Covenant Eyes on Inc. 5000 for the 6th time since 2010

I’m happy to share the news that Covenant Eyes, Inc. made position 3674 on the 2016 Inc. 5000 list, showing an 85% growth in revenue over the past 3 years.

What’s even better is that this is our 6th time on the Inc. 5000 since 2010. A one-time listing might be a fluke, but 6 times in 7 years shows a strong pattern of business performance.

(By the way, our HQ is in Michigan, we have many remote employees, and we’re always hiring.)

Great job Covenant Eyes!

Five-Time Inc. 5000 Honoree: Covenant Eyes

While I don’t often write about work on my blog, I’m happy to share the news that Covenant Eyes made the Inc. 5000 list again this year, now having made it 5 times since 2010.

Congratulations Covenant Eyes on pursuing your worthy mission with successful business practices!

And while not an official award, Glassdoor.com shows good reviews of Covenant Eyes as an employer.

How WordPress falters as a CMS: Multiple content fields

WordPress is amazing and keeps getting better, but I want to be clear about an inherent limitation that WordPress has as a content management system (CMS). That limitation is that WordPress doesn’t handle multiple content regions on web pages.

Too strong? With WordPress, you can try to use custom fields or innovative hacks like Bill Erickson’s approach to multiple content areas using H4 elements in his excellent theme “Thesis”. Unfortunately, neither of those approaches really deals with the depth of the design problem that often requires multiple content areas for pages.

As an information architect/user experience designer, I’ve been involved in many projects that required more types of content on any single screen than WordPress is designed to handle.

Let me draw out what I’m talking about here.

Exhibit A: Page content that WordPress is designed to handle

In a standard WordPress page or post, you’ll see these author-controlled pieces of content.

  • Post/page Title
  • Body
  • Excerpt (often not-used)
Standard WordPress content fields include the title, excerpt, and body.
Standard WordPress content fields include the title, excerpt, and body.

There are other sets of data for a page or post that an author can control, too, but these are meta-data such as tags, categories, slug (shows up in the URL), and possibly search engine optimization information like title, description, and keywords.

For a normal blog, many online trade journals, and a lot of basic websites, this really covers the bases. The body contains the bulk of the content including images, video, and audio that can be intermingled with the text itself. This model is very flexible, and it has definitely proven itself.

Exhibit B: Page content that pushes WordPress too far

In 2009, there was a small project at work to develop the website Covenant Musicians, and because the person who would keep the site updated was already using WordPress, we made the decision to build this site with WordPress too.

Well, if you look at one of the destination pages for this site, the musician profile page (here’s one for example), you’ll notice some different pieces of content which may or may not be present on any particular musician profile page. When they are present, they need to be in certain places and sometimes with certain content.

This custom WordPress page uses fields in addition to the standard options: Musician Image, URL, and Video.
This custom WordPress page uses fields in addition to the standard options: Musician Image, URL, and Video.

The problem is, to control those extra pieces of content: the video, the band image, the link to the band’s website, the site owner needs to use WordPress’s custom fields in very precise ways, without the benefit of WordPress’s content editing tools. What a drag!

To make life easier for the site owner, we ended up recording screencast instructions on how to use these fields and delivered those help files with the site itself. (We used Jing by Techsmith, by the way.)

It would’ve been better had the interface been clear enough so that we didn’t feel the need to document the process of updating these destination pages, but that’s the trouble with stretching WordPress beyond its default content fields.

Ask too much of WordPress and ease-of-use is the casualty

Do you see the difference? When an effective design solution requires multiple types of content per page, using WordPress will actually make your website difficult to manage. WordPress is usually so easy to use that when you hit this wall, it is very apparent.

When you’re at that point, WordPress is probably not the right CMS to choose.

Should WordPress improve in this area?

Whether through the core application or through an excellent plug-in (is there one already that I missed?), if WordPress is going to grow in the content management systems field, this shortfall will need to be addressed.

However, WordPress is really excellent at what it does already, and the better course might be to decide to keep the features in check and let other systems compete in the mid-to-enterprise scale CMS arena. Scope creep never stops, and a good application strategy knows when to say “no.”

Am I wrong?

Am I off-base here? This is just one aspect of WordPress that should limit its use. Another that should cause designers to think twice is when dealing with faceted-navigation which requires more than one dimension (tags can probably handle one dimension). But, again, those are more complex design requirements.

I’m not a WordPress consultant, and I’ll bet some of you would like to point to the errors in my thinking. Let’s hear it.

Experience theme for Covenant Eyes

Cindy Chastain’s article, “Experience Themes,” at Boxes and Arrows outlines a neat way to package the concepts that help user experience designers put creative work into context.

When I was leading many design/development projects at a time, I’d write a creative brief for each—it helped me and the team stay clearheaded about each project. An experience theme seems like an alternative to a creative brief.

The following thoughts apply Chastain’s article to my work at Covenant Eyes.

Covenant Eyes is rich with stories

At Covenant Eyes, Inc., we have a full-time blogger, Luke. As I see it, Luke’s job is to draw out the stories surrounding Covenant Eyes and to share them using the Internet. He’s our storyteller.

What are the roles? There are so many stories, from people in so many places in life.

  • husbands, fathers
  • wives, mothers
  • children
  • pastors, rabbis
  • counselors
  • porn addicts, recovering porn addicts, people who have beaten the addiction
  • and the list continues

What are some theme concepts?

  • For people fighting a problem with pornography: Learn to be honest again (These words come from Michael Leahy’s mouth while he was visiting our offices.)
  • For mothers with children who use the Internet: Protect my family
  • For fathers with a teenage son: Teach him to be responsible for his actions

Experience transcends our services

What work do we do at our company? Although others I work with may claim we deliver software, I think we deliver information. Our software allows us to provide information-rich reports on Internet usage that can be used within relationships. I think of these as “accountability relationships.”

The theme concepts listed above have little to do with software or even our service. The real value we provide is that we can provide the sense for people that what could be their little secret is not actually hidden. That little bit of knowledge has proven its ability to change lives, and relationships, for the better.

The hard part is carrying the experience theme across our touch points with users

I recently helped put together a spreadsheet to inventory the automated emails we send to users at various points. There were over 60 emails, and they fulfill needs ranging from billing concerns to helpful reminders after a few weeks of being a customer. Many of these messages should be revised, and keeping the theme in mind will help create a coherent experience for our users.

Covenant Eyes has multiple touch points with its users.
Covenant Eyes has multiple touch points with its users.

Beyond these emails is a myriad of other touch points:

  • sign up form
  • help documents
  • filter settings controls
  • accountability reports
  • tech support phone calls
  • blog posts
  • and so on

Taken all together, these communications can benefit from an experience theme.

I suspect the key to pulling this off is to have all those involved with crafting these touch points understand the experience theme and leave it to them to carry it through. As the company’s user experience lead, my job may be to facilitate the definition and adoption of an experience theme, and motivate and lead by example so others will carry the vision.