Every good thorough website redesign article starts with an origin story, right?
How this website got bitten by a radioactive spider. How it kept its dark secret from its family and friends. And how, every night, this website would squeeze into homemade spandex and a mask, fighting the Google robots and Internet trolls for what was right.
The Beginning (aka: Epic Origin Story)
This site, JasonDoesStuff.com, has existed in some form or another since 2004 when I bought my first domain jasonsadler.com*. There’s something special about your first domain. The innocence, the excitement, the constant emails from GoDaddy asking you if you want all the features that not a single person in the entire world ever wants.
When I first “launched” jasonsadler.com, it was nothing more than a Tumblr site with a big fancy headline: Focus More, Do Less**. A glorified blog, that got updated about once every three months with something completely random (my thoughts on something happening in the sports world, a random social media thought, or a YouTube video I recorded that was poorly lit and sounded like it was recorded in a tin bathtub). There was no strategy, plan, or idea, but there was a digital existence. A home that I could call my own and completely control.
Around 2012 I purchased the domain jasondoesstuff.com. It was at that time I’d decided to auction off my last name and ditch “Sadler” as a part of my identity. It felt extremely natural to direct people to jasondoesstuff.com and not jasonsadler.com, because I was doing lots of stuff and needed a place to keep all my online affairs in order (not like Ashley Madison affairs, that would be weird).
All the previous website iterations
Since that first Tumblr site, jasonsadler.com and jasondoesstuff.com have seen 10+ iterations combined. I’ve used Tumblr, ExpressionEngine, Drupal, Strikingly, WordPress, and had an extremely short stint as a custom HTML/CSS site I thought I could handle myself ().
Like a superhero changing his uniform as he finds more advanced super-seamstresses, my website got slicker, tighter, fancier, and had just the right amount of secret pockets!
(Not all iterations are shown, but thank you Wayback Machine for helping me find these!)
Looking back on these different iterations of jasonsadler/jasondoesstuff.com, it’s fun to see a timeline of design trends and not-so-well-thought-out design decisions.
Finally having a brand that could stand the test of time
In 2014 it was time to step-up my game. I’d never had a logo, per se, I’d only had a phrase or my name in a random font with just-as-random colors (or colours for my Canadian friends).
Lucky for me, as is the case for any superhero, I had a love interest who was not only a solid life partner, but she had her own superpowers that could help me take my barely-existent personal brand to that glorious proverbial next level.
That life/super partner is Caroline from MadeVibrant.com and in 2014 we sat down and created a brand I could be proud (a super suit that accentuated all my best features and hid all my bulgy bits).
Creating a solid brand gives you a foundation and guidelines for everything you do online. The more you invest in the creation of that brand, the better it will serve you for years to come.
Here’s a fun look at our initial brand explorations, including the “mood board” which Caroline created that set the entire tone for JasonDoesStuff:
I’d be lying if I said creating a brand was easy. It takes answering some tough questions about values and things you stand for, as well as being willing to get outside your comfort zone a bit. I couldn’t have done it without Caroline, and I’ve continued to reap the benefits of our initial JasonDoesStuff branding conversations and planning sessions.
Caroline helped me see that an essential part of my unique brand DNA is my honest, direct and action-oriented business approach, coupled with my goofy and unconventional personality. Together we developed a visual style and color palette that represented those parts of myself.
With a finished brand in place, I had a solid look and feel for all the content I create and share online. The basics of my brand haven’t changed in 3 years, and I don’t see them changing because we (read: Caroline) did such great work in the beginning. Here’s the brand guideline document I created for myself, while designing the newest version of JasonDoesStuff:
(There’s a separate brand guide I created for the developer of this new design, which you’ll read about in a moment.)
The Boring Middle (aka: What Does Your Website Do?)
From the beginning, my website was a place to share and archive my thoughts. There was no master plan. There was no vision. There definitely weren’t any Road Runner Rules.
As the years went on, I started to notice something: When I wrote a blog post or article on my site that explained how I did something and how someone else could do that thing, people liked it. Shifting my focus from sharing thoughts to sharing entrepreneurial experiences people could learn from was natural as I moved from jasonsadler.com to jasondoesstuff.com. In fact, I went so far in that direction, that the first (real) iteration of JasonDoesStuff featured the headline “I want to help you…” at the top of every page of the site.
