To blog or not to blog: Should I change my static HTML site to Wordpress?

4 years ago | epiguide (Member)

Hi guys. Oy, here's where I kinda wish I had two accounts: my epiguide account, and one just for me, the li'l writer of a webserial. Oh well. Anyway, here goes. Sorry in advance for the length.

I know 99.999999998% of the folks here on WFG use blogging or other CMS software to run their sites. Most got into the webfiction realm post-Wordpress, and followed the lead of the pathfinders by starting right off the bat and using this unbelievably flexible piece of free software--or others like it--to stake your claims on the web.

However. That was not my path. My webserial, About Schuyler Falls, was launched in 1997. Wordpress may have been a glint in someone's eye, but there had been no consummation, much less conception or birth. (Hmm. This analogy is getting a bit, um, labored.) Point being, I developed my site the ol' fashioned way, via static HTML, using either a plain text editor or Dreamweaver--or, most often, a combo of both.

It's a new century now. My last site redesign was in (blush) 2001. Yes, I'm a pro web designer, and my own site is woefully out of date. What can I say, the shoemaker's children always go barefoot! Anyway, with my new season about to launch, I'm finally doing a major and, if I do say so myself, rather splendid redesign of the site, which will likely coincide with the 16th anniversary in November. I wish I could launch it with the new season this spring, but time isn't on my side.

With (deep breath) 1.3 million words and more than 1000 separate pages, this is a massive site to maintain.

Here, at long last, is my question. As we all know, the vast majority of webfiction sites--hell, at this point, a significant plurality of all sites--are WP-based. For the past two years, I've been angsting my Hamlet-like brain about whether to make the leap into WP territory.

The thing is, I'm not sure whether the pain will be worth the gain. I mean, I know there are search engine advantages, and it would make future site redesigns easier, and searching / tagging would help readers too.

However, there are downsides, and that's why I've been going back and forth on this decision. The biggest is, well, did I mention 1000+ pages? (Each of my installments consists of anywhere from 5 - 22 scenes. Yes, 22! Nuts, huh?) Copying each of those over to WP seems like it would be a nightmare. (There are plugins that will help--HTML Import 2.0 being the most popular--and there are also companies to which I could outsource the job, if I wanted to pay upwards of $500 for the convenience.)

Second, there are certain navigation issues that concern me, such as the importance of popup windows (I use these for setting descriptions and character bios, which are currently accessible throughout the text so anyone reading can easily access a character's profile to refresh one's memory of who this person is) and giving my readers a choice of having each installment/episode broken up into separate scenes or read as a single printable page, which is what I have now. Again, I know there are some popup plugins that allow the former, and I think there are plugins that will allow the latter as well. But right now each scene is a separate HTML page. Do I import the entire episode as a single post and then break it up, or do I import each scene as a new post, and link them together via categories? These are the questions that daunt me.

I also don't want to cause more work for myself after the initial changeover, when it comes to posting my episodes on the web. My workflow is such that I write the drafts in Word, then copy my writing from Word to Dreamweaver. The text is automatically formatted correctly (e.g. italics and boldface copy over correctly as EM and STRONG codes). I have some experience with WP, and I know this formatting doesn't always happen when I've done the same with Wordpress. (I already have a "behind the scenes" blog for my serial's podcast, and I've customized blogs for clients. So I'm not daunted by WP.)

I should mention that I plan on going with responsive design (i.e. making sure the site adapts to mobile devices/smaller resolution as well as larger screens/resolutions) no matter which route I take, so that's not much of a concern either. I know there are frameworks and WP templates I can use to expedite this, but the same goes for my HTML redesign, and I've already got experience in switching to a responsive layout thanks to a few clients.

So the question finally boils down to: is such a switch worth it? Would such a vast changeover make sense? What are the real advantages of going to WP, bearing in mind that I have no fear of HTML (as I said, in addition to writing/editing, web design is one of my professions) so "easy inputting of text without worrying about code"--so often used as a blog selling point to novices--doesn't apply for me.

I know ability to coordinate with social media networks is certainly a hefty advantage; RSS is another (though both can be accomplished without a blog, WP does make them easier); searching the database and tagging posts are big plusses that are NOT possible with static HTML. Okay, I could create a search engine, but using a database would make this much easier. Is networking easier? I mean, I wouldn't be using Wordpress.com, I have my own site, so linking with other Wordpress.com sites isn't an issue. Still, people ARE used to blogs these days. They're pretty much understood now. So that's an advantage that WP has as well. (Though it's a minor issue that could be overcome. As long as my navigation is clear, the site is attractive, and the content captivating, I don't think readers generally care what skeleton lies beneath the flesh of a website.) But am I wrong? Will this help me gain new readers through some convenience I currently can't imagine?

