The Pros and Cons of Static Web Pages vs Content Management Systems

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

PROS

  • 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

CONS

  • 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

PROS

  • “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)

CONS

  • 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

The Search for a Unique Selling Proposition

The Holy Grail of New Business

In November of this year we’ll be celebrating our 20th birthday. Having been born out of the last recession we reckon it’s as tough now as it’s ever been – particularly when it comes to acquiring new business so time for a light-hearted look at our search for the NHA Unique Selling Proposition – the Holy Grail of new business.

First up a bit of background: Like many in the service industries we’ve always had a particular problem describing exactly what we do – we operate in so many areas and use so many different skills and experiences for any given project that describing the NHA Service in a word or two has proved very difficult. Yes, we’re designers; Yes, we’re printers; Yes, we’re copywriters; and so it goes on.

When you make a new business approach in whatever form, the majority of prospects will try to pigeon-hole you in a suitable category to make the proposition easier to understand – something that ties in with the way they work. To begin with it was relatively straightforward: we were a below-the line agency handling just about everything to do with marketing (except press, tv and radio). We concentrated on designing and producing brochures and other marketing material with the odd promotion, point-of-sale item and premium thrown in. Printers were still perceived like devils-incarnate and service was a dirty word.

We used freelance designers, copywriters, photographers and any other skills required, pulled the whole project together in one package and then bought the repro (remember repro and typesetting?) and print to deliver a complete package to the client. Our USP then was, what has now become a much-maligned phrase “The One-Stop Shop”.

Then “below-the-line” became increasingly irrelevant as a phrase: Sales Promotion agencies appeared; designers started buying print; printers started giving away design and providing a decent service; typesetting disappeared completely (together with the absurd union practices of the time – NGA sticker anyone?) and everyone started treading on each other’s toes, blurring the distinction between the various skills.

Around the mid-90s we didn’t want to be perceived as “just” designers or “just” this or “just” that as the service NHA provides is much more comprehensive and experienced than that. So we muddled along without a USP and really struggled to promote exactly why NHA was a better bet for that project than the local designer, for example – our proposition was too complicated to be easily communicated and so the new business efforts fell on stony ground. We tried telesales, direct mail, cold calling and all the standard stuff, with very little to show for it.

Come the Millennium and fortunately our computers continued to work, unfortunately the lack of a USP and clear sales message didn’t. We interrogated clients (well… fed and watered them ‘til their defences were down) to try and identify what “they” thought we were and how “they” perceived us rather than what “we” thought we were. Some thought of us as Designers, some as Printers, others as a soft touch for lunch! There was no consensus but the conclusion we did draw was that our clients didn’t really know how to categorise our services either – and us a communications company.

After plenty more discussion and exploration we became “Creative Project Managers” – described beautifully what we do, provided one didn’t immediately relate project management with the building industry.

Despite all of these shenanigans, our best source of new business over the years has been, unsurprisingly, personal introductions or recommendations from existing clients. This is true for almost every industry for one very simple reason: you don’t have to win someone’s trust “before” they give you the business – unless you turn out to be a complete idiot. A personal recommendation brings with it a level of trust: “if you’ve done a good job for my friend/colleague or whatever then I know you’ll do the same for me.”

And so the search for the definitive USP continues.

Any suggestions will be gratefully received…

Scratchcards – The Perfect Promotion?

nha_scratchcardsScratchcards or Scratch Cards? Whether it’s one or two words doesn’t really matter. We think they’re one of the best promotional vehicles in existence. We’ve been producing personalised scratchcards for many years now – have to hold up a hand and confess to producing thousands and thousands of the little beauties for a timeshare operation in Central London (but it was in the late 80′s so please excuse us) – and in that time we’ve produced all sorts of games.

Why Scratchcards?

  1. Interactivity: for a start people just love them; give someone a scratchcard and they’ll have the latex off before you can blink, especially with the added frisson of winning something for nothing.
  2. Memorability: interactivity provides an attractive bonus in the form of memorability. People just appear to be better able to remember a promotion/brand when they’ve had do something mechanical
  3. Adaptability: with nothing coming “off the shelf” the game, the design and everything else can be tuned to provide a completely personalised promotion to support any marketing activity you like and enhance brand values.

They’re Cheaper than ever

Historically small print runs of just a couple of thousand cards have looked disproportionally expensive. There are three separate processes involved, each with its own minimum charge, so economies of scale didn’t kick in until you produced 5000 or so cards.

The introduction of more modern machinery and techniques has seen the production costs fall so that the minimum cost is now getting on for half what it was ten years ago.

Nowadays you can have your own personalised scratchcard promotion, with a game tailored to your exact needs for well under £1000.

Promotional Scratchcards – A Primer

So you have a sneaking suspicion that your company would benefit from a scratchcard promotion but don’t know where to start.

nha-scratchcards-eurofighter2Well here’s a good place

I’m discussing short runs of between 1,000 and 50,000 copies in this article as once you get into much bigger quantities the machinery required to produce them economically requires a different approach.

Size

Anything you want!

In real life A6 (148 x 105mm) and A5 (148 x 210mm) are the most popular sizes, entirely due to economics. The cards are printed on sheets that are multiples of the basic A4 size so there’s less wastage with these sizes.

Colours

Anything you want!

