Designing Your Blog in WordPress vs Blogger

Hi Ashley!

I really enjoy your Bitchin’ Book Blog posts—they’re all so helpful. I have a question about coding (especially for designs) in WordPress. I’m not exactly a pro at HTML and CSS coding, but I can manage in Blogger, and I just wanted to know how different it is in WordPress? I’m thinking of getting a domain for my blog on WP, and I wanted to know if it would be possible for me to design my own blog instead of going through someone else, or if it would be too hard!

Thank you!

Hi! Thank you for your question! 🙂 To answer it, I’ll talk a bit about the differences between designing in Blogger and designing in WordPress.

Designing your blog in Blogger

In Blogger, most people are probably used to clicking the “Customize” button and working with that options panel. You can change the background colour/image, adjust the blog width, pick from a layout template, and change fonts/colours in the “Advanced” panel.

Some more advanced users may choose to edit the HTML/CSS. If you do this, you can change the entire structure of the blog, beyond what you can do in the settings panel.

Designing your blog in WordPress

The Blogger HTML editor vs the WordPress HTML editor

Blogger templates are made with XML and CSS, and all the code is in one single XML file. This can be scary to some, but a lot of bloggers know enough basic HTML to make small edits themselves.

But WordPress templates are made with PHP, HTML, and CSS. WordPress themes can span across multiple files. For example, my Nose Graze theme has over 25 files! Because of this, I think editing WordPress themes can be a lot more daunting for people who aren’t already familiar with them. Also, if you mess with the PHP in your file cause it to break, then your entire site could get an error!


WordPress themes have more advanced settings panels

This is particularly true if you buy a premium WordPress theme ($25-$50). When you make a Blogger template, you cannot edit the settings panel to add new options. But in WordPress, you can. So many theme-makers (like myself) code their own settings into the options panel. The goal here is to eliminate the need for you to edit the actual HTML/PHP files.

As an example, here are a few screenshots from the Tweak Me Theme options panel:

Click images to enlarge them
Tweak Me "General Settings"
Tweak Me "Header Settings"
Tweak Me "Styling Settings"
Tweak Me "Navigation Bar" Settings
Tweak Me "Blog - Archive" Settings
Tweak Me "Comments" Settings
Tweak Me "Image Slider" Settings
Tweak Me "Custom CSS" Settings

Now, not every single theme in the world is like this, but a lot of premium (stressing that word) themes are. Tweak Me, for example, has over 150 customization options. So with an extensive options panel like this, you don’t need any HTML or CSS knowledge because all the settings are in an easy-to-use interface.

However, if you choose a free theme, there will be fewer options. There will likely still be a settings panel where you can upload your own header, background, and change a few options, but there won’t be hundreds of settings.

Do you need to hire a designer?

I recommend investing in a premium WordPress theme. This will cost somewhere between $25 and $50, depending on the theme you buy and where you buy it. If you do this, you will have one of those amazing settings panels that require zero coding knowledge! This will allow you to make all the design changes yourself.

But if you want something you cannot achieve with a premium theme and want to be able to edit the HTML files, then I might recommend hiring a designer because the core WordPress theme files are a bit more complicated than the Blogger ones.

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  1. Investing in a good theme is definitely a good idea! I think that once you’ve gotten a good base, it’s not too hard to work out the basics of how to edit and tweak things in WordPress. If I ever needed to edit something, I could usually just Google it and it wasn’t too hard to understand what all the code meant. 🙂

    Laura Plus Books recently posted: Book Review: Panic by Lauren Oliver
    1. Yep that’s definitely true! It’s so easy to Google for solutions. 🙂 I do it all the time!

  2. I would definitely hire a designer if I could because it would be so much easier but being a broke student, the choices can be limited haha. But I really don’t mind tackling coding by myself because it really forces me to actually face my fear of coding and learn more about it. WP themes really intimidate me but it’s interesting to know you can code your own settings into the options panel, might look into that 😀

    Charlotte @ Gypsy Reviews recently posted: Review: The Savages by Matt Whyman
  3. Haha I always knew designing a blog on WordPress was a lot harder because of how many options you seem to be able to get while designing a blog. I’m still entertaining the idea of making the switch to WP using your server when it goes up, but I’m definitely going to make sure to invest in a more expensive theme if I make the switch 😀 Thanks for the advice, Ashley! <33

    Eileen @ Singing and Reading in the Rain recently posted: February Recap
    1. Well I don’t know that it’s harder, but maybe more overwhelming because of how many options there are. 😉 But that also means you can have a lot more control over your design more easily! Pros and cons, I suppose!

      I’d love to have you! 😀 I’m hoping to launch the server next week #nervous #excited

  4. AH! I just did this =D
    The scariest thing going in for me was that I had very little knowledge of php. I about had a heart attack the first time I tried to add php code to my function.php file and the whole site stopped working D: Luckily I knew to pull up FileZilla and change the code haha. I’ve found that WordPress code can be very fragile.

    Stephanie@ThesePaperHearts recently posted: Discussion: Commenting Back
    1. Yeah the problem is that PHP is a server-side scripting language. If you add in something that causes a PHP error, that’s an error on the server side of things so it can prevent the page from actually being able to load at all!

