How to Build Your Historian’s Website & Where to Build it, Part 2

How to Build Your WebsiteYou know you need to build your platform and you have decided to start with a website, but how and where do you build your historian’s website? In Part 1 we explored Blogger, Squarespace, and hiring a professional website designer as possible options.

In this post we will investigate WordPress as design tool for your website. Wordpress offers you two options: WordPress.org and WordPress.com.




WordPress is a powerful and easy-to-use Content Management System (CMS).

As an open source website creation tool, developers have created thousands of free and premium themes (website style and look) and plugins (tools that add functionality to your website) for WordPress. These themes and plugins make WordPress one of the most popular and flexible website building tools available.

Users have two options when it comes to building a WordPress website: WordPress.com and WordPress.org. Both options run on the same platform, but they have different costs, maintenance, and functionality associated with them.




WordPress.org is a free, open source Content Management System. This means that anyone can develop themes and plugins for the software.

Features: Limitless possibilities. With thousands of themes and plugins you can create a website that looks, feels, and operates the way you want it to.


Hosting: Although the WordPress.org CMS may be free, you will need to purchase a domain name and find a hosting service to provide you with server space to run the software and store your content.

There are many hosting services available and almost all of these services run coupons and specials for the savvy people who search for them.

I host this WordPress.org site and BenFranklinsWorld.com with BlueHost (I had a bad experience with NameCheap). I have found BlueHost customer service to be great and the service has reasonable hosting fees.

There are also other hosting services you could use such as HostGator, GoDaddy, SiteGroundWebHostingHub, and InMotion Hosting, to name but a few.


Functionality: Near limitless. You can add and create custom themes and install plugins that will allow you to build your e-mail list, sell your book, and earn money as a product affiliate.


OnlineHubCosts: WordPress.org sites can be as cheap as your domain name and hosting service, usually about $10 per year for your domain name and $84 per year ($7 per month) for hosting. From these base costs you can add premium themes and plugins.

To give you a more concrete picture of what a WordPress.org site might cost, I have included a list of the features that I have purchased for this website.

1. Domain Name and Hosting Fees: about $139 per year

I am on the BlueHost Professional plan (they offer a cheaper plan) and I have reduced the higher monthly fee for this plan to $10.75 per month by paying for 3 years of hosting in advance.

2. Responsive Theme: $99

3. E-mail Sign-up Widget for sidebar and bottom of page: $50 (I purchased this widget over a year ago. SumoMe recently came out with a free one.)

4. Pop-up E-mail Sign-up Widget: $30

5. Amazon Affiliate Plugin to easily add and embed products with my affiliate link into my website (if you buy a book I recommend or link to on this site, I receive a portion of the sale, which I use to offset the costs of running this website): $15

My total cost for this website has been about $195 outside of hosting and domain name fees.


Maintenance: WordPress.org sites require maintenance.

You must install updates to the WordPress software and to the plugins you add.

WordPress.org provides alerts on your admin dashboard to notify you when you need to update something. I find this process easy, but it does require time (albeit minimal) and regular check-ins with your site (not a problem if you have also decided to add a regular blog to your website).

Additionally, there may be times when the servers hosting your site go down, which will cause your website to become inaccessible. Or occasions where you break the functionality of your website by trying to add custom code to themes and plugins. These events do not happen often, but when they do you want a hosting service that provides good customer support that will help you resolve them.

Before you select a hosting service you should ask your colleagues about the hosting service they use and/or conduct a Google Search for “[Name of Hosting Service] Customer Support Reviews." You may also want to search for server outages associated with potential hosting services.



I love WordPress.org.

I like that every time I come up with an idea for a feature I can find a way to add it to my website.

I do not find the maintenance of my website to be overly time consuming, but I maintain a regular blog and check-in with my site 2-3 times a week.

If you decide to build your website with WordPress.org, you will want to check-in with your site at least once every two weeks.





WordPress.com runs the same WordPress CMS software as WordPress.org, but as a commercial website it offers free and premium services.

The free service provides restrictions on what you can do with WordPress. For example, a free account cannot add plugins, custom themes, or a custom URL.

You can expand the functionality of your site by purchasing a custom domain name or a paid hosting plan.


Features: Limited by WordPress.com and the hosting plan you select.


Hosting: WordPress.com can be a great option for beginners.

