Bill Bennett

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WordPress .com or .org – which suits you best?

WordPress is the most popular way to publish a web site.

Some people call it a content management system. It can be that. You might also describe it as website building software. It’s a great option if you want to run a blog like the one you are reading now.

There are two ways you can use WordPress. Both approaches have free options. Although is likely you will end up paying for extras.

WordPress.Org

WordPress.org is the core software. It is free. To run it you need to set up a server. That’s not hard, WordPress will walk you through the process.

If you have a technical bent, a spare computer handy and a good internet connection you can run it on your own hardware. There are people who do this.

Realistically you will run it from the cloud or use a third-party hosting company. Both options cost money. If you shop around you can get cheap hosting. That might work if you run a low-traffic web site. Otherwise, it is better to spend more with a cloud computing company or a higher quality hosting operation. We’ll come back to this later.

WordPress.com

The easiest way to get a site running is to use WordPress.com. It uses the same underlying software, but is provided as a service in much the same way as Gmail or Xero.

All the code is hidden from sight, Automattic, the commercial business behind WordPress runs this on your behalf. It looks after all the housekeeping and backend functions.

This option is so simple you can have a site online minutes after signing up. Anyone can use the service, it requires little technical knowledge. All the hard work is done for you.

All you need to do is write, find pictures, do a little designing and find your audience.

While WordPress.com is still free in its most basic form, there are now charges for anything more than a simple no-frills website. And if you take the free option, your site will show advertising to your readers.

That’s the deal, it is like using Gmail but these advertisements will be shown to your readers and they may see them as part of your brand. If you’re not happy with that, you can go back to WordPress.org or you can move to a paid plan.

Flexibility

Self-hosting gives you far more flexibility over the look of your site and the way it functions. It needs spelling out that in the WordPress world self-hosting refers to any site that is not hosted by Automattic.

There are thousands of plug-ins and themes — some free, some paid-for, to spruce-up your site. In effect you can make it look like anything. If you self host you can find them at WordPress or from hundreds of other sources. If you use the hosted service you have a limited range of options. There are more options on the paid plans, but not as many as if you self-host.

Plug-ins can add functionality. You might, say, want to run a newsletter or an online shop. There are plug-ins for both.

Aside from cash, there is  another price you pay for the extra flexibility of self-hosting: complexity.

While WordPress.org can be straightforward, it can get as technical as you want. If you like, you can dig around in the code to your heart’s content.

Performance

WordPress.com is as solid as a rock. I used it for a few years and kept this screenshot to show how reliable it was. Over a year it went offline 11 times, but was only out of action for one hour and 25 minutes, that’s 99.98 percent uptime. You can’t argue with that.

uptime

Compare those figures with those from the last twelve months of my first self-hosted site.

Wordpress.com site uptime Uptime measured over one year with a New Zealand web host

WordPress.com was also far faster that my first self-hosted site.

Time spent downloading a page
Time spent downloading a page

Switching from self-hosted to WordPress.com saw the average page download speed drop from 2200 milliseconds to 400 milliseconds. The graph shows how much page speed improved when I moved to .com.

Using the Automattic service had many advantages, it meant I could focus on writing, but I wanted to use PressPatron. You can see the banner at the top of this page. That means running some code, at the time WordPress.com wouldn’t allow this so I looked for a better option.

A managed host

Today I use, Pressable, a managed WordPress host. Managed hosting sits somewhere between using the software as a service option and self-hosting. It has all the flexibility of self-hosting, but the ‘managed’ part of managed hosting means someone else does much of the hard word keeping the site running.

Since I started using Pressable about three years ago the downtime has been less than on WordPress.com. The speed is about the same.

Costs

Self-hosting can cost next to nothing. It can even be free. The problem with low cost hosting is that your site is on shared storage. If the other sites staring with you are busy, your speed will drop. That’s fine for low traffic site, if you want more readers it is not a good idea to keep them waiting. By all means go down this path if you run a hobby blog.

