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Using WordPress to Publish an Online Magazine – Part II – FAQ and Resources

Below, I answer some questions that have come up a lot as I’ve shared about the process of using WordPress to host an online magazine. Click here to read Part I, where I chronicled that experience and compared it to using a traditional Web site.

What are your readership stats?
Our print circulation is 85,000. Some stats on the new online version: (since we launched in July 2009)

4, 536 visits
8,489 pageviews
3,262 unique visitors
7 comments

35.95 % of visits are from direct traffic
37.87 % from referring sites (918 from McCombs home page, 188 from Twitter, 131 from Facebook; #5 refererrer: images.google.com)
26.12 % from search engines (1, 185 visits from 877 keywords)

Note: Unfortunately we did not have analytics running on the old site, so I don’t have a benchmark to compare these to.

How long did this take, and what staff members were involved? What other responsibilites do they have?
From the time I sent inspiration sites to our web editor to the day we went live was 6.5 weeks. Both of us had prior experience with WordPress, although he is not a WordPress designer, so was figuring out a lot as he went along. One of our web designers stepped in for a few hours to help with some technical difficulties. Our web editor spent a few hours here and there researching theme (template) options and testing them on our servers. After that, he spent about 5 days customizing it and making tweaks, while I uploaded all the content and also helped tweak. Our web editor has many other responsibilities, and I’d say the magazine is about 50-60% of my job.

How easy is it for someone with little IT experience to build and use a site in WordPress?
Very easy. If you can operate in Microsoft Word, you can operate in WordPress. We have more than 10 blogs at McCombs running on WordPress, and almost all are managed by people with little to no IT training.

How do you promote the online magazine?
We announced it in our weekly news e-mail that goes to all faculty, staff and students. The alumni relations team also included it in their monthly e-mail to alumni. Two of the feature stories were promintently highlighted on the McCombs home page for a few months. We also linked to it from our blog, Facebook and Twitter.

Does the content mirror your magazine?  Are there web extras?  Is anything in the magazine that’s not online?
The online content mirrors the print version very closely, but there are a few extras. In this issue, it’s mainly videos. In the future that might be photo slideshows, article sidebars, podcasts, polls and more. We put basically all of the print content in the online version.

Is it updated or changed more often than the magazine?
In the past, it wasn’t really feasible to update the Web version more often than the print (too much of a hassle). But it’s something we hope to do in the future.

Can you give different people different access levels?
Yes. One level can create a post, but not publish it. Another level can create and publish, but not access design, etc. Check out this post for a more detailed explanation.

Was it costly to create the site?
It was entirely free! WordPress is free, and so is the theme we chose. There are themes that cost money, and if we hadn’t had someone on staff familiar with the technology, we would have needed to hire a freelancer to customize the template.

What template did you use? Did you customize it?
We used the Branford Magazine theme, and added a small amount of customization.

What files that I prepare for the printer can be used to create my WordPress magazine?
Wordpress gets persnickety and can garble your content if you copy and paste directly from a Web page, email or even a Word doc. And although there is a “Copy as Plain Text” option on the WordPress dashboard, it doesn’t always work. So I always copy content, either from Word, if I have a fairly clean copy, or from a PDF from the printer/designer if there were a lot of late changes. Then I paste to Microsoft Notepad, my computer’s plain text editor. That strips out all the formatting so I don’t drag any hidden code to the WordPress post.

Photos may need to be resized or compressed to web-appropriate sizes.

Is it possible to link to previous versions not in WordPress that are already on the web?
Yes. We created an Archive page that just links to all previous issues.

If links from section to section or to another magazine page are broken or not there, who fixes it?
In our case, I fix it. The WordPress platform makes it very easy and intutive to create hyperlinks, so it’s just as easy to fix them.

Our web editor, Jason Molin, is working on an FAQ with a more technical focus (servers, php–things I know not of), so check his McCombs Web Works blog next week for those answers.

Resources

Other WordPress publications (I’m an alumni magazine editor, so those make up most of my links):

Duke Research

Outreach (Georgia)

Swarthmore

Johns Hopkins Magazine

My ongoing list of alumni magazines using WordPress on Delicious

WordPress magazine showcase
WordPress theme directory (search “magazine”)
Bestwpthemes.com free and premium magazine themes

And a special plug for the CASE College and University Editors (CUE) listserv, a community of amazingly talented and helpful people, many of whom we drew inspiration from for our own magazine.

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I write what I know (and love). Mostly higher education, writing and public relations.