Setting up a simple site in 2017

It should be easy by now…

I decided to set up a simple site to create a web presence. About time, it is. All I want to do is to have a pretty front page, a link to a blog, the blog itself, and some “about us” kind of stuff. That’s it for now. The blog will contain technical review articles about various pieces of tech that we use today in building web sites and apps. The rest of the site will provide the presence for a consulting company I am starting up— The Nitecoder Group.

Main requirements:

  • Very easy to set up and use. I’m not an HTML developer and don’t intend to become one for this blog/site
  • Blogging editor has to support easy inline images and basic formatting (i.e. multi-level lists are expected — I’m looking at you Medium!)

So, why am I writing about this on Medium? Well, mainly just to get a taste of what it’s like to use Medium so that I have a baseline to compare to. After all, I’ve heard lots of good things about Medium, so it makes sense as a baseline. Why not use Medium itself? I might. It looks good as a personal blogging platform. But this project is for my company and I want the blog to be part of the company site, ideally. If I can’t work out something reasonable, I can always come back to Medium and just link to it (as I see many others are doing anyway).

With all of this, a fair warning to my readers —this blog post will be a running log of my experiments. Please read it as such.

First Attempt

Things started out easily enough. A quick search for “best place to host a site” brought up a few and I quickly settled on eHost. The price was right, free domain registration, lots of features — I was registered in no time.

Right up front they give you two options — cPanel or SiteBuilder. I went with SiteBuilder option as it promised a point-and-click experience. And I was not disappointed (initially): nice templates, everything more or less works. I had a simple site up within 10 minutes (Yes! That’s what I’m looking for!) and it was fairly nice and functional after about 1 hour. I was ready to claim victory and move on to other projects.

Here is the site I was able to make with SiteBuilder:

Home Page
Blog
About page
Contact Us page

Not bad at all! Stock image selection is pretty good as well. At least I was able to find reasonable images without hunting too much and without going outside of the SiteBuilder.

But… Well, you knew this was coming, or else I wouldn’t be writing this blog, would I?

First trouble was that my emails were not working. Not forwarded, nor the one free mailbox given. As I was chatting with the support person they apparently goosed something on their end and the DNS records went through. I waited over 1 hour before chatting with them, so maybe it just takes longer or else something didn’t quite work by itself over there.

Second problem is that I got greedy… I wanted to be able to use some other features they listed (Joomla, Drupal, MySQL) but turns out they are not available when using SiteBuilder. I say “greedy” because I really don’t need these right now. But heck, I’m paying for them, so why not? But alas, it turns out cPanel and SiteBuilder are mutually exclusive.

There was also an issue of SiteBuilder UI thinking that I had to “upgrade” to use some of its features. I think this is a mistake as I believe these features were included with the eHost package. One clue might be that it continuosly referred to my site as “nitecodergroup.freesite.website” instead of “nitecodergroup.com”.

After some soul searching, I boldly decided that I could handle some site building of my own and decided to forego SiteBuilder in favor of starting over with cPanel. How hard could it be, right? And Drupal with Joomla weren’t all that bad even back in 2005 when I dabbled with them last.

But, not so fast. There is no way to switch the domain from SiteBuilder to cPanel via self-service. My support person on the chat advised that I had to fake-register a second site, pay for one month extra, and then he would file a ticket to have this refunded to me later. Oh well, off I went for my credit card again (well, actually eHost helpfully already had it on file and was only too happy to use it).

Trying out blogging on SiteBuilder

While I still have my SiteBuilder site available (under nitecodergroup.freesite.website url) I am going to evaluate blogging on this platform.

Initial impression is pretty good.

  • PRO: Writing experience is similar to Medium, but fonts are not as nice. However, there are more formatting options.
  • PRO: Nested lists work!
  • CON: But image paste does not… This means I have to save each screen shot to a file, upload it, and then choose it from a series of popups. It’s a drag. Also, I can’t seem to add captions to the images.
  • PRO: Image resizing and reflowing around images works though, which doesn’t work on Medium.

