A summary of the big changes recently made to the Blog Marketing Academy, including internal changes, plug-in changes and the big theme change.
Making changes to our websites is just part of having a site. For many of us, it is almost a never-ending process. Constant tweaking and perfecting of our blogs is something we kinda like. 🙂
Now, this isn’t something I generally recommend to people. After all, if you’re sitting there being a code jockey on your WordPress blog, that’s time that you’re not growing your business.
But, sometimes changes need to be made. And I recently made some to this very website.
Typically, I wouldn’t spend a lot of time discussing such a thing, however I know I have many readers (and Lab members) who are quite interested in why I do certain things with this site, what plug-ins I’m using, etc. I get asked by Lab members pretty often. 🙂
So, I thought I would do a summary of the changes I’ve recently made to the Blog Marketing Academy.
The Previous Academy Setup Was…
Previously, this website was powered by a custom child theme on top of the Genesis Framework. All of my landing pages were powered by OptimizePress, so I would flip back and forth between Genesis and OptimizePress depending on the page’s purpose.
This presented an issue because I had specific members-only top navigation. There wasn’t any way to make that navigation work properly with OptimizePress without using custom HTML. The result was that any pages that were using OptimizePress and had a top menu would be out of sync with any menu changes I made on the main site (which used Genesis).
Inside the Lab, we have a delineation between training. It was broken up into Action Plans and Courses. The Action Plans used a collapsible, accordion-style setup similar to what some other training sites have done. However, the system that ran those Action Plans like that was very customized by me which means that only I could modify it. Courses were powered by WPCourseware.
Having this division between Plans and Courses did cause a little bit of confusion with members. They didn’t realize that the courses were more of the archives and Plans were more current.
To summarize, there was a list of constraints in the setup of the site that were problematic for high-speed production of training and major membership growth.
- There was high plug-in load which forced me to run the Plugin Organizer plugin to turn on and off plugins on certain pages.
- Action Plans were growing unwieldy.
- WPCourseware presented a lot of code payload simply for course archives. If I used the quiz functions, certs, grading and all the other stuff WPCW did, it’d be different. But, using it simply for organization was overkill.
- The presentation of downloads (such as transcripts and worksheets) wasn’t part of the theme and thus was manually coded into post content, which wasn’t consistent in look and feel
- Because of the customized nature of everything, making even basic enhancements would either require me to become a coder again or hire a developer.
- The way Office Hours was presented was disjointed. They appeared on the main blog in a weird way, and then we used a separate webinar system for the actual calls. Which forced me to require my members to RSVP… something I shouldn’t have to do since I already know who they are.
The list goes on.
None of it a deal breaker, however I saw constraints and I wanted to streamline things. Makes my life simpler, but also allows me to better service my Lab members.
The Change In The Theme
The base of the changes begins with a theme called Memberoni. This is a theme designed for membership training sites specifically. It is created by Mike, over at Member Site Academy. I happen to be a member of their site as part of my own continual learning. They’ve got a great program over there, but one of the perks of membership is the Memberoni theme.
The Memberoni theme also contains basic course functionality built in. This meant that I could get rid of WPCourseware and my Action Plan plugin. It also meant I would stop using the Genesis Framework.
It was also a bit of a “breath of fresh air” for me to dive into Memberoni. Genesis is a great framework, but the way it works does sometimes make coding customizations more difficult. Memberoni is more of a standard theme where the code and presentation are mixed together in code. For me, making changes to this theme was just simpler and faster.
And many changes were made. All of those changes were done as a child theme to Memberoni, but I made many changes to the theme to bring it up to my personal requirements for the Blog Marketing Academy.
Moving Away From OptimizePress
I’ve been a longtime fan of OptimizePress. And I still think it is a great platform. However, there is no getting around the fact that the market has matured. There are now better options than OptimizePress.
OptimizePress Live Editor isn’t a true WYSIWYG designer. All changes to the pages are done in a wizard. Then you must save changes and refresh to see what it looks like. This can be tedious.
So, I went out and looked at other options, including:
Beaver Builder just didn’t have the features and design I wanted. Divi was quite awesome in how it worked and I was majorly impressed, however it does have a drawback that it depends on shortcodes internally throughout which meant if I ever switched to something else it’d be a real nightmare.
Ultimately, I chose Thrive Content Builder. Thrive Themes is a company focused highly on conversion and they create a lot of great plug-ins for their members. Thrive Content Builder is snappy to use and is true WYSIWYG. I was already using Thrive Leads anyway.
I also really like how Thrive Content Builder can modify a page created by the main theme. The header and footer can all be controlled by the main theme, yet I can control the content container with Thrive.
At this point, I have several landing pages which are now using Thrive rather than OptimizePress, however I still have many others to convert. For now, OP is still in use here however once I finish the conversion, I will be de-activating OptimizePress.
