If you’ve been thinking about starting a blog and have wondered how to create one with a professional look and feel, along with a reasonable level of customization, there are lots of choices out there.

There’s Google’s Blogger, SixApart’s Typepad, or its big brother Moveable Type, WordPress, Joomla!, Drupal, and many others. After hours of research along with a significant amount of trial and error, I decided to jump in head first and try WordPress. The software is free, open source, and fairly easy to setup. To make things even simpler I signed up for a GoDaddy hosting account, and selected the WordPress option, which initiated WordPress’s famous automated “5-minute install.” After a minimal amount of setup, I was ready to go, or so I thought…

WordPress comes with access to a tremendous library of open source templates. However, many of the templates are not very attractive and well below the quality that I was hoping for. All of the free templates available through the platform’s theme search function are verified by the WordPress development community before being made available to the user. There are a variety of other sites that offer free templates, but they suffer from the same aesthetic problems and I didn’t trust their credibility, as support problems, viruses and bugs are plentiful in this arena. Additionally, many of the free themes available, both from WordPress and elsewhere, suffer in terms of a lack of design flexibility. Yes, you can customize your site using WordPress’s vaunted plugins, but your ability to deploy those plugins and lay out your site the way you want is hindered by the theme’s limitations. As such, I decided to purchase a paid template from a company called iThemes. And while iThemes is not the only provider of WordPress templates and related tools,they offer several excellent options for those that would like to start blogging with a reasonably good and flexible foundation. They offer a number of professionally designed templates for $79.95 each as well as an “All Access” package that includes over thirty themes along with a developer’s multi-use license for $497.00 per year ($297.00 for 6 months). This may make financial sense for some developers; however I chose an alternative route called “Builder.” For the reasonable fee of $127.00 you can obtain a much more flexible theme and design structure along with five bonus child themes.

Installation was a breeze, however it took some time and effort to figure out how to customize the sidebars, nav bars, footer, html content, etc. Builder’s user interface is fairly straightforward, but understanding how it interacts with WordPress’s category and page hierarchy does take some getting used to. The more experienced you are with WordPress, the easier this transition will be. Once I adjusted to Builder’s control panel, things began to move along swiftly. After a short time, I became pretty proficient with making layout modifications and other changes without having to modify any code.

Overall, Builder does a good job of making layout updates a relatively easy task,  however it is not without its limitations. Like all WordPress downloadable themes, specific changes to database driven or hard coded content must be modified in the code, which is not something for the faint of heart. Unless you have solid programming skills, I would highly recommend that you focus your efforts on finding a template and plugins that suit your needs, as this time-consuming search might actually be the easier way to go. But, even if you’re a talented programmer, Builder can serve as a solid foundation upon which to modify your site.

So what makes the combination of WordPress, GoDaddy hosting, and iTheme’s Builder software so attractive?

  1. WordPress is free, open source, software than can be used to create, update and manage your blog with relative ease.
  2. One of WordPress’s greatest features is the ability to add plugins or widgets than can add extensive functionality to your site. For example, within minutes, I perused some of the hundreds (if not thousands) of available plugins offered on the WordPress site and quickly added: a multi-language convertor, social networking and bookmarking options, features to make the site more search engine friendly, and much more. Each of these can be installed or uninstalled within seconds, at the push of a button.
  3. iTheme’s Builder theme comes from a respected company that offers online support as well as a variety of tips and suggestions in its user forums.
  4. Builder is relatively simple to use and flexible enough to create a wide variety of different formats.
  5. Builder’s price is reasonable and the quality of the output is far superior to what users can expect from free templates.
  6. GoDaddy is a premier website hosting company that offers very reasonable pricing (without long term commitments), 24 hour phone support, a large variety of online tools, and a vast knowledgebase of information. Advertising during the Super Bowl and having Danica Patrick as a spokesperson doesn’t hurt either.

Important Note:

If you’re going to use open source code such as WordPress, make sure that you use adequate upper/lowercase passwords with a few numbers thrown in for good measure. In addition, it is very important that you keep your software and security patches up to date. Our test site had a basic dictionary type password that was recently hacked and a malicious virus was installed on the site.

This brings me to the final key point. Don’t forget to backup your blog layout as well as your database content on a regular basis. There are several free add-ins that make this a relatively simple task. We did, and we are extremely happy for our ounce of prevention approach. Good luck and see you in the Blogosphere!