On-Site Crash Course - Big Brand Refresher


Final Boss ®
BuSo Pro
Boot Camp
Digital Strategist
Sep 15, 2014

"We all see only that which we are trained to see."​

One thing I'm going to stress here is on-site should NEVER be about search engines. Search engines don't click on your ads, they don't fill out your lead generation forms, they don't buy your products, nor read your content. If you want to "get in line with Google", you can essentially do what is needed to create a better user experience - sorry, couldn't continue writing that BS. Let's get serious for a moment...

On-site is about what the user sees, reads, and interacts with. Everything should be about the user, getting the user to your call to action, that's it. At the end of the day, that's how you put food on your table, all that other nonsense doesn't really matter, it's noise. How many blogposts have you read about SEO? How far have you gotten? The truth is a lot of people get into SEO thinking it's going to be the "cheap" quick way of generating traffic.

At the end of the day SEO it's just lazy marketing, actually no marketing, since you are waiting on some 3rd party to send you traffic. And for most people, it just doesn't work out the way they hope, so they continue reading SEO blogpost after SEO blogpost hoping an praying #SEP, that this next blogger is going to reveal some super secret that's going to get them on their way.

Here is the reality - to get traffic, you need to market your business. That's the essence of traffic leaks. Traffic leaks maybe more subtle, but it's still marketing at the end of the day. It's impossible for a person to put in 10+ hours a day at something for 3 months and NOT get results. You'll make mistakes, and then next time you'll learn from them, the only way you can continue failing is if you don't learn from your mistakes. The difference between an SEO and a marketer, which is what you are here today to become, is a marketer goes out and takes action.

"A man of knowledge lives by acting, not by thinking about acting." - Carlos Castaneda


Nothing worthwhile will come to you by laziness or just hoping and wishing upon a shooting star. If you want something, go for it, period.

So now you want traffic - but first we have to make sure you can even handle the traffic, and when it gets there you are maximizing your opportunity, cause the old saying "First impressions are everything" is still true even more so online.

If your site looks like a WordPress default install, admit it to yourself, then get to work looking at what the competition is doing. That big brand checklist http://www.wickedfire.com/enlightened-members/168970-ccarter-big-brand-checklist-how-i-represent.html [no longer available] is great, but watching what the top guys in your niche's sites look like hits more close to home, and will give you something to rise to. If there is one thing I want you take away from this is this - If someone can quickly glance and tell your site is a Wordpress site, you are doing something wrong; a person should not be able to tell you what CMS your site is on without looking at your source code for hints. If I have to look around the site and still can't tell what CMS you are running without looking at your source code, you've succeeded in customizing your site. It's not easy, but being a boss is not easy either.

Second, make sure people can find what they are looking for. If you can't figure out why people are bouncing try this - get a random stranger, not a buddy, or pal, or someone that knows you own the site, get a random person and pay them $20 for 10 mins of their time, get them to browse your site and two competitors, and most importantly SAY NOTHING. Don't tell them you own one of the sites, just say nothing, ask them to critique all three sites. They'll be as brutally honest and show you blind spots that you can't see cause you may have deluded yourself into thinking people automatically understand intuitively what you created. When they critique, don't say anything, let them vent, do this multiple times, over and over, with different people at different locations.

At the end of the day you'll know exactly what's wrong with your site, what people don't understand, and what you need to change. Again it's important for them to not think you own the site and try not to hint or explain anything to them - even when they ask questions, so they'll be brutally honest as possible - hence the reason for competitors thrown in there (you'll also be able to see what's working for your competitors). Your mom, buddy, or pal is not going to criticize your site cause it might hurt your feelings, even someone you know but doesn't know it's your site, is a bad choice cause then you'll frame their answers based on your experience with the person. Total strangers are critical, since you know nothing about them. Also don't ask questions, just tell them to navigate the sites and make comments out loud on what they like and don't like. There you've just done in-field analysis of what's wrong with your site, now get to work fixing it. (There are actual online services that do this now a days, but I prefer face to face, since you can watch a user navigate and try to complete tasks).


