One Finite Planet

WordPress.com to the Next Level: Plugins, Elementor, CoBlocks?

Table of Contents

Something completely different. A discussion on how this site is hosted: on wordpress.com.

Anyone who has started a "blog" or other site on wordpress.com, may get to wonder, what are the options for upgrading the website? What is the value of the free, personal or premium plans and beyond? What real world benefits are there, and, alternatively, what would you lose and/or gain from moving away from wordpress.com. This is a page discussing being in that situation. If you are not considering having a website, it may be of little interest.

My Situation.

Site Overview.

This page outlines my experience looking to extend from basic wordpress, which will be could be relevant to others with a basic site looking for more options. I will be updating this page over the next month, so if you stumble across this page, following the progress seems interesting, just check back every few days during January 2022.

I have a WordPress site on WordPress, which I think of as an evolving book focused on the future. If I wrote a conventional book, but the time I finished much of the early content would be out of date. As I write new chapters or pages, the book evolves. As a site, the tools needed as close to a blog, but there are some needs a classic blog does not have.

However, my site is not a portfolio, a company website, or an internet sales business. To an outsider, the result is quite like a blog.

The site began working on the premise that “if you want to real learn a subject, teach it”. The best way to clarify my own thoughts was to write them to an anonymous hypothetical audience. The site is just a hobby.

There are many existing pages and/or on “how to create a WordPress site”. I will reference some of these, but they target many different audiences. So why another page? Because I found it difficult to get the answers I was looking for.

The focus here is:

  • A blog like site (not ecommerce, or a company web-presence).
  • People who are not just beginning to use WordPress, but already have a
  • Personal Site: Not an developer of sites for sites for others.
  • Adding engagement, and proving freedom for future directions.

Someone let me know that they wanted to “follow” the site, but did not want to create a worpress.com account just to follow this site. I think the problem is emphasised by the fact that your site says “XX Bloggers are liked this post”. Register to follow a site, and you are considered a blogger. Nothing wrong with being a blogger, but not every one wants to be considers a blogger just because the like one specific post. Taking on a title like “blogger” can become about identity, and it can make liking a post, require a person adopt an identity that, if they do not already have, seems like quite a step. This is one of the questions I was looking to answer.

What I Need The Capability To Improve.

Here is it as a bulleted list:

  • The ability to follow:
    • For people who are not bloggers, remove the need to create a wordpress.com account and be labelled a “blogger”
    • For Bloggers on wordpress.com, retain the ability to follow, but add flexibly.
    • Allow following specific categories, without needing to follow everything.
    • Allow alternatives to email for notifications, such as such as twitter or Facebook
  • Appearance:
    • Templates just do not provide what i want
    • Index pages, and better handling of categories.
    • I will keep thinking 🙂

Why leave…

WordPress.com: Or just become independent.

What?

WordPress.com is run by the commercial arm of the people who created wordpress.org. The business provides WordPress website hosting for a fee. Although there is a ‘free’ tier, wordpress.com still earns revenue from advertising on these sites. Beyond that tier, the revenue is from the subscriber, and the subscriber can earn the revenue from any advertising. Overall, the business model is clear and simple: hosting for a fee.

Who?

In addition to being a hosting service, WordPress.com is also community of bloggers.

For comparison, in theory, YouTube is similar as it is a community of Youtubers. In order to be able to comment on videos, a person must technically create a YouTube channel. However, YouTube does not brand people a “video-ers” or “content creators”. In practice, a huge difference for many people, is that so many people already have a google account, so it does not feel like creating a new account, and there is no new password to remember. WordPress.com does allow use of a google account to login, but it still creates a new account, and somehow, it still feels like a big step to create a wordpress.com account, just to comment on a website that does not necessarily feel particularly connected to wordpress.com.

Why Not?

The community of bloggers is on the other hand, very useful in getting a site started, particularly if your goal is to have other people on the web find your site. Leaving wordpress.com would mean leaving the community of people who used the wordpress reader to find content. Given how much content is our there on the web, any community is a very useful starting point.

My Decision?

While something may change in future, until there is a change, I am happy to pay a premium to remain on wordpress.com

WordPress Itself (wordpress.org).

The WordPress software was initially build by the owners of wordpress.com, but was “open-sourced” allowing, making allowing for a collaboration between any number of developers who wish to contribute, with no developer owning the rights. WordPress becoming open source, allowed millions of sites to be built with confidence someone would always be able to provide support, and the software would always be free.

