11 February 2018
The Creative Person’s Website Builder came out four years ago, which is a long time in the world of the web. It’s time for a new update as there are many things that have changed since I wrote it.
The first thing to say is that today, I wouldn’t necessarily advise every creative person to go with WordPress. WordPress was the brief for the book, as at the time it was the obvious choice for the creative who needed to get a self-built website up online. Seeing as WordPress is now a significantly more complicated platform to build with, I’d now advise people to look at Squarespace, Dunked, Weebly, or Wix, and Big Cartel for those who want to sell online. But if you want to remain entirely independent, and not reliant on any other company to keep your website up and online, WordPress, although more complicated now than it used to be, does remain your only option.
And of course, if as well as a creative type, you’re also up for doing a fair bit of fiddling around on your computer and trying to work things out for yourself, well then WordPress won’t pose you too much of a problem.
(I’m talking about self-hosted WordPress here, obviously.)
Another thing to say is that design has changed in four years as well. The emphasis is now very firmly on very large, full-width images. That’s not to say that the obvious portfolio layout has become redundant – not a bit of it, but you will now have the option of choosing a theme that displays your work at a very large size. This will be a good thing for many kinds of artist.
Chapters 1-4 remain essentially the same. There’s no change in the way that WordPress is installed, and my words about website content and how to choose a theme are still entirely valid. One point is that it’s now essential that your theme works well on mobile – it’s not an “option.” But all modern themes will automatically be “responsive” these days, anyway.
Page 44 – ColorLabs now seems to be out of service. I’d add AngieMakes.com, a theme maker who caters to the “feminine” blogging market with some very nicely designed themes.
Chapter 6 – WordPress itself continues to work in the same way, fundamentally. The themes now tend to have lots of different options, and since they all work slightly differently, you’ll need to be sure to look at the documentation that comes with the theme.
One difference that’s a major improvement is now that it’s a lot easier to work with images and galleries, within WordPress as it comes, “out of the box.” This doesn’t need any extra explanation. As a successful design improvement should be, it’s now pretty intuitive to add images and galleries; click on the image and then the pencil to edit images, once uploaded to the page.
Page 82 – I refer to the Twenty Thirteen theme being the default theme. Now, it’s Twenty Seventeen that’s the default theme (Twenty Eighteen will appear at some point this year but we are never sure exactly when new default themes are released). You’ll need to change or install the theme you want to use in exactly the same way as described in the book.
Pages 84-85 – Talking about how to customize themes, there’s something new, and that’s the fact that quite a number of themes today work with a system called “Visual Composer.” This is actually less the case for portfolio themes, but you may well come across some kind of system that allows you to drag and drop elements wherever you like within the page, thereby creating your own layout. This may seem obvious to you if you’re new to WordPress, but as more seasoned users will be only too aware, until recently, you were constrained in your page layout to what the developers had decided. Now you increasingly have the possibility of deciding how to organise your content.
The most well-known example of a theme that works like this is the hugely popular Divi theme which works with Visual Composer and also has a “front-end editor,” meaning that you can make quick changes to your pages without having to go right into the admin area (although you will need to do this most of the time when initially building the site). You can upload a pre-made layout to Divi, which is a great development as it means you can get the benefit of some beautifully designed website layouts. But unless you really love the challenge of working with something with a steep learning curve, or you’re an experienced techie person, I’d think that the vast majority of creatives who need to build their own websites would be far better off with a theme that offers fewer choices. Sometimes having to many options can lead you into confusion, and the right theme that is already pretty much exactly as you want it will be a far less time-consuming choice for a beginner.
Plus I atually like the look of most specifically-designed portfolio themes better than the look of Divi which looks pretty corporate (while you can change this, it will certainly be easier to choose a portfolio theme that already has the right look for wht you want).
Page 90 – I talk about the Jetpack gallery feature that allows you to jazz up the basic WordPress gallery, but most themes today offer a gallery that’s styled by the developers, and portfolio themes will always have sleek ways of displaying your visuals. That said, if you choose to use a very simple theme, perhaps if you’re a creative blogger, you may find the Jetpack gallery comes in handy as a good way of displaying your gallery items.
Page 92 – Email Address Encoder is now the preferred email address protector. (You can install as usual from within the Plugins area of your admin.)
Yoast SEO is now the leader in search engine optimisation plugins. It has a brilliant way of coding your pages red, amber or green according to how well they are optimised to a particular keyword that you specify. This is really excellent. (Though I caution against spending hours making sure every page on your site is “green” as I know many people do – it could be that word of mouth or local marketing is much more beneficial to you in terms of getting more business, so it’s not necessarily a great idea to get too hung up on it.)
Page 94 – Again, most portfolio themes have ready-styled built in ways of displaying your artworks so you most likely won’t need to add extra plugins.
