How and Why I Customized the Performancing Modernpaper Theme

I have a blog called The Big Chorizo which runs on WordPress and is all about Spain. I customized Brian’s Modernpaper theme and someone from the performancing community saw it and liked it:

Hiya, great blog and I love the template. I saw your post in the performancing forum and just wanted to let you know that I think the customization you have done are exceptionally good. I was curious if you ran into any trouble setting the colours of the nav-bar text (the pages: comment, about, etc.) with the template? I can’t seem to get it right. Also, as a newbie, I wanted to ask about some of your most succesful monitization plans on your blog (you hav several really nice ones, like the Amazon store, the RateMe button, etc.). Anyhow, sorry about all the questions but I think that your blog’s a benchmark for me, so I just wanted to find out a bit more. Cheers,

Suitably flattered and with apologies for taking so long to finish this write-up, I thought it was time to give something back to the performancing community and any other interested bloggers by explaining what I did to Brian’s great Modernpaper theme and why.


Spain is not black and blue. Spain is red and yellow. Actually, Spain is lots of colours and there is an abundance of greens, yellows and browns in the buildings and surroundings but red and yellow are the colours of the Spanish flag and once I’d finished the re-design I took a look at a fellow Spain blogger’s site and realised he’d come to the same conclusion.

Typography & Layout

Understating wildly, I’m not any kind of design expert but I don’t do so badly at looking at bits of other websites and working out how to fit them into what I want to do. This happened with the typography and layout of the text bits of the posts. Go and check out a page on Spanish business newspaper an you’ll see where I got the inspiration. I found the CSS for the site by looking in the source code of an article page for the URI and tweaked it to fit my blog.

WordPress Plugins

  • Add Meta Tags
  • AdSense Deluxe
  • Aksimet
  • Category tagging
  • Fancy excerpt
  • Flickr Photo Gallery
  • Get Recent Comments
  • Google Sitemaps
  • Subscribe to comments
  • Viper’s Video Quicktags
  • WordPress Database back-up
  • WP Contact Form
  • WP Cron
  • Yes WWW

Discarded Plugins / Ideas

  • another photo gallery thing – very complicated and sometimes it didn’t work properly
  • amazon aStore – easy to set up, but nearly no-one followed the ‘shop’ link and total referrals after 2 months or so were a big fat 0.
  • postalicious – still not really sure about the whole aggregated links as a relevant post affair. I’m coming round to the thinking that it’s much better to hand craft this type of post and add comments that readers will appreciate;
  • random image – it worked for while but then I decided to streamline the individual post pages;


Making money from a blog is intriguing, of course, but neither this blog nor any other of mine (for the moment) has ever been a big earner. It doesn’t do badly for now and I think with more traffic it will do well especially with adsense as the CTR is reasonably good I think. 

  • Google Adsense: reasonable CTR as far as I can work out from others commenting on forums and it reaches the adsense minimum payment of 100$ every 3 months or so, almost without trying or posting, so I’m hopeful that with some more posting, networking and traffic build up that this could be developed
  • Amazon contextual links: nice idea and easy enough to set up, the referral rate exists which is a start, but hasn’t yet produced any income. One of the things that I’ve always thought that bugs me about amazon referral programmes (please correct this if it’s wrong) is that it’s normally only possible to send them to .com or which confuses people both at the decision stage and the buying stage. Clicking things and being paid is much simpler for everybody;
  • Review me: an e-mail glitch meant that the only review that’s been asked for so-far this year was spotted after the 48 hour expiry period. I still think it could be a good idea though once traffic picks up.
  • Google Referrals 2.0: I’ve only just spotted this but it looks very interesting, Maybe for another blog I’ve just started. Using it on The Big Chorizo will depend on whether or not they have any Spain or Spanish related products;
  • Affiliate programme: I have a great (I think) affiliate programme in mind for The Big Chorizo – it’s called Don Quijote and is all about learning Spanish. The school behind the programme seems to have a good real-world organisation and the support people were quick off the mark when I contacted them a while back. It’s also being used by a fellow Spain blogger who I respect so that’s a good indication.

A Short Background

I started The Big Chorizo in April 2006 after wondering whether or not it was worth the effort for a couple of months. I have lived in Spain for the last 10 years ago and had often thought Spain in English would make a good blog topic.

I thought at the time (after having a good look around) that there were not many people doing Spain in English as a blog topic. It turns out that there are around 20 of us spread all over the country who put in some type of regular effort. ‘Meeting’ them and reading their blogs has been one of the nicest parts of the adventure. I am still looking forward to meeting several of them in person one day.

The Big C has gone through a couple of designs in the last year, including one great one whose biggest problem was that it was based around the whole images next to Adsense thing that was squashed by the Adsense team at the end of last year.

Then it went to a really skinny design with almost no click options on the page other than the Adsense ads which wasn’t very aesthetically pleasing and nor did it include many of the multimedia elements I was keen to introduce.