Again, design your site as if you were a customer looking to solve a problem. If it's a complex problem or a big site, have a on-site search engine on there. Let's do a big brand refresher:

1. Setup - Fast, site should be fast, on a fast hosting. If you need a CDN (Content Delivery Network), do it, if not, don't. Most of you will be on Wordpress, don't waste time with a theme unless it's fast - fucking PERIOD. Your BS Wordpress framework is only going to slow your site down (solution for wordpress framework, Kirki - http://kirki.org/), so if you aren't caching like a mofo or behind a CDN, don't be surprised when you've got over 100 https requests and load above 1 second on desktop, and above 3 seconds on mobile. Go with responsive until you can get a dedicated mobile solution if necessary. Your mobile traffic might grow to a point where this needs to be addressed later on, and a mobile solution is necessary - deal with it, don't be cheap, get a real mobile solution.

Also, don't double and triple cache your content. If you've got a plugin that caches and minifies, don't go with a CDN or have your CDN setup so it ALSO caches and minifies your content once again. That's retarded and adds processing. I prefer to minify my javascript and css manually, and setup caching on my server, and let my CDN handle traffic. But if I'm lazy, I'm going to let my CDN handle minifying and caching, and turn off all caching and minifying plugins, to reduce the processing of each request. You might not even need a CDN if your server is solid and you're handling caching like a boss by yourself with a caching system and the .htaccess code above that leverages browser caching. Don't do double and triple work - and if you don't know whether you are doing double or triple work, that's a problem. You should always know what's going on within your site, and what code does what, otherwise you are running other people's code on your site, without checking for potential problems, risks, and security concerns. One reason I only run with bare minimum plugins.