WordPress.com hosts your website and maintains its software. The service will allow you to get a feel for how to use WordPress before you invest money and time in building a custom WordPress.org website.

With that said, when you decide that you want to free yourself of WordPress.com’s limitations you will need to pay a $129 fee to move your website to WordPress.org and your new hosting service.


Functionality & Costs: Cost and functionality go hand-in-hand at WordPress.com.

The platform offers 3 levels of functionality:

1. Free Plan: This plan includes a WordPress.com address, a free blog, basic theme customization, 3GB of storage space, and community support. Additionally, websites hosted at this level may show ads that Wordpress.com earns money from. The free service does not allow you to embed and display videos, add any e-commerce, nor will it allow you to add a premium theme—you will only be able to choose from the basic themes the service provides.

2. Premium Plan: For $99 per year you get a blog, a custom domain name, advanced theme customization (at this level you can access and customize the Cascading Style Sheet or CSS), 13 GB of storage space, the capability to store “dozens” of videos, direct e-mail support, and WordPress.com will forego showing ads on your site. You still won’t be able to add a premium theme or any e-commerce.

3. Business Plan: For $299 per year you get a blog, a custom domain, advanced theme customization, unlimited storage space, a choice of 50 premium themes, unlimited video storage, e-commerce capabilities (you can sell products from your website), live chat support, and no WordPress.com ads.


Maintenance: WordPress.com hosts your website and automatically installs all software updates for you. All you have to do is maintain the information and content on your website.



If you want to work with WordPress, but don’t want the potential headaches associated with maintenance and limitless customization features, then WordPress.com could be a good choice for you.

The premium plan would put you on par with what most will pay to host a WordPress.org site and offer you more storage, no ads, a custom domain name, and a bit more flexibility with your website.

Beginning with WordPress.com also doesn’t prohibit you from creating a WordPress.org site later.


Best Practices: Domain Names & Responsive Design

personal websiteHow to Select a Domain Name

Regardless of which website building option you choose, you should purchase a custom domain name for your website.

A domain name or URL (uniform resource locator) is your web address.

The best practice would be to go with www.yourname.com. However, for some www.yourname.com may not be available.

If yourname.com is unavailable, you could opt to select a different domain such as www.yourname.org,/.net/.us or with any of the other TLDs (top level domain) extensions available.

Another way to get www.yourname.com if it is not available would be to add a word to your URL such as www.yournamehistorian.com or www.yournamewriter.com.

Having a domain name with your name in it will help search engines and the people searching for you find you.

You can research the availability of domain names at a site like EasyWhoIs.com.

Bonus Tip: Before you purchase a domain name, search for a coupon and check to see whether your prospective website hosting service offers a discount or bundle deal that includes a domain name with your subscription plan.


Responsive Design

I recommend that you design your website using a responsive theme.

A responsive theme will automatically scale your website for any screen size.

Having a responsive is important as more and more people access the web with smartphones and tablets. A website that looks great on a 27-inch desktop monitor, but is not built on a responsive theme, will look horrible and/or be inaccessible to someone who tries to look at your site from their smartphone.



I am really happy with WordPress.org. I have used the platform for over 3 years.

[simpleazon-image align="right" asin="0789752905" locale="us" height="300" src="http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/41uZ-Y-CZIL.jpg" width="204"]There is a small learning curve to WordPress. I highly recommend Tris Hussey’s [simpleazon-link asin="0789752905" locale="us"]WordPress Absolute Beginner's Guide[/simpleazon-link]. I taught myself how to build and maintain a WordPress site using an earlier version of his book.

I purchased his new, updated, and very pictorial guide to use as a reference and it is even better than the earlier version.

With that said, if I were a beginner today I would seriously consider Squarespace.

Squarespace doesn’t offer limitless possibilities like WordPress.org, but it offers enough options that I might choose its easy-to-use website builder over spending the time to learn WordPress.



Here are articles that compare different website services and building tools:

WP Beginner: "Squarespace vs. WordPress—Which one is better? (Pros and Cons)"

Website Builders Critic: "Squarespace Vs. Wordpress: The Full Comparison"

Wpmudev: "WordPress.org vs. WordPress.com: A Definitive Guide for 2014"

Squarespace: “Squarespace vs. WordPress: Unbiased Comparison"


WordPress.org & Hosting

If you opt to go with WordPress.org, I highly recommend BlueHost.

