If you’ve been paying attention, you may have noticed that Plaster & Disaster has an updated look! (And if you were REALLY paying attention, you may have noticed some very weird layout changes that afflicted the blog on Saturday while we figured this out.)
The Almost-Three-Year Refresh
When we first launched this blog back in January of 2015, we went with a clean, modern look. A simple logo, patterned-decorative breaker bar that we use sparingly, and really simple headers:
How meta to post a screenshot of the blog… on the blog.
We vowed that we’d revisit our look and structure after a bit, once we had a better feel of what we were doing. Well, after nearly three years of the exact same design, we decided it was time to freshen things up!
First up was a new logo. We experimented with quite a few styles, including some using real handwriting. Here are examples of a few that we considered but didn’t pick:
And, of course, you can tell from the top of this blog which one we eventually went with:
We picked this one because it really gets across the “disaster” theme – like someone just threw the big, messy ampersand into the wall with a splat! It also speaks to the original logo that we had previously, with its clean text and similar colors. Just more disaster-y. We also made the logo bigger on the site, which proved to be a bit challenging because it required some coding (which neither of us do much of) — but it was successful and we love how it looks now.
We’ve also developed a new breaker bar, which you can see on the sidebar. It’s similar to the old one but a little more modern.
But the change we’re proudest of is finally getting around to cleaning up our header menu and building out a featured projects page and an archive. This has seriously been on our to-do list since we started the blog, and we couldn’t get it done because we couldn’t find the right tool (more on that below). We went through our some 360 posts to re-categorize and tag features, so you can now see:
- Our favorite posts and “favorite” disasters
- All our room reveals in one spot
- Full archives by category (and then click on through under each section for every post in that category in an easy, scrollable view)
- Even the tiny bloggers got their own projects page!
Now, these pages will be a great spot for someone who is new to the blog to go and get a quick look at what we’re all about.
We hope you like the new look!
Tech Behind the Website
Working on this also made us realize that we’ve never shared much about the behind-the-scenes tools that we use to make this website work. Since so many DIY blog readers are bloggers themselves, we thought this might be helpful!
There are so many options for plugins and tools, so we figure it would be helpful for others to hear why we chose the ones we use, and how we like them. We can’t promise you that these are the best tools out there, but they work for us!
BlueHost & WordPress – We pay a monthly fee to host our content and photos through BlueHost, where we also maintain our domain registration. We chose this because it was easy to set up WordPress, which is a free platform that works well for blogs (and pretty much everything else, it supposedly supports about 27% of all websites).
Genesis Theme & “Fun” Child Theme – WordPress doesn’t work just on its own: it provides the underlying framework but unless you’re a fancy-pants-coder-who-wants-to-make-life-hard-for-yourself-by-doing-everything-from-scratch, the real power of WordPress is that you can add “themes.” Themes provide the structure (think, post page, blog front page) and the look and feel (think, pretty fonts, colors). You can also have a main theme and then put something called a child theme over it, which is made to override some elements and change it slightly or add features. There are loads of free options, but when we got started we chose to pay the one time fees for the ones we really like.
We use the popular Genesis Theme ($59.95), which is used by many blogs and provides the bones of the site but no pretty features, and then over that we have a child theme called Fun ($59.99), which sits over it and provides the skin (look and feel).
The benefit of having a main theme like Genesis with a child theme over it, is that any customization we do to the code (like changing the way our logo displays) won’t get overwritten when updates are pushed out by WordPress. The Genesis theme will adapt and update, and then our child theme can just continue to sit on top of it looking pretty.
Within that framework, WordPress lets you upload “plugins” that add different functions. That is how we achieve all of the special, additional things we want the site to do, so we never have to learn more than the most simple coding stuff ourselves.
Jetpack – Jetpack is an overall support plugin that includes a lot of core, underlying functions. It has security features, content backup, and basic site traffic stats. It also shows related content at the bottom of our posts, and automatically pushes our posts to facebook and twitter when they publish.
MailPoet & Pop-Up Ally – If you’re signed up for post notifications where you get that pretty email whenever we add a new post, you’re getting that through MailPoet. (And if you’re not, you should! Sign up on the sidebar!) It functions entirely through WordPress, and lets us set it to automatically push out the notifiation when we publish a new post (so we don’t have to remember to take that extra step).
Integrated with that, we use the free version of Pop-Up Ally so that new visitors know that signing up for post notifications is an option. It took us awhile to find the right pop-up plugin, as we wanted one that would have a delayed activation (like 30 seconds after being on the site), remember user cookies for up to a month so that you don’t get it every time you visit the blog, have some visual customization so that it fits with our site theme, and direct integration with MailPoet so that signups in the pop go straight to the newsletter.
Content Views – Content Views is the new addition that allows us to display past posts in different summary layouts (like grids or rows of different sizes), which we use to make the grid in our features and archives pages.
We searched for this function for a while, and are glad to finally find something that works… and even better that the free version does all that we need it to! It allows us to pull subsets of posts (like including only posts in a certain category or with a certain tag) and choose how they’re displayed (like how many in a row, the size of the image and font, whether it is capped at a certain number). We then just add that table to an existing page. Because it is a dynamic plugin, now we don’t have to manually maintain a project page!
FeedPress – For our RSS Feed, we use FeedPress. If you love to read your favorite blogs via a reader/aggregator (like Bloglovin), RSS Feed is how our content gets to that reader. FeedPress is a functionality that lets us ensure that every time we publish a new post, that automatically goes out to any RSS Feed readers. It also lets us see aggregated stats for everyone who is reading via RSS Feed, and control things like only sending excerpts of our posts via RSS Feed. That means that readers still need to come to Plaster & Disaster to read full articles. This might seem annoying, but having people actually visit our blog is important — it’s how we earn the minimal advertising income that covers our hosting fees, and it’s what brings in readers to comment and engage with us so we can build a community of readers not just have people reading us without ever even visiting the blog.
Opinion Stage – We love getting your opinions through fun posts like the Craigslist Awesome or Terrible series and advice posts like that time you helped Naomi figure out what was wrong with her living room. When we include these polls, we run them through Opinion Stage. The free version has embedded ads and not a lot of analytics, but it more than works for our purposes.
Aksimet Anti-Spam – We love, love comments, but we also get a lot of spam comments. We screen these out with Askimet, and then are able to manually go through each one screened and opt in ones that were caught by accident.
Require Featured Image – We also have a plugin, Require Featured Image, which – obviously – requires that we have a featured image uploaded for each post before we publish or schedule it. For example, even though there is no “natural” featured image to go with this post, we had to set one to schedule it, so were forced to create this:
This is important because a lot of our other tools (the image in our MailPoet newsletter, the photo that pulls into our archives and features through Content Views, and the image pushed to social media through Jetpack) all use featured images, so we need to be sure that each post has them. While we could just remember to do it ourselves, having a feature that requires it and acts as a safeguard is super helpful!
Google Analytics – Not a plugin, but we’re also linked up with Google Analytics, which gives sophisticated stats on our blog traffic, sources, and views. See our past post on basics of using analytics for more details on how to get started using this tool!
Whew, that all makes it seem more complicated that it actually is! The benefit of WordPress and these functions is that, once we’ve done the research and work to get them in place, they are intuitive and make our lives easier. We honestly spend little time on the tech (except when we’re doing a refresh or setting up something new) and pretty much all the time on the projects, photos, and writing.
Hopefully you all like the new look (or think it is a disaster… which would be fitting) and/or found the tech info helpful!