The Arc Blog and Podcasts

Developing a Press Website

In the Spring of 2015, Medieval Institute Publications brought me on to work on various IT projects. One of those was the creation of a new website to represent the consortium of Medieval Institute Publications, Arc Humanities Press, and Amsterdam University Press. Since we wanted a highly customizable platform for the site that could adapt to our changing needs, we went with the Content Management System (CMS) WordPress. Many people are familiar with the basic version of WordPress through the free blogging service at WordPress.com. However, hosting your own installation of WordPress gives you access to the full functionality of WordPress. This gave us the freedom to do the variety of things that you see on the site today.

Design
There was an Arc Humanities Press site hosted on Weebly prior to the creation of the consortium site. This became the template for our new website. Whereas WordPress gives developers more freedom than platforms like SquareSpace, Wix, and Weebly, it requires a little more technical skill to produce a professional looking website. To make design quicker, we use the Visual Composer plugin. Plugins are like apps for WordPress which extend its functionality. The plugin makes it easy to create great looking page layouts with little to no coding knowledge.

Fine-tuning of the website’s design is done using CSS code. Cascading Style Sheets (CSS) instruct browser on how to display the bare-bones of a website. CSS is a fairly easy language to learn and provides a lot of control over the appearance of a website.

Responsive Design
If you are reading this, there is a high possibility that you are on a smartphone or tablet. Up to forty percent of visitors to this site do so through a mobile device. Developing a website that is easy to use and looks professional across a myriad of screen sizes is an important concern for modern web-design. Our website theme was designed to be responsive, but the way it rendered our product catalog made browsing book titles on a phone difficult. To deal with this we use the WPTouch Pro plugin to implement a special mobile theme whenever someone visits on a phone.Each browser has a User-Agent which indicates the browser, operating system, and device the browser is running on. Websites use these to determine how a site is rendered. This makes it easier to browse our website and look through the product catalog on phones.

Ecommerce
As a press, we want to sell books. We use the popular e-commerce plugin WooCommerce to manage and display the titles on our website. One of the biggest challenges for the site is that WooCommerce was not designed with book sales in mind. It is further complicated by the fact that we don’t sell the books on the site. Rather, our website directs buyers to our distribution partners ISD and NBN. These needs are dealt with using a few plugins as well as some custom PHP code.

Currently, we don’t have an automated process to export ONIX data to the website. The data must be exported, processed, and then uploaded to the website. This process is time-consuming so we are looking at options for a more direct solution in the future.

Encryption: HTTPS
The Internet can be a dangerous place and we want to make sure that you are safe when you visit our site. Sites that have encryption show “https” before their domain name rather than “http.” Modern browsers also generally show a green padlock next to the url to let you know that the encryption is working properly. Not only does HTTPS keep anyone from snooping on what you are viewing on our site, it gives you confidence that someone hasn’t switched out anything as the data travels between the server and your computer.

Analytics: Yes, We Are Watching You
We use Google Analytics to track visitors to our website. This gives us statistics about where people visit from and what pages they are viewing. Google Analytics doesn’t track IP Addresses, the equivalent of a mailing address for your computer, meaning that everyone is anonymous. Analytics allow us to determine if a particular page or product is popular or if a new interest in MIP–Arc books has appeared somewhere in the world. So whether you are from Goiânia, Brazil to Auckland, New Zealand, Beijing to London, thanks for visiting us.

By Caleb Molstad