5 Tips for Using WordPress for Non-Blog Sites

When I needed to create a site for my new consulting firm, I immediately turned to WordPress as my CMS of choice. Not only is it the CMS I am most familiar with, but because it is flexible enough to get the job done with a minimal amount of keyboard-pounding.

Though WordPress is known as being a blog platform, as the Squeeze Theme shows, it can be used for much, much more. However, that doesn’t mean that all of the pieces fit neatly together out of the box and you might not have to make some adjustments.

However, most of the adjustments have more to do with how you think about WordPress than the program itself. With that in mind, here are my five best tips for using WordPress on a site that is decided non-blog like.

1. Pick a Good Non-Blog Theme

This one might seem obvious, but you don’t want to create a non-blog site using a theme designed for a blog. WordPress has a growing selection of magazine-style themes that can work well for a business site or even just a non-traditional blog. There are many themes designed to work with static home pages and, in some cases, themes designed to work without any posts at all.

If you choose a theme that looks like the type of site you’re trying to create, you’ll have a head start. Even if it isn’t perfect, if it’s close and serves as a good “jumping off” point, you’ll have made a lot of progress very quickly.

2. Ignore the Posts/Pages Paradigm

Thinking of posts and pages as posts and pages is only useful if you’re running a blog and you need a clear distinction between static content (about, contact, etc.) and your actual news items. The truth is that posts and pages are both pages and both can be used for static content.

The only significant difference between the two is how themes treat them. Since posts can be placed into categories and pages can be children of one another, themes put them in specific places. However, that doesn’t mean you have to use them as designed.

For example, on CopyByte, the individual areas of business are actually separate categories, each with one post. If I posted a new item in the category, it would bump the previous one off the page. However, since I’m not adding content to those categories, the posts remain statically fixed to the front page, exactly as if they were pages. On CopyByte, the pages are actually across the top, representing the about page, contact page and so forth.

Though it isn’t how posts and pages were meant to be used, it certainly works well for the purpose.

3. Alter Your Permalinks

If you’re not using WordPress to power a blog, you’re most likely going to have only a very small number of pages/posts. As such, you can afford to be much more tight with your permalinks.

Under Settings/Permalinks, use the custom permalinks option to change your URL structure to this:

/%postname%/

What that will do is make it so that your URL is just your domain followed by the title of the post.

However, we’re not done there. You then need to go into your individual posts and pages and further whittle down the URL, especially if you are using long titles.

Looking below the title on your edit page, you can convert the permalink to whatever you want. For example “contact-us” can become just “contact” and so forth. This makes the URLs easier to remember and makes the site look much more clean and professional.

4. Use Widgets

Widgets are already a powerful tool in WordPress design and development but they become even more useful when building a non-blog site.

The reason is that widgets are an easy way for creating custom navigation elements that can’t be easily replicated using traditional theme design. For example, if you need to create a custom list of your services or product areas, it might be difficult, especially if you had to mix posts and pages, do this the traditional way. However, you can do it easily with widgets and a few minutes of patience.

It’s also worth noting that widgets don’t have to live in your sidebar, they can also be in other parts of your site including your footer (as with CopyByte) and even your header. Any part of your theme can be widgetized if needed.

This is much easier than trying to hard code custom link lists or other into your theme as there is less code to mess around with (and screw up) and you can trivially move the elements around as needed.

5. Use Category Feeds

Though the primary function of your site is not a blog, that doesn’t mean you won’t want to have some blog-like elements, such as a news section. However, if you’ve used some of your blog categories as static pages, as per item 2, you probably won’t get much good use out of your RSS feed as it will also have unrelated and non-blog content.

The way around that is to use category feeds. Simply add the following code after the ? in your feed URL and replace the “#” with the actual category number for your news category.

cat=#&

Once you do that, you should have a new URL that only displays content in that one feed. You can provide this URL to FeedBurner or just put it as is into your HTML. You can even place it in the header of your site by replacing the following code (or anything similar) with your full feed URL.

< ?php bloginfo('rss2_url') ?>

This will set it up so that browsers and RSS readers will default to this category feed rather than the site’s main feed, which includes all categories.

Bottom Line

WordPress is designed for blogs. However, it is flexible enough for just about any kind of site to get some benefit out using it. I’ve seen WordPress on everything from personal blogs to sites for large nuclear engineering firms. From someone’s first home page to a major newspaper using it for a significant portion of their site.

The biggest problem with using WordPress for non-blog sites is that the terminology and structure that WordPress uses is designed primarily for blog sites. This makes sense as it is the most common use for the platform. However, that does mean that using it for a non-blog site requires putting things into a different context.

But, with just a little bit of rethinking and retooling, you can trivially use WordPress to manage just about any kind of site (within reason) and, if you’re already familiar with it, there is little reason to learn another CMS for the purpose.

In short, it is much easier to tweak what you know about your existing CMS than to try and learn a whole new one. It’s that simple.

12 Comments

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