I recently redesigned our website using WordPress. On a few occasions, Rodney and Jared probably overheard just how much fun I was having. So much fun that Jared let me write a blog post on it.

My frustrations were not caused by WordPress. No. WordPress is pretty awesome. In fact, it is so awesome that I have a bunch of random tips for working with it, which I will write about in a later post. Don’t expect to find them here. For now, I offer only my general thoughts on using WordPress to build your website.

To explain the difficulty I faced, I first need to distinguish between wordpress.com and wordpress.org. I could have set up our site using wordpress.com, without understanding anything about how websites work, since you can create a website right there, and simply map a domain name to that wordpress.com site. That would have been easy. Unfortunately, wordpress.com is rather limited in its features. For example, you cannot install Plug-ins. None. I tried, and wasted a lot of time before finding out that it is actually impossible. We wanted Plug-ins because we wanted, among other things, additional audio and video functions, as well as Twitter and Facebook integration. So, we went to wordpress.org.

WordPress.org requires using an ftp server to upload WordPress to a web server, and thus, to a website. The company that hosts said website will have an effect on the ease of the installation process and its continued operation. DreamHost has a particularly good reputation for its performance with WordPress, so I thought it was worth it for us to make the switch away from our then-current host. Although I have nothing on which to base a comparison, I can say that we’ve had no DreamHost-related problems, per se. We did, however, have a load of problems in transferring our website’s hosting to DreamHost.

Those problems wouldn’t have been nearly as traumatic as they were, had I been a little less stubborn, given up at a sensible point, and simply asked our absolutely amazing IT guy to handle this portion entirely. (Chris Morse, by the way, is the only reason I didn’t cry on no less than three occasions throughout this process.) But, I am stubborn, and I know Chris is a busy man, so I did what I did. By the way, did any of you try to email us on September 10th, between 12pm and 3pm? Yeah—my fault those emails got bounced back. Oops. So, unless you have a deep understanding the following words, and how they interrelate, let your IT folks handle your transfer: Uniform Resource Locator, domain name registrar, domain name server, IP address, file transfer protocol, hyper text transfer protocol, web server, … By the way, “Yeah, I’ve heard of that” does not constitute a deep understanding, nor does merely reading the Wikipedia explanation thereof.

. . .

As to using WordPress itself, it is a straightforward endeavor, for the most part. And, where it is less than straightforward, figuring it out is usually quite manageable. There are a few basic points to consider when getting started.

First, as I recommended in my post about creating a Facebook Fan Page, learn the basics of writing html. It’s pretty easy, particularly with help like this. You will want the flexibility that html-writing produces, rather than just relying on formatting inside the WYSIWYG input fields, which you will find neither consistent nor versatile.

Next, I want to share a couple simple, but significant, observations on formatting. Understanding that your Frontpage, Pages, and Posts have distinct purposes, you might consider changing the template of your Pages to exclude the Widget-filled sidebars that you will want to display on your Frontpage. And, while you will probably want to allow comments on your Posts, you may want to exclude them from your Pages. There is no setting that will allow you to default to these modifications; so, both of these adjustments must be made on a page-by-page basis. Tedious? Yep. And, as it relates to Widgets, formatting is intuitive, but sometimes wonky. Yes, wonky. And, note that the Text Widget is html-friendly. So, for example, you can use it to generate a picture, simply by inputting the html for the image you’d like to display.

Now, a couple quick notes if you’re importing posts from another blogsite. The importer tool and the tool that converts between tags and categories are easy to use, and work quite well, almost every time. But, you’ll want those previous posts to have a unique url on your WordPress site, most likely. This is not as easy to figure out as the importer tool, but just as quick to implement: From Permalinks, under Settings, use the following custom structure: /%category%/%postname%/. Done.

And, I just have to say this: Don’t get too excited when you see an awesome Plug-in. Not all Plug-ins are so easily “plugged-in”. Some require a good bit of work to set up. I’ll talk about my favorites and troubleshooting in my second post on this topic.

Finally, while it may be obvious, I will mention that creating and maintaining a website using wordpress.org can be time consuming. While nothing about it is particularly difficult, you’ll find that a good portion of your goals will involve more work than you expect. Having said that, I can’t imagine a more user-friendly interface than WordPress.