Something we hear quite often from beginners at WordPress North East events and other business events is the confusion – or perhaps the totally unknown distinction – between building a website on WordPress.com, and building a self-hosted WordPress website.
What is WordPress?
Let’s start off with the basics: what is WordPress?
WordPress is a content management system. At a very basic level, this means it provides non-technical users the ability to add and edit content on your website without any (or very little) knowledge of website design.
WordPress is open source, which means it is free to use even commercially, and a community of web designers and developers around the world contribute to WordPress to keep it secure and add new features all the time.
What web design agencies such as Peacock Carter call “WordPress core” provides the functionality to run simple websites. In WordPress, these have content split in to two basic types: “pages” for timeless content such “about us”; and “posts”, typically used for timely news articles or blog posts.
You can add and change WordPress’ functionality by adding what are known as plugins to your website. These can add features such as image slideshows and carousels, contact forms, e-commerce (functionality to sell products and take payment online) and more.
It’s also possible to change the way your website looks through WordPress themes.
WordPress.com offers free websites – all you need to do is register an account. This provides the basic building blocks you need to create your own WordPress website.
By default, WordPress.com websites are published on a sub domain of WordPress.com, such as YourBusiness.WordPress.com.
With WordPress.com, you can:
- add and edit pages and posts on your website
- add a limited selection of functionality with a limited range of plugins
- change your WordPress theme (and thus your website’s design)
You may need to pay for:
- using a custom domain name (eg, yourbusiness.co.uk) for your website
- some custom designs (known as themes)
- some custom functionality (known as plugins)
WordPress.com websites allow you to manage your content and not have to worry about security updates to WordPress.
Self-hosted WordPress websites
Self-hosted websites can be built with WordPress, too these use WordPress as downloaded from WordPress.org. They will allow you to manage your content in a similar manner to WordPress websites built with WordPress.com, and also:
- allow you to customise the design of your WordPress website via themes (both freely available and paid-for themes)
- allow you to add both free and paid-for plugins for additional functionality
You will likely need to pay for one or more of the below:
- A domain name, such as YourBusiness.co.uk
- Web hosting, which is storage for your website to allow it to be accessible on the web to visitors
With self-hosted WordPress websites, you are responsible for keeping your website’s software up to date and secure.
WordPress.com versus self-hosted WordPress websites
Now you’re familiar with the two versions of WordPress available for building your website, here’s it overview for easy comparison:
Self-hosted WordPress websites
Free, though you will need to buy a domain name and pay a small annual fee if you want to your website to show on a custom domain such as YourBusiness.co.uk
Requires web hosting; we also recommend a security certificate which can be acquired for free.
Yes, ideal for beginners.
With greater functionality, less technically comfortable users may find they need a little guidance to grasp everything, but the basics – adding and editing content – should be easy to grasp.
Ideal for who?
Beginners in blogging and small businesses dipping a toe in to the web world.
Best suited to those keen to establish a more developed web presence. You may find our WordPress training courses handy!
Can I sell online?
Yes, with WordPress Premium, from £7 a month (billed annually).
Yes; there are a range of WordPress plugins available including WooCommerce.
Of course, if you’d like any advice on which platform is best suited to you, please do get in touch!
As a web design agency founded in 2006, we know that website design trends change all of the time, and not always for the best. Here are Peacock Carter’s predictions for web design trends for 2020.
Asymmetric web designs
Asymmetrical website designs are one trend we may see more of in 2020 – typically, modern website designs are built from a grid which translates to both mobile and desktop versions of a website; moving away from this grid it’s possible to create more visually interesting content.
The trade off with the use of asymmetric website design is whether this can render content harder to read for your visitors, and whether it impinges the easy navigation of your website.
Bold, simple colours
The use of simpler blocks of colour has been around for some time, but we think it may be due to make a come back for websites in 2020. The benefits of bold simple colours for website design are more impact visually, though there’s potential for issues with contrast making content inaccessible for a small or larger portion of your website’s visitors.
More animation on websites
Historically, websites have been fairly static in nature, serving content to visitors interested in certain topics, products or services. Animation techniques came along, and in the “MySpace” era of the web, animation was done to death, with big, in-your-face sequences distracting from websites’ true purposes – to see your product or service.
We think web animation is likely to make more of a come back again in 2020, with subtler animations introduced – we’re seeing this already on some websites built in the last year or so. With mobile traffic accounting for around 50% – or more! – of web traffic in many industries, modern animation techniques such as CSS animation can be coupled with older techniques like GIFs to create a mobile-friendly experience for visitors.
