Just as a new roof on a house or coat of paint on a car doesn’t last forever, neither do WordPress website themes (the templates that implement and manage a site’s overall structure, color and presentation). I’ve been managing WordPress sites now for several years (along with DNN sites for over ten years) and I’ve noticed some trends that I’d like to pass along (and reasons why you may want to think about a new WordPress theme for 2020).
Some WordPress themes age gracefully and some, unfortunately, don’t. The worst that happens is the original theme vendor goes out of business; when that happens, it’s game over for the theme (and it should be replaced immediately). Less extreme is when the vendor stops supporting the theme—I’ve had that happen a few times last year and the only recourse was to replace the theme as well (sometimes the vendor provides an improved alternative but sometimes they don’t). At this point, if you haven’t heard from me regarding your theme, assume that it is still supported by the theme vendor.
Sometimes, certain elements of the theme (or plugins that the theme relies upon) get old and need to be replaced. I had this happen last year when a certain plugin required an older version of PHP (the programming behind WordPress) but the overall site was automatically migrated to a newer version, breaking the site. There are thousands upon thousands upon thousands of individual WordPress plugins out there, and while most of them are routinely upgraded and continue to work well, a few occasionally break and, in turn, can take the site down with them. This is mainly why I log into each and every WordPress site I manage every two weeks and update the plugins, so I can stay on top of these issues and make sure the theme is operating correctly.
Web content design is certainly quite subjective—what looks or works great to one person may not be so great to another. In general, however, WordPress themes are being redesigned in certain ways that make them easier or more interesting (“sticky” headers that keep the main menu at the top of the screen, parallax background images that scroll at a different rate than the rest of the site, highly-interactive elements that move, spin, flip or otherwise do something when the mouse touches them, etc.). Site designers are always pushing the envelope in terms of improved presentation, both in the way the site is managed as well as the way it appears to the public in a browser.
While I spent much of the past two years migrating my earlier DNN sits over to WordPress (and still have a few to go), I’ve especially enjoyed the past few months and I’ve learned a great deal more about themes. For example, I really liked the new Kerge resume theme so I built a brand new site dedicated to my own career (https://www.scottymark.com) to showcase the theme. I also really like working with the world’s most popular WordPress theme Avada, which I used this past fall to build the new website at https://www.aptuswi.com, update the sites at https://bltechwi.com, http://hrstaff.net and https://newcmg.org, and work on the sites at https://staging2.helpinghandswi.com and http://new.riverlandconservancy.org. Note that the overall theme is NOT industry-specific (it will work for any business or organization), but it does come with dozens of industry-specific templates.
Of course, swapping-out a WordPress theme for another is not a trivial task—it will take some time and money. The process I now use is to first create a staging server version of the current site, which becomes a clone but is managed separately (so changes made to the staging server do NOT affect the original “production” server). Then, the new theme is purchased, installed and configured, the original content migrated over and the overall results thoroughly tested. Once the new theme is ready, it’s easy for me to then publish that back to the production server. Regarding costs, a new WordPress theme like Avada typically costs around $60, and then there’s my time; I don’t consider site rebuilding as included within my annual site hosting/maintenance fee, but I also won’t charge a lot for the help. Note that I’m pretty busy right now with site development but I should have more time in the spring or summer.
Other Huelsman News
Although we’ve both been on Christmas break much of the last two weeks, Susie and I remain very busy (and here I thought getting older meant slowing down professionally!).
Madison Winter Bridal Fair
As we have for the past five years or so, Susie and I will be exhibiting at the upcoming Madison 2020 Winter Wedding Show this upcoming weekend, January 12-13. Even if you have nothing to do with an upcoming wedding, come see our exhibit, talk to Susie and learn more about what we do! We’ll also have our photobooth operating, so you can grab some crazy props, take some pictures and go home with a bridal souvenir. If you DO know someone who is getting married, let Susie know—she’s already booking into 2021!
Sites Under Redevelopment
I’m currently rebuilding no less than six client sites, three to complete my two-year migration from DNN to WordPress (WaunafestRun.com, WaunaFest.org and TheSusieShow.com) and three to update the site’s current themes (as described above). My hope is to have all of this work done by April or so.
Annual Hosting Invoices Sent
For those of you who host their websites with me, you should have received an invoice from me recently. Again, the annual hosting fee not only pays for the web server where WordPress is hosted and managed, but any email-based services provided (and, in many cases, the cost of the annual domain registration as well). Further, I use the hosting fee to offset all the time I spend not just updating plugins and ensuring that each site is working at peak efficiency but making any modest web content updates requested as well (although I’ll still charge an hourly rate to rebuild sites, as introduced above). Think of my annual hosting fee as “insurance” against future problems with your site—I’m here to fully take care of you!
New BrowserQuests™ Development
I also continue to work hard on my unique online role-playing game (RPG) available at http://www.browserquests.com. Utilizing the DNN application framework, I’ve custom-developed an online, single-player, persistent (changes made within the game persist over time) “Dungeons and Dragons”-like system where players sign-up, choose a hero, then play through a variety of encounters, battling monsters, finding treasure and interacting with a virtual game master (GM). Recently, I developed a new mechanism for selecting a character hero at the start of the game and then managing the overall adventuring party, and over the Christmas break I wrote a whole new module called “Coming of Age” that will act as the first set of encounters for new players to interact with, serving as both a tutorial as well as introduction to the fantasy world of Sisalus where all play takes place. My hope is to have this new module in place and ready for everyone sometime in February!
Huelsman Client of the Month
Finally, with the new year comes a new tradition—celebrating those businesses and organizations that I continue to have the privilege to help and serve! Each month, I’ll showcase one of my current clients, going in order from longest-serving to my more recent clientele.
Lori Lins Limited
Certainly the longest business client relationship I have is with Lori Lins, currently in Milwaukee, WI (https://www.lorilins.com) who runs a very large and successful talent agency.
Way, WAY back in the day (around 2002 or so) I worked with Lori to build her a custom content/talent management system, one that would allow her to showcase her talent online to her own large set of clients as well as act as her overall business website. The project was developed using Microsoft’s Active Server Pages (a precursor to the popular .NET framework used everywhere today) and tied to a SQL Server database backend. Incredibly, the site remains online today and is still serving Lori, her clients and her talent (while she is having the site rebuilt in DNN by another consultant).
Lori has been a FANTASTIC client all these years and we certainly consider each other good friends as well. Thanks, Lori, for an amazing journey and everything we’ve shared together over the past two decades!