Usfolk is an illustration and design agency based in Belfast. Its the first illustration agency of its kind in N.Ireland. When Mel approached me with the task of developing his new agencies website, I jumped at the chance.
I believe its important for all websites to be built with performance as one of the highest priorities but more so an agencies website. You can’t sell a client on the importance and benefits of performance if your own website doesn’t practice what you preach.
Here are some of the methods that were used to ensure a fast loading and performant site.
- Responsive images — Since Wordpress 4.4, responsive images in wordpress have become much more accessible. Srcset sizes are now automatically generated based on the allocated thumbnail sizes. Its not perfect, and involves a lot of trial and error, but it beats having to manually generate all of the srcset attributes and sources.
- Heavy caching — Wordpress has a plethora of caching plugins. One of the best of the bunch is w3 total cache. This plugin was utilised to incorporate caching of assets and pages.
- Images CDN — The Wordpress plugin Jetpack provides a free CDN for hosting images. Its not quite as effective as using a full fledged CDN such as fastly but this is free and fastly is not.
- Fast server — Probably the No.1 most important but overlooked factor in site speed is the server. The website is hosted on a self provisioned VPN with an all-SSD cloud so response times are as fast as they come.
The results spoke for themselves:
Subtle animations and transitions when used effectively can really enhance the experience of a site and if used cohesively and consistently can even create a larger brand impact.
The website was developed using the mobile first approach. This tends to lead to more efficient use of CSS and media queries which in turn leads to a more performant and accessible site.
Usfolk is unique to N.Ireland in that it is a collective of freelance illustrators and designers that can be commissioned for a wide variety of projects. It was important that the owner had the ability to add new illustrators to the site and that each illustrator had control over their own portfolio and contact details (but not other areas of the site).
This functionality isn’t entirely provided ‘out-of-the-box’ by wordpress but with a couple of plugins you can extend the functionality to support custom roles and avatars.
Search Engine Optimisation
I'm not an SEO expert, I leave that to the marketers but I do have a good understanding of the technicalities required to get your site noticed. Methods such as informative page titles and descriptions, strong focus key words, proper use of rich meta and schema attributes, a strong social presence, SSL encryption and fast performance were all utilised to ensure the site ranked well on Google. The results: within a month of launch, Usfolk was the first result in google for “Illustration Belfast”.