Three years ago when I decided to create a photography website and blog I thought it would be easy. A domain name and web hosting would cost about ten dollars a month: at least this is what the ads led you to believe.
WordPress was free and easy. Well, it was free and I found out it was an excellent platform. I can’t say enough about the people who contribute to this group of programs, who write about it and explain it. It is really amazing. But easy, well, maybe not so much.
But the difficulty with WordPress arises out of the necessary constraints when you want to create a website but don’t want to do any programming. In that case you have to fit your artistic inspiration into the straight jacket of preset modules. That can be a challenge. And, it can be pointed out, that is the chief reason you are slowly pulled into programming in CSS. You want to bend your “theme” to fit your artistic taste.
And, finally, as I am never at a loss for things to write about, I knew that the text would be no issue. No issue, that is, if you have endless time.
So, it would be easy, right? Wrong! Once again I have been taught that nothing is what it seems. How many times does that lesson have to be hammered home before I get it?
My website has been a learning experience. But the problem is that I have been learning on a live site where everyone can see my problems, experiments, and, yes, my failures. And as weeks and months went by the whole edifice began to look old and tired. I was meaning to do something about it eventually, but fate overtook me in the form of a major crash.
Apparently my site became infected by something or someone, no one would tell me with what, and my service provider shut everything down to prevent the infection spreading on their servers. I have no idea if I did something wrong, if it was me that got the infection, if I got it from another site on the same server, or whether my web provider simply had a server crash. But in March we went dark and the learning began.
As we slowly come back on line I am a much wiser man. I have learned about Virtual Private Servers, backup plugins, server side firewalls, transferring sites between web hosting services, file size management, and a bunch of stuff I never really wanted to know. And I have learned that a ten dollar hosting package is fine for small straightforward websites with a few pages but nothing more. But they don’t tell you that on the label, do they?!
All of this when my only real interest is taking pictures and wondering if they are art.
I am rebuilding my site. Firstly I wanted to recreate my blog with all of its pre-crash content. The problem was that, try as I might, I could not get my site running from the last backup I had. So that meant starting over from scratch. Probably not a bad idea but how to get my old blog material back?
Well, from my backup files I had all of the images I had uploaded. That was easy. But the text is all stored in an SQL database. This is where it became a challenge. Fortunately, the database was not encrypted: was in plain text. But it was complicated. I copied the whole thing into Word and then I had to learn how to work through 64,000 pages of text and tease out the words I wanted and the content of the various tables I had created. I am here to tell you: It can be done! But you really don’t want to do it! It is tedious work and it takes hours and hours.
I had not been happy with my layouts and so I redid all of them from scratch. That process is still not complete. However, I have learned to limit the size of my database, reduce the size of my pictures and keep everything on my server more compact.
Ah, yes, my server! Therein lies another tale of discovery and woe. When you pay your $10.00 per month for your website your files share a hard drive on your web service provider’s servers. And you share all the resources of that server.
So if there are thousands of other websites sharing space with you, your data often has to wait in a queue for processing. This means your website can be slow and that affects your page rankings and frustrates your viewers. (Did you know that? I didn’t)
Not only that, but there is no protection from virus infections that others on your common server may contract. No protection, that is, other than the service provider shutting down the whole hard drive and you are all out in the cold. I am not being critical here: it is the nature of shared web hosting.
My hosting provider said I should upgrade to a Virtual Private Server (VPS). When you do this they create a partition on the server and set you up as the only web site on that partition. As far as the web is concerned you are alone on your own server. You pay according to the resources you want. You get to choose how powerful your CPU is (in effect) and how much RAM you have at your disposal. And your website becomes faster to load.
But, that service is not $10.00 per month. It is closer to $10.00 per week. But so far, my experience is that, if you have a complex website, if you want to protect your content, if you want faster loading and thus better rankings, it is the way to go. But you have to do the homework to understand it all. It is complex and not for beginners.
Just look at all I have written in this article and not a word about art or photography! Doing your own website does bring up issues. Issues that have to be dealt with before you even consider your content.
As you look at artistic websites on the internet with beautiful photographs and lovely layouts, appreciate them. They do not happen by accident. Either someone is paying a lot of money for that site or they are spending hours and hours on the nuts and bolts on the backend of it.
One more word: my service provider is Hostpapa and they have been great. I feel like I have become friends with their technical staff who bail me out at every turn. Two thumbs up for Hostpapa. Another service I have begun using is Sucuri for data protection. Again, great people to deal with.
If you find yourself “caught in the web” drop me a line. I may not be able to solve your problems, but I can tell you where I have been and how I got out of mine.