If you’ve ever seen a rocket pre-launch cycle for NASA shuttles, then you’re in for a surprising treat. The energy, the anticipation, is overwhelming to anyone watching. Really, the multitude of technicians running last minute diagnostics are just listing off every detail that needs approval before the launch. “Power, check. Systems, check. Fuel, check”. All the different systems and sub-systems get a last good look through before we hear the glorious words, “Ready for liftoff”. This week I am feeling that energy for my new blog. Last week, I blogged about LexBlog handing me the keys to my very own blog. Just like a teenager with a new car, I was ready to take my new blog for a spin. However, while I was ready to jump in and go, I was surprised to find that I needed to go through a pre-launch cycle of my own.

I was given the same product as any basic customer and offered the same materials. The website comes a bit “pre-built” meaning, the website has a few pages waiting to be filled in with my original content. While I’ve used other blog builders before, what I liked was how LexBlog approached the blank pages. Instead of blank, each page had how-to guides for changing, removing, and adding content. They had links to process documents and contact info for more help if needed. I spent a few hours quickly reading through the steps and changing things as I went. In an afternoon, I had a full functional website with logos, images, content, and even a comprehensive disclaimer (nice to have). I even was able to pick a domain name of my own. Instead of having my website name with “wordpress” or “blogger” in the middle of the URL, I was able to have my own! 

So far, I have yet to come across any deal breaking issues. I did want to add a custom font of my own, but was unable to embed it. Granted, I have never had a SaaS (software as a service) let me; that wasn’t anything new. I also found that I had to google definitions for many things. I’m not new to SaaS website builders having done primary research and my thesis on them, but I am definitely new to this level of control. Most SaaS won’t let you change as much as LexBlog lets me. It made me feel like this was my first time around the block, but really, you get more than most when it comes to LexBlog.

I decided that I would take this week and really polish the website. I also just started twitter this last week and wanted to make sure that the website could easily add social media buttons. (It can). I really wanted the blog to be able to shine on LinkedIn and again, it can. I am just about ready to start blogging and building my network of knowledge professionals. Before I jump in, I’ll need to make sure I have my pre-check in order. I’ll need to make sure I have checked for random unwanted content, correct contact info, and all the little widgets in place. Normally, I can hear these conversations in the office. The Success Team does a ridiculous amount of work getting blogs ready for launch.

If anything, I really hope to add value to the cannon of Rhetoric, but also, to help those who may not be aware of the daily implications. I’m not quite sure what a blog will do for my career, but I have met with several attorneys that claim that their career is built by owning a blog. For them, they need to show that they are a real knowledgeable human being with something to offer. Instead of “fake it until you make it”, they are more in-line with “make it, until you make it”. In other words, make valuable content and they will come. I’m excited to see what attention my blog will bring.

So here’s the plug. My new blog is scheduled to launch next Monday, February 25th, 2019 with my first post covering pseudotransactionality in the work place. Each Monday, I hope to cover a piece of Rhetoric theory and, each Friday, I plan on writing about the practical implications. You can find the blog at everydayrhetoric.com or just email me at cgrim@lexblog.com. 

Thank you to the wonderful people at LexBlog that have helped me to start my blog. I would have never imagined to have something so cool and energizing. I am very grateful for the opportunity.

Every job has its benefits. I don’t mean 401k or paid sick leave. No, I’m talking about the unforeseen side effects of working in various industries. I remember getting free pizza at my first job as a dishwasher and I felt exceedingly blessed. I also remember getting free books from my time working at Eastern Washington Univ., but again I digress. So the question, what is the side benefits for working at a company filled with successful bloggers? Since I started working for LexBlog, I’ve wanted to try my hand at a serious blog.

At LexBlog, I will be attempting to use the LexBlog platform to launch my new blog. Unlike my failed attempt at a food blog years ago on google blogger: Grim’s Gratitudes, or my “never-was” blog Tech Comm Corner last year, my hope with this blog is to gain access to a community of scholars. Currently, I have two blogs on WordPress, my nerdy friendship club Currently Undecided and my courtship with my significant other, Intentional Vulnerability. I also write from time to time here on donuts. While blogger was meh and I haven’t had any issues with WordPress, when offered to use LexBlog to launch my new blog, I couldn’t help but think of all that I could learn.

