In the last few years, WordPress has gone from strength to strength. I last did a video on WordPress when version five had launched, and now WordPress has 6 even more layout features, making it even more powerful as a website designer's editor of choice.
While new features like page templates and new layout blocks mean that it's not as easy to 'pick up and go' as it used to be, the premise of WordPress is still core - putting the power of editing into the hands of non-technical uses so they can get on with adding content to their websites without worrying how to do it.
The ability to edit headers and footers separately, and change templates and colour schemes on the fly are very helpful and I hope in time will make cumbersome page builders a thing of the past.
As a website designer helping my clients get the best out of their websites and I recommend WordPress for websites.
John Cooper is a website designer and developer working directly with Global clients. Nothing is outsourced. John designs WordPress websites for small and medium businesses around the world since 2008.
Contact John today for a website quote.
Building the new Luc Hoffmann Institute Website
Way back in December 2019 I was invited to help relaunch the Luc Hoffmann Institute's website, an environmental organisation dedicated to maintaining biodiversity in life on earth through innovative projects.
I'd already been working on updating the site in its previous form which was showing a little bit of age and using a page builder. Page builders are good to get websites up and running quickly, but are cumbersome on larger websites. This site had become slow and somewhat of a technical chore to update. That needed to change.
The Luc Hoffmann team were great to work alongside, very clear and thorough in what they needed. We reviewed the development of the site continuously as it evolved in line with their mission statement. In partnership with the World Wildlife Fund they are "the world’s leading catalyst for innovation and transformative change to maintain biodiversity, the foundation for all life on Earth".
I ran a demo of WordPress 5 past the team, showing the new features that could be achieved, then stripped down and rebuilt their content on a fresh install of WP5, running to around at around 150 pages and no page builders in sight.
This was a big project, but the goal was the same as any good website; ease of use. Training and video tutorials allow the team to focus on publishing and promoting their work, without calling on a developer every time they want to update the site.
Since it's launch I've used WP5 on my own website and am impressed with how the new block system allows for dynamic page layouts. It also keeps the best basic functionality, templates and categories - which help automate publishing content to site with minimum fuss, all of which came into play here.
On a technical level, I used tried and tested plugins to manage content and SEO. Content views is great for automating news articles and Yoast is a great gateway into Search Engine Optimisation that helps users write content with search engines in mind. I also coded some custom blocks for the project timeline pages.
There was a lot of feedback and de-bugging required before a site with this many moving parts was ready to go live, and I had a real sense of achievement when we went into soft launch in April.
At this scale it's impressive to see WordPress flexing its content management muscles, a long way from the simple blogging platform it was ten years ago.
2020 also marks 10 years since I began creating websites in WordPress, watching it become the industry-standard platform it is today. Before WordPress, a website of this size might have been created by a team of 2 or 3 developers. I'd like to think my knowledge and experience have paid off with this project.
As I became familiar with The Luc Hoffmann Institute and their work, they really do some fascinating work in innovation and the environment. Check them out here.
“John was wonderfully proactive and efficient in getting our new website up and running. He took the time to understand our needs and always strove to find solutions. His keen communication sense, positive attitude and good sense of humour made the process of updating our website clear, easy, and even fun!”
If you're thinking of moving your business online we can help. From taking payments through your website to adding booking systems, we can find a solution that works best for you.
In this project for Willow Glow Yoga, we helped yoga teacher Wendy with her website, adding a booking system to take payments online, with a minimum of technical fuss.
Yoga teacher Wendy wanted to make it as easy as possible for people to attend her online yoga class without having to email zoom links individually or get caught up in technicalities.
I helped get her business online by taking her old brochure website and updating it with an online booking system, so she could focus on running her classes while the website took care of the bookings.
We converted the old website to WordPress then looked at booking services. The service we went with is BookWhen, a reasonably priced monthly service. It was added to the website and customised so keen attendees could book classes and have a good user experience doing it.
It was important to make the process as smooth as possible. As with all the projects we take on, video tutorials were provided to show to update the pages of the website, and most of the 'heavy lifting' such as the scheduled classes and calender were done via BookWhen, with the website providing a wrap-around design so the logo was present throughout the process.
