In the spring of 1977, I was a 21-year-old freshman at Utah State University. Russel M. Nelson, today President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, then said in an Institute fireside talk:
The job where you’ll spend most of your work life, doesn’t exist yet.
Dr. Nelson helped pioneer open-heart surgery. In medical school, they taught him never touch the human heart. Fortunately, he didn’t believe them. Instead, he listened to the still small voice of inspiration.
He was so right. My future work life didn’t exist. It couldn’t be taught. I dropped out of school and started an electronics manufacturing business. My journey began.
Today – I’m Steve Teare, performance engineer.
The thing I like most about web design is it’s forgiving nature. If you make a mistake, you fix it. This reduces the risk in dollars and lowers potential reputation damage. No expensive catalogs in the dumpster.
Web hex color seemed a free gift. More colors cost extra using 4-color CMYK or even spot-color printing.
Screen transmitted colors felt beautiful and crisp. They were like proofing photo transparencies on a light table. The weak, reflected light of CMYK print didn’t compare. You could create millions of colors with hexcode and RGB Jpeg images. Wonderful.
I didn’t enjoy losing the precision typography of the print world. Even with the advent of web fonts, I felt a loss. Why? Because fonts add extra weight and calls to webpages. That slows things down. And fonts just don’t look proper onscreen.
But the biggest web problem: website projects never had an endpoint. They were perpetual and in flux. Whimsical goals from a committee dictated site content and features. The politics and interdepartmental squabbling caused endless delays. Everyone wanted to be the art director. Or were spineless cowards afraid of challenging a dictator bully? Who would defend common-sense rules of web design? Did rules ever exist?
The World Wide Web became dismal territory ripe for opportunists.
I built promotional “ebrochures” online for starters. They had a disposable, temporary feeling. Much like marketing materials on thin newsprint or tissue. Unsubstantial and shallow production cheapens messages. People approached websites with anxiety and suspicion. Anyone could publish anything. The assumption was lies, robbery or deception.
WordPress is a content management system (CMS) used by millions to create website on the Internet. WordPress called web-content brain dumps the democratization of publishing. I called it a garbage dump.
I studied intangibles creating trustworthiness and belonging.
The downside for adding website extra features was measured in milliseconds of page load time. That’s the hidden currency and extra cost of adding web assets. How long people would wait for a page load was short. Human expected fast printed-page turns. Less than 200 milliseconds. That instantaneous feeling was impossible at first. But as internet connections became cheaper and faster, page load time didn’t reciprocate. They were still slow. Why?
Cheaper speed encourages consumption of speed resources. It’s ironic rebound psychology called Jevons paradox.
Jevons Paradox for Web
1. Web design becomes more accessible to abusive (see sloppy or apathetic) novices.
2. Available cheap connections increases web speed consumption.
3. Sites get slower instead of faster.
The bigger the pipe – the more designers crammed junk thorough it. Constantly clogged.
The term user experience got wider knowledge by Donald Norman in the mid-1990s. Norman wrote the design book, “The Design of Everyday Things.” The Information Age bloomed. I was working on my own definition of user experience as web “hospitality, habitat, or courtesy.” No one was buying it.
I registered the domain name PagePipe in February 2004. The focus was page speed or performance optimization. My goal was balancing aesthetics and speed consumption. I did many experiments on PagePipe.
In spring of 2011, I first encountered the phrase and definition of User Experience – UX. I supposed it was a branch of usability or user interface. Definitions of UX were simpler then.
User experience (UX) is how a person feels while using your website. That simple. UX professionals referred to themselves as “unicorns.” They got paid 3 to 4 times what a web designer made in a year. Special.
The definition of UX evolved into a hodgepodge of disciplines. It included psychology and user satisfaction and *delight*. It got weird as everyone piled on the UX gravy train. Print designers jobs from magazines and newspapers evaporated. Layoffs and downsizing by droves. Print was dying (or dead). Designers were in bad shape and searched to sell their skills. UX shingles flew up like crazy.
