I'm Amanda and I’m passionate about creating a well loved and well lived in home for my family and I I'd love to help you do the same!
Starting a blog can be incredibly intimidating and I’m not going to lie, there’s A LOT to know. In this post, I’m going to break down how to choose where to host and how to design your new blog. I’m going to tell you the mistakes I made when I started and what I use (and am very happy with) now.
This explanation will be as to the point as possible to minimize overwhelm, but I will link to some helpful resources if you want to dive in a bit more on some of the topics as we go.
Also, this isn’t a typical comparison post where I talk about every blogging option available under the sun. It would be very hard to put all the research I’ve done on website hosting and design into a single post, and why bother? I’ll just skip to the good stuff….what I finally chose and why!!
EXCITING NEWS: In 2021 I will be running a course on building lifestyle blogs for beginners. This course will walk you through the entire process of building a profitable blog with simple step by step actionable steps and hands-on support. If you would like to sign up to be the first to know when the course becomes available for pre-sale with special offers and bonuses for getting in early just sign up below!
Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links. That means I make a small commission at no extra cost to you if you purchase through these links. Thank you for your support!
Before we get into it, let’s define a few basic terms…
Domain – the address that people type in the browser URL bar to visit your website. For example, “thegingerhome.com” or “thegingerhome.ca”.
Website Builder/Platform/ App – This is where you actually build your site and where it starts to get confusing!
The platform you use to build your website sometimes also offers hosting, so it’s an all in one deal. Sites like Squarespace, WIX and my favourite, Show It, are examples of this type of Platform. If you are using WordPress you will need a separate website hosting service like the ones listed in the Website Host definition above.
Theme – A theme is an entire set of elements designed for a Content Management System such as WordPress. The theme dictates the overall look and feel of your site…things like color and font styles, but also the functionality.
Template – A “shell” HTML file and Style Sheet (CSS) that a user could use as a starting point for individual pages.
Note: The terms theme and template are sometimes used interchangeably, which can be extra confusing. I like to think of the theme as the overarching design and templates as specific designs that use that theme to create page layouts etc… clear as mud?!
Plugins – a piece of software containing a group of functions that can be added to a website to extend functionality or add new features to the site. For example, I have a plugin that adds a button to my images that allows people to PIN them to Pinterest.
Okaayyy, now that we are clear on these basic terms I’ll tell you how I set up my first version of The Ginger Home and how I went wrong!!
When I started the Ginger Home in 2018 I followed the advice of so many “how to start a blog on a budget” blog posts and did the following:
Sound familiar?! There are a lot of posts out there, especially if they are a few years old, that tell you to start blogging this way. You can totally follow this roadmap and it is a cost-effective way to get started, but in the end, it wasn’t an ideal plan for me and here’s why…
WordPress is an excellent platform for writing blog posts. But it’s a pain to actually design your site on the WordPress platform!!
WordPress is an open-source website building platform designed primarily for blogging and the largest and most used platform in the world. (TIP: Use WordPress.org where you have full control of your site, NOT WordPress.com. Details on why HERE)
Some alternatives to WordPress include Squarespace and WIX. I haven’t tried either of these website builders as I wanted full control over my site right from the start. Squarespace, WIX and the like have beautiful website templates, but you are limited in functionality and design. (Detail on why HERE.)
In order to have full control and the most versatility with your site, you need WordPress. However, with versatility comes complexity. I am not techy AT ALL (so it’s actually hilarious that I’m now a blogger lol). I don’t know how to code. I don’t want to create my own customized CSS files or deal with “child themes” or “FTP files”! If you are laughing/crying right now, you know exactly what I mean. If you don’t, just google “child theme” and see how many tutorials come up lol!!! It’s so confusing!!! Trying to actually design and build your site on WordPress can be a nightmare for a new blogger, at least it was for me!
So, back to my site…. The Ginger Home was launched… and it looked ok and it worked for a while. But I really didn’t have a sweet clue what I was doing and within a year it started to break and I had no idea how to fix it. I also wasn’t ever able to customize it to really look the way I wanted it to. The theme I had installed didn’t come with any customer support and I had no idea how to make changes or update the site as my business needs grew. I had random plugins installed and I wasn’t really sure if they were compatible or if my site structure was sound. I felt lost!
To make a long and frustrating story short, a year later my site was barely functioning. The silver lining…I ended up paying someone to re-design the site for me and I was introduced to Show It!! (By the way, this is not a paid post for Show It. They actually don’t have an affiliate program yet, so this is just my unbiased & independent review of the platform!)
Show It is a visual website building app and website host that allows you to create your website by dragging shapes, images and text around without using any code. It integrates with WordPress so that you can design your site on Show It, but write your blog posts in WordPress!! Two words for you… LIFE CHANGING!! Ok, so maybe that’s a bit dramatic, but if you have spent hours agonizingly trying to build your site on WordPress you’ll understand! (You will need the Show It Basic Blog or Advanced Blog hosting options to get the integrated WordPress option.)
Show It has beautiful templates available within the app itself or you can find them from independent sources. Some of my favourites are from Davey & Krista. If paying someone to design your site isn’t in the budget, buying a template will save you so much time and make the whole experience of setting up your site a million times less stressful. Trust me good templates are worth every penny. Another source I love if you have a slightly higher budget are the templates from Tonic Site Shop.
Even though I originally paid someone to re-design my site, over time my needs for my site grew and I needed to make some changes. My designer was unavailable to make those changes, but I was able to refresh my entire website design myself! I was able to add a top header with a link to my new shop, change the layout of the homepage, add embedded quizzes to grow my email list, add new pages and so much more!! I would never have been able to do this on WordPress in my old theme. Knowing that I can manage my site myself and that I’m not dependent on someone else for something so fundamental to my business was a game-changer.
The Show It interface allows you to see how your design will look on both desktop and mobile at the same time! You can just drag and drop elements and it’s fairly intuitive to learn. There is a live chat help option that is sooo helpful and a huge library of help articles and videos that are easily searchable.
Note: I have heard that there are plugins like Elementor available for WordPress now that offer a similar drag and drop experience, but I have not tried them. I like that Show It hosts my site (which Elementor does not offer) and the customer support has been exceptional (I don’t know if Elementor has the same level of customer support)!
So if you are thinking of starting a blog, I highly recommend Show It. It’s a slightly more expensive hosting option, but think long term! It has all the functionality you’ll ever need with WordPress integration. It has good customer support and hosting speeds. You won’t outgrow it in a year and need to transfer your site (which is a huge pain with a ton of blog posts). It’s worth every penny in my very biased opinion!