We get you up and running with a website in a way that’s pretty different from most everyone else. We don’t even call what we do web design. We don’t design – we build.
The fundamental difference lies in our one-theme approach. What does that mean?
To put it simply, a theme determines a lot about how your site will look. We use one theme, which means that the basic presentation for each site we build is the same.
Why do we do that?
The one-theme approach saves you time, saves you money, and gives you an exceptionally high-quality website with a very short turnaround time.
Since so many elements of our site are consistent from one to the next, you skip right past a lot of the time, work, and decision making that normally goes into the design process. If you’ve ever been through that before, you’ll know what we mean. Designers use a lot of different approaches to creating a site. After twenty years in the business, we’ve seen them all and tried most of them: in person meetings, various questionnaires, asking clients to send us examples of sites they liked.
But the results were always pretty similar. A lot of emails and phone calls and meetings. A lot of questions that often left clients feeling unsure. And – after all that trouble – a lot of sites that looked fairly similar to one another.
That may sound like a lack of creativity on our part as the designer, but we really don’t think it is. Allow us to illustrate with an example.
A potential client (who shall remain nameless) started the dialog with us by saying they didn’t want their site to look like everyone else’s. “Sites always have the pages along the top and the logo up there and then the details down below,” the customer said. “We want to put all our stuff on the main page, just kind of jumble it around like a collage and let people click on whichever thing they want.”
We’ve had similar conversations with several clients over the years. This approach has a couple of problems. First, what does it look like on other devices? If someone views your site on a phone’s smaller screen, will they see a tiny corner of the collage, or will the collage be scaled down so small that they won’t be able to read any of it? That’s mostly a technical and design problem, and you could always spend (a lot) more money to develop custom versions of the site for several different screen sizes. The second problem is more serious…
The second problem is that it’s really a you-centric approach. Let’s say you make cars. And you decide that you don’t want your car to be like all the other cars out there. You decide you’ll put the ignition on the left side of the steering column instead of the right. Is that possible? From a technical and design standpoint, sure. But think about the experience of your customers when they get in their car to go to work every morning. Most of them will try to stick the key in the right side of the steering column (where it is on 99% of cars). That won’t work, of course, so they’ll pass the key to their left hand to start the car, but before they do that, they’ll sigh, groan, or maybe curse your company name.
You’ll have a few people who celebrate your quirkiness. Since the product is a car, people who buy it will be heavily invested and will probably get used to it, if a bit reluctantly.
Visitors to a website usually have much less invested. If they have to click around your creatively organized website to find what they’re looking for, they’ll probably just leave and go to your competitor. Why take a chance on creating that kind of headache for them??
Actually, we can think of one good reason: If you’re a band or an artist – if you’re someone who’s connection with their audience is based on your self-expression, then you might opt for an unorthodox approach to your site. We love music and art, but we’ll be the first to say that Pocket Studios isn’t the right choice for that kind of site. On the other hand, if you’re like most artists we know who don’t have loads of money to pour into their website, we’re a great choice. The truth is that no one’s likely going to unfollow your band because “I love their music, but their website was just too straightforward.” And you’ll be starting with a site that looks great and works very, very well. Plus, since it’s built on WordPress, you’ll have a foundation that most any designer will know. So when the money starts rolling in and you want to retool the whole site so the navigation unfolds like a popup book from the vinyl issue of your double-album cover, you won’t be starting from scratch.
With that said, more often than not, people working in creative ventures benefit from a site that’s designed with ease of use in mind. If you make custom soaps or jewelry, you may be an artist, but the connection is really about the soap. And the easier you make it for them to get the soap, the better.
Cars don’t have to have the ignition on the right. They don’t even have to have four wheels. But it’s a convention. A car setup in the conventional way provides the easiest way for most people to get where they’re going, and most people like things easy.
Most people know to look at the top of a web page for the menu. We put it there so your visitors will have a pain-free experience. That’s why most websites – not just websites we build – look basically the same. Just like most cars look basically the same.
So going with the one-theme approach saves you all the choices and work involved in getting to a website with the equivalent of four wheels and the ignition on the right.
One-theme saves you all those decision-making emails back and forth, which means it saves us from them, too. That means we can build a website for you faster and cheaper than people using a traditional approach. Without sacrificing one bit of quality.
You say, “But I don’t want my site to look like a bunch of other sites!”
Really, you should to an extent. See above. But don’t worry – your site won’t look just like anyone else’s. Think of a Christmas tree. Most people’s trees are fairly similar – shaped like an inverted cone, green. You never see a maple tree Christmas tree! But the choice of ornaments makes a huge difference. Similarly, most websites share a lot of basic layout elements, but the images and colors have a dramatic effect on a site’s appearance.
You’ve probably seen tons of sites that use a layout very similar to the theme we use, and I’ll bet you never thought “Gee, this looks like a lot of other sites.”