Look at the following infographic. It demonstrates the silliness of what professional user experience supposedly contained. It was an impossible and absurd hodgepodge of disciplines. It was on the verge of mystical. UX contained everything. You can’t emphasize everything. The communication then turns into noise or worse – nothing. Confusion results.
Anyone can say they’re a UX professional. No accreditation needed. It’s pseudoscience. I then, despised UX as a corrupt, snake-oil discipline. Eye tracking? Measuring page hot-spots? Really? UX became a vaporous smokescreen. Insubstantial language or double-speak intended to impress or convince fools. Hand-waving professionals.
The big web change was all about the efficiencies of web marketing and design. Print became old school. The return on marketing investment (ROI) was highest from Internet channels. Electronic-media budgets swung and began outpacing print advertising. A wild commotion in the advertising world began.
Distracted people chased imaginary UX problems.
So, did God tell me to pursue UX as a profession? Yeah. He did. In my heart, I had a spiritual connection to UX. The legitimate concern that *feelings* during site usage made a difference. I wanted to belong to this inspiring, idealistic UX movement. I believed being hospitable, polite, and kind with speed rewarded website owners.
In my mind, UX was empathy.
So in the fall of 2011, unemployed but with a golden parachute, I dove in studying about producing a User Experience product. I invented a web-based satisfaction survey based on open-source IBM research. Matthew Rauch and Joe Harris, Sr. were my business partners. When Matt later found employment in Boise, he left. Money talks. But we learned how to make 2k pages load real fast. We built only with modern CSS for graphic elements.
No real web entrepreneur wants to buy UX. No professional web designer cared much about satisfaction surveys or UX. It was a dud product. No one knew how UX could make money. I burned about 18 months before giving up. We won $2,000 in a business plan contest – the only money we made. We didn’t lose money. Only time.
I watched an hour-long, boring-conference-speaker talk about user experience. At the very end of the video, the high-paid techgeek started to walk away from the podium. He then turned around and said up close in the mic, “Oh, and if you don’t have speed, you can’t have good UX.” Wow! In less than one minute, he declared the death blow for UX is mediocre speed.
UX is nonexistent without speed?
Website content is still more important than speed. You heard that truism from me – a speed freak.
I already identified speed as the number one barrier to good user experience. Everyone understood the problem with speed. No hour-long explanation needed. If you don’t have it, visitors leave. Simple. Clear. Concise. People hate slow pages. Everyone.
Speed kills UX.
Steve Souders coined the term web performance optimization in 2004. Google pirated him away from Yahoo in 2008. He made it possible to test speed online for free. WebPagetest opened to the people that year (2008). It was later acquired or sponsored by Google in 2014.
Web speed fascinated me for years before the seduction of UX. In 2001, the expectation was web pages should weigh less than 50k. So I was building 25k to 35k experimental pages. I tested how I could decorate them in creative lightweight ways. Pushing the limits.
I built sites with an esoteric technique called Framed Hybrid. It was a precursor to responsive design and had dynamic image resizing using flash. Again I was considered an idiot. All content adjusted to fit the screen size. Who needed that on desktop computers? My respected peers thought I was a fanatic, off-the-rails nutcase. Fixed-width page design was the rage.
The Apple iPhone happened on June 29, 2007.
In May 2010, responsive web design became a hot new topic. The first book about it appeared in 2011. This change doomed fixed-width, pixel-perfect website design. In 2013, responsive web design started appearing in droves on the Internet. No more building one site for phones and another separate site for desktop. One responsive site served all size screens using CSS and HTML5 code. Device agnostic. Today all WordPress themes are responsive out of the box.
Everyone thought I was crazy and boring talking about speed and dynamic sites in the early 2000s. Connections were getting better and faster all the time. It appeared I was swimming upstream or even backwards. Being unconventional makes me so happy.
