We have several article series here at The New Leaf Journal. Perhaps the two best examples today are Victor’s Quarantine Sessions series and my series of Justin and Justina dialogues. Before, finding like entries in an article series required using the correct corresponding tag, displayed at the bottom of the article. This system was not particularly user-friendly or intuitive. For that reason, I have begun deploying the excellent “WP Post Series” plugin here at The New Leaf Journal. From now on, articles that are part of a series will include a menu with links to other articles in the same series. Additionally, I am adding “series” to our New Leaf Journal home menu. In this post, I will talk about these new New Leaf Journal features and how the WP Post Series plugin made them possible.
Early New Leaf Journal Series Ideas
I had intended to implement “series” in the earliest New Leaf Journal planning stages. Once we decided to launch what was then a “provisional” version of the site in April 2020, I did not have the knowledge to execute my idea for series on my own. For that reason, I resorted to using tags as a stand-in for series – see the “Quarantine Sessions” tag for Victor’s series of articles on his musical collaboration with Mark Caserta for an example.
In the last few weeks, I started thinking about how to implement a system for article series that would look and work better and help new readers find relevant content. In my December Month in Review post, I suggested creating “series hub pages” for each series. For example, I would have made a “Quarantine Sessions” page for Victor’s long-running music collaboration series. The page would contain links to each individual Quarantine Sessions post. I would update the hub page each time we published a new article. Each article would link back to the hub page.
Three things made me hesitate about the hub page idea. Firstly, it functionally would not be much different than how I have been using tags to designate series. Secondly, it would be a pain to set up and implement. Thirdly, I think creating pages for each series would make the site structure somewhat confusing.
As I fret over the challenges, I had a eureka moment. Why not check the WordPress plugin repository to see if there was an elegant plugin solution for series?
Discovering WP Post Series
I am acting as the administrator of The New Leaf Journal in addition to being editor and lead-writer. With that being said, I am a bit limited as a site admin by my lack of coding knowledge. For that reason, like many other technically-challenged admins, I rely on plugins to add many features to our humble site. For example, through plugins we have been able to host Google fonts locally, collect analytics in a privacy-friendly way, and implement caching to ensure a fluid experience for users.
Even with all these plugin success stories, it somehow had not occurred to me to check if there was an easy and intuitive solution to making our series readily accessible to our readers. To remedy that incomprehensible oversight, I went to the plugin repository and entered a search term that only someone with my many hours of legal research experience on Westlaw could have thought of: “series.”
The very first plugin to come up (as of January 4, 2021) was Mike Jolley’s “WP Post Series.” The other plugins on the list were either irrelevant or not updated in many years. I decided to look into WP Post Series.
The plugin looked promising. It added series taxonomy, allows me to assign posts to series, and adds a series block to the editor. Furthermore, the code for WP Post Series is open source and on GitHub. While the plugin has relatively few users (estimated 1,000) and reviews, it has been around for a while and was last updated 3 months ago. Furthermore, the developer, Mr. Jolley, is a software engineer at Automattic, which runs WordPress. I checked the plugin on WP Hive and everything looked good as far as I could tell.
How WP Post Series Works in Practice
After looking into WP Post Series, I decided to give it a try. I downloaded it and then tested it with Victor’s Quarantine Sessions a few hours later. As promised, the plugin allows me to create series in the WordPress back-end. Each series has a name, unique URL, and a description. I can also set how the series will appear in search if I allow it to be indexed by search engines.
Once a series is created, I can assign articles to the series. After I created Quarantine Sessions, I assigned all seven of Victor’s extant Quarantine Sessions posts to the series. By default, the series adds a box to the top of each article in the series – also indicating how many articles are in the series and listing them in order.
While the series block appears at the top of an article by default, I can move it to somewhere else in the article if I think that it makes sense to do so. I am trying that for the first entry in my new series on Birds: A Monthly Serial. It integrates quite nicely into our WordPress theme – I only wish that the arrow on the right was a bit bigger. I will look into fixing that in the future.
Each series has a specific URL that goes to an archive page with the series description and each entry in the series. These pages are aesthetically and functionally similar to tag pages, but the “series” designation should be more intuitive for visitors.
How We Are Using WP Post Series at The New Leaf Journal
We will take advantage of the WP Post Series plugin in two ways.
First, all articles in series will now have the series block, pointing users to other entries in the series. These blocks will also tell users where a specific article stands in a series.
Second, we now include “series” in the header menu. When you scroll over series on the desktop version of the site, you will see each series that we have. Clicking on a series will take you to the series’ archive page. Clicking on “series” at the top will take you to a page listing all of our series.
Growing Series at The New Leaf Journal
I will spend a couple of weeks fully implementing series on site. In addition to organizing series from all of our content, I will go back in articles that make references to “series tags” and change those references to “series.” Over time, I may move the series block from the top of an article to a different location in the article on a case-by-case basis. Because the purpose of series is to help users find relevant content, I will use series judiciously and only when doing so makes sense.
I conclude by offering my thanks to Mr. Mike Jolley for the excellent plugin. I also kick myself for not having thought of looking for it sooner. Better late than never, I suppose. I hope that this new series system improves your browsing experience here at The New Leaf Journal.