I’ve started tinkering with the ToolGuyd theme and layout again, with the goal to 1) optimize things, 2) improve readability, and 3) improve access to prior content.
The benefit to building our own web layout and theme is that I have absolute control over every part, and can tweak things as needed for the best experience possible. The downside is that it takes time and effort to do all this.
Bye Bye Amazon Widget
Here’s the Amazon “ToolGuyd’s Top Tool Picks” widget, which I added site-wide a few years ago. I haven’t experimented with it much, and I have only updated it 8 times in… 5 years!! Has it been that long? Ouch.
I like the concept of posting a couple of new misc. tool recommendations every now and then. This placement appears on every post page, site-wide, for mobile and desktop users. I have not updated it very much over the years, but keep in mind that it’s viewed by new visitors and not just regulars.
To be frank, while it has earned revenue, it’s not enough to justify keeping it on the page.
I guess I could potentially fill the same space with higher-paying ads, but for now I’m removing it for a cleaner look.
I’m sure the Amazon ad unit would perform better if I let it show you Amazon-suggested products, but I like having as much control over what is displayed on ToolGuyd as possible. While hand-picked tool recommendations still seems like a good idea, I’m going to remove this ad widget, making some of the lower-on-the-page sections easier to reach.
Someone at an advertising company cold-called me last week, trying to convince me to fill up some of the whitespace on ToolGuyd pages with more ads. They provided me with an example website that has some of their ad units up, and I practically laughed at the low quality user experience.
Sure, I like revenue – who doesn’t – but I can think of 10 better content-related banners, link blocks, or other such features that I’d rather put in this space. So, it’s goodbye Amazon widget.
Changes to the Mobile Homepage
This brings me to the next change, which I’m not sure you guys will like or not. Shown here is what the mobile layout looked like.
I like the condensed nature of this layout, but it can be a little clunky to read the titles and the images are often small. The same images are also used by the back-end to create post link snippets, and the smaller image size was lacking in quality.
And this is what it looks like now.
The images are larger, and the title text is less squished up and hopefully easier to read.
You have to scroll more, but apps like Instagram and Google News have shown that full-width images are the norm now, expected, and even preferred.
I am also working on ideas for the front page, such as having different sections. Maybe the first x-number of posts will have a full-width image, and the next x-number of posts will have a smaller image and reduced-height image-headline block similar to before.
I dropped back the number of front-page items from 25 posts to 20. 25 is the typical holiday season setting, and 15 or 20 is the typical all-year-round setting.
I have been looking into potentially add a “load more” button to replace the “next page” feature. I don’t like infinite-scroll pages, and a “load more” would still give you access to lower-on-the-page resources and links of you need them.
But, let’s say you load 3 pages of new posts, click on a link, and then want to go back. Will it go back to where you were, or back to the homepage, requiring you to “load more” several times again to get back to where you were? Having pages isn’t as glamorous, but it works and provides good functionality. I have been spending time trying to make that appear a little cleaner-looking as well.
A Different Homepage or Post Page Experience?
The ToolGuyd.com homepage is frequented a LOT. Right now it’s simply a feed of all recent ToolGuyd posts.
Do you want more?
Larger mass media sites and national magazines tend to have very structured and categorized homepages, but they also have more daily content that needs to be organized.
The top menu used to be sufficient for branching off to different sections, but how many mobile users click a menu anymore vs. scrolling down? You might see some experimentation here in coming months.
Recent Comments Section
Do we still need a “recent comments” section on every page? I always find it convenient, but I’m on the homepage often when I’m working on the site. Most of those new comments are to recent posts.
For anyone that uses this, would you rather if there was a separate page on the ToolGuyd site where you can click to see a longer list of new comments?
There are ways to mesh the ToolGuyd forum and ToolGuyd blog comments together, but it’s not exactly easy. Honestly, I’d prefer to keep the two separate than to integrate them or use any other 3rd party service for blog comments.
The hard part is that I know how I use ToolGuyd, and I can add code to certain links to see if and what readers might click on or access, but it’s hard to make judgement calls that can impact the way you use the site.
Removing the Amazon ad widget feature is easy. Adding or removing from the desktop sidebar or lower mobile sections is a lot harder to justify.
Right now I won’t touch the “recent comments” section, but it’s something I’m considering.
Before anyone asks, I’m sorry but there’s still no secure way to allow for comments to be edited. Every now and then I look at plugins as well as 3rd party systems, but haven’t found anything good yet.
Subscription Pay Wall?
HA! Just kidding.
Sorry, I know – not funny.
Maybe I’ll create a “you have 999,999 more free articles left” pop-up for April Fools Day.
The smallest things require the most time.
I am *still* working to re-code the top of the mobile view to better lay out the ToolGuyd banner, menu, and search bar. Would ToolGuyd still be ToolGuyd without that backwards-held hammer logo? We might have to explore this at some point.
There are no shortcuts – updating the top of the site will require major coding work that I’ve kept putting it off. It seems minor to do, but will require major work. I’ll come back to it later.
There are also little things that modern page analyzers gripe about, such as adding fallback fonts. Apparently the entire desktop layout shifts around during loading, but I have not once seen this or been able to replicate it.
I really don’t want to ditch the desktop menu for a bigger slide-out mobile menu, but I do need to make some changes. Maybe it’s time I created more “hubs” to replace some of the expandable menus.
Right now we have:
- New Tools
- Hand Tools
- Power Tools
There are more frequently-updated sections that deserve easy-access as well, such as tool storage.
If I add more categories, it clutters things up. If I create some “hub” pages that are basically table of contents pages to lead you elsewhere, that’s one more click or tap to get you to what you’re looking for.
There’s a new paid service that claims to improve built-in search results. I might give a try, but it’ll take some research.
Small Icon Changes
I replaced small icons throughout the site for different graphics. It was a little (extremely) tricky, but everything should look about right. If you see anything out of place, please me know!
While it might not seem like a big deal, doing this allowed me to eliminate requests to a rather bloated icon/font file, which should help with loading speeds a little bit.
If you see something you don’t like, please let me know. If there’s a problem, please let me know. If there’s a feature you do want, please let me know.
For example, someone asked for “next post” and “previous post” headline title links to be added back a few years ago. Some of you are still clicking those links, and so I’ll keep them in, although I probably should give them “next post” and “previous post” labels so they’re not just floating post titles. You can see these just before the comments section on every post.
For those of you that prefer a condensed layout, what about:
On the left: Similar to before, but with time and category links stripped away.
On the right: Similar to before, but with time and category links stripped away, and also greater spacing with the horizontal bar removed.
In both, the headline title font size is also a little smaller. The images are a hair smaller as well.
There’s a complication with this, though, because the image sizes are still going to be large, but scaled down, so that they could be used in other parts of the site.
IF I do go in this direction, it will be after giving the full-width images a try for a little bit, or maybe some kind of half-and-half type of arrangement.