I recently switched my Email Overload site from WordPress to Squarespace in order to spend more time blogging and less time fighting with technology.
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I had been running my Email Overload Solutions blog site on WordPress for close to 2 years, but was just getting tired of all the ongoing technology issues.
Don’t get me wrong.
WordPress is a wonderful, flexible, and powerful platform for building websites.
But I am a “hobby blogger”, and manage this site as a side interest on top of a family, full-time job, and adjunct teaching.
Except for some minimal affiliate earnings, I do not derive any real income from my site, and lose money on it every year. Instead, I do it as a way to share my knowledge, interest, and passion on the topics of Email Overload and Information Overload.
I originally chose to build my site with WordPress because it was supposed to be easy, flexible, and (importantly for me), cheap!
However, over time, what I found was that I was spending a lot of time, money, and frustrations just trying to keep my little site running.
But based on the articles I had read, most suggested starting with a "shared host" and "self hosted WordPress". This would give me simplicity and low cost, with the advantages of flexibility for future growth.
I decided to start of with a Shared Hosting plan by Bluehost, which was a very good value and included everything I needed to get started. I also chose a simple theme from ColorLabs, which offered really good support.
After learning how to navigate WordPress, I launched my site in mid-2014.
But relatively quickly, I was thrown into the (not so simple) world of WordPress.
I had to learn to deal with Plug-ins, Themes, Hosting, Domain Providers, Email Integration, Spam problems, Security issues, Performance issues, and continual upgrades and compatibility issues.
Every time I fixed one issue, something else cropped-up.
I would upgrade my WordPress site to a new release, only to find to find some plug-in had an issue with the new version.
Or sometimes I would have issues when I upgraded plugins to their latest versions.
And most of my support required posting messages in (one of many different) forums and "hoping" someone would answer.
Now, I am a reasonably technical person. I even have a "coding" background, and once upon a time developed websites in the old days of HTML sites and "FrontPage".
I was able to resolve some issues through some basic knowledge of HTML, FTP, and SQL. I even learned a little basic CSS and PHP.
But many pieces of the technology were beyond my current knowledge base unless I wanted to some significant time and effort, which was never my goal in building a site.
So I started hiring some freelance WordPress consultants every few months to fix an issue or help configure a plugin.
Some consultants seemed to know what they were doing and fixed things. Whereas others seemed as confused as me and often made things worse or did some questionable changes.
I even implemented a few "Paid Plugin-Ins", such as for my Back-UPs and a few other items.
This improved things a bit, and things were generally working, but I found I was still struggling.
Every month or so, there would still be some sort of conflict or issue. And then I would have to start all over, trying to figure-out if it was a caused by the Theme, a Plugin, a hosting issue, or some other “new issue”.
For example, one Google message caused me to have to learn everything I never wanted to know about ROBOTS.TXT files.
And another problem caused me to have to learn about something called an .HTACCESS file.
And the next caused me to have to learn how to resolve some resource issues caused by blocked Java resources (and no, not the Starbucks kind of Java!).
And then several months back, I started experiencing some performance issues on my site. After some investigation, my host tracked these to “bot attacks” on my site, which sounded like something out of the latest Star Wars movie.
This issue forced me to hire (yet another) consultant. This resulted in upgrading to an even more powerful A2 Hosting account, new Plugin-ins, site config changes, installation of a “CDN”, and a new Caching solution, and a need to learn how to monitor my site’s “AWSTATS” log files.
Things were working a bit better, but these changes had increased my annual costs significantly.
I had started 2 years ago with a simple $5.99 hosting plan bundled with a domain and a free theme. This allowed me to run my site for about $75 a year.
But now, I was up to a $15.00 monthly hosting plan ($180 a year). Then add in the cost my Premium theme ($69 to purchase and $49 per year in support), a dedicated Domain provider ($15 a year), a premium back-up plug-in ($49 a year), and a few other premium plug-ins (some one time purchases, some with annual support costs). Add in periodic use of a few consultants I trusted, and that was another hundred or so a year.
I was also struggling with the fact that I had to deal with sometimes a dozen different people to get issues resolved.
Was it a WordPress problem? Hosting Problem? Domain Problem? Email Provider Issue? Plug-in Issue? Theme Issue?
Each of these required different support routes. And I often got the run around when firm X wouldn't talk to person Y if they didn’t believe it was their issue.
I considered several possible options:
1) Soldier On.
I could just continue with things as they were.
Maybe I would upgrade to a better host, a new theme, or a few more premium plugin-ins.
But this would mean to continue to spend significant time and money on my site on a continual (and ad-hoc) basis.
2) Outsource my site management.
I could outsource my WordPress site management to someone else.
This would be an individual that I felt knew what they were doing. But this would be expensive, and there was no guarantee that someone I found would even do a good job. Or that they would stick around long term. And it made me totally reliant on this one person.
Alternatively, I could sign-up for a “WordPress Management” service. They would ensure my site was up, running, backed-up, and secure. They would also manage routine upgrades and even do small enhancements (although often for extra cost).
But this level of service wasn’t cheap. Most WordPress management services ran anywhere from $50 to $100 a month. And that is just for basic site management, such as routine upgrades, monitoring, and back-ups. Anything “new” I wanted (such as installing a new plugin) would cost more money.
3) Move to a Stronger WordPress Framework.