So far, I reach out to a multitude of bloggers to add them to LexBlog for free, but I don’t ask them to switch platforms or even use LexBlog in any capacity though many of them have started subscribing to different channels. However, I never thought to ask what the process looked like to make a blog on LexBlog. I’m curious to see the result. So far, there has been mention of a checklist and I’ll be reaching out to the Success Team for more info. In any case, I’m excited.

My day is filled with looking at blog after blog, some good and some, well, not-so-much. I even follow several law blogs now. My day is filled with people collectively thinking, writing, and sharing about experiences, thoughts, ideas, and innovations. They are doing this at no-cost. Sure, many of these people want to advance their careers, but otherwise, the motivation seems to be more valuable. They want to share and explore the world. I use to have a professor that talked about the “power of thirty people in the room all knowledgeable about a singular subject”. The room has now expanded to incorporate the entire world. Blogs, allow you to step into that room. I hope to take that first step.

Between process and motivation, I feel as though I’ve stacked the deck in my favor. In a few weeks I’ll write another donuts post about all the things I’ve learned. Maybe my motivation will take on a new form different from the “collective experience”, but we’ll see. Right now, I’m in the planning stages. I want to give the serious effort of 2 posts a week and have a good idea on the tone I would like the blog to take. I have images already set for the first several posts. I even have a logo. With all the ingredients for a good blog, I hope to bake me a delicious multi-layered blog. The process will be the most interesting.

In the meantime, I will continue to reach out and learn what good blogging looks like. I’ll sift and sort as many law blogs as I can learning what good blogging looks like. I won’t go into details about what my new blog will entail. I will only say that it involves something that lawyers know all too well. So, stay tuned. We’ll see what we learn.

Recently, I broke the passenger side mirror on my inherited luxury car. As frustrating as that is, I should have known better. Seattle loves to define their parking spaces. They love to put signs that say “Electric Cars Only”, “Expecting Mother’s Only”, “Compact”, “Reserved for customers of…”, “Reserved for monthly customers”, and of course “Handicap”. I’ve learned that my full-size sedan just doesn’t belong and I’m constantly aware of its size. So, after living here for almost a year, it was about time that I ran into something. That something was my garage door. My garage should have a sign that reads, “You’re seriously going to try and park that?”. The situation was more complicated than a simple oopsie-daisy, but whatever. The point I want to make with this post is simple. We love defining our parking spaces. Sometimes we try to fit cars into spaces where the car just doesn’t belong. Other times, our car seems to fit perfectly, but in reality that spot is reserved for someone else.

I have been going through blog after blog and website after website. For a while in this process I would quickly read a blog post or two and determine the quality. Now, I scan a website looking for certain markers. Are they already on LexBlog? Is this is larger law firm? Do they have multiple authors? Do they have an email somewhere? The entire time I am looking at the quality and rhetoric of the design. At this point, I can tell the difference between Squarespace, Justia, Wix, and LexBlog designs. These designs offer a nice little space for content to park. Just by the design, most of the time, I can determine the quality of a blog before I even start reading. It’s like looking at a compact parking sign and guessing that a compact car will park there.

I have seen a multitude of unnamed author posts, all with the same font, color schemes, no date, SEO scripted, and ends with “If you or a loved one needs (fill in type of law) then call (Law firm) for your Free Consultation and one of our expert attorneys will assist you.. Blah.. blah”. Side note, “Free Consultation” is a buzz term that most people have become wise to the real meaning. I digress. My point is that these posts were most likely written by someone other than an attorney to drive some form of traffic. These types of posts will almost certainly have the exact same design. In fact, last week I found exactly that. I found two websites by two different lawyers in the exact same design, same homepage image, and the same style of blog posts. I have considered emailing each of them to let them know they have a doppelganger. It’s like seeing two identical pickups with the same gun rack and camo cover at Cabela’s. No one is surprised to see them and no one cares to give them more attention than they deserve.

