How did changing WordPress theme 4-5 times in 3 years bring me to the conclusion that we needed a custom WordPress site?
Let’s start with the basics.
What is WordPress?
WordPress started as a blogging platform. It is now the world’s largest online open source website tool. It has grown in popularity over the last decade because it’s easy to use and offers flexibility using themes.
What are WordPress themes?
WordPress sites are usually built with themes. Themes are designed and coded by teams of developers and sold on marketplaces such as Envato Market. No matter your sector or niche, there is probably a theme built to cater for your needs.
What are the limitations of WordPress themes?
Despite the ease of using the WordPress platform, standard themes have their limitations:
- Themes are often bundled with lots of files that slow your site down, something which Google really does not like.
- Customising themes to your specific requirements can involve a lot of time searching through available plugins to find one to suit your exact needs. Plugins will often slow your site down even further.
- Someone else can have the same site as you – although themes are customised to your brand identity in terms of colour, typography and imagery, anyone can buy the same theme as you which makes it difficult to create a truly unique site.
Why did we choose to build a custom WordPress site?
For years our agency had worked with standard WordPress themes using X theme and most recently Uncode. Both beautiful themes with great functionality and powerful features but both with the same limitations associated with many WordPress themes.
The main benefits of building a custom WordPress site are:
- Super fast loading times: if your WordPress developer knows what they’re doing, your code will be lean meaning your site isn’t bloated with unnecessary scripts and files – resulting in a super speedy load time for your users.
- Bespoke functionality: super cool ideas for bespoke features are a breeze, you save development time by specifying exactly where you want everything to be and how it should work from the get go. If you scroll to the bottom of our homepage you will see a slider which brings together our Instagram, Twitter and blog feeds all in one grid. Cool right?
- 100% unique: Nobody will have the same site as you. This maybe a bit of a vanity point, but in crowded markets it has never been more important to stand out and having a unique custom WordPress site gives you the opportunity to do just that.
The process of building our custom WordPress site
Some agencies can be secretive about their build processes, it all adds to the mystery around web development.
We’re happy to share the steps we took to build our new agency site:
- Solution Design
This is the really fun bit.
Starting with a site map to map out the site structure and navigation, we created wireframes for the majority of new site pages to give a basic idea of what needs to go on each page and where it needs to go. This allowed things to be moved around before design and development began. Working in this way reduced development time and allowed us to move things around and get creative with layouts. They were produced as grey scale mock ups that the design team then took and added a bit of creative flair to. A technical specification document was produced at this stage to outline all the necessary technical information for the website development.
- Creative Design
At this stage we took all the signed off wireframes (yes, we signed them off even though it was for ourselves) and designed each section to a create a consistent look across the site. The end result is PSD designs of the key pages to give the development team design templates to start coding.
- Website Development
Once the designs were signed off we coded all the page templates needed for the site and applied the styling from the designs. As we have discussed the custom site was developed in WordPress. Custom elements and functionality on the site including our lead generation forms, ebook landing pages and social grid were added at this stage to avoid having to use plugins.
- Quality Assurance & Testing
A thorough testing procedure was then carried out on the site to ensure that everything was working as it should. A snag sheet (much like one a new build house might have) was set up for the team to add any tweaks and changes to the site. This is accessed by the whole team to ensure transparency and responsibility for rectifying any errors in the development stage.
- Search Engine Optimisation & Pre Launch Checks
All pages were optimised for search engines following the site structure we set out in the solution design stage. We then set up Google Analytics on the new site to track conversions and bounce rates, which leads us nicely onto how exactly we reduced our bounce rate by 96%….
How our custom site reduced our bounce rate to 2.41%
Although we can’t put it all down to our custom WordPress site process, the majority of the reasons for this reduction can be attributed to the structure the process offered. Planning for your user from the get go of the project means everything from button position to imagery can be tested to ensure it is contributing to a consistent, positive user experience.
- Improved user experience: the old site looked very much like every other agency site, having a clearer navigation focused more on mobile visitors we were able to improve the user experience. Average session duration (the amount of time visitors spend browsing the site) is up 88% as a result.
- Reduce excess styling: the custom build allowed us to use less inline styling within pages which has reduced loading times. Page load has a huge effect on bounce rates.
- Improved, clearer calls to action (CTAs): a big reason for our website redesign was to improve conversions and enquiries from our web presence. Building CTAs into each page we have increased conversions and reduced bounce rates by directing users to relevant pages on the site.
- Better URL structure: implementing a clearer URL structure in the solution design phase of the build we have increased page views by 401%. How? With clear content grouping we are able to group more useful content together, thus helping users find the most relevant content more easily.
- Bespoke functionality: our Start a Project page – built using natural language – is a unique take on a contact form, offering a more intuitive and friendly way to get in touch – the conversion rate of this form alone has been amazing.
The basis of any great site should be the user experience. Building our site with this in mind and following a clearly defined development plan resulted in a 96% reduction in our bounce rate.
There’s nothing more to it really. Feel free to steal our process or get in touch with us to improve your bounce rate with a custom WordPress site.