New WordPress theme implemented on Freewaregenius

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If you follow this site regularly, then you would have seen the almost daily changes that have been going on for more than a week now. We finally moved away from the Hybrid theme framework over to Thesis.

The reasons for this is that (a) I personally have more of an understanding of how Thesis works and can be customized, (b) I believed that Thesis would result in a faster site, and (c) I believed that doing this would get rid of the many errors that afflicted my site. In retrospect, (b) and (c) may not have been true, but I am still happy to have made the switch.

One thing that I proud of is that we were able to escape the so called ‘Thesis look’, whereby sites made with the Thesis framework have a certain easily identifiable look. In fact I tried to have the site look in many ways similar to what it looked before, such that the occasional reader might not even tell the difference.

Note: the past two weeks were also a time when I was unable to respond to comments, respond to email, or even to author new posts. If you had sent a communication please accept my apologies.

The objectives and results:

  1. A faster site: this was only a partial success. Freewaregenius now scores 85 on Google Pagespeed online, when it used to score 81. My site is image-heavy and that is how I like it, but the cost has always been a slowness in downloading. I am still working on this one.
  2. More content above the fold: while previously readers with small screens needed to scroll down to see the content/article proper, we have now forgone some ads such that that is not the case. This has nothing to do with the new theme itself, of course, and I will confess that we did so for SEO considerations, as we have been hit hard by Google’s latest round of algorithm changes, and are doing everything we can to get back on track.
  3. Tweaked some design elements: for example, I always thought that there was a lot of wasted space in the header in the old theme. This is no longer the case.
  4. I wanted categories in the NAV bar under the logo: these were implemented. The reason I wanted this is (a) because I thought it would lead to more user engagement, and (b) because I believed it would have a beneficial SEO effect. The first one may have materialized, as evidenced by a CrazyEgg clickmap test that I ran that shows users clicking on the links. We’ll see whether this persists in the long term.
  5. To get rid of the ‘no nodes’ error in the comments process: unfortunately, that still exists. For a while I thought that this was caused or influenced by a bad SQL query in the Hybrid customization that I had before, but that is not the case. I tried to circumvent this by adopting Disqus and then Livefyre for comments on Freewaregenius, but removed both of these. They both suck, and I might write a blog post specifically about why that is the case soon. As a stopgap measure, we simply added a note under the comments form, telling people not to worry should they encounter the error, since their comments are in fact submitted.
  6. To engage users with older posts: this is why only the first two posts now show excerpts, and why I only kept the titles for older posts. Our titles at Freewaregenius tend to be long anyway and contain most of what a prospective reader needs to know. I figured that less text is, in this case, probably more. We also added a ‘featured posts’ carousel displayed on all pages not just the home page, and a thumbnailed recent posts widget in the sidebar, hoping for more user engagement in other posts. I have always struggled with making better use of the sidebar, and am hoping that this might be a better formula. Results indicate that time on site has indeed increased by about 15%. Hoping the trend will continue.

Overall I am generally happy with the result. I can say that the site is faster (even if only marginally so) and is more effective at engaging users. I now feel like I have more control over the site and can change things more easily, even as I am neither a designer nor developer (I am the quintessential dabbler, but ‘freewaredabbler.com’ just didn’t sound right ;).

Your comments and/or thoughts would be appreciated!