Wireless mobile took the web back to the age of dialup-modem connections. Speed for mobile devices was scarce and optimization in vogue again. Mostly.
I ignored WordPress CMS until 2013. I disdained the bloat and slowness of Content Management Systems. But my Michigan friend, Christian Nelson, challenged me to make WordPress do what I wanted. And I wanted fast load times. I blogged about my contemptuous WordPress journey on PagePipe.
By 2011, WordPress was on 15 percent of Internet sites. It became a de-facto standard. Seven years later, WordPress “owned” 30 percent of the Internet. So they brag anyway.
I installed WordPress for the first time on PagePipe in Spring of 2014. I blogged about WordPress design like millions of other sites. I didn’t start focusing on WordPress speed until the beginning of 2015. And then I focused on mobile speed around April 2015. PagePipe traffic kept increasing. Bounce rate kept dropping, Dwell-time on pages rose higher. I was stunned. Trusted friends told me no one would read boring technobabble about speed. It wasn’t significant. Ha!
I created my first ebook May 24, 2017. I blogged for over 2 years with no passive income. Bless Christopher in England. He bought my first book the first day it was published. He and I were both elated. He produced a one-second page load without coaching – and I got my first $19 sale of Toxic WordPress. I sold 16 copies in 2017. Big deal. The single issues of Plugin Clones started in November 9, 2017. Bundles hatched in January 2018. ComboPacks birthed in November 25, 2018.
Unit sales went down but average invoice went up as I focused on bundles. A positive indicator of efficiency. Sales in dollars increased.
Google started whining about speed being important in April 2010. Google made sounds about speed’s affect on search ranking in 2015. But they weren’t very serious. And didn’t make roll-out adjustments for mobile-first page ranking until July of 2018.
Before 2017, my engineering and web peers considered me stark-raving mad. Mobile changed speed’s valuation. Site-owners became anxious about mobile experience.
Many sites now have 70 to 80 percent of their traffic originate from mobile devices. Fear is a great motivator. But more than fear is pain. Slow speed caused market pain. It wasn’t about feelings or empathy. Speed was about money and profit. Fear of loss. Failing.
Does speed help with page rank? Not as much as good relevant content. But Google put “speed fear” in site-owner’s hearts.
Speed is the number one barrier for good user experience. People hate slow loading pages. They always cared but now – at last – site owners hate it, too. Audience fear, owner greed, and beginner indecision are my business friends.
The credit goes to God’s inspiration. That’s part two of this story.
In August 2017, I drove down to Salt Lake City with Levi (my 16-year-old son and visited my 61-year-old brother Brad. Terrie (my wife) told me to go there and stay for ten days. She wanted to get flooring installed in our home. I was a wreck from PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) and in recovery. The Priesthood brothers, Relief Society sisters, and youth from our Church branch helped with that project. We walked on plywood for 7 years before that day. When I lost my job at Decagon in 2011, we froze all spending. We didn’t know how long it would be before we saw any income again. The floor had to wait even though we previously saved money to make the repairs and remodeling. We decided to focus on survival. I learned from experience job loss necessitates immediate lifestyle change. You can’t keep living as if nothing happened.
Terrie went back to school and became a Medical Assistant. That was 1 year of attending school in Clarkston, Washington. She commuted 55-minutes down and 55-minutes back every day. She worked various odd jobs including being a summertime apartment painter at Washington State University. That got us through until she started working as a medical assistant at three clinics. Later because of her friendship with Annie Pillars, she worked at Friends of Hospice. There she served as Program Coordinator. She is now working on becoming a Certified Nurse so she can manage the Serenity House for the Dying in Pullman. It’s run by Friends of Hospice. She’s working two jobs right now. Full-time work with extra long days twice a week. But she makes as much now as I did working for Decagon. She’s the breadwinner. She’s my champion and hero. Pearl Girl.