In case it’s not clear, the pocketstudios.com site is built with Altitude Pro, so there’s one example of what the theme can look like. But see how different it can look with different content, colors, and images:
Those are built with Altitude Pro. Here are some examples of very similar layouts to our one-theme approach (to be clear, these are not sites we built, and most probably aren’t actually using the Altitude Pro theme, but you could create a site very similar to any of these using Altitude Pro). The sites represent a wide range of products and services, but the functional elements are arranged in a very consistent way. Note the similarities, but also ask yourself: do they all look alike? These links will open in new windows:
Those are from the general populace. If you check out internet marketers – people who live and die by the effectiveness of their sites – you’ll find many more:
Do they all look alike? No. And yes. Back to the car metaphor, they all have the equivalent of four wheels and the ignition on the right side of the column. But they look as different as a candy apple red VW Beetle and a jet black Mazda Miata. Your site images – the colors, subjects, and style – have a huge impact on making your site your own.
Okay, I like the one-theme approach, but why Altitude Pro in particular?
Since we’ve been talking about appearance, we’ll first point out that Altitude Pro is a chameleon. Because images make up so much of the theme’s presentation, its appearance changes dramatically from one installation to the next.
Altitude Pro works with the Genesis Framework which in turn works with WordPress. We could go on and on about the benefits of using both WordPress and Genesis, and maybe we will at some point in a separate post. But here’s a quick summary: the WP + Genesis combo gives you a foundation that has a gigantic user base. That means widespread compatibility for any services you might want to connect to your website. Web hosting that’s tuned specifically for your site’s core. It means that whenever you come across a helpful SEO tip in a blog post, it’s almost certainly going to have specific “if your site is built on WordPress…” directions. It means code that has been refined by an enormous and talented userbase over years and years. It means excellent security and Search Engine Optimization. It means an easy-to-use admin interface. Reliability. Simplicity. Code that will last and grow with you.
StudioPress, the people who created Genesis and the Altitude Pro theme, have built a sterling reputation in the WordPress community. Internet heavy-hitters like Yoast recommend and use StudioPress products. All themes are not created equal. Not by a long shot. There was a time when we would install themes for clients that they’d found somewhere out in the wilds of the internet. We were struck time and again by the problems we found in those themes. Completely unexpected things like a theme that used unconventional code in the database that prevented links from being updated. That one didn’t even show up until the client wanted to move to a different host – but at that point, we had a real mess on our hands. Some theme problems can be even more insidious. Themes that haven’t been well-coded for SEO can keep your site from performing as well as it could in search engines. Themes that haven’t been well-coded for security can leave your site vulnerable to hackers.
Now, on to the Altitude Pro theme… We looked at a ton of themes to find the best one for our clients. And in doing so, we had to really hone our criteria. A theme has to look good, obviously. It needs to display well on all devices – really well – that’s a given. Most people think of those things when they go looking for a theme. In fact, most people get completely lost when looking at different themes trying to decide which one looks the best.
While researching setting up solutions for our clients, we’ve read through lots of guides to setting up your own website. The part about choosing a theme usually consists of nothing more than “pick one you like.” Really?! Wow. We want you to like your site (in fact, we guarantee you will or we’ll refund your purchase), and we want it to look good, but we’re hoping for a little more than that…
You’ll rarely hear this when people are giving “how to pick a theme” advice, and you won’t hear many web designers talk about it, either, but we think it’s pretty important: your website is supposed to actually do something. What that thing is will vary from one site to the next, but it’s going to be some kind of engagement with your visitors. The site is supposed to get visitors to sign up for your newsletter, or to call for an appointment at your spa, or to come tour your assisted living facility.
A spot on your site that is specifically geared to get a visitor to do something is referred to as a Call To Action. CTA for short. Often, a CTA will be a mailing list signup form. Sometimes that’s in the form of a promotional offer, like “Enter your email address to get 10% off your next visit!”
On any given website, there are a few places where you really want CTAs, and surprisingly few designs provide all of them. You want one smack dab in the middle of the home page. Well, it doesn’t literally have to be centered, and we’re talking about the area of the home page visible on the screen before the user has to scroll. The key is for it to be prominent! This one is hugely important. We want this to draw your visitors’ eyes right away and tell them just how your product or service can help them. You also want a CTA in the upper right corner, and you want one at the end of every blog post. The first two are spots where people look the most, and the one at the end of posts is to give visitors who have connected with your content enough to read to the end the chance to convert that into whatever you’re offering. In the website guide we provide for all customers, we give pointers on what should be in those particular areas and examples to help you get the most out of your site.
Another thing that every site should have is a landing page, and the theme should provide a page template for that. Basically, a landing page is a page without sidebars or menus, with very little content, and with a call to action. It’s a page you direct visitors to from ads or other content. It’s a way to help you guide visitors through the parts of your site most relevant to them.
Another important capability we wanted in order to support all our clients well was a theme that looked good with different amounts of content. We’ve watched a lot of clients struggle to come up with things to say just to fill in a spot on their site. Your business might not need much on the web.
