Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Building a New Website, Part 3: How I Did Mine

Condor's Realm 9x12 oil/panel
Available on my new website!

The first thing I needed to was to make sure I had a template that looked good and allowed lots of choices for design.  Another requirement was that it worked with an e-commerce plug-in—and that plug-in itselff had to be easy to work with.  I really didn't want to have to go creating a PayPal button for every single painting I hoped to sell.  After a lot of research, I settled on the Divi theme and the Divi Builder from ElegantThemes.com.  Divi had many excellent reviews and, with the Divi Builder, allowed for a lot of options.  What's more, it worked with the WooCommerce plug-in, which also had great reviews.

By the way, you can find good reviews and bad reviews for just about anything.  Besides the mostly positive reviews, I chose Divi because it has a large user base and good technical support via a support forum.  If I have a problem, I hear back within a day and sometimes even within the hour from a tech person.  What's more, Elegant Themes designed their Divi module specifically to work with WooCommerce—so that's two companies working together to support my website.  (Divi is not free; I paid $80 for a year's subscription to it and for updates.  WooCommerce has a both  free and paid version.)

I found Divi to work as advertised.  I also like the "drag-and-drop" WYSIWYG Divi Builder plug-in, which allows you to edit right on the page.  The only problems I encountered with Divi were some formatting issues, but these were easily solved partly by reading the manual or contacting support.  As for WooCommerce, the plug-in is in place, configured and lightly tested.  The best way to test it is for someone to buy a painting.  (You can be the first!)

This is all well and good, but there is a lot happening in the background of my website that I need to share with you.  There are a number of plug-ins I find very useful.  Here they are, and why I use them.

Crucial Plug-ins

  • iThemes Security.  With over 25% of all websites being designed with WordPress, they are large targets for hackers.  There's nothing worse than having your site shut down because your hosting service has discovered malware in your code.  (This actually happened to me in my WordPress blog a couple of years ago.)  This plug-in does it all, from detecting invalid login attempts to checking for malware.  The free version is good, but the paid version has more features.  (As is the case with most reputable plug-ins.)
  • UpdraftPlus.  Never make changes to your site without having a backup—or several.  One small mistake on your part can make your whole site inoperable.  You might even have to install WordPress from scratch and start over!  (Yes, this happened to me, too.)  A good backup can save you an enormous amount of pain.  I configured UpdraftPlus to maintain five backup sets.  Again, the free version is good, but the paid version can do more.
  • W3 Total Cache.  This is important, especially if you are using shared hosting.  Google and other search engines will give you demerits for a slow site.  This plug-in will improve your site's speed.  Again, there are both free and paid versions.
  • Yoast SEO.  This plug-in helps optimize your pages for search engines.  (SEO stands for Search Engine Optimization.)  Keywords, sitemaps, readability—it helps with all of this.  You want people to find your site, don't you?  Free and paid versions.

Good-to-Have Plug-ins

  • Broken Link Checker.  Google will lower your rating if you have lots of broken links.
  • Enhanced Media Library PRO.  This allows bulk editing of image properties and allows custom categories.
  • EWWW Image Optimizer.  Optimizing your images will help with site performance.
  • Monarch Plug-in.  Social media plug-in for social share/social follow buttons.
  • Regenerate Thumbnails.  If you change your thumbnail size in your settings, you will need to regenerate the thumbnails.
  • WP Maintenance Mode.  If you're doing serious work on your site, putting up a custom page announcing "Down for Maintenance" will keep users from getting frustrated and search engines from getting "Page Not Found" errors.

As I mentioned, there are thousand of plug-ins.  But beware!  Plug-ins can be badly-written or have malicious code embedded.  Make sure you get your plug-ins from reputable sources.  The ones used above either came from the maker, such as Elegant Themes or WooCommerce; or were recommended by them.  I'd steer away from anything called "Bob's Pretty Good Darned Amazing Plug-in."

I'm sure some of you WordPress wizards will have other plug-ins to recommend or have your own favorites.  I'd love to hear from you in the comments if you do.

So, for now, this is where I am.  I spent two weeks (part-time) learning WordPress basics and designing my site.  Even as I write, I'm still making tweaks here and there.  But for the most part, the site is where I want it to be.

By the way, I'll be running my old site in parallel with the new one for some time.  I'd like to see how Google and other search engines treat them.

The new site is:  www.MChesleyJohnson.com  Take it for a spin and let me know what you think!

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