ShanKri-la Gets a Makeover

I have been working on this theme mod for a bit and it is almost a whole month late in making its way here. I meant to release it for the New Year’s day but my day job kept me busy to complete the stuff I wanted done. So, instead here it is for your eyes today. If you are reading this in a RSS reader, please click through to check out the design effort.

Why modify instead of a new theme?

You might be thinking why I took the trouble of clobbering an excellent theme. I will have to take you back to the reason I started blogging in the first place. It was my interest in learning web development and I did not imagine I would try to make money off of it when I registered ShanKri-la (Sep 20, 2006). What better way than to get your own domain name and run a live website? After a few months of fiddling with cPanel & learning HTML & CSS, finally installed WordPress and started blogging towards the end of Feb 2007.

I am still learning various aspects of web development and have become quite adept at helping others with their WordPress theme customization. I loved the current theme I was using but wanted ShanKri-la to have it’s unique look. So, here we go with my custom modification of the Saur theme.

I have to mention a very helpful WordPress plugin that let me work on this new design while you were still looking at the old one.

Theme Test Drive WordPress plugin lets you chose a theme – in my case I made a copy of current theme to a new folder – and after activating the new theme in the plugin menu, you will see the new theme while you are logged in as Admin. Everyone else will continue to see the old theme.

Direct Advertising in ShanKri-la

I have finally opened up direct advertising in ShanKri-la. This was another reason for making the theme mod so I can implement the ad scheme the way I wanted to. A lot of themes seem to put more focus in that than usability and I wanted to strike a good balance for my readers. I would love to hear what you think about it.

Also, you won’t see Google Adsense ads anymore if you are a regular reader here or if you come directly from someone else’s site. I have made it so the ads are visible only to the search engine visitors as they are more likely to click on ads anyways and it would make it pleasant reading for my readers.

For those interested in advertising in ShanKri-la, you can get details of various advertising options from the ‘Adevrtise’ page.

Areas of Improvement

If you have a keen eye, you would probably notice all the changes but I am going to list them here quickly if anyone is interested in things of that sort.

New Look

Header area

Just some minor tweaks with the search bar gone from here to make way for a premium 468×60 ad space.

Content & Comment Area

Not any major change except the Adsense ads won’t appear for my regular readers (tell me if you miss it :wink: ) plus I have removed other ad programs that weren’t performing well.

Sidebar

This is where the big changes are done. I am a strong believer in using tags and tag clouds for easy navigation. Hence the prominent area for the tag cloud. I think the dark colored block stands out highlingting the tags, subscription options & the search field.

Also, added the 125×125 ad area for direct advertisements here.

New Look 2

Footer

Footer is another area I have modified a lot by moving some of the clutter from the sidebar to the footer so I can free up the sidebar space for more relevant things. Plus, the slow loading widgets such as MyBlogLog, BlogCatalog, etc won’t be a concern anymore as they will be loading after everything else in the page loads up. One major advantage to this is that the sidebar now can show more and longer comments hopefully helping everyone to see the conversation going here.

I am going to concentrate next on improving the load time of the blog as well. I would love to hear any suggestions or your experience in tackling the load time problems.

After all, I have done all this to in an effort to make ShanKri-la a better reading experience for you and would love to hear how you perceive this change.

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22 Responses to “ShanKri-la Gets a Makeover”

  1. Garry Conn February 1, 2008 at 4:28 pm #

    Wow!

    This is nice man… I love it.

    Garry Conn’s last blog post..How Does The Public Perceive You?

  2. K February 1, 2008 at 4:50 pm #

    Hey Garry! Coming from you, that’s a great compliment to me. Glad you like it. :smile:

    K’s last blog post..ShanKri-la Gets a Makeover

  3. Troy February 1, 2008 at 6:49 pm #

    I can see you’ve really done a lot of work on this, and the footer area is an excellent idea. Many bloggers are moving to use this space more effectively, and it isn ice to see that Shankri-la won’t be left behind. Also, my name appears in about 4 separate content areas, so clearly you’ve done a great thing :)

    If I could though (and I probably shouldn’t since I’m not a designer), I’d like to make a couple suggestions. First, tweak the orange color in that header and tag cloud little bit, maybe to make it look more like the one in the TTZ media ads. Also, you might want to change the tag cloud font from Comic Sans, but that’s just one of my little pet-peeves. I’m still not sure where to log in from the front page, which might make it less likely for my long-winded comments to hit the spam filter.

    Overall, a great redesign which gives you a lot more space. I’d be interested to hear how this has been affecting your advertising, since my own attempts to optimize have had less than ideal results.

  4. Madhur Kapoor February 1, 2008 at 8:16 pm #

    Its awesome buddy , nice work. This has inspired me to work on my own theme too.

    Madhur Kapoor’s last blog post..January 08 stats

  5. Kyle Eslick February 1, 2008 at 11:08 pm #

    Wow, looks great K! I can see you put a lot of work into this overhaul.

    I’ve always found the best way to speed up a blog is to remove widgets. Because I know you enjoy widgets so much and probably want to keep them, I think the footer was a great idea for this site. People can find what they want if they are looking for it, but it is out of the way for others, and if it effects loading time no one will notice.

    Out of curiosity, why is your feed setup as a redirect?

    Kyle Eslick’s last blog post..Why Dot Com Domains Are The Gold Standard

  6. K February 2, 2008 at 12:27 am #

    Madhur.. thanks a lot! I would love to see what you come up with.

    Kyle.. thanks for the feedback. Exactly my thoughts behind the design to get the widgets and other extraneous info to the footer and keep the relevant ones in the sidebar.

