Looking for Advice: Upcoming Website Facelift

Pardon The Dust

Yes. It’s about time. This website has had the same layout since 2011 (or maybe earlier). Yet it has evolved drastically since then, especially in the past year; and even though I still think the theme and color palette are gorgeous, I’ve been daydreaming about what I could do differently – and, after researching my customization options, I realized how limited this theme, and a free WordPress account in general, really is.

The last straw in all this was this recent article by Juliet Marillier at Writer Unboxed. It’s a wonderful piece about author websites evolving over time and the challenges of keeping pace with technology, social media, etc. About one-third of the way through, Ms. Marillier wrote this about her website’s current format:

Lovely as it is, this website, too, has outlived its usefulness.

That line made me sit up straight. It perfectly captures how I feel about my own website – and I can’t ignore that feeling any longer.

So, changes are coming soon. Here’s a quick run-down of what I’d like to do:

  • Buy a WordPress-hosted domain name
  • Change the layout and color scheme using a new theme / template
  • Create a custom header / banner (which I’ll need help with)
  • Move the Main Menu from the sidebar to the top of the page, or underneath the header (not an option with Dusk To Dawn *shakes her fist*)
  • Make my social media links more noticeable (also not an option with Dusk To Dawn :P)

I’ve started researching my options… and to be honest, it’s overwhelming. Firstly, I’m a visual thinker only to a certain extent. I know how I’d like the updated website to appear, what colors it would use, etc. But unless I see something that matches what I see in my head, I hit a brick wall when it comes to imagining how to go from “template” to “my website,” if you know what I mean. And the more I read, the more questions I have about the process.

Second, I’m terrible with HTML, CSS, and the like. It’s like reading an alphabet from an alien’s language – or even worse, reading the instructions for doing my income taxes. I don’t understand it. How much do I need to know if I buy my own domain name and personalize a new theme? Can I get help for a reasonable fee, or will I truly be on my own?

Before I go any further in this process, I’d really appreciate some advice from website owners who read this article. I’m especially interested to hear from people who are using WordPress as their host or have transitioned from a free WordPress blog to a paid account and domain name. You can reply directly in the Comments section below. Or, if you’d rather keep your response private, you can email me via the Contact page.

Here are my questions.  You don’t need to answer all of the them. They just happen to be what I’ve been wondering as I’ve been researching:

  • What has your experience been so far as a website owner? What would you consider the pros and cons of having your own website as opposed to using a free WordPress account?
  • How did you decide on your website’s design or appearance? Did you create it on your own, or did you have help? If you had help, who did you use? Was their pricing reasonable? Would you recommend them?
  • How easy or difficult is it to customize things such as font, color scheme, etc.? Also, did you purchase a theme or package and personalized things from there, or did a designer or other individual help?
  • If your website has a custom logo or header, how was it created? Did you or someone else make it?
  • What’s one thing you didn’t know about owning a website that you’d like other new website owners (like myself) to know upfront?

Finally, for all readers / visitors, an honest question: When you look at this website, is there anything you think could be changed, improved, removed, or added? Even though I have my own ideas of what to change, I might still be overlooking something. So, any feedback you have will be welcome.

Thanks in advance for your help! 🙂

37 thoughts on “Looking for Advice: Upcoming Website Facelift

  1. I’m not in a position to give much advice – your website is already better than mine. However, here are a few random points.

    1. Keep things simple – websites are a time sink.

    2. Moving the main menu to the top is a good idea. It takes advantage of people’s habit of scanning in an “F” shape.

    3. I have zero computer skills, but I managed to put together a WordPress site without any help. I suspect you can do much better.

    4. I like owning my own domain name. Most authors use some form of their name, but this usually only attracts readers who have already purchased their books. A genre type domain name is more search friendly, but generating traffic through blogging is (an enjoyable) time sink.

    5. You probably know this, but WordPress.com and WordPress.org are different. Make sure you research those differences so you can pick which one suits you best. I wish I had.

    6. As an author, most (nearly all) of your readers will find you via Amazon. Blogging is great if you enjoy it, but the oft-given advice to “build a social media platform” is overrated.

    7. Your current website is pretty good. Changing the location of the main menu is really the only functional change that might make much difference.

    Hope that helps!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for your feedback, Robert. 🙂

      I drafted this post a couple days ago, and since then I’m leaning more towards “keeping it simple,” like you had suggested. Buying a domain name and a new theme I can personalize in terms of color, menu location, etc. might be all I’m willing to do right now. I can’t do much more with the theme I currently have, so that is going to go regardless.

