The meetup last night was primarily for newcomers. Most talk was around the use of WordPress.com as an initial way to get online quickly, easily and for little cost.
In many cases, for bloggers and home businesses with limited funds who what a quick online presence, using http://www.wordpress.com is the best place to start providing a superb growth path few others (like blogger, tumblr, weebly etc) can match. These avoid issues around sorting out hosting, security, backups, upkeep or even talking with designers or developers. The core systems are free, but you really need to add a few paid-for items, especially if it’s for business use and you want it on your own domain name, otherwise the base site will always be http://yourname.wordpress.com
A WordPress.com site is a good, zero risk way to learn the ropes of WordPress, at your leisure. The total budget for business use will vary from $100-$800, dependent upon how much you can do yourself or if you need a few hours or a day of tech help from me. WordPress and thousands of other sites provide some good online training. For WordPress.com sites, I’d start at http://learn.wordpress.com/
Later, if you want to go upmarket and add in plugins and way more features, it’s not hard for me to migrate this site to a local host server and have me enhance it further. But there is a sizable cost to do this. WordPress staff can do this for a large US$500/mth subscription, but we can often do the same thing for under half this cost. And running WordPress on our own servers, means there’s not only loads more themes available, but we can also build you your own 100% unique theme, from a designers file and start to do more around the SEO side, meaning more search traffic to your site.
This perhaps is the big difference with wordpress.com which is run by wordpress on their US servers, and where a developer like me builds a wordpress site on our own local host server. The WordPress.com option, being of minimal cost, does NOT allow you to add plugins or extra features aside from what’s offered under the store tab, shown right. Their US$99/yr upgrade package, plus the cost of purchasing a domain name is a good start.
If your budget is really tight and the site is perhaps just for a family reunion or community event, then the US$13 add a domain option could do the job. But any domain name you purchase via wordpress.com can only be the US ones like .com, .net, .me, .org etc. NZ domains names need to be done manually and a bit trickier. We can help you with this for $95 plus the domain name cost using freeparking or similar.
N.B. With wordpress.com there’s no fancy sliders or galleries, advanced webforms, user management or profiles, membership features, special SEO work etc. But, in the early days, you likely don’t need any of this. It can come later, when you need or can afford it.
Affordable Blog + Shopping Cart combo
A shopping cart is now a possibility if you signup for the US$299/yr WordPress.com business plan option. You can add in a Shopify cart, which we love, although the Shopify monthly subscription is additional. But note not everyone is comfortable setting up a shopping cart. There’s lots of industry ‘tricks’ that are not obvious to newcomers – Tricks that can make a huge difference in site traffic and sales results. Make sure you read all the tutorials, but keep your expectations low. Building a successful, high traffic online store takes lots of time, effort and know-how. Call us if you get into trouble.
The reason I like this combo is the incredible upgrade path available. It’s very low risk. So often I hear of people having to start again when they start out cheap. But here we can easily migrate both the WordPress.com and/or the Shopify cart side to your own higher speed, fully branded, locally hosted system, if it’s ever needed.
Remember, all the free sites generated on WordPress.com are all basically blog based websites with some mainstream website features and good social media toolsets. And, with some of the premium themes added/purchased (listed below), it doesn’t have to look like a blog any more. It can look very upmarket, similar to websites costing $3-5k.
If a business, you’ll need email too
WordPress do not provide email services so a third party system is needed. Googleapps email is the only way to go here. This is really gMail, but you’re using your own domain name instead of firstname.lastname@example.org. Their mobile app is superb too, as is their spam filtering and other services, but it costs $50/yr/year, plus any setup fees. Setting these things up is not really for amateurs and can get tricky. Here’s some notes from WordPress. Alternatively, we can do this bit for you for a flat fee. Fill in the form below.
You (may need) a premium theme
Secondly, do pick a good theme. In the early days, perhaps just use the default and free twenty series themes like this one. The latest 2014 theme from WordPress is very good, especially for reunion or event sites with loads of photos to upload. Other themes are more suited to simple blogs. Most of these free themes are quite okay, but not great for business use. Once you’ve a few pages of content and photos added, then worked out how the widgets and menus work, it may then be time to purchase a professional theme.
The thing to remember, is don’t get too focused upon the site look and theme in the early days. I know this is hard to do, since the natural instinct is to worry about the appearance and when you talk to most web designers, this is all they talk about. But you can waste a lot of effort on design and visuals, for little real return. If it’s a business site perhaps get a nice logo done on Designcrowd you’ll add to the header, but that’s all. The design and colours chosen for this, may even help you decide the best theme.
Remember, when you’re starting out, the most appropriate theme for you won’t become obvious until you’ve added a header logo, a dozen pages of content and some photos. The good thing is that the theme is simply a ‘wrapper’ around the sites exterior. This means if and when you change the theme or look of the site later, your precious content and images remain untouched. You just have to tweak the new themes widgets and menus to get your content showing in the right places. We can help if you get into trouble.
Someone asked about which theme? There’s over 200 themes available, a mix of free and premium. Here’s my recommended shortlist of the best 50 themes. And most importantly, if you ever want to take the site from wordpress.com to your own local host server later and have it super-enhanced, only these particular themes are compatible.
Two of my favorites for those starting out are
Any questions or help needed, fill in the form below. See you next month!
Kevin Trye, Senior WordPress Developer