With freedom comes responsibility

Hello Loves

If you’ve met me in person (or even if you’ve seen my face loom up on your screen during a zoom call) you will probably realise that I’m all for freedom. Freedom of choice, freedom of expression. Freedom of movement…

breaking out of handcuffs to illustrate freedom

You know I care a lot and not only for the WordPress sites in my care. I have a kind of warm fuzziness that extends much further out, to all of the web and its users and potential users. The intense sharing of information is causing a few boils to pop in society at the moment, but my wider and longer term view is that the internet is ultimately a force for good.

I focus my care on WordPress, and it is my first love for a lot of reasons.

It’s open source for a start – (I could fill another entire blog post with the reasons that’s a good thing, and I probably will in the near future.)

It gives you total freedom to create (if you know how, or know somebody who knows how.)

It’s developed by a community rather than a company and it’s surrounded by a huge, helpful, global community too.

And of course I talk about WordPress a lot (I mean, the clue is in the job title – right loves?) but I’m not saying there’s only one system or platform for everyone.

When you’re choosing a platform for your site there’s an eye popping number of choices out there and there’s no shame in feeling confused about which way to go – so I’m going to try to decompress your brains a little bit

It’s important to start by realising that all platforms are not the same, and it’s well worth having a real good conversation with yourself (or your team) to get a wider perspective on your reasons for having a website, the job you want your site to do and where you see your business (or yourself) developing into the future.

Then you can start to look at pros and cons.

For simplicity I’m going to break the platforms down into 2 main groups.

Hosted proprietary platforms.

There are so many of these around, I cannot list them all – and there are new ones springing up all the time. Some are focussed entirely on being site building platforms – (Squarespace, Wix, Weebly, Moonfruit…and so many more…) and a lot of hosting companies also offer a site building platform as well as their other services (GoDaddy website builder for instance…)

These platforms are designed to make the process of building websites accessible to people who aren’t web developers – and they offer useful templates and drag and drop interfaces. You can build a website in the same way that you would put a document together with desktop publishing software (on the front end)

It’s worth remembering that although it seems, as the front end user, that you are creating a simple document, there is an awful lot of complicated programming behind the scenes making something so complex seem so simple. The simplicity is a neccesary facade.

The pros of this kind of software are:

You don’t need any coding skills or particular knowledge of the way websites work to use them

You can put a website together relatively quickly to get yourself an online presence

Security and performance are taken care of in house so you don’t need any knowledge of these areas

The range of templates offered varies from platform to platform but lots of them are well designed

And the cons…

Row of doors to illustrate a choice

You are limited by the functionality and the templates you are offered by the platform, and there’s no option to get anything custom built if you find you need to go outside their boundaries (I helped someone rebuild a site on a platform called Yola a few years ago, and we were several hours in before we found that they didn’t offer dropdown submenus… that was a deal breaker and we had to startfrom scratch somewhere else – so lots of wasted energy there)

Similarly, their development moves at their own pace, so you could find yourself left behind as technology sprints forward (an example, also from a few years ago, was when smartphones really took off and suddenly all websites were expected to be mobile responsive. I had a client with a website built on Moonfruit and although Moonfruit did get up to speed (in their own time) their customers initially had no choice but to either rebuild in a different system or just wait around with an old fashioned looking mobile site that didn’t work on all the different screen sizes.

They all have their own unique, proprietary software so you can’t transfer the site to a different company if (for example) they start to charge you exorbitant amounts of money… or worse still, decide to fold.

Basically, although you own the content of the site, the site itself is just rented. It belongs to them. That’s a lot of trust to put in a single company.

It’s important to highlight this last one I think. You can’t take your site away from a platform like Squarespace and host it somewhere else. The software thay use only works on their platform. So if your business expands past the boundaries offered to you by the software/platform you are using (or you want to leave them for another reason) then you may have to completely rebuild in a different system which, (amongst other things) can mean starting off from the start with your authority as far as search engines are concerned

In the other camp are:

The self hosted systems.

WordPress is the most famous but there are loads about. Joomla and Drupal are probably the best known of the others. They use software that is independant of the place where it’s hosted.

Pros of these kinds of system:

You (or your web developer) are free to add functionality and can have full control over the design (If you know how…)

Your site is independant of the server that its hosted on, so you are not entrusting your precious site to a single company

You can control the factors that make the site ready for crawling by search engines and easy to visit for humans – things like speed, performance and security (although of course there is a corresponding con if it isn’t done well

With WordPress at least there are a huge range of other bits of software and small bits of code that can be added to expand the functions and possibilities of the site (think site builders like divi and visual composer…)

WordPress also has a huge range of themes that you can use to build in a simpler way if you’re willing to stay inside the boundaries that the theme offers

You could, if budget allowed have a completely unique, bespoke site built. The only limitation is your imagination.

