10.30.17 18

A brand new blog

Empress Themes Review

Exciting news on this Monday morning!

If you’ve been reading for a long time, you may remember the last time I redesigned the site was in August of 2014. The last layout was one I designed myself–a labor of love that worked out surprisingly well given my limited knowledge of what a functional website should and shouldn’t include. Over the past year and a half or so, I’ve been itching to rebrand because the site could have used some backend upgrades and the Cake & Lilies name didn’t feel like “me” anymore. The name was inspired by one of my favorite foods (when I originally started blogging with literally zero readers, it was actually called Cake & Pizza) and what was my favorite flower (stargazer lilies). Cake still ranks up there as something I could happily eat daily, but to be honest I’m kind of apathetic about lilies (they’re gorgeous, but not a “favorite” anymore). As the blog continued grew and I explored how I could see the brand evolving, all sign pointed to a name change and the only thing I could basically guarantee not tiring of in a few years was my own name.

Designing a new blog completely from scratch is a massive undertaking and while I had grand plans and somewhat of a vision of what I wanted, it was something I kept putting off because of school and working with Victoria. Branding and site design are two things I envision being a part of my career aspirations, and getting to work under her wing meant wanting to wait to soak up lots of new knowledge before getting back into a redesign to avoid the inevitable “why didn’t I think of that” regret.

About a year ago when we started working together, Victoria mentioned the she and Lisa were in the early stages of developing a theme shop for bloggers. A blog theme is basically a website design that’s not 100% customized, but can still be very customizable. Themes come with a bunch of standard backend components that anyone with the theme will receive–unlike a custom site, that’s coded entirely for you (and also has the price tag to show for it…generally a few thousand dollars from design to installation.) If you don’t plan to design your site or don’t want to spend thousands of dollars having someone design + code it, chances are you’ll need a theme. Enter: Empress. Pardon the pun, but Empress is not only impressive because the themes are beautifully designed, but because the backends are so functional. Trust me when I say that they’re an incredible value for the price…Lisa and Victoria previously only offered custom builds and have created these with those functions in mind. You’re getting way more than you pay for–if you purchase everything they have to offer right now, you’re looking at about $175, which is an exceptional value.

Installing the theme

Katie also decided to redesign her site with an Empress theme, and the two of us decided to make a day out of it and installed our sites together. We started at about noon yesterday and Katie left my place around 4pm. By the time she left, we could both have “launched” our sites as-is, but both still wanted to put a few more hours into making tweaks. For me, that was mostly working on some of my post categories and messing with my logo size.

Prior to installing our new sites, both Katie and I put up a “coming soon” page, which we’d highly recommend doing. There’s obviously a lot of trial and error while you set up your new site, and it’s nice knowing that everything you do isn’t live to visitors. One thing I wish I did was clean up my post tags and categories because I spent a lot of time (and will continue to do so) removing tags that didn’t add any value to the site and renaming categories to better fit the content they house.

A quick lowdown on the Empress experience

When your purchase your theme + any plugins from Empress, your checkout screen has the files and download instructions and you’re emailed the same instructions + the files. There are currently three themes and five plugins to choose from–I got all five to have full flexibility over the fonts + colors, and because a lot of my posts are shoppable, having the “shop the post” plugin will make for a better user experience.

If you have an existing theme installed like both of us did (I think you will even if you have a custom designed site), be aware that elements and some plugins will carry over to your new site even after you “deactivate” that theme and “activate” your new theme. This threw us off for a few minutes as we couldn’t figure out why elements from our old site were carrying over (for instance I had some funky sidebar additions that imported themselves and had to be manually removed), and my site actually blocked me from getting to the Empress customizer (where you customize your entire new site) until I removed one specific plugin that was tied to my old theme. Essentially, just take a deep breath, be patient, and remember that depending on how your last site was installed, there will be elements that clash with the new theme and will have to be removed. Another thing is to carefully read the documentation that comes with your purchase–they spent a long time creating these, and the docs will answer most of your glaring questions in layman’s terms.

It can undoubtably be daunting to install your own site, especially one that appears to be so fleshed out and complex from the outside like the Empress themes do. Katie and I were admittedly pretty nervous but that was just because our websites are our babies and we tend to stress ourselves out over little things going wrong. Lisa and Victoria accounted for this and have built out a comprehensive help desk–they’ve been in this business for a long time and have a good understanding of FAQs and common concerns. I can assure you that this process is a smooth one…I am glad we dedicated most of a day to installation + edits, but if you’re just installing a theme (vs. my full overhaul, discussed below), allotting the better part of a day should be sufficient.

Why I chose this theme

There are currently three Empress themes to choose from (more to come in 2018) and I opted for Brevier. All three are beautiful and I was very torn between Brevier and Miramar. The latter is a more modern take on blog design–an editorial-style compared to Brevier’s more traditional blog layout. It was tempting to branch out with the more modern look, but I’m personally a traditionalist and love the familiar simplicity of the traditional design. You’ll notice that my new logo is incredibly simple and classic, and I wanted the site to support that aesthetic.

