Sunday, January 22, 2017

Building a New Website, Part 2: Do It Yourself—Or Let the Experts Do It?

Leaping 6x8 oil
Another small painting available on my new website!

As I delved into researching the best way to handle an artist's website, I ran into the services that specialized in such.  I won't mention any names—they are readily found through an Internet search—but they did seem attractive.  For a monthly fee (cheaper if paid annually), it seemed you got it all: SEO, SSL, your own domain name, mailing list management, newsletter capability, design customization and so on.  What's not to love?

Yet I needed not just one domain name but several, since I own different domain names for different purposes.  When I looked at pricing, hosting all of these would have cost me much more than I was paying with my old website host.  Also, for the number of names I have in my mailing list—almost 2000 and growing—it would, again, have cost me more.  As for design, many of the template-built sites had a rather generic look to them.  Sure, they would gladly customize my site, but I didn't want to pay what they were asking.  Finally, if the host ever went out of business (and most do over time) or if I became unhappy with the service, I'd have to spend a great deal of money and effort to build the site from scratch elsewhere.  Because these "we do it all" hosts use proprietary means for building your site, there is rarely any convenient and inexpensive way to migrate from one host to another.

That was a lot of negatives.  Short of hiring a web designer to build something that met all my needs—an even more expensive option—there was only one other way.  I had to do it myself.

But this time I'd do it better.

Once I chose this path, I made two important decisions.  First, I wasn't going to use my old version of Dreamweaver, which is based on pre-21st Century code and concepts.  Updating a page was hard.  But worse and more important for an artist, managing images was a nightmare.  (Apparently, the idea of the media library hadn't been invented yet.)  Second, because a new version of Dreamweaver was prohibitively expensive for me, I decided to use WordPress as my platform.  I already had website hosting (www.fatcow.com) and it offered WordPress for free.

WordPress is usually thought of as blogging software.  In fact, that's how it got started in 2005.  But since then, it's evolved into a powerful way of building a website.  Initially, I was resistant to the idea of using it.  A few years ago, I was given the task of fixing a WordPress site that had been abandoned by its back-alley developer, and the group who owned it was desperate.  I spent a lot of time scratching my head, puzzling it out, but because the developer had customized the templates heavily, the job proved impossible.  From this experience, I thought every WordPress installation would be as difficult.

But the more I looked into WordPress, the more I discovered you didn't have to do any coding.  There were oodles of plug-ins available for just about everything you could possibly want to do.  Basically, WordPress uses templates to give your website a certain look-and-feel.  There are thousands of them.  In addition to this, there are plug-ins—again, thousands—that can modify the way your site looks and operates and also perform important functions such as SEO tuning, e-commerce and backups.

Several things sold me on the idea:

  • I'd have ownership of my WordPress installation, allowing me to migrate it to whatever host I wanted to, should the need arise.
  • Templates, so long as you didn't get into customization and hand-coding, are a snap to use.
  • WordPress has a basic media library, but I could get a plug-in to enhance it.
  • Finally, as I mentioned, WordPress is free and so are many of the plug-ins.

In my next post, I'll go into more detail of the options I chose, problems I ran into and the solutions I found.

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