During this phase of JasonDoesStuff my website started to find its rhythm. No longer was it aimlessly jumping from building to building late at night, hoping to stumble upon a damsel in distress. No no, JasonDoesStuff figured out how to shine its beacon of superhero-hope for people of all shapes and sizes to find it.
I went from randomly sharing my thoughts, to writing content that focused on helping people through my experiences.
Focusing on consistent content creation and email
I started to invest heavily in creating content after I had a solid brand and some semblance of a vision for how my site could help other people. It’s almost like my website was going to the gym and eating healthy very sparingly in the first few years, and in 2014 it created a strict regime and established better, more sustainable eating habits.
The “I want to help you…” iteration of JasonDoesStuff featured a weekly article on the homepage of the website. That same article went out to a newly branded email list called Action Army.
The decision to focus on consistent content (a weekly article) started to pay off. The Action Army email list began with 400 people in late 2014 and is nearing 20,000 subscribers. In that time I’ve:
- Written over 3,000,000 words and thrown away 90% of them
- Sent the Action Army subscribers over 100 emails
- Focused on sending my website readers and email subscribers only the content that I truly believed would help them (or projects that could support their journeys in business and life).
Because I was so focused on content, I updated the website design to be content-first (and stripped away all the extra bits). The “I want to help you…” headline was fun while it lasted, but it became limiting and felt forced. Thanks to my buddy Matt for coding this version from scratch:
This iteration of my virtual home was great for streamlining what had become a bloated WordPress backend with as many plugins as DJ Khaled has “motivational” quotes.
Consistent (helpful) content is one of the best business decisions you can make. It provides ongoing value and builds trust with your community.
Believing in the value of investing in myself
One of the most important business lessons I’ve learned over the years has been to invest in myself and my own projects.
While it may seem smarter to put a couple thousand dollars into stocks, mutual funds, 401k, etc, if I have the option I’ll always spend that money on a project of my own first.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m a firm believer in diversification of investments, but I believe in my ideas and investing in them without cutting corners gives my ideas the best chance to succeed. Plus, I may get a meager return on standard investments, but the financial return on my own site and projects is almost limitless.
Between website redesigns, email marketing providers, website hosting, and other various expenses, I’ve easily invested over $50,000 since 2004 on my digital home. And because I make all my money online, I absolutely reap the rewards of that investment year-in and year-out.
The Present and Future (aka: Check Out That New New!)
That brings us to where we are with the newest iteration of JasonDoesStuff. I’ve been the sole designer for jasonsadler/jasondoesstuff.com over the years (that may have been painfully obvious). I’ve always dabbled in design, even majoring in it in college, and I enjoyed the challenge of starting fresh every couple years.
The newest design of JasonDoesStuff truly feels like the culmination of years of trial and error.
Whether it was having a site bloated with features and bells and whistles, to stripping the site down to a very bare-bones version, every version of my digital home has led me to what you see today.
You’ll see them mentioned a few times, but I have to give a special shoutout to the folks at Chop-Chop.org. They aren’t paying me to talk about them, in fact, I paid them good money for the new JasonDoesStuff site. When I finally finished the designs for the site, I wrote up a pretty gnarly Google Doc breaking down almost every pixel of the new site.
Without further ado, let’s dive into the five aspects that were most important for the relaunch of this site…
The first focus: Embracing my personality and being willing to turn people off
I’m a goofy/weird guy. If you’ve followed any of my antics or entrepreneurial adventures over the years, you are well aware of this. My brain is constantly coming up with obscure ideas and thoughts, and it was high-time I put those front and center.
Every section of JasonDoesStuff now has a big “hero image” with some silly copy. The thinking behind this was two-fold:
1. Build visual trust: I want people to very quickly see me and know more about me through photos. It’s not about looking cool to me, it’s about building trust and showing that I’m a real person doing real things.
2. Draw a line in the sand: I wanted to turn people off who don’t like my quirky website copy. If you read the first couple lines of a page and you don’t like it, we aren’t meant to be together (that’s a good thing!) I don’t want anyone to waste time on JasonDoesStuff if they don’t jive with how I think.
I can honestly say I’ve never spent as much time toiling over every word of copy on my website as I have with this current version.
I wrote and rewrote every word you see multiple times. Carefully crafting an experience through phrases and sentences that feel the most natural to me. It’s not an exaggeration to say I spent over 40 hours writing the copy for the entire site.
