If you are interested in designing and publishing you own website you may find the following useful.
You should know that when I was in college, back in the 1980’s, I did study programming. I learned a number of computer languages and wrote some small programs. I had a Commodore 64 and I did write some ‘machine language’ programs for it. I tell you this so you will know that I do have a basic understanding of computers. However, I’m not a professional programmer.
I have been writing, mostly short stories and essays, for a number of years. When I retired I decided to publish some of my writing in a blog on the Internet. I tried WordPress.com and discovered that I wanted to have more control. So I took a class at the local community college on how to use WordPress.org. In addition, I was ‘volunteered’ into being the liaison between my church and the website designer/publisher for our church. That provided some experience in website management and a bit about design. Let’s say I had a small inkling about what I was getting into. Let’s say a ‘very small inkling’… 🙂
The first thing you should know is that this is very time consuming. It also requires monthly maintenance at a minimum. Daily maintenance is best. So, plan to put some time into this.
I remember being surprised at the number of “free” software tools available. Yes, they are free. However, they would prefer you to buy the support they offer. Also, the price of entry is low. The price of continuing can get expensive. Your domain and the company that provides the servers for your site are also priced low to start. Make sure you know what the price of renewing your contract will be.
My original problem with WordPress.com was the advertising. They put the ads in rather disruptive places. And I did not like the content of some of the ads. But there was a second problem: the menu. So, when I moved to WordPress.org, I searched for themes that had a menu system that met my needs. I liked Cryout Creations themes. Their menu systems on some of their themes worked rather nicely.
There’s a true “learning curve” in the design and implementation of a website. First there’s WordPress. They do things in specific ways. Then there’s the theme. That modifies what WordPress does. And then there’s additional software tools called “Plug-Ins” and “Widgets”. Finally, there’s your vision for your website. And you, as the designer, must merge all of these things.
Let me back up a moment: WordPress is one of a number of “Content Management Systems”. There’s Joomla! which is used by the company that designed and manages my church’s website. There’s Wix, which a friend uses for her website. And Go Daddy, etc. Then there’s the company that you buy your Domain from. And another company that hosts your website. I bought my domain from NameCheap. I use SiteGround as the host. The “host” is the company that owns the computers (servers) where my website is physically located. So, a website owner/designer must work with a number of companies: I just mentioned three. I already mentioned the company that supplies the Theme. And then there’s all the Plug-Ins & Widgets. It can get a bit complex.
On top of all that, there the fact that many of these companies are based in the “world” and not in a specific country. Or…they are headquartered in a specific country but have “outposts” all over the world. Some companies let you pay in dollars. Others want euros. Fortunately, the credit card companies will do the exchange rate for you. And I begin to understand why those who “live on the Internet” are more likely to use bit coin. We are becoming “one world”.
Or you can do what a friend does: he set up a very basic blog site on WordPress.com. And all he does is post (publish) his writing. Just the essays he has written. No pictures. No menu. Just the text he has written. WordPress puts the most recent post at the ‘top’ of the page. Visitors to his website must scroll down through all the posts to see what he has written.
I did not want to do that. I’ve got a decent amount of content. It’s varied. If you want to find it again, I want you to be able to do that. Besides, I want the framework that surrounds my writing to enhance what I’ve written. Just as the color, shape, material and thickness of a frame enhances a photograph, the website enhances (or detracts) from the content of the site.
The Cryout Creations themes were not the first ones I tried. I checked out a number of themes from a number of companies. The themes from Cryout Creations looked decent. I really had no idea how to judge that. But I was happy with the appearance of my website. In addition, they offered the basic theme for free. That way I could test it before I had to purchase it. And instead of purchasing the theme, they sell their support of the theme. Many companies do it that way. But not all. Again, make sure you know what you are buying.
I have mentioned WordPress, NameCheap, SiteGround, Cryout Creations and other companies. The ones I chose were chosen for a variety of personal reasons. The best choice for you is the one that meets your needs. Unfortunately, that can be difficult to define. That definition includes who your audience is, the nature of your topic(s), the amount of time you have to devote to managing a website, and all sorts of personal preferences. I mention the companies I chose because they have been, for me, good choices. But I took a lot of time to research and test, read reviews, et cetera.
There were other reasons for leaving WordPress.com. One was that I wanted my own domain name. At that time I could only get “my-site.wordpress.com” and I wanted to be independent. What I did not realize until I started the process was that picking a domain name can be difficult. I wanted a name that reflected the intentions of my website. That part was relatively easy. The confusion came when I was faced with picking a “TLD”. This is the “Top Level Domain”. Every URL has one. They are the “.com” or “.org” or “.game” or “.eu” that follows the actual name of the domain. You can pay a lot for a TLD. Some of them are very, very cheap for the first year. Make sure you know what the renewal price will be.
There are good reasons for using WordPress.com. One of them is support. They have a team that can guide you through the rough spots. Also, you mostly deal with them. At WordPress.org there is a forum. But you have to know what you are doing. Support comes from the WordPress forum. And the companies that supply the themes and plug-ins also provide support. Most of the free support comes after they take care of their paying customers. So it may take a while. I’ve learned that it is best to study the documentation. But even then I sometimes cannot see the forest for the trees.
After about two years of posting my writing I discovered that the theme I was using no longer worked properly with small screens like smartphones. This was due to a change WordPress made in how their system functions. Cryout Creations said they were working on the problem. However, I realized that I actually needed to update the look of my website. So I decided to look for a more modern theme, both in function and style. The remodel of my website took about 10 weeks. I could have continued working on it, but it was functional. Besides, I really was not in this for “best design of a website” contest. I wanted to write.
One of the first things I did was create a new subdomain. I used this subdomain to test the themes I thought might be worth trying. The testing subdomain let me test how it worked without disrupting my main site. And I discovered problems with many of the themes. Most of these problems were related to the fact that I had no idea what I was doing. I did not know what I wanted my website to look like. I did know what I did not want. This extended the time I spent searching for a theme. In the end, however, it paid off. I found a great theme.
Unfortunately, I was well into the customizing process when I discovered that the menu system was not working properly on larger screens like computer monitors. Now, most people will be reading my stories using a tablet or phone, so it might not be a big deal. Still, I wanted it to be ‘perfect’ and so I sought another theme. This is where the real fun begins. The theme I really liked was a Cryout Creations theme. Some of their themes are similar, with some style changes. One of them looked like it would work, a least as far as the menu is concerned. Now, a ‘professional’ website developer would have (most likely) noticed something in the demo version of my new/latest theme selection that I completely missed. The Home Page had a style/look & feel about it that was not to my taste. But I thought it was something that I could change. I spent hours looking for a way to “fix” this problem. I asked about the “problem” on the Cryout Creations forum. No answers. When I went back to the demo version to see how it worked there I discovered that this “bug” was, in fact, a “feature” of the theme! Oh! No! I just wasted hours!
Here’s the thing: the theme developers are seeking to meet the needs of all sorts of website development. But they can’t imagine every possible situation. What I was doing with my menu was “outside the box” so to speak. The menu system is ‘owned’ by WordPress.org and the theme just implements the look and feel of the menu. If I were to study the code I could probably write something that would do exactly what I want. But that means creating a “plug-in” for myself. And that means making sure that whatever WordPress.org does, it doesn’t mess up my self-written plug-in. Therefore, I redesigned the way I wanted the menu to work. In the end, I really do like the way my menu system works. The “Table of Contents” in the sidebar on most pages is, I hope, very useful.
This is a continuing document. I will return to it frequently to add more to the story.