migrating to WordPress – the easy way

As of December 5, 2012, the IdeaXchg home page became a WordPress-generated blog page.  Previously, the entire site was created and maintained through FrontPage, but this became increasingly cumbersome and outdated, since Microsoft stopped supporting FrontPage long ago.

I was not looking forward to the daunting prospect of converting lots of old pages into WordPress, but I did want to preserve much of this old content, at least for the time being.  So what I’ve done is simply to keep many old pages at their old URLs, while replacing the site’s old home page with the new WordPress-based home page.  This allows me to use WordPress, while simultaneously keeping most of the old site exactly as it was, for the benefit of search engines and visitors.

As a former user of FrontPage, it was not immediately obvious that this simple approach, intermixing WordPress and non-WordPress content, could be done so easily, because FrontPage is notoriously finicky about such games.  Any addition of content to a FrontPage web has to be done through FrontPage, or one risks disastrous consequences.  Barring any obvious naming conflicts, there is no such danger with WordPress.

Of course, I’ve only punted on the conversion of old pages into WordPress, but that’s OK with me – I’m no purist.  The site didn’t get any worse than it was before, and now I can convert what old pages I care to in my own sweet time.  Meanwhile, I’ve gained immediate access to the full power of WordPress.

It should be noted, however, that the WordPress Search Widget does not encompass any non-WordPress content.  I can live with that, since my FrontPage-based Search pages stopped working a while ago, and Google search within site is more than adequate.

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non-blog pages, templates, and menus in WordPress

Although WordPress started out as a blogging tool, it has evolved into a general purpose content management framework.  The Twenty Eleven theme includes three template “Page” types, which I’ve illustrated here:

For historical reasons, WordPress uses the overloaded term “Page” for what might better have been called an “article”.  In WordPress, a Page refers to an item of content that is not a blog posting.  By default, these article pages are organized into an automatically generated menu structure, tied to the main menu bar at the top of each page.  The default menu organization is based on the hierarchical relationship and ordering assigned to each page, and the menu item text (navigational label) is simply the article title.

Substituting a custom menu instead of using the default menu scheme provides much greater flexibility.  (Use the Dashboard’s Appearance, Menus command to get to the menu customization screen.)  For example, you can customize the text of menu items, so they needn’t match article titles, and you can incorporate blog posts, archive pages, and types of content other than article pages into the menu.

You can build a custom menu organization that does not depend on hierarchical, parent-child relationships specified with the article pages themselves.  This avoids potentially undesirable complications due to the way that WordPress assigns URLs (permalinks) to pages.  When a page is specified as having a parent, the assigned URL is the parent page URL, followed by a slash and then the title of the child page (i.e. the “slug” form of the title).  This results in a longer URL, and one that is less likely to be stable under reorganization of the site.  For that reason, I’ve avoided using WordPress’ page hierarchy mechanism, by designating “no parent” for each of my pages.

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paragraph formats within a post

Here are illustrations of the canned paragraph formats listed in the Paragraph dropdown of WordPress’ builtin WYSIWYG editor (in Visual mode):

This is the default Paragraph format.

This is Address format.
This is Preformatted.

This is Heading 1.

This is Heading 2.

This is Heading 3.

This is Heading 4.

This is Heading 5.
This is Heading 6.

This is the default Paragraph format (again). Using the default Twenty Eleven theme, it appears that only some of these paragraph formats actually look different from each other.

embedded video post

Here is an example of a video embedded in a standard format posting:

All that was required was to include the URL to a YouTube video on a separate line in the text of this post.  The WordPress documentation about posting formats lists “Video” as one of the possible choices, but that choice was not presented to me in the Add New Post or Edit Post screens.  (I’m not sure if the documentation is outdated in this regard.)  Since WordPress’ auto-embed mechanism (enabled by default) seems to do a nice job within the Standard posting format, I didn’t need to specify the mysterious Video format.  See the Settings, Media screen for WordPress options relating to Embeds.