Joe Harris helped us get through this tough period. He sent Pasha Rudenko my way. He bought about $10,000 of creative services over 5 years. That helped.
The story I want to tell is about how I made Jesus Christ my business partner.
While I was in Salt Lake City in August of 2017, I felt I needed to know what to do next. I’d been maintaining a blog, PagePipe, for 3 or 4 years. I couldn’t figure out what to sell to my audience. I was faithful to the impression of the Holy Ghost to pursue User Experience. That was a spiritual event that occurred in the spring of 2010. The year before Decagon let me go.
Soon, I became disillusioned with user experience as a discipline. It was ivory tower and too idealistic. As I studied user experience (UX), I watched a 1-hour talk given by a UX professional. It was pretty boring techno-babble. But in the end, he walked away from the podium and then turned back to the microphone and said, “Oh, yeah. And one more thing. If you don’t have fast page speed, none of this UX stuff matters.” It was worth the one-hour wait to hear him say that single statement. Without speed, there was no user experience. Impatient visitors wouldn’t wait for slow web pages. I felt the same way already, but this tipped the balance. I obsessed studying speed for previous years.
I decided to focus on WordPress speed. I later “pivoted” that to mobile WordPress speed. And now mobile-first WordPress speed. I won’t explain why that’s important. Too long and tedious. But each pivot and repositioning grew my audience. I got 6,000 visitors per month often. 75 percent of them are international. I have a low bounce-rate of less than 20 percent. That indicates the visitors to my site find what they’re looking for: Valued information. They binge read my blog.
First Note: As of July 2019, monthly traffic is 10,000 visitors per month.
Second Note: As of August 2020, monthly traffic is 30,000 visitors per month.
In 2017, I was still giving away free educational content. This was about how to make WordPress go fast even on cheap hosting. I wrote about free themes and free plugins. My focus was only on plugins and themes curated by WordPress. There are several thousand themes and 55,000+ plugins in the free directory. A big library to wander through. I’d pick out the ones that made a difference, test them, and write about them. And often, duplicated the results of paid (premium) plugins with free ones. Independent authors and companies offered those.
My audience consisted of cheapskate site owners.
Anyway, back to SLC UT: so I was considering throwing in the towel on PagePipe. I wasn’t making much money. I’d pick up a $250 “tweaking” speed job now and again. And occasional website builds or rebuilds. I had no idea what to sell people who only wanted free stuff. So I went to the Temple Square visitors center.
Here’s that story in a letter:
Utah Salt Lake City Temple Square Mission
Attention Mission President: President David E. Poulsen
I am a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I have been since I was 12 years old. I am now 63.
Today I was in SLC, UT at my brother Brad’s studio. At 11 AM, I walked to the south visitor’s center on Temple Square. Two sisters greeted me. One was from Finland and the other from South Korea. The Finnish missionary spoke English quite well. She talked with me about where I was from and why I was in Salt Lake City. Then she said, “You have come here today with a purpose and you will find your answer here.”
I was immediately touched and tears welled up. I had prayed that morning that God would give me some direction on what to do with my life.
After I toured the building, I went back to the sister and told her she had the Discerning of Spirit’s. I asked her if she knew what that meant and she said, “Yes. I’ve been praying for the discerning of spirits so I can know how to fill the needs of the people who come to the center.” She also asked if I had found my answer. I said, “No.” She then asked if I wanted to see a Church movie. She had a long list and I told her I didn’t know what topic I’d need. I’d seen them all on the Church website – but I didn’t mention that.
So she recommended I watch a new video presentation. It’s about the translation of the Book of Mormon from Oliver Cowdery’s perspective. I saw the movie in the Church History Museum a few days before. But I thought if the sister recommended this video there was something in it that would answer my prayer.
In the movie, Oliver asks Joseph for reassurance from the Lord. Since Oliver isn’t allowed to see the Book of Mormon gold plates yet, he feels a need. Joseph Smith then dictates a revelation given in the Doctrine and Covenants.
