One Year of WordPress

Today marks one year of using WordPress to manage this website; I know since I paid yearly for WordPress hosting and today is the renewal. While I have years of leveraging WordPress under my belt, prior to this site I had never really used it in this capacity. I previously just ran free blogs at WordPress.com, from college and then earlier into my career. Most of the other sites I put together that I would attach my name to were either Jamstack sites hosted somewhere like Netlify or Firebase or ones that were wholly tied to Squarespace. As such, I thought it might be a good opportunity to share my thoughts on WordPress as a whole, compare it to the aforementioned options, and what I think of my provider, EasyWP.

Comparisons

As I previously mentioned, my previous sites were typically either Jamstack sites or Squarespace. I can safely say, as may be evidenced by the fact that I’m opting to keep the site hosted on WordPress, that I prefer WordPress to either of those alternatives, though for very different reasons.

Jamstack sites offer a lot of flexibility, but also a lot of headaches and stability issues that I don’t want to deal with. My static site generator of choice has been Hugo for years, and it’s a terrific project. I used it just a couple of weeks ago to put together a new website to go along with a domain I had purchased — since I’m the kind of person who buys great domains and figures out what to do with them later. The biggest issue I’ve run into with Hugo, though, is theme support. Hugo has hundreds of great themes, but over time changes to Hugo itself result in broken themes. It’s all too simple to find a great Hugo theme only to find that it no longer compiles with current version of Hugo. Even worse is upgrading Hugo and discovering that there’s a breaking change with the theme you’re currently using, leaving you to decide if you should try to fix the theme or simply revert to the older Hugo version. Likewise, while having all of my content written out in highly portable Markdown files is handy, having to keep my Git repo with them synced to every device that I may write a post on is annoying… if I even have the option to do so — I’m looking at you, iPad.

As far as Squarespace is concerned, the longer I’ve been away from it, the worse of an offering I think that it was. While it certainly offers probably the easiest experience for getting a website on the Internet, that’s really about it. Rather than being robust, the themes for it are all fairly cookie-cutter; you can pretty much always tell when a site is hosted through Squarespace because they all look exactly the same… and that’s assuming people didn’t forget to change the page titles or the favicon from the defaults. Authoring content through Squarespace is extremely clunky, and I won’t waste keystrokes yet again complaining about the pain of moving your content out of Squarespace. To top it all off, Squarespace is surprisingly expensive, with the cheapest offering — which features a correspondingly limited set of features — coming in at $144 per year. Compared to $80 a year for decent WordPress hosting (more on that later) and free for most Jamstack sites, it’s extremely tough to justify in my opinion.

WordPress Itself

While no software is perfect, on the whole I’ve been rather pleased with WordPress. I wasn’t quite sure what to expect since migrating this site was my first WordPress experience since 2013, but I’ve consistently found myself pleasantly surprised. The block editor is quite nice for authoring content, and it’s facilitated my ability to hammer out posts solely with the keyboard rather than having to be slowed down by reaching clumsily for a mouse/trackpad. While I’ve occasionally found myself wishing for the ability to directly author my content in the block editor via Markdown like what I can do in Confluence, suffice to say that it hasn’t bothered me enough to look for a plugin or anything like that.

I’ve appreciated that WordPress theming can be as simple or as complicated as I want it to be. In my case, I’ve been sticking with the official themes from WordPress themselves since those are both free and extremely robust. I’m still currently using the Twenty Twenty One theme that I’ve modified with Dracula colors. I’ve only made a handful of additional tweaks to my CSS since that post, with all of the changes still being around things like spacing, colors, and link styling. Should I ever want to change up the appearance, I appreciate that I can easily switch to another theme without losing my customizations made to this one, and there are literally thousands of both free and paid themes to suite any need, thus saving me from having to do much of any front-end work myself, something that I both hate and am terrible at.

While I mainly use this site as a blog, I recognize the value in that WordPress makes it as easy as Squarespace to add additional pages, such as I when I created my About page. I’ve also come to respect how easy it is to define things like the format of my post URLs so that I can dictate what links to each of my posts look like, and I can additionally override those settings on a per-post basis if I so choose. This was handy when migrating from Squarespace to ensure my pre-existing links would remain valid.