Website Design for Environmental agency 'Biodiversity revisited
I recently finished work on a new biodiversity website for the Luc Hoffmann Institute, and agency of the WWF. This website follows the themes of the institute and their work in the environment.
Promoting a fresh look at biodiversity by encouraging scientists and researchers interested in future sustainability to contribute essays and thought pieces to the website. The site has been built in WordPress 5 with a minimum amount of plugins, to make it easy for users and contributors to create new content without getting bogged down in any technical maintenance issues. The photography across the site has been sourced from unsplash and hive, the World Wildlife Fund's own repository of inspirational images. The Luc Hoffmann Institute are a great client to work with, they are very clear in their aims and very communicative in getting their message across. I look forward to seeing this site build into a solid repository of knowledge and information on this subject.
New Client, The Luc Hoffmann Institute
At the beginning of the year, I was referred to the environmental and conservation organisation The Luc Hoffmann Institute to help out behind the scenes with their website and social media requirements. It's a pretty straightforward job for me, but worth mentioning as looking over their website, the work they do is very important for the environment and the planet.
I'd already been working on updating the site in its previous form which was showing a little bit of age and using a page builder. Page builders are good to get websites up and running quickly but are cumbersome on larger websites. This site had become slow and somewhat of a technical chore to update. That needed to change.
The Luc Hoffmann team were great to work alongside, very clear and thorough in what they needed. We reviewed the development of the site continuously as it evolved in line with its mission statement. In partnership with the World Wildlife Fund, they are "the world’s leading catalyst for innovation and transformative change to maintain biodiversity, the foundation for all life on Earth".
Spring Design update - web design and illustration
Time for a Spring update of what has mostly been web design and illustration work. Back in February, there was plenty of illustration going on helping the guys at GroundBreak productions with another ambitious TV advert. Moving from digital to hand-drawn and back again, the 'Great Mirth Run' got a new flyer and poster, created for the comedy charity event which takes place in May.
Playwright and journalist Ian Winterton got his website of the ground, with a bit of WordPress training. I love empowering people with the WordPress platform, and it was a great choice for Ian who wanted a shop window for his work. His website is also an online archive of his movie interviews for the various magazines he's worked for in the past. It's easy for work like this to get lost over time as technology updates and culture moves on (as happened with all blogs I wrote for SFX magazine). Online doesn't always mean forever, so by cataloguing his own work on his own website give's Ian a portfolio that can easily be shared when seeking new freelance work.
A couple of smaller jobs for two of my long time comedy industry pals, Dan Nightingale and Toby Foster. Dan wanted a new logo ident for a podcast, while Toby over in Sheffield is always looking to add new content to the Last Laugh Comedy website, to keep it looking fresh.
Upgrading WordPress & using blocks
What is WordPress 5 and is it worth upgrading? Let me try to explain that in under five minutes, and hopefully showing how quick and easy it *should* be to use.
Getting the most out of a WordPress Website
This week I've done a short video to answer the most common questions I get asked regarding WordPress websites. In it I talk about what WordPress is, how to get the most out of a WordPress site and how no two sites are the same. I also briefly discuss what to do when the questions arise such as, "My website is really slow" or "my website has stopped working".
There are two versions of WordPress. WordPress.com, where you can get the free version and what I call 'full fat WordPress', when you purchase a bit of hosting space and install WordPress on that space. With the free version there are restrictions - because it's free. With the full fat version you can add a lot more features (called plugins) to your website.
Refresher - What a website is.
A story I often tell to describe a website is, imagine a website is a house. The bit of land the house sits on is your hosting space, the front door is your domain name and the letterbox is your email address. Those the parts make a basic website.
Creating and sharing content.
If you spend much time sharing photos and stories on social media for yourself or promoting a business, a big advantage of having a website (with WordPress) is that you have full control. With platforms like Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn, sure there's massive traffic going to those sites, however, they can change what they show and how they show it. You don't have control over that. WordPress is really good at categorising and archiving so it's far easier to go back and reference older content, and search engines like websites that cross-reference and backlink effectively.
How do I get seen by search engines?
With free services like wordpress.com, Wix or Squarespace, it's a real limitation. Imagine free websites as an infinite block of flats going up into the sky, and google is the postman. He's going to have a hard time finding you. Having your hosting space for your website is like a little patch of land, the postman can find you more easily, and you can run your own Search Engine Optimisation tools too.