Again, real life normally limits this to the hundreds of thousands of shades available with 4 process colours but if you really must have a lurid lime green or “that” particular pastel colour then any printable colour is available.

The most common combination is to have full colour (from the process colours) on one side and then just black on the back for the dreaded Ts & Cs.

The Game

Nearly all games are derived from a very simple “match the pictures” formula. This is ideally suited to promotional cards as brand values can be enhanced by using the product itself.

For example, we produced a batch of cards for Eurofighter to be used at the Farnborough and Berlin air shows and the game featured a series of different pictures of the plane itself so it didn’t matter which scratch-off was removed there was always a pic of the plane waiting underneath.

Exactly the same idea can be used whether you’re promoting a bar (match the bottles anybody?) or a comedy festival.

Winners and Losers

As the cards are printed on much larger sheets, the relative quantities of winning and losing cards can be carefully controlled and monitored. Cards can be either randomly shuffled together or kept separate.

Terms and Conditions

nha-scratchcards-magners1These follow a formula: “The British Code of Advertising and Sales Promotion” established by the Advertising Standards Authority. Apart from restrictions on what you can and can’t promote to children, there are two broad categories: with or without a required purchase.

Once we know which category the promotion falls within it’s out with the boilerplate and time to fill in the gaps so it’s not something you really need to worry about as we can lead you through the whole process.

And that’s about all there is to it!

Gas Ghosting – Well I never knew that

Even after years and years of print buying: dealing with everything from 4.5 million brochures for Toymaster (www.toymaster.co.uk) to 250 business cards for our lawyers, every now and then a problem crops up that few have ever experienced. And it happened to us in the run up to Christmas with the Penhaligons (www.penhaligons.com) Christmas catalogue which, sod’s law being what it is, was already running late.

The catalogue, designed this time round by the French agency, featured a special metallic gold as the overall background colour which needed to be printed as a fifth colour. Nothing particularly unusual about that and something we’ve seen many times in the past.

The digital proofs all looked fine and were approved with barely a tweak and all looked rosey. Until…

Two days after 60,000 copies had been delivered – and well-received by the client (and four days after the final sheets were printed) a strange “shadow” appeared on some of the pages. First reaction was that it must be set-off – the result of wet sheets sitting on top of each other and the image transferring from one sheet to the one above. But, on closer inspection, the “shadows” didn’t match anything as obvious as that so it couldn’t be set-off.

After a bit of judicious “wiggling under a light” and “holding it up to the window” to get a better view we realised it was the outline of the image on the other side of the sheet.

Lots of: “What?” “How can that be?” and “I’ve never seen that before.”

After a deal of sleuthing we identified the cause as a very rare issue called “gas ghosting”. We’d never heard of it but it turns out to be a chemical reaction associated with designs that call for heavy coverage of metallic inks whereby the ink on the opposite side of the sheet is prevented from drying in the conventional way because of a combination of the sealer varnish and the metallic ink.

It takes a day or two to kick in and then reduces over time. And there’s no known solution – apart from changing the design.

Even had there been time to reprint the catalogue without jeopardising the entire Christmas sales period we would have achieved much the same result.

You might think that leaving the sheets to dry between coats was an option but:

  • The gold was such an integral part of the background that printing the 4 process colours, allowing the sheet to dry and then adding the gold wouldn’t work because the registration problems would be impossible.
  • Similarly, printing all 5 colours and then leaving it to dry before adding the sealer varnish wouldn’t work because there’s no way of running a sheet with lots of solid metallic ink on it through the press without the surface being marked by the press rollers.

All we could do in the end was negotiate a discount and bear it in mind for the future.

Mind you, despite the amount of energy and anxiety expended by us, the client and the printers, not a single customer commented on it.

penhaligons-christmas-catalogue

Brochure or Catalogue? What’s the difference?

nha_brochure-design-250Not a lot you might think. But you’d be wrong – when it comes to design the two are as far apart as breakfast and dinner on a bad day.

The two serve quite different purposes and need to be treated as such if the resultant product is going to be anywhere near meeting its targets.

Wikipedia describes a catalogue (or catalog) as “an organized, detailed, descriptive list of items arranged systematically….. The word comes from the Hesiodic Catalogue of Women or Eoiae.” And a brochure, rather less grandly as “a leaflet advertisement. Brochures may advertise locations, events, hotels, products, services, etc.”

For normal human beings that translates to catalogues (usually) want to sell you one or more products from a whole list of goodies with prices while a brochure is more of a touchy-feely marketing tool – and if any smarty-pants asks why holiday “brochures” are called brochures and NOT catalogues I shall summon dark forces to make your tea go cold.

Does it matter?

In design terms it is massively important. Catalogue design, particularly if you’re selling off the page is far more of a science than you might imagine.

For a catalogue to achieve its full potential, you’d be wasting your time without an understanding of square inch analysis and product density; knowing where the important “hot spots” are; understanding how to change the pace at which a reader is scanning the catalogue with “stoppers”; how to use “heroes”, and so on and so on.

A brochure is less scientific but no less important for all that. Without the need to achieve specific performance (in terms of sales) from a given area or number of pages, a brochure provides more scope to explore other areas of creativity.

Having said all that the most important consideration for a designer is understanding the difference in such a way that they can produce the best possible designs for any given application.

Permalinks in WordPress – Solved

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.

WordPress Set Up

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.

nha_blog-design_14

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.