The second focus: Showcasing the importance of the Action Army while respecting your browsing experience
I’m very proud of my email list/community, the Action Army. It drives 90+% of my revenue and is, without a doubt, my most important “asset.”
The previous iteration of JasonDoesStuff introduced the Welcome Mat. A way to immediately grab someone’s attention when first visiting my website, without (hopefully) creating a jarring experience (like a popup). Through my own 3-week email experiment and a separate 60-day experiment, I found the winning combination for converting website visitors to Action Army subscribers.
As you can see in the image above, and possibly when you first visited this article, the copy for the Welcome Mat is VERY honest. Testing different verbiage showed me that the types of people who visit JasonDoesStuff resonate with that honesty and are willing to reward me with the chance to send them weekly emails and project updates.
One experience I simply couldn’t nail down in the previous version of JasonDoesStuff, like a supervillain that just won’t ever go away, was being able to remove all email signup forms from my site if you were already on the Action Army list.
Showing an existing email subscriber signup forms on your website is wasting valuable real estate and not treating that person with the respect they deserve.
I brought this issue up to my friend Zack and he responded with something similar to this:
If it were me developing your site, I’d wrap all your email signup forms in one container (DIV). Then, if someone signs up for any form on your site, set a cookie that hides the container. Then, all the forms can go away, no matter which one they sign up for!
That nugget of wisdom sparked a couple thoughts:
1. Announcement Bar: For the relaunch of JasonDoesStuff, have a big announcement bar that asks you, the website viewer, if you’re already in the Action Army. If you say YES, it sets the cookie and hides all the email forms. If you say NO, it only sets a cookie to hide the big announcement bar and you’ll continue to see email signup forms. I only plan on using this announcement bar for a month(ish) after the initial launch and then I’ll hide it.
(I fully realize that explaining how this works may lessen my chance of getting folks to subscribe, but again, I greatly value being honest and transparent around these parts.)
2. Make the magic happen: Have my awesome friends at Chop-Chop implement Zack’s exact idea when they were building the new version of JasonDoesStuff!
Utilizing cookies for a web browsing experience is nothing new, but it’s new for me. I’m excited to see how it works out and will be sharing more thoughts in a future article.
The third focus: Creating a better article archives experience
Anyone whose written more than 50 articles can tell you that article archives are a pain in the ass. A standard archive page is hard to navigate and feels overwhelming. Just having an article search isn’t very helpful, because most people don’t know what to search for.
After looking at multiple sites with article archive pages and getting feedback from people who read my articles every week, I found out what was most important:
Categories: Helping people find similar articles under topics they like
Obviously categories are not new. I haven’t found some holy grail here, but I did want to create a more fun experience interacting with them. When you click an article category on my Articles page, you get a fun loading sequence so you know something happened. And, it’s all CSS, which is nifty!
Bring on the fancy GIF:
Featured Articles: Picking articles that get the best response and showing them in multiple places
Hey guess what? On your own website, you don’t just have to put articles on an articles page. They can have more life than that! Mind-blowing, I know. I created a Start Here page (more in a moment) and featured the articles that I get asked about the most:
Live Search (weeeee!): Being able to quickly see results based on any words typed
Outside of injecting more of my personality through my site, the live search on the Articles page is probably my second favorite. I had a vision for how this could work and the folks at Chop-Chop again stepped up to the plate and hit a big fat home run! I believe this will create a much better experience of trying to find previous articles I’ve written, whether you know what you’re searching for or not.
Here’s a GIF or you can see the real-deal in action on the Articles page:
The fourth focus: Delivering value to new visitors (88% of my traffic!) by having a Start Here page
If you made this face while reading that 88% number, we’re in the same boat. As my website traffic has grown over the years (visitors: 32,000 in 2014, 157,000 in 2015, 328,000 in 2016) so has the trend in growth in new visitors.
I should have created a Start Here page from the get-go, but for some reason it always got put on the back burner. Silly. I know.
The new Start Here page highlights a couple things for new visitors:
- Featured articles to start with
- Featured projects (which will change each quarter)
- Tools I use to run my business
- And then some extra personality!
One of my favorite parts of the Start Here page was a completely random idea to ask people to give me money for nothing. Or is it nothing? This is a fun thing I’ll be intrigued to watch myself (there may be a future article about this as well).
The final focus: Having more fun!
Listen, like any other entrepreneur who runs an online-based business, I need to make money to continue to be able to create things and pay mah telephone billz (Beyoncé ref anyone?). However, I also want people to have an enjoyable experience and discover some surprises.
