For a few years now I’ve been doing voluntary work running the websites for my friends Tina and Siling’s Nepalese children’s charity, CHANCE, and their associated adventure travel company, The Responsible Travellers (TRT). I won’t go into detail about why I volunteer for these particular organisations. TRT is a non-commercial agency whose profits go to various charitable causes promoting education and the environment in Nepal, including CHANCE, and a cursory glance at my website should give ample evidence of how much enjoyment I’ve gained from the country of Nepal over the years. The snag with the websites has been that they have only ever contained static content, and with my day job the amount of time I can spend maintaining them has always been limited. It hasn’t helped that, aware of this, Tina has always been reluctant to send me too many updates, and now, after a few years the sites were looking dated as well.
So when my contract with Cabinet Office came to an end earlier this month a few weeks before I was due to leave on mountaineering expeditions in Tibet and Nepal, it seemed like an ideal opportunity to update the sites and get them running on WordPress, enabling them to be integrated more easily with social media sites, and more importantly, enabling content management functionality so that Tina is able to update the website herself.
Having only limited previous experience of WordPress, and less than a month available for the work, I was expecting a hectic few weeks – especially given that I’ve also been in training for Cho Oyu, the first of my expeditions – but people have always told me implementing WordPress is straightforward so I figured I’d give it a go.
I have plenty of previous experience as a web developer using HTML, CSS and PHP, but my recent contracts have all been as a web project manager, and it’s been a few years since I’ve done any hard core coding. There were a few moments of hair-pulling madness (ie. don’t try pulling your hair out if you haven’t got any) when I got cocky and tried some custom coding, but once I discovered it’s far more sensible to stick with what’s been developed already and plundered the substantial WordPress library of plugins, sure enough, as my colleagues have always told me implementing WordPress was straightforward.
To our great satisfaction, the first of the new sites, The Responsible Travellers, went live this week. The result is a far more dynamic, interactive website which complements to a much greater degree other online channels The Responsible Travellers have started using.
Here are some of the highlights of the new website.
WordPress enables the potential for visitors to comment on any page of the website. TRT have made use of this by enabling commenting on individual trip pages. Clients are asked to fill in a feedback form after every trip they run, and most are happy for feedback to be used by TRT for promotional purposes. By adding client feedback as comments on a trip profile page, it enables visitors who are considering signing up to the trip to immediately see relevant feedback about it from previous clients. Better still, a Latest Comments widget allows this feedback to pumped dynamically through to the website home page where it can be displayed prominently.
- Twitter and Facebook integration
In a similar fashion, a Latest Tweets widget displays content from the TRT Twitter channel on the home page, and a TRT Facebook channel has also been set up to further engage with potential clients. The challenge now is to get Tina and Siling using these new channels to keep people interested and grow their client base!
- Trip Reports
WordPress’s native blogging functionality allows trip leaders to post a trip report to the website at the end of every trip TRT run. Custom taxonomies allow the reports to be associated with the relevant trip so that a list of them can be displayed automatically on the trip page.
- Flickr integration
One thing an adventure travel company has in abundance is great photography. The Responsible Travellers have been using the photo-sharing website Flickr to organise their photos by trip. This has enabled a slideshow of photographs for each trip to be embedded into the main TRT website. All Siling needs to do is upload his photos to the appropriate set on The Responsible Travellers Flickr site, and the trip slideshow is automatically updated on the main website. You can see this demonstrated on the Annapurna Circuit trip slideshow page.
- Promotional panels
As any WordPress user knows, adding widgets is a breeze. We’ve made use of this functionality by enabling Tina to add promotional panels which promote particular trips to the right hand column and bottom of every page. These can easily be edited or added to, and cascade throughout the site.
- Improved navigation
The WordPress search engine may be fairly rudimentary, but any search engine is more than the old site had, and of course WordPress has no shortage of plugins available for both HTML and XML sitemaps. The new website has both.
- E-newsletter integration
And if social media channels present a learning curve, there’s always the good old-fashioned e-newsletter. TRT have been using Campaign Monitor to send out e-newsletters for a while now. The new site now has a sign-up form on every page, and if Tina really starts making use of Twitter and Facebook to send out regular updates, she’ll have a ready source of content with which to compile the next edition of the e-newsletter when the time comes.
It’s been a hectic few weeks, but like many before me I’ve been surprised at how easy WordPress is to install and implement. At times I’ve struggled with the custom coding – WordPress’s database querying methods seem to have a few quirks of their own which aren’t necessarily intuitive to a first time user, and the documentation on the WordPress website isn’t great, with a shortage of examples – but then, what do you expect when you try to learn enough to implement a site in just three weeks! But all in all it’s been a very productive and satisfying experience, and I’m sure I’ll be using WordPress again and again now that I’m getting up to speed.
I even managed to get up to Scotland for a few days of backpacking as a training run for Cho Oyu. Now I just need to keep my fingers crossed Tina doesn’t manage to delete the website while I’m up the mountain!