Another possible issue is that fonts look very poor. But I think this is more to do with the template rather then with the platform itself.

cPanel

This is where things really started to fall apart… After deciding to plunge into cPanel, I ended up spending 2–3 hours aimlessly stumbling around WordPress and not finding anything even remotely close to the ease of use I had just experienced with SiteBuilder. Selecting WordPress themes had proven to be nothing like the theme selection SiteBuilder — they did not look anything like their demo screenshots out of the box. There are some “premium” themes continuously offered by eHosts interface. However I wasn’t going to spend any more money on this, not just yet anyway.

Reality Check

Towards the end of the WordPress fiasco I even ended up installing Concrete5 and Magento hoping that they will prove easier. They did not.

Finally, I had to admit that I really didn’t know what I was doing with these tools … and that one really had to know what one was doing to get anywhere.

So where do I find myself now?

  • I can spend lots of time and become proficient in WordPress — but I really don’t want to invest this much time into the placeholder web site I was after!
  • I can go back to SiteBuilder and be done with it — but I would be foreclosing on a lot of features of eHosts that I would like to use some day (such as sub-domains for example, easy email forwards, and many others)
  • I can hand-roll HTML-only site that would sort-of be OK for my initial needs. But that’s a time sink and a dead end as well.
  • I can investigate WordPress, Joomla, and Drupal some more to see if they had an easy SiteBuilder-like plugins that I could use.
  • I could see if buying a premium template would do the trick in any of these tools. Or perhaps buying something like Beaver Builder would solve the issue (I learned of it from this wpbeginner article).

After scratching my head for a little while, I decided to go with options 4 and 5. I will also make lemonade from these lemons by blogging about the whole trial and error process — what better way to evaluate these tools while also building up content for the site itself!

Medium

And now we have come to the “Now” point in the timeline. Yes, it’s very meta. Having I decided to use this project itself as the basis of my first blog article, I also decided to write on Medium as a blogging platform. As things progress I will update this section with more findings. Here’s what I think so far:

  • PRO: fonts look really nice, very clean UI and experience overall
  • PRO: it’s easy to write on and publish
  • PRO: paste of images works great (in chrome at least).
  • CON: But I can’t seem to figure out how to have text flow around images.
  • CON: bullets are only one level deep and look double-spaced. Seriously? It might be ok for prose but is already limiting for technical writing. This paragraph should have been indented under the main CON line for example
  • CON: formatting is very limited. No underline option for instance. No colors either? No code blocks? Maybe I’m just missing how to do all this.

The Plan

Where to go from here? Here are the options I have not yet explored in cPanel on eHost:

  • Joomla — does it offer an easier pass to what I’m looking for?
  • Concrete5 — does it offer an easier pass?
  • WordPress Page Builder by SiteOrigin
  • WordPress Beaver Builder
  • WordPress premium templates (like HighEnd)
  • WordPress regular templates — there must be some basic reason why these don’t look right in my setup. If I can solve that and get them to behave like their demo versions, this might be good.

Not useful

  • NOT: WordPress Widgets — well, these are little tools like calendar and “popular posts” that are really not what I am looking for right now. Some accordions and image widgets might be useful.
  • NOT: Magento —this is a rich platform for eCommerce, with product catalog and many other features. None of these features are useful to me right now. But it’s good to know it’s there…
  • NOT: Drupal — apparently it’s the most hands-on option between it, Joomla and WordPress. Since I’m looking for hands-off instead, I’m going to pass.

Joomla

Based on a blog post WordPress seems to be the right option for the hands-off site management I have in mind. But Joomla is a possibility as well. So before diving deep into WordPress I want to explore a few of the other options.

Out of the box Joomla site:

Out of the box Joomla Site

Very well, looks like a basic layout. I’ll have to move the login form to a hidden page and change the layout but it looks reasonable.

Management UI is extensive. After some poking around finding that I need some kind of tutorial to quickly get what is what. Let’s try this one.

Trying out a “new article” option and copying / pasting the blog form Medium right into here.

Very impressive! There were a couple of hiccups with image pasting but using “code” view I was easily able to undo the extra level of wrapping editor introduced. Very nice!