This is my first blog post at my new website, and I have a few thoughts about setting up this site and using WordPress themes.
I’m not a novice when it comes to website design. I created my first websites beginning in 1996. It was a simpler time. I did straight HTML coding that I taught myself. When CSS came out, I learned enough to get by. Ten years ago, I shut those old sites down, and I haven’t created a new independently hosted website since that time.
I switched to WordPress.com and created several sites and blogs on that platform over the past ten years. It was easy. It cost about $100.00 a year to get rid of ads and use my own domain name. Wordpess.com has some nice features, but it also has a lot of limitations. It seemed like every time I wanted to make a little change; it was impossible.
The price difference between a domain on WordPress.com and an independently hosted site using the same, but better WordPress.org content management system is negligible. Depending on the hosting package, it can even cost less than WordPress.com.
It’s been a fun experience putting this site together and learning new tricks. I appreciate no longer having the annoyances I had on WordPress.com. I’m happy to share what I’ve learned.
Domain name choices and registration.
I decided to use my own name, so that made choosing a domain name easy. A lot of women share my name, so I was lucky the domain name was available. If it had been taken, there were several options available. A lot of writers use “writer” in their domain names. I like the .com domain name suffix, but there are other possibilities out there including: .net .org .name .info .me
When I had my first sites back in 1996, I changed hosts multiple times and always felt a bit frustrated by the process. This time I decided to manage my domain separately from my host. I registered my domains with Google Domains, and it was quick and easy to set up my new domain. I only had to fill in a few fields at my domain registration panel to get my sites up and running on my web host’s servers. The annual fee to register the domain name is $12.00.
Selecting a web host
I looked at what various hosts had to offer and selected A2 Hosting. Why? I saw Blue Host referenced by others so frequently; I had to question what they were offering besides a robust affiliate program. Sure enough, there was a teaser rate, and when you added up all the add-ons or selected the WordPress hosting, it cost $20.00 a month – five times more than their teaser $3.95 rate. They also seem to have all kinds of limitations on the transfer rates, storage, and the number of domains that were included in their WordPress packages.
A2 Hosting offers many types of hosting. They also have low basic rates, but their WordPress hosting packages offer more and cost less than Blue Host. I selected the Turbo package which is an optimized version of WordPress with a faster load speed. It’s less than $20.00 a month, and it has many fewer limitations than Blue Host. What’s more, for the first year, it’s half price. The package offers:
- Unlimited Websites
- Unlimited Databases
- Unlimited Storage
- Unlimited Transfer
- cPanel Control Panel
- Free SSL & SSD
- Turbo (Up To 20X Faster)
- A2 Site Accelerator
- Anytime Money Back Guarantee
I like the idea of being able to have unlimited websites. I set up a site for a family member at no extra cost, and now we share the annual fee. I went with the turbo package because it’s a better deal. There’s nothing worse than a slow site. However, their mid-level package “Swift” is also a good bargain, and at less than $65.00 for the first year, it is less than Wordpess.com and much less than the starter package at Blue Host.
A2 Hosting’s customer service has been fantastic. They helped me get everything set up quickly whether I reached out to them via email, phone or chat. They are hands-down the best host I’ve ever dealt with, and I have over 20 years of experience with web hosts.
It’s essential to set up your site with the SSL option. Some hosts make you pay extra for it. But to keep your site secure, you need to be able to set it up with that https:// setting. Websites can get infected malware if they’re not set up with full security settings, so I appreciated that A2 Hosting included that in their hosting package.
Selecting a WordPress Theme
First, working with a premium WordPress theme produces a much better result than the free ones. The free themes are not necessarily secure, and they’re not usually updated, so I didn’t consider any free theme options.
I’m very happy with this site’s design. But this wasn’t the first theme I bought. I bought and struggled with another theme before realizing it simply didn’t meet my needs. I wasted both time and money because once you pay for a theme, there’s no refund even if you promise you won’t use it.
ThemeForest offers some amazing WordPress Themes. They come with demos that are essentially ready-made sites. All you have to do is change a few graphics, delete the sample posts, write your posts and you have a great looking site/blog. A lot of themes come with support videos and forums.
Here are some tips for choosing a WordPress theme.
1. Read the details for each theme. How many sales have there been? The number of sales indicates the number of users. To be on the safe side, especially if you’re doing this for the first time, pick a theme that has over 5,000 sales and is in version 3 or higher. Theme designers respond to user requests and make their themes better each time they make revisions. If a theme that is 3-5 years old and is in version 4 or 5 shows, that proves the designer is committed to the theme and will continue to provide you with updates in the years to come. Website designs go stale over time. When a designer offers new features and new demos, that will keep your site looking modern. A theme in version 1.0 with 5 sales may be great, or it could be a total disaster and the designer might not be around in one year, let a lone three years. Are you willing to risk $29-$79.00 to find out what kind of support your theme will get?
