For those of you interested in how we built Life Untethered, this four-part series is for you. It is a bit on the technical side, but being able to conduct our business while on the road directly applies to our untethered lifestyle. Even if you are not into the technical side of things, this post might be for you still as it will give you an insider’s view into website development, and that it’s not all just fun and travel. I will take you behind the scenes to show you how we built Life Untethered, beginning with what we did to get things started. Eventually, we will continue the series covering building a travel site using WordPress.
- Part 1: Foundation and Site Launch
- Part 2: Expanding with Content Types
- Part 3: Creating Context with Meta
- Part 4: Templates to Format and Link Content
History of our Hosted Environments
A branch of my company Rumspeed is known as the Rumspeed Network, which is run from Rumspeed.net. It was born from the realization that we had priced out the customer base with whom we enjoyed working. These micro businesses don’t have the time or the staff to maintain their websites, nor do they need super custom functionality. In other words, they needed to manage their businesses, not their websites — the springboarding concept for the network tagline. The Network is a Software as a Service (SaaS) model for websites, using WordPress Multisite installation, along with a great set of plugins and themes. We curate a small set of tools that we use for our customers’ websites, allowing us to maintain their sites entirely, including publishing for them. It is a great setup for many basic site types.
We also host many larger, highly customized websites that we build and maintain for our customers. For these, we need flexibility in the software stack for the features we want to provide, each requiring a separate installation of WordPress. This enables us to use a unique cocktail of plugins — along with our own — in order to customize the various sites the way we see fit. We find the flexibility we need through a separate Cloud application, where we host all of our single install WordPress sites, each on a virtual server. This means that each site is free to use whatever unique theme or plugin setup it requires. We refer to this setup as the Rumspeed Cloud and market this from Rumspeed.com.
Both of these Cloud-hosted business products have recurring revenue models. We’ve been building this up for several years now and, because of it, we — my business and my family — are not starting each month at zero. Building this up has been a slow and steady process, but it has been part of our master plan for living a life untethered.
Building a Foundation
Prior to the creation of LifeUntethered.net, we began writing on LizaBethRumery.com, Liza’s personal online lifestream, which was setup on the Rumspeed Network, so that she could begin writing and publishing articles within a few minutes and with ease, without bells and whistles — that is less overhead — much like the micro businesses we work with at Rumspeed. However, we anticipated that simply writing about our want to travel — in whatever shape, form or direction that might be — would evolve into something more robust, and so we purchased the domain name LifeUntethered.net for when the time was right. In the meantime, the Network enabled us to practice what we preach at Rumspeed: Don’t think; just write. We’ll do the rest for you.
A bit to our surprise, our travel plans and our writing about the paths they were taking came sooner than later, forcing the issue of a site with more juice and heightening its capabilities. As a result, a goal for our Sandusky, Ohio, trip was to migrate the burgeoning travel content already published on LizaBethRumery.com to LifeUntethered.net. But I was ready: I had a vision for the site and was looking forward to following through with it. After our arrival, I jumped right into migrating the content and, within two hours, the content was moved. That was just the beginning of building a travel site using WordPress. This post does explain an initial content migration, which isn’t always the case with sites we work on, but we do find that it is very common, so we are including that step as well.
Content and Image Migration
We do this all the time at Rumspeed — migrating content that is. It is a fundamental part of our business that isn’t sexy, but it is very important. We take content from one source, move it and then improve it to align with the goals of our customers. We make it better. There are times where we start from scratch, but usually we have a starting point. There are many ways to migrate content. However, for the scope of this article, we will focus on one method: migrating content from a sub-site of a WordPress Multisite installation to a single site installation. This is the case for LifeUntethered.net.
I prepped the new web space for our travel site on the cloud server by creating a new virtual server for the domain LifeUntethered.net and then pointed the domain to our cloud server IP address. Next, installing WordPress and connecting it to the database was a snap. After completing these initial steps, the new site was just a blank slate with the default “Hello World” post, which appears when all WordPress sites are born. The basis for the more robust site we have been discussing was ready.
With WordPress setup on both sites, I used the standard export/import feature to get all the content and images in the new database. That is sometimes tricky, but in this case, it worked pretty smoothly, except for the extra image sizes that the theme creates when media is uploaded. It didn’t migrate those, because they are essentially just files in a folder and technically not added to the media library. I had to manually move those. For that task, I used a handy utility called Beyond Compare, which I utilize all of the time: It is a vital tool in my web developer toolbox. It lets me compare two files, folders or websites (even remote sites) so I can move, update and copy files quickly. With the visual interface, it’s easy to see what is in sync and what isn’t. I could write a whole post on that, but we’ll save that for another time.