Spend more and you can get better performance – although that is not guaranteed.

WordPress.com can be free. You can’t argue with that price — the downside is WordPress will sometimes insert ads on your site. Free doesn’t buy much.

Recently WordPress reorganised its priced tiers. The first step up from Free is the US$15 a month WordPress Pro. It includes a domain name and the ability to use plug-ins. Your readers don’t have to see ads, although you can serve them and earn money – don’t expect to get much.

With Pro you get more storage along with a wider range of themes that determine how your site looks. You also get support – there is now limited help with the free version.

My Pressable WordPress managed host costs considerably more than the WordPress Pro price at around US$300 a year. Yet that is for five sites and considerably more support – the online support is excellent and responsive. On a number of occasions I’ve got the site into a mess and had an expert bail me out.

Today I run two active sites on the Pressable account and use a third site as a staging site so I can try out new things without breaking the working site. Running three sites to the same level on WordPress.com would cost more. In that way the managed host option is decent value.

 

Eight technology must-haves for small businesses

Done well, technology can help small businesses thrive. None of the technologies mentioned here are expensive. Each offers a fast return on your investment.

Broadband

A fast internet connection is essential. If you live in a place where fibre broadband is available, seize the opportunity to use it. In New Zealand fibre is not expensive, prices start at around $80 a month for all-you-can-eat gigabit plans.

If you can’t get fibre, choose the fastest option with the most generous data allowance. This might be fixed wireless broadband, it may be HFC or a fast copper technology like VDSL. Failing that, use the mobile phone network and buy a plan with the maximum amount of data.

Video conferencing

One lesson from the Covid pandemic was the importance of good communications at a time physical contact was difficult. You don’t need to spend a lot to use video conferencing. Skype is a good free option. It costs nothing to make video calls anywhere in the world so long as the people at the other end also use the technology. If you’re an Apple user and you work with other Apple users, choose FaceTime.

Small business web presence

If you sell products or services in the real world, even a modest website will help you sell online, create an online brochure to promote your business.

You don’t need to be an expert to set up a simple website. Start with a free WordPress account. There are two versions: choosing between WordPress.com and WordPress.org depends on what you intend to do and how comfortable you are with computers and software.

Otherwise, you can choose one of the free online services to get started.

Small businesses prefer to use Facebook or a Google service to promote the business online. This can work. There are stories of people doing well. But take care: You don’t own the site so the terms or conditions might change at any moment. There is a track record of big tech firms pulling the rug from under small businesses.

You’ll be told you need to spend time or money on search engine optimisation to get the most from your website. Again, this can work well, but don’t bank on it.

Book-keeping or accounting software

Don’t wait until you visit the accountant to know whether your business is profitable. There are low-cost packages from companies like MYOB that will allow you to create invoices, fill out tax forms and track the flow of money through your business. Some options are even simple to use.

Alternatively, choose an online service like Xero. It’s more expensive but takes a lot of the hard work out of tracking your finances.

Reliable power

Mains electricity is usually reliable and safe. Yet there are times when it can damage sensitive electronic equipment. Invest in anti-surge devices that prevent power spikes from wrecking your hardware. Better still, get an uninterrupted power supply so you can save important files and conduct an orderly computer shut down when there’s a power outage. Or you might try a power back-up battery.

Backup important data and store it off-line

Sooner or later your computers will fail or online criminals will shut you out from your data. It pays to make regular copies of all important digital data and documents then keep them away from your office in case of fire. It may also pay to have two or three external hard drives to keep multiple back-ups. Make sure you get decent software to automate your back-ups.

Share files with other small businesses

This is closely related to cloud storage. Online file sharing services like Dropbox and Box make it easy to share documents with people over the internet. Services like Google Workspace and Microsoft 365 offer something similar. They also allow you to work with remote colleagues on shared documents.