I have had a great experience with their hosting service and plan to stay with them for the foreseeable future.

If you opt to give BlueHost a try, would you please signup via my affiliate button below?

If you sign-up for their service and they keep you as a client for 90 days, I stand to earn about $60, which won’t cost you a dime, but will help me earn funds that will offset my hosting and website costs.



Thoughtful-WomanWhat Do You Think?

What website design platform will you use to build your historian's website?

Do you have any additional questions?

Please leave a comment below or send me an e-mail.


How to Build Your Historian’s Website & Where to Build It, Part 1

How to Build Your WebsiteYou know you need to build your platform and you have decided to start with a website, but how and where do you build your historian’s website? If you don’t know how to write HTML and CSS code, creating a website may seem daunting, but it shouldn’t be.

There are several low and premium cost options available for those who don’t know how to code in a computer language.

In this post you will discover three options you could use to build your historian’s website.

Part 2 of this post will cover WordPress and where I think you should build your website.




Blogger is a free weblog publishing tool provided by Google.

Blogger offers the ability to create a blog and to add webpages that highlight who you are, your CV, books/writing/research, teaching, news, and services that you offer.


Themes: Blogger offers a selection of themes (background designs) that you can use to customize your website.

If you have the know-how, you can customize any blogger theme by adjusting the HTML and Cascading Style Sheet (CSS) code.

Blogger also offers users several “dynamic” designs to choose from.

“Dynamic” or responsive themes automatically scale to a viewer’s device. If you pick one of Blogger's “dynamic" themes your website will look good on giant monitors, laptop screens, and mobile devices such as tablets and smartphones.


Social Sharing: As a Google product, Blogger websites work seamlessly with Google+. This integration makes it easy for your to share your blog posts on Google+.


Monetization: Blogger sites easily connect with the Google AdSense revenue generation platform. This opt-in service will allow you to add advertisements to your website. If someone clicks on one of your ads you will earn a percentage of the rate Google charges the advertiser.


Mobile: Blogger has both Android and iOS apps that you can use to post to your blog and tweak your webpages while you are on the go.


Cost: Free, unless you want to purchase a custom URL or domain name. (Highly Recommended)



Blogger provides a wonderful option for those with very limited budgets. Purchasing a custom domain name from Google will be the only investment you need to make with Blogger (about $12).

Some historians have done well by hosting their blogs and websites on Blogger.  John Fea and J.L. Bell serve as two examples.

If you want to use Blogger to create a website instead of a blog, you should adjust your settings to direct web traffic to a welcome or landing page. If you don’t, those who search for you on the web will be directed to the blog portion of your site.  See Inside Tech Tricks, "How to Create a Custom Landing Page in Blogger to Increase Leads."





Squarespace is a content management system that provides a website builder, blogging platform, and hosting service.

Squarespace provides a suite of drag-and-drop tools that will help you build anything from a basic website and blog to an e-commerce store.




Themes: All Squarespace themes are responsive. This means they will automatically scale your website for different screen sizes; from giant desktop monitors or TVs to small smartphone screens.


Website Building: Drag and drop the features you want (and that Squarespace offers) into your theme layout.


Social Sharing: A built-in social share feature allows website viewers to easily share your content with all major social media networks.


Customization: Squarespace allows you to access the cascading style sheet (CSS) to customize the look of your theme.


Costs: Squarespace offers 3 plans:

1. Personal: for $8 per month you get to create one website with up to 20 pages, a blog, 2GB of storage space, and up to 2 contributors. You also receive the ability to sell 1 product, accept donations, and access 24/7 customer support.

Squarespace Website2. Professional: for $16 per month you get to create one website with unlimited pages, a blog, photo galleries, and have unlimited storage space and contributors. You also get the ability to sell up to 20 products, access the developer platform (for customization), and reach out to the 24/7 Squarespace Customer Support team.

3. Business: for $24 per month you receive all of the benefits of the Professional plan plus the ability to sell an unlimited number of products, real-time carrier shipping information, label printing via ShipStation, and integrated accounting by Xero.

If you pay for your plan in one, annual installment Squarespace will give you a free custom domain name.



Squarespace seems like a great option for beginners who aren’t interested in learning WordPress.

From what I have read, Squarespace’s drag-and-drop website builder makes website construction easy and the service offers only responsive themes. I also like that Squarespace provides its premium customer support to all of its clients.


