Tips on creating a personal WordPress website on sites.wfu.edu

Information Systems at Wake Forest recently introduced a new option for faculty, staff, and students interested in creating a personal website. https://sites.wfu.edu allows you to create a single site automatically by filling out an online form. For instructions, see https://docs.sites.wfu.edu/  and follow the instructions for installing WordPress. One advance tip: make sure to choose to make it a secure site ( https) during the setup process.

Wordpress logo

For those who are already well familiar with WordPress, the above links are all you need. If you are just getting started with WordPress, here are a few tips to jump-start your process. These tips assume you have already executed the above steps to create your own domain such as matthews.sites.wfu.edu and have activated WordPress on it as part of the setup process.

Important note for students: when you graduate (or now, if you prefer), you can with a few clicks purchase your own domain and take your website with you for a small monthly fee. This will be your own curated presence on the web.

Why WordPress?

WordPress is the most widely used content management system (CMS). The goal of a CMS is to separate content creation from the complexity of controlling appearance. This allows content creation to be done with minimal expertise, no more than is required to use Word or Google Docs. Control of appearance can be as easy or as hard as you choose. Appearance is controlled by themes, plugins, and custom CSS. If you are willing to accept the look of a standard theme, you can quickly focus on creating your content. If you want more control of the appearance of your pages, you can explore how to customize the CSS of your theme.

Themes

I recommend sticking with one of the following community-supported themes: twenty thirteen, twenty fourteen, twenty fifteen, twenty sixteen, twenty seventeen, or twenty nineteen. These are all open source, widely used, frequently updated, and heavily vetted. Twenty thirteen was the first community-supported theme to do a good job of supporting mobile devices. Be aware that newer is not necessarily better, just a different style.

If you do not want to do your own homework on the differences between these, I have been happy with the theme twenty sixteen.

Other Tips

SSL

As stated above, be sure you chose to make it a secure site as part of the above process. Even if you have no sensitive content, having your site running https will avoid security warnings from Google to folks visiting your site. It will also help your search rankings. (This may now be automatic without you doing anything.)

WordPress tutorials on LinkedInLearning

Wake Forest faculty, staff, and students have access to the great online training available at LinkedIn Learning. You can access this training as follows:

  • Open your WFU account in Google Mail.
  • Click on the Google Apps icon (a 3×3 array of dots) in the upper right hand corner of the page.
  • Scroll down and select LinkedIn Learning

Go there and search for WordPress 5 Essentials for a good start.

Organization

What are your major categories (think top-level folders)? Create a page for each of these, editing each page’s permalink to make it short. Then as you create additional pages, choose a parent page from the drop down menu in the right column before clicking publish. I also recommend shortening your permalinks before publishing, as these form the URLs used to access the pages.

My favorite plugins

For a list of my favorite plugins and a brief description of each, visit My Favorite WordPress Plugins. Please note that I have not tested all these in the sites.wfu.edu environment.

Migrating your old static sites

Do you want to bring over your old static website to your new site on sites.wfu.edu? Before creating many new pages on your WordPress site, please visit Migrating your static site to Wake Sites for

  1. step by step instructions on the migration, and
  2. things to avoid in naming your new WordPress pages.

Accessibility

A few simple practices can make your site much more accessible to those with vision or mobility challenges.

  • Use proper headings to structure your content. Never skip a level going down, e.g., never follow and Heading 2 with a Heading 4.
  • Use ALT tags on all images. These should not replicate text, but should briefly identify the content of the image.
  • Pay attention to the size and speed of the page. Not everyone in the world has fast and affordable connectivity. I read Abigail’s WWW Dream in 1997, and it permanently shaped my philosophy of website design.

Monitoring site performance

If you are serious about getting the best exposure for your site, there are two essential tools.

  • Google Search Console. Set up a free account there and follow instructions on how to register your site. The tool works in concert with Google search. You can register your sitemap here. This site will give you diagnostics of pages with problems, as well as sudden decreases in search results that may indicate a problem. It may even be the first signal your site has been hacked. See also The SEO Framework plugin, described in my Favorite Plugins page.
  • Google Analytics. This tool lets you monitor the number of visits to your site and what pages are most popular. See also GA Google Analytics on my Favorite Plugins page.

See also