How tech-savvy do web publishers need to be?

July 9 | offbeatbride

How tech-savvy do you have to be to be a web publisher?

Can you concentrate more on writing and marketing, or do you require solid knowledge of internet technology and hardware?

-Sarah

Thanks to WordPress, you really don't need to be all that tech-savvy. You absolutely don't need to know anything about hardware, but it helps a LOT if you're curious and passionate about internet technology.

Basically, to start out as a web publisher with an eye on going pro, you don't need to be tech savvy at all. In my opinion, you need these things:

  1. Web hosting (I recommend DreamHost)
  2. Domain name (you can get it through DreamHost)
  3. WordPress install (one-click through DreamHost)
  4. WordPress theme (bazillions of free ones, or get a premium one)
  5. Motivation to write and experiment non-stop


We all know I'm a firmly dedicated WordPress enthusiast, and part of why I love the tool so much is that straight out of the box, it's basically got everything you need to be an effective web publisher. While a hosted blog at WordPress.com is a great option, if you're aiming to make a business of web publishing, I recommend starting with a self-hosted WordPress installation on a shared hosting environment. I started out on DreamHost, and it served me well until Offbeat Bride's traffic got to about 100,000 monthly visitors. DreamHost also offers one-click WordPress installations, which means you don't have to faff about with FTP or anything. You click a button in DreamHost's control panel, and it installs WordPress for you on your domain. You then login and voila! You're a publisher.

Well, but what about making it pretty?

The default theme for WordPress is customizable and awesome, right off the bat. It can be customized with a header graphic that it makes from a photo of your choice and BLAMMO: you're ready to go.

Want more? There are a million really lovely, truly powerful WordPress themes you can snag — I'm a big fan of the totally free Caroline Themes which I use for my personal sites. That said, if you have a scheme to make money off your blog and don't want to hire a developer or programmer, it's probably worth it to pay for a premium theme that has support, like the ones sold by DIYthemes or Mojo Themes.

offbeat bride dot com 2007Obviously, it's tempting to want a custom-designed website when you launch a publication but honestly? I've watched far too many bloggers spend months paying a designer to create websites that are, well, kind of ugly. Unless you're a design blogger, my vote is not to waste your time with custom templates when you're just starting out. (Anyone remember how plain Offbeat Bride was when it launched?) Get a good solid pre-made theme, and focus on your content. Then once you've got a readership and some revenue coming in, THEN worry about getting fancy.

Curiosity IS required!

I guess I should stop here and say that while you don't need to be tech-savvy to use WordPress, you do need to be somewhat fearless when it comes to clicking around and experimenting. My mother isn't at ALL tech-savvy, but she's used WordPress for many years for her eco-retreat website, adding pages and editing pictures and doing all sorts of shit. Granted, her pages aren't always pretty — but she does it ALL herself without any knowledge of internet technology or hardware. WordPress is not hard by any means, but you do need to be comfortable with poking around at stuff and breaking things.

Honestly, it wasn't until I'd been publishing Offbeat Bride for about two years that the traffic grew to the place where I needed to learn about things like shared hosting vs. private servers, caching, and content distribution networks. It was a gradual process, and while there were a few overwhelming points… mostly each challenge came as a symptom of my business growing, so each step of having to learn something new felt exciting. I had to learn about private servers because my readership got invested enough to freak the fuck out whenever the website went down. I had to learn about caching and CDNs because my traffic got so high. These are all good problems to have, and ease the pain of having to learn about techy stuff that is distinctly un-fun.

If you're a curious nerd, once you start playing around with WordPress of course there are a bazillion things you'll probably WANT to learn (plugins, for starters!), but if you're just a writer who wants to start publishing and marketing their work? The barrier to entry is very low. (The barrier to SUCCESS, of course, is much higher and more challenging.)

  1. I totally second WordPress. I know people who like Blogger because of its integration with Google but WordPress is just so powerful and the number of plugins and free themes makes it so easy, as Ariel said. Just so many options. ComicPress is a really powerful plugin that is awesome if you are wanting to publish comics as it can set everything up for you to publish images and have blogs associated with those images, have two comment streams, etc. That's the bones that a lot of well-known webcomic artists use for their content.

  2. Agreed!

    My new personal obsession for non-bloggy websites (like for businesses, portfolios, etc…) is IM Creator. OMG, so easy and so gorgeous. It's not free (like $100 per year) but that includes the hosting and white label and support and their templates are *so* much nicer than anything you'll find on the other WYSIWYG web creation options.

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