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  2. It’s so funny, because I’m working on a redesign of my blog as well! And I’m changing themes too, which I haven’t done since I started blogging in 2011. I like your website a lot, but my advice it to make sure your name POPS. Right now the font is too small and it’s very hard to read that purple lettering against black. Try to keep black to a minimum on websites. Readers do not like having to read white letters on black backgrounds, even if it seems cool. I would ditch the black sidebar, maybe make it grey if you really want a contrast.

    I’ve moved from WordPress.com to WordPress.org and I now have complete control over my website. This means WordPress cannot shut me down for any reason (that’s what happened to me on WordPress.com, long story!) You might want to consider doing self-hosted, because it doesn’t cost that much, and you can do more things. If you want the ability to change font and colors, check the theme first to make sure you can do those things. Many themes don’t give you the option.

    I do photoshop, so I design my own headers. It’s pretty easy to find someone to do a header for you, if you don’t want to do your own.

    Good luck, Sara! I’m sure the new site will be lovely!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for all of your suggestions, Tammy! 🙂 What is the difference between WordPress.com and WordPress.org? I know they’re separate, but I don’t know enough about how they are.

      I’m glad you pointed out the font and color scheme. They’re two of my pet peeves about the current theme as well. My goal for Website 2.0 is to make it easier to read and more user-friendly. I might have to test out a few different themes to find what I’m looking for, though. Each time I research themes, my reaction is always, “Oh, this one might work, but…” I’m usually not this indecisive – and it bugs me! *lol*

      I’d also prefer the look of black text on a white background. Vice versa doesn’t look all that great, IMO. Plus, I find it hard to read.

      I have Photoshop as well, but I’m struggling to learn how to use it. :/ And with everything else I have going on, learning more about Photoshop isn’t a priority right now, so I’ll definitely need help if I want a custom header / banner.

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  3. I overhauled mine last year, and found it wasn’t so much the theme, it was more about some of the initial (rookie) options I’d selected. So, I run a “twin” all the time where I experiment with widgets, themes, plug-ins yada blablah before I make a decision. It’s tedious, but its worked well for me. 🙂
    Oh, and BTW, I keep the “twin” on private setting so I don’t embarrass myself any worse than usual while experimenting wildly !

    Liked by 1 person

    • I love the private “twin” site idea, Kassie! Does it mirror your site in terms of written content, or do you use it just to test out widgets, colors, etc. before making changes to the live site? It might be something I’d like to do for mine, although I’m not sure I’d want to take the time to migrate 4+ years of content to the private twin…

      Liked by 1 person

      • Haha…I have a couple of old posts and pages copied and pasted on the twin. Just enough so that I can tinker around with the appearance. I’d go nuts trying to keep them straight otherwise 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

  4. Ooh, this is so exciting! First of all, definitely check out AmyLynnAndrews.com and her How to Start a Blog series. It’s the guide I used to create my own site, and it was SO incredibly helpful (still is even now).

    Amy is a big fan of hosting through Bluehost and using StudioPress’s Genesis framework and child themes (more on this at her site) to build your site. That’s what I am using now and I can attest to those companies being extremely awesome. I even had a major issue with my site one time (as in, She’s Novel wouldn’t load at all), and Bluehost had such great customer service!

    Also, StudioPress’s themes all come with install instructions so, even though it does take time, getting your site to look the way you want it to is pretty painless. Little to no CSS or HTML required.

    As for design stuff, definitely check out Canva.com. It’s a free design site that offers a lot of great (and easy!) options for designing your own graphics. I use Canva to create headers, social media graphics, post images…pretty much everything. Lol!

    To be honest, I can’t really think of anything that new website owners should know. Maybe just that it takes time and patience to set a site but that it is extremely worthwhile? Yeah, that was vague. Sorry!

    If you have any questions though, please don’t hesitate to send me an email or a tweet or whatever. I really love setting up sites! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Wow! Thanks for all the advice, Kristen. 🙂

      I was already familiar with StudioPress, but not with Amy’s site or Bluehost. I’ll have to check those out when I have a chance. My only concern would be how to migrate my existing content from here to Bluehost without losing anything. That might be a question I should ask Bluehost.

      Did you pick the theme for She’s Novel through StudioPress? What were some of your “wishlist” items when you were deciding on yours? Also, how easy or time-consuming is it to maintain She’s Novel, or does Bluehost take care of that for you?

      Canva IS free?? I had signed up for an account, but got really confused because I thought it was asking me to pay for something. I’ll have to try that again. I just started using PicMonkey recently too; and Faye Kirwin @ Writerology told me she uses GIMP, which is also free. I may have to try all three! 🙂

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      • I do believe that you would technically be transferring your site to a self-hosted WordPress, not directly to Bluehost. I’ve never had to switch over a site, so I’m not too sure how to go about doing that, but Amy might have an article.