a. Validate Code - I validate all my code as much as possible. Fun fact, if you validate your code your site will be faster!! "Holy macaroni, you mean if your browser can understand the language the html, css, and javascript is written in quickly, the site will be faster?" "Yes." You can use http://validator.w3.org/, but I prefer the Firefox Plugin called "HTML Validator" (http://users.skynet.be/mgueury/mozilla/). I use the Serial Algorithm, that's the highest level - cause "I'm a boss and I live a boss life" - eLiquid. I keep Accessibility level on normal. If you view a site of mine, and see invalid code, either it just has to be that way cause I'm using some retarded plugin, or I haven't gotten to correcting it.​
Whenever I add elements to my sites, I come back after a day or so and run it through the validation process as well as the page speed process again to make sure it's still fast. I'm a believer in minimalism - remove all but which is absolutely necessary. Don't add retarded functions just to look cool or cause it's shiny. Add them if you think it's absolutely necessary. Using someone else's code, good luck with that brah.​
Wordpress sites I only use 2 plugins - THAT's IT! The Google sitemap plugin (https://wordpress.org/plugins/google-sitemap-generator/) and the Search Meter to get the on-site search stats and keyword people input (https://wordpress.org/plugins/search-meter/ - Hasn't been updated in a while but it works still). If you have more then 4 plugins running at run time, you are doing something wrong, and should bring that functionality in house, meaning hardcode that mofo if it's really critical. Plugins create security problems, and slow down sites if the developer wasn't smart about security or even optimizing the code.​
Personally I use PicoCMS (http://picocms.org/) whenever possible now-a-days. It allows me to use an absolutely minimal setup, flatfile meaning no database, and the plugins setup are great, but custom coding is perfect with this. I cache like a mofo (http://glumb.de/en/pico-cms-cache-plugin), but each cache deletes every 30 mins, and there is a simple directory to delete the cache inside the content folder. I've even got OpenGraph on the site, things just work.​
There is a reason I'm quickly moving my websites away from Wordpress to CMSes with almost no footprints - the future is not too bright for Wordpress, security wise.​
b. Speed - I use Web Page Analyzer 0.98 (http://www.websiteoptimization.com/services/analyze/) ALOT. I use Pingdom to stroke myself once the job is done, but to really know what's causing loading problems and the size, I keep it simple with Web Page Analyzer. Over 50 http calls, you are doing something wrong, unless it's image heavy. But if you are seeing more then 2 CSS files, and multiple javascript files, and nonsense repeating, and downloading fonts from Google that you don't even use, you need to speed optimize that sucker. When using Web Page Analyzer on your homepage for example, You should look at the Page Objects (files that are used), and know what EVERY file that's being loaded does. If not, you are probably having your users download un-necessary code, fonts, or images.​
Also, hosting is critical, don't go cheap just to be cheap. It's better to buy packages that are 2 times your requirement so you can grow into them, versus seeing a critical traffic leak or marketing opportunity and being unable to take advantage cause your website might crash due to shear volume. If you are in the mist of a campaign and you need to upgrade your hosting, you're a moron - wasted opportunity due to being cheap. At least get a hosting solution like Linode, or Liquid Web which allows you quicker upgrades or fast scaling. Pinching pennies doesn't work when you have the opportunity to generate 100K visitors in a day, but are scared cause your site might crash, that's retarded thinking, cause by the time you fix your hosting, that great marketing opportunity might be gone. If you can't react quickly, what are you doing calling yourself a marketer?​
^^ I'm still waiting for a contender to come in take my crown from me in this thread - https://www.buildersociety.com/threads/show-off-your-pingdom-test-results.15/#post-520 , I'm going to tell you that site isn't even on what I would consider a fast server, it's on a pretty pathetic server. SERPWoo's server is faster, yet sends a 25x larger payload size (1.3MB versus 51.4KB), but is only sees an increase in loading time by 45 milliseconds:​
^^ this isn't bragging, this is showing you what's possible with huge files, and small files, lots of https requests, and low http requests. If you are on a weak server you can still be fast, reduce the http requests, if you are on a solid faster server, still reduce the http request. I told you I'm a speed freak - and I validate my code, it all helps in the end soup.​
Image compression: https://kraken.io/web-interface - for all my images, I use Lossless, images still look clean.​
My .htaccess file for speed:​
[INDENT][INDENT]# disable the server signature[/INDENT][/INDENT]
[INDENT][INDENT]# compress text, html, javascript, css, xml:[/INDENT][/INDENT]
[INDENT][INDENT]AddOutputFilterByType DEFLATE text/plain[/INDENT][/INDENT]
[INDENT][INDENT]AddOutputFilterByType DEFLATE text/html[/INDENT][/INDENT]
[INDENT][INDENT]AddOutputFilterByType DEFLATE text/xml[/INDENT][/INDENT]
[INDENT][INDENT]AddOutputFilterByType DEFLATE text/css[/INDENT][/INDENT]
[INDENT][INDENT]AddOutputFilterByType DEFLATE application/xml[/INDENT][/INDENT]
[INDENT][INDENT]AddOutputFilterByType DEFLATE application/xhtml+xml[/INDENT][/INDENT]
[INDENT][INDENT]AddOutputFilterByType DEFLATE application/rss+xml[/INDENT][/INDENT]
[INDENT][INDENT]AddOutputFilterByType DEFLATE application/javascript[/INDENT][/INDENT]
[INDENT][INDENT]AddOutputFilterByType DEFLATE application/x-javascript[/INDENT][/INDENT]
[INDENT][INDENT]<ifModule mod_headers.c>[/INDENT][/INDENT]
[INDENT][INDENT]    Header set Connection keep-alive[/INDENT][/INDENT]
[INDENT][INDENT]# Or, compress certain file types by extension:[/INDENT][/INDENT]
[INDENT][INDENT]<IfModule mod_headers.c>[/INDENT][/INDENT]
[INDENT][INDENT]  <FilesMatch "\.(js|css|xml|gz)$">[/INDENT][/INDENT]
[INDENT][INDENT]    Header append Vary Accept-Encoding[/INDENT][/INDENT]
[INDENT][INDENT]<IfModule mod_expires.c>[/INDENT][/INDENT]
[INDENT][INDENT]ExpiresByType image/jpg "access 1 year"[/INDENT][/INDENT]
[INDENT][INDENT]ExpiresByType image/jpeg "access 1 year"[/INDENT][/INDENT]
[INDENT][INDENT]ExpiresByType image/gif "access 1 year"[/INDENT][/INDENT]
[INDENT][INDENT]ExpiresByType image/png "access 1 year"[/INDENT][/INDENT]
[INDENT][INDENT]ExpiresByType image/svg "access 1 year"[/INDENT][/INDENT]
[INDENT][INDENT]ExpiresByType text/css "access 1 month"[/INDENT][/INDENT]
[INDENT][INDENT]ExpiresByType application/pdf "access 1 month"[/INDENT][/INDENT]
[INDENT][INDENT]ExpiresByType application/x-shockwave-flash "access 1 month"[/INDENT][/INDENT]
[INDENT][INDENT]ExpiresByType image/x-icon "access 1 year"[/INDENT][/INDENT]
[INDENT][INDENT]ExpiresDefault "access 1 second"[/INDENT][/INDENT]
^^ there is caching and compression in there, I use this, with a varied variation. Don't just blindly put random code into your .htaccess file either, test it! And know exactly what the code does (that means you might have too google the above code separately).​