So help convince me, please! I suppose I can launch the redesign in HTML and later switch to WP; it just seems to make sense to do both at once. So if you think I should make the change, tell me of the cool stuff I could be doing with WP (or heck, maybe another CMS like Drupal if that's your fancy) that I'm not thinking of. Pros? Cons? Suggestions if I go forward with this crazy scheme?

Do the upsides outweigh the possible downsides (the security maintenance issues, the frequent updates that might break my design, the overwhelming prospect of copying all those kabillion pages (and re-coding the character popups), and general relearning a workflow process I've gotten used to for 15 years)?

Sorry for the length of this post. Now you see why I've got 1.3 million words to deal with. :) I'd greatly appreciate any help and advice you guys can give me. I'm so tired of worrying about this, I just want to decide and feel I've made the right decision.

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Responses

  1. ubersoft (Member)

    Posted 4 years ago

    I think in the long run converting it to a database driven site will make it more manageable. The conversion process will be a pain, but you can hybridize your site during the process--convert your most recent pages to the database and update that going forward, while linking to the static pages that haven't been moved over yet.

    Curveball (Updating)
    A Rake by Starlight (Updating)
  2. Jim Zoetewey (Moderator)

    Posted 4 years ago

    I do web development, but more on the programming/database end of things than graphic design.

    I'm assuming that Dreamweaver allows you to create a template and convert all the pages from one template to another fairly easily or this wouldn't be an issue. At least it wouldn't be for me. If I knew that I'd have to edit each page individually to change the look, putting it in a CMS would be a no-brainer because it wouldn't be that much more work.

    As things are, if someone came to me and said, "I'm starting a serial, should I use a CMS?" I'd tell them that they definitely should because a CMS does what it's name says it does--it makes managing content easier in many, many ways.

    In your case though, as a sole proprietor with a massive amount of content, I'd say, "This is too big for one fell swoop." What I'd probably suggest is creating a Wordpress blog for everything past a certain date, and just start going from there. At that point, you'd have a choice between importing the old content at your leisure, or simply having an archive site that contains past episodes.

    That way you'd have the advantages of Wordpress for the new stuff, and the advantage of not dealing with the massive (soul sucking) conversion process for the older stuff.

    I'll grant you that this isn't an aesthetically perfect choice, but big name sites (Wired, Salon...) have done the same thing for similar reasons. On the bright side, assuming Dreamweaver makes templating easy, it would be possible to integrate the old site into the Wordpress version by using basically the same template for each.

  3. AGreyWorld (Member)

    Posted 4 years ago

    Another advantage of a Wordpress like environment that I don't think you mentioned is easily manageable comment sections (good spam filtering & approval stuff), I really like any input from readers, so this is invaluable to me.

    I'd love to have more control over the layout/design of my site though. I'll have to put up the fee for membership some time.

    I've never had any problems posting from word before.

  4. SgL (Member)

    Posted 4 years ago

    I think for me the question is whether you can continue as is with your current work flow and do it efficiently enough that you're spending most of your free time on your site developing the content, not the architecture.

    I'm not a code monkey, but more or less, the issue for me was I was tired of Dreamweaver and spending time with making templates. I like the portability of Wordpress to different looks and the ability for me to draft things anywhere, anytime.

    I have an old website (red-bird.org) that used to be all hand coded and/or done with Dreamweaver. I slapped a Wordpress front to it, kept the old sections as is, and then only worked on new ones using the post/page method. The nice thing is that it's easier to maintain for me and I've been able to port in content from tumblr, livejournal, blogspot and other "services" into this new site without too much trouble (although I did mess up the image importation). If I ever decide to begin updating some of the static, more traditionally rendered pages I might, in fact, put them all into wordpress pages but for now, I've let them be.

    Customization... well, I've not fully explored it to be honest. Not sure what features you really want to keep from your old one so that might become a problem for you in considering conversion.

