you’re thinking of re-doing your own. It’ll help you and your designer/developer get to grips with what you want.

#9 Is it really just a website that you need, or are you looking for a full brand redesign?

If I had a quid for every one that comes to me looking for a web design when actually they’re looking for a full on brand redesign, I’d have at least an extra tenner in the bank. Uh. Seriously, though, do you need a new logo? A new logo isn’t a new ‘web banner’, it’s a logo. Do you have colours for your brand? Fonts? Anything visual? Do you need business cards? Letterheads? The whole kit and caboodle?

#10 Are you ready?

“I want a new website, and I want it today!” shouldn’t be a Eureka moment. It needs consideration, planning and organisation. Don’t rush the process, think it through, and do it right the first time.

There are so many other considerations you can take in to account during the early planning stages of your website, and I’ll shortly be working on a comprehensive worksheet for you to get crystal clear on what you want from your website. Interested? Get signed up for my newsletter to be the first to hear about it!

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Why your website is your best employee

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We all know that you website should be the hard working version of your business on the internet, but why is that? What makes your website your most important employee?

  • It works for free – mostly, apart from initial expenses (be it a layout of time or money) to get your website up and running & monthly hosting fees. Your website works its ass off for little or no monetary reward. Sweet! This is one employee that won’t spend all its time hanging out by the water cooler.
  • It’s your biggest fan! going above and beyond the tout your business to everyone who comes in contact with it, shouting your praises from the roof tops. At least, it should be. Maybe now’s a good time to revisit your website copy? Does it tell your customer exactly why they should choose you? Here’s a tip, don’t talk about what your selling them (they probably already know that), try telling them why they should be buying from you!
  • It’s handing out your business card to everyone it meets, how many other employees do that?? Make sure you’ve got all your contact details on your website, and a contact form, and make sure it’s easily accessible.
  • It’s great at taking names and kicking ass, mainly just taking names. Your website is awesome at collecting potential customer information, so make sure you’ve got your newsletter opt-in available.
  • It’s always on hand for your customers! If they have a question, your website is right there with the answer (hopefully!). If you find you’re always getting asked the same questions, why not set up an FAQ page?
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