I don’t want to ruin the fun things you can discover on this site, but I will point out a few of them if you want to go hunting:
- Hidden gems (catch ‘em all, like Pokemon… not really… kind of?)
- Something silly (just for funsies)
- 404 error, hmmmm?
Aside from those specific things, “more fun” is simply a mantra for JasonDoesStuff going forward. As much as I want to share my entrepreneurial lessons learned and build products that can help people, I want to focus on standing out from other folks in this world by embracing more of what makes me, me.
Oh yeah, speaking of fun, here’s a little block quote section that feels a lot more personal. You know, because of my face and all, and this fancy formatting. Hopefully you enjoy the extra love given to an often over-looked part of articles and writing online.
And again, I’m happy to turn people off who want a more serious experience. As the great Ryan Reynolds said in the movie Van Wilder, “You shouldn’t take life too seriously. You’ll never get out alive.”
The Tools that run JasonDoesStuff (aka: Cool Things)
This section may get a little nerdy, but if you’ve read this far, you probably enjoy some nerdy from time to time.
The designer (Me!)
If it wasn’t made abundantly clear by this point, I’m the Creative Director, Chief Design Officer, as well as Part-Time Design Intern around these parts.
A custom theme on WordPress with only a few Plugins
I’ve been a WordPress fan and user since 2010. I’ll admit, I was a bit addicted to searching for the next great WP theme. Then I found a great one in 2014, built an entire website on it, and realized how bloated themes can be.
JasonDoesStuff has been on various custom-built themes since 2015. For me, I like being in complete control of my website. No one can possible update my theme, because it’s mine. There’s never a worry that things will change out from under me, and that piece of mind is important. Plus, with folks like Chop-Chop.org, there are very affordable (and awesome) solutions to taking a website design and having it turned into a custom WP theme of your own.
The only plugins I’m using are:
- Optimus Image Optimizer
- Autoptimize (not a typo)
- Yoast SEO for… you guessed it: SEO!
- Safe Redirect Manager for simple URL redirects
- Advanced Custom Fields Pro for WP Editor stuff
- TinyMCE Advanced for WP Editor stuff
- That’s it!
Website hosting by Flywheel
One of these days I’ll get around to writing a full article on why Flywheel is the best WP hosting provider out there, but for now, just trust me on this one. They take all of the headaches out of WP hosting and offer awesome features like:
- Free SSL certs (one-click install!)
- Simple staging environment
- Collaboration with others
- Fantastic (and friendly) customer support
- User-friendly design and interface (gasp!)
You can use my affiliate link to signup and use Flywheel. It doesn’t give you a discount on pricing, but I get a small kickback if you signup (isn’t that just as good??)
Email Marketing by ActiveCampaign
In 2009, I started with an email marketing company you’ve never heard of (NetAtlantic), and before that I actually just Bcc’d the 50 people’s email addresses I had in Mac Mail. Since those early email newb days, I’ve moved on to MailChimp, Campaign Monitor, ConvertKit, and now ActiveCampaign.
There are pros and cons to all email marketing platforms, but I’ve been extremely happy with the robust-ness of ActiveCampaign since switching. Also, their email editor is fantastically versatile, more than MailChimp (surprisingly).
Just like Flywheel, you can signup for ActiveCampaign using my affiliate link to put some extra dolla-dolla-billz in my bank account. Or not. Live your own life, ya know?
(I’ll be doing a full write-up of why I switched to ActiveCampaign and how I’m using it very soon.)
Final Takeaways (aka: Congrats on reading this much!)
It kind of feels like an epic journey at this point doesn’t it? You passed through the seven levels of the Candy Cane forest, through the sea of swirly twirly gum drops, and then you walked through the Lincoln Tunnel. I’m proud of you!
But seriously, thanks for reading this exhaustive breakdown of the adventure that has been the timeline of my personal brand and website.
I’m hopeful that by reading this article you have some thoughts and inspiration to invest into your digital home. We’re all at different stages in our lives/businesses, but our websites should evolve with us.
I’m a completely different person than I was back in 2004, heck, I’m a different person than I was back in 2014. As I make changes in my life, I want to infuse those new values and outlooks into how I represent myself online.
**It’s kind of ironic to look back on the tagline Focus More, Do Less, because these days, I do more and focus more. Alas, the tagline Do More, Focus More doesn’t quite roll off the ole tongue.