At this point the new site had all the content in the database and the required media files, but it didn’t look the same because we were still using the WordPress default theme TwentyFifteen. Before we theme it up and apply a new design, we need to make sure we have all the content from the original site to prove the content migration was a success.
Verifying Content and Finalizing Migration
When we verify migrated content for our Rumspeed customers, we step through the pages and compare text, images and links to make sure we have everything. We don’t always compare it with the same theme, because the source site may not be WordPress and we don’t have that luxury. This step can take a while depending on the complexity. For Life Untethered, we were able to make an apples-to-apples comparison.
To make sure we were on the right track, I wanted to install the same theme we used on the previous site. That would help us compare this new site with the current one so that we could move on. This theme is a custom child theme based on the Jump Start framework that we use on over fifty active websites on the WordPress Multisite SaaS model previously mentioned.
After installing and activating it, I went to the options page to mirror the setup and then tested the display to see how it looked. A direct page compare between the two sites proved that everything was working smoothly and looking good. The display of the two sites were exactly the same. It was satisfying to see that we had everything that we needed and looked forward to improving the site.
A New and Improved Site Design
For the custom sites we build at Rumspeed, we mockup a design and iterate with our customers to make sure we are all on the same page. By doing this, we make sure that we are building with intent to achieve their business goals, and it also sets the expectation for delivery. It’s inexpensive to change up a design at this point, because a mockup is a visualization of a design without any programming behind it. For Life Untethered, we are the customer, therefore, we have outlined our goals and we have a profile of the audience and can build the site to suit.
After talking to Liza about how the site looks and what we wanted to do going forward, we needed to make a theme change. What we had was nice and simple for publishing articles, but we needed something with more depth for the upcoming content types, like “destinations” and “gear,” which we would eventually add. We also wanted a modern and simple design with great layout options.
I had been eyeing the Make theme by the Theme Foundry for some time. Recently, I volunteered my time on a website project where I used the free version of Make to improve the site. I fell in love with it right away: It looks great on a desktop and amazing on a mobile phone. The page builder is great and it utilizes the WordPress Customizer for all the things. It’s well built and well designed.
For our blog-style site, we needed to use the Posts List element, which is not in the free theme; we needed Make Plus for that. Make Plus is the paid version (it’s a plugin) that works with the free theme and offers more features and support. We required both, so the $99 fee was the cost of doing business.
I installed Make, but hadn’t activated it yet. As I always do, I created a child theme to ensure any functions or CSS changes that we had applied were not affected by theme updates. It’s good practice, and if you are not doing this already, please start doing it. The next step was to install and activate our new child theme and the Make Plus plugin. We now had all of the software at hand; we just needed to dress it up a bit.
Since Make uses the customizer for all the theme options, setting it up was a breeze. You see a live preview of your changes before you save them. It saves lots of time when trying to get the look you want. We were going for simple, so we didn’t change much. Make works well out of the box.
Lastly, we created a new homepage using the built-in page builder. We wanted a large banner image, a simple quote and then our post list in a grid format. The post list is set to pull our standard post content, which are our essays. This is the long form meaty stuff about our journey and lifestyle, including this post. With just three new elements and a few tweaks for each, we had the layout we needed for the early stages: a new homepage and a post list. No “About Us”, no “Contact Us” or any other site pages. Our menu was simply “Home” and “Blog.” That was it.
Now we had all of our content with a fresh, new design. That’s the goal we wanted to achieve and completes this initial stage of building our site. All of this was finished in two hours before the girls awakened that Saturday morning in Sandusky. Sounds easy, right?
What’s next? Part 2: Expanding with Content Types
In Part 2 of Building a Travel Site Using WordPress, I will talk about how I created new content types for “Destinations,” “Gear” and “Trip Notes.” By splitting our content into different sections and logically linking them together, we will discuss how we began to add context to what we published. “Destinations” reference “Trip Notes” and “Trip Notes” reference “Gear.” Each has specific fields like dates, addresses and links to connect our content types and help us tell our story. Oh yeah, and maps. Who doesn’t love maps?