So you want to edit your own website? What you should know…

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In the past couple of years I have expanded into offering sites run on both WordPress and LightCMS – both platforms which allow you, the client, to edit your own website materials online by logging into a dashboard and navigating to the appropriate content area. I wanted to clarify the difference between the various options to help prospective clients decide what type of system they want.

All of these involve a considerable learning curve, particularly for the tech-challenged. If you have trouble attaching things to your emails, or syncing to your MP3 player, then editing your own website is not for you. Better to save yourself the time and frustration and pay a professional to do it by the hour – honestly, it usually takes me an hour or two, a couple of times a year, and the results are more professional looking than what most people can do for themselves. You need to ask yourself – Is saving $100 a year really worth pulling your hair out for hours front of a computer monitor?

Now, disclaimer aside, here are the options I offer for those who want to edit their own site:

1. Dreamweaver HTML site

Dreamweaver screenshotI use Adobe Dreamweaver to set up most of my non-blog sites – it is incredibly feature-rich web design software, but it has so many bells and whistles that it would be overwhelming, not to mention expensive at $400+, for most users who just want to edit the text on their site and change out a few photos. So, once the site is up and running, I recommend updating a Dreamweaver site using a simpler WSIWYG (what you see is what you get) html editor. There are a few free programs out there: Kompozer, Pagebreeze, Coffee Cup to name a few – but you do have to be careful as these will allow you to edit Dreamweaver-created template areas, which can mess up the layout of your pages. If you’re willing to spend a few bucks to prevent that from happening, you can invest in a $200 program from Adobe (Contribute CS5) which recognizes Dreamweaver templates and locks the areas outside the content area so you can’t edit them and change the overall layout of the pages.

PROS: Dreamweaver sites are a bit more flexible in terms of design – it’s easier to have different banner images (created in Photoshop), or different background images on each page of the site, or to use a completely different layout on different pages. You are not as limited to the grid layout that is generally used in WordPress and LightCMS. But, to be honest, most sites work just fine with a grid layout, it keeps things neat and intuitive to navigate, and it’s what most users expect. You might think  you want something different and unique that blows the rules away, but your site has to be navigable and a somewhat predictable layout often makes things easier to find.  The setup is faster than with an online CMS, so the initial cost is less, for the same kind of look and number of pages.

CONS: Updating a Dreamweaver site using an html editor can be tricky – you have to be aware of your file hierarchy and remember to post the files and images you’ve linked to into the proper folders with the proper names, or your links will break. You also have to make sure to save a copy of your original html files before editing, in case you make a mistake and need to start over, or post the old version.  Dreamweaver sites are more finicky to add pages and change menus then the online content options, because it requires uploading every page of your site to reflect a changed template.

SUM IT UP: If you think your site will be growing soon, or a blog or purchase area will be added, you should likely consider one of the other options (below) that will make these features easier to incorporate. If you really want to update your own site but are are a little tech-challenged, then you should also look at WordPress and Light CMS. But on the whole, most solo artists are happy with a Dreamweaver site, and either have me update it or take the time to learn how to update themselves.

2. WordPress

Wordpress DashboardWordPress is an open source (ie: free) blogging platform, and it has evolved into a very effective CMS (Content Management System) – you can edit both static “Pages” and blog “Posts” online by logging into the WordPress Dashboard.

PROS:  You can edit your site content online from any computer – no need for special software on your computer. You can also rearrange, re-name and add pages to menus, and have them change magically on every page of your site. In addition to editing text, the WordPress edit window allows you to insert images and links to other files by uploading them from your computer, and provides the appropriate link so you don’t have to worry about uploading all your related pages, files and images the way you do with an html editor. WordPress is great for people or organizations who frequently have lots of news and wisdom to share – it can all be posted in a News or Blog area, and stay archived and categorized so it’s still accessible and search-able over time. All those blog posts also open up a world of search terms for people to find your site – which is why blogging has become so popular of late as way to increase site traffic.

Another big plus is the wealth of free or inexpensive “Plugins” (scripts and programs) that can easily be added to your WordPress site – from Search windows, to Lightbox slideshows,  to Flash audio players, to comment spam blockers, to contact forms, to subscribe windows and social network widgets… well you name it, somebody has probably already written a script for it. This can open up the possibilities for features on your website and make them much less expensive to implement than if you were trying to install them individually into a Dreamweaver framework.

CONS: If you have a slow or unreliable Internet connection or a slow computer, WordPress can be incredibly frustrating. If you lose your connection mid-Post, you can lose your changes. Inserting images takes some practice, and can look unprofessional if you try to insert too many for the amount of text you are adding, or if you use a size that pushes your text into a small area beside the image. Working with tables, like those often used for Resumes and Schedules, is a real pain with WordPress as those tools are not provided in the WordPress edit window – they have to be coded in html. It’s usually safer to create vertical lists rather than trying to create columns of data. Setting up the WordPress framework for a site takes a bit more time at the outset, so I do charge a premium for that. I generally use iThemes to design WordPress sites, as it’s very flexible and customizable, allowing a good range of layout options within the basic grid framework.

SUM IT UP: If you do intend to update your own site frequently, and/or post news/blog on a regular basis, that initial extra outlay for a WordPress site will pay for itself over a short time. If you know you want a blog, you’re going to have to pay the WordPress set up premium anyway, so you might as well run the whole site on WordPress and at least leave the option open to do your own updating.

