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It starts off simply; a few HTML pages, a few hyperlinks, some affiliate links. Your mother is proud of her clever son. Then you install a forum, some more content, maybe conider using a Content Management System (CMS).
Before you know it, you have a monter on your hands. This monter is eating up your time and energy and money.
Here are a few tricks I've learned to save you time and money with your web design.
1. Avoid Windows servers, if you can.
I'll admit I've never used one. I've had too much trouble with Windows on the PC, to risk it on my web site. Most geeks favour Unix. It's been around longer, and is more stable. Web hosts offering Unix variants like Linux have always been cheaper. They also seem to offer a wider range of toys. I need SSI (Server Side Includes), SSH (secure Telnet), 10 MySQL databases, Cpanel, PHPMyAdmin and a UK IP number. And you can get this for $15 a month.
If you're in business for yourself, conider Unix/Linux. If you want to be a full-time employee, conider Windows/Microsoft. Many businesses use it, as it's compatible with their office software, they like that a major company supports it, and they distrust something that's free.
2. Server Side Includes are the poor man's CMS.
Each web page can be 'stitched' together using Server Side Includes (SSI). You can 'call' a header and footer HTML file, using SSI, in each web page. That way, you can make site-wide changes in an instant. For example, you can add Google Adsense to the top or bottom of your site immediately.
Dreamweaver (http://www.macromedia.com) can display SSI pages correctly. This is another reason, one of many, for its popularity as a HTML editor.
3. Which CMS to use?
A Content Management System is very handy if you have a community-based website, or want to let others add content to your site. It must have a WYSIWYG (What You See Is What You Get) add-on. This means a novice can type in formatted HTML the same way he could a formatted Word document. He presses on-screen button to bold or underline words, and make hyperlinks.
Another keyword to look out for is HTMLArea. This means someone has made an addon to cause all 'textarea' form boxes to have word-processor-style button above them. This allows someone who doesn't know HTML to add it to your CMS. Saves YOU having to do it, and that is good [grin].
Many are free. I can't really recommend one at the moment, except perhaps Mambo (http://www.mamboserver.com). I've tried quite a few others, especially PHPNuke.
A CMS allows you to set up a website with professional features in a day. The downside is you can spend weeks customising it. You may find, as I did with PHPNuke, that it's unsecure, that it can behave eccentrically, and that essential third-party addon may not work properly.
A CMS is for geeks with time on their hands. I would dearly love to be able to point to one and say to the small businessman "Put your trust in this". I can't yet.
4. Put keywords in the HTML.
Fairly obvious, but webmasters don't go far enough. *Any* image name, ALT tag, form field, bolded word or hyperlink can have a keyword in it. So why not do it?
This is where someone who tweaks his HTML code by hand gains a great advantage. Newlines and double blank spaces are redundant in HTML. A large document can have thousands of these. They obfuscate your Search Engine Optimsation (SEO) efforts.
Use a text editor that can strip them out, like Editpad (http://www.editpadpro.com), or a HTML optimiser. Broken lines are not ideal either. Dreamweaver can 'break' a tag or keyword at an inappropriate place. Why make it hard for a search engine to promote your page? Strip out the junk, and put in the keywords.
5. Put at least 500 words of paragraphed text in.
If your web pages have the same header, footer, left side-bar, right side-bar, and only a small bit of text in the middle, you may suffer a duplicate content penalty. This means a search engine deems your site has duplicate pages. It coniders it an attempt to spam its database, and so shoves it way down its Search Engine Results Pages (SERPS).
If you can't write your own articles, get someone to do it for you at a freelance site like ScriptLance (http://www.scriptlance.com). You can get free articles at sites like EzineArticles (http://www.ezinearticles.com).
6. Offer people what THEY want, not what YOU think they should have.
This is most important. Before making a site, go for a walk in town. Sit down on a park bench, and try to figure out what people really want; not need, WANT. Then figure out how you can get in on that business with your site.
People want sex, drugs, gambling, money, a house, a car, good food, nice clothes, self esteem. The first three are disreputable. Promote them, and get cut off from section of society.
It makes me laugh when I see pornographers saying 'it's just a business, I'm not doing any harm'. They're making money *because* their subject matter is taboo. Most people don't want to be associated with pornography or pornographers. Likewise, a bar owner isn't welcome everywhere, and casino bosses rub shoulders with the underworld.
If you ever want to be on the school board, or run for local office, keep away from dubious content.
Look at what people really want, AND which will make your family proud, and then proceed with gusto.
About the author: T. O' Donnell (http://www.tigertom.com) is an ecommerce consultant in London, UK. His latest projects are a mortgage calculator and ebook, available at http://www.tigertom.com/mortgages-uk.shtml
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