The process continues. I filter through the websites and have been holding a list off to the side of bloggers I intend to email. I don’t waste my time reading blogs that I can’t email and in return, the last hour of my day is stacked with great reads. If a pulled website turns out to be terrible, I throw it back. Otherwise, I email the ones I have. I enjoy it.

Every so often I get a surprise. I get a surprise so shocking, I feel that I need to email the blogger right there on the spot. Like seeing a Lamborghini and wanting to take your picture with it. I’m not that kind of guy by the way. However, when I come across a blog of that quality and calibre that I feel compelled to let them know, I feel genuine excitement. I came across a blog exactly like that last week. A DUI attorney in Arizona posted in December about the death of a pregnant woman and the pictures her widower took of her. The blogger was upset and rightly so, but the post added one thing that many posts seem to forget: humanity. The attorney, also known as the blogger, became real. Their content fit into the parking spot reserved for quality blogs even though their website used some parking spot reserved for terrible blogging.

I have felt exceedingly lucky since I read that post. That’s what good writing does, it moves the reader. Sometimes it moves the reader to feel, think, or act, but in any case, there is an effect on the reader. I feel lucky that it was only my mirror and not a life.

Before I publish this post I wanted to make one last point for the bloggers out there. Don’t park your content in a reserved space. Your great blog deserves to be on a great design. You might have to park it a way away from the front door, but trust me, more people will notice the Ferrari sitting out by itself than Geo at the front.

At LexBlog we manage over 1,000 sites across nearly 30 multisite installations of WordPress. Some of these sites have been publishing unique content for over a decade while some are in their first days of writing, slowly building an audience with each post. These sites share something in common, however, regardless of the subject matter, length of time on the web, or size of the publisher: Visitors are coming to their site on mobile devices at a rate that I’ve never seen before. 

When LexBlog gave me the opportunity to join the team in the summer of 2013 as an Account Manager, one of the first things I tried to understand was the audience of each site that was under my purview. It was my job to provide advice, guide, and suggest opportunities to the publishers and managers of these sites. At the time, LexBlog was just dipping its toes into the world of responsive design and was utilizing WP Touch to serve up a mobile version of our WordPress sites for those sites that weren’t responsively developed right out of the gate. 

Some of the first conversations I had with clients was around the subject of responsive redesigns of existing properties, or trying out a responsive design project on a new publication. At the time, it was a harder sell. Apple had released the iPhone 5 the year before, and was still moving at a relatively slow pace in pushing out new models, and the Android marketplace was relatively anemic. While it was clear there was a new game in town it wasn’t entirely clear what that game was to many internet neophytes.

To our development team, it was obvious that new game was responsive design. The flexibility of this approach was attractive, especially in a world where each pixel was highly scrutinized by marketing and business development teams. 

To our clients, the chief question was why would they spend an arm and a leg on a new technology when only 10-15% of their traffic was from mobile devices. 

Fast forward to today when I got it in my head that I would take a look at our network wide traffic to see what the current trends were. Some of the key stats for 2018 include:

  • Just over 1 in 3 people (34-35% of total traffic to be more exact with that number rising to 40% on some installations) visited a LexBlog managed site on a mobile device
  • Apple devices lead the way with about 60% of mobile device visits coming from an iPhone or iPad
  • Samsung is next in line with about 8-10% of the mobile device share on our network (the S7 through S9+ are the best represented Samsung devices)
  • Google’s devices are still lagging way behind much to the chagrin of our COO and CTO, the two Pixel advocates at LexBlog

Some of this ascent is no doubt due to our emphasis on responsive designs over the years. If a site looks good on a mobile device the first time you see it, you’re more apt to return on a phone or tablet when you’re not at your desk.

Beyond that, however, Google and other search engines continue to push usability as a component of their search results algorithms, and mobile friendliness is a key part of this. If your site does not render well on a phone or tablet, you’re likely to loose a key demographic, especially considering the rise of searches conducted on a mobile phone. 

Today, the conversation has changed from, “This is why you should consider a responsive design,” to “Here is your responsively designed site” without an option for anything else. Why would we suggest a subpar product and reading experience when we know the truth? The internet is expanding to more devices, more screens, more interfaces than we ever thought possible and consumers of content are keeping up with this breakneck pace; shouldn’t your site?

