I’ve developed well over 100 websites for all sorts of businesses over a period of almost 20 years. It may not seem like that many years, but considering the browser came out in 1995, I’m an Internet old timer. And in that time I’ve seen a lot of changes in both design trends and technology. I’ve posted a couple website makeovers here on the blog and if you want to check out the before and afters, check out The Educated Heart and Sex and the Single Parent.
My latest project is for aromatherapy super star and one of my favorite people in the world, Anne Williams. She has literally traveled the world working in places like Afghanistan, Macedonia, South Africa, Peru and dozens more. Much of this travel was related to United Nations projects with famed botanist, Keith Shawe. She would for example, be collecting and indexing native medicinal plants in Nepal with yak herders in the wild while living in a yurt. Through her travels she became fascinated with the local lore and myths surrounding the native plants.
Each plant had a unique cultural history that was wrapped up in mystical stories. Anne was fascinated with these stories that often illuminated aspects of human nature. From these experiences she determined that every plant has a story that can change your life and the idea of a life coaching program based on the wisdom of plants was born.
She asked me to help develop a site to share these stories and to offer short magazine style books that explored the stories behind the plants. It’s been a few years since I have actually built an eCommerce site from scratch, so I thought I’d share the process and my insights. The site is Plant Spirit Life.
She has a great eye for design and had very specific ideas as to how the site should look, so I knew I wouldn’t be able to simply used a templated service like SquareSpace or Weebly. I’d need to use tools that would allow me to custom design the site from scratch. I chose WordPress, which is one of the most popular content management systems (CMS) as the platform for the site.
To facilitate the design process, I purchased Elementor, a page builder plugin. I’ve used lots of these kinds of tools in the past and this one was one of the best I’ve seen. From a technical standpoint, the code is very clean and it is lightweight which facilitates page load speeds. Fast loading sites are important for Google search. With WordPress you need to install some theme to be able to use plugins and I chose Astra. We didn’t choose this for the theme design itself, but simply as the backbone that we would customize. The free version was all we needed for this purpose. We’ve called on the support team in the past for other sites and they’ve been exceptional.
Update: Roger Walker in the BodyworkBiz Facebook Group mentioned that WordPress sites get hacked easily. There is some truth in that. You need to be sure to update all themes and plugins regularly. For this site we used a plugin called WordFence for an added layer of security.
I had Anne look at a variety of WordPress templates to get a sense for the look and feel that she wanted for the site. She found one in particular, OnePaze, that matched her vision for the site.
Why didn’t I just buy the template? When you use a template you are confined by the designer’s choices. I knew that providing downloadable books was just the first phase in Anne’s business plan. Over time she would be focusing more on life coaching elements, so we’d have to add elements like a learning management system and the ability to broadcast video. She’d outgrow that template as the business evolved. So using a tool that would allow me to fully customize the site over time was important.
Then we laid out all the elements that would be needed in this initial launch. She wanted to provide:
- Free downloads
- Downloadable folios (downloadable books for purchase)
- Some information about her background
- A blog where she could post stories and keep visitors up to date
- A newsletter signup form
I did a mockup (called a wireframe) and then went to work. I adapted the elements from the OnePaze theme to her vision and needs.
Anatomy of a Page
The books she has written and designed are visually beautiful. The imagery on the site had to reflect that, so we made images the focus of the homepage. You’ll see that there is very little text. Subtle animations that grab the viewer’s attention invite you to click and explore. Instead of passively reading text, you are encouraged to actively engage and interact with the material. This approach isn’t suitable for all sites, but in this case it works.
Most people who visit a site for the first time won’t buy anything. Once they leave the site, they are unlikely to come back. Not because they don’t find material valuable or engaging, but simply because they are busy and in the busyness of everyday life, they’ll forget about you. So it is important to capture their email information and send them regular updates as a reminder to revisit the site. This ongoing communication also allows you develop a relationship and establish trust, which is important in anyone’s decision to make a purchase.
We capture their emails in two ways:
- The first thing you see when you scroll down the page is a half dozen free downloads categorized under six headings: Plants for the mind, body, spirit, emotions. As well as plants for wellness and plants for healing professionals. There’s no obligation to get these valuable folios beyond providing your email and first name.
- As you continue to scroll down the page you see a newsletter sign up form.
Getting the visitor’s email is what I call the Most Wanted Response (MWR). It’s important to know what the primary goal of your site is and make that the focus. That’s exactly what we’ve done. We don’t expect visitors to buy anything the first time on the site. It’s a unique concept and a unique product and it will take the user a few visits to really understand the value. So email will be used as a primary sales tool rather than the site itself.
Of course, when people want to buy, you want to make it as easy as possible for them. So the catalog of available resources is presented in its entirety on the home page. We’ve used WooCommerce as our eCommerce plugin. When you click to purchase, you’ll see that it’s a very streamlined purchase experience that happens on just one page.
When a visitor comes to your page, their immediate thought is “what’s in it for me?” So we’ve put the free downloads at the top, followed by the products. It’s only after this that we have information about Anne and her background.
After the About section are links to blog posts. The blog serves two functions. First it helps establish your expertise and trust with the visitor. Secondly, it helps your site be found in Google. Without going into the technicalities of the process, let’s just say that it gives Google more search terms to index and lets Google know that your site is update regularly and not a relic.
Most people will view your site on their cell phone, so it’s important to develop a “responsive” site, that is, one that adapts to the device the visitor is on. If you are viewing the site on your cell, open it up again once your back on your computer to see how it changes. If you are viewing this on a desktop, resize your window to the width of a phone to see how the site adapts.
Given that there are thousands of different devices (smart phones, tablets, laptops, desktops) that people may be using, building a responsive site like this is an absolute must. If your site is not responsive, Google will likely ignore it. The WordPress platform largely makes this responsiveness happen for you behind the scenes without any complicated programming.
What I Would Do Differently
Anne doesn’t see this as a business. For her, it’s a passion project and a hobby that she works on in her spare time. So many elements that I would have incorporated into a money-making site are left out of the process. I would have given visitors the option to sign up for text (SMS) updates and push notifications. I would have made social sharing a much more prominent feature. Because Anne is such an engaging speaker and incredibly passionate about the topic, I would have preferred that she produce video content. I would have developed more benefit oriented sales copy or video to help visitors connect the dots between the issues in their lives and how this information could help them overcome those issues.
But in the end it all comes down to your goals. For Anne that was to explore the stories behind the plants and the lessons they hold for our lives. It’s a passion, not a business, so for her the goal of the site was simply to provide a vehicle to share this passion with the world.