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This is a quick review of my experience starting a blog as a non-coder/software engineer. I am a doctor, I love video games, and I am okay with a computer. I am by all measures a moderate user of computers. Still setting up DadsDollarsDebts.com has been an exhilarating, exhausting and frustrating experience. Here I cover starting a site and moving it between platforms. My last post discussed my site traffic over this time.
I set up DadsDollarsandDebts.com first through Squarespace. I purchased a domain through GoDaddy and then used Squarespace as my host to start the blog. This had been recommended to me and was in fact a nice site with beautiful layouts. The cost for one year of domain registration was $32 (including domain privacy) and one year of Square Space was $215.
Blog: My thoughts on Squarespace
I liked SquareSpace a lot as it has easy to use themes and layouts. It did not require plugins (like WordPress) and had a native commenting section that was user friendly. I was able to get the blog up and running very easily. I even was able to flip through themes without difficulty and there were a number of free ones to choose from through my annual subscription fee. So all in all Squarespace was easy to set up and use.
Still after 4 months I decided Squarespace was too restrictive for my future blog. Why restrictive? Well, I found that I could not make many changes to my template or the plugins offered. For instance, if I wanted to change the commenting system from the native Squarespace option, I could either learn to code to build my own app or use Disqus. I am not a coder and decided to use Disqus. In hindsight I should have stuck with Squarespaces own commenting platform but more on that later.
Using Squarespace for almost 4 months I used the following plugins: Mail Chimp, Disqus, Shareaholics, Google Tags, Google Analytics, Google AdSense, Google AdWords, and Commision Junction. I will cover these further at the end of the post.
I wanted the option to have header menus, footer menus, and menus where ever I so pleased. Squarespace themes, while quite artistic, do not allow for many customizations. If you want a sidebar and the theme does not offer it, then you have to find a theme that does. This was frustrating and so I started looking into other blogging sites, and ended up choosing WordPress.
I made the switch to WordPress on 2/18/17. I used BlueHost as my host site and purchased a new domain through them DadsDollarsDebts.com (I dropped the “and”). The cost for 3 years of hosting and domain purchase was $215. I also opted for privacy on the domain, costing me another $11.
One negative I have about BlueHost (and this may be true about all hosts) is that when I “parked” my old website dadsdollarsanddebts.com to the new site, I could not have an SSL for that site. This means is someone types https://dadsdollarsanddebts.com into their browser, then they will get an error. If they just do an http:// then they get directed to my site. I have definitely lost readers due to this issue. What is a solution? Don’t change you name once you have started building an audience.
My thoughts on switching from Squarespace to WordPress
I logged onto my new WordPress account and set up a free theme. Then I had to figure out how to export my 37 posts from Squarespace. Luckily Squarespace provides the capability to export your data and import it into WordPress. I used this article from WPbeginner to figure out how to do this. I had to download two plugins on WordPress and once I had them activated I just had to hit download.
The whole process was quite easy and by following the above instructions I was able to import my posts, pictures, and comments (from the native Squarespace system, not Disqus). Once these items were imported I had to make a few tweaks, including:
- I had to add a featured image to each post. This was not automatically synced through the import of my Squarespace files.
- Since I changed my domain to DadsDollarsDebts.com I had to change any reference links in my posts. This will not be an issue for you if you are keeping the same domain name when transferring over to WordPress. This took about 2 hours of my life that I will not be getting back.
- I did loose all of my Disqus comments (about 40) when I removed the Disqus plugin. These comments would also have been lost if I had stayed on Squarespace without the plug in. This is one reason I stopped using Disqus and will not be doing so again. My comments from the native Squarespace commenting system did transfer over to my WordPress account.
- I parked my old domain into my new one. So if you go to DadsDollarsandDebts.com it will forward you to DadsDollarsDebts.com.
Once I was set up with my old posts, I started playing with my WordPress site. I had to learn about and install many plug ins for things that were native to the Squarespace site. This included a Twitter Feed plugin, another plugin to post my new content to Twitter and Facebook, multiple plug ins to get comments up and running, and a plug in to enter HTML code/text for ads. I also added plugins for Google Analytics, Mail Chimp and Shareaholics. I have spent 2 weeks getting the site running smoothly on WordPress and find new things every day. This was 2 weeks that I was not writing regularly and thus taking away from the true purpose of the blog that is to produce content to help others.
Would I still recommend switching, yes! But be sure to keep the same domain name (it is easier) and doing it sooner then later.
My thoughts on switching domain names
Switching domain names was painful and I am not sure I would do it again. I had to pay for a new domain and pay for my old domain to park in the new one. I then had to go through various websites and update my email and domain name. For instance the Rockstar Directory of personal finance blogs. I also had to email other bloggers who had links to my site so they could update their information (thanks Physician on Fire and Wall Street Physician). Finally, it just sucked up a bunch of my time. It would have been easier to keep the old domain.
My review of plugins and services
Here is a quick review of the products I used and if I found them useful.
Let’s start with Disqus. This is a tool that allows people to comment on the site. To use it individuals have to have their own accounts on Disqus (STRIKE 1). I liked this plugin initially but was frustrated when I realized that readers need an account to comment. Also I did not own the comments (STRIKE 2) and could not import them into a new site (STRIKE 3- Your out!) without using Disqus. So if I get rid of Disqus the comments are gone. When I decided to get rid of Disqus I lost 40 comments and there is no way to import them. It is like I have wiped out the exchanges with my early readers. I would not recommend this tool.
A tool that allows me to obtain subscribers to emails. I can make subcategories and different lists of people to send specific targeted emails. For now I am just using MailChimp to send out new posts. MailChimp has remained free for me but can get really expensive if the number of subscribers increases substantially. Still I like the ability to personalize all aspect of my email sign up form and email send outs.
A tool that allows people to share my posts/pages through social media. While there are other tools to do this, I have been happy with Shareaholic for this and would recommend it.
An easy way to track page visits, views, etc. Squarespace had a nice analytics site already installed, but I still used Google Analytics. WordPress has an easy plug in for Google Analytics. I would recommend this plugin early on so that you can get accurate site statistics, because knowledge is power. Particularly if you want to obtain affiliate advertisers, as they will want to see your page views.
Final thought- here is a great site and discussion regarding new bloggers on Rockstar Forum.
Ok so that was a lot of info but I help for any of my fellow new bloggers it is useful. Please let me know your thoughts on other useful plugins, site tweaks, etc for your blog! Thanks.
Also published on Medium.