2. Logo - Get a freaking logo. Fiverr is $5. No logo? Then create a big header banner, make your site look like you put serious effort into it.

3. Contact Page - For goodness sakes, don't have the default Wordpress contact form. Stylize it, Make it look like there was effort put in and you actually want people to contact you. I love having maps (use an image instead of Google maps and when they click on the map, it goes to the Google map address, speeds up your site). I put social icons here for social profiles as well in case they want to contact me another way.

If you have social profiles, flesh them out. Meaning having twitter header image, an avatar/profile photo, and the same with Facebook - header image and avatar. I shouldn't have to say this, but make your social accounts look like they are active, and schedule out posts to get the ball rolling. If you have Tumblr, Pinterest, or anything else, flesh them out as well. Nothing looks worse then a half-ass social presence, do not send traffic away from your site which only make you look bad in the end. If you don't have a fleshed out social account, don't link to them! I'd rather you leave it blank, then have you look half-ass in your venture.

4. Privacy, Disclosures, Disclaimers, and Terms of Service - You should have at bare minimum a privacy policy. If your industry requests others like Disclosures, Disclaimers - for you affiliates, or you run a service which requires Terms of Services (TOS), get them. Someone manually reviewing your site or gauging how legit you are is going to look for these, and there are people that will actually read this stuff. (Try this if you need something: https://termsfeed.com/terms-service/generator - yes it costs money but not a lot - if you can find something better please share).

5. Social Proofing - Review/Testimonial Page - If you have a scenario where social proofing is going to add dollars to your bottom-line, do it. People like seeing others in your industry using your service, or site as a resource guide. Can you have too much social proofing, maybe, if they are no-names - reach out to people that are known and offer a free trial, free version, or a guest-post on your site to get the conversation going about what you do. People want to see others in your industry, since you will now be drawing your authority from them.

6. Microdata - Meh, I stopped wasting time with Google Plus, but the Microdata/Schema.org can help you get indexed in other things not specifically search engines. Microdata is designed to categorize your content, so if you can figure out how to use it, do it, but for what we do, it's not going to make you or break you regarding traffic leaks. It's all code no user sees in the end.

7. On-Site Search Engine - Search Metrics plugin for Wordpress, I linked to it early, or if you aren't on wordpress a custom free search like Sphider, (http://www.sphider.eu/). Don't let the design fool you, it's powerful beyond it's means, and setting up a cron job is quick and easy, so your site can be spidered once a day for new content.

8. FAQ - Like last time, love FAQ sections, but make sure they are fleshed out with actual questions people ask, and not your freaking life story.

9. Newbie Guides - This is a new one I'm adding. Adding tutorials, newbie guides, and introductory content to your industry will give you the authority look you need. People will use your guides as a resource center, and therefore making you the de facto authority just off of that. Everyone is new and scared at some point, the place were they got their first "ah ha" moment is a place they will always keep dear in their hearts and minds. Even if you think people know XYZ of your niche already, remember there might be people that don't know the acronyms used - like ORM in SEO (Online Reputation Management). People will go scavenging for definitions of acronyms people use, so even creating a tutorial on acronyms used in your niche is a great start and will naturally get links and visitors cause of the nature of it.

10. Content - Make your content engaging. What the freak does that mean? That means make it worth reading, and informative, not just some filler content that no one would bother actually sharing. Filler content is "me, me, me" focused. Great content is focused on solving a problem. If your content is not solving a problem or attempting to answer a problem, without self-promotion, it's going to come off as sales copy. It's one thing if you are directly selling a product that's fine, but for additional content, there should be supporting topics surrounding your main content, that shouldn't be self-promotion "me, me, me" at any level.