The Cons:

You need to take care of the sites and regularly update them to keep them secure and healthy.

You are exposed to the full mindboggling complexity of websites (this could also be a pro if you’re the type of person that likes to know how things work rather than just using them in a shallow way, but of course there is a hugely steep learning curve involved in this, which not everyone (or all businesses) have the time or the inclination to prioritise)

With the freedom to use the software however you like, comes the probable need to pay a specialist to do the more complex tasks for you (unless you have the time or inclination to learn how)

In the hybrid category a special mention goes to WordPress.com. This is a hosted platform so you have the same carefree privilege of having a large company take care of your site for you.

hands with yes/no written on

There’s a free version (with adverts and a WordPress.com domain name… probably not the best business choice but great if you’re a hobby blogger…) or a very cheap lowest level with the ads removed and the ability to use your own domain name. Then it carries on up in cost, adding new functionality at each new level.

It uses WordPress software though, and this is a big difference between this and something like Squarespace. Because the software is not proprietary, you have the option (on some of the higher priced tiers at least) to export your site, upload it to another server and make a self hosted site out of it.

This is an important distinction because it removes the most important con of the hosted platforms for me. You will still experience restrictions in functionality though and will never get to the level of freedom (or responsibility) that a self hosted system gives you.

Don’t forget though, I’m only talking about content management systems here. You could also opt to have a static site built. These are a lot more stable and efficient than a content management system, but you will need to use a developer to make even small changes to content as there’s no way to make changes to the live site. It’s old school, like the 1990s. The files need to be downloaded, have changes made to the code and then be uploaded again.

Obviously there are numerous choices to be made between the different systems of each type, but the choice between hosted and self hosted systems is an important one – and one that I think is often glossed over by the people who are proposing to build them for you.

I hope that gives you a starting point if you’re making this choice, loves.

Of course, a website is a huge project with many more choices down the line…

If you’re starting off down that road I’ve got a free questionnaire to help you to understand what you want your website to do for you. You can use it to plan a self build project or to send it to me to get a quote…

Beta Testers Needed

Hello loves

Years ago, when I was a lot younger and perkier than I am now – before I’d fully cut my WordPress teeth… I’d already started to look after client sites – just a little bit… just a few, mainly ones that I’d built for small businesses.

A student learning by looking at a wall of interesting diagrams

It was crazy-time if anything went wrong with a site in those days… heart racing, blood pressure pumping through my delicate neck – wildly Googling, hoping against hope I would find the answer before anyone else saw the problem.

A lot of times I didn’t really know how to ask the question so I’d go off on long expensive trips round the virtual houses (like going into town and out again on an expensive train and then realising the answer was two doors down…)

I couldn’t charge a client for the time I spent so I took it all on as part of my training. (I mean, I don’t regret it… it’s the way I learn, but it sure did take up a lot of time…)

I didn’t have any friends that were doing the same job (even if I had I never would have asked them… because I’m supposed to know everything, right?)  And all the courses that existed just seemed to be very dry… crammed so full of information that I couldn’t decide which things to retain or why…

I felt like I was stupid. Every site seemed to be different!

What I really needed was a friendly guide who would take me by the hand and show me, but not judge me for my (totally in my own head…) ignorance. I didn’t know where to find one though, and I would have been too embarrassed to ask anyway… (because I was supposed to know it all…)

Over time I’ve realised I will never know everything.

Because the next site to come along will be using different technology again. Because tech moves with the speed of light. Because although WordPress is the kitchen, each site has unique equipment and ingredients and chefs… and they’re constantly improving and updating themselves (more on this metaphor another time…)

Lightbulb to illustrate bright ideas

These days as I bustle round the Wards at the WP care centre I know what to check, what to tweak and what to look out for. I know how to save myself in times of trouble, and I know how to prepare.  (I gave my 3 top tips for saving the stress in a recent post…)

And that’s what I want for you, dear WordPress lover. The confidence not to know. That’s why I’m writing a training course with you in mind. To show you my practiced WordPress care routine, explain some of the background behind the different jobs I do in the care centre and to recommend the tools I use to save me time and to make those little sites comfy and secure.

Which brings me, finally, to the point…

I’m looking for Beta testers!

If you’ve read this far then I’m guessing you’re getting quite deep into this whole WordPress business… and if that’s the case, why not consider becoming a beta tester for my new online course? I’ll be tweaking and polishing it throughout the first run – and all my testers get to be a part of that process.