    What I like about wordpress:
    1) Enables lazy posting /site management. I sometimes control the posting on my phone. I moderate and answer comments via my phone or other convenient portable electronic device. I update plugins. I use Jetpack to look at stats, watch for scary hackers, etc.
    2) Oh tumblr and LJ cross-posting functionality and importation capability. Easy blog spot conversion. (online-novel.blogspot.com took 1 minute to move over from blogger to wp.com)
    3) Social networking integration is a breeze
    4) Looks/skins change really fast.
    5) Thousands of plug-ins. Never worry about creating functionality because there's a plug in for it.
    6) Restoring from backup is not bad.
    7) mobile viewing experience offers choices. You can do "full" and "mobile friendly." On the theme I use for the serial, I can have unique menus for mobile view vs. regular view.

    Downsides: Popularity of the platform attracts hackers. So there is some risk ... also I do have occasional fights with wordpress plugins that seem to mess up the load time. (So you do have to sometimes hit the help forums to see what's up.)

    When neglected, also could become vulnerable. Plug-ins can be your enemy if there are security flaws in them or they go abandoned.

    As far as upgrades breaking things - I've rarely seen a Wordpress upgrade break anything except some plug-ins although I stick to the well-supported popular ones for galleries and haven't experienced anything annoying. Theme upgrades sometimes mess things up, but I also try to avoid ones that don't remain supported.

  5. Jim Zoetewey (Moderator)

    Posted 4 years ago

    I'd like to echo a few pluses for Wordpress that I've seen since my post:

    1. Comments on the the site and interaction with readers without having to send them to an external forum.
    2. The ability to easily change templates or use a different template for a particular category.
    3. Scheduling posts. Want to have content appear while you're on vacation? Write it first, and let it appear at the scheduled time.

  6. epiguide (Member)

    Posted 4 years ago

    Thank you all so much for the recommendations so far! You've been extremely helpful. The idea of going hybrid until I transition the old material is a very good one and if I do decide to pull the trigger and go WP that's probably what I'll do, unless I can figure out a way to automate things in not horrifically arduous way.

    Until around 2010 I used DW templates (my current site definitely uses them), but honestly, now that I build sites that are CSS-based, with server-side includes files used for standard elements such as menus and footers, the need for templates has pretty much vanished. All I need to update my modern sites is updating the CSS file--and unlike DW templates, I don't even need to re-upload the HTML files, just the CSS (and any images used for backgrounds or whatnot) and/or Includes files, if the latter have changed. Having used DW Templates does make the prospect of changing to WP easier since the main converter plugin (HTML Import 2.0) utilizes them.

    I do like the comments on each post, that's a big plus. Of course, I wouldn't get rid of my current forum -- I mean, it's hosted on the EpiGuide, and I wouldn't want to lose that ease and sense of community (anyone with an Eppy account can see my updates and comment on them). But inline comments are great too, as is the ability to add ratings and so on. And social media inclusion is also important.

    This sort of thing is exactly what I'm looking for: what useful stuff does WP add that's specific to fiction-based sites that one would find harder to accomplish (if not impossible) with static HTML? What plugins do you use to make WP user-friendly for readers, and growing your audience?

    Scheduling posts... well, in the ideal world where Kira actually writes stuff beforehand rather than last-minute, I guess that would be a pretty neat feature! This ain't no ideal world. Shamefully, I'm a write-as-you-go kinda gal, only accumulating backlog during WeSeWriMo. But hey you never know, it could happen. :)

    The ease of back-up is vital, and if I can update the editor to include more features (I understand there's a plugin that adds far more formatting buttons) that will help me.

    Oh, and shortcodes! I've found a popup window plugin to use, but I would dearly love the option to simplify even that process, so that I could write something like '[popup=chelsea2]' and the program would change that to the correct code for adding a popup for the file "chelsea2.html."

    (Quick explanation: I have multiple bios for each character, so that someone reading an episode in my first season and clicking on a character name link will only get a bio containing info relevant to that season. A reader clicking on a link in a fourth season episode will see the newer information. This way early readers don't get spoiled, while later ones can refresh their memories with more recent events. So the bio files are named charactername1.html, charactername2.html, and so on.)

    But I have no idea how I'd create such a shortcode. I'd say adding the popup links for each character in my episodes is one of the most time-intensive thing I do in my current workflow. Having a shortcode to accomplish this would be... wow.

    Anyway you've all given me much to think about. If there are any other insights or recommendations you can give me, especially regarding the user benefits, please continue! Thanks a million, guys.

  7. Alexander.Hollins (Member)

    Posted 4 years ago

    shortcode's easy. make a css tag that calls a function in the theme, and toss that in when writing the episode.

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