Different people have ways to structure content - it's going to really depend on your niche, but traditional intro, 3 paragraphs and conclusion still work fine for me. I like going into in-depth things, so lists within content, photos/images, all help people keep focused on the content.

a. Videos - I will tell you right now, people are moving away from reading long paragraphs of stuff, unless they are REALLY into the content - or its a CCarter thread. Quick Videos to explain things are great, longer videos to explain serious concepts also work. Find the medium within your niche and audience.​
b. Difficult Niches - I once saw a site that was in home improvement and the eCommerce site was selling powersaws. Now there are only so many ways to talk about a powersaw - that's true. But If you are simply describing an item, that's just stating facts. Imagine there was a particular option for a saw, one was a 3 inch saw and another 5 inch saw - clearly I don't know much about powersaws, but let's imagine. The only difference is in the size, everything else is exactly the same. Well this is where you have to get creative and get your creative juices going. If I had free rein over the description, I'd come up with quick funny short stories about an adventure with the 3 inch saw, where it was perfect, then another adventure with the 5 inch saw.​
Now obviously this comes with risk cause your story can be pretty lame, but if you can make them funny enough that people will remember, you might go semi-viral within your niche. All your descriptions could be creative stories that describe how this one minor detail in the saw length helped save the day - use your creative freedom. Here is an example of a funny review of a Amazon product:​
How to Avoid Huge Ships
"I live near a park and frequently walk around the local area. Given the amount of dog mess that is on the pavements I thought this book would be the ideal read to stop me having to scrape my shoes on the grass before going home. It was only after it arrived that I looked closely at the title and realized it said 'How to Avoid Huge SHIPS'. A simple error that means I am still treading on massive examples of canine excrement. Having said that, I read the book anyway, and I’m pleased to say I’m not even having near misses with huge ships anymore. No sir, they ain't getting anywhere near me!"​

Remember the Three Wolf Moon Short Sleeve Tee: http://www.amazon.com/The-Mountain-Three-Short-Sleeve/dp/B002HJ377A/
Look at the reviews, the audience is taking creative liberties and the seller is probably making a killing over a joke that escalated. What if the seller was the one that started a joke with a description to spice things up? Even TV commercial ads flair and spice up their products, so why aren't you? Look at laundry detergents commercials, washing clothes is just not that exciting as it looks on television.​
Now imagine turning a ton of boring content into creative short stories, which could create buzz within your niche? Is that worth the experiment? Traffic leaks is about thinking outside the box to grab user's attention and gear them towards the CTA of what you want. It's all marketing at the end of the day, if things are boring, why not spice them up?​
For my own brand marketing, the CC brand, I use imagery, avatars, signatures, and tell stories about things that are rather mundane in nature - SEO and marketing. You know need header tags, title tags, and this stuff, but to say it in a way that gets you pumped up to get money - that's an art form itself. You have to practice getting creative, even if that means creating a mysterious persona which you can exercise your writing ability and storytelling to sharpen your skill - someone will get that. :wink:
If you look at this post itself, the first thing you see is Matt Cutts throwing up the Rocafella/Illuminati/society symbol - like what the freak (how do you even find a photo like that?), that's the kind of imagery you need to weave a story, a story about fantasy and secrets, but a fun story - in the end, the message was absorbed a bit better then someone just writing a blog post about you needing one h1, two h2, a intro, body - usually 3 paragraphs, and conclusion, plus an image helps. That kind of content doesn't engage anyone. I feel every site should have an internal voiceover/dialog/persona. Wikipedia is about pure facts, dictionaries are pure facts, marketing is about story telling and creating emotion. It's time to flex the marketing muscle.​
11. Lists - People still love lists, and with this age of clickbaiting, it's not going to go away for a long time. Get top 10 lists for your industry, categorize your industry, show people what's possible. If you are in the gaming niche - top 10 games for 2015, or top 10 games for January 2015.

Think about this, right now you are reading a list - mind-blown right? This list, you'll probably go back to for specific sections, look at the way it's organized, it helps people focus on a particular section.

12. Authority Logos - People feel safe with these Verisign, McAfee, HackerSafe - they've been trained to look for these logos. Even ones that "look similar" will pass the snuff test, nothing is standardized. If you can get them - perfecto, if you have to fake it - well just know there are consequences for your actions if anything should arise (The Society legal department makes me say that).