As with any animation use on your website, beware of overuse – less is more! – as they can become distracting to your visitors.
Of course, one of the things that makes web design so enjoyable is that things change rapidly, so no doubt 2020’s web design trends will end up looking very different to our predictions above!
If you’re looking to update your website design in 2029, get in touch with Peacock Carter – your Newcastle web design agency!
Do you have a self-hosted WordPress website which is taking a while to load?
This can be a common issue, particularly with self-built WordPress websites using off-the-shelf themes and websites with lots of plugins installed. Here are three things you can do to improve the speed of your WordPress website, courtesy of the WordPress experts at Peacock Carter:
1. Check your WordPress hosting service
Free hosting services tend to have a higher number of websites sharing their resources, meaning your website may be affected by other websites. It’s worth paying a reasonable amount for hosting (even £5 a month) to ensure optimal up-time (the amount of time your website is online for) and for improved website speeds.
For WordPress websites, we recommend hosting companies such as Siteground.
2. Compress your website’s images and photographs
Modern websites often make use of large, hi resolution photography and images to showcase their products and services. They can provide a huge boost to a website’s design, and yet large image file sizes can also have a large impact on your website’s loading speed. Of course, there also isn’t a huge amount of point in having a first class hosting company for your website if your website doesn’t make an effort to minimise the size of images files for your visitors!
Large images are perhaps not such a big deal as they used to be if you’re connected to a modern Internet connection, but many web users use their mobile and tablet devices to browse the web these days, and they may be connected to 3G or 4G connections rather than high speed broadband. We recommend minimising your image file sizes with a WordPress plugin such as Smush It to compress your website’s images and reduce your page load times.
3. Cache your website for extra speed!
By default, each page loaded by a visitor makes a lot of requests to the server to fetch files and content need to create your WordPress website. Caching minimises these requests by creating a single version of your page with all of the information and content it needs to be served as a single file. There are many WordPress plugins which can provide caching for your website, but we recommend the Speed Booster Pack plugin for ease of set up and the results we’ve seen on client websites.
In addition, hosting companies such as Siteground also provide an additional layer of caching which can be beneficial for your website’s site speed; just be sure to test heavily before enabling as this can potentially break some plugin functionality!
Still need help to improve your WordPress website’s speed?
If you’re still in need of help to improve your WordPress website’s loading times, get in touch with the WordPress experts at Peacock Carter; we’re happy to help!
For businesses of all sizes, commissioning a new website can be a daunting process. A badly built or designed website can damage your business irreparably, but often it can be the smaller details which are missed and create tension between you and your new web design agency.
Here are key questions you can ask prospective web design companies before you commission a new website. They should help you to clarify the services you’re getting, and ensure a smoother transition to your new website for all.
1. What does the website support package offer?
Having a new website designed and built is just one step for most organisations – you may need ongoing support to keep your website secure and up to date. Asking about the website support packages will help you to get a clear idea of what is and isn’t included from your new website design company before you sign on the dotted line!
Ask your prospective web designers:
- How much website hosting is, and what is included?
You’ll need website hosting to ensure your website is online (typically annually). You don’t have to use the website hosting your web designer suggests, but every website will have requirements that need to be met.
- Whether a security certificate (SSL) is included.
SSL certificates help to secure your website by encrypting information sent between a visitor’s computer and your website. You can now get free certificates via organisations such as Lets Encrypt, though these aren’t necessarily suitable for every type of website and organisation.
- What do you charge for changes once the website is live?
Ensure you know what future potential costs are for the next phase of your website plans, such as new features, or amendments to anything you can’t change on your new websites.
2. Can we manage our own website content?
Content managed websites give you or someone within your company the ability to add and edit content on your website. Without this functionality, you could potentially spend a lot of your marketing budget having small changes to your website’s content over the years, rather than on specific campaigns.
Proprietary versus open source websites
There are hundreds – if not thousands – of content management systems in existence, each designed for a specific purpose. Our general advice, particularly for smaller businesses, is to avoid proprietary content management systems, as these can tie you in to a particular web design agency.
