In a past post, I talked a bit about the progression of this blog and website from a simple WordPress.com blog to what you see now.
I thought I would backtrack a bit and talk about the different stages this website went through because so many of my clients, colleagues, fellow bloggers and friends inquire about WordPress and how it works.
Essentially, I’ve used (or considered using) WordPress in 4 different ways. Each way was a progression for me, but some people may find just one option that works just fine for them.
WordPress.com: The Free Version
When I started my personal blog, I used WordPress.com. I wasn’t sure where I was going with it, so I decided to go the free route. I chose the WordPress platform because I was using it for a business blog and was familiar with it. I liked the interface and preferred the look of WordPress blogs over other platforms, like Blogger. (Blogger is getting better, but I still find their design to be less professional looking than WordPress.)
With WordPress.com, you choose a blog address, username and password, and you have a blog in seconds. Choose from one of their free themes, upload a header (or not), fill out some basic information, and you’re in business. You don’t have to deal with any hosting or domain fees because it’s all hosted on WordPress.com. You can use it strictly as a blog or add some pages and use it more like a website with a news section. There are premium options available if you want to pay for a custom design or domain name, but it seems like if you’re going to pay for the extras, you should probably move on to the self-hosted option.
WordPress.org: Self-Hosted Using a Free Theme
While WordPress.org itself is free, you have to pay for a domain name (e.g., anotherjennifer.com) and hosting for your website and/or blog. WordPress can give you options for this, or you can find your own hosting and domain companies. (There are plenty to choose from!) In this option, you are using WordPress as the web software to create and manage your site. While WordPress.com is designed mainly for free blogs, WordPress.org gives you a platform for a more robust website. And your content is on your own hosting that you control and not WordPress.com.
Besides using your own hosting and domain, WordPress.org gives you access to thousands of plugins and themes to make your site look great. There are simply more options and functionality here than with WordPress.com. There are, literally, thousands of developers out there who create themes and plugins for this open source platform, which keeps it free and easy. For the previous version of anotherjennifer.com, I used the free mono-lab theme and some key plugins to give it the functionality I needed. This option worked well for me because I didn’t have the budget to hire a website designer for a custom site, and I didn’t see the need to purchase a premium theme…yet.
WordPress.org: Self-Hosted Using a Premium Theme
At some point, I realized that my website/blog setup was just not working for me. It did the job for a while, but it really bugged me that I didn’t have a proper home page. With many of the free WordPress.org themes, all of the pages look the same. There’s no pretty landing page for people to visit. I created a page, called it “home” and then set it as the static page to display as the front (or home) page. This might suffice for some people, and it did for me for a while, but it just didn’t bring together my blog and writing lab business the way I wanted it to. I also found myself reliant on a number of plugins for functionality, such as a contact form, social media sharing and blog subscription options. Plugins are great, but if they are not updated or don’t work the way you want them to, they can really mess with your site.
To combat this landing page problem and other functionality short-comings of the free themes, there are a ton of premium themes out there available for purchase. Many of these themes are great right out of the box (so to speak) and are fairly affordable, $70 – $100 or so. There are lots of color and layout options. Many come with mobile versions, search engine optimization (SEO), contact and subscription forms, social media widgets, and other options built right into them. A few premium WordPress themes that have caught my eye include WooThemes, ElegantThemes and StudioPress. The cool part is that many offer specific themes for specific industries and professions – real estate, authors, consultants, etc.
WordPress.org: Hiring a Web Developer to Custom Design Your Premium Theme
The above option of using a premium theme is an affordable way to maintain a great-looking blog or website. My problem with this option was that I had a hard time choosing one theme that I liked. When I narrowed it down to Studiopress, I found that I liked certain elements from different themes. And even then, I really hated some of the design elements in them, like the colors or patterns. It’s important to note here that everything in WordPress can be completely custom-designed using just about any template. There is an option to purchase a developer’s package, where you have access to all of the themes. This is a nice option if you know what you are doing. Again, I can get pretty technical, but I am not a developer. Not knowing how to approach my new design, I started talking to web designers.
Luckily, I know quite a few people and companies that provide website design here in Maine. After talking with a few people, I finally found someone who I felt comfortable working with. And this is the key, if you’re going to work with a web developer, you want to make sure they understand your vision. (You should also have a vision. That’s a whole other post.) I told them exactly what elements I wanted in the design, and they were able to make it happen. Period. There’s no way I could have designed the home page of this website without them. And, in my opinion, if you want a functional website, it’s totally worth the investment to hire someone.
If you still have no idea what I’m talking about, shoot me an email. All of this can be confusing and overwhelming. I can help get you where you need to go.