When I started the website it was prompted by a friend who wanted to share some images on her blog, and she asked where she could link back to. My response? "Well, uh, I don't have a website and I uh...".
This was the image Kay Lynn Gabaldon shared in her Voice on the Porch Blog
So I scrambled to find a way to quickly put together a website. In 2015 there were are A LOT of options for "build it quick" websites. The advertising is getting aggressive and you see them on TV and playing over your youtube videos. I settled on Weebly for several reasons. It had the most unique themes, integrated store and payment options, custom html editing, and an easy interface builder to create pages and posts. Having never built a website from scratch it seemed like a good fit for my needs at that moment and hopefully for the next few years. Weebly seemed to have the edge over Wix, Squarespace, Zenfolio, and everything else except for the mainstay Wordpress.
For someone who needs things to be simple, this is what the Weebly editor looks like, and it looked like something I could handle.
If you read reviews, the feedback on Wordpress is that you might have a hard time customizing a theme to your needs and it will take some time and money to do so. Well I was in a hurry and that was enough of a reason for me to go with Weebly which seemed to have an all in one solution with no coding knowledge or outside help thank you very much. Here's my credit card. Sign me up.
Weebly one year later
I'm still struggling to get anything more than just basic website and blog features implemented on Weebly. Maybe I'm expecting too much of a template website creator? Yes, I have the pages up, and it's easy to customize page layouts and create posts, and I can drag and drop elements into a post or page. That's all nice, but there are some basic things missing.
I have no idea if the way I'm writing posts will help me rank in searches at all. After one year, I search google for my stories older than 3 months (which definitely should be indexed and ranked by now) and they show up in page two or three of google searches. Do you ever click past page one of a google search? No? Me neither. Improving SEO would take some manual jiggery and installing something like Yoast which isn't simple on Weebly.
In theory, I can do this on Weebly with some cut and paste code from LinkWithin or similar services. Problem; I'm not a coder and I spent a week pasting third party code into different spots on my pages with no success. I figured out how to post a gallery in the sidebar of each page that would link to other posts, but I had to do that manually and then manually update the posts that displayed there. That's time I don't have or want to spend. Is there no way to show related posts programatically? Come on Weebly.
Sign up form
I haven't really focused on creating a newsletter yet; mostly because my number of subscribers is very small. An email list to send out a newsletter to is critical. Anyone who likes my work and ideas will sign up and then I can remind them once a quarter that I'm still working and have something cool to share with them. The majority of sign up forms I see are in your face where you can't even read the article before someone asks for your email. I HATE those, and yes, I know I had/have one up right now. Stupid software. I think I finally got rid of it but I'm not real sure. With a combination of Mailchimp and SumoMe I was able to get something working - that I hated, and I'm sure it annoyed a lot of people. This is simple and free and unobtrusive in Wordpress.
I don't know honestly as I haven't put any products up for sale yet. I've been busy struggling with the basics and haven't even used the store features which is a big reason I thought Weebly would be great. I'm expecting a bit of a learning curve on Wordpress but it can't be any more difficult or time consuming than what I've experienced so far.
This is by no means an exhaustive list. These were the items that frustrated me the most and that sucked up most of my time. What I really wanted to begin with was a platform that let me create and publish 90% of the time and only spend 10% of my time on tweaking the website and the tools. I was closer to 50/50 which meant that I wrote and posted less because my time disappeared wrestling with trying to improve the site. You will waste time trying to figure these things out in most any template website builder. Wordpress looks promising to get me much closer to that 90/10 goal.
Transitioning to Wordpress
I wish I had done this to begin with. I have had some help with hosting and standing up an instance on a free server. Once you're inside, Wordpress is a night and day difference from a drag and drop template editor website from any other service. Yes, you do start out having to choose a template - of which there are thousands to choose from. Regardless of which front end theme you pick, the Wordpress backend editor is the same. You get a complete UI (no coding required) with menus and buttons that anyone can figure out pretty quickly. And when you can't find something in the standard menus, there's sure to be a plugin for it, lots of reviews on the reliability and ongoing support for the plugin, plus youtube videos explaining how to use it. Here are the top level menu options you get in the Wordpress editor.
I was expecting to have to do a lot of custom coding to bend it to my will. The truth is that the things I couldn't make Weebly do in a year, I have figured out how to do in Wordpress in less than a month. The custom drag and drop layout options that I liked with Weebly are suddenly unimportant. The ability to move elements around is done through menus rather than drag and drop. More importantly, all of the SEO, social sharing, list building, search, etc is built in and easy to implement.
So for anyone starting out on website building for commerce, writing, or sharing your work; I can definitely recommend going with Wordpress. While the cookie cutter template website builder options seem to be simple and offer slick features, you will most likely find yourself to be bumping up against the walls of your cell sooner than you'd like. If you want to make custom changes, it will be hard or impossible to do when using Weebly, Wix, Squarespace, etc. I did try to hire some help for custom code changes using Weebly and that basically went nowhere. I met a lot more freelancers who were familiar with Wix and Squarespace, but even there they didn't know how to get me the most basic functionality that comes with a free Wordpress site.
So what are the template website builders good for? Brochure web sites. Really. If you just need to quickly put up a few pages to tell people who you are, what you offer, your contact info, and your pricing; then they may work well for your needs. Honestly though, you can get the same thing on Wordpress for a lot less headache (and money) and then it will be able to grow with you should you need more social and marketing capability. Being stuck in a cookie cutter website feels very constraining.
Besides Wordpress being a mature platform with built in features and plugins, the developer support is well established so you will have a better chance of finding someone who has prior experience with writing the customization you need. I feel much more confident that I can get back to more time with my photos and writing and less time on technical problems. And that should be your goal when building your online presence as well.