        I don’t really spend any time maintaining She’s Novel per say. I pretty much just log on to write new posts or reply to comments.

        She’s Novel’s theme is FUN by Pretty Darn Cute designs, which was a 3rd party theme sold through StudioPress. I use other SP-built themes on some of my other sites, but anything sold through SP is awesome!

        With She’s Novel, I was really looking for a theme with a short header area, a top navigation bar, and that didn’t come with preset colors (since I had already branded my business and wanted to use the colors I had chosen). Oh! And mobile responsiveness was huge for me. I wanted to make sure that people could read my blog on their phones.

        And Canva is indeed free! There are some elements that you can pay to use (everything costs $1), but I have never had to use them.

        Liked by 1 person

      • I’ll have to give Canva another try then. I recently started using PicMonkey – and I love it! The easier tool I’ve ever used for image creation and manipulation.

        As for the website itself, the more I’ve thought about Version 2.0 over the past week, the more convinced I am to take baby steps. It’s sort of like house-hunting. The first one is exactly that – it’s not perfect, but it works for a while. The second one might not be the “dream house,” either, but the upgrades make it more ideal now than the first home. Right now, I think I’ll shoot for a new, more user-friendly and mobile-responsive theme with a horizontal menu, new color scheme, and WordPress hosting. I’d be happy with that. And then Website 3.0 can be my “dream house.” 😉

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  5. The BiblioSanctum decided to self host last year and we’ve never looked back. Best decision ever. I’m not good with this website stuff at all, but my co-blogger Wendy is and she takes care of a lot of the customization and stuff. She’s really liking the increase in options. I think you’ll like having your own domain.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I’d like to eventually buy a domain name. I happen to know someone who is studying coding so I’m lucky that she has offered (forced) me to be her guinea pig lol. I based my blog theme on my books and I designed my own header from my own which I may change again lol. Also some things I would suggest for your blog is perhaps having your sidebar bio a bit more expanded. I know you have one in about me, but when people first look at your blog they don’t see much and it’s good to see a little bio then they look at the bigger one if that makes sense. Also social media widgets for Facebook and Twitter are easy to find an install. If you have Pinterest, that’s easy too.You can google how-tos for those. 🙂 Good luck with your website make over! ^ ^

    storitorigrace.blogspot.com

    Liked by 1 person

    • Good idea about the mini-bio in the sidebar, Tori. I should also change out the Gravatar image to a photo of myself.

      And yes, I definitely want to make my social media links more noticeable. That’s one of my priorities with this “facelift.” 🙂

      Thanks for your advice!

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      • I have a couple photos of myself in the About section. They’re the same ones I rotate through on my social media sites, so I have no problem with people seeing them. 🙂

        Thanks again, Tori!

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  7. I feel your pain about trying to find the right theme/template. I easily spent a week before I decided to try out Dusk to Dawn, and it took me longer to choose for the vchronicles website–and it’s still a work in progress. My blog’s header is a photo I manipulated with a photostudio app; the feather is symbolic of my being a writer, and also of the vchr series I’m writing. 🙂 When you have your book’s cover, you could use that for your new header–something that represents your books. I have a low budget, so the only thing I’m paying for is the vchronicles domain name, and I’m pleased with it so far. I researched other blogs who focus on fantasy, and I’m using that to design my blog and site; they lean heavily toward artwork that draws the visitor into another world. So, think about what type of readers you most want to draw in. If you were a reader, what about an author’s webiste appeals to you and draws you in?

    Liked by 1 person

    • I do like a lot of fantasy writers’ websites, too, especially more abstract templates. (One of the reasons why I went with Dusk To Dawn for Website 1.0.) But… the more I think about how much time, energy, and money I want to put into an updated website, the more convinced I am that I’m better off keeping the changes as simple as possible. It’s sort of like house-hunting. Website 2.0 doesn’t need to be my “dream house,” but it can be an improvement over 1.0 in select areas. Then, when I’m ready to invest a little more time and money into upgrades, there’s always Website 3.0. 😉

      Do you have a link to the V Chronicles website? I was curious and tried looking for it on your blog, but couldn’t find it.

