A Neophyte (Me) Develops a Website

My new website, http://www.TheresaHuppAuthor.com, has been live for a few weeks now. Regular readers might have noticed that I’m still tweaking things—the background, colors, etc. But I thought I would recap what I’ve learned as I developed this site.

My decision to develop my own website, rather than continue with my Story & History blog on WordPress.com, was only the first of many decisions. I knew I wanted a website built on WordPress.org (the WordPress platform for self-hosted sites), thinking that because I was familiar with WordPress.com, I could learn WordPress.org fairly easily. The decision to build my website on WordPress.org narrowed some other decisions, though the options were still legion.

I relied heavily on WPbeginner.com, which has many articles and videos that I found very helpful. Anyone wanting to build a website on WordPress.org should check this site out.

1. Which company will host my website?

There are countless hosting sites available these days. Some are free. Most cost a small amount each month—or more, if you want more options, such as backup service, greater online support, etc.

As I researched designing websites built on WordPress.org, I learned that WordPress recommends two hosting services—Bluehost and SiteGround. I was also familiar with GoDaddy through another organization I’m in. There are other comparable services, so do your own research and get recommendations from friends before you commit.

I compared the hosting services I knew of. In the end, I went with Bluehost, in part because they were offering a slight discount when I was ready to buy, and in part because they received excellent reviews for their customer service and support.

So far, I have had to consult the Bluehost technical support once. The Bluehost chat representative who helped me was reasonably prompt and quite courteous. I hope I don’t need them often, but I’m encouraged that my first experience was positive.

2. What theme will I use?

Once I set up my account through Bluehost and downloaded WordPress.org to my new site (yay! I have a website!), the next step was to select a theme that would aid in designing my site. Strictly speaking, this step is not necessary, and I could have designed everything from the ground up in WordPress. But, as the title of this post says, I am a neophyte. I wanted the comfort of a template to get me going.

I had researched many themes before I started, reading lists of “best themes for authors” and “best themes for small businesses” and the like. I had probably looked at demos on about thirty different themes. I decided I wanted a theme that supported both a static home page and a blog page. Most themes do, but I also wanted support for e-commerce and portfolio displays. I’m not planning to sell my books through my website now, but someday I might choose to. And I like the look of portfolio sites and thought I might showcase my book covers that way (though so far I have not used that option).

In the end, I elected to use the Vantage theme by SiteOrigin. My primary motivation was that SiteOrigin also developed the PageBuilder plug-in that WPBeginner said was the best free page design tool for WordPress.org.

So I downloaded the Vantage theme and PageBuilder, and blithely began to design my website. Vantage has a free version, and that’s what I’m using now. I might upgrade to the premium version in the future, but at the moment I am overwhelmed enough.

3. What pages do I want on my site?

I had given this some thought prior to actually building the site. I knew most of the pages I wanted, and I knew what content I wanted on each page, though I had not written the text yet. I wanted a welcome message on my home page, a blog page where I would import my posts from Story & History and continue writing new posts, a page for each of my novels, a bio, a contact page, and a few extras for readers and writers. I’d looked at many author websites, and those seemed to be the standard features.

So then I started designing. My ideas changed a bit as I worked. I came up with some new ideas. But having an overview in mind before I started was a big help.

4. How the heck do you use PageBuilder anyway?

I finally got the slider on my News & Events page to work!

PageBuilder was not as intuitive as I had expected. It operates with modules, and offers a wide variety of modules, including text blocks, image blocks, sliders (for slide shows), contact pages, social media links, action buttons, and others. But which modules work best for which purposes?

I spent a couple of weeks experimenting. And countless minutes during those weeks going back and forth between one menu and the next trying to find what I wanted.

I never did get the masthead built the way I envisioned, and ended up creating the image I wanted in Canva, then loading it into a header widget. (If that last sentence doesn’t make sense to you, don’t worry about it.)

What that slider looks like in PageBuilder

Over those two weeks, I felt I learned PageBuilder pretty well. I learned to design my rows, put in spacers where I wanted them, add the text and image widgets I wanted, and move the widgets around until the pages looked close to what I wanted.

