This week, the mind behind Make More Money by Getting Back to Basics on the Web™ – Ryan Thrash – chats with Marcel about what makes a good website, and ultimately what’s best for your customers.
About Ryan Thrash
Ryan Thrash is the co-founder/CEO of MODX, which helps growing businesses crush SEO and conversion with a better, fully managed web platform.
He has worked in Open Source for more than 20 years, starting in e-commerce, before moving on to help create the open-source CMS that is the foundation of MODX: Revolution. Ryan led MODX’s transition from a services and support model, to a SaaS business and continues to build the team and product today. Ryan lives in Dallas, TX, with an amazing wife, two great kids, and his loyal office companion, Fred, the mini Golden Doodle.
Loves anything to do with wood, fire, meat (and beers) … BBQ, or any type of food, really. Cooking is a great way to have a blast creating something people enjoy.
Points of Interest…
- How MODX Helps to Make a Good Website 1:50
- Why Speed & Content is Key for a Good Website 3:30
- Ongoing Importance of Speed for Google Rankings 6:15
- Efficient Website Development Process 12:26
- Decoupling Your Data 17:32
How MODX Helps to Make a Good Website
Simply put; MODX is a company that is powering millions of websites. It has the Open Source framework that is being used all over the world, and it’s been around for almost two decades.
“The first release of our software was in 2005, right about the same time that WordPress came out. Just to be clear, we’re not WordPress; we would be then approximately half of the internet!”
Ryan and his team set about differentiating themselves in a couple of different ways – with a strong focus on Speed, Security, and Collaboration. This renders MODX even more unique now given the proliferation of web-building platforms now in existence.
Personally speaking, what I find most interesting in the current climate is surveying all the algorithm changes; Google is doing the same thing it’s always done, which is in direct conflict with the entire industry it birthed – that being S.E.O. They try to convolute it, which made its recent algorithm changes a point of concern for me. So, imagine my surprise when our rankings improved alongside these changes!
Talking to our SEO guy, however, helped it make sense – Google’s ultimate goal is to serve the best possible content, stripping away a lot of the tactics that people use to trick it into thinking their content is good – when that might not be the case. The best content will then continue to be served and get good results.
Speed, in addition to good content, is a key factor for Google’s algorithm – that’s why MODX’s ethos has always been ahead of the curve.
Why Speed & Content are Key for a Good Website
I’m keen to delve into what gave Ryan his insight into the importance of Speed twenty years ago and how it continues to be a key factor.
“I was very into CSS back in the day when it was completely arbitrary and every rendering engine made things look different – you had to know all these obscure little hacks to make things work the way you wanted it to across different browsers. So we had this hypothesis that a CSS-powered website would – being less markup – serve faster.”
This led to serving pages that were rendering approximately 40% faster and he could correlate that directly to an increase in conversion. Time is money!
So, the core principles of what you need to do to win the web look a little like this…
- Provide high-quality content that engages humans
- Keep it regularly updated
- Serve it faster than your competitor
“Having that fast page load is just absolutely critical to doing well on the web, and if you have better content that a human’s gonna like more, Google’s gonna weigh that higher in the search rank. What machine learning algorithms have gotten better at is understanding what humans look and sound like versus spitting out a word salad of keywords.”
Ongoing Importance of Speed for Google Rankings
There are some really interesting insights in terms of Ryan’s focus on speed, content, and collaboration – and how that has really helped a lot of his agency partners deliver better outcomes to clients while spending less time and money doing it. Obviously, I really want to dig into this stuff, so I asked him to elaborate on his history of making more expeditious sites.
“I coined a phrase a while back – the fortuneless five million. In other words, we discovered early on that we were really bad at pure enterprise play. There are really good people, with tens of thousands of employees out there, selling into the enterprise – that’s not the area that we want to focus on.”
In a bid to circumvent what Ryan describes as “plugin-itus” (the phase of website development where you seem to be adding another plugin to the plugin to make the plugin more plugintastic, rendering in a rather slow and fragile overall product) he harnessed the creative freedom in his team.