      Liked by 1 person

      • That is a great way to think about it! It doesn’t have to be the “dream blog/house” right away, but rather we grow our blog to one day become that. 🙂
        Yeah, I haven’t added links yet because I’m still working on the design and filling out info, and I need to create a logo and art for the series still. But I think I like the theme/template so far. Let me know your thoughts: http://www.vchronicles.com

        Liked by 1 person

      • ^^ Exactly! 🙂

        Oooooh, the background image for V Chronicles looks very familiar. 😉 I like the general template you’re using. My only comment would be that the banner image of the bookshelf clashes with the background image. I like both pictures, but they don’t complement each other well enough. Maybe keep one picture and make the other as a solid color, if it’s possible? It’s totally up to you, though.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Yes, that image with the books is just a temporary prop; I’m planning on making a banner with my characters on it and placing it there. I just have to make it first, lol, I’m procrastincating. 😉 Plus, I’m not sure I’ll keep the background image, but I wanted to see what the site would look like with one (hehe indeed it looks familiar 😉 ).

        Liked by 1 person

  8. Pingback: Time Flies!: April 2015 | Sara Letourneau's Official Website & Blog

  9. This is such an exciting next step for you, Sara! Congrats 🙂 It took me years to realize that I deserved to put in the time, money and effort to re-launch my blog into an actual website.

    I would say that if you’re super busy, don’t try to learn all the nitty gritty tech stuff yourself. One of the best things I did was hire a web designer and developer to create my site for me – of course, I had control over what it looked like, the way it functioned, etc. I actually wrote a whole blog post about what I learned from my experience; it might be helpful 🙂

    https://wendyluwrites.com/writing-remarks/what-i-learned-from-launching-my-own-website/

    Good luck, Sara! Can’t wait to see the final changes!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks, Wendy. 🙂

      I’ve thought about this project a little more over the past few days… and even though hiring a web designer and developer to create a custom website is an awesome idea, I can’t spend the money on that at the moment. I think what I’ll do is buy a domain name through WordPress, then choose a package that lets me pick a mobile-responsive theme that allows a horizontal menu and custom colors (easy enough to change on WP). Like I’ve mentioned in a few other comments today, building or upgrading a website is like house-hunting. This next phase of the website doesn’t have to be my “dream house,” and I’m fine with that. But maybe Website 3.0 can be that dream. 😉

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  10. I don’t think you’re going to need any HTML, CSS or otherwise for a WordPress.com theme. I assume you’re just buying a domain, not a self-hosted (which I would personally advise against unless you’re prepared to build your readerbase from scratch again)… It’s up to you, of course, but I switched to .org two years ago and I seriously missed the WordPress community.

    Otherwise, the main thing you really want to pay attention to at this time is responsive layout. Google is going to start docking blogs that can’t be viewed easily on mobile devices, so have a look.

    I use a paid theme (Adventure Theme) which I love. It just depends how many graphics you’re going to use… (I have featured images each time, for example).

    Liked by 1 person

    • That’s what I was thinking. The previews that WP allows when you’re demoing (Demo-ing? Demolishing? *lol*) a new theme make color changes seem pretty easy. I’m definitely with WordPress.com, just because I want to take baby steps with this process.

      Wow, I didn’t know that about Google. I already was planning to go more mobile-responsive with Version 2.0, but this seals the deal. Thanks for the heads-up – and for the other advice, too!

      Liked by 1 person

  11. I wouldn’t know where to start with something like this, frankly, so I won’t try to give any advice. It’s good to see that you’re reaching out for help, though, and I’m sure it’ll all go swimmingly when the time comes. Good luck with it all!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks! I’ve decided since then to start with more simple, affordable changes. The key right now is, how much time, energy, and money do I have for the project? That’s going to drive which changes and the amount of changes I’m going to do for Website 2.0. So, stay tuned!

      Btw, nice to “see” you! How are things going with editing / revising your book?

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      • It’s going slower than I’d originally anticipated – but then I realized, “If I was a slow drafter, why would my revision ‘speed’ be any different?” I’m happier now that I’ve accepted it. And right now, I’m almost done with Chapter 3, have cut almost 2300 words from the manuscript, and the story is more on track that it was before. 🙂 Thanks for asking, and I’m glad to hear yours is going well too!

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  12. Owing your own website sounds lot more complicated than i thought it would be! I wish you luck in working it out. 🙂 The only think I think I would say about the current website, is that I would maybe make the bit at the top where the name of the site is a little bigger. But I’m not very visual either, so I’m definitely no expert.

    Liked by 1 person

    • *lol* It definitely seems that way, Phoenix! I’ve thought about this some more since I posted the article… and baby steps seem to be the best way to move forward right now. I’ll make the most important changes for the sake of readability and mobile-friendliness. I’m hoping to squeeze that in this month, or this summer at the latest. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  13. Pingback: Field Trip: The Muse And The Marketplace 2015 | Sara Letourneau's Official Website & Blog

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