  5. I’d suggest getting a framework for authors/more pro bloggers because all you’d ever need to do is install widgets and edit CSS. It’s great. I don’t ever have to touch or see the Loop unless I really want to haha.

    But I definitely second investing in a premium theme! I’d get a premium theme that’s easy to tweak so I’d only ever have to buy one.

    1. I’m actually kind of anti-framework, but I think that’s just because I love to code. As a coder, I see frameworks as being kind of bloated and and I hate how some of them don’t use the WordPress standards. For example, the Loop is a very standard WordPress thing, but Genesis doesn’t really utilize it. So from a coding perspective, that makes very little sense to me.

      But I think I’m massively in the minority here XD I know a ton of people who adore frameworks like Genesis. I’m just weird.

      1. Huh, that’s really interesting! I always thought that they just made the loop more accessible so you wouldn’t have to keep messing with it if you wanted to make changes to how your WordPress works?

        (Also, I don’t know if it’s an advertising thing but Matt Mullenweg endores Genesis haha.)

        1. Well that’s the thing. Genesis creates its own weird loop, which doesn’t make sense to me when, as a coder, editing the loop is actually quite simple. I get how it might be complicated for someone who doesn’t want to edit the loop or doesn’t know how. But if you know PHP and understand the loop, changing it in a WordPress theme is quite simple. It’s a lot simpler than having to jump through Genesis’s weird hoops and workarounds. So in the end, I have to spend a lot more time trying to work around Genesis’s made-up system, rather than using the system WordPress already has in place.

          Not sure if that makes sense. XD I think the main problem is just that I know WordPress’s functions really well. So then I look at Genesis, which completely reworks everything to use a different system, and it doesn’t make sense to me why they’d over complicate it. From the front-end, it may seem easier for someone who doesn’t want to touch the code. But if you do want to touch the code, it’s actually a lot more complicated X_X

          1. Oh defs! It’s a completely different language! It took me a while to figure out what was going on because I had actually semi-taught myself the Loop. (Which wasn’t that hard to learn, surprisingly enough haha.) The one upside with Genesis though is that they have tons of documentation and a really great support staff.

            But hey, for non-coders frameworks are pretty great (I assume this is their market target anyway), especially if you don’t plan on doing much customization haha. XD

            (Also, I hope you don’t mind but this post inspired me to make a post on how to find free premium WP themes haha.)

  6. Excellent question. I’m really new to blogging and wordpress. I’d never created any type of blog or site before and after careful consideration I went with wordpress and just decided to buy a premium theme. I went with Ashley’s Tweak Me theme on a friend’s suggestion and I had been looking at The Genesis theme before that but finally settled on Tweak Me just from the sheer amount of options it had plus it left me plenty of room to grow as I learn more. It’s amazing what you can do with it. If you’d like you can look at my blog to see what a beginner such as myself can do with it and trust me I’ve seen what some people who have just a little bit of coding knowledge can do and it’s amazing. I’ve also seen some pro’s use her theme and their sites and just incredible. Mine’s just very basic, I just played with the settings and that’s it. I haven’t touched even one line of coding or done anything with css yet.

    On a side note doesn’t your new hosting service include access to some of your themes or do we have to purchase them separately because I can say if even just a few of them are included then it’s worth that price alone and there’s no better way to make that jump lol. I love the Tweak Me theme and of course the Ultimate Book Blogger plugin is a must for book bloggers. It’s what makes all of my review indexes look so nice. All of my reviews by Title, Author, Series, etc are all from that plugin. I wish I could claim credit for making them look that nice 🙂

    I’m not a coder and don’t understand much about html, css or any of that stuff. I’m trying to learn but for some reason I’m having a really hard time with it and yes Google is definitely your friend. With that said I prefer wordpress or a good theme over something like blogger for the simple reason that eventually I will know how to do all of this and I want as much room to grow as possible. I don’t want any restrictions or odd hurdles in the way. Don’t get me wrong I’ve seen some of you guys and gals blogs at blogger and they’re freaking awesome. I’m always amazed at what so many of you can do.

    Jamie Pinson recently posted: Jamie’s Indie/Foreign movie of the week.
    1. Yes, my hosting includes access to all the themes and plugins on Creative Whim (except for those designed by someone else). 🙂

  7. Hi, Ashley! I am in the process of switching over to wordpress, and I have been reading your posts all morning. They are great! I have transferred my blog, but now my frustration is trying to get it to look like my blogger design (which I designed and love). All I want to do in wordpress is be able to copy and paste me design elements into my wordpress header and sidebar (with a little html tweaking). Is that possible? If I purchase a premium layout, will html editing be out of the picture? I feel so stuck. Thank you so much!

    1. Well HTML editing is done in the core theme files, which also contain PHP. I don’t recommend it for two reasons:

      1. If you mess with the PHP incorrectly, you could break your entire site.
      2. If you edit the core theme files, then the theme gets updated, if you do the update you will lose all your changes.

      So in general, it’s not recommended to edit the core files to change HTML.

      If you just want a white background with a custom header image, that can be done in a lot of themes, even the Twenty Twelve theme (which is probably the simplest to work with). You just upload your custom header image in Appearance > Header.

  8. Hey. I really love and respect your view about this. but to me for New and unexperienced blogger, blogger is the best platform. And for those who have some ideas about blogging and customize their own blog, wordpress will perfectly fit for them. thanks

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