This resulted in their ability to build a React CSS three H T M L five website with their very first release of software back in 2005 – despite those technologies not existing back then… As for how MODX helps its clients today?
“MODX is completely agnostic as to your site’s output. Even if you want to use it in kind of a headless application and output, just a JSON feed of all your data that’s managed and used in real time, you can accomplish that as well.”
I’ve got a theory about the importance of speed in terms of Google rankings, and it goes a little something like this… is it more about user ability – and humanity’s collective inability to wait more than three seconds for a website to load before we start mashing the refresh button? Or, is it more about Google wanting to incentivize people to make their site faster site times because it would save Google possibly hundreds of millions in server farm fees? Just asking…
***More on this theory from 9:40 minutes!***
Efficient Website Development Process
At this juncture, I ask Ryan to discuss some of the core principles that he sees lead to an inefficient website development process and a more efficient project that leads to great outcomes for the client, without the scope wildly spiraling out of control.
“Have a pre-built snapshot for a starting point, with all your metadata set up correctly. You’re gonna want to have a lot of stuff pre-configured and ready to go, also some baseline – tools and utilities you can use on every site.”
So creating that snapshot framework is kind of a kickstart skeleton to initiate a new website project is of massive importance. Also of equal importance is removing any barriers that may hinder a collaborative process is hugely pivotal too. In Ryan’s vast experience, it’s vital to have those working on both the front and the backend communicating seamlessly with each other (more on this from 13:50***)
“Give everybody the access to what they need in order to optimize engagement and create a dynamic website at the same time. Don’t start from scratch on every single project.”
That said, decoupling the data from the design is beyond crucial.
Decoupling Your Data & Defining ‘Headless’
Thinking about deployment in an agile way is incredibly important so you can de-risk the execution to a large extent, enabling you to fail early and often. Put it this way, if you’re going to be off the mark, best to figure that out early as opposed to later.
If things are so interconnected and aren’t functionally being pushed through a template layer, then you’ll be in a bind. Should you do need to iterate quickly (let’s say a new CMO is onboarded) having already decoupled your data from the design will help.
As my chat with Ryan draws to a close, I really want him to explain a hot web topic – that being the term Headless. What is it already and why is everyone so excited by it?!
“At its fundamental, most simple level, it’s basically turning the content of your website into API… It’s stripping out the presentation layer and displaying the right data to the right locations, at the right time. “
Needless to say, it’s not that simple. For those interested in the future – namely “doing a full-blown custom solution wrapped around a pure headless CMS play” – myself and Ryan discuss it further from 18:46***
My experience has historically is this – that the biggest risk for most projects is the client. They tend to self-sabotage and therefore get in way of their own success and potential positive outcomes.
Therefore, many of the hand grenades that get thrown into these projects involve having to get feedback from the client. So, any sliver of friction you can remove from that process, in terms of your ability to go and do your job without having to go through them as a gatekeeper, is a must.
If you don’t, then all of the little things that compound will wind up eroding all your margin that you had baked into the initial project price. Having the right tooling and processes in place to ship early and often is key. Should adopt more of an agile methodology to build these projects – even if the contract isn’t structured in an agile way.
Oh, and please don’t scrimp on your content. Amazingly engaging content doesn’t just write itself. If you’re under the illusion that copy just happens and you can merely download random stock images from wherever for whatever, that is rarely the case.
As Ryan says, “Copy will kick your ass”.
See more from Ryan…
- Ryan’s Twitter @rthrash
- Ryan’s LinkedIn @ryanthrash
Did you learn anything new from this episode? Let us know in the comments below! We have helpful blogs designed to bolster your agency profitability, such as How To Calculate Your Billable Employee Cost-Per-Hour.
Our next installment of #APP, on February 22nd, will see Marcel chat with Jennifer Plant for our 107th edition. Our previous blog – Episode 105 with Dan Martell – can be viewed here…
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