Move Forward, Faster: Deploy A WordPress Site Using Windows Azure

If you are a student at a University, you have the ability to sign up for Microsoft’s long list of software, and online services that are freely available to students that successfully sign up for Microsoft Dreamspark.

The process for deployment is simple. Once you’ve signed up for Microsoft Dreamspark, sign up for Microsoft Azure Services, and you’ll now be able to deploy a website solution using WordPress.

Why WordPress and Why do I Need A CMS?

WordPress is a content management system, that has been considered the number one solution for bloggers all over the web for the past 10 years. WordPress gives the user the ability to publish, edit and modify content without having to deal with the intricacies that is building, deploying, testing, and maintaining a full fledged website.

To build a website from the ground up, one does not need to have a content management system available, you can easily publish your site using basic HTML utilizing a handy dandy FTP client to upload your site’s files to the server. To make it pretty you would have to style your site using valid CSS (Cascading Style Sheets); to make it functional, you would have to write some front end scripts utilizing Javascript and back end scripts utilizing PHP or some other back end scripting language; to make your styled design accessible across all devices you would have test and validate your CSS to make sure that it is compatible across all browsers. This process can get tedious, if you’re not a developer and just want to get a website up and worry about the content.

Why Microsoft Azure?

Microsoft Azure Services is a cloud computing platform that gives you the ability to easily deploy, build, and manage application and services without having to manage the overhead that is setting up and managing your hosting environment. To put it in simple terms, it allows you to publish what you need in the easiest way possible.

If you were to start from scratch you would have to setup your own LAMP Stack( Linux, Apache HTTP Server,MySQL, PHP) server, and manage the server; which can be an even bigger task.

Building A Functional Website

So you want to build a website…Before you start building your website, you will need to figure the goals that you’d want to tackle

  • What is the primary purpose of your site?
  • Who would your target audience be?
  • What are the actions that your users would most likely want to do on your site?
  • What would you like your users to do on your website?

Once you’ve got those questions figured out, then you start building your website.

Creating The Basic Building Blocks

If you look closely at any website that you’ve ever visited, you’ll figure out that the components in a good majority of them are the same. Every website consists of the following pages.

  • An Intriguing Home Page
  • Contact/Support Page
  • Secondary Pages featuring supporting content
  • News
  • Events
  • Galleries
  • A Sitemap

Selecting The Right Theme

There thousands of WordPress themes available for you to use, and you initially start off with the default theme that WordPress makes available to you. Depending on what version of WordPress you have installed, you may have a responsive theme as your default theme or a fixed size minimalistic theme installed.

Responsive Themes

If you want to build a website whose design is easily accessible across all devices, it is recommended that you install a responsive theme on your website. You can search for existing responsive themes on the WordPress Theme Database, or you can search for freely available themes online, you can always find a good set of freely available themes in websites such as WP Tavern or Web Design/Development communities such as Smashing Magazine.

Inkness

Inkness is a retina-ready WordPress theme, featuring a grid-based home page and multiple page layouts.
Download | Demo

FullBy

Fullby was inspired by the Twenty Fourteen default theme and built with Bootstrap under the hood. The homepage includes a fluid grid for displaying posts and a featured content area at the top.

Download | Demo

Arcade Basic

Arcade Basic is a beautiful theme with a bold homepage design and many options built into WordPress’ customizer feature. It supports post formats and includes special styles for Jetpack galleries.

Download | Demo

 

Stanley WP

Stanley WP is a unique theme that works well for personal branding. It’s packaged with a drag-and-drop homepage builder and three different page templates.

Download | Demo

 

GovFresh WP

GovFresh was created specifically for governments and comes with a list ofrecommended plugins to extend the theme.

Download | Demo

 

Adament

Download | Demo

 

Lobster

Lobster is named after the font featured in the theme. The background and page layouts are fully customizable and the theme includes support for post formats, bbPress and BuddyPress.

Download | Demo

Revera

 

Revera features a big slider on the homepage, configurable banner advertisement spaces and a custom portfolio page template.

Download | Demo

 

Unite

Unite sports a flat design for wedding websites, although it can be used with other types of creative websites with a focus on images. All of the colors are easily customizable via the theme options.

Download | Demo

 

Flat Theme

The Flat Theme features a filterable portfolio and a host of extra page designs, including pricing tables, about us, services, custom 404, contact page, career, FAQ, P=privacy and terms of use

Download | Demo

Flat | Recommended for Blogging/Vlogging

 

Flat is a blogging theme based on Bootstrap. It features an off-canvas sidebar and a customizable blurred background.

 

Download | Demo

Vangard | Recommended for Student Organizations

The Vangard theme sports a customizable jQuery content slider, welcome section, widgetized footer and a blog-oriented homepage.

Download | Demo

 

Vangard | Recomended for Startups

Ward has a unique layout and includes support for post formats. It’s easy to customize using WordPress’ built-in customizer and is compatible with both bbPress & BuddyPress.