Simplifying Training Content Organization
One of the draws to this new theme was basic, built-in learning management system. Instead of requiring large plug-ins like WPCourseware, Memberoni had just basic functionality that utilized the Advanced Custom Fields plug-in. Between ACF and some custom code in the theme, there’s a nice setup for the Dashboard page, course lessons, etc.
Once I realized the potential of Advanced Custom Fields, I did some of my own customizations. I created new custom post types for Office Hours calls, Lab Blueprints and I used ACF to insert the fields specific to those things. I also modified my child theme to customize the display of those post types.
I solved the unwieldy nature of a long list of course lessons by using the Nested Pages plug-in. That plug-in solved a major issue for me.
It was also a relief to abandon my custom setup for Action Plans. This used a heavily modified version of the To Do List Member plug-in. But, it was modified so much that any enhancement required me to go coding. Also, the way Action Plan steps were managed internally was a real nightmare and would have required almost a total re-write of the plug-in to rectify the problem.
Combining the Memberoni theme with Nested Pages, and some additional ACF work on my part, I have a much easier experience internally to manage the sheer (and growing) volume of training content inside the Lab library.
Is That Sidebar Missing There, Dave?
Yep. One of the big changes I decided to make is that the blog no longer has a sidebar. This is NOT part of the Memberoni theme. This is just one of my many changes to it.
So, why am I bucking the standard trend?
Well, first… I think there is a bit of a growing trend away from blog sidebars anyway. The majority still use a sidebar, but I’m beginning to see more blogs go without one.
If you think about it, it kinda makes sense. People are on a blog for the content. They’re paying attention to content. Not the sidebar. Usually, anything you drop into the sidebar gets a fairly low click-through rate anyway simply because people are not looking at it.
Obviously, dropping the sidebar does reduce available real estate for opt-ins and things like that. However, we all know that opt-ins inside the blog post always convert the best anyway. Content upgrades work way better than a sidebar opt-in. Plus, if your content is a fundamental part of your marketing funnel (as it should be), then you WANT people focused on the content. A sidebar competing for attention is fundamentally at odds with the aims of the content in that case.
The site is also a hell of a lot cleaner without a sidebar. 🙂
So, what I’m doing now is concentrating on in-post calls to action.
First off, under all feature images, there is a text call to action. I am using a custom post type and Advanced Custom Fields to control that, so that all of my blog posts now have a dropdown where I can choose any of my own CTAs to display on any given post. And I’ve coded it so that if one is not specified, it will default to the webinar CTA. We’ll see how this performs.
I’ve also got a widget area across the top, under the header. I use that for Thrive Leads so I can put targeted opt-ins right at the top of a blog post.
I’m also now going through my post archives and optimizing and bringing up to date content upgrades and opt-in forms. When I am done, all the heavy lifting of list building will be done by the content on this blog. Of course, I will also be running paid traffic campaigns to build the list, too.
Other Random Changes To The Site
As I have mentioned, I handled a number of little constraints during this transition. I’ll summarize some of them….
- Blog Monetization Lab will now be referred to simply as The Lab. Reason is to avoid potential confusion between the brand of Blog Marketing Academy and Blog Monetization Lab. It could easily be perceived as two different entities and it obviously isn’t.
- New logo. Not a huge change, but the additional of the graphical component which combines the BMA with the Lab icon was the main point.
- Cleaned up the menu. The use of a couple of dropdowns did help with that. The previous design had two nav menus at the top. I’ve simplified it to one.
- Lab Course Library now publicly viewable. A site with the word “Academy” clearly has course training. So, the Training Library is now viewable to the public so non-members can see what’s in there and get a summary of any training. Obviously, to actually do that course will require the Lab membership.
- Full-Screen Search. The search functionality is now consistently side wide and opens full screen when using it.
- Addition of the Blueprint library to The Lab
- Ability to show pending training content in the Library to serve as a teaser of what’s coming up
- Members-only push notifications. Using Pushcrew segmentation to set up a members-only notification channel, to ensure Lab members never miss anything
- Better Office Hours. Moving Office Hours to a page inside the Lab with a private chatroom. No more RSVP’s required. All calls will be in the same place.
- Easier Call Scheduling. Easy ability to announce new office hours and members to add to their calendars.
There You Have It, More Or Less
That’s the jist of the technical changes we have made.
As I said, this isn’t something I would typically spend a whole post talking about. However, my Lab members always have a lot of interest in every little change I made to this site. And I assume if they’re interested, I might have a not of “not yet Lab members” interested, too. 🙂
There may be a few further minor adjustments going forward.
Also, I will likely post some review videos soon to show the workings of tools like Divi, Thrive, and how I’ve used Advanced Custom Fields (which is an awesome plug-in).
Take care, my friends. 🙂