If you decide to come on board and feel my supportive hand on your shoulder while you wrangle with WordPress, this is what I’m going to give you:

If you want to be on the list to learn more, pop over and enter the waiting room…

3 Tips for confidence with any WordPress site

Hello loves. It’s Vik here, the WordPress nurse.

A stethescope with a heart next to it illustrating care and attention to WordPress sites

I know there are people out there who love WordPress – for its freedom, control, lack of limits and total all round coolness… and yet sometimes want to smash things, mumble expletives or just stick their lower lip out and sigh (depending on their disposition…) at its complexity.

The fact is, there’s always something new to learn with this beautiful software, and I will never fully be able to count the times I’ve said “what the….. what? How could I not have known this?”

I get that it’s scary enough to fiddle around with your own precious site doing crucial jobs you scarcely know the reason for… so if it’s a client site it gets double serious. They do not want to see their beautiful website go down, look weird, or miss an order or a contact request.

So how can you feel fully confident fiddling about under the flaps of a complex site (even if you’re not quite friends with it (yet…)) and feel secure in the knowledge that whatever happens, it will all be ok?

Here’s my 3 top tips, loves – to help you feel calm and your sites feel cared for.

Always start by backing up.

I almost feel like It’s patronising to tell you this… and yet I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve been in a hurry and thought to myself “aww just this once I won’t bother. It’s only a little change, it’ll be fine. And I always ALWAYS regret it (or at least it seems like always – I only remember the times it went wrong…)

These days, no matter how lucky I feel (or how hot a date I’m hurrying to next…) I never, ever, ever proceed with work on a site without first making a backup.

Some server companies make this really easy for you and let you take a snapshot which you can easily revert to if things go wrong. Check with your host to see if they offer that. If not, you’ve got options.

The quickest, easiest way to backup from inside the site (and the easiest to re-import if something does go wrong) is to use a plugin like All In One WP Migration. You can download a small file (.wpress) which can be imported back into the site if something goes wrong. It’s quick and easy but I never rely on it as my only backup… what if the file gets corrupted?

If you’re using a method like this, make a full backup on the server too… to backup your backup in case something goes wrong. Some hosts make a backup regularly as standard but don’t just assume this – check it out with them…

Whichever method you use, download it to your computer… because you can’t be too careful…

Make sure you have access to the host server.

It’s true, lots of jobs can be done from inside the site itself, but I never feel comfy unless I’ve got access to the hosting account too. Some jobs start off looking simple but then you find you need access to the database or the files – and of course there are the times something goes wrong and you need to save yourself – quickly.

Plus, of course, you will want to make a full backup before you do anything scary – see the tip above…

Never do it live (Sound advice in so many walks of life, my loves…)

Working on a live site (i.e. – The client’s actual site, while it’s online) is a recipe for stress. To be fair, a lot of the things you do to WordPress will go without a hitch, and it’s easy to get all blasé and not bother… but sod’s law states that it will be that time you’re just gonna ‘quickly tweak this little thing before finally clocking off…’ that something will go wrong. And then, of course, it’s panic stations and cancel your dinner plans – because of course, a live site (especially someone else’s) can’t just sit there not working or looking weird…

Absolutely the best option is to work on a clone of the site – aka a staging site. This is an exact copy where you can play fast and loose without anyone looking over your shoulder. Some hosts offer you a built-in facility to create one easily and then replace the live site with the new one when you’re done . If you’re working on a busy, dynamic site that’s likely to have changed while you’re working on the copy (like pesky customers buying things…) you’ll need to make sure the service allows you to only push the changes you’ve made and not the whole site. (if not, it’s often easiest to just redo the work on the live one once you know it works)

A stethescope on a doctors pad to illustrate the diagnostic troubleshooting we can offer for WordPress sites

If you don’t have this option in your hosting account you could use WP staging plugin. You’ll need to buy the pro version to actually push the changes easily back to the live site, but it makes the whole process quick and easy. (This is my new favourite thing.)

For a totally free option I suggest cloning the site with AIO WP migration plugin (Free as long as your site is smaller than 500MB) and importing it into a blank WordPress installation in a subfolder.

If you really have no way to create a staging site, at least put the site into maintenance mode – (my favourite plugin for this is Seedprod – coming soon and maintenance mode) – and, if you really want to do the best for your little site (and your stress levels) find a way to create staging next time.

Disclaimer: All metaphor aside, please be assured I would in no way encourage any kind of “fast and loose play” if this was a real hospital and I was a real nurse. You cannot backup a human being.

I’m launching my new WordPress care course In the autumn, and I’d love you to be there. Sign up to be the first one in the know

This is a test post…

A grayscale image of a road with an orange line stretching forward to illustrate the tour of your WordPress backend that I can guide you on

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