Speaking of SEO, WordPress has a plugin called Yoast which guides you through the process of making your pages get seen easily by search engines. Search engines don't like waffle and Yoast is very good at guiding you into condensing what you have written into something that search engines like Google or Bing will digest quicker.
Using WordPress should be a comfortable experience. If you're ok using computers in general you'll be fine with WordPress. The original intention of WordPress was a blog, to share photos and stories - it was designed for non-technical people - so if you're logging into your website and finding it very technical and hard to use - something's gone wrong in the design process.
All WordPress websites are not equal.
Plugins are extensions that add to your website such as search engine optimisation but also features like event management and E-Commerce (woo-commerce) in which allows you to sell online. There's are thousands of plugins of varying quality, and it's up to the website developer to know the right plugins to use on a website and implement them properly.
One of the main bugbears I have personally is page builders. These are extensions to WordPress which allow for very impressive design but can make updating your website complicated and time-consuming - as they change the way WordPress fundamentally works. There are good page builders out there and some really bad ones. If you're having problems updating your website, or find that it's fiddly or confusing, check with your web developer to see if you have page builders on your website and if they can be removed. At the time of posting this article, WordPress has released their own drag and drop Page Builder called 'Gutenberg' which in time will probably be the best of the bunch, but my advice is to go with what feels right for you.
Having your own WordPress website should be a user friendly and enjoyable experience you should enjoy putting projects onto your site and then sharing them under social media.
Ecommerce website for 'At The Kitchen'
Just finished an eCommerce website for at the kitchen, a great new Kitchen space in Cheadle Hulme (Greater Manchester) offering cookery workshops to all ages and tastes. I met with owners Angela and Craig who already had a website, but it wasn't quite doing the job they wanted, to see how I could help.
The story of their business is pretty cool. Angela is a cook, writer and food stylist with a background working with the BBC's good food guide. If you take a look at the website you'll see just how gorgeous the food they make looks, and that's down to Craig. Craig is a food photographer and you can see a lot of both Angela and Craig's work in BBC food books.
I really wanted to make maximum use of the great photography by Craig (which the old website was doing) but also tie that into the SEO, making sure the photos of the food were correctly tagged and captioned, fine details that help get the website ranked properly. Naturally, both Angela and Craig are busy hosting their workshops, so equally important was to make sure the new website could be updated easily with as little technical fuss possible.
Using the WordPress twenty seventeen base theme as a starting point, and as with every site I build, the layout was then customised at the code level, adding and adjusting the HTML, CSS and PHP to get the right result. The training was provided using videos that were created showing Angela and Craig how they could add new workshops to their own site.
I really appreciate a clear cut brief and with this project that's exactly what I got. As the dark nights draw in and their seasonal workshops for festive dining have started appearing on the site, I can only see them getting busier in the new year. All this talk of food is making me hungry!
ComedySportz in Manchester recently had a web design relaunch to showcase their comedy shows and workshops. I'm one of the players, so it was important to make the online presence reflects the right balance of fun and professionalism.
The new website design is 'sporting' a customised version of the WordPress twenty seventeen theme, which is the most feature packed in-house theme that WordPress have created. There's a host of plug-ins all playing nicely together here. Jetpack for social media and sharing, My calendar for events and Yoast SEO for Search engine optimisation. I've made plenty of changes to the theme and stylesheet in order to make the site look consistent.
WordPress works well out-of-the-box, but once you have more than a handful of plugins installed there's a risk of 'Frankenstein's' website. This is when layout and fonts begin to look inconsistent. Even with the most user-friendly plugins, I find hands-on coding is required two smooth out the look and feel, so the user experience is solid.
web design manchester
creative website design
wordpress web design manchester
I was recently asked to modify a site which used a full theme overhaul. It basically added hundreds of shortcodes to style boxes and buttons. While the design looked great the dashboard and page editor became a nightmare to use - and I could only imagine a someone with developer level skills being able to modify it. To me this isn't what WordPress is about.
The real goal is to have a well designed layout and comfortable user experience so that a designer can allow any client to update a website themselves, regardless of technical knowledge. So, it frustrates me when I see plug-ins written by technical people that can unfortunately only be used by technical people. I digress.
