Creating an effective online magazine with WordPress: the planning

published Nov 16, 2006, last modified Jun 26, 2013

Hello again! When I originally started I made a commitment to myself: log everything on the transformation of my Web properties. We all know how that commitment turned out :-).

To appease your thirst, let me point out what I've been doing lately.

For those of you who haven't been following this series: I'd like to explain something first. As part of my Web property reengineering, this site will be converted into a magazine (update: the conversion is done). That's right, a Web magazine, with sections. I write about various subjects; a magazine with sections is the perfect venue to cater to my readers.

If you want to discover why, then just keep reading.

A magazine running on WordPress

How do you hammer WordPress into a magazine? By creating the right theme.

But creating a new WordPress theme isn't a small task. It's hard. Besides the fact that you need to code in PHP and HTML (laborious and unrewarding tasks), you need to create something that people will use. Usability concerns are, therefore, paramount.

Thus, in this post, we'll deal with usability-related aspects. They make or break a site. Since the code must respond to these aspects, it's only logical we deal with them first.

The question every Web publisher should make itself

What do I want to make for myself? All roads lead to Rome. All of my original concerns lead me to that question.

In relation to my Web properties, I wanted to make them more profitable. Following the words of Steve Pavlina, there's nothing like passive income: you just sit on your couch and money simply flows in, buck by buck.

So there I was, lazily reading an article on the Web about generating income with the Web; and then it hit me. I was never going to "make it" with my current WordPress theme, RevvedUp.

Don't misunderstand me. I love RevvedUp. It's elegant, "translucenty" and it's a very popular choice among bloggers (and, unfortunately, splogs). But, perhaps most importantly, it features a handsome picture of me!

OK, I was kidding about that. But RevevdUp had to go. You'll see why soon.

What's got a theme to do with your Web-derived income?

In a word, everything.

One of my income sources is Text Link Ads. Another is Google AdSense. My visitor volume is neck-in-neck five thousand a day, and borders on eight thousand when one of my articles gets picked up by LinuxToday and others.

How can I boost these income sources? I could just tune ad placement. But I reached a plateau using that technique. I had to think of other techniques!

Thus, I turned my attention to boosting the visitor count. In summary, visitors to a Web site come from:

  • Search engines: They provide this site with a steady but small flow of visitors.
  • Word of mouth: My latest count shows that referrals are practically zero.
  • Subscriptions: RSS feeds are a Godsend.

Hence, these are the most effective ways you can boost your readership:

  • Presenting the right leads (hyperlinks) to content. Link bait makes the content on your site more discoverable to first-time visitors.
  • Stimulating feed subscriptions. You can make first-time visitors into repeat visitors.
  • Enabling readers to spread the content using social networks. Both e-mail and Digg are valuable visitor sources.

As you can see, repeat visitors are key in my master plan to destroy the Univer... er, grow my passive income. To crack this problem more effectively, let's put ourselves in the shoes of an average reader .

"I've read this article. Now what do I do"?

Any person reading an article on the Web eventually asks himself this question. There are two answers:

  1. Close the Web browser
  2. Follow a link to another interesting subject

We want readers to execute number two. Once they're following your link bait like salmon, you've got yourself an extra handful of page views. And, most probably, new repeat visitors.

"I like this site. How can I get updates without having to check manually?"

Repeat visitors are very valuable. WordPress has RSS capabilities for practically all presentation formats of your content:

  • categories
  • archives and posts
  • comments

But, in my particular scenario, the default feed presentation format (reverse chronological, all content) doesn't exactly lend itself to subscription for repeat visitors. Why? Because I write in English, Spanish, and on a variety of subjects. How on Earth can I coax a Linux geek into subscribing to a site that feeds political articles to him? The answer is: I can't.

The logical solution is to turn the site into a variety magazine, where the advertised subscription feeds generate related content. In other words, each feed needs to be a section feed. Those who want political content should be able to subscribe to the politics section; those who want to read about Linux should be able to subscribe to the Linux feed.

Another, very important issue: not everyone has an RSS aggregator. Most news readers use Web aggregators. Thus, subscription advertisements need to cater to this audience.

Social networks: they make or break your site

Have you been toiling away, writing great content, and getting no visitors as the painful reward? You should know that once one of your articles hits a social network (like Digg), your problem won't be lack of visitors but excess of traffic.

A magazine like the one I'm planning should keep them in mind at all times. Social networks are huge opportunities to "make it" in the Web world. Even the lowly "send link via e-mail" is a valuable opportunity you shouldn't be squandering.

Spanish and English content? That's going to be hard!

It is. I'm surveying a couple of WordPress runtime translation systems and plugins. In the end, I'll crack the problem, but for the moment it's fair to say that I'm confident I'll tackle it successfuly. Let's talk about the other, hairier problems.

We've put ourselves in the shoes of the reader -- let's distill the goals

With these concerns in mind, I outlined my concerns and goals for the new theme:

  • The site should cater to different audiences at the same time
  • The presentation should stimulate subscriptions (especially Web aggregator ones) to boost repeat visitor count
  • The articles should generate more word-by-mouth traffic to my site (through "send link via e-mail" and social networking sites)
  • Keep people on the site for as long as possible, by seizing opportunities to offer great content
  • The site should emphasize community and discussion

Different audiences

Let's divide this problem into two axes:

  • different languages
  • different subjects
Different subjects
Most experienced bloggers will tell you that you should be laser-focused on one subject. By nature, I can't: I need to write about everything that interests me. To crack this problem, I'll reorganize content in groups, where each article is related to another. These will be the sections. Then, I'll make the magazine link everywhere to the current section, and to the list of available sections. The concept of "section" will be visually featured throughout the site.
Different languages
OK: I confess, I haven't given much thought to this subject. I will, though; I promise!


Every article will provide a way to let people subscribe to this site.

I don't want people subscribing to the entire site, though: I want them to subscribe to a section instead. Why would people want to receive a hodgepodge of articles about different subjects and in different languages?

Social contagion

The theme will prominently feature social network controls. This is a crucial effort that will enable readers to tell others about the articles they found. Once an article has "made it" in the Web sphere, the big boys will have to link to it!

Related content

After the end of each article, the theme will present related content to the user. Naturally, the WP theme should present (at the very least) popular and related content as a matter of course.

Emphasis on user participation

One of the worst feelings a human can experience is helplessness. Helplessness derives from a perceived lack of control on the environment.

Blogs are popular because of this: users feel a little less helpless when they can relate to what they're experiencing; comments are the perfect venue to offer users a measure of control.

Hence, the theme will feature commenting features in key screen areas.

Wrapping up

It isn't going to be an easy task. I haven't even begun to touch the subjects of graphical design (which I'm bad at) or coding (which is easy like snapping my fingers).

What I can tell you: I already have several templates and I'm almost ready to start coding them. Once they're done and they've been tested, I'll roll them right out on this very site. I'm hoping you'll like it.

I'm confident that you've learned something after reading this article. If this article makes you examine your own Web site, then I've fulfilled my goal. In the meantime, goodbye: I'll be very busy applying these concepts on my site. You should too.

Update: the concepts have been mostly applied to this site. What do you think?