Category Archives: The Web

WordPress: Your Cartoon Content Management System

Personally, I’ve been a user of the WordPress platform since the versions started with a 1-point-something. I don’t write that to brag or to make myself seem older than I really am or come across too abruptly as the unpaid endorsement fanboy that I might just be, but instead to give a bit of gravitas to the next sentence.

WordPress is not perfect, but it’s an awesome, virtually free, highly-flexible piece of software that has helped me build multiple-dozens of websites and post literally millions of words to the web.

I’ve built blogs, portals, forums, more blogs, retail front ends, business tools, serious sites, weird sites, and more than one online comic book. If you’ve decided that you want or need a website to do something like this — to post your comic online, say, like I have — WordPress is a tool that should definitely be on your shortlist.

…even though you do have many options.

For example, in my real life (the professional one, where people pay me money to do this kind of stuff) I am in charge of the website for my local municipal government which serves millions of visitors every month and communicates important government information and alerts to those visitors. I manage a team of amazing web folks who work in a system related-to, but very, very different from WordPress. That system is what is called an “enterprise CMS”, and is to WordPress what an industrial-scale factory is to a tradesman with a van and a toolbox.

Sometimes all you need is a tradesman with a van and a toolbox.

What the Heck is a C-M-S?

The term CMS stands for Content Management System.

Simply, it is a piece of software that takes your content — words, links, documents, and images — and helps you to organize them in a way that results in files that are useful to a web browser.

I’m writing these words in the WordPress CMS. I’m typing them into a text editor window inside, the same window that would let me add formatting, links, images, and even little customized widgets that might be useful inside the text.

WordPress, at it’s very basic, is a tool that mashes together the design of a website (the template) with your words and links (the content) and uploads a set of files to anyone who visits your web address (the website).

And to overcome the (purposeful) simplicity of WordPress (which really is a robust piece of software all on it’s own) people around the world in the WordPress development community have programmed hundreds or thousands of “plugins” which can be activated inside WordPress to give it new features, from simple tweaks to what you see managing content to complex new applications that help you build websites with amazing interactivity.

Some of those plugin are free, some cost money. Some of the templates you can use to change what your site looks like are free. And some cost money. If you have the time and the skill, you can climb inside the guts of those plugins or templates tweak them… or even make your own.

And going back to my original claim, I’ve been a user of the WordPress platform since the versions started with a 1-point-something… and I’m still finding digital dials to turn and clever little customizations that can be made if you’re willing to roll up your sleeves and give your keyboard some exercise.

The Limitations of a Passive Website

On the flip side, here in the year 2018, passive websites (like this one) seem to be trending passé.

It’s a Dead End

While part of me feels a definite need to build and maintain a digital monument to my comic, a “home” to my artwork, I do so acknowledging that there is little actually going on here to justify any real costs that I might put into it. A few dozen visits per day feed my analytics bubble. A few minor engagements that come sidelong through vaguely related search hits. A curious passer-by who thinks there might be something of consequence hiding between the comic panels.

It’s All Me

Most of my audience lives on Instagram or Facebook.

The people who like and share and comment and enjoy my work are not coming to my website… and even if they did, I’m not sure I’m offering anything extra of value besides a fire-hose of my work. It’s the difference between going for coffee with a big group of friends where you might show someone a few pics of your latest trip overseas… and having just one person, randomly, to your house to watch hours of your vacation videos.

The Payoff is Low

I host this website on a personal home server. About a year ago I bought a Raspberry Pi 3 (no relation) and installed a little LAMP server and a firewall and plugged it into the DMZ of my home internet router. I paid all of sixty bucks for this setup, and I pay about twenty bucks a year for a domain name and the DNS routing service. Factor in a dime worth of electricity per day, I spend about a hundred bucks per year keeping this site alive, or about as much as I’d pay for some really budget shared hosting.

I make zero in return. Maybe I just suck at business. Maybe I’m just building my brand and investing in myself — see below — but either way the payoff doesn’t even cover my very basic expenses.

I’ve recorded about 1,600 unique (non-me) visitors in the first 9 months of 2018… or a little less than 6 people per day see my comic. My that math, in 2018 I should expect to see about 2,200 readers. Not terrible, but it means I’m PAYING 5 cents per visitor to my site. I don’t want to shill for Facebook, but I ran an advert on social media via Facebook and Instagram and got a little over 1,000 impressions for ten bucks… or less an a penny per reader.

The Advantages of a Passive Website

I’m in Control

Barring the possibility of catastrophic disaster through a server meltdown or a successful hack or whatever, by posting on my own website I retain control of my art. I get to decide how people read it, consume it, link to it, share it.

I’m Investing in a Brand

This is a long game. I’m drawing comics for fun, not profit, but everything I draw and everything I post is part of one big cohesive effort to create a bit of a name for myself. A website is part of that package.

It is What You Make It, For Better or Worse

And ultimately, the simplest advantage comes down to payoff for the effort. I COULD put a lot more work into making my site better and more interactive. I don’t. I dump comics here, write a few words to please the SEO gods, and go back to Instagram to like other people’s work. The opportunity is vast, and it will be what you make of it, how much work you put in and what you can do with the little bit of space you’ve carved out with an (ultimately) inexpensive little home-brewed website.