30 June 2017
Regular readers might have noticed that they are reading this latest blog post in a slightly different environment. No, you haven’t landed on someone else’s website, it is still me. I have just changed the way my website is managed and designed. I have transferred my website to WordPress. I have joined millions of others and left the good-old days of drag-and-drop and easy designing and joined a much bigger and more complex world.
Why? You might be wondering why on earth I moved. My website was perfectly fine and functioning after all. The main reason for my move is my increased blogging activity. I am enjoying writing about art and wanted more functionality and features for my blog. In the front room (my website) and in the backroom (the admin behind the scenes) WordPress just offers so much more. It makes it much easier to manage a blog. Also, simple little extra’s like a ‘Search’ button (top right!) and ‘More on this Topic’ (bottom of each post) are very simple to add. I am hoping that you will find these features useful.
Sink or Swim
So after a bit of research I took the plunge. ….And I sank. Well, at first. But with the help of the guru’s at my hosting company I was pulled out and in the end ready to go. My site was transferred successfully. Unfortunately the format of my old (Weebly) site was completely different to what WordPress uses, so I had to tidy up each of my 100 blog post. Dates, images, even comments were transferred wrongly. It took a few long nights to put it all right again. My blog is now sort-of working fine, but if you browse around my site you will see that some bits and pieces still need looking at. No doubt I will keep working on it for a long time to come.
According to Wikipedia “more than 23.3% of the top 10 million websites now use WordPress. As of February 2017, WordPress is used by 58.7% of all the websites whose content management system we know.” Wow, those are impressive stats indeed.
So I asked around online about WordPress. Why is WordPress so good, what does it offer that other website builders do not offer? I must admit I did not get many answers. A very popular answer was ‘If you take your blogging seriously, you go to WordPress’. Nobody could tell me why. I imagine the reason for this lack of info was that many people on WordPress have always been on WordPress. And they clearly love it. But they cannot make the comparison with other web builders.
I downloaded the software and started playing with a dummy site (that dummy site, by the way, was the reason for my ‘sinking’ as I tried and failed to transfer that to my live site). I liked it, and in the end went for the real thing.
What’s all the Fuss about?
So I thought I would write, in between editing my site, a blog post answering my own question. What does WordPress do that Weebly/Wix/Joomla can’t? Who knows, there might be others out there who currently have their websites with Wix, Weebly, Squarespace, Joomla etc, and are wondering what all the fuss around WordPress is about.
I have had my website on Weebly for years. I have tried Moonfruit for a while. I have had trials with all the others as I like to compare and see what they offer. In the olden days I wrote some basic HTML in Notepad and uploaded it via FTP. I know a little bit about web building, but I found out this weekend that I do not know as much as I thought I did. I really did need those guys at the hosting company to help me out a little.
Stay out of the Kitchen
And that brings me to one of the main differences between WordPress (self hosted) and web builders (hosted). With WordPress you have access to all the nitty-gritty in the engine room. The files and folders of your website. The databases and style guides. The lot. It is all accessible via your control panel when you log into your hosting account. That is also where you can get seriously lost and mess things up. Unless you know what you are doing, stay out of the kitchen!
A hosted web builder like Weebly hosts your website for you (so you don’t need a hosting package from somewhere) and you do not get access to the kitchen. Weebly’s kitchen produces a wonderful-looking What-You-See-Is-What-You-Get (WYSIWYG) web building service and however you drag your pictures and paragraphs around, it all gets beautifully translated and put onto your website. No messing around with files, folders or codes; its all done for you.
The website builders of Weebly, Wix and Squarespace and the likes are super-easy to use. You see what you are doing and when you are happy you publish it to the web.
Limitations of Hosted Services
But I ran into its limitations. As I described before I found the blogging features of Weebly lacking. There is usually only a limited number of templates and often they all look alike. Within the templates you are often allowed to change the coding, so if you know some coding you can change things a little. But many don’t want to go there and it is not made obvious where and how to do this. Often there are features that are nice but only come in a premium package: sliders, fancy slideshows, video integration etc. A Weebly site does not get backed up anywhere and there is no way you can see a clear list of all your pages and posts. Blog categories and tags have limited functionality. I am sure others have found other limitations.