To the plugins chapter, I would add MyBookTable, for authors - this allows you to group the different ways people can order the book into one single, tidier button.
Chapter 9 – If you don’t want the complication of setting up with WooCommerce (today the only obvious choice for a WordPress e-commerce plugin), then you need to look at Gumroad.
WooCommerce involves all kinds of complications including extra plugins to make sure your site is PCI-compliant, and if you want support, you’ll have to pay yearly to get it. You may have the appetite for this kind of technicality, and the budget for the extra costs, and if so that’s fine, it’s a great way to run a webstore, but it’s now more of a professional option than a DIY quick-set-up choice.
Enter Gumroad, specially built for creatives to be able to sell their products online – digital products such as films and ebooks, and real-life physical goods that you have to mail out, as well. It pays you every two weeks on a Friday – no need to set up your own payment system – and is really a brilliant option!
If you want more of a store, then I advise adding a Big Cartel page to your site as a store page. It can be customised in terms of colours and branding to more or less match your site and I’ve seen dozens of people using it really successfully. Also, it’s super simple to set up.
Chapter 10 – Of course, you can still use MyStile with WooCommerce, but I don’t think it’s the best option for most creatives who want to sell online.
Chapter 11 – Many themes now come with a built-in selection of Google fonts so you won’t need to use a plugin to use them on your site. Making your site look unique is now so much easier!
Very much worth stressing is the fact that free fonts you download to your compluter from places like DaFont.com will be accessible when you use an online image tool like Pixlr.com. This means it’s really easy to create entirely original site headers using unusual and striking fonts even if you don’t use Photoshop. (If you’re a graphic designer, of course you’ve got all this handled, but not everyone has!)
Since I wrote the book Canva.com has launched on the scene, which is a fantastic tool for non-designers to create brilliant graphics online that you can use for your website, or even for print (for example exhibition or performance flyers, or badges on your website to advertise events). There are also some other graphic tools that are brilliant for creative bloggers who aren’t necessarily Photoshop happy designers – see this article.
I’ve also recently started using the 1-1 Projects division of 99Designs for specific graphics needs, which needs a mention here as it’s a really useful service. You can find good designers on Fiverr as well (not for a fiver though, obviously).
Chapter 12 – Of course, Google changes all the time without telling us what they’re doing, in order to make sure the way they list sites isn’t exploited, but one official, announced change in the way that Google works, since I wrote the book, is that keywords are no longer used. I don’t mean that you don’t have to use keywords in your text. Not at all! You must use keywords in your text. But you no longer have the option of suggesting keywords that might be appropriate for Google to help it list your site. No more keywords hidden in the code of your page. So, when you’re using the Yoast SEO plugin, you’ll see that there is no longer a field in which you type your keywords for each page.
Page 143 – You can now use Jetpack to create a sitemap for your site so that the search engines will index it correctly.
Page 144 – Facebook ads are the new way of advertising your website. These are relatively easy to set up, and as with Google Adwords, you specify geographical locations and also quite a few other demographics of the people to whom you want the advert to appear; you can set a daily cap to make sure you don’t overspend. Instagram ads are a recent option as well (although I confess I have no experience of this myself).
Chapter 13 – Instagram is now a huge player, especially for people in the creative world, and it’s also become a massive tool for driving online sales.
It’s normal now for themes to come with a whole host of social media buttons built into them so you’re less likely to need a plugin for this. To display an Instagram feed on your site – a brilliant way of “microblogging” if you like, to show your audience what you’re up to – you’ll need to install a plugin such as WP Instagram Widget (there are many others you can try out as well, and customise in the way that you want).
Chapter 14 – Email mailing lists are still massively important, with MailChimp still being the service of choice for most of the smaller outfits that need a mailing list provider, due to the fact that it’s free for up to 2,000 subscribers.
Note the advent of ConvertKit for bloggers since I wrote the book – an all-in-one mailing list/landing page system for bloggers to advertise their products and services.
Chapter 15 – A new EU ruling that you need to be aware of if you sell ebooks internationally is that you need to add VAT to your sales depending on which EU country the purchaser resides in. This has been a massive headache for people concerned, and one that using Gumroad for your ebook sales entirely eliminates – they do it all for you. Hooray for Gumroad.
Chapter 16 – I now recommend the Updraft Plus plugin for backing up your site. You really must do backups, frequently, and save them carefully, as WordPress sites are getting hacked more and more often. Don’t worry if this happens to you – it most likely isn’t a disaster if you have a recent backup; ask your host how you should proceed – they may in fact be able to do a restore for you themselves.
Page 166 – Polylang is a really good and simple to use plugin for multilingual websites.
Resources, page 168 – ODesk is now Upwork.com. Canva.com needs to be added to the Graphics list. For logo design, Buildabrand is no longer in action; to this section we should add the 1-1 Projects division of 99Designs.
That’s it for this time! Good luck with your website.