In Section Six, the Lord says to Oliver:
“Behold thou knowest thou hast inquired of me and I did enlighten thy mind …
“Yeah, I tell thee, that thou mayest know that there is none else save God that knowest thy thoughts and the intents of thy heart …
“… If you desire a further witness, cast your mind upon that night that you cried unto me in your heart …
“Did I not speak peace to your mind…? What greater witness can you have from God?”
Then in the movie, Joseph says to Oliver, “Doubt not. Fear not.”
Oliver knew Joseph received this revelation by the power of God. He had never spoken to Joseph of that special night’s events. It was all he needed. He continued forwards in the work and served as a witness – not only of the plates – but of the Angel Moroni.
I then remembered when the Lord spoke comfort to my soul in the middle of the night. The Holy Ghost filled my soul with the power about the path I should take: user experience. I had stayed true to that path for 7 years. The message was plain I should persist and “Doubt not. Fear not.” The Lord would make the outcome manifest in time.
The video ended. I then felt at peace. I found the answer I was looking for. I left the little theater room where I had watched alone and returned to where the sisters were.
The Finnish missionary left to do her studies. I asked the Korean missionary to tell the Finnish Sister missionary a message. The man with the white beard and walking cane received the answer to his prayers. She was an instrument in the Hands of the Lord.
I’m grateful to all who serve the Lord on Temple Square. It’s a special mission where the Spirit can be manifest with power.
I pray they will find hope and meaning in their service. God is good. He loves even the smallest of us as if we are great because we are great in His eyes.
Anyway, the bottom line from this letter is: God told me to keep going. I had a witness from the Lord in 2010 and I’d been true to it as I could be even with failures and slogging through PTSD from early childhood abuse. I got up and kept going. I still didn’t know what to do. But I knew God wanted me to continue being tenacious and show grit.
In October, I still wasn’t sure what to do. But the church rolled out the “Self-Reliance Initiative” in North America. I felt that was where I needed to go for my answers. But I missed the first meeting and had to wait for three months for the next course cycle to begin. Never being patient, I downloaded the PDF manuals and read all three. I then focused on the “Start Your Own Business” series of lessons. It was all stuff I knew but needed to review. It said, “You need to get market feedback about what your potential customers need.” That’s what you need to sell.
I knew if I asked, my audience would say, “I want free or cheap speed.”
I prayed and the Lord inspired me by the Still Small Voice. He said, “Review the testimonials you’ve collected. It’s in there.”
I thought this an odd action. I only had 12 testimonials. They were good but I hadn’t seen any product or service ideas of note. So I reviewed them. One testimonial stood out. The guy said, “Your suggestions saved me a boatload of money. I didn’t have to buy a premium plugin using your alternative free plugins.”
The light bulb turned on.
I could sell downloadable information (PDF eBooks). Those told about how to save hundreds in annual renewal fees with “clones.” I didn’t have to build or service the plugins. I only had to tell people where they were and why and how to use them to get speed. They would pay $10 per issue.
I put together a dozen offerings. My first sale was in the first week of November. The Lord sold $300 worth of eBooks that month. And that’s the average monthly sales since then. This month is a new record of about $500 eBook sales.
Note: The new high for books is about $650. August 2019. Average is $500.
But I didn’t make this happen. God did.
An article in the October Ensign said in essence, “Make Jesus Christ your business partner.” All you need is to:
- work hard
- read the scriptures
- listen to the Spirit
- listen to your ad-hoc counsellors (friends and family)
I did that stuff and it paid off. I can’t take credit even though I collected the speed info. God showed me how to organize my work to be desirable.
I moved my feet and he guided my steps. If I don’t read my scriptures daily, a fear comes over me. I can’t make it without God’s help.