WHAT NOW?

In addition to redesigning my site, I also decided to simultaneously switch my website host and site URL. Why not do everything at once, right? I’m upgrading my hosting to Flywheel and changing the URL to monicadutia.com. Unfortunately I didn’t plan this totally perfectly, so the URL redirect still needs to happen. I’ve been told that my site will likely go down from 1-2 hours and up to 24-48 hours (hopefully not) so if you have issues this week, that’s why. I’ll share any necessary updates but if you do visit cakeandlilies.com, it should redirect to monicadutia.com. If you read via Bloglovin’ or subscribe by email, things shouldn’t change for you but I’ll keep you posted!

I’ll also be making some tweaks and additions, functionally and visually, like adding things to the footer and sidebar and possibly editing some of the font colors, my About page, etc. I’m also in the process of cleaning up the backend of my post tags and categories, which will make it easier for you to search for and read older content. As with any changes, there are bound to be a couple of hiccups and a learning curve but this process has gone more smoothly than I could have imagined. In the meantime, poke around and let me know if you have any suggestions or feedback!

//

I can’t tell you how excited I am to have this new site up, and hope you love it as much as I do! I’m going to do a comprehensive blog post on what it’s like to rebrand your site name/brand, switch hosting companies, and install a new site design so stay tuned for that (it’ll probably be in early 2018, once I’ve completed the whole transition including editing post tags and reorganizing my older content, so let me know if you have any specific questions in the meantime.) If you’re a fellow blogger or know someone who is in the market to redesign a blog, point them to Empress–they’re offering 15% off your purchase with code HOORAY through tomorrow!

Image via Lauren Saylor

Leave a Comment

18 Comments

  1. Charlotte wrote:

    The new site looks great! I switched from Squarespace to WP this past summer and in the process moved to a new theme so I know how scary it can be to put your trust in a whole new design. Can’t wait to explore the new site and see all the personalized touches you built in!

    Published 10.30.17
    Reply
    • Monica wrote:

      Thank you so much!! That’s a big switch but definitely a worthwhile one (with a big learning curve)…but it 100% made the commenting on your site easier :)

      Published 10.31.17
      Reply
  2. Congratulations on the new blog design!! It looks wonderful!! :)

    Published 10.30.17
    Reply
    • Monica wrote:

      Thank you, Gentry!!

      Published 10.31.17
      Reply
  3. The new site/layout is gorgeous! Congrats!

    xoxo
    Cathy, your Poor Little It Girl
    http://poorlittleitgirl.com

    Published 10.30.17
    Reply
    • Monica wrote:

      Thank you so much, Cathy!! :)

      Published 10.31.17
      Reply
  4. Erica wrote:

    It looks SO good Monica! I love your logo too. Simple and classic. I’m still debating between the Brevier and Archer themes. Ultimately I think I’m more of a traditionalist too. I can’t imagine my blog without the sidebar! Thanks for all the great tips. I’ll refer to them when I do my own install!

    Published 10.30.17
    Reply
    • Monica wrote:

      Eek thanks! Both are so good, and agreed about the sidebar. Excited to see which one you pick…both seem like they’ll fit well!

      Published 10.31.17
      Reply
  5. Liz wrote:

    Yay Monica!!!! Love the new site name! So great. Can’t wait for what’s to come.

    Published 10.30.17
    Reply
    • Monica wrote:

      You are the best!! Love you!

      Published 10.31.17
      Reply
  6. Ashlee wrote:

    LOVE the new site! So clean and fresh! And easy to navigate! Congrats!!!!

    Ashlee | http://www.cobaltchronicles.com

    Published 10.31.17
    Reply
    • Monica wrote:

      Thank you so much, friend!! Very happy about the ease of navigation and mobile-friendly aspect!

      Published 10.31.17
      Reply
  7. Congrats Monica!! I love the new site. It looks so good!! Can’t wait to see where this re-brand takes you! xo

    – Kristyn

    Published 10.31.17
    Reply
    • Monica wrote:

      I’m so excited, thank you!! It feels like such a fresh start in a way. Can’t wait to see where it goes, either!

      Published 10.31.17
      Reply
  8. Congrats on the rebrand! It looks so, so good! And I love the site name, of course :) I may have to look into Empress Themes myself, both yours and Katie’s are gorgeous!

    Published 11.1.17
    Reply
    • Monica wrote:

      Thank you so much, Diana!! I highly recommend press (if you can’t tell) so def let me know if you have questions or anything if you decide to go that route!

      Published 11.6.17
      Reply
  9. Jackie wrote:

    Monica, the site looks so beautiful! Clean, charming, and easy to navigate. It feels very “you.” Yay!

    Published 11.1.17
    Reply
    • Monica wrote:

      Thank you so, so much, Jackie!! :)

      Published 11.6.17
      Reply