Thursday, May 13, 2010

Site Remodelling

About a month ago, I got a bee in my bonnet to completely overhaul the Piece By Number website, after literally years of doing practically nothing with it. I set up the site in 1998, just as I started designing quilt patterns, and taught myself basic HTML from a book. The entire site was coded by hand in Notepad. I didn't particularly enjoy coding, but was very proud of myself for being able to do it (even at my very basic level, lol) and I thought my pages looked pretty good.

Once the Piece By Number site was set up with a decent amount of content, I turned my energies to my then-young son, designing patterns, and other life projects. From time to time, I felt a bit bad for not keeping up the site, but the thought of relearning HTML again put me off. Not to mention that my coding skills definitely had NOT kept pace with the times. Java, widgets, Flash, frames, shopping carts, and and and..... it all made my head hurt, and I had little interest in getting my hands virtually dirty with any of it.  With the arrival of Etsy, I had a ready-made venue for selling my patterns -- so much easier than HTML.  The Piece By Number site languished, a little forlorn and dusty.
When I finally got around to signing up with Google Analytics, I learned (rather to my surprise) that  the Piece By Number site was the biggest driver of customers to my Etsy shop, not search engines or anything else.  It didn't take a wizard to figure out that keeping up with the site would be worth a renewed effort.

I started to read about the latest site building software.  One in particular stood out for me - Serif WebPlus X4.  The price was right, it was downloadable - what's to lose but a few bucks and a little time?  So I paid my money, downloaded the software, and installed it.  I fired it up, read a couple on-line tutorials, consulted some user help topics and was off.  So amazingly cool is this software!  With the help of one of the ready-made templates, creating a much fresher and appealing layout for my pages was a breeze.  I was dragging and dropping images, text blocks, headers, and moving them around with the greatest of ease -- finally, intuitive web page design capability that acts and feels like desktop publishing.  No HTML to deal with.

In about a week, I converted all my old pages (about 70) to the new site format.  Adding navigation bars, drop down menus, a contact page with anti-spam feature, a mailing list signup (lots of stuff that the old site never had) -- child's play!  The new site is still a work in progress, because I'm constantly learning new tips and tricks to implement.  Like the search feature and rollover image I added last night. Next up are some calculators for resizing blocks (I think this can be done, from what the user guide says).  And I'll keep tweaking and updating and moving things around - mostly because it's so easy and fun.  I'm really looking forward to adding fresh content once again, too, if for no other reason than to have an excuse to play with this fabulous software. Did I say that I like this product?

Disclaimer:  Serif did NOT pay me to write this!  I am just a very happy and satisfied customer.  Is WebPlus perfect?  Well no, there are a few, very tiny things I don't like so well, or maybe I just don't know yet how to work with them.  Like it's not at all evident how to add ALT tags to images (which can help image searches).  But it's easy to overlook such trivial things, because WebPlus has really made me in love with my website all over again.  :-) 

I'd be very interested in your feedback about the new site - visual appeal, ease of navigation, features, what strikes your fancy (or not), ideas for improvement...  

The photo above is not particularly related, other than its work-in-progress ambiance.  It's from my trip last summer to Italy, outside the Roman amphitheater in Verona.