Shortly after I released the collection of 12 eBooks, a woman from Australia asked if I’d give her a discount. She wanted to buy all my books. It stunned me. Why didn’t I think of that? So I bundled them all together and sold them for $69 dollars. I sell bundles every month. The perceived value is high. In fact, now I only sell bundles even though single issues are offered.
Replace $1,738 of popular premium WordPress plugins – for only $69.95.
There’s more stuff I’m offering soon for speed services. But the main thing is the needle finally moved. That’s the miracle. It’s not the amount of income – but that it finally happened. And it’s passive income. All automated.
I wanted you to hear my story. Why? Because you need to know God fights our battles. With Him, I’m on the side that wins.
From my experience, a redesign never makes significant difference in web profitability. So the goal is to invest as little as possible in graphics. Barebones is good enough.
But I do believe strongly aesthetics is the number two credibility enhancer after speed. Web credibility is affected by UX. That’s important. People don’t come to PagePipe because it’s beautiful. They are there to find content that solves a personal, real-world problem they struggle with.
A nice looking site is a bonus or reassurance – but not a necessity for success. Not for selling technical ideas. Aesthetics improves trust.
But how good is good enough? Where is the point of diminishing returns?
I trust my intuition. But I am also analytical.
I’m always interested in improving PagePipe. But I make value judgments based on potential return on investment. Plus the constant fight to balance aesthetics and speed.
I didn’t spend any money decorating the site until I turned my first dollar selling ebooks in November 2017. I then invested in design improvements. But those were typically done in $200 expense increments. I’m a big advocate of incremental thinking and growth.
What will double sales is Google enforcing mobile-first indexing. Or hosting prices going up because transmission speed is no longer regulated in the USA which allows premium pricing strategies for performance.
Those changes may make a future difference. Plus ever-growing perception of global mobile use.
Not design tweaks or color changes.
The books can be improved immensely. Production quality is low, fast, and cheap. Would enhancement increase sales? Probably not. But it would reduce refunds (post-decisional reassurance). Refunds are about 5%. That’s not a pain point for me right now. I haven’t discovered the audience’s hot button yet. Note: I not longer do refunds. It was that simple.
I don’t have affiliate links or advertising. I don’t want to monetize the site with anything (reduces content credibility) – but only promote my own products and services. I evangelize free plugins and cheap hosting as speed solutions.
In addition, I do site tuning or repair for $500 per site. I call it “plugin surgery.” This tediousness happens occasionally. Perhaps once or twice per month. When it does occur, it is never fun. The site owners have exhausted every means and now come to me in desperation. Their site is cancerous and I have to give them the bad news it’s terminally irreparable. I’m trying to resolve this conundrum in my head as what to sell – or not sell.
The other thing I sell is website construction services. These are mainly people who are paranoid about speed because 70 percent of their audience is on mobile devices. For blogs and brochure sites, I charge $1,800 minimum. For WooCommerce, I charge $3,000 minimum. I probably do only 3 – 6 sites per year maximum. I see these projects as “going to school.” I learn new things to write about on PagePipe.
I haven’t figured out how to make consistent painless money with this audience yet. It’s all a big experiment. But I love creativity and experimentation.
75 percent of my PagePipe traffic is international and not domestic (USA). This is unusual. Also 75 percent of traffic is on desktop. Site owners, web designers and developers. Business people.
Creativity for me is best when resources are limited. Creativity is the inverse of dollars. C=1/$. The worse the limitations (scarcity), the more creativity is needed. Creativity is one of my top personal values. I solve hard puzzles and sometimes do what others think is impossible or esoteric.
Innovation is when you turn creativity into money. Money is the audience applause.
I was a graphic designer for 17 years. I don’t do print any more. Just web stuff.
Obviously, PagePipe is not my only source of income or I’d starve to death.
But God is good and sends human angels who help me on this journey of discovery and change.
Design doesn’t move the needle for income or profit. There must be perceived value in the book titles.
Positioning is a shortcut to buyer motivation.