For most of you, loading up SDavis Media to find a new design is totally normal. I’m not afraid to admit that I’m a redesign addict… mainly because I never like anything I produce for more than 72 hours.

There’s something different about this redesign, though. Unlike other times, this wasn’t about how the site looks. This redesign was focused on purpose. What exactly did I want to accomplish with every single page of the site? What were my goals?

In finding answers to these questions, the new design shaped itself. All I had to do was pick the colors. Seriously.

Pages That Serve A Purpose

The first thing you’ll notice is the new homepage. No longer is it sporting the blog feed. Why? Because SDavis Media is more than just a blog.

This is a company website serving as the hub for everything I do online. That means the Volatyl Framework and any of my other projects are every bit a part of the site as the blog is.

Likewise, blogs are almost expected these days. So bringing special attention to the blog no longer makes sense to me. As a result:

  • The homepage now highlights every “SDavis Media Project” displayed like a pricing/features table.
  • The blog is represented by a simple link in the main menu. I think it will be searched for whether I highlight it or not.

Plus, when someone visits this site, I would rather them check out the Volatyl Framework than read my latest blog post. Being honest with myself about that completely changed my homepage approach.

Internal Pages

I have always kept my internal pages to a minimum. Besides your typical “contact,” “about,” and “subscribe” pages, I only have a few more that are specific to my design/developer profession.

What I did, though, was strip these pages of almost all site elements except for the header and footer. Each of them rocks a bold headline clearly stating its purpose and then gets right into the copy. As a result:

  • No one page is clouded by the details of another page or goal of the site.
  • The design of each page could be built based on the page content itself without the influence of a site-wide structure.

The simple truth is that if I’m going to have a “Contact” link in my menu, I want the chances of you contacting me to be very high when you visit that page. Otherwise, I’m just wasting space.

The Blog

Believe it or not, the blog and its templates are the only places you’ll see the actual structure of my WordPress theme on this site. Everything else is custom and purpose-driven.

The blog, however, is designed to look like a blog. That means something to visitors. Whether I call it a blog or not, when you see a list of linked article titles accompanied by an image, an excerpt, and a link to read more, you know what to expect.

There’s no reason for me to confuse you there. It is a blog so I want you to want to read the articles.

Purpose still matters, though. This is where I decided to switch things up a bit.

No Sidebars on the Blog

When you visit the main blog feed, I want you to read something… period. Your opportunity to subscribe, get in contact, see what SDavis Media is all about, or learn about the bald guy is established elsewhere. As a result:

  • Besides the header and footer, you have nothing to look at but my articles.
  • You will not be faced with another decision to make until you finish reading an entire article.

To get this kind of focus out of a visitor, sidebars had to go. I had to be honest with myself and accept the fact that you’re not going to subscribe, share, or do anything else for me until you trust me or my content.

Again, any attempt call you to action before then is a waste of space. As a result:

  • The content is centered since most of you are centered on your computer screens (crazy… I know).
  • Contrast is high. Unlike the internal pages, the blog articles do not imply an obvious task. You must read first. So making the content easily readable was key. Typography, contrast, and minimal distractions was the focus from the top to the bottom of every article.

If you make your way to the bottom of the article, you’ll see how simple things are once again. Why do I need a big presentation on why to share my content? It’s 2013. Most everyone knows what social media buttons mean, right? Of course.

So I want you to do two things here and one needs to come before the other because one forces you to leave the page while the other doesn’t.

  1. Share the article that you’ve already read (crazy again, huh?) with your network.
  2. Subscribe to my blog for updates like the one you just read.

Notice that I didn’t tell you about myself with an author box. Is that bad practice? Not really. But is it my goal to tell you who I am and link you to other things once you’ve finished reading my article? Not at all.

I also left out promotions. I have an entire WordPress framework to promote. I left it out because that won’t always be a logical call to action after an article. If it needs to be the call to action for an article, it will be in the article.

The only thing you can do outside of share my article or leave a comment is subscribe.

If article content is focused and the related calls to action are in the content, the aforementioned actions are the only remaining moves that make sense after a read.

They get the spotlight in a straight-forward manner.

What else is there to do on SDavis Media?

Really, what more can I ask of my visitors? Go to the page you need to perform a specific action or read the blog and let me request an action from you.

