Blog Improvement: Six New Changes to Our Site and Two Questions for You

January 26, 2012 | by Fred (email) |

Over the last week, I’ve finally had time to implement some site design ideas that have been lurking in the back of my mind. As we continue our blog-wide relentless pursuit of a great user experience, I’d love your feedback on these changes. I also welcome your ideas for how to make our site even better (in whatever way that might be). We certainly appreciate all of you who stop by often, and especially those of you who frequently comment. You make our lives happier!

The Changes

Up first, a simple change: a new picture of the four of us in the corner of the home page (and every post, in fact.) Unlike many blogs, there are four of us writing here, and we’d love for all of you to connect with all of us! If you’re new and want to learn more about who we are, find out here!

Second, in an effort to tie our personal reputation to every post on our site, we’ve decided to finally put our last names in the post headers. For a long time we just didn’t feel that comfortable with the idea. But after some additional thought, we’ve decided to put it all out there. We also updated the location of our pictures to the left side of the header and cleaned up the layout to make it easier to read.

Third, we’ve simplified our site navigation and added section home pages for each major area of our site. These section pages will likely evolve as we get spare time to improve them even more. This simplification also includes an easier way to find our Community Blogs page and our latest DIY Link Party in the upper right.

Fourth, I’ve finally fixed the load times of our Community Blogs page to make it much snappier. The process that performs the aggregation now runs in the background on our server every 15 minutes. You should find that it loads much quicker, if you visit that page. On the way for our Community are improvements to the layout that will include featuring the names and faces of the authors of the blogs. We’re also planning to divide the blogs into logical categories, so that if you want to follow Crafts and Decor blogs, you don’t also have to see Tools and Contracting blogs.

Fifth, for some time we’ve known that our home page layout might not be what everyone likes to see when they visit a blog site. Well, through the magic of cookies and some PHP code, you can now pick either our default home page, or a “blog view” home page that shows all the latest posts in blog format. We prefer the regular “magazine view” page, but we know that’s not for everyone. As long as you have cookies enabled, our site will remember your preference each time you visit, and you can switch back anytime.

Sixth, we’ve added some new quick icons to our home page latest posts widget to make a few of the post categories stand out. So far we’ve added only two (one for our “Pro Follows” and one for our “Link It Up” series. More are coming, and you’ll probably see smaller versions of our pictures appear in this line up soon. I’m particularly interested in whether you like this change…

Future Ideas

  • Reorganizing the layout of our community blogs to make it a bit more streamlined and fancy, as well as providing blog categorization.
  • Adding a section within our “Projects, Step-By-Step” feature section on the home page that shows a chronology of the latest Pro Follow.
  • Updating our individual Category pages (like this one) so they look a little nicer.

A Specific Question (or two) For You

Question 1: We’ve received one reader suggestion that they’d like to know more about the story of the homeowners in our Pro Follows. Our initial impression is that this could be a great idea. What do you think? Would you like to know a little more about why the homeowners are paying contractors for these spaces?

Question 2: If you could see one thing changed or improved @ OPC, what would it be?

28 Responses
  1. 1. I think that would be a good idea while still protecting the home owner. Not too much of their story, just enough to know the why behind the project. (But I’m sure you’re already well on top of protecting the privacy of the home owner)

    2. I really can’t think of anything but maybe a link to a category page when clicking on the small icon. Pro Follow would link to a page that has all of those articles on it with a brief paragraph at the top explaining what it is so new readers get it. Same for link party. Maybe some of the things in this post could be added to a primer for OPC. “Are you new here? Here are the basics… who we are, how the site works, how to participate in the discussion, etc.”

    3. I realize you didn’t have a question 3 but really liked the inclusion of the Tool Box Buzz article in your picture of Community Blogs, for no particular reason what so ever. 😉

    • Fred says:

      Jeff, great feedback – appreciate it! Ethan’s got a new project starting Monday while we’re closing out the shed. Rumor is that it includes recessed lighting, and I’m not sure what else, but I’m excited to see it! (And the finished shed, which I think makes an appearance Monday or Tuesday next week!)

      Love the feedback on the category page. That’s exactly what I’m going to do with it … We need to think a bit about our “Pro Follows.” In the past we’ve been thinking that we would delete all the “Days” and lump them up into a single “How To” – well we’re definitely going to do the how-to… what do you think about keeping vs. ditching the individual days?

      As for #3, We do like the Milwaukee jacket, although have been a little disappointed with the battery life. You need to carry a few spares if you’re going to tailgate for a while and then hit the game 🙂

      • Re: #3
        It was a shameless plug. I wrote that for TBB. I do agree though that a second battery is needed. At least they are cheap.

        I’m not sure what the answer is on deleting and lumping. As a database guy I’m against it because of the difficulty of transferring the comments from all the posts while still having them make sense. How do you order them? Do you lump the comments for each user into one comment so that only one followup is needed or will there be multiple comments for multiple users? Do you even keep the comments or would those be deleted and their content incorporated into the final article?

        • William says:

          Just update each older and newer section of a multiple-stage project like the shed build with links to the other posts on that project.

        • Fred says:

          William-this is something we’re considering. We do like to have the one, single, unified post at the end of the project that brings it all together – so we’re more considering whether we want to keep any of the stuff leading up to that post. I think that some of that will depend on how much “human interest” material goes into the original posts in the future.

  2. Lindsay says:

    I really like how easy it is to find things on your site. Since I am a new reader, I like to look through past projects, and I’ve had a really easy time doing so! I think you guys are doing great!

    • Fred says:

      Lindsay, so glad to have you! And I’d love your feedback going forward! We’ve really been working on making sure you can find any past article at any time. I think that will be particularly useful for the crafters among us as Jocie starts showing off her stuff!

