Content Is King…But…

by Robb Sutton

mtb198…site design is your means of connecting that content with your readers. You hear the phrase “content is king” over and over again. I don’t know about you…but I am sick of hearing it! Yes, if you do not write interesting, useful and engaging content, you will not have consistent readers. That should be a given,  so I am going to step away from that fact for now assuming that you have this kind of content.

You can have the best content on the web, but if you do not make that content easily accessible and wrap it in a package that is appealing to your readers…no one is going to read it or return to your site. How many times have you walked by a poorly packaged item in the grocery store and didn’t think twice about picking it up. Why did you not even try this new product that might just be the best thing you have ever tasted? Because right next to it was a supremely marketed, sub par good that caught your eye and kept your attention. Web site development and design is very much the same.

Let’s walk through a site redesign…

Recently, Mountain Biking by 198 outgrew its meager beginnings and was in drastic need of a redesign. The old site design worked just fine for the period of time, but with new expansion and a multitude of high end, expensive product coming in for review…the site needed a design that would better fit its needs and the needs of the readers, contributing manufacturers and advertisers.

As with any design project of this scope, I recommend going to an expert in the field. I sat down with Justin Shattuck over at and we planned out what the goals of the new site should be as we went forward with the project. Here is the list we came up with.

MTB by 198 List of Site Redesign Goals


  • Faster loading
  • Minimal plug-ins
  • Featured content more readily available
  • Better marketing strategy for current and potential advertisers
  • More page-views and longer time on site per reader
  • Clear and defined call to actions (subscribe, social media, etc.)
  • Room for future expansion into other cycling deciplines
  • Clear and efficient overall look
  • De-cluttering
  • Increased comments and reader engagement
  • Better SEO/Search engine results

As you can see, this was a long list with very specific goals to achieve. If your content is in place, all of these goals pertain to the overall design of your site and how it functions once the reader lands on your page. Even better, the results of the site redesign are easily measurable through your typical site metrics through Google, Aweber and Feedburner statistics.

The Design

I’ll admit…I am not a designer, so I went to the best to get the job done. I basically told Justin…you know what I like so just run with it. I have found that the less I try to tell people that are experts in their field what I think, the better the result ends up being. After throwing around a couple of ideas, we landed a the current Mountain Biking by 198 design.

  • bottomPlug-ins were drastically reduced by hard coding into the site itself. This speeds up page load times and allows me to tailor these features to what I really wanted to begin with. The previous site was very plug-in heavy and this affected overall performance. It also looks much more fluid instead of patched together.
  • The bottom of individual post pages were also cleaned up significantly by providing very specific call to action links in a compact space. The goal here was to create more reader engagement and not take away from the comments section of the posts. Before, there was a ton of click through but the clutter made commenting harder.
  • The most drastic change in the design was the header. Gone was the picture…and heavy navigation and call to actions took its place. While the original shot looked great, it took up a lot of dead space. We turned this dead space into SEO and navigation gold. We even went one step further by getting rid of generic navigation. Instead…we listed exactly what is on the site. This is a more traditional way of doing things compared to some site designs we are seeing lately, but it is highly functional.header
  • Homepage layout was changed dramatically to reflect the same content rich redesign. As you can see by the top image, the entire site redesign is centered around the content and making that content more readily available to readers. The 3 column homepage layout brings featured posts and most recent posts to the above the fold portion of the page. Without scrolling,  you can subscribe by email, subscribe by email, subscribe to the newsletter, find information on the blog, see 4 125×125 advertising units, find all relevant categories and see all of the post content you are searching for. That is all of feature rich content above the fold and that is why this site redesign was so important.
  • The overall site redesign all uses high contrasts lights, darks and colors to aid the eye in finding key points and content, and makes things much easier to read.
  • As with any product heavy niche, advertising and affiliate revenue can be a huge source of operating income. The new design utilizes 300×250, 125×125, 468×60 and a custom 300 px wide ad in the center of the homepage. This package gives the site a multitude of options and price points for potential and current advertisers. The new design also has the option of hiding or showing these ad blocks to fit the needs of the site at that time.
  • There was also a heavy focus on back end coding that you can not see that improves SEO and site load times. The goal is to make the site much more efficient and pull off its strengths.

All of these new features that were incorporated into the new design were researched off of previous designs stats. When you go to start redesigning your website or blog, you need to ask yourself some simple pre-redesign questions.

  • What were users reading?
  • Where are my readers clicking?
  • Are certain posts getting more exposure than others?
  • How are the blogs rankings in search engines?
  • How can I increase subscriptions?
  • What are we doing well and what do we need to work on?

These questions will be different depending on the scope of the project and your goals.

After the redesign of Mountain Biking by 198, the conversion rates and traffic stats were astounding. Overall click through rates, average pageviews per user and average time on site was up 25%. On top of that…overall traffic increased at a rate of 25% well. Even more impressive…newsletter subscriptions are up 50%!

As you can see by these stats…a site redesign can bring new life to your blog, so what are you waiting for? Start asking yourself if a redesign is in your future. I could mean the difference between a successful blog and one that gets lost in this huge internet sea…

Is the design done? No! We are going to continue to tweak and change it to better suit my readers and how they engage with the site. Be on the lookout for more out of this design as we move forward with the site. Like any great project…it is never fully complete!

A huge thanks goes out to Justin Shattuck and the rest of the crew over at…the results are nothing short of amazing. So when are we starting on!!

Old Pictures of Mountain Biking by 198



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AmyL February 28, 2009 - 10:26 pm

Fascinating process you went through. I’m curious: do you now use any plugins with the new version, or is everything hard-coded? How many plugins were you using before?

AmyL’s last blog post..Definitely Feeling the Minority Status

Robb March 1, 2009 - 8:04 am


We are down to a dozen plugins that are more for polls, contact page, etc. Even a lot of those will be phasing their way out as we continue to hard code even more into the them. Before the redesign, there were over 20 plugins doing a host of modifications. Now…with the much smaller plugin base and cleaned up coding, the site loads much faster because it is not having to pull from multiple sources.


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