So, many of you noticed, I hope, that I reconstituted my Eagle Peak Press website. Formerly, that site ran on Joomla, an open source system that is very popular around the world–although not as popular as WordPress. In the hands of an expert and/or with a host of what Joomla calls “extensions” and WordPress calls “plugins,” many wonderful functions and features can be offered to site visitors. After several years with the Joomla site, I found that some shortcomings just never got addressed. With a webmaster’s expertise, perhaps I could have overcome them. But my objective is to be a writer, not a webmaster. So I made the decision to migrate the site to WordPress, primarily to make the Eagle Peak Quarterly (the focus of Eagle Peak Press) a better product. To wit, to cure a chronic problem with archived issues. Also to enable easier access by visitors yet more sophisticated display and design of the Quarterly.
What this post is about is a bit of encouragement for anyone contemplating a similar move. It’s also about customizing an existing WordPress site if you already have a self-hosted one. Let’s begin with a brief note for those making the migration. I can tell you that the “FGJoomla to WordPress plugin does work relatively simply and remarkably well. For just a few dollars, I chose the premium option with a few more features. It takes Joomla articles or pages and converts them to WordPress posts or pages. It can carry over categories, menus and more. You will need to have or create a WordPress site on which to install the plugin. The FAQs should cover most of what you need to know. I confess to much trepidation on beginning the process. In reality, having once set up a site and installing a new WordPress, it was not difficult at all. The biggest concern is moving folders around on your ISP or webhost. For a modest fee they will help you with that if you are hesitant about doing it (like I was) given issues of SQL databases and what not. Obviously, before doing anything, it all needs to be backed up in case anything DOES go awry. It didn’t for me. The bigger task is a fresh design for the WordPress site.
Obviously if you want to make a site more responsive, with more features, a better appearance, etc., you need to put in the time and effort to make it so. If you’re already at the point of a self-hosted site and have been using WordPress for some time, you know all about themes and plugins. WordPress has core functions that theme designers (including Automattic, the lead entity responsible for WordPress.com–the public hosted site and of the core for self-hosted sites via WordPress.org) build on to supply the look and basic functions. Themes come in all sizes, shapes and colors. Too many, in fact. The free ones alone can drive one crazy. Will this look good for what I want to do? Will I just be a garden variety blogger? Do I want to showcase photos, videos, music, etc.? Do I want to have abundant subscriber or community participation? Do I want to sell something?
Unfortunately, because there are SO many themes available and the filters to search through them are not really up to the task of finding one just right for you (if you don’t know EXACTLY what you are looking for, how can you find it?) The preview process is of little or no help. You must actually install a theme you think might work and then do a preview with content you already have loaded on an interim basis. Then it becomes a back and forth process of trying first one and then another. Adding content in different places with different widgets to see how it looks on one or another. Some themes are better at easily enabling customized headers, colors, fonts, widget positions, etc. That took ten days or so until I finally decided I would get a paid theme that had more features. That too is challenging.
Along the way there’s the incessant consideration of plugins. Can the theme do what I want or need without some of them? Some plugins don’t play nice with some themes or with other plugins. Another ten days or more. Then there’s the things that just don’t work quite right. FAQs answer some. Support answers others. Eventually, you get accustomed or familiar with the foibles of the features and the functions.
Eventually you resort to doing a little CSS styling or HTML coding to tweak things to the way you want them. With Jetpack (an Automattic massive plugin with many features ostensibly designed to enable a self-hosted site to do things that a WordPress hosted site can) you can add little edits in “CSS Edits” that will survive a theme update. You can preview them to see if they work before saving them–and otherwise potentially making problems for yourself. Or if you’re more adventurous you can create a “child-theme”–sort of a copy of the theme you’re using in which you can make changes. It’s somewhat hazardous, from a functional perspective, to edit the theme itself. If you do so correctly, any changes you make will be overwritten and disappear the next time a theme update comes along. Do it incorrectly and you could break or severely cripple your website. So it’s always wise to make regular backups before undertaking such changes and know how (or have someone, including your webhost) available to restore the backup.
After a month’s work, I created a much better looking and much more functional site. All it takes is time and fortitude. You can do it too, if you have both of those. If not, forget about it or pay somebody to do it for you. But that’s kind of like the difference between clothes off the rack or a house in a subdivision versus something custom designed. We knew what we didn’t like with our old house after living there for 30 years. We knew the stupid locations for some things in that house. We knew no subdivision developer could ever present us with the home that matched our wants and needs. So I designed it myself and paid the experts required to complete it. Besides, once we decided to live in an out of the way small town, there were no model homes in developments anyway. It’s not really like that with WordPress; you can find pre-designed sites. It’s just your call whether you’re OK with that or not.