Case study: Union website redeveloped using WordPress

I recently stumbled across the website of Illinois Education Association (Regions 14 & 62) which I think is an excellent example of a union using an inexpensive Premium WordPress Theme to create a professional, feature rich website.

It’s worth highlighting this website to give union communicators and officials an example of what can be achieved using WordPress, a free, open-source content management system, combined with an off-the-shelf professional template.

Independent Education Association website - screenshot

As you can see, the site has a nice, modern professional appearance. It includes a scrolling carousel for featured content, and further down, there are social media links, a way to sign up to the union’s email updates, and an event calendar. What’s more, because it is built using WordPress, and the theme has been developed by a professional design firm (Studio Press), it will continue to get security updates for the foreseeable future (and Studio Press also provides ongoing, free support). It also comes with built-in search engine optimisation (from WordPress, and the theme), which is an important feature.

If I were to make any recommendations for improvement, it would be: get a custom favicon, and include an online joining page. I also hope that the email subscription uses MailChimp or another professional email marketing service, and that they have Google Analytics installed.

Metric WordPress Theme (StudioPress) screenshot

On the right, you can see the screenshot of the original, generic theme (and here’s the link to where you can buy it). Clearly, the IEA haven’t customised the theme much, but let’s be honest: they don’t need to. The default theme looks nice and professional — so all the union needed to do was add their own content and plonk on their logo.

Choosing to go the WordPress road is good for a lot of things, but isn’t necessarily the answer for every union website.

WordPress is excellent for getting up professional websites that are inexpensive and fast. WordPress can be deployed in just a few days or a weeks (depending on how much content is needed). It is very flexible, and in the hands of someone who knows what they are doing, it will look great and have a lot of useful features. New content can be easily added, including pages, blogs, and with proper plugins, events and more. Many of the “features” spruiked by design agencies and in-house CMSs come standard with WordPress, like drop down menus, customisable URLs/permalinks, blogs, page templates, comments and threaded comments, built-in SEO, built-in RSS feeds, and so on.

However, it does have limitations. For very complex websites, or unions with a desire to integrate their membership database with their website, WordPress may not be the best solution. Most of the reasons that you wouldn’t choose WordPress are technical ones relating to your specific needs or existing infrastructure. Other reasons include the federated/local/branch nature of unions, creating expansive hierarchies of editors and users (for example, layers of editorial control across state, national and local levels, etc), something that WordPress doesn’t handle very well out of the box.

Your choice of CMS for union website should be based on the goals of the website, and your union’s budget.

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