With this way of thinking, sidebars just didn’t make sense anymore. In fact, drop down menus didn’t make sense either.

The focus of the site is so sharp that only a few pages were required, removing the need to bundle them up into drop-down menus.

This approach won’t be for everyone. It’s not a foreign concept, though. Even some default WordPress themes have implied this thinking.

It may be a while before most web publishers and designers start thinking this way but I definitely think the day will come.

One page equals one goal. That’s all there is to it. What are your thoughts?

photo credit: Thomas R. Stegelmann via photopin cc

Published by Sean Davis

When I'm not developing WordPress themes and plugins, I'm usually helping further the Easy Digital Downloads project, traveling, or playing racquetball. Say hi on Twitter. @SDavisMedia

25 Comments

  1. I like the purpose-driven page idea. Distracting a site visitor from what you want them to do is counterintuitive – but we all do it every day. The other think I learned the hard way is that my market should dictate the way I make design decisions. Great example: I am over the front page slider. However, when I removed it, my bounce rate skyrocketed. As far as my potential clients are concerned, it’s absolutely necessary. So I put it back and cleaned up the design in other areas. Great read, Sean!

    Reply
    • That’s what we all need to do, Lisa… think about why we do things before we do them. I’m with you on the sliders. I never got into them at all so I understand why you’re over them. But if that’s what your visitors want from you, it makes perfect sense to have it there as long as you can take them from the slider to your calls to action. That’s strategic design and exactly what I’m hitting on here.

      Thanks a ton for reading and commenting!

      Reply
  2. Hey Sean, I have to say I absolutely LOVE what you’re doing over here man, mastering web usability at its best!

    It felt like I was reading an article from a physical magazine (you don’t get to see sidebar ads in the REALLY important articles) and even though I do think that sidebars have their place in blogs, I don’t agree when bloggers assume they “have to” have sidebars just because everyone else does and not even do minimal research about it.

    It all comes down to what we want our visitors to do in our sites and give them exactly that, everything else becomes noise.

    Sergio

    Reply
    • That’s exactly right, man. It’s all about what you want them to do when they visit pages on your site.

      Sidebars themselves are location-specific and have nothing to do with the purpose their content serves. What I mean by that is just because you want a secondary focus on a page doesn’t mean it has to be in a sidebar. It can be in the post footer just as easily and it’ll probably be more effective.

      All it takes is a little thought. More websites would be unique if people would take this approach more often.

      I appreciate your feedback, Sergio!

      Reply
  3. Looking great! I love that you’ve based your changes on an actual purpose, instead of just looks. It’s going to provide you with something to track after a few weeks of analytics too. It’d be interesting to see how your intention lines up with actual visitor interaction, because as Lisa R. says, the two might not line up.

    Although my intentions were different, I landed on a similar philosophy for the redesign of Ultimate Beauty. So far, that’s made a huge difference in visitor actions on the site (particularly on the article/blog pages).

    Keep up the inspiration bro.

    Reply
    • If seen that website before but can’t remember when. Maybe you showed it to me?

      Yea, man, is all about purpose. I’ll probably never design without this approach again. It’s nothing I have never heard of but it’s just now starting to become important. I’m definitely interested in seeing how it changes user interaction. We’ll see!

      Thanks for stopping by, man.

      Reply
      • Yes, I probably did. It was my testbed for Thesis 2, and biggest learning opportunity for CSS, HTML and PHP.

        But I tell you what, your approach is laser-focused and has got me thinking about how I can further pare back my next project (my accelerate me redesign). There is so much fluff that is there perhaps just because everybody else has it. Time to challenge the assumptions and go out and test for ourselves!

        Reply
        • Yup! We really do need to challenge those assumptions. It’s not just to be different. But it’s so easy to get used to doing things because everyone else else does them and I just don’t see that moving any of us forward.

          Have fun with the new focus and be sure to hit me up on Twitter when it’s ready for some eyeballs!

          Reply
  4. This is such a profound article Sean! Even though this is a foreign concept to everyone right now…. it also makes complete common sense (which they say is not so common). I think too many of us are caught up into the latest trend or the flashy objects, instead of just sitting back and really thinking about the true purpose of your website. I can admit, I get caught up with it as well but as they say, simple is always the best way to go. I’m in the process of building a couple of websites and you writing this article was perfect timing to serve as a huge reminder. Honestly, I have been getting annoyed with sidebars and the things that people clutter them with. Thanks again Sean!

