I’ve been a big convert to Elementor in the last year. It is a fantastic page builder and essentially it makes themes completely useless. For websites, rather than blogs, I always found themes to be confusing to the novice user. The idea that you would choose your theme before you had content is misleading. I watched many Journalism students choose a theme and then get confused by why their site did not look like the examples. The answer: they had no content.
A page builder is a great way to evolve the design of your site, which is what you do with any website. Until you have content, it is so hard to say what it should look like. A modern page builder like Elementor enables you to design your top-level landing pages with greater control, and to use dynamic widgets to load posts or other content based upon some taxonomy. I also love using Anywhere Elementor, as it provides even more control over the templating of the items that appear in the dynamic lists of content. I’ll give you a good example of this later.
For now, I just want to finish off by encouraging everyone to explore page builders. I used Divi for a long time and eventually I switched to Elementor because it is easier to use. It also has some good development hooks to build your own widgets. I’ll be sharing my experiments with that soon.
There is no need to redesign your website (again). Do not let any web developer tell you this. If you have an existing website, and especially if it is built upon a modern content management system like WordPress, there is no need to start an extensive redesign project. You are far better off getting to know your existing site and working with a developer to make small, incremental changes. This is known as an agile realignment.
Before I give you some examples of things that can be done in this manner, let me make it perfectly clear that I am not trying to devalue the role of designers. Design is so important to a website, but so is User Experience and Content Strategy. All of these should be handled by professionals. It’s a pretty awesome thing if you can work with a designer to craft a truly outstanding and attractive website. But like many things, it is extremely difficult and expensive to start from scratch. Websites, and all the infrastructure that goes with your online communication platform, needs to be developed independently of its design. Before you hire a designer, make sure you have a very good idea about what works and doesn’t work with your existing site. If you don’t understand it, you may be paying someone to reinvent the wheel.
Understanding the ecosystem
If you are thinking you have a simple website, chances are you are underestimating your infrastructure. Most businesses these days have social media accounts. These include the standards: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and LinkedIn; and they include the stalwarts: Email, Notifications and Newsletters. If you have customers (which is pretty much every business), you have a Customer Relations Management system (CRM). If you have products, you have a Product Database. If you are sell anything, you have orders, inventory and so much more. Many of these systems might be handled outside of your website, but the ways in which they connect to your website, at least through process, workflow and management is essential to your business. All of these need to be taken into account when developing your site. The problem is that each of these systems are themselves shifting and evolving.
If you really want to understand your website, you need to understand your information or communication ecosystem. You need to be working with developers, who can give you insights into how they are function for you. Yes, you might outsourcing your newsletter to Mailchimp, but do you know how it is working with your website. Are you using the best plugin or APIs?
WordPress & Themes
Design in the WordPress space often involves completely changing your theme. This is one of the great features of WordPress. However, changing a theme can cause your site to become less functional. Many themes include code that affects the structure of your site, including the page builders. These tools can give you a lot of control over the content of a page, but do they help you to manage and evolve the content of that page? Be careful about changing your theme. This is often a step a web designer will encourage in order to deliver you a visual makeover. The site may look different, but it might not function as well, and ultimately you might be given a bunch of new tools to learn that do not offer you any great advantage.
Gutenberg – the new editor
WordPress is introducing a new editor called Gutenberg. It may be the default editor by the end of 2018. This editor is great because it will ultimately simplify how content editors work with the page. On the one hand, it will give more visual control to the content editor. On the other hand, it will leave content in a position to be better styled by future Gutenberg-enabled themes. There will be less reliance on page builders and I think this will change the way that themes are developed. We won’t find people changing themes so quickly. Rather, we will augment the themes, and in essence realign them. Stay tuned!
Working with different small businesses, I have identified a real need for an ongoing support relationship with a developer. This is more than just the classic webmaster role. This is an experienced web developer who is able to stay familiar with your site, so that they can respond quickly in times of crisis and help guide the future development of your website infrastructure.