I recommend a personal tutorial to get started, and maybe a brush up once you get going to fine tune your skills. WordPress also has a wealth of online tutorials and videos to get you started: a good place to start is WordPress’s support articles on Writing Posts and Editing Pages. I also found this helpful blog post which includes short video intros about the WordPress Dashboard and creating pages and posts. I suggest you set up a temporary blog at www.Wordpress.com so you can test drive the blogging software and dashboard for yourself before you pay me to set up a customized, domain-linked, self-hosted version for you.

 3. LightCMS

Light CMS ScreenshotLightCMS is another web based Content Management System, but it is not free. In exchange for a hosting/user fee of $19/month (for 10 pages), $29/month  (for 25 pages), or $49/mo (for 50 pages),  you get an even more user-friendly content management system that literally allows you to surf the site while logged in and click the areas you want to edit. There is a good variety of templates to choose from (you can browse them at designs.lightcms.com), which I can customize with your colours, fonts, background and banner image. Or a brand new Dreamweaver-created template can be uploaded with content areas ready to be filled. There are several videos about LightCMS & its features here.

PROS: LightCMS is very intuitive to use, and has some features that make it very enticing, especially for smaller sites. There is a fully integrated online store which makes it easy to add items, descriptions, prices with shipping and taxes, and link it all up to whatever online payment gateway you choose (PayPal, Google checkout, Payflow and/or Stripe). Once all the sales items are created it should be relatively easy for you to change and add to them. There are various other features (forms, photo gallery,  blog, calendar, search function etc) included that make inserting things like a slideshow and simple blog a snap, and like WordPress, adding a new page and menu item is quick and easy to apply to the whole site. There is a good variety of available templates, so if you are planning on a store, adapting an existing theme that has store views built in would be the easiest and cheapest way to go. LightCMS has a very extensive support  guide, a support forum as well as strong customer service team that I have found very helpful, responding to requests within 24 hours. For those who are less tech savvy but still want to update “in house” at regular intervals, LightCMS is good way to go.

CONS:  As with WordPress, updating online using the system depends on your having a relatively fast and reliable internet connection. Installing additional scripts (like the WordPress plugins) that are not pre-installed with the system is labour intensive, so if you anticipate needing features that LightCMS doesn’t already provide, consider looking at WordPress. The blog feature, for example, does not have the categorizing and menu features that WordPress does, so if blogging is a priority, WordPress would be a better choice. The cost, of course, is another con – compared with standard WordPress or Dreamweaver site hosting at around $6/mo, a plan that starts at $19/mo might be more than you want to spend. I add a premium to set up a custom site on LightCMS, but the cost is less if we modify an existing theme.

SUM IT UP: For a relatively small (10 page) site, especially with an integrated store, you can’t do much better than LightCMS when you consider the cost of setting up such a thing from scratch elsewhere.

 

When making your decision about how you plan to run and update your site:

  1. Consider:
    • how you plan to use the site (blog? update frequently?)
    • your technical prowess
    • your budget (both for the set up and monthly hosting fees)
    • how much time you have to spend updating
  2. Remember: Whether you are a professional company, ensemble or individual, both learning the process and actually updating take time. If you are paying someone “in house” to do it, you will still have to pay them those hours – and if it’s not their area of expertise it could take them a whole lot longer than you think. Consider your skill set (or that of your staff).
  3. If you ARE technically inclined and want to be able to adjust and fine tune your site whenever the mood strikes, fear not! There is lots of online support to get you started, especially with online platforms like WordPress and LightCMS. The HTML editors, while (some of them are) free, involve significantly more of a learning curve and potential for mishap, and less support. It may be worth the initial investment for a WordPress/CMS set up to avoid the hours you could spend messing around with a free HTML editing program.

There you have it. Not brief, I’m afraid, but hopefully informative. Please comment below if you have any questions, or other topics you would like discussed! Next up in January, a WordPress Introductory Primer for getting started updating your new WordPress site.

4 thoughts on “So you want to edit your own website? What you should know…”

  1. My website is in WordPress and I usually edit the pages myself to include minor changes, etc. However, now I need to make some major changes in some pages and I need to do it while the old website is live. How can I set up a development copy, work on it behind the scenes, and then when it’s done make it live? Thank you.

    1. My suggestion would be to create a new Page, save it as a draft hidden to the public, and when it’s ready then publish the page and add it to your menu under Appearance>Menus. If you need to duplicate the content from an existing page, you can use “Duplicate Page” puglin. You can also simply copy and paste the new content from a draftpage into your existing page and vise versa.
      If you want to make more complicated changes to layouts etc you could setup a duplicate development site, but then you would have to copy the database and directory and move it back when you are ready to launch. http://codex.wordpress.org/Moving_WordPress

  2. I’ve been playing around with both wix and wordpress so years and I can’t decided whether to ditch my old wordpress blog and use the new wix integrated blog, or if I should make my wordpress feel more like a website and ditch my wix!

    Do you think there is any merit to having a website that is searchable within the wordpress framework? Do you get more hits, are you more searchable if you’re wordpress?

    Ultimately, I think I can manipulate wix much better but I had a re-enter lots of blog posts into my wordpress when I decided to get rid of squarespace and I wouldn’t like to do it again!

    1. WordPress can be very SEO friendly – you can use an SEO plugin that will rate each page based on a key phrase, and help you build up the page headers, title, images etc. so they are search-friendly. WordPress can be manipulated if you use a modular theme, such as the ones on iThemes.com. They aren’t as flashy but they are very flexible with number of columns, widths, etc and now they have an add-on CSS styler that allows you to adjust the font colours and sizes easily.
      As for WIX, that is not a platform I’m very familiar with. My only caution would be that if all your files are on their server using their system, you can’t easily move your site to a different format or server – you would have to start from scratch. Depending on the size of your site that could be a pain.

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