The one negative, is that the system was written with PHP. A leading language in 2003, PHP has not travelled well since then, and is no longer a leading language. However the system is large, with so many extensions, that WordPress will survive despite this, and if it does fade from use, it would take over a decade. I am not aware of a true competitor at this time, and with around 40% of websites using WordPress, it is a very safe choice.

The Technical Aspects.

Adding Plugins and Themes: The Key To The Power WordPress.

There is “Full WordPress”, and “WordPress lite”. With the difference the ability to add plugins.

WordPress.com now offers two ways to run WordPress:

  • A large number of sites all running on a standard WordPress installation.
    • What I describe as “WordPress lite”.
    • Each Site can choose from a limited and fixed selection of themes, and small number of installed plugins.
  • An individual WordPress installation per site, with full ability to configure that installation.
    • What I describe as “Full WordPress”.
    • Each Site can add any thousands of plugins and themes, or even create and install its own custom themes or plugins.

The rest of this section , is really all about things possible only with “Full WordPress”.

The Trouble With Themes.

The standard themes available are fine if they happen to be exactly what you want. The idea of a theme, is that it is an extension to WordPress, tailoring pages and display options available available to a specific use case. In practice, I feel they are limited use, unless working together with the theme developer.

The theme does the configuration tasks that requires the ability to code. The people who make the theme are like the IT department. This works fine if it is your IT department, and you can get them to respond. It also works perfectly for a team who builds web sites for customers, and is there fore the outsource IT department for those customers. But for WordPress bloggers, it is like living with what another IT department created, without documentation of what they were things and with no access to get them to respond to your needs. IN the end simply using an off the shelf theme is very hit and mess. It goes so ar, but no further.

Traditional vs Gutenberg vs Elementor vs Co-Blocks.

Traditional vs Gutenberg at this time comes down to preference, and you can switch between these at any time.

Then there is Elementor. Elementor was developed as a plugin extension, to give better control over the look of pages/posts. Elementor provided a real breakthrough, and was a complete game changer. The response form the core wordpress.org team is to gradually offer the same features as Elementor in the core WordPress. Guttenberg editing was the first step, and theme building in Guttenberg would b ethe next step. Guttenberg has the potential to make Elementor one day redundant, but that day is not yet here.

Elementor provides features for creating your own theme without coding that are just not there without Elementor, but Elementor is not recommended for writing “posts” themselves as there is less to gain, and moving posts back to Guttenberg in future would be a huge task. So all downside and no real upside from posts in Elementor. The use of Elementor is for the key pages of a sites, and the ability to design templates without coding. This gets rid of the need for an IT department to get what you want.

  • Elementor: Best for pages and templates.
  • Guttenberg: Best for posts.
  • Traditional editor: a matter of preference over Gutenberg, but Gutenberg just keeps getting better.

At this time, now I suggest it is worth getting Elementor if you have a full WordPress site that can host themes, as this is the best way to get the theme you really want, but it will not change how your write posts.

Elementor vs Elementor Pro.

Elementor is open source. So no revenue for the makers of Elementor, and no lock in for anyone using the product. Is shared by all who contribute, and all who contribute must find their won way to generate revenue. The one catch is, that as it is common to want to find a way to make money, as with many things, using the free part is not the whole story. Elementor pro also provides hosting, just like wordpress.com, but the main story is that your really need some “extras” beyond what is in Elementor to get things done. Any number providers can offer you “extras”, but the most common, and quite reasonably priced option, Elementor Pro version.

CoBlocks.

I am still decoding the situation here. I had read how Guttenberg is evolving features that may soon rival Elementor, as as CoBlocks has become a standard plugin automatically installed one WordPress.com, that CoBlocks is part of the evolution of Guttenberg. It turns out, this is misreading things, but exactly what is happening is not clear.

CoBlocks is free, and it is open source, but has been acquired by “GoDaddy” web hosting. The question here is the business model.

Members.

Overview.

One of the original motivations was to allow a form of site ‘membership’.

One key step to do much of the work seemed to be ‘buddypress’, but what becomes apparent the UI is not considered great.

is there is no ‘login/register’ page for this system.

Login Page.

I found that setting up a page with settings/buddypress/pages register as a blank page gives a quite reasonable login/register page, that manages to allow the facebook login. Problem is how to logout, or for the user to delete was not obvious.

For login pages etc, it always seems to come from plugins, and there are many. And I mean many…which suggests there is a real serious need.

There are two business models for software of this nature: open source and “freemium”. So far, these all seem to be freemium. What I was looking for was a plugin that appeared to have good support, and where the paid version was reasonably priced. In the spirit of “there is no such thing as a free lunch”, and a marked dominated by freemium products, I wanted something where supporting the provider added up.

