New Zealand Association of Economists

NZ Association of Economists

Website: nzae.org.nz

Size: 280 pages

My professional status: independent web designer/developer

Website client: Anthony Byett at NZAE

Dates: September 2017 - January 2018, with ongoing webmaster support after delivery

Categories: Scoping/pitching/quoting, Client liaison, Project manager, Website designer, Front-end developer, Webmaster, Responsive web design/dev, CSS-based layout, CSS3, HTML5, WordPress, Large sites

Brief: The New Zealand Association of Economists was founded in 1959 and promotes collaboration and discussion among professional economists in New Zealand. The organisation encourages and publishes research and disseminates information on research projects. It promotes the profession of economics in New Zealand and fosters interest in and understanding of New Zealand economic problems.

They had an existing responsive themed WordPress website built for them by Katipo a few years ago, which had become a bit messy. It needed a tidy-up and for some of the pages to be redesigned and rebuilt so that they looked nicer and were more user-friendly. There was also some missing content which needed locating and restoring, and some new plugins and widgets to be added.

They asked me if I'd be willing to work with their editor to maintain and develop their website - migrating the site to my web host and then taking over webmastery of the site from Katipo, who had other commitments and could no longer dedicate sufficient time to the project. Initially Anthony requested a number of improvements and alterations to the site, and since then we have continued to work together on whatever updates and additions are required.

Nice work. Thanks Alison. All conference photos now intact.

Anthony Byett, web editor, New Zealand Association of Economists

Achievements:

  • Successfully migrating the site from Katipo to my web hosting company
  • Working through the initial task list and tweaking the design and styling at the same time to improve the look of the website within the existing theme
  • Identifying what was going wrong with the styling in smaller viewports, and fixing this so that the site was fully responsive
  • Tracking down and restoring a large number of Conference photos which seemed lost for ever, but which I managed to find and rescue.

My responsibilities included:

  • Client liaison and project management
  • Liaison with Rachel and Simon at Katipo prior to migration to my web host - working together to get the site up to a sufficiently recent version to be able to run the WPEngine auto migration tool
  • Troubleshooting post migration to fix a number of display issues - which turned out to be caused by a very old and crappy calendar plugin which I removed and replaced
  • Exploration of the existing WordPress theme, making a Staging copy of the site in my WP hosting environment in order to figure out how the theme worked and to identify inbuilt theme functionality that the site wasn't currently using - and making most of my updates in Staging first while I got to know the site better
  • Carrying out a number of initial updates from the client to quickly improve the look and functionality of the website 
  • Reviewing the styling in smaller viewports where various borders were ending up in the wrong place, on top of content - and fixing this so that the site was fully responsive
  • Improving the formatting of the Homepage, while retaining most of the existing homepage design
  • Updating the content and formatting of the sidebar and adding various widgets including Twitter feed
  • Updating and testing all out-of-date plugins on the site and adding new plugins as required
  • Searching for missing NextGen photos from multiple Conference photo galleries (which had gone missing a couple of years ago), finding these images and restoring all the missing galleries
  • Organising and installing an SSL Certificate for the site, and switching the site over to https
  • Testing pages for SSL completeness and that they were working - fixing events pages that weren't working because the original URL was incorrect
  • Checking for broken links, installing redirect plugin and testing site
  • Providing the client with a cost estimate for various possible website update/redesign/rebuild options so that the NZAE Board could make an informed decision about improvements to the website
  • Tidying up and fixing the formatting and display of the membership subscription payments form
  • With the help of my web host security team, tracking down and neutralising the source of a Bitcoin hack on the site - accessed by a backdoor file that had been placed onto the site a number of years ago - reviewing site security, updating all passwords and removing a number of user accounts for NZAE members who no longer needed editor access to the site
  • Installing additional security plugins to track activity on the site and providing the NZAE team with progress reports
  • Ongoing support, updates and help with the site, as and when required.

 

NZAE responsive screens

The NZAE site has been an interesting experience so far. The migration from Katipo to WPEngine was a little trickier than usual, as the site's WP version hadn't been updated for a while, but Simon at Katipo did a brilliant job of updating the version step by step which eventually allowed us to move the site across.

I was able to do quite a few quick wins on the site in terms of layout and formatting, which was great - and installed a couple of Twitter-related plugins which enabled the client to link the site with their social media accounts much more easily.

I was quite thrilled by the outcome of the missing photo galleries challenge. I had not found them in any of the folders where I expected them to be, and was about to tell Anthony that they were probably lost for ever - when I decided to have one last look in the backup copy of the website, in all the folders I didn't expect them to be - and I found them! NGGallery has a new-ish feature which allows you to import galleries, so I tried it out and miraculously it enabled me to import each of the missing sets of photos back into NextGen Gallery, where they should be. Once I had re-installed all the missing galleries I tidied up the thumbnails and then tweaked the gallery display to show a 4-column layout. It was a bit of a miracle.

The Bitcoin hack incident is the first and only time any of my WPEngine sites have come under threat, and I was impressed with the speedy and efficient response of their security team when I reported the incident. I was able to compare the plugins on the Live and Staging versions of the site to see which had been recently added (as I didn't know the site particularly well at that stage) and I was able to provide the security team with a comprehensive overview of the plugins I wanted them to examine and remove. It did bring home to me the fact that a site migration has the potential of bringing with it files that you'd rather were not there (in this case a backdoor file that had been inserted onto the site a few years ago). The website wasn't flagged as being compromised when tested on Sitecheck, which shows how well the malicious files were disguised and hidden.

In future I will be recommending that we invest in a full security sweep of any site that we migrate to WPEngine - and in the meantime I have added the activity-tracking plugin to all my WPEngine sites so that I can keep an even closer eye on them. The experience has also emphasised what can happen to vulnerable sites where the WP version is not updated on a regular basis. Thankfully, websites hosted at WPEngine are set to automatically update to the latest version of WordPress, which is another benefit of my managed hosting plan.