    Reply
    • Thanks for commenting, Monique!

      Trends and flashy objects… don’t even get me started! We can get away with all kinds of funny business, to be honest. Some of us will never suffer negative consequences for any of it either. But after one does this for some time, certain things just shouldn’t happen anymore. One of those things is filling space on the screen for no reason. It’s silly and it shows a lack of intent. Purpose driven design is almost demanded in other design industries. It’s time for it to hit the web too… or at least WordPress users. 😛

      Reply
  5. Sean,

    Interesting thoughts. Was just having a conversation yesterday about this very thing with someone else. Now I’m thinking a redesign of a couple of my sites is in order. Just gotta fit the time in to do it! LOL

    Reply
    • Haha I hear you. I have sites that I haven’t laser focused just yet and I’m not going to any time soon. But when they are up for a redesign, I’m definitely following the aforementioned way of thinking. It’s kind of fun to work outside of the norm anyway. 😉

      Reply
  6. See, that’s my problem – when I decide to do one, I then want to do them ALL! And then I don’t have enough time . . . and then, none get done. 😉

    Reply
    • I guess the key is to do one at a time based on new tactics you want to implement. That way each time you do one, it gets a host of new tactics instead of just one. Eventually, each redesign will be phenomenal and will most like last longer. Most likely… 😉

      Reply
  7. Man, I’m a “redesign addict” myself. That’s why I’m learning to code now (thanks for the push).

    I’m not made at you with the no sidebars. Looks slick…

    Somebody’s gotta trailblaze a new lane right? lol

    Reply
    • Indeed! I can’t knock a site with sidebars. They definitely serve a purpose when they have a purpose to serve. 😛 Otherwise, though, they’re just a formality that none of us have to adhere to. Personally, I’m about to live and die by that when I design. No more fluff for the sake of fluff.

      Reply
  8. I have a somewhat ambiguous feeling regarding the trending use of the sidebar-less design. While browsing hundreds of sites, I might be reading tons of great articles but I often find that the personal kinds of sites or start-up blogs with very minimal layouts don’t give enough of a impetus to get to know more about the author. And because they all start to look the same, they don’t create a memorable impression, even though the article will be very well written. It’s even worse with those designs where you don’t even get an about page, or a snippet about the author. And with no sidebar content linking into the site, I am probably am not going to click through to other articles.

    My own thought is that people’s curiosity can be fleeting, you don’t want to make them work to find out more about what you do and offer.

    Strictly from a selfish readers perspective, as little distraction as possible are of course good though if all that matters is eating information, but I’d be more convinced of the utility of sidebar-less design with actual data to back it up: more signups, more sales, more subscribers, that kind of thing.

    Of course, right now my own site (2013) suffers these very issues, but when I make the time to create a unique design it’s going to have sidebar content.

    I will agree heavily on your thoughts about having pages built with a very specific purpose. I just don’t think content pages should be treated the same as sales page. In one instance you want the reader to consume more content and know more about your site and what you do (and build trust). In the other case, you want the visitor to do just one thing, which is complete the order process. In that scenario you don’t want to have any distractions that might lead the visitor away from the page.

    Reply
    • I agree with that totally. So it really comes down to the goals you’re trying to achieve with your blog in the first place. For me, scrapping the sidebars is the way to go because each individual article is written for a certain reason. My earlier articles were a bit different. I’ve grown into a certain type of writer, though, and this is where I am now.

      I want each one of my articles to be a hit on its own. As far as SDavis Media goes, I am happy with a reader landing on a post, reading it, getting tons of value from it, then leaving my site. Reason being, I don’t necessarily want SDavisMedia.com to be the hangout spot. I know that sounds weird for a blog but the more I build my other projects, the more I realize the role my blog plays.

      Each article has the ability to stand completely on its own. If someone comes to my site to read about how I increased my page speed, I’d actually like for them to spend the day getting value out of that instead of aimlessly consuming all of my content. While that may help leave an impression on them, I don’t feel it adds the most “bang for the buck”… with the buck being the time they spent on my site.