Download | Demo

 

Keep in mind that you’d want to select a theme that matches the style and structure of the primary purpose of your site. If you’re building a website for a student organization, it is often useful to have a primary slider as the main element in the homepage, to feature latest news, events or announcements, and have secondary content below your slider, such as latest news, upcoming events, social feeds, and newsletter sign ups. At the end of the day, choose whichever theme you’d think would fit your site best.

Selecting The Right Plugins

Now that you’ve selected your theme, you’ll need to start thinking about the functionality that your website will be providing. As we mentioned above, the components that make up a website are all similar, and with that in mind we can come up with a list of features your website will most likely need, right off the bat:

  • Contact Forms
  • Galleries
  • Image Sliders
  • Maps
  • Tables
  • Social Media Buttons
  • Feeds
  • SEO
  • Analytics

The WordPress Plugin Database has hundreds of plugins for you to choose from, and you can install them from within your WordPress website, without having to deal with uploading the plugins to your server via FTP.

Recommended Plugins

With that in mind, there’s a set of trusted plugins that you could use to get the functionalities that your website needs in a reliable manner. These plugins are considered to be reliable and supported throughout the community

Gravity Forms | Premium
Build and publish your WordPress forms in just minutes. No drudgery, just quick and easy form-building. Select your fields, configure your options and easily embed forms on your WordPress powered site using the built-in tools. That’s way more satisfying (and less fattening) than a peanutty candy bar any day.

NextGen Gallery | Free
The most popular WordPress gallery plugin and one of the most popular plugins of all time with over 9 million downloads.

WP Events Manager | Free
Fully featured event registration management including recurring events, locations management, calendar, Google map integration, booking management

WP Full Calendar | Free
Uses the jQuery FullCalendar plugin to create a stunning calendar view of events, posts and other custom post types

List Category Posts | Free
List Category Posts allows you to list posts from a category into a post/page using the [catlist] shortcode. When you’re editing a page or post, directly insert the shortcode in your text and the posts will be listed there. The basic usage would be something like this:

Twitter Stream | Free
Twitter Stream is a very simple Twitter plugin designed to show a users Twitter timeline. Also includes file caching to stop API overuse.

Yet Another Related Posts Plugin | Free
Display a list of related posts on your site based on a powerful unique algorithm. Earn money by including sponsored content!

Share This | Free
Social Charge your Content with ShareThis – features Social Analytics, CopyNShare, Open Graph Sharing, and the Hovering Bar!

TablePress | Free
TablePress enables you to create and manage tables, without having to write HTML code, and it adds valuable functions for your visitors.

Youtube Plugin | Free
YouTube embed plugin with basic features and convenient defaults. Upgrade now to add tracking, instant video SEO tags, and much more!

Google Analyticator | Free
Adds the necessary JavaScript code to enable Google Analytics. Includes widgets for Analytics data display.

HungryFeed | Free
HungryFEED embeds and displays RSS feeds inline on your pages, posts or sidebar using Shortcodes.

All In One SEO Pack | Free
All in One SEO Pack is a WordPress SEO plugin to automatically optimize your WordPress blog for Search Engines such as Google.

Azure Cloud Services Gotchas

In order for WordPress’s mail functionality to work, you would need to add an SMTP service to your Azure instance. You can do so by following this guide.

How To Send Email With WordPress Using Azure Cloud >

 

Additional Learning Resources

Screencasts & Interactive Teaching Modules

CodeSchool Teaches Javascript

Spend some time with this powerful scripting language and learn to build lightweight applications with enhanced user interfaces.

Lynda Teaches Javascript

Watch our JavaScript how-to videos and learn to code, create, and build JavaScript arrays and functions. Understand how to write JavaScript code to create HTML5 sites and other interactive websites.

PluralSight Teaches Javascript

Everything a beginner needs to get started programming with JavaScript

TeamTreeHouse Teaches Javascript

Learn the fundamentals to the JavaScript Language. JavaScript is the key to programming in the browser, mastering jQuery, and building apps with Node.js. You will learn how to program effectively in JavaScript, the different types, functions, and techniques for writing solid JavaScript. You will benefit from taking Introduction to Programming if you don’t have much experience with programming.

Tuts Plus Teaches HTML/CSS

HTML5 is huge at the moment. Even my grandparents have heard of it! In step-by-step fashion, we’re going to dig into this new technology, including the various new HTML tags, feature detection, and working with a couple of the new JavaScript APIs. Are you ready?

Tuts Plus Teaches Javascript Fundamentals

This course focuses on the basics of the two fundamental aspects of client-side development: the JavaScript language, and DOM scripting. If you’re a complete beginner, or a coder who has exclusively used frameworks but wants to delve into the guts of pure JavaScript development, this is the course for you.

Read more »