Maintaining a network of over 1,000 blogs can sometimes feel a bit like digital farming. Much of my time is spent identifying bugs to squash in various repositories, managing projects along to completion, and reviewing platform statistics in preparation for the next round of customer interviews (the “weeding”, “shepherding”, and “flock tending” of product management). Every so often, however, harvest comes and there is some revelry in the launch of a major update.

Yesterday was one such day as the new design of LexBlog’s support center was launched early in the morning; the culmination of several weeks of work between Ted Cox, Brian Biddle, and myself. The old design (pictured below) was a fast bit of work, with the primary focus on moving a rather large body of content from Get Satisfaction to Zendesk’s Guide product without losing anything in that migration.

 

 

 

While the move was a positive one, and the updated design better than the one implemented in Get Satisfaction’s ecosystem, there was still a lot of room for improvement. As with any design, the longer it was up, the more obvious it became that something was off. The three “call to action” boxes seen in the image above, seemed arbitrarily placed, the search form’s placement moved around depending on what page template you were on, if you scrolled lower you saw a list of categories without any explanation of what the contents of those categories were; the list of UX and UI flaws goes on and on.

With Ted moving from his role as a Technical Support Specialist to LexBlog’s full time Technical Writer, the time seemed ripe for a major overhaul of not just the design, but the organization and focus of the support center. Ted spent days reorganizing content, and more time reviewing everything to make sure that things were as up to date as could be expected, all while adding a series of documents on new (and old) LexBlog platform features. While that happened, Brian worked on building out a design that was both more in line with LexBlog’s design standards, and focused on the paths that a customer may take as they looked for content.

The result was a fully responsive (the last version had a mobile version) work of art that everyone at the company is (more) proud to stand behind.

 

 

There’s greater consistency throughout the design, and the list of popular articles at the top of the homepage is managed by Ted and reflects the most viewed pieces of documentation within the support center. The interior pages are where I think the design really shines, with each article containing clear navigation to other articles in the same section of documentation, making it easy to follow from article to article and find what you need:

 

 

Overall a pretty fun project to work on, and a good crop to harvest.

One of the drastic changes for LexBlog Design has been a move away from the use of graphics programs for the creation of web layouts to live designing inside the browser using Apple Fritter.

This past week I had the opportunity to live design the Real Lawyers blog with Kevin O’Keefe. The joy of this process is that it’s not weeks to delivery but a few hours and we were “live” with a new look. This method is not random erratic design rather, a thoughtful intelligent creation built on what we’ve learned over the past 15 years and woven into our digital publishing platform. The benefits of this approach are numerous:

  • Instant Results — We can immediately see our font, color, and layout choices on desktop and mobile views
  • Quick Corrections – We can make on-the-fly adjustments vs going back into Photoshop
  • Truthful Presentation – There will always be a disconnect between what we make in Photoshop and what we actually see online
  • Real Content – We can see how our new design interacts with our content on desktop and mobile views and we can make quick adjustments
  • Remove Captivity to old Design – We can be more agile to make design updates as our focus, branding, or preferences change

The exciting thing about Apple Fritter is the power to create can be yours. Pick a starter design, upload your logo, choose your fonts, colors and start blogging!

I’ve come to the conclusion that there are three basic blog layout types. This, after twelve years and several thousand blogs designed. Fixed width, Full width, and a Hybrid layout that combines elements from the first two. Each layout type has its advantages.

Layout Types: 1.Fixed 2.Full 3.Hybrid

A Fixed Width layout is very traditional with all content framed in nice and tidy like. An excellent choice for those of us who are a bit OCD. Like a pinstripe shirt they never go out of style.

The Full Width layout is all the rage and for good reason. Your main navigation and masthead span edge to edge allowing for more content and impactful imagery up top. Beautiful to behold on desktop displays and nice and clean when viewed on a mobile device.

Finally the Hybrid layout which takes its cues from the first two. The navigation and mast are wide-open. This allows for the use of some nice graphics or textures. The post area is framed in. Pulling your eye right where it needs to go…the content.

Of the three, Hybrid is my favorite. What’s Yours?