Will Worsley

Building an Author Website: Wix vs. WordPress

Every author needs a website, to have a place to show his books and make a connection with his readers. I’m a do-it-yourselfer, so I decided to build my website myself. How hard could it be?

My first impulse was to take the easy route to web mastery. I would design my website with one of the many drag-and-drop website building platforms available. I tried out the free versions of Squarespace, Weebly, and Wix. Each of these systems allows a novice webmaster to sign up and start laying out web pages right away. I plunged in, hoping to have a serviceable website in a couple of hours.

I preferred Wix. The others were too limiting, clumsy, or confusing. Wix’s menus were intuitive, its navigation straightforward, its graphic options numerous. I was able to set blocks of images and text pretty much where I wanted. Helpful layout lines popped up to tell me where the center of a page was, or how much space I should leave between an image and adjoining text. Wix seemed to anticipate my actions. Within three days I had coaxed it into giving me a basic website. Problem solved.

I could have left well enough alone and signed up for the paid version of Wix, but I have a masochistic streak that tempts me to take on technical challenges that sensible people avoid. So when a relative said I should look into using WordPress, I did.

WordPress has some advantages over Wix. A third of the world’s websites run on it. Designed for bloggers, it offers many more blogging options than the drag-and-drop website builders and is much more customizable. If you have a problem with your web host, you can just fold your tent and set up your WordPress website with another host. You can’t do that with Wix; it’s not portable. WordPress is free, open-source code. All you have to pay for is a domain name and a host. Ah, freedom. I took the bait.

Upon actually working with WordPress, my first impression was horror. It’s not an integrated program like Wix; it’s an ecosystem. The core WordPress program, managed by an organization called WordPress.org, is only the start. To make it run, you have to pick a theme that gives you a set of basic functions. There are thousands of WordPress themes available, some for general use and others designed for specific kinds of organizations and businesses. Each theme offers templates of standard page layouts. My choice of theme would have serious consequences, I learned. Some useful options built into one theme may not be available in others. Some add-on applications, called plug-ins, don’t work well with some themes or other plug-ins, and I wouldn’t know which ones would give me migraines until I tried them out. I could switch themes, but then I’d have to fiddle with the numerous settings that control the layout all over again.

Once I had my theme, I had to learn about plug-ins. Thousands of plug-ins are available to supplement the core functions of WordPress, and a few of them are required just to take care of basic housekeeping tasks like backing up the website and keeping hackers at bay (hackers love breaking into WordPress sites). There are even plug-ins to remedy the shortcomings of other plug-ins. If you have any problem in WordPress, rest assured there’s a plug-in for that. Many of them are free, at least at the starter level.

Then there’s the coding issue. Coding? I was hoping to avoid having to learn to code in HTML, the universal language that websites run on. WordPress was designed for real website developers, not me, and in its early days you needed to know how to code in HTML to use it. Coding skill is still necessary if you want real control or need fancy graphics, but it isn’t necessary for building a simple author website like this one. Drag-and-drop plug-ins are available that do the coding for you.

The drag-and-drop plug-in that helped me tame WordPress is called Elementor. The free version of it is versatile enough to allow a novice to set up blocks of images and text, change colors and fonts easily, and manipulate the optional features website developers call “widgets.” Elementor has menus of controls that make sense, much like Wix. After weeks of struggling with it, I was able to get to about the same place as Wix had taken me in three days. Eventually, as my skills increased, I found myself liking WordPress-cum-Elementor better than Wix. The combination is more flexible and allows more precise control over the placement of objects on a web page. And then, I realized, if I ever do want to take the plunge and learn HTML. . . oh, there’s my masochistic streak again.

In the end, WordPress won me over. It’s not for the easily frustrated, but it was free, sort of. Let’s not talk about the value of my time, please.