I could try to move to a stronger and more comprehensive WordPress framework. Many frameworks provide extended functionality, strong support, and good performance and stability.
Genesis was clean but minimal. It would still require custom code to customize the "look and feel". And I would still be reliant on a number of plug-ins to get all the functionality I needed, since nothing was included except basic styling.
Divi was the opposite - full-featured and comprehensive. It would require very few Plug-ins. But it was an environment onto itself, with its own, steep learning curve.
And these frameworks didn’t fully address issues such as site security, caching, or back-ups. These still needed other site solutions.
4) Explore alternatives to self-hosted WordPress.
I went back and once gain looked into other alternatives to WordPress, just as I did when I was starting my site.
This included such solutions as Wordpress.com, Blogger, Wix, Weebly, Rainmaker, and Squarespace.
After researching and testing a few of these solutions, I decided to dig deeper with Squarespace.
I set-up a “trial” of Squarespace, ported over my WordPress content (which worked fairly well), but then spent some time reformatting my pages and blog posts. The biggest issue was that I had to “recreate” any functionality that I had used shortcodes for, since none of these would work in Squarespace. Some things were easy to redo, other things not so. And it meant going through each post line by line. Not for the faint of heart!
It definitely took some work to get the hang of Squarespace, and I am still learning. But in retrospect, I still find WordPress more complicated. And everything I need to do is done from inside of the single Squarespace system.
After a few weeks of learning and testing, I became (reasonably) confident I could do "most" of what I wanted in Squarespace.
Best of all, it was a significantly less total cost and less total effort. A basic Squarespace account is only $9 a month. For many “hobby bloggers”, this would give them everything they would need.
Their “professional” account, which includes unlimited pages, Gmail integration, and full eCommerce capabilities, was $18 a month, or about $200 a year, which is what I use.
After cleaning-up (most) of my pages and blog posts I switched off WordPress and pointed my Domain to the new Squarespace site.
There are definitely some big limitations to Squarespace compared to WordPress. And for some people, some of these limitations could be “deal killers”.
But I didn't hit any major roadblocks in my conversion.
I can do almost everything I could in WordPress.
And I find that everything tends to “work”.
There is a fairly strong Squarespace community forum. And they also have a dedicated customer support team that answers most questions within a day. They can’t help with everything (such as custom coding), but have generally been responsive and provide useful information.
And I like that so much is just “built into” Squarespace.
Things such as Google Fonts, Sitemaps, Schema.Org, basic SEO capabilities and social sharing are all “built in”.
No plug-ins to install or configure, and no compatibility issues.
I’m not trying to be an advertisement for SquareSpace (and they don't even offer an affiliate program, so there is nothing in it for me if you sign-up or not). But for me, I found that it does “most” of what I was doing on my WordPress site, but with "less muss and fuss".
And as a fully hosted solution, performance when building or editing pages can be a bit uneven. Sometimes, things seem to work fine. Other times, performance can be a bit sluggish and I have even lost my connection a few times.
But WordPress wasn’t perfect in this regard either. I am just in the habit of hitting “save” fairly often, although an “autosave” would be a nice addition (hint, hint to Squarespace!).
Not that Squarespace has been all "peaches and cream".
There have been a few things that I can't do at all in Squarespace.
And there are some things where I have had to find “workarounds” for, but Squarespace luckily does have some customization options. If you want to get advanced, you can do your own "Custom CSS”, “header injections” and even "code blocks”.
Yes - there are limits to some of their features, and a few surprising gaps.
And you definitely do not have the level of flexibility and customization you have with WordPress.
But my goal in moving to Squarespace was to simplify things.
In fact, having less available options has its own advantages.
In Squarespace, if there isn’t an easy way to do something, I just drop it and move on.
But with WordPress, there was ALWAYS a way to get something to work. It was just a question of how much time you wanted to invest and complexity you wanted to create.
As a result, I find that I am spending a lot less time messing with my site and much more time creating content.
And that was the whole reason I started my site in the first place.
I never went into this to become a site designer or web technology expert. I simply wanted to build a site around an area of personal interest.
Squarespace seems to have a pretty good balance for my needs.
I don’t think of Squarespace and Wordpress as true competitors.
They are actually very different systems that can accomplish similar outcomes - creating beautiful websites. But they go about it in very different ways.
SquareSpace is great for the "DIY" blogger, small business owner, or busy person that wants to make a beautiful website with little need for technical skills. Although, there are also some big companies that run their sites on Squarespace.
WordPress is a highly flexible and powerful system that can run anything from small sites or full eCommerce stores. It is great for the tech-savvy person that wants complete control over their site, or for someone willing to hire or outsource their site management to someone else.
If you are interested, please feel free to check out Squarespace.
So what does this have to do with Email Management and Information Overload?
Well, I found that this experience was a small example of how technology can be either a boon or a bane to productivity.
I found myself spending more time (and costs!) working with the technology of WordPress then benefiting from it.
Switching to a different, simpler, and cheaper option made sense – for me.
Sometimes more power isn’t the answer, less is.
The same analogy applies to ways in which you communicate and the tools you use to manage your productivity and time.
Complicated solutions involving multiple systems, tools, and integrations can suck more of your time then they solve.
That is why I still carry a Circa notebook with a pen to my meetings, have an "At a Glance" monthly planning calendar on my desk, and put my “daily top 5 to dos” on a yellow sticky note on my monitor each morning.