  3. paintergal says:

    Digging these changes! You guys are really taking off. I feel like I will look back and say “I knew you when!”

    • Fred says:

      LOL. We’re not the big guys. We’re still a small little joint hoping to one day be the big guys…. but not too big for our britches. I’m especially concerned about that – I can’t afford to keep buying more britches 🙂

  4. Must be I found your blog at a great time! I don’t know how it was laid out before but I really like how it is now. I found it easy to navigate. It’s always good to do a periodic evaluation and make some changes – good job!

    • Fred says:

      Thanks Renee! Welcome! Have you created a Project Rewards account yet? (Look up at the top of the screen). Lots of cool stuff to be had if you join our program.

  5. Heather says:

    Love all that you have done with the site!!! My only question is, can I hire you to ‘redo’ my site. Heather

    • Fred says:

      Oh I wish I had the time and creativity! To be honest, OPC has been such a long journey just to get it where it is today. We’ve never really had a budget to pay someone for the design, so I’ve been plugging away and trying to improve for the last 2 years. I’m always impressed with WordPress/Web designers who can just put together a site in a week or two and make it look fabulous.

      I’m getting close to the end of this sprint. Once I get our community pages reorganized and easier to navigate, I’m back to my full time post of testing and reviewing tools, and of course, visiting blogs like yours!

  6. haus356 says:

    1. I think the more information a homeowner is willing the share and you can publish the better. I agree privacy would be a concern, but if a homeowner doesn’t want something published on the internet they shouldn’t announce it to a blogger.

    2. I like all the changes you are making to continue to improve the website. The one thing I would add echoes what Jeff said above – I think it would be nice to be able to click on the quick icons and that takes you to a page where all stories associated with that quick icon are listed.

    One of things I really enjoy about each article is the “If you liked this article, you might also like” section at the end – that links to several articles I may not have seen before or haven’t seen in a while and is a good way to get people to explore previous posts.

    • Fred says:

      Haus, thanks so much for the feedback. We’re collecting votes – I think this is 2 FOR and 1 AGAINST more homeowner’s stories (William was the “nay” vote below)!

      2. I’m going to work on the category button – I like that idea a lot. Need to think about a smooth implementation of it… but I like it.

      Thanks for the feedback on the related articles. We’re working to get better association and pictures so that the likelihood of the related articles actually being related is better. Always a journey on that but it should improve as our categorization and tagging gets better.

  7. Joe says:

    The site looks great, and it would be interesting to get some background on the pro projects.

    My only suggestion for the site is tags, it doesn’t look like you are using them now, so it would probably mean going back and adding them, but it would be nice to be able to poke around the blog through tags on the articles.

    • Fred says:

      Wait, that’s a third vote for more information! (See my comment to Haus above).

      I’m not as good as I should be about tagging. For a while we thought tagging was dumb and categories were better. Then we started mixing a limited set of tags. Problem was that we at one point we had like 2,300 tags with only 1,000 articles. We declared bankruptcy on the tags (deleting them all)… that was part of our response to the Google Panda Algorithm update (we thought maybe they were the cause). We still haven’t recovered from Panda, but Google has gotten a little better at not showing people who scrape our content before us.

      Small victories.

  8. Icarus says:

    The site just keeps getting better and better!

    • Fred says:

      Thanks Sara! And thanks for partnering with us in the past and in the future! We’re really trying to grow our readership! I hope you’ll participate in our little Link-It-Up party tomorrow afternoon!

  9. William says:

    1) Don’t care too much about the homeowner. If I did, I’d read their blog instead of yours. If background is needed to better lay out a blog entry, so be it. Homeowner bios/information just for the sake of introducing us to a stranger? Not my thing.

    2) I’m always itching for more workshop improvements and tool reviews. Cool projects like the bottle opener are fun, but I’ve already got too much to do around the house to even begin to work on a “just for fun” project. The organization/storage in a shop/garage is one of my next big things to tackle, because it’ll help me get everything else done more efficiently. As far as tools, I’d like to see you review some manual tools. Big, smashing-type tools, small wrenching-type tools, and everything in between. I’m set on power tools. I’m NEVER going to be set or satisfied on hand tools. Ever.

    • Fred says:

      1) LOL. Well don’t worry, we won’t get too in depth on the homeowner. I’ll bet Ethan strikes a good balance. We will continue to provide top-notch insight into the construction “how-to’s” so that people working these projects have a good idea of how to actually do it right. I loved Ethan’s hip roof explanation, pictures, and drawings yesterday. I’m excited about seeing what’s coming next!

      • Fred says:

        Whoops. I should have added more tool reviews are coming!

        • William says:

          I also liked the hip roof explanation and diagrams. My first job was working for a framing contractor, before I was even old enough for OSHA to allow me to use a nail gun. But all the floors and roofs we did were trusses.

          Now, I’m a firefighter, so building construction is very pertinent and important to a complete understanding of fire behavior and structural collapse. The truss/joist/engineered beam article was also a good one.

  10. MissFixIt says:

    I like the changes as for what more you could change? Hmm maybe more social media interaction through facebook,twitter,google+ think contests,point earning. Maybe we could get a point for every google +1 we give an artical? Granted some might get carried away and google +1 the whole sites every last post. Maybe have a limit to say 10 per week to keep that controlled.

    • Fred says:

      I wish we could tie our points system to FB and Twitter. If we could, we definitely would! That said, we are going to try to start increasing our social networking profile, so look for some upcoming giveaways based on “liking” us on FB and “following” us on Google Plus and Pinterest!

  11. MissFixIt says:

    I also look forward to more how-to guides especially on bathrooms

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