University Web Developers

University Web Developers

Several of us are currently migrating sites from various CMS's to WordPress. Let's use this discussion thread to share our tips and experiences with WordPress at the departmental and institutional level. (Thanks to Hillary and Steve for kicking off this discussion!)

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Hello! Thanks for setting this up. So, what were the first steps you took in the migration process? Was your WP site built in-house or through an outside development firm?

We're in a fairly unique position as an affiliate university with only 1200 students, so our migration experience is probably most comparable to migrating a departmental site at a larger institution.

Currently we have a static HTML web site, putting us in the approximately 5% of institutions with no CMS. From a migration standpoint this is ideal, as it will simplify the process considerably as compared to a move from a proprietary CMS to WordPress.

Our overall plan is to migrate section-by-section and site-by-site through the coming fall and winter, beginning with the Intranet and several selected sub-sites.

We are handling most of the project in-house, though we did use an external agency for a design comp of the new home page as part of an overall visual identity refresh that also included print and signage.

Currently we are developing what I consider our 'prototype theme' in-house, with the option of deploying it into production after some refinement and testing, or of contracting the final theme development out to a local WordPress shop. We'll make that decision in the early fall.

In order to systematize development, and take advantage of best practices that are already cooked into the code, we are developing using Zurb Foundation 4 (http://foundation.zurb.com/), first as a pure HTML5/CSS3 template, and then in WordPress, possibly using Foundation for WordPress (http://fwp.drewsymo.com/) or a similar starter theme. Again the idea is to 'stand on the shoulders of giants', rather than reinventing WordPress theming in-house.

I'll be glad to share experiences as we go forward here on the thread! I'm sure there will be some pivots along the way, and much sharable learning.

This is excellent. Thank you for sharing. Since I'm so new here I don't know what's down the road, as yet, so I'm just exploring what others have gone through and done. There are some great college/university WordPress sites I've been looking at for ideas for templates/themes, plugins, etc. I found this: http://www.wpbeginner.com/showcase/17-popular-universities-that-are... and have been browsing through the pages created, but I haven't found any information on whether they built the templates, etc., themselves or outsourced.

First we completed a full content audit and determined what kind of content types we had.  Based on the content types we created several custom post types (Fields of Study, Courses, People, Profiles, Department Highlights) and associated taxonomies and metadata.

Once we knew what content types we had and completed our information architecture and wireframing it was a pretty fluid transition to building the themes and modules for displaying that content.

We also made a list of desired functionality and determined if a plugin was needed, if so does that plugin already exist, or is it better to build in house.  We wanted to limit our dependency on external plugins as much as possible.

Hi Cara -- Thanks for bringing your expertise and experience to the discussion! When developing custom post types, do you code the types directly, or use Types and Views, Custom Post Type UI, or some other plugin to create and manage types? (For those new to WordPress, post types are introduced here: http://codex.wordpress.org/Post_Types)

Daniel - I use Easy Content Types (http://pippinsplugins.com/easy-content-types/) in my local environment as a code generator.  There's a great export code feature.  Then I can further optimize and customize the code and bundle as I see fit. Some as standalone plugins, some bundled as plugins with additional custom widgets, some as network activated plugin.

From all the custom post type plugins I've reviewed, I've found this one to have the cleanest and most reusable code for my needs.  I basically use it like a framework. It was worth the $30.

Oh, this is excellent. Thank you, Cara! Was your site completely developed in-house or was any of it outsourced (design, coding, etc.)? Good point about limiting dependency on external plugins. What is your backup and update maintenance plan like? Knowing how much WP updates itself, plugins, etc., how are you set up for that?

Hillary - We did everything in house including server configuration, design, coding, content editing/migration.  We're a small team; there's only five of us: the director, an art director/designer,  a writer/editor, a web content editor, and a developer (that's me), but Wordpress is so flexible and quick to iterate that it was something we were committed to do.  The bulk of the work comes up front with the building of the themes and plugins, but once you have that migrating sites happens rapidly because everything is reusable.

As for backup and update maintenance, here's the protocol I have set up.

Backups

  • I use the plugin Snapshots (http://premium.wpmudev.org/project/snapshot/). You can purchase single plugins, but I recommend purchasing a subscription to wpmudev.  If I have to use an external plugin, I try to use one of theirs.  They have excellent support and they guarantee compatibility. It's one less thing I have to worry about, and if you decide to cancel your membership at any point you still get to keep and use any plugin you've installed.
  • For each site within the network, I run a daily backup of the database, and a weekly backup of the media/upload files
  • Themes and plugins are backed up bi-weekly
  • Core files are backed up weekly.
  • I keep a copy of the most recent backup on the server and 3 months worth in our Dropbox (the plugin automates this process)

Upgrades

Every 6 weeks, I do what I call our website health checklist

  • I upgrade the core, plugins, and themes.  I do this in a staging environment first to make sure nothing breaks before I do it in the production environment.
  • Run a 404 check (broken links) using Integrity (http://peacockmedia.co.uk/integrity/) and fix those links
  • Check Google Search Appliance search queries and promote links as necessary
  • Check Google Webmaster Tools for any messages
  • Delete old backup files from Dropbox
  • Run and analyze Google Analytics reports for content strategy
  • Review the Apache and PHP server logs for warnings and errors

Of course if there is a security upgrade release, I do those as soon as possible.

Source Control

  • I use Git to source control our code.  

You are awesome! Thank you for sharing all of this. I just met with our communications team and we're going to begin a content audit. I'm waiting to hear if there are set content types and categories already in place or if we can create what we need. It's fantastic that you developed in-house.

Hi, I'm the web developer for Johns Hopkins School of Arts & Sciences and have been a Wordpress developer for over 5 years.  We are currently in the process of moving all of our sites from Site Executive to Wordpress.  We have a network installation and have migrated 16 of our sites thus far.  We've built everything in house including 6 custom themes and many custom plugins. 

http://krieger.jhu.edu

Wow! Beautiful site. And quite a difference from the main JH site.

I wanted to add that the last college I worked at used Site Executive. I'm going to pass on your messages to them (and site URL) for when they begin to consider future upgrades.

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