I do wish that the block editor were slightly less heavy, as I’ve found that authoring content on my Pinebook Pro, while passable, is often a laggy experience that can make writing a bit frustrating. On the flip side, though, it’s extremely easy to write up posts on my iPad using the WordPress app.

I think it’s also worth mentioning some of the basic image-editing options offered by WordPress out of the box. For example, the shape of the image on my aforementioned About page was done via WordPress rather than any editing on my part beforehand. Little things like this make it that much easier to focus on writing content rather than burning cycles on editing things outside of the WordPress platform.

WordPress also offers a wide array of plugins, which is both cool and dangerous. It’s cool because it means I can add quite a lot of extensibility to my site, but it’s also dangerous because plugins tend to be a massive security hole in many WordPress sites. It’s easy for plugins to have unchecked security vulnerabilities, to fall out of date, etc. With that in mind, I’ve made a conscious decision to limit my use of plugins as much as possible. I currently have just one plugin installed, and I have it set to both:

  • Automatically update
  • Email me when updates occur

In this way I know the plugin I’m using is still getting love from the company which created it. I’m not particularly concerned about that given the plugin comes from a fairly popular platform that shall remain nameless, but it’s still nice that I have options for keeping tabs on it. Similarly, WordPress offers a nice Site Heath utility to help users stay on top of any potential issues with their site. I keep a widget for it on the landing page of my admin console so that I have immediate visibility into any potential pitfalls:

Not everything which appears here is a massive security flaw. Some items are simply recommendations or under-the-hood items that can improve performance. For example, I’ve seen notices here related to:

  • PHP upgrades
  • WordPress upgrades
  • Removing unused themes

Along with providing me with information on actions I should take (e.g. removing unused themes) these notices help me to keep my hosting provider honest as well. When I saw the notice that a new version of PHP had been released that would significantly improve WordPress performance, for example, I got to subsequently see that notice get removed when my hosting provider installed that PHP upgrade.

Hosting

One of the nice things about WordPress is that there are innumerable hosting options at your disposal. While using Squarespace means you use Squarespace, WordPress is just software that can be leveraged anywhere. I can host it myself on a VPS if I was so inclined — spoiler alert: I’m not — or pay someone else to do it. I personally ended up going to EasyWP, a hosting service from my domain registrar of choice, Namecheap.

EasyWP offers up a simple portal for managing the WordPress instance. I personally feel like it gives a fairly practical mix between keeping things simple yet providing the access which may be required.

Here I can do things like change the domain of the site, customize the CDN being used, modify the SSL certificate, take backups of the site, and even enable SFTP and database access if I so require. While I’ve not needed most of those options, it’s still nice to have that degree of access. For example, any time I’ve made significant changes to my site’s CSS or that I’ve upgraded to the latest version of WordPress, I’ve hopped to this dashboard in order to capture a backup.

There are several plans available, and I’ll be the first to admit that some of Namecheap’s marketing feels a little disingenuous at times. For example, I initially started down the path of using EasyWP as my WordPress host because they were offering a deal with the first year for only $10. However, that was for the starter plan which doesn’t include things like a CDN or SSL certificate out of the box. While that may be good for a brand new website, I didn’t think it was much of an option for transferring all of my existing content where I already had HTTPS URLs with traction in web crawlers.

Of course I could have simply leveraged that plan regardless and simply brought my own CDN and certificate, but ultimately I decided to just spring for the Turbo plan. New sites — which mine counted as at the time — could get the plan for 50% off for the first year, making the price just $35. Even now looking at $70 for a renewal seems extremely fair to me considering how well the service has done, so I think $35 for the full experience so someone can get their feet wet is well worth the price of admission if it’s a site someone is at all serious about. I’ve not seen any significant performance issues with the site — more on monitoring that in a future post! — to make me feel like I needed to bump from Turbo to Supersonic, and given how infrequently I use media beyond screenshots the 50 GB of storage is still doing wonders for me. The Supersonic pricing still seems reasonable to me, though, if I reach that point, and the beauty of WordPress is that I could easily move all of my content to another WordPress host if I felt that to be necessary in the future.

On the whole, I think WordPress has been a terrific choice. It gives me a flexible option to keep the central hub of all things me online without forcing me to pay an exorbitant amount or go through more effort than I have time for to customize and maintain a site.