Whether starting a site from scratch or updating an existing site, one of the biggest decisions that needs making, is just how much updating the client wishes to do. If the client requirements are for a site that can be updated or amended at will (and they are able to allocate sufficient resources to stay on top of it), a Content Management System could well be the answer. But it’s rarely that clear-cut.
Static html pages
How the web began. At the basic level, each page has a single file with the text and formatting, and instructions on what to do with any images or links. Created with desk top software such as Dreamweaver, static pages, until recently, have required a degree of technical knowledge to design and link together to create a site. A degree of client-editing is now possible with Adobe Contribute but, realistically, structural changes and mass text and picture updates are not to be taken on lightly without a decent grasp of the technical limitations and SEO requirements.
Content Management Systems
Available in a multitude of flavours from the very expensive to the free, Content Management Systems (CMS), on the face of it, sound like the answer to many prayers. But…
Open source software such as Joomla and Drupal is available at no cost but they do have very steep learning curves. Built on top of a database, CMS allows articles to be written and linked together without any html or web design knowledge. No pages actually exist. Each time a browser calls for a page, the CMS interogates the database and builds the page on-the-fly. Fantastic for editability, not so good (out-of-the-box) for important things like design and search engine optimisation (SEO).
At the time of writing, WordPress is better for blogging although the development path is tending towards CMS.
Static Site Pros & Cons
- Easy to maintain
- Much more design freedom
- Relatively simple to get good search engine listing results
- Nice, logical file names
- Suits smaller sites where info remains relatively constant
- Fast loading pages
- Need to buy software to be able to update pages
- Less flexible than CMS
- Can be difficult to integrate add-ons
- Less scalable than CMS
Dynamic Site Pros & Cons
- “Free” – open source software with masses of plug-ins and extensions
- Easy for non-techs to add material through a browser interface
- Infrastructure can support massive sites
- Relatively easy to alter the site structure (but not without impacting badly on your SEO unless you’re careful)
- More restrictive in terms of design
- Requires regular software updates that can be a pain to install
- Generally less secure than a static site
- Harder to secure the site against malicious attack
- Harder to get good SEO results
- Slower loading pages
After such a promising start with WordPress I hit a problem: the default page links that it creates are NOT search engine friendly. The system creates meaningless links like “http://nha.co.uk/wpress/?p=N” which are no good to man nor beast if you want good search engine rankings.
There is a feature built-in to WordPress called Permalinks which purports to provide a mass of options for producing better page name links. Sounds like just the ticket as it would allow me to create something like “http://nha.co.uk/design-blog/web-sites/permalinks.htm” which is a vast improvement.
Following the instructions assiduously … and the site stopped working completely.
Site access is controlled by a special file called “.htacces” which can contain all sorts of rules and can be used to re-direct broken links or missing pages.
Every time I enabled this file the site just stopped. Didn’t matter what combination I tried in the Admin panel it just wouldn’t work. Much searching of Forums and the internet provided lots of ideas but not one solution so by the time I gave up yesterday any remaining hair was in serious danger.
Early this morning I had one of those moments. A flash of genius or clouds clearing from stupidity? One of the few things I hadn’t tried was creating the demented htacces file in a different text editor. I’d been using Apple’s TextEdit and as soon as I tried the same thing using BBEdit – success! TextEdit must have been adding invisible characters that prevented the file from working.
So after much wasted time the answer was absurdly simple and now we have lovely page link names – just look at the top of your browser.
After a couple of hours of fiddling the NHA Design blog is up and running.
The WordPress “Famous 5-Minute_Install: (sic) worked a treat although I expect previous experience of wrestling with Joomla installations and creating databases helped.
Having run through assorted options and created a few starter categories we’ve got a framework in place but the basic theme is too impersonal.
So, as a first step, I’ve added the fish from our main site.
Again, previous Joomla experience of templates is a big advantage here because it gave me a clue where to look. Having checked the CSS (not very exciting reading at the best of times) to identify the file used by the default template as a header it’s a case of creating a replacement.
After a few minutes tweaking in Illustrator and Photoshop turning a 2-d image into a (sort of) 3-d one, we have a replacement header, complete with fish. Using exactly the same file name as the original and replacing it in the same folder means no other modifications are necessary. Upload it to the server, refresh the page and we’re done.
It’ll need some more tweaking later but at least we have a mildly personalised site with similar branding to the main site.