Can you give us an overview of the initial request that came in?
Sure! We’ve been working with NWESD 189 for years including the conversion of their agency website from Drupal to WordPress. When the School Communications Collaborative was formed, we started working together on website projects in the 189 Region. Last year we redesigned the Meridian School District together. So when one of their programs, the Northwest Regional Data Center (NWRDC), needed to convert their website to WordPress, they reached out for help.
We had an initial meeting with the NWRDC team to look at their current website and find out the requirements. Essentially, they needed the website to house password protected documents and tutorials for their users to be able to access after logging in. This isn’t at all how WordPress works, and I knew I’d have to get creative in finding a solution. They agreed to a 20-hour research & testing contract so that I could ensure that it could actually be done.
Can you get into the details of why it’s not easy to password protect documents?
The “out of the box” WordPress software is really built for search engines to easily find and index content – this includes pages, documents and even images. This is why WordPress has become one of the most popular content management systems. When a document is added to the media library in WordPress, it generates a permalink as well as a document URL. There is no way to stop a search engine from finding that URL nor is there a way to stop a user from sharing that URL. And we couldn’t just restrict access to the entire website because part of it had to remain available to the general public. It was a tricky problem to solve.
Problems to Solve:
Password protection on certain pages and documents
Two user logins: one for business & one for students
Current website provider deadline
Did you figure out a solution?
I did. I tested quite a few different plugins and settled on a document management solution that would protect the documents so that the only way a user could see them was if they were logged into the website. The document URL was masked and, if shared to a non-logged in user, would download an access denied message instead of the document.
Of course, it didn’t do everything and I needed a few other plugins to help control the user access on the website. But with what I found, I was able to confidently quote the project based on their requirements.
A combination of plugins to restrict document and page access
Divide and conquer!
Did you end up having to do the entire project yourself?
No, thankfully. That was also a part of the problem to solve. NWRDC had a tight deadline as the cost of their website platform was going to increase significantly at the time of renewal. They really needed to get the website and all data moved over by the spring and I already had a pretty full project list as well as a planned leave of absence at the end of January.
In order to meet the deadline, NWESD worked on a new brand, sitemap and website mockups while I was in the research & testing phase. Their IT department also helped by setting up their new hosting account and purchasing the theme and plugins. And the biggest task – NWRDC agreed to move over all of their documents and upload all videos to YouTube. We also came up with a “must launch with” list and put a couple of items on the back burner.
That sounds like a great collaboration. And then you could just focus on the development side?
Yes, exactly. I was able to focus on the development and functionality of the website so that the framework was all in place by the end of January and ready for NWRDC to load documents and data. While I was on leave, they were able to load the majority of the data.
When did the website finally launch?
It took them a bit longer to get everything up on the website. While they were finishing things up, I was able to get the “back burner” list finished so that we could launch with everything completed. We ended up launching April 3, 2023 which was just a few weeks after their support contract ended for their old website.
Any lessons learned?
I’m really glad that I was able to fit their project into my queue but did have to juggle quite a few projects at once. Thankfully a couple of other planned websites actually got delayed allowing me to focus on this one. It’s definitely a reminder to be more aware of my limitations (there’s only so many hours in a day). Unless I can finally figure out how to clone myself. That would be awesome.
Very impressive! It looks so streamlined and very easy to navigate through. Good job!