Open source content management systems (such as WordPress and Drupal) offer your web designers a basis to build your website on a platform which doesn’t tie you in to a specific agency. This is because the system running your website is “open source” – ie, free to anyone to use and amend. The benefit of these is:
- The more popular open source content management systems have a world-wide community of web designers and developers who have experience with the platform, meaning you’re less likely to get tied down to a specific provider.
- One open source CMS, WordPress, is currently the world’s most popular content management system, and with good reason – it provides a relatively easy administration panel to manage your website’s content, as well as a variety of features in the form of “plugins” which can be added to your website and customised to your needs.
- Your website’s code is yours once you’ve (subject to the contract with your web design agency, of course! Worth checking).
As a web design established in 2006, Peacock Carter have seen our fair share of content management systems; we now work with the WordPress content management system on a daily basis, which we believe gives us as web designers great control over website functionality and how we build websites, and also gives our clients access to manage their own content.
3. How future proof is my new website?
Website design is quite a fast-paced sector, and technologies can come and go within a few years – or event months! – which could leave you with a website which no longer functions as you expect. Questions worth asking are:
- How long do you expect this website to last before it requires a full overhaul? The answer can vary quite widely to this. It may be quite possible to have the same website “core” for years – even decades – and simply redesign (sometimes known as “reskin”) the website and refresh the content to keep the website competing with your competitors.
- Will the website cope with new smartphones and tablet devices as they’re released? (It’s hard to guarantee all of these will work given the huge variety of mobile devices these days, but the core of the website – being able to view content clearly – should be able to function on all devices at a basic level).
If you’d like help commissioning a new website, talk to our web consultants who can put together a comprehensive specification and brief for you to release for RfQ (Request for Quotations).
Many small businesses owners make use of WordPress to power their website – and with good reason – but often forget the basics of making their website search engine friendly.
Here are 5 SEO (search engine optimisation) basics you can review on your WordPress website today to make it easier to search engines to find, interpret, and list (known as “indexing”) your website’s content.
1. Does your WordPress website’s homepage explain what you do, and where?
This may sound obvious, but you’d be surprised about how many business owners take the basics of explaining their website for granted. Be sure to explain:
- What your business offers – its services or products (you can go in to more detail about individual services and products on additional pages)
- Where you serve customers – if you offer a UK-wide service, that’s fine – but it doesn’t hurt to be extra clear!
This not only helps to reassure customers who’ve found you in search engines that they’ve found a company who can do what they want in their area, but also helps search engines understand what your business offers, and where your website might fit in search results for relevant phrases.
A solicitor in Newcastle upon Tyne’s website might use the content:
“We’re a family-run law firm based in Newcastle upon Tyne offering conveyancing, commercial and private legal advice. We work with clients throughout Tyne and Wear, Northumberland and County Durham”
An accountancy firm based in Sunderland may use the following:
“123 Accounting provides book-keeping, accountancy and tax advice to businesses and individuals in Sunderland and County Durham.”
If you’re not confident with writing your own content, ask us for recommendations for copywriters who have experience of small business website content!
2. Do your contact details match your (Google) map listings?
If you’ve ever noticed map listings appear for businesses when you search for services near you? You can improve the chances of your WordPress website appearing in Google’s map listings for relevant searches (e.g., “web designers in Newcastle“) by making sure that your Google My Business account (which is free to create) displays the correct phone number, address, and postcode. You can even add your opening hours!
This helps Google to verify your business is legitimate, and also increases your of appearing in front of more potential customers.
3. Do your website’s pages have unique titles?
This is a real SEO fundamental which can often be overlooked on small business websites, even with WordPress’ sensible set up for creating page titles. Your WordPress website’s page title is a key factor for search engines such as Google and Bing.
The page title is separate to the page’s heading, which is also important, but typically visible in the page itself,
4. Have you used structured data?
Structured data provides additional information to search engines about your website, and your business. Search engines such as Google can then use this to enhance their listings of your website, such as with your business address and contact details:
5. Register with Webmaster Tools
Finally, it’s worth registering with search engines’ webmaster tools. These can provide some valuable insight in to your website, and highlight issues you may not be aware of:
Both tools are free to register for, and can be a useful tool to maintain your website, from highlighting broken links in your content, to potential malicious/spam links that may occur if your website is breached (see our post on “how to tell if your WordPress website has been hacked“).
You can find slides from my talk at the WordPress North East meetup group in February 2019 here.
If you’d like to learn more about your WordPress website and how it is interpreted by search engines such as Google and Bing, you may find our WordPress website audits and WordPress training courses of use.