You notice I have not updated this blog in quite sometime. That is because over the past 2 months I have been working on ThinkComputers like a mad man! ThinkComputers has been run on a flat-file system since I started it back in 2001. We used a simple PHP script to pull pages and help with navigation. Although the site layout has changed a few times, the backend if that’s what you want to call it has been the same. What this meant is that I had to code every review myself and hand code all of the index pages and even the XML file for the RSS feed. This was all so time consuming, so I knew the next thing to do was move ThinkComputers over to a database-driven system that did most of the hard work for me.
Many people have asked me why I picked WordPress instead of something like Joomla or Drupal. The main reason is because I’ve had previous experience with WordPress and I understand how it works. Of course this blog is running WordPress so I’ve been familiar with it for quite some time. Also it seems that WordPress is constantly getting updated and made better, you don’t want to base your website off something that might not be developed for that much longer. The thing that really sold me on WordPress was all of the addons that can be used with it. If you want to add a feature to your website there is probably a WordPress addon or plugin for it. So I decided on WordPress!
A New Layout Too!
If you have been to the site lately you can see it looks nothing like the old site at all. After many days of looking for a good theme and considering getting a custom theme I finally found a theme that I though would work, but it would need a lot of hacking for it to really work for ThinkComputers. One thing I really like about the new layout is the 4 “featured” placements on the top of the site. This allows us to features articles that might get burried in the front page. Another thing that really makes the site different from previous versions of the site is that it only has 2 columns now, not 3. This was a hard decision for me to make, but I think the 2 column design makes it easier to read the actual reviews.
This new layout does one thing that we have gotten complaints about for quite a long time, that is the ads. The old layouts had ads all over them. With this new layout we have 3 main ad placements (728 x 90 on the top, 300 x 250 on the right, and 160 x 600 on the right). We will occasionally throw ads in the reviews themselves but they are for the most part ad-free. You will notice at the top and bottom of each review there are Just Relevant ads. We first had them at the bottom of each review, but then decided to add them at the top as well as our clicks were down ALOT! The top section of each review was custom coded by me and the Just Relevant ads are dynamically generated by using a custom field in each post. That way I don’t have to make up an ad for each review. If there is not an ad to display it will play a default ad from another network. I also coded all of that myself.
Disqus Comment System
Instead of using WordPress’s built-in comment system I opted to use Disqus. I had heard about it for quite a while and wanted to give it a try. The main reason for this is that with Disqus you can post comments with your facebook login, twitter login, OpenID, Disqus login, or post as anonymous. I trusted that Disqus was a good platform since large sites like Mashable were using it. So far I am very impressed with Disqus, it makes it very easy to moderate comments and it very feature rich with the widgets they offer as well.
ThinkComputers was hosted on a server we had Co-located at a local datacenter. This server has been there for a few years now and is not that powerful. When we first setup the server I had a friend install everything on it, but lately he has not been around so there is VERY old software on it. Once we switched the site over to WordPress the server completely crashed! If you know anything about WordPress you know it is a resource hog and our server just couldn’t handle it. I considered getting another server, but that would cost a lot and as I said I really didn’t have anyone to set it up for me and manage it. So since the site was down I hurried up and went with a normal hosting company. They provided me with a semi-dedicated server and once we moved everything to there the site loaded, but load times were very slow. Sometimes it would like 30 seconds to load a page, which was not acceptable. Since the site was at least functioning I did some research and came across The Rackspace Cloud. It seemed that many people were happy with their service and they had a 30-day money back guarantee so I decided to give them a try. Everything about their service was superior to the previous host and pages load extremely fast! If you have a high traffic blog I would really recommend The Rackspace Cloud, I am very satisfied so far!
Makes things easier!
So as I said the old site was a flat-file system so once I completed a review it would take a good hour to get it posted on the site, now it takes maybe 20 minutes? This extra time allows me to do other things with the site and make it even better. Also not having to write the RSS feed, review index pages, and main page by hand is really nice. Everything is automated and its such a relief to finally be on a system like this. Also WordPress makes SEO, indexing and linking to our page easier. This is probably one of the biggest updates to ThinkComputers and I’m relieved that it has been completed. It has been one crazy month!
Merry Christmas Everyone!