2. Why do prices vary so much? It depends on the plug-ins that are included. A $29.00 theme may have a scaled-down version of the plug-ins you need, and you’ll need to pay full price if you want the full version with updates. $59.00 is a reasonable amount to pay for a premium theme and will include full versions of plug-ins.
3. Pick a theme with a demo you like. It will be quicker. Are you fussy about small details? The theme I originally used offered me the ability to change the font and sizes. But there was too much customization. I had to decide on the font height and size for each header and each platform. Then I had to check on my phone and on a tablet to make sure I selected the size correctly. My current theme has just the right level of customization and made changing fonts a lot easier.
4. Understand the limitations of a theme. Be certain you understand there may be only 4 header options on a post while there may be 22 options for the home page.
As a writer, the options for posts may be more important than the options for the front page layout. Look at the options for individual posts. Will you want to include video, audio, slideshows, lists, links, or recipes in your post? Do they offer those types of options? Most magazine/blog themes do offer these features. You can also get plug-ins for certain types of posts if it’s not included in the theme. There’s a ton of flexibility with WordPress, but it’s not unlimited. The easiest approach is to get a theme that gives you the post options you want for the writing you’ll be including at your site.
5. Preview! Log on to the live previews for each theme and play with the design options until you’re really certain it will do what you want. I didn’t like the themes designed specifically for writers and authors. They seemed less flexible, had few layout options, they weren’t the most modern in style. Most had less than 5,000 in sales, and there were fewer reviews. I didn’t see a single one that I loved.
6. Select a theme from the magazine/blog category. I made my selection from the magazine/blog category and looked for themes that were clean and responsive. There were several good options in that category. This site was created from the Soledad theme. Look at the typography page for each theme and consider the readability of those pages. You can change the font and font size, but everything will scale when you do according to how that typography page is set out. It’s nice to have the option to customize but it can be time-consuming. It’s easier if you select a theme that has good typography settings in the basic design.
7. Multi-purpose themes are another great option. There are many multi-purpose themes. Make sure you look closely at the blog pages included with them. Some have terrific homepage layouts and page layouts, but they have limited blog post and blog layout options. As a writer, you’re going to want to use the blog option, make sure you love it.
8. Design your site right away, don’t wait. Premium themes from ThemeForest come with six months support, so set up the theme when you purchase it to take full advantage of the support time. You can get support for a longer period of time if you pay an additional fee. My theme designer has gone so far as to log onto my site and make the changes I requested. Support like that is worth more than the $59.00 I paid for my theme.
1. Font size. Most sites use fonts that are too small and make it difficult to read large amounts of text. This font is set at 16px with the Montserrat font. It’s easy on eyes. If you want your website to look clean, modern, and be readable, do a little research. Here’s a great article on web typography I recommend.
2. Use white space. Break up your text.
3. Consider using columns, graphics, and dividers as a way to break up text to make it easier to read. Don’t go overboard, make sure the page is easy to read on a phone.
You’re probably going to find you need or want a graphics program to filter and fix your photos and create title graphics. You may also want to add a favicon – that little graphic that appears on the browser tab and bookmarks.
Adobe offers Photoshop and LightRoom with a yearly subscription rate through Adobe or Amazon.
I signed up for the Photoshop and LightRoom bundle which includes a program called Spark which easily creates all kinds of social media and blog graphics. I found it easier to learn and use than Canva. The paid version of Canva costs more and doesn’t offer everything the Adobe graphics programs can deliver.
If you don’t know how to use a graphics program, you can take courses at Skillshare and Udemy on how to create graphics for your website. There are many websites offering tutorials on both Photoshop and LightRoom.
I already had the Adobe Photoshop and LightRoom package before I started this site, so I used it to create my title logo. It’s simple; it’s just my name in the Montserrat font with a drop shadow effect. My design aesthetic for this site is minimalist, so it was easy to create.
I’ve had a presence on Medium.com for over two years. It’s nice to have my work included there and to take advantage of the built-in audience. There’s a readership and a fellowship with other writers that’s unmatched by any other site.
However, Medium doesn’t offer a way for me to create my own site and define my presence on the internet the way a website does. Maybe it will provide more options in the future, or perhaps it will pass away the way so many other sites have over the years. No matter what happens, I will always have this site.