5. How do I import my blog?

I found instructions for how to move a WordPress.com blog to WordPress.org, and I followed the instructions. But nothing happened.

I tried again. Again, nothing happened.

Then I found instructions for how to make sure that my WordPress.org taxonomy (how posts are named) matched the post names on my WordPress.com blog. I changed my taxonomy, and tried again. About twenty of my 500 posts transferred. I tried again. About twenty more transferred.

And so on. Finally, I had all my posts on the new website.

I asked the WPBeginner people if this was common, and I was told that if the blog is big and has lots of photos or other attachments, then, yes, it can take a long time to import everything

6. Will I keep my subscribers?

I think the answer to this is yes, but I can’t honestly be sure. All the old subscribers show up in my WordPress statistics, but I can’t be sure what readers are seeing. My regular readers seem to have found the new site, but some people who used to comment on the WordPress.com blog do not seem to have followed me.

In addition, the new site no longer ranks as high on Google searches as my old blog did. I think Google must give priority in their rankings to WordPress.com—a priority my humble domain TheresaHuppAuthor.com doesn’t receive. I’ve noticed that some of my posts linked to Google+ do show up on the first page of search results, and clicking on those does get me to the new website.

I’m still linking to social media sites, so over time, I hope people will find me and that this issue becomes minimal.

7. How do I upload new posts?

I launched the website on a Wednesday. I had until Monday to write and upload my next scheduled post. I draft my posts in Scrivener, then copy and paste to the site.

I’ve found that blogging on WordPress.org is a lot like blogging on WordPress.com was five years ago when I started. I’m familiar with how it works, but WordPress.com is much more intuitive now, and I’ve had to remember my old checklists and where things are located, to make sure I get a post ready for publication—categorizing the post, adding tags, scheduling the post for the right day and time, etc.

And I wasn’t sure how to use featured images. I’d never bothered with those in on my blog—I’d just let WordPress.com decide what image to feature. But I didn’t want my website masthead showing up as the featured image all the time, so I now have to specify another image. Which puts that image at the top of the post. Which means that readers will be seeing a lot more large images at the top of my posts in the future.

8. What don’t I know?

There are things I know I don’t know, and there are things I don’t know I don’t know. In the former category, are the following:

  • Everything to do with the hosting service—cPanel and FTP and PHP—acronyms that I can’t even translate.
  • Whether and how to use email on the server or continue to link with my Gmail account.
  • What ongoing maintenance I will need to do.
  • What the best way to back up the site is—I am backing it up regularly, but is it worth it to pay for a backup service?
  • What additional functionality should I add with plug-ins and widgets?
  • What could I do with e-commerce that would be as easy and profitable as Amazon’s online fulfillment and royalty payments?

In the latter category—what I don’t know I don’t know—you’ll have to tell me.

This has not been an easy process, and I’m not totally satisfied with the result at this point. I’m open to suggestions.

Readers, what changes to my website would you like to see? Please leave a comment or contact me. Nothing is too small to suggest—fonts, layout, whatever you’d like to see me do differently.

Posted in Technology, Writing and tagged , , , , , , .

6 Comments

  1. Oh my gosh, I’m right there with you. I started my author site: http://www.irenefrancesolson.com two weeks ago and I’m struggling to add whistles and bells and/or tweak it to kingdom come. I’m using SiteGround as my web host and I purchased a theme from Themify.me. Like I said, however, I’m tweaking it. Haven’t set up the call to action (e.g. sign up for newsletter) and of course because I don’t yet have a book cover and my book isn’t yet available, I haven’t set up the buttons for people to purchase it … but like you, I’ll get there … eventually. I like what you’ve done so far!

  2. Theresa, you might want to find a photo that’s more in focus. The one you have is a good shot, but the bit of out of focus doesn’t go as well with the new clean look as you might want it to. Just a thought.

  3. One more thought if you become too frustrated with this (although I also know you’ll find your way through). My site on WordPress.com is in my name. I did that by buying the site name (my name) from Bluehost and migrating it to the WordPress site.

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