With WordPress the world is your oyster. Whatever you want, it is possible. You have access to all files and coding so you can basically write your website from scratch if you wanted to. But you don’t. No worries, there are tens of thousands of templates out there. Some are free, some cost a fortune, most are in between. If your chosen template doesn’t have everything you need, there will be a plugin (extra bit of software) for it which you can install with a simple click of a button. WordPress is a bit like a buffet: you choose your template and then you add bits and pieces as and when you like it.
The admin side of WordPress is its strongest feature for me and something Weebly for example, hardly offers. In WordPress you have a clear list of pages, blog posts, categories and tags, there is an image library (although that is not organised in folders so will soon descent into chaos) and a tab for seeing and managing all blog post comments. You can integrate Google Analytics and see this in another tab. Everything is neatly contained within one dashboard. This is all really very useful. With a few clicks you can attach tags to multiple blog posts. You can oversee the page structure of your site, your menus, etc.
But WordPress has its downsides too. The templates are great but perhaps none of them do what you want them to do. Adjusting the template is hard (coding required!) so all you can do is find a very flexible template with lots of options, or add plugins. If you don’t like the font, most templates won’t let you change it. If you don’t like the image gallery, you will need a plugin with an image gallery that you do like. If you want a slider on your homepage as well as your portfolio page and that is not the default template setting, you’d need to come up with some code that mere mortals usually have no knowledge of. So although WordPress offers an awful lot, sometimes it seems hard to get access to it all, as you are initially limited by your template (or theme, as they call it there).
WordPress is also a lot less intuitive than the WYSIWYG builders like Weebly and Wix. It feels old-fashioned and clunky to have to write your text, add an image in a separate box and then click ‘preview’ or ‘publish’ in order to see how picture and text will work together when it is live. I am sure I’ll get used to this ‘feature’ though. That said I still haven’t found out how to design a paragraph with an image in such a way that the next paragraph stays separate (do I have to go back to ‘tables’, surely not?).
So in a nutshell, what are the advantages of WordPress over hosted web builders?
- More options, and effects
- More security
- More templates
- Much better admin
- Large integration of many other widely used systems such as mailing list providers, spam protection, analytics, ad integrations etc
(I’ve been playing with it for a few weeks now so might well change my mind)
- Complicated and difficult to adjust templates
- Looking for the perfect template is like looking for a…
- Looking for the perfect plugin is like looking for a….
- Knowledge of some coding would be useful
- No WYSIWYG builder
- Any artist will end up with a HUGE image library that has no folders….(who knows, there might be a plugin for that as well)
- Besides the cost of a hosting package you might end up spending money on a template and plugins.
Hosted builders Pros
- Easy! to use
- WYSIWYG builder
- Large variety of options to design a page, a paragraph, you can add elements wherever you like.
- No worries about coding, folders, or other ‘backroom’ stuff, maintenance and speed.
Hosted builders Cons
- Limited templates, limited added features
- No backing up of site, it sits on their servers, you don’t have access.
- Limited admin
- No image library (you have to upload an image every time you want to use it)
- Limited integration of other services (mailing list, spam, advertisements etc)
- Potentially costly
So there you go. My experiences in a nutshell.
I went for WordPress (for now) as I want the added features and freedom provided for my blog. I am still struggling with finding the perfect way to show off my paintings. Image gallery plugins are often very simple and limited and portfolio pages are aimed at designers who work in projects. But, my learning curve never stops and I am sure I have lots and lots to learn.
Which is Better?
What is better, Weebly/Wix/etc or WordPress? Can’t answer that. It depends on what you want. I think I would stay with the hosted builders until you think you need something more. Why make life more complicated unless you need to. If you are not after anything complex most templates are perfectly fine whether you use WordPress or a hosted service.
Do let me know what you think of my site (bear in mind it is not finished yet) and whether it loads quickly (unless you are on dialup!) and how you like using the blog. Comments below!
(PS: in between IT issues, I am reading about Holbein – art history is never far away.)
Header image: Hans Holbein, Portrait of Erasmus, first quarter of the 16th century, Louvre