I love the twenty seventeen theme. It can use video for it's header (supporting MP4 video or youtube) and the homepage sections are a great way to manage content without having to duplicate sections of pages. As I mentioned, behind the scenes is yoast SEO which is one of the most popular search engine optimisation plugins. It's really easy to understand and though it's time consuming to create good content that reads well, the keyword and readability tools are really helpful.
With this site clarity was key, ComedySportz or CSZ to be more specific, have many shows and workshops and users need to find this information at a glance.
I've had a couple of clients recently who told me they've had increased traffic to their websites after relaunching. In both cases I put it down to Google's second 'mobilegeddon'. This was in 2016 when google revised it's intention to prioritise smartphone surfing over desktop browsing. Older sites which aren't responsive are beginning to suffer so it's important to update your website if you haven't already.
Get help and support with WordPress
I've been working with some clients who have run into bother with their websites and needed a bit of WordPress support. Their sites had become slow and unwieldy, so like like a landscape gardener I went in to trim the grass and cut back the overgrown weeds. Code was re-written, badly set up page builders were dismantled so the website and it's owner could again enjoy the sunshine of productivity without any pain.
Top tips to future-proof ease of use on your website;
Seek transparency. When your website is built ask if the provider is outsourcing the work.
Check that training and WordPress support is included in how to use your website. Get documentation too.
Ask if your website is compatible with WordPress 5 (a faster way to create page content).
Avoid using page builders. They can make your site run slowly and add unnecessary complexity to updating your pages.
Don't be afraid to dive in and make changes, WordPress has a rollback feature if anything goes wrong .
WordPress is great. At least I think so, and there are many others who agree. These particular websites weren't ones I'd created, but more and more I'm seeing poorly implemented WordPress sites, which is as frustrating for me as it is the owners.
Websites are a product and a service.
How does this happen? A quick example? Let's say person X buys their website from an online marketing company, this is pretty common. The online marketing company offers many services and sub-contracts the website to a freelancer in order to focus on marketing and SEO (Search engine optimisation). Again nothing uncommon there, but this is where problems can arise. If the marketing company don't have a good relationship with their freelancer it can lead to a rushed website, which will still be around long after the marketing campaign is complete.
The most common culprit of slow painful-to-use websites are bad page builders. These sit 'on top' of WordPress offering a plethora of drag and drop options. They are created by web developers for the technically minded. They are powerful in features and layout options, yet in my experience the only reason for them is to allow a web developer to create websites quickly, at the cost of long term ease of use and productivity to the end user. Page builders are bad.
WordPress, in it's most basic form is really easy to use. If you can write a document in Word you can create a page on your website. WordPress was designed to empower people. To help people who who want to been seen online and share their thoughts and expertise, and also sell products and services. If you have a WordPress website and you can't do this yourself, something went wrong somewhere.
It's because of situations like these that I'm rolling out a WordPress support service, WordPress rescue. It's for anyone who finds the idea of logging into their website to do something...anything..a painful challenge.
Taking their original content from the older flash format and converting it to new standards was a challenge, but also a great opportunity to get really creative with illustration, and I wanted to push the boat out on this one to enhance what is one of the largest sections of the website.
Professor of linguistics Kersti Börjars and students at the university created a rich teaching tool covering everything from nouns and adjectives to eponyms and idioms for the platform, designed to support key stage 2 children (7-11) at school and at home.
The team at Manchester children's University have a great passion for learning. Since first working with them back in 2010 when flash was still flying high they've always been very trusting in my creative input, letting me add a little character and humour here and there, without disturbing the the practical learning exercises.
The 'adjective detective' and 'noun monster' were already part of the original content and it was great to give them both a little bit of a makeover, putting the 'noun monster' in the John Rylands Library - where I'm sure a word monster would want to live, made sense. It's been a refresher for own knowledge too, I'm sure back in school I learned that to "talk the hind leg off a donkey" was an idiom and not an eponym, but it helps to be reminded. That and also finding a way of drawing a legless donkey in a way that's not too grim!
Check out this module for yourself over at the Manchester children's university website along with many other great learning modules they have there. I'm proud to be a contributor to this great online learning resource for children.