The required features seem to be:

  • Ability to create pages for login and register, although my goal is a combined page.
  • Eliminating the control bar at the top of pages when members are logged in.

The problem for my use case is the most “member” plugins are all about how to make money from “members”, which is not my goal. My main goal is simply to allow followers to follow individual topics, and stop followers needing cross site cookies to remain logged in.

Profile Press.

The best product I could find so far is “profile press” (free/US$79/US$179/US$. The support log on wordpress.org suggests they are responsive, but the plugin changed from “wp-user-avatar”, which disenfranchised many previous users, giving a big block of negative reviews at the time of the change, but more recent reviews are all 5 star. The biggest negative at this point is there is no mention or examples of working with Elementor, although there is information on short codes.

Youzify

Currently on special for $59 -with lifetime updates. The sales pitch was huge on fluff, and low on substance. Could be great, but I found it hard cut through to what it really does.

WP User Frontend Pro

Again, hard to wade through the promotion material, but if anything overcomplicated from my use case. Free/US$49/US$89/US$159 and life time pricing as well.

– Ultimate Frontend Solution For WordPress – weDevs
(formerly Youzer) – BuddyPress Community & WordPress User Profile Plugin by KaineLabs (codecanyon.net)

Ultimate Member

Paid versions from US$249 per year.

UsersWP

The Core is opensource, but the plugins really add up! All plugins plan is US$200 per year. The free versions looks ok, but the bridge to add features is huge. One bonus, Elementor support is strong.

User Registration (WPEverest)

Expensive, and works around its own form builder, which seems a lot of overhead. There are short codes, but it does all. Has conditional logic in the $200 per year version. Pricing $100,$200 or $300 pa.

 WP User Manager

Registration forms are only in the $299 per year version.

MemberPress.

Expensive (279-600 per year, but with signup discounts)

Categories.

Organising categories is quite a challenge. One trap is that if you make a tree, then the URLs form a tree, and if you update that tree, URLs will become broken.

Here is a discussion on how to create redirects, that allow persevering old URLs while still allowing new ones.

My Steps.

Moving plan.

Before you can add anything else, you need to move to your own “Full WordPress” implementation, running your own copy of WordPress. This can be established for a cost as low as US$5 per month with other hosting services, but on wordpress.com, it requires upgrading to the “business” plan, currently priced at US$360 per annum.

Quite a price for a hobby, but the lowest step that provides the flexibility of a dedicated, and therefore customisable WordPress site. “Personal” is the step to your own domain name, “Premium” adds monetising add revenue, and anything else, allow your those benefits, plus your own customisable installation of WordPress.

Despite lower cost alternatives, I decided for now to stay with the “wordpress.com” community, so upgraded to a business plan.

Adding “Super Socializer” and Heateor login.

Next I added super socializer , thinking it would be easy to allow people to login and then follow without creating a WordPress account.

It is not. I had though super socializer would be enough, but I realised that only did sharing, and login would be required. Overall, it became clear that it was one of those tasks that is far more complex than I had imagined. I found there was “buddypress” to manage members, but at this first attempt the biggest problem seemed to be around themes, and the fact the screen layouts were just a mess. So buddypress might help, but it alone would not be a solution. That is when I started to understand Elementor.


Adding Elementor, and My Own Theme.

When I update this page, I should have competed this step.

Adding Elementor is simple. The open source plugin can be installed from wordpress.com, but the por plugin requires a purchase on the Elementor web site, before download install and activate. There is guidance through each step.

The big step is making use of Elementor to introduce my own theme.

  1. First step was to move to the “Hello” plugin, which directly installs from wordpress.com using “add theme”.
    • moving to this theme gives your site no header, and a really boring posts list.
  2. Adding a header, but “theme builder” in now inside Elementor, not back at the WordPress menu.
  3. Adding a new “posts” page, and in my case, making it the home page.
    • this required a decided Elementor page using the ‘posts’ widget
    • the ‘archives’ template is used to render pages that result from clicking on search or a ‘category’
  4. I then upgrades the ‘surprises’ page, in the same manner as the “posts” page, but this required getting “taxonomy” correct. I added two new “taxonomies”, after adding the customer post UI plugin, one taxonomy to reflect a post type including “surprises” as this is not really a category, and another to record post popularity, so popular posts can be listed.

Updating the ‘Intro’-duction/contents/index page.

New step was to add a new ‘topics’ page using Elementor. If I could a:

  • loop through categories
    • or
  • loop through subpages of a page

This could be automated, but I have yet to find how.

Fonts and styles.

