Lessons Learned: My First Site Based on WordPress

Earlier this year I created my first production web site built on WordPress.  I had previously evaluated WordPress, but never deployed anything to production.

My client needed a site that they could easily update themselves, and the amount of technical knowledge required to perform the updates needed to be as low as possible.  In brief, the simpler the better.

To prepare for the project, I evaluated WordPress (which I consider both a blogging platform and a Content Management System), and also “pure” CMS’s like Joomla and Drupal.  I have some professional experience with Drupal, and considered the management of sites based on it to be too complicated for my client.  Joomla I have not worked with in any capacity.  It seemed like it would be more accessible to my client than Drupal.  In the end, though, my past experience with WordPress won out.  I considered its administrative functions easy enough for my client, and my familiarity with the tool ensured that there would be less learning curve for me.

Ultimately, I found the experience of building a site on WordPress at times easy and at times frustrating.  Templates allow a site’s entire look and feel to be easily modified, and can enable a “point-and-click” web-building experience.  On the other hand, getting exactly the desired look can be a struggle, as it may be necessary to dig through obscure and poorly-documented settings or even tweak the template code itself. 

Another positive is the vast array of plug-ins for the WordPress platform.  Pretty much any functionality that is needed can be simply “plugged in” to a site simply by copying a few files and modifying configuration settings.  On the other hand, the sheer number of plug-ins available can make finding the right tool for the job a challenge.  For example, Google produces 82,700 results for the exact phrase “wordpress social media plugin”.

Here are some of the templates and plug-ins that I found useful in building the site.

Template – Suffusion

WordPress templates allow you to alter the layout of a WordPress-based site, and this is one of the most popular.  It is remarkably full-featured, providing a vast number of options for modifying the look of a site.  A nice summary of its features is given at http://wordpress.org/extend/themes/suffusion.  For flexibility and power, this template is hard to beat.  On the other hand, the admin UI for the template is terrible.  Way too much of what I accomplished was achieved by trial-and-error and much time spent hunting through the admin interface.  Even then, it was necessary to take notes on what I’d done, so that if I needed to make another change a week later I could easily re-locate the element to be adjusted..

I recommend the template because of its power and flexibility, but be prepared for some administrative pain.

Plug-in – Password Protect 

This plug-in allows the password-protection feature of WordPress to be extended to cover the entire site (instead of just the admin functions of the site).  In other words, in order for a visitor to see any part of the site, they will need to log in.

I used this plug-in while the site was being developed.  It allowed me to build the site directly on the production web server, but still “hide” the site from the general public until it was ready to go.

Note that this plug-in’s page on WordPress.org indicates that it is more than two years old and may no longer work with up-to-date versions of WordPress.

Plug-in – Ultimate Category Excluder

The Ultimate Category Excluder plug-in allows post categories to be excluded from a site’s front page, archives, and feeds.  It works just as advertised, but I ended up not using it.  I found no problems with the plug-in, but simply decided that I did not need the functionality that it provides.

Plug-in – AddToAny

This plug-in provides a way to add social media links to a site’s pages and posts, making it easy for site visitors to share information about the site.  You can customize the share buttons that are displayed, the types of pages the buttons appear on, as well as the appearance and location of the buttons.

Plug-in – Google Calendar

I tried a number of approaches to building calendar functionality, but failed to find anything that really worked properly.  I ended up setting up a Google account for my client and showing them how to manage their organization’s calendar there.  Then, I used this Google Calendar plug-in to display the entries from the Google calendar as a list on the web site.

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