"Reality is merely an illusion, albeit a very persistent one." - Albert Einstein

The biggest thing to take away is your site has to look like you put effort into it if you want people to take you seriously. Whether it's people you want to guestpost on your site, or people that are browsing in order to buy your merchandise. If your site looks like a freaking Wordpress blog - that's only going to take you so far. Get serious and know what your end goal should be. Look at the competition and employ as much things as they have that make sense, without cluttering up the user experience. That is just the ground work - not even, that's just the foundation of a big brand.


What every site needs to have:

Clear call to actions (CTA) - I love having clear call to actions at the bottom of each blogpost, but sidebar call to actions (CTA) are needed too. I prefer having at minimum 2 call to actions in general for your site.

A. First is revenue in your pocket TODAY, CTA. Meaning if they purchase the product, signed up for a service, fill out the lead generation form, or click the ad, that's revenue in your pocket. That should be primary.​
B. Second is the CTA that adds them to your audience - money tomorrow, whether that's an email list - my personal preference since it's direct communication with them. Or joining some communication channel of yours that you can utilize to send direct messages to them - this includes twitter, youtube subscription, and maybe Facebook - they are acting like dicks lately and creating hoops to reach your fans without them making money at some level. You pay for the like, then you pay to talk to them, forget all that, get their email, direct and easy.​
C. Third optional for now, but will be necessary in the future - a call to CTA to spread the word about your site. This could lazily include sharing features for social media, or a "tell a friend" script where it opens their email program so they can send a pre-written email to a friend. The more invasive sites like LinkedIn want to rape your contact list, even some mobile Apps want to do the same - meh, if you can get away with it do it, but be careful not to be known for spamming, cause it's your brand at the end of the day.​
Another spread the word method is a referral program where people earn "internet points", or actual cash for sending people that buy your way - following that line you can take it a step further and have an affiliate program, if it makes sense for your business model. You can sit around and do all the work for yourself spreading the word, but getting loyal followers and disciples to spread the word for you for some reward, or money in their pockets allows you to create an army of people pushing your brand.​
Maybe your MFA (made for Adsense), site is only advertisment based, but you can come up with an ebook that affiliates can push for a cut of profits. You have to think about ways to generate multiple streams of revenue for one project if possible - upsells opportunities, cross promotion opportunities with others in your vertical - maybe not direct competitors but complimentary services.​


Website type specific requirements:

Based on the "Monetization - Generating Revenue" thread: http://www.wickedfire.com/enlightened-members/180464-monetization-generating-revenue.html [no longer available]:

1. Lead Generation - A form - preferable on the homepage and on every important page. I'm not sure why people are putting up sites that want people to contact them, but don't even have a form to fill out. A phone number is great too - there are people that would rather call during business hours when they have questions or want to order. If you want customers to come knocking on your door, you have to have a door or multiple doors for them to knock on.

2 eCommerce - Clear products/service with images, and an EASY checkout process. Don't make people jump through hoops, make it easy for them to understand how your site functions. When your site relies on purchasing, getting creative with the checkout process doesn't help.

3. Informative / Entertainment - Easily accessible monetization opportunities which users can click on or interact with, without a lot of hurdles - that means if you have a business model centered around display ads, your display ads should be in locations that maximize clicks.

4. Brand - No one should have this type of site at any level within the CC9 or even in general if you are here to make money online. But a brand site should have details about it's products/services, and that's really it. Think sites like Coca-Cola, Pepsi, McDonalds, where they are there for corporate presence. (Don't confuse Brand with big brand style websites). A Brand site is a site that doesn't need to exist in order for the company to do business. A company like Apple, Apple.com, would be considered an eCommerce site rather then a Brand site. Proctor & Gamble, PG.com, is a brand site, all their products are in supermarkets and grocery stores. They do not need a online presence since 99% of the people that buy from them will never visit their site. Their business transactions are 99% offline.


This concludes our on-site crash course. We're going to go through PMs with the CC9 on what we see needs to be improved, added, or removed on their own sites to get them to a level which will help them leverage their traffic leaking efforts. You may want to go through the original Big Brand Checklist - we went into 19 pages of goodies - http://www.wickedfire.com/enlightened-members/168970-ccarter-big-brand-checklist-how-i-represent.html [no longer available], for more in-depth details.