Elementor allows setting the fonts and styles used in the website. Simply edit (in elemetor editor) any page or post written as an Elementor page/post. Ideally the page has samples of each heading, and a button and link or any other elements to be styled, so the appearance can be seen on the page being edited before the styles are applied.

The page used for seeing the styles can be a draft or private page.

Once editing with Elementor, using the “hamburger menu” (left) and select “site settings”,. Typography allows for setting the fonts of h1 etc.

Strangely, so far headings dropped onto Elementor pages using the heading widget, follow the ‘primary’ colour, while heading within a text widget, follow the typography settings.

Sample quote text.

from here

Adding an Improved Post Format.

One you have the ability to define your own theme, it unlocks the real power of themes. There are showcases of pre-made themes, but for me, the documentation does not explain the exact use case they are targeting, nor made it clear exactly how to best use the theme, or give confidence that even if you knew how designing your posts to take full advantage of the theme, a future upgade would not break what you are doing.

This is all solved with control over your own theme. What I have found is, it is easier and takes less time to design your own theme, then to fully understand a theme written by someone else.

The nature of my posts is they really need a table of contents (TOC). All along I have been manually writing a table of contes for each post, but I now find I can have one generated automatically, with the advantage that unlike with writing one inside the post, the table of contents can become a widget that is always accessible by scrolling down the page. Of course, if I simply apply a template with an automatic table of contests to each post, the one I wrote will still be there as well, so there would be two tables of contest for each page until I edited each page. The solution is two templates, a “default” for existing pages, and an a new alternative for those with a layout “taxonomy” (using github housed repo) indicating it should have a table of contents. Apply the new style, edit the post to check auto table of contents is what is needed, then removed the old one.

My new post style displays the “featured image” and “post excert” at the top of the post as well.

Getting The Login Working.

False Starts.

Now to one of the reason for the whole exercise. I had added buddy press early on, and probably earlier than i needed to, as it did not really solve any of my initial challenges. I could not even get menu entries specific to bing either already logged in or not logged in that i wanted to display correctly.

To try and solve that, I added “Nav Menu Roles” plugin to enable the menu configuration ability i needed, but it turns out ProfilePress also has this function so this may have also been unnecessary.

ProfilePress Install.

The install of the free level went smoothly. It ask if you want to add necessary pages, I did, but would not if doing a second time. It is so easy to set up the pages as you want them, and automatic generation adds pages that are not exactly as i would want them, so i will end up with pages to delete. Nothing wrong with how it works, and can be useful, but if you are a control freak at all, skipping it will leave you calling the shots.

My pages are ‘follow’ and ‘subscribe’, although I plan to eliminate the subscribe and put both on one page later.

Elementor and ProfilePress: Success.

Using profile press shortcodes for a login page worked perfectly. The only problem so far is that going to the login page when already logged in is 2nd class compared to buddypress standard log in page.

Login Achieved?

7th February update: I still have a situation where redirect following login/registration can fail. leaving the member on the login/follow page. What is still to be investigated is how member recovers their password, and how to achieve the ‘follow’ I want that is based on topic.

Pending Steps: My Challenges

Follow Logic.

There is a goal to followers to follow individual topics. This needs the ability for followers to make selections, and for those selections to then work. One of the first stages is control how followers are notified.

Topic/Category Pages.

Ideally each topic should have an introduction page, then be divided into reference and timeline pages.

Challenges include, can a page also include the parent topic without page that resulting in being ‘related’ pages no longer first featuring those of the ‘child’ topic first.

The first Challenge is to get just one topic looking correct. Starting with … EVs?

Dashboard.

It is my goal to create a dashboard with indicators for :

  • Global warming.
  • Rate of population growth.
  • EV adoption.

Follow Button: Conditional WordPress elements

A follow button would be nice, ideally one that changes for people who are logged in.

I found Visibility Logic for Elementor which solves this problem, but there are other alternatives:

Updating Categories: Redirects

If the categories hierarchy is altered, then old links could become broken, even those from search engines.

There is a ‘redirects‘ plugin, or you can edit the files directly for categories or any page.

Member Id on page.

Currently the main menu contains ‘Follow’ if not logged in and ‘Settings’ when logged in. Something better is desired.

Posts Plugin: Plugin development.

Sometimes existing plugins do no do what you want. You can tweak them, combine them, and try many things, but it can end up more complex the jumping in and writing your own plugin, which it turn out, can be far easier than tying to work out what plugins written by others do or exactly how they work.

Useful links:


Links.

Images with overlayed text and links.

https://www.wpbeginner.com/plugins/how-to-add-custom-links-to-gallery-images-in-wordpress/

https://elementor.com/help/text-over-image/

You tube on clickable image.

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