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A Little Bit of a Refresh
By Jon Cook | 21st Feb 2018
We caught up with ICNN member Jon Cook who runs A Little Bit of Stone (ALBOS), a community news publication for the town of Stone in Staffordshire. Jon felt it was time that A Little Bit of Stone had a little bit of a refresh, and we are grateful he decided to share his experience of upgrading a hyperlocal website with us.
As community news reporters we’re always looking for fresh content and fresh ideas but it’s also important to consider how these are delivered to our audiences.
A Little Bit of Stone was brought online in July 2010 using the WordPress.com online blogging platform with a very simple 2 column theme.
Over the years we’ve progressed through numerous free and then paid WordPress themes, allowing us to take advantage of various website trends.
At the end of 2017 we decided that it was time for our next refresh!
Here were our key drivers:
- Mobile friendly – Although we were using a responsive theme the mobile navigation menu was dire. Over 75% of our traffic is mobile based so providing a good user experience was key.
- Move to HTTPS – Although not tied to the theme we wanted to implement SSL to avoid the annoying Google pop ups about insecure content
- GDPR – With GDPR on the horizon we wanted to take a review of what information we were capturing and what we were doing with it
- AMP – As mentioned over 75% of our traffic mobile so we wanted to jump on the AMP train
- Category Rationalisation – It was time to condense the vast number of categories that we had. These had grown in the past 7.5 years so it was important to take stock and merge were appropriate.
Firstly, we spoke to our hosting provider about cloning our live website and database over to a development sub domain, something like dev.alittlebitofstone.com
The key task to do once you’ve done this is block the subdomain from being crawled by Google and the other search engines. You don’t want to get flagged for duplicate content or be sending people over to your development site before its ready!
We used the WordPress plugin Hide My Site to apply a site wide password to view the website.
“As with a lot of things hyperlocal, we were fitting this around family time so on Sunday evening, around 8pm, we were ready to lift the lid!”
Once we had our site cloned and therefore data we were familiar with we installed the new theme and began to set it up to our liking. The theme we went for was Jannah by Tielabs. We were previously using a theme by the same author so we were happy with the quality, updates and support that they offered.
Once we had the theme setup to our liking we gave a few close friends the password to get them to test the website on their devices.
It took us around 2 months of tinkering and refining before we felt ready to launch the new website.
Due to the number of updates that take place on a live news website there wasn’t an easy way to handle the go live process.
We plumbed for a Friday night at 8pm to take the website off line and begin the task of converting, upgrading, configuring and merging our posts.
We also took the time to Smush all 15,000+ database attachments as well as regenerate new thumbnail images for the new theme.
As with a lot of things hyperlocal, we were fitting this around family time so on Sunday evening, around 8pm, we were ready to lift the lid!
We use software called Smartlook to record user interaction with our website. This allows us to view how the users interact with the website and if they get stuck in any particular rabbit hole.
Search Engine Visibility
Because of our switch over to HTTPS and our change in categories we used Yoast SEO Plugin to generate a new sitemap to submit to Google.
Over the next few days we monitored our appearance in the search engines and made tweaks / corrections as appropriate.
We also checked that our AMP articles were fully compliant and that web browsers correctly flagged our site as SECURE!
With an ever moving legal and technical landscape it’s important to constantly assess how your wesbite meets these changes. A full site upgrade can be a daunting task but by using a designated development environment you have a great sandbox to play in!
We are really pleased with the feedback that we’ve had from our readers and feel like our 2018 refresh has created another solid foundation to kick on from.
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