- CCarter
(Follow me on twitter @MercenaryCarter)
So pumped and excited! Thanks @CCarter!

Edit: Still struggling to comprehend how much golden information you just dropped in this thread for us, newbies, to digest and use to get better at IM.
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Thanks for great info CCarter. I guess creating theme for Pico requires knowledge good of Twig... How difficult it is to create or design custom Pico theme in comparison to WP themes? I would like to give it a serious go.
All my sites are custom so it was not difficult for me, but I'm used to starting from scratch with css, html, and javascript. If you aren't use to that, It might be difficult. Pico does have themes: https://github.com/picocms/Pico/wiki/Pico-Themes

But honestly, unless you are a designer, don't waste time creating themes and designing. Find a lightweight one, and customize it. When coding for Wordpress I use the responsive Wordpress 2012 as a barebone base for all my designs, here is an example of one of the end products:


^^ That may have been easy for me, but might not be so easy if you aren't used to doing things from scratch.

I think it's worth noting, the design doesn't matter if there is no traffic at the end. Too many times I see website owners designing, then re-designing, and then re-designing over and over, while not doing anything to generate traffic. People get stuck in their old ways of - "well before the traffic gets here, let's do a redesign" and that ends up sucking 3 months of their time, which could have been spent making money from their old design which was most likely more then satisfactory, just needed a few tweaks.

Within the CC9 we aren't going to be spending days or weeks on fucking designing, we are moving rapidly, hopefully everyone will be able to keep up.
Yes I'm ok with customizing WP themes but never created one from scratch. Probably I could design what's on your screenshot by customizing basic ZeeDisplay theme. Still, need to have a look into 2012 also as it's responsive (easier job). Regarding Pico, I like it because it's not such a big resource hog as WP is but, javascript is my pain unfortunately so it might not be the best solution for me at this time. So I will stay with WP for next few months.
Also, one thing that I need to be more careful about is validation of code... I'm sloppy thinker in that matter.
And yes, I know this "redesigning circle" very well... Have done it many times before, it can be a bit of a nightmare. Anyway, I should keep up with the fast moving CC9 club... hopefully...
One thing that hit me from some of your other posts I've read in the past is defining your ideal customer / visitor persona.

Evidently there are other interests that most peoples audiences have an affinity for.

Business > Self Help

Grabbing their 'other interests' by the balls and implementing that into your content strategy from the perspective of a company relying solely on search is a pretty shitty deal going forward. I mean it's their fault in a sense, since they need traffic and goofed by focusing solely on search... This pretty much always results in pretty large bounce rates and only a small % get into the funnel and a smaller % convert.

I know that within the modes of leaking traffic that this is potentially a great idea though.

But I can't help feeling that keeping your content as tightly related as possible to the intent of your ideal customer / visitor is the way forward unless your site is suffocating and dying from the lack of traffic it's getting. In which case perhaps you're screwing up elsewhere or you screwed up big time with your idea in the first place.

Wondering Carter what you think about keeping content close to the intent of your ideal visitor. Is this something you should do 80% of the time, all the time or not at all?

Why / when would you personally go down one route or the other?

This is something that's pretty interesting to me as someone who likes to mix up my traffic sources as much as possible.
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You have to do it right. Your site's blog is the key for this. It will help bring in visitors by talking about other interests that compliment your business.

If you are selling chairs, there might be a new ottoman that comes with matching tables, or new drapes which might be perfect for a setup. The ottoman's content wouldn't work on your main site, but it would work on your blog where you can get a little bit more creative with it.

Now that's not to say that you can't create top 10 lists of "The Best Furniture Sets for 2015", which includes everything, all of which compliment chairs you have - which don't appear on your blog, but in a main site article - you can definitely do that.

A lot of people fail with the blog portion of their business, since they think it should be "me, me, me" focused. The blog can and should talk about topics within your industry or business that touches on the lives of your customers. That way it shows the end user, the one that you've defined as your ideal customer, that your company gets them, and understands them, and wants to genuinely inform them about events going on in their industry to help them out.