DH HistorianHire a Professional Web Designer

You could hire a professional web designer to custom build the website of your dreams.

This is likely to be an expensive option, especially as you may need to retain the web designer and pay them a monthly fee to add content to your website (such as a new page or blog post), maintain your site with code updates, or to fix your website if it breaks. Additionally, you will need to pay for a hosting service to host your website and for a custom domain name.


Stay tuned for “How to Build Your Historian’s Website & Where to Build It, Part 2,” which will discuss your WordPress options. I will also reveal my thoughts as to how and where you should build your historian's website.


Share StoryShare Your Story

Do you use Blogger or Squarespace?

Have you hired a professional website designer? Please share your experiences in the comments below so we can help our colleagues make an informed decision about how and where they should build their historian’s website.


3 Important Lessons about Website Design

On Sunday February 16, 2014, I launched my new website. The site took about 6 months to create: 3 months of thinking and research and 3 months of writing content, installing plug-ins, and formatting all of my old blog posts to fit my new theme. As I already had a fairly decent web presence, I built my new site on nights and weekends.

I chose to redesign my website because my old site suffered from 3 design flaws.

In this post you will learn 3 important lessons about website design.


Version 1.0 of my websiteLesson 1: Design a Website, Not a Blog

As much as I loved my old website, it looked and felt like a blog, not a website.

It looked and felt like a blog because of the haphazard way I designed it.

I created my old website in late 2011/early 2012 as a blog. I had a separate personal website on elizabethcovart.com, which I created with Sandvox.

Having two websites proved problematic.

First, I had to maintain two websites on two different platforms.

Second, I had two online hubs, when I should have had one.

Neither site served me well on its own.

I learned rather quickly that I did not want to maintain two websites. I also learned that if I wanted to make it as an independent historian and writer, I needed to have a real online hub that showcased all of my writing in one place.

As I loved the clean look of my blog and the functionality of WordPress, I copied the “About Me” information from elizabethcovart.com and added it to my blog, uncommonplacebook.com.

By choosing to merge my personal site into my blog, I had designed my website as a blog first and website second.

The emphasis of my old website always remained on my blog.

Uncommonplace BookLesson 2: The Power of URLs

About a year after I merged my websites, I recognized that my decision to fold my personal website (elizabethcovart.com) into my blog website (uncommonplacebook.com) had a major flaw: I had unintentionally made Uncommonplace Book my lead brand.

All websites have one main URL.

You can use different URLs to direct people to different pages on your website, but your website resides on one URL and that URL is the one that indexes with search engines.

The main URL for my old website was uncommonplacebook.com, not elizabethcovart.com.

As a writer, your lead brand should be the name you publish under. Your name makes it easy for potential readers and media outlets to find you.

personal websiteBy making uncommonplacebook.com my main URL, I likely confused people.

Anyone who used a search engine to find me by name found uncommonplacebook.com. Potential readers and media outlets had to navigate my website to find out who I was, what I write about, and whether they had found my website.

In our fast-paced, mobile world, you want to make it as easy and as fast as possible for people to find and recognize you and your content.

My new website uses elizabethcovart.com as its main URL and uncommonplacebook.com to point to my blog.

It also looks like a website.

My new website emphasizes Elizabeth M. Covart, Historian & Writer. Uncommonplace Book, Missing Advisor Consulting, and all of the other content on my site is secondary to me and my writing.


Reason 3: Responsive Design

Speaking of the fast-paced, mobile world we live in, did you know that 55% of American adults use a smartphone? Or that 42% of American adults surf the internet with a tablet device?*

My old website did not play nice with mobile devices.

I want my blog and published writing to succeed in our crowded, noisy social world. Therefore, I redesigned my blog with a "responsive design" WordPress theme.

Responsive design means my website will adapt to whatever device people use to browse the internet. My website will look great on a smartphone, tablet, laptop screen, monitor, or TV screen.



When you design your website make sure you design it as a website (not a blog), that you use your writer website URL as your main URL, and that you use a WordPress theme or website design platform that allows you to create a site that will adapt to any screen size.


Questions blackboardQuestions?

If you have a question about my website design or how I created any of the elements on my website, leave a comment, send an e-mail, or tweet me.


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*Pew Research Internet Project, “Mobile Technology Fact Sheet,” December 27, 2013. http://www.pewinternet.org/fact-sheets/mobile-technology-fact-sheet/