      I’d argue that one really useful, hyper-focused article that solves a problem as quickly and clearly as possible is more valuable than an article that was fun to read and now we’re on to the next article.

      So in my opinion, it just comes down to what it is you’re “selling.” I don’t really care to be a general brand or for people to just know me. At this point, I want a certain group of people to know me as the guy to see for help with optin forms. I want the next group to know me as the guy to see for advice on increasing page speed. All of these individual impacts lead to my other projects.

      Does that make sense? Again, I agree with you totally. So my advice in this article really just applies to those with the same focus as mine. If ALL a person does only is write on a blog, they most definitely need to make better use of their real estate or they won’t see much results!

      Thanks for stopping by and commenting, Peter!

      Reply
      • Over the weekend, I was thinking about exactly what Peter just posted. Decided on a mixed style for my own blog (which I recently redesigned using the Volatyl framework, btw!) of having sidebars on blog posts but not on pages like the about page and all that. Still not totally finished with the design but it is live! LOL

        Reply
      • Thanks Sean,

        I like your thoughts, you’re optimizing for a particular impact you want to create and designing around that in a way that just makes sense. With that, my thoughts on sidebar-less designs weren’t directed at your particular approach and the strategy around it and more about the idea of sidebar-less sites in general as they are quite common these days, especially in the start-up/tech scene. I’m willing to bet most of these sites aren’t picking these kinds of layouts because they put a lot of thought into the design and the impact they want to create.

        It’s interesting though, I write how-to posts fairly regularly and for many of these posts the visitor is going to be in problem-solving mode. I pretty much know in advance that these people just want an answers to whatever problem they are working with. They come to get the information. If the article is helpful, they are happily on their way and if it’s not they leave quickly. In both cases, those kinds of posts will have a high bounce rate (sidebars or not). That doesn’t really push any of my business goals too much, at least not on the short term. It has me thinking I should maybe narrow down my content a bit more. There’s more impact to be had, when like you, there is a focus toward two niche areas (optin forms/page speed).

        Great to think about refining and aligning design, strategy and business goals.

        Reply
        • Indeed! Might as well get the most out of that interaction that you can. So if the article is focused enough, you can provide your value in the article or have the call-to-action in the article (or post footer) and you’ve done what a lot of folks are trying to do with their entire site. I’m almost to the point where I want to drop the generic post footer and put a unique, highly focused, and relevant call to action at the bottom of each post when I write it. Hmmmm…

          As for the startups with the web 3.0 sites, I know exactly what you’re talking about. I didn’t even think about those before. You’re totally right… they’re just a trend. Most of them serve no purpose and are more entertaining than informative.

          Reply
  9. Sean,

    Before my re-design (about 3 days ago), I had a no-sidebar blog. To be honest, that didn’t really benefit my blog. Since the redesign, the homepage is, of course, on its own but the blog now has a sidebar – and the results can be seen (more pageviews, more click-throughs).

    So, with my personal experience, I can say that having a sidebar is indeed essential.

    Raaj Trambadia

    Reply
    • Hey, Raaj. Thanks for stopping by.

      I’m glad to see you’re paying attention to what’s best for your site and your goals. Unfortunately, a lot of people will aim for pageviews and not even know why. Objectively, that’s not a legitimate goal. It means nothing as it stands alone. It’s all about if those pageviews do something for your business.

      In your case, it sounds like you know exactly what your business needs so you can judge if a certain metric is beneficial to you or not. As long as you can do that, it’s easy to decide if a sidebar (or other elements) make sense for you or not.

      Thanks a ton for your feedback. If more people would pay attention to what they actually need, we’d see a lot more intentional site designs as opposed to a bunch of look-alikes!

      Thanks for commenting, man.

      Reply
  10. On one of my websites, not the one linked to my name, I am also using a similar concept. I am making a how to learn Arabic website without any sidebars at all. Instead, I have interlinked by posts.

    This, in my opinion, has many benefits. It forces you, the developer, to make a closely knitted website, for one. And, time will either prove me right or wrong, I believe that it keeps the user engaged and he is more likely to read more of your content then if you simply placed a sidebar on the right or left.

    Reply
    • I can agree with every bit of that. Of course, things like this may change from site to site. But what you’re doing is exactly right… looking to see what works best for your content and your readers. That’s good stuff.

      Thanks for reading and commenting!

      Reply

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