    With Feedburner numbers being so fuzzy, I do a redirect so I can track number of people actually click and subscribe per day with Google Analytics. It gives me an idea about which posts are converting visitors to subscribers. It’s not perfect but it’s better than nothing. :lol: again appreciate your comments and would love to hear if you have any recommendations for further improvement.

  7. Troy February 2, 2008 at 1:13 am #

    That’s an interesting solution. Looking at my feedburner stats for this month, they’re fluctuating all over the place. I’ll have to consider implementing something like that!

  8. Fahad February 2, 2008 at 7:09 pm #

    The theme really looks nice. Good work with it. Although you have two top commentators list now. One in the sidebar and one in the footer. I think you might have already known this. :razz:

    Fahad’s last blog post..CulArt, Stylish Concept Phone with Nature’s Help

  9. K February 3, 2008 at 5:09 pm #

    Troy, duh I should add a login link to the home page! I just found your gem of a comment again in Akismet. First of, thanks for taking the time to give great feedback. I will check out the TTZ media tag cloud idea.. I played with different fonts for the tag cloud and left it at this one.

    You are right that trying to optimize for ads doesn;t always have the desired effect. My main aim behind the re-design was to stand out with a unique look. I am learning as I go with the monetizing aspect and I am interested to see what kind of positive effect this has and will let you know what I find maybe in a month’s time.

    I came across and article about how to achieve this while back and I will post about it maybe this week. You could probably dig that up with a Google Search or you can see it up here this week. :-)

  10. K February 3, 2008 at 5:10 pm #

    Fahad, thanks for the nice comments. I did miss that and I am going to remove it right now! :razz:

  11. Mark February 3, 2008 at 8:02 pm #

    Nicely done, K!! You’re absolutely right about what better way to learn than to dive right in and learn it in action. Plus, I had no idea about that plugin. That’s really cool and one that I’ll have to check out myself. Up until now I’ve been using the Maintenance Mode plugin, but that blocks access to everyone but the author while things are being worked on. Good one! :wink:

    Mark’s last blog post..Drummin’ Up Some Link Love #28

  12. K February 4, 2008 at 4:23 am #

    Thanks Mark! That plugin let me work comfortably at my own pace as well as see the changes I am making live in the blog. I was hoping the mention would help someone out. Appreciate the kind words and really glad you like the new look buddy! :razz:

  13. Rakshit February 4, 2008 at 9:36 am #

    Very good theme. Intelligently modified. :-)

    I like that efficient use of footer section. Even I am working on the same.

  14. Nirmal February 4, 2008 at 10:33 am #

    I liked the footer very much. Nice design.

    Nirmal’s last blog post..Bahrain-Dubai-DSF and my New HP Pavilion dv2600

  15. K February 4, 2008 at 1:41 pm #

    Rakshit, thanks for the appreciation. Looking forward to seeing your mod. :razz:

    Nirmal. thanks a lot buddy! Coming from you, that’s a great compliment! :wink:

    K’s last blog post..Open Remember the Milk in Your Browser Sidebar

  16. Brown Baron February 4, 2008 at 3:52 pm #

    Fantastic makeover buddy! I love what you’ve done with the theme. Footer looks great too.

    Brown Baron’s last blog post..Brown Talk #35: Community Day Sunday

  17. Kyle Eslick February 4, 2008 at 4:24 pm #

    Another option you have is to just setup a subdomain or directory to test on. Turn off search engines and turn off pingbacks and you’re all set.

    I’ve found that is the easiest and best way for me!

    Kyle Eslick’s last blog post..Determine Your Website’s Value with DNScoop

  18. K February 4, 2008 at 6:24 pm #

    Brown, thank you buddy! It’s great to see my regular readers love the new design. :lol:

    Kyle.. that’s a great idea! Do you also make sure your test site has the same plugins installed as well to see if something breaks the design? Just wondering if it’s a lot of work trying to keep track of changes you make in your live blog and the test blog.

    K’s last blog post..Open Remember the Milk in Your Browser Sidebar

  19. Troy February 4, 2008 at 7:35 pm #

    Being someone who likes to keep my planned design secret but without being able to use WordPress plugins, I would take the route of setting the blog up on my own server. The problems would be the same as with a subd omain, but you wouldn’t have to go to any trouble to make sure it isn’t indexed, and you don’t use webspace. A good way to do this, if there are any other b2evo users out there, is to set up WAMP server (http://www.wampserver.com/en/). It’s full featured and configurable.

  20. Kyle Eslick February 4, 2008 at 7:40 pm #

    Yeah, I keep plugins installed and I have 5ish test posts with test comments, etc. I use the same site for all sorts of themes, including each of my sites and also themes I might be working on for future use.

    Kyle Eslick’s last blog post..Determine Your Website’s Value with DNScoop

  21. Matthew February 5, 2008 at 2:31 am #

    Looks good, I dont really like 3 columns much, but it works.

    I just redid bloggingaddiction.com too :D

    Matthew’s last blog post..What is Bounce Rate?

  22. K February 5, 2008 at 2:26 pm #

    Hey Troy.. I have played it with WAMP server sometime last year but didn’t stick with it. I will have to check it out again. I do have a local WP installation running on my Linux desktop for those times I need to test plugins or themes without uploading files.

    Kyle.. that sounds like a great idea. One place to have all the themes & plugins to test.

    Matthew.. I love the new look of Blogging Addiction. Very clean. I am leaning more towards a 2-column theme for my next theme change as well now that I have the footer to throw the extraneous stuff. :-)

    K’s last blog post..IE Developer Toolbar – Firebug for Internet Explorer

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