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sample post in “Image” format

Text of Image format posting.  Link to an external Hubble image follows, including title, alternate text, and caption:

M1 - composite of Crab Nebula - CXC, SST, HST, 350X321.jpg
M1 – composite of Crab Nebula – CXC, SST, HST, 350X321.jpg

Here’s some more text that immediately follows the image.  Note that the optional caption appears in the surrounding background area, below the image.  I elected to have the image be a clickable link directly to the source image.  (By default, clicking on the image itself does nothing.  I could easily have specified any destination URL for a click on the image, with the option to open in a separate window.)  This format of post renders all of the elements that show up in standard format, with the addition of “IMAGE” above the title in the heading that appears in the main blog page and applicable archive pages.  Another difference from other formats is that the additional information below this type of entry includes the posting date, and this is shown against a distinctive, rectangular background.

What http://codex.wordpress.org/Post_Formats says about this format:

image - A single image. The first <img /> tag in the post could be considered the image. Alternatively, if the post consists only of a URL, that will be the image URL and the title of the post (post_title) will be the title attribute for the image.

sample post in “Quote” format

Here’s the text of a sample posting in Quote format.  Under the Twenty Eleven theme (as usual), this format is rendered in the same way as a Standard form posting, except that it adds the heading “QUOTE” above the post title in the entry for this post that appears in the main blog page and applicable archive pages.

What http://codex.wordpress.org/Post_Formats says about this format:

quote - A quotation. Probably will contain a blockquote holding the quote content. Alternatively, the quote may be just the content, with the source/author being the title.

sample post in “Status” format

Text of sample Status format posting.  Note that the title, category, and tags are not displayed in the entry for this post that appears in the main blog page, but they are shown on the page devoted to this post.  Also note the default “avatar” image, which was added automatically in the main blog page entry for this post.  This avatar image also shows up in my assorted comments to various posts.  The default avatar can be changed via the Dashboard’s Settings, Discussion screen.

What http://codex.wordpress.org/Post_Formats says about this format:

status - A short status update, similar to a Twitter status update.

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permalinks in WordPress

The primary link to be used in external references to this post, its permalink, began as http://www.ideaxchg.com/?p=166, using WordPress’ default permalink format.  It would be friendlier to users and search engines to provide a more meaningful format of permalink URLs.

To change from WordPress’ default numeric style of permalinks, use the Settings, Permalinks command in the Dashboard.  I’m selecting the simple “Post name” format, without any date portion.  Since each post begins with a line that includes the posting date, that will suffice for my purposes, and I’d prefer to keep permalinks short.  (The equivalent custom structure permalink specification for this is /%postname%/.)

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tags in WordPress

Now that the site has a few postings (so far all under the WordPress category), it’s time to try adding some tags.  Tags provide a more fine-grained way of distinguishing posts within the broader breakdown into categories.  Unlike categories, tags don’t support hierarchical relationships, and information about tags is displayed differently.  New tags can be created on-the-fly at the time of adding a new post, or tags can be created and edited via a separate screen invoked from the Dashboard’s Posts, Tags command.

The default mode of displaying tags is not as conspicuous as that for categories, which are listed by default under a separate CATEGORIES heading in the main sidebar.  However, there is a “Tag Cloud” widget, which can be activated via the Dashboard’s Appearance, Widgets command.  In the Widgets screen, simply drag the Tag Cloud item from the Available Widgets section into the Main Sidebar Section, at the desired position.

The Tag Cloud widget displays up to 45 of the most used tags in alphabetical order, with variable font size to indicate relative frequency of use.  (The default heading for this section of the main sidebar is TAGS.)  When the user clicks on a term in the Tag Cloud, WordPress displays an archive page listing all posts associated with that tag.  (Likewise, clicking on a category name generates an archive page of all posts assigned to that category.)

At the bottom of every standard format post, WordPress displays a line indicating the categories and tags assigned to that post, and linking to the corresponding archive pages for those terms.  However, some other posting formats, e.g. Aside, Link, and Quote formats, do not display category and tags assignments for in entries on the main blog page or archive pages, even though categories and tags can be assigned to posts in those formats.  These non-Standard formatted posts do appear under their assigned category and tag archive pages, though.

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