Paper Shredder

Yes, paper is old school. Yes, you try to avoid it at every stage. Yet you’ll still get a lot of official or important information sent on sheets of paper. You may also have online material that you’ve printed.

Eventually, you’ll want to get rid of some of them, but crooks have been known to dive through waste bins in the hope of finding valuable information to help them commit fraud. Get a shredder and destroy every document before throwing them out.

Better still, get a scanner and make electronic copies of every document that comes through your business. Then shred the paper.

Why you need your own domain name

“Some storytellers and influencers are also migrating from personal sites toward individual channels on Medium, Blogger, Twitter, Instagram, and Youtube. But there’s a risk here — those creating and sharing unique content on these channels can lose ownership of that content. And in a world where content is king, brands need to protect their identity.”

As you might expect, Morrison is keen on changing the downward trajectory for domain name registration, but he has a valid point – why would you put the fate of your business in the hands of a platform owned by someone else? Sure, use Facebook etc to engage with your customers, but why not maintain control over your own brand? It baffles me, especially as creating a website is so much easier than it used to be.

Source: Why businesses aren’t picking domain names | ITP Techblog

At ITP Techblog Sarah Putt sees the issue of using Facebook or another social media site as a matter of branding.

She is right. Branding is important.

Yet the issue doesn’t stop there.

A site of your own

Not owning your own domain name, your own website, means you are not master or mistress of your online destiny. It’s that simple.

If you place your trust in the big tech companies, they can pull the rug at any moment.

This isn’t scaremongering. It has happened time and again. In many cases companies have been left high and dry. Some have gone under as a result.

The big tech companies care no more about the small businesses who piggyback off their services than you care about the individual microscopic bugs living in your gut.

Media companies learned this lesson the hard way. A decade or so ago Facebook and Google have made huge efforts to woo media companies. They promised all kinds of deals.

Many of those companies that went in boots and all are now out of business. Gone. Kaput.

Pulling the plug

Google pulled the plug on services like Wave and Google+ almost overnight after persuading media companies to sign up.

Big tech companies change their rules on a whim. Some of those whims meant cutting off the ways media companies could earn revenue.

Few media companies ever made any much money from the online giants. Those who managed to survive in a fierce and hostile landscape had nowhere to go when the services eventually closed. Many sank without a trace.

Sure, you may have heard stories about people who have made money from having an online business presence on one of the tech giants’ sites. You may also have heard stories about people winning big lottery prizes. The odds are about the same.

Yes, it can be cheap, even free in some cases, to hang out your shingle on Facebook or Google. But it is never really your shingle. It’s theirs.

The case for your own domain name

On the flip side, starting your own web site is not expensive. You can buy a domain name and have a simple presence for the price of a good lunch.

It doesn’t have to be hard work. You don’t need something fancy. And let’s face it, most Facebook companies pages are nothing to write home about either.

Use WordPress. It is not expensive. There’s plenty of help around to get you started. Depending on your needs you can choose between WordPress.com or WordPress.org.

The important thing is the site is entirely your property.

I often hear one argument in favour of working with Facebook. It goes somewhere along the lines of ‘fishing where the fish swim’. It’s true, your customers probably are on Facebook. There’s nothing to stop you from going there to engage with with them… just make sure you direct them to your independent web site.

WordPress Gutenberg upsets writer’s flow

WordPress started out as a simple way of building web sites, especially blogs. Gutenberg makes fancy designs easier, but makes blogging much harder.

…he might also figure out how to dovetail them all together to make something more interesting and useful than Gutenberg, which has taken hundreds of developers and a magnitude larger amount of time to create.

Perhaps some additional competition against Gutenberg would help speed WordPress (and everyone else for that matter) toward making a simpler and more direct publishing interface?

Source: Chris Aldrich

“…he might also figure out how to dovetail them all together to make something more interesting and useful than Gutenberg, which has taken hundreds of developers and a magnitude larger amount of time to create.”