Then came a 3 month blog silence as I concentrated on getting a real-world company off the ground.

Wouldn’t it be nice, I thought as I waded through invoices and tax forms, to one-day redesign The Big Chorizo and make it look more like one of those modern news sites and emphasise videos and photos and comments.

…then I opened my feedreader and saw Brian’s Modernpaper theme on performancing and decided to kick start The Big Chorizo out of its apathy.

What I wanted to emphasize

I had been happy from time to time with one or another of the following things but had never managed to come up with the answer to all of them at the same time:

  • Information Architecture: categories or not, categories displayed or not, what about reference articles/pages. Standard WordPress navigation is not particularly optimal from a search engine or user point of view;
  • Adsense & Income: the no images next to the ads sentence killed the best design I’d come up with so far on this front;
  • User Comments & Participation: conversations with readers are one of the things I most enjoy about blogging;
  • Multimedia: there are hundreds of people all around the world who read The Big Chorizo and it’s so easy to do photos and videos these days so that readers can experience and/or remember Spain that bit more;
  • Subscriptions: to the RSS feed.

The Future

4 months or so after finishing the main parts of The Big Chorizo redesign and after tweaking a couple more things, I’m happy with the results. The way I know I’m satisfied is that I no longer have urges to change its design again to try something else.

My blogging challenge for the future is not one of style or design but one of regularity of posting: I’m currently the Managing Director of a brand new (6 months) small business that I’ve discovered takes a lot of effort. It’s a lot of fun and very rewarding but it has meant that The Big Chorizo has had to take a back seat twice this year for more than a month each time. Going from being self-employed to having a new limited company and employees to take care of is a responsibility I will never take lightly.

As from this month though, I slowly start to manage the company more than work in it and that will give me more time to blog at The Big Chorizo, on our company’s blog, which will be all about languages and communications and another more general catch-all blog I’ve started to get other things off my mind.

I would also like to start doing interviews, reference articles and maybe some podcasts about Spain.

5 thoughts on “How and Why I Customized the Performancing Modernpaper Theme

  1. Matthew, that looks much better and speedily implemented – the beauty of blogging, eh?

    Hadn’t thought about the hidden advantage of pmetrics but I still feel that the name of your site needs to be mentioned somewhere other than the links. I’m sure Sean could take care of that easily enough.

  2. Thanks Garri, that was nice of you. I agree with your ideas. Have a look now 🙂 Much more balanced.

    The public stats are from pmetrics and as far as I know I can’t change the logo. This might have a hidden advantage if I start to sell direct advertising though, as hopefully potential advertisers will know the statistics are not gamed in any way.

  3. Thanks for the kind word re: my design. It is, believe it or not, just a coloured in wireframe. I couldn’t think of a design! Having said that the new design will be similar – no logo!

    The Guardian ‘blogger’ is actually one of their main travel journos at their paper. It has provided extra motivation and focussed me to look at ways in which to improve.

    One of the things I like about your blog, and it’s choice of template, is the double column sidebar. Although it has lots of content it doesn’t seem too cluttered.

    That said, I feel the Review Me could occupy top right alongside the photos and video. If you made the boxes Flickr and You Tube uniform, then add a subtle light grey box around the Review Me I think it would look much tighter. Also, the Review Me is the last spot on right, offering a prominent ‘call to action’

    The Subscribe box could be placed underneath Review Me and still be prominent above the fold.

    Sorry, don’t meant to turn this into a design critique but couldn’t help myself 😉

    I notice you have your stats public. But the page is branded Performancing. I think it would be better if that branding was more discreet and the name of your blog is prominent. The way it is right now the page could be confusing to people.

    I think I’m going to stay clear from affiliate schemes and such – just carry on adding content and building our own system.

  4. Thanks for saying so Garri, although if people need design inspiration they would be far better off looking at your holidaypad blog – I can quite understand why The Guardian’s blogger chose to include you in his list!

    As far as affiliate programmes are concerned, I think they would have to be really targeted and I’m sure some people would say that amazon shops are just a question of traffic – 0,5% of 100 visitors a day (for example) is no-one and 0.5% of 10,000 visitors day is 50 but I think I will not wait to find out with astore. The other affiliate programme I have in mind – the online and real world Spanish courses – look to have much more suited to my readers interests and perhaps even needs.

  5. very inspiring read, thank you for sharing this. These are the exact same pontifications I go through for my site, with the exception of Adsense as I don’t run their ads (instead developed my own ad system, and others to come)

    I’ve been advised to run affiliate schemes, Amazon etc, but I can’t be bothered with what’ll be a whole load of work for potentially little gain, and besides, why look like every other tom, dick and harry running a travel blog – it’s not what my project is about.

    I am currently redesigning my site to make the home page tighter and work better. It’s too restricting, plus I want to start introducing some user interaction but in an interesting way. I also plan on featuring some travel blogs in the new format, so will add you to my RSS reader.

    You’ve got a great site with massive potential and I love the name of you blog and the sausage of course 😉

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