If you’re a regular visitor to my blog, then you might have just noticed something different: I have a brand new site design!
It’s been in development for many months now, so I’m stoked to finally have it live. After more than 5 years of blogging, it felt time to ditch the standard template I was using and finally move to a completely custom design.
This wasn’t just about giving the blog a nicer look. It was also an opportunity to restructure the blog and decide where I want to take it next.
In this post, I’ll talk a bit about the redesign process, as well as share with you my goals for Indie Traveller.
Restructuring the blog
I have to confess I’ve long been a bit frustrated with how blogs work these days. This new design is an effort to address at least some of my frustrations.
What am I talking about? Well, most traffic comes from search engines nowadays. Over time, that has caused bloggers like myself to optimize the content and site structure almost entirely for search engine visitors. While this doesn’t have to be bad in itself, this approach can often come at the expense of other important things. (I’ve written about this before.)
It’s common for readers to just come in through Google, read one post, and then leave. That’s a real bummer — because I’d love for more readers to engage with more than just one post!
Travel blogs also often cover wildly different topics in order to capture as much search traffic as possible. That, in turn, means that many travel blogs don’t let you just browse their archives anymore — probably because a lot of posts in there cover completely unconnected topics or are sponsored posts you’re not meant to actually see.
When I started making websites like 20 years ago — hi, I’m old! — this wasn’t the way things were done. Blogs were often more like editorial sites that let you browse their entire archives if you wanted. They felt a bit more like magazines and less like a set of search engine funnels.
So I thought it’d be cool to go back to the old ways a bit. My new blog design is all about promoting discovery and letting you easily explore the whole site. If you click around, you might notice how we’ve tried to make it very accessible and navigable, and how to site offers lots of recommendations for other posts to read.
There were many others reasons for wanting to redesign the site, but tackling this particular issue was at least a key one for me.
Creating the custom template
Over the past few months, I worked with a development team to redesign the site and create a new custom template for it.
I’ve always used an off-the-shelf WordPress theme before. This was a theme called Voyager that I licensed for about $50 a few year back. That worked OK for a while, but the limitations eventually became a bit frustrating.
Getting your own unique templates developed is not exactly easy or free (it can easily cost 100 times more than just buying a standard template) but for me it was well worth the investment.
Above: the blog’s old look (a modified WordPress theme)
Using a standard template is a bit like renting a house instead of owning it. You can maybe put up some new shelves or put in different furniture, but you can’t go breaking down any walls or upgrade the kitchen. With this custom template, I could finally structure everything just the way I wanted to.
Another problem with standard themes is that they are used by thousands of sites for many different purposes, so they often include a whole kitchen’s sink worth of (mostly useless) options. All this gets loaded whether they’re used or not. I also had to use a lot of hacks and plug-ins to work around certain limitations, making the site even slower. The new template let us get rid of all of that.
The custom template also adds more structure than what WordPress (the system I use to run the blog) gives you out of the box. Instead of having just posts with categories, the system now has a number of custom post types (like Travel Guides, Countries, Regions, or Gear Reviews). These can all have their own layouts, functionality, and relationships between each other.
The team initially created greyscale wireframes for the design. These let us decide where everything should go. Then, they created full designs with colour, images, and type, which went through several iterations. I wanted something bright and positive and I believe they managed to capture just the right vibe.
Above: a prototype design for the mobile version
My new goals for the blog
Besides giving the blog a new look, I’m also using this as a fresh start for the content!
My main motivator for the blog is pretty much this: I want to publish articles that are interesting or helpful — and not just ones that get the search engine clicks.
So, rather than just targeting the most popular topics, I’ll be keeping offbeat or niche ones in the mix. This doesn’t always make perfect commercial sense, but I think it’s what makes a site fun and good.
I’m now also saying for the first time that this is a sponsorship-free blog. I’ve only dabbled in sponsored content before, so this isn’t that big of a change for me, but I guess it’s a change in how I talk about Indie Traveller. While I still have ads and affiliate links, I’ll be focusing solely on creating non-sponsored content.
(I know there are other blogs that are doing a great job with sponsorships, but this is just an easy way for me to differentiate. If I say “no sponsored posts here”, you immediately know what to expect.)
Finally, to make this blog the best it can be, I’m going to work a lot more guest authors from now on. I’m really excited about this! While you’ll still see loads of posts from me, I’ll be part writer and part editor from now on.
You see, I want Indie Traveller to be a place with more than just one perspective. And I think the best insights often come from nomads, expats, or locals who know the places better than the average tourist. I’ve already been working with a few correspondents from around the world and I can’t wait to share their writing with you — besides, of course, the articles that I’m already writing myself.
P.S. If you want to stay in the loop, consider subscribing to my newsletter. I know, emails are kinda old school, but you can read them in your own time, and there are no clickbait-pushing algorithms involved (hooray!). Maybe email, like vinyl, will have a comeback soon.