Every now and then, you realize it is time to do a little spring cleaning, even when it isn’t spring. We have been publishing online since 2000, coinciding with the birth of our eldest son. Over those eight years, the face of BlogSchmog has changed several times. This weekend, with a jumpstart from one of Robert Ellis’ great themes, our site got another facelift.
BlogSchmog is on its seventh design in over eight years of publishing.
The web is rich with resources to help you spruce up your site. Starter kits are readily available for everything from CSS templates to color schemes. One interesting tool is JumpChart, an application for web site prototyping. JumpChart allows you to build working code through an online interface. While this doesn’t translate directly into a blog theme, it is a nice platform for trying out your ideas for structure and creating a foundation of solid markup to adapt into a WordPress theme. Similarly, you could go to Design Shack and browse for existing CSS layout templates.
Advice is plentiful. Expert tips help educate you on web design style, vertical rhythm, permalinks, and search engine optimization. SEO is somewhat controversial, but there is an indispensable plug-in for WordPress that takes care of the work (… as long as you remember to fill out the extra fields in the blog post form).
A byproduct of its huge user-developer community, useful blog themes and plug-ins are available for WordPress. Denver developer Alex King, for example, offers a suite of plug-ins built from the open source platform. Singapore programmer Lester Chan has his own list of tools.
Among my favorite plug-ins currently used in BlogSchmog are:
- aLinks—automatically link keywords in your blog post.
- All-in-One SEO Pack—out-of-the-box SEO for your WordPress blog.
- FeedWordPress—simple and flexible (and scalable, it turns out) Atom/RSS syndication.
- Get Recent Comments—display the most recent comments or trackbacks.
- Google Sitemap generator—generate a sitemaps.org compatible sitemap of your blog.
- Permalink redirection—redirects all crap away from the end of the URL.
- Search Meter—tracks use of the search engine to see which terms visitors are using to search your blog
- Twitter for WordPress—displays your latest public Twitter message on your blog.
Of course, no favorite plug-in list would be complete without Akismet, which comes as part of the WordPress installation. Rather than rely on manual detection and the redundant actions of individuals, Akismet pools all of the comment data and applies the collective wisdom of blog administrators to filter most of the 88% of all comments that turn out to be spam.
What I like most about this particular theme is how it treats our eclectic content on the home page. Each of our main content categories has its own thread of recent posts situated above the fold. The scrolling below the category columns isn’t overwhelming, taking readers first to “The Next Generation”—with links to quotes from our two boys—and further down into a very useful tag cloud, a recent addition to the core WordPress installation.
The overhaul isn’t completely finished, however. BlogSchmog seems to have passed through a check with Graybit, an accessibility tool to detect problems with color blindness and contrast. It has some validation errors, though, and needs some editing to fix the hiccups found by W3C in the HTML and CSS. I’ll run it through various browser tests in the coming week or two.
What do you think?