Using me as an example - If I went to an SEO tool and saw a blog just talking about their features, I'm going to be less likely to sign up for their newsletter, cause it's just about them. But if I saw they were also talking about the latest Google update, or declining traffic to scam reporting sites - which touches on everyone in the industry, I might sign up for their newsletter just because they seem to be on top of things and aren't looking to shove their tool down my throat.

But if that tool's blog starts talking about new Apple Mac Displays - that's way too off topic and not focused at any level. Yes I love Apple, but you're an SEO tool, you should be talking about SEO, and your tool, and things surrounding that industry directly.

In the above example the SEO writing about Google updates and the latest in ORM, they could capture people that are directly interested in the SEO Tool since it's relevant to their interests. If the blog is talking about Apple Mac Display - that could be anyone, and will drive traffic that most likely will bounce immediately - with very little likely hood of buying the SEO tool, since it's just not something they are interested in.

So in this example, it makes sense to know what your ideal users want to see, and work it into your blog or site. With a blog you can have more creative freedom and express yourself better without corporate constraints.
I've had a deeper look at Pico and skeleton theme and that would the best way to start (it's not hard at all, actually it's very simple). The only problem I have with Pico is that this project seems to be dead now, so problems with support etc. CCarter will manage without support I'm sure, me? Probably not. That's why I will try with Grav instead, it's similar and it stays here for good I think (and it's very well documented). Anyway, thank you CCarter for pointing out those flat file cms. Now, because all of my new project don't require database driven cms I will create them with Grav (eventually one will try with Pico) for better speed and security :smile: How cool is that? I'm excited like a little girl now!
www.PhileCMS.com takes off where Pico left off (Pico fork). You can literally switch to PhileCMS and not need any major work cause its the same skeleton. I haven't made the jump cause I've got caching of the whole site under control. If you are still interesting, look into Phile, they are more up to date and activity supporting it.
to add to this, I run a site with Phile CMS, since PICO has pretty much stopped development, etc. Something I did was find a fast html5 template and then integrate it into the twig template. Design is done for you, and the speed is already there. I go a little further by manually combining all CSS files (and later minify them after the site design is done using http://cssminifier.com/) and combine as many of the JS files as well. I have done this with relative success for local lead gen sites that have converted well within 2 weeks of launch on a newly registered domain. Shoot me a pm if you need any help, ill assist where I can
Wanted to drop this into the thread. It was something I had been looking for and CCarter dropped it over on the leakage thread by @DeltaNine

Remove query strings - You can edit your templates functions.php file with this code at the end:

//removes script versions
function _remove_script_version( $src ){
    $parts = explode( '?', $src );
    return $parts[0];
add_filter( 'script_loader_src', '_remove_script_version', 15, 1 );
add_filter( 'style_loader_src', '_remove_script_version', 15, 1 );

// remove junk from head
remove_action('wp_head', 'feed_links', 2);
remove_action('wp_head', 'feed_links_extra', 3);
remove_action('wp_head', 'rsd_link');
remove_action('wp_head', 'wlwmanifest_link');
remove_action('wp_head', 'index_rel_link');
remove_action('wp_head', 'parent_post_rel_link', 10, 0);
remove_action('wp_head', 'start_post_rel_link', 10, 0);
remove_action('wp_head', 'adjacent_posts_rel_link_wp_head', 10, 0);
remove_action('wp_head', 'wp_generator');
remove_action('wp_head', 'wp_shortlink_wp_head', 10, 0);
remove_action('wp_head', 'noindex', 1);

^^ that removes those pesky ?v=123.45.6 queries from your scripts and also removes some other junk from your head. I hate the fact there "some" processing but it's far less then a whole plugin doing this.
I'm now learning Phile. Looks like I've missed the trend of the flat file CMS platforms in 2014.
It's so different to play out of the box with something that doesn't exist on the CMS map.

One other thing I am adding to my site which I didn't see mentioned, which I think help adds to the "brand" aspect is to add a "Careers" page. You can add a little about your company and say that you do not have any open positions but feel free to submit your CV. It helps give the impression of size to people.
Wrapped this content and made $15k selling it as an eBook.
Lol jk. Another fantastic post @CCarter thanks for all the insight you share with us. Definitely is a must and it has changed the way I build websites (since the WF era).