The WordPress Gutenberg editor serves some users well. For many it is an unnecessary complication. It disrupts workflows and makes life harder. In some cases a lot harder.

It was optional at first. Now it is built into both WordPress.com and WordPress.org.

Ironically Gutenberg is all about blocks. Ironic because when I teach people how to write, one of things I tell them is to remove all the roadblocks in front of readers.

Roadblocks

Gutenberg puts roadblocks in front of writers.

One roadblock is that it is now harder to export a post from a Markdown editor like iA Writer to WordPress. It works, but it’s not as smooth and seamless. The barrier may be small, but tiny barriers can disrupt flow.

It is even harder to export HTML from a Gutenberg page.

Gutenberg makes it hard for users to syndicate material to publisher sites with their own CMSs. In the past you could write a post in WordPress, then pick it up as simple HTML and post that into the other CMS.

While Gutenberg allows you to copy HTML, the mechanism is badly broken and needs extensive editing. It means much more work.

Why you should have your own website

A persuasive look at the many reasons why you should have your own website, and some of the benefits it will bring you.

Source: Why I Have a Website and You Should Too · Jamie Tanna | Software (Quality) Engineer

Jamie Tanna’s post lists many good reasons to have a website. Tanna writes from a software engineer’s point of view. Many of the reasons he offers translate directly to other trades and professions.

Your own place online

A powerful reason is to own your own little patch of the online world, what people used to call cyberspace. As Tanna says it can be many things, a hub where people contact you, an outlet for your writing and other creative work, or a sophisticated curriculum vitae.

Now you may be thinking you can do all these things on Facebook, Twitter, Medium or Linkedin. That’s true up to a point.

Yet you don’t own those spaces. You are part of someone else’s business model. You don’t have control over how they look, you can’t even be sure they will be there in the long term.

After all, there were people who thought the same about  Geocities, Google+ or MySpace in the past.

Do it yourself

Creating your own site takes time, effort and maybe a little money. It doesn’t have to take a lot of any of these things.

You’ll need to pay for a domain name… that’s roughly $20 a year. If you are hard-pressed financially there are free options with companies like WordPress. You can get a basic WordPress site up in an hour or so.

You don’t need to be a writer to own your own website. If you post things to Facebook or Twitter, use your site instead (or as well as). It could be a place for photography.

One thing you will find is that a website gives you more of a voice than you’ll get on other people’s sites.

WordPress.com OS X app

The WordPress.com OS X app is beautiful software. It’s also close to pointless.

The app is wrapped around the most recent browser version of the blogging software. That’s it.

It runs well enough, but it doesn’t do anything that you can’t do in the browser. Many of those tasks work better in the browser.

Moreover, there are some things the app doesn’t do, so you are sent back to the browser version anyway.

There are only three reasons to use the WordPress app:

  • To keep Safari or another browser set aside for non-WordPress tasks.
  • To go straight to WordPress.com from the Dock or Application launcher.
  • If you want to store your WordPress data locally on your Mac.

None of these are compelling:

  • WordPress.com and WordPress.org both work well in Safari. But even if you hate working that way, like it or not, there will be times when the app sends you there.
  • If you keep WordPress in your Safari bookmarks you can get there in two clicks instead of one.
  • Storing data on your local computer may help if you have a poor internet connection, otherwise, it’s rarely an issue.
  • If you feel the need to compose a post outside of the site, you could use a Markdown editor like iA Writer or Byword. iA Writer integrates well with WordPress. There are many other editors which link to the software. If you want to use an online service, you can publish to WordPress from Google Docs.

In short, there may be a  case for people who spend all day managing their sites to use the app, but for most people it’s just clutter.

There is another flaw with the app. It doesn’t appear to automatically update the display. If it does, then the updates are infrequent. And there’s no obvious refresh button to hurry updates along. This matters if, say, you want to watch the traffic roll in after a new post.