Building a Website

If you are interested in building a website for a center, project, initiative or even for your personal profile, there are two primary options for having it hosted on the Northeastern server.

First, a few words about both options and WordPress.

WordPress

Both of these primary options would involve building your website using WordPress. Originally designed as an open source “content management system” for blogs, web developers soon realized that WordPress is an ideal platform for any type of website, even those that don’t use the blog function. WordPress has a number of key advantages:

  • Easy to learn, easy to use: You can learn the fundamentals of WordPress — how to edit, post content; upload images, videos, documents; adjust the menu – in just a few hours, possibly as short as one hour.
  • Low-cost: Whether on Northeastern’s server or a commercial webhosting site, WordPress is a free option. No software or licenses to purchase.
  • Themes: WordPress works by having themes – a collection of design code that determines the overall look and feel of a website: the shape, colors, fonts, and some of the features. Installing a theme is as easy as finding it, uploading to your website, clicking “activate,” and then making decisions about some key features if the Theme has such options. There are thousands and thousands of WordPress themes available for free. And thousands more for very low cost, usually under $100. Switching from one theme to another is as easy as upload-activate. The entire look and feel of the website is changed in an instant. In addition, you can modify any theme by dabbling in a little bit of CSS editing (that takes perhaps another hour or two of training).
  • Plug-Ins: In addition to themes, there is another set of code called “plug-ins.” These add specific functions to the website. For instance, there are plug-ins that will add the set of social media sharing buttons to your website. There’s also a plug-in that will deliver a mobile version of your website when someone visits your website using a mobile phone. Like themes, there are thousands of free plug-ins, and thousands more for very low-cost. Also, like themes, they are easy to find, install and activate. The beauty is that at any point that you might think, “Hmm, it sure would be nice if the website has such and such a feature,” odds are there is a plug-in, or several plug-ins available that can add that feature for free.
  • Widgets: Widgets are a lot like plug-ins. They add a specific feature, are largely available for free, and can be installed easily and quickly.
  • Completely customizable menus: With some non-WordPress websites, the Menu is dictated by the website structure. In order to change the Menu, you have to change the structure of pages. With WordPress, the Menu is independent of the structure. You can have it mirror the structure but you’re not limited to that. In addition, if you would like a page to be listed under more than one drop-down menu, you can do that without having to create two separate but identical pages.

1. EdTech’s Template Program

One available option is through the Education Technology Center at Northeastern, also known as “EdTech.” EdTech offers a “template program.” The staff at EdTech custom-developed a set of themes that comply with Northeastern’s branding guidelines. If you go with this option, you will receive more guidance and assistance along the way. The disadvantage is simply that you would be limited to the few themes that they have available. You can browse through their theme options before deciding.

http://www.northeastern.edu/edtech/web_development

2. Build Your Own on Northeastern’s Server

You can request a website on Northeastern’s server. You provide the ending of the URL which would begin with www.northeastern.edu. For example, let’s say you want to create a website for a Center for the Study of Civic Development. You could request a website at www.northeastern.edu/civicdevelopment. When requesting the installation of the website, one of the options to select is “WordPress Installation.” Select that.

Link to request a website on the Northeastern server: http://www.northeastern.edu/nuweb/nuweb-hosting/request-an-account

Usually within 48 hours (and often within 24), the “WebGroup” will set it up and send you an email. You’ll activate it, establish a username and password. Then you’re ready to log-in and build the website. Brand new WordPress websites always begin with a default theme, often named after the current year: “Twenty Twelve.”

Considering alternative themes

You can use that default theme, adjust the fonts and colors, or browse around to alternative themes. The easiest way to become familiar with alternative themes is to click on “Appearance” in the menu on the left sidebar, and then “Themes” within Appearance.

You will see what your current theme is, a handful of featured Available themes below it, and a search bar to look beyond those featured ones. For each of these themes, there is a preview option if you just want to see how your website would look with that theme prior to actually switching.

If at some point you want to move beyond searching from within your WordPress admin area, you can just go to google and enter “Free WordPress Themes” and take it from there.

Based on my experience with WordPress, the single most time consuming activity can be searching through, considering and vetting various options for Themes, Plug-ins, and Widgets. I have even resorted to reading a few books on the subject of “best wordpress themes.” I would be glad to share my own recommendations about themes.

In addition to these free or low-cost themes that can be purchased “off-the-shelf,” another option is to have one custom-developed. This will usually cost between $5,000 and $10,000. So it is substantially higher than a free or low-cost one that’s under $100. However, if it’s critical that the website look and perform exactly as you want it, this is a great option to consider. Also, even at $10,000 the total cost of the web-development is likely to be less than an entirely custom-developed, non-WordPress website.

Beyond the Two Options of Having it Hosted at Northeastern

Alternatively, if you would like to establish a website independently of Northeastern, you would need to select a web hosting service like GoDaddy, InMotion, BlueHost, etc. Through these services you can both purchase the domain name (URL) and arrange for web hosting. The combination is usually less than $100/year. As you’re setting it up, there will be an option for selecting WordPress. I don’t provide the specifics here because it varies by web hosting provider.

I will periodically schedule some in-person or web-based trainings on WordPress as well as post some short instructional videos.

If you’d like a consultation or training, contact me, John Sarvey at j.sarvey@neu.edu.

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