23 Things for Archivists

Thing 40: Using Blogging Software for Website Development

By Kathryn Otto

Do you work in a small archives, library, historical society, non-profit, or professional organization that does not have its own website?  Do you have a board that is not quite ready to embrace internet technology by purchasing a domain and paying for web hosting?  Do you think that you need to know computer programming or HTML coding to have a website?  Or is your current website highly controlled by your IT department and they won’t let you do some of things you would like to on your website?

If you answered “yes” to any of those questions, using blogging software for website development might be your answer.

In Thing 1: Blogging, we had you set up a blog using either WordPress.com or Blogger.  If you have not already done that or have never used a blog before for some other reason, go back now and read through Thing 1.

Since we are using WordPress.com blogging software for this “website,” the following is somewhat WordPress-specific, although much of it applies to Blogger as well.

Steps to Create a Website

  • If you just want to play around with the idea of using blogging software for website development, go ahead and use your existing blog account, but set up a new blog.  If you want to try setting up a website blog that your organization plans to actually use, set up a new account.  Choose a user name that will be your blog domain name.  Make this choice with careful thought to your own brand as you cannot change your user name later.  Also, your user name will show up as the “author” on your blog/website.

For a small fee ($17/year as of February 2012), you can have a custom domain.  Instead of the default address you get when you sign up, you can choose your domain name without the “wordpress.com” at the end.  For example, our site could be “23thingsforarchivists.com” instead of “23thingsforarchivists.wordpress.com.”

  • Choose a blog title; this may be changed at a later time if you wish.
  • After you have started your blog you can choose a different template or theme to change its look.

Be sure to pick a theme or template that allows for pages as well as posts.  This is very important since you will be building your website primarily using pages.

The theme controls your blog’s style, appearance, and color motif.  It is possible to preview themes by clicking on screen shots.  You may easily choose another theme with just a click of your mouse, should you change your mind.  Certain themes support widgets—extra bells and whistles that you can add to the side or bottom of your pages, like links, Meebo chat, etc.  In themes that do, you may replace default widgets with ones of your own preference.

Some themes also will have a different look for the main page and for the rest of your subsequent pages.  For example, the 23 Things for Archivists’ main page has three skinny columns, but the subsequent pages are all a single, wide column.  Be sure to check how your theme handles this, keeping in mind that the main home page is probably not a static “page” at all but a “post.”  You might need to do some fancy footwork to make your main home page act like a “page” if it has more than one column.

Not every theme supports custom headers.  If you want to use a photograph of your own—like an image from your collections or a photo of your building, you will want to make sure the theme you choose supports custom headers.  You can either size your digital image to exactly the same pixels as that of the default header image, or you will be given the opportunity to crop the picture to fit when you upload it, but you will lose a portion of the image when cropping.

  • Your posts or pages can be composed in either “Visual” (called “Compose” in Blogger), which is a WYSIWYG* view, or in “HTML” (“Edit HTML” in Blogger) for those who know how to use it.  Both posts and pages may be edited or deleted at any time.  You may upload images (jpg, gif, etc.), documents (pdf, doc, etc.), and presentations (ppt) to your posts or pages.
  • A free blog account at WordPress allows for 3 GB of free file storage for those files.  To go above that limit, you will need to purchase an upgrade, which also allows you to add audio.  To upload videos (YouTube, Vimeo, Flickr, etc.), VideoPress is needed ($59.97/year as of February 2012).

* What You See Is What You Get

Built-In Analytics

If you chose WordPress, it comes with pretty good statistics tracking.  It is ease—and quite informative—to check your stats.  On your dashboard, clicking on “View All” will allow your administrator to observe the traffic your site has received by days, weeks, or months.  It also tracks “Referrers”—people who clicked on links from other websites to get to your blog.  “Clicks” shows you which links on your blog/website people have clicked on to go elsewhere,  as well as incoming links from other sites.  Your “Top Posts & Pages” lets you know which pages or posts are receiving the most hits.  “Search Engine Terms” helps your administrator know how your viewers found your blog/website.  “Totals, Followers & Shares” lets you know how many people follow your blog on WordPress or on Twitter.  It also gives you the totals for your Posts and Comments made by users, and the Categories and Tags that you’ve used. You can also track those “Comments” received and “Top Authors.”

Drawbacks

There are some drawbacks of using free blogging software to develop your website.  First, WordPress will “from time to time, display text ads on your blog to logged-out users who aren’t regular visitors.”  If this really annoys you or your users, it is relatively cheap to pay for the upgrade to get rid of the ads—$29.97/year (as of February 2012).

Another thing that could be a drawback is that WordPress.com is for non-commercial use.  WordPress.com is the free blogging software; there is also WordPress.org, which is commercial blogging software.  You have to pay to use WordPress.org, but then you can do anything you want.  So informational and promotional uses are okay on the free WordPress.com, but you should not be using it to sell anything, like copies of from your photograph collection.

Resources

(please let us know of others to add)

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