For example: Maybe you’re an auto mechanic. You want to share your hours, your phone number, and maybe give people a way to schedule an appointment. You should have at least one call to action! You could offer a coupon or some free advice on preparing customers’ cars for winter in exchange for their signing up for your newsletter. But maybe that’s all you have for your site. That’s fine! Chances are, people aren’t looking to kill an afternoon browsing your site. The less you can say while still engaging effectively with your visitors, the better! Altitude Pro can adapt very nicely for that site. You can simply omit some of the home page areas you use (we’ll make all that clear during setup) and the site won’t look “empty.”
But maybe you’re a life coach and you want to share some information about your approach, some testimonials, the details about your next speaking engagements, excerpts from your latest blog posts, pictures of your last workshop, and more, more, more! No problem. Altitude gives you lots of room to breathe.
Altitude Pro provides all these features.
Another Altitude advantage for our customers is that it works well with a lot of background images without any tweaking. Altitude places a gradient over the background images that helps to make whatever text you have over them legible, no matter what the image. And the theme’s neutral color elements don’t create problems, either. That means our clients can change out images as they please without having to do extra work. On the other hand, if we do have an image that’s suitable, or if we setup a background box for the content, the top of the home page can look great without the gradient, as seen in the mockups above. This is an option we include with our site builds. And if you choose to do it yourself, it’s not a difficult change, although it does require you to look at some code.
Finally, Altitude’s parallax effect (the way it scrolls) adds a bit of pizzazz. Everyone could use a little pizzazz, right?!
If Altitude Pro is so great, can’t I just do this myself?
Absolutely! Here’s a link straight to the Altitude Pro theme at StudioPress.com. That’s an affiliate link, which means that StudioPress gives us a small commission if you use our link. It doesn’t cost you anything extra, and if you’ve found the information here helpful in making your decision, we’d really appreciate the “tip.”
We want you to get the best web solution for you. For some people, that means saving every penny they can, and you can get Altitude Pro with the Genesis framework for about $100 directly from StudioPress. We’re not shy about helping those readers along the DIY route, because we’re confident that our options are better for most people. For $297, we’ll install Genesis and Altitude Pro for you and set the theme up with sample content. That’s going to save you about one business day of work. (Our estimate for a first-timer who’s reasonably tech-savvy.) We feel like we provide great value for the work we take off your hands and the extra quality touches we bring, such as tweaking images for maximum quality / load time balance, but if you want to do it yourself, go for it!
We’ll also provide our guide to changing any bit of editable content on your site along with advice on what that content should be. What should you put first on your home page? What kinds of images should you use? Our guide has answers. If you purchase from us, you get access to over two hours of videos full of advice and examples.
For what it’s worth, our site installs have some customization options that are available to our customers but not part of Altitude out of the box. Nothing too major. For example, our links are colored on the front page areas with image backgrounds to help them stand out, and we give you the option to place the pricing area in any of the front page areas that don’t have an image background. Little things we think work a bit better. We also offer a “hero layout” version of the first area on the front page as well as a “light header” version of the theme which works better for some logos, and just fits some sites better (the header area turns white when scrolling instead of black as it does on the pocketstudios.com site. These are things that you can change yourself if you’re willing to put in the work and research. And, of course, you won’t get our guide to editing your site, but you will get access to the StudioPress setup directions and forums which are very helpful.
But, there has to be some compromise, right?
Sure. You’re trading the cost and time savings for some customization. No putting the ignition switch on the left side of the column. Many of those things aren’t good ideas anyway. Others are past a point of diminishing returns. You can tweak a site forever and eke out fractions of a percentage point in visitor count. And at some point, that may be worthwhile for you. And the site setup we give you – WordPress, Genesis, Altitude Pro – will give you a beautiful foundation for whatever you want to add or change in the future. But right now, you’re probably better off working on your next blog post. Or getting back to making your soap. Or painting your paintings. Or fixing your customers’ cars. Get your website done and get back to the work you care about. We are big believers in the 80/20 approach. The way we build sites is based around getting you across that threshold of effectiveness and efficiency. Getting you a site that is going to give you 80% of the results for 20% of the usual price. Actually, we think we’re providing better than 80% of the results, but that’s for you to decide!
Extras. Just the beginning…
One way we give you more of what matters is putting the time we’re saving on endless customizations into things other site providers don’t, like giving you some practical advice on the content that goes on your site. Since we’re focused on this one theme, we know it inside and out, and we’ll give you the resources to make it sing, too. We provide a comprehensive guide to your site with every purchase that shows you how to edit every single bit of content easily. That means more savings for you, as you won’t have to call a web designer just to change a picture or edit the date of your next presentation.
And hey, we’re not stingy about that. If some helpful tips about your website sound good, but you aren’t ready to build a site with us right now, you can sign up for our email newsletter and get plain language tips for getting the most out of your website delivered once a week.