October 2009 Newsletter

People and Tools

**** The 4specs Perspective

In this economic climate can you afford to put your website on a back burner?

You may not agree with our thoughts in this newsletter. Our newsletters go to small companies with 4-5 employees and to companies above $500 million in sales with thousands of products. These newsletters are intended to have you think about your website and how to develop and maintain the site over time. If you disagree, think about why you disagree. I'd like to hear from you.

My focus is on simple and effective websites - I call them 3-ring binder websites - with all the design information needed to complete a project design including your products. A 3-ring binder website will typically perform well with the search engines, which is the second part of my focus.

People

Most building product initial websites were developed by an ad agency or web designer. I propose that 5 years from now most websites will be maintained and developed inhouse, probably by the marketing manager and staff or combined with the IT department. These newsletters will help you move in that direction now.

Just as the secretarial typing pools of the 1960's and 70's evolved with personal computers into individuals typing their own emails and letters, so will websites change from outside designers to inside staff. I have spoken with some companies already doing their web design inhouse.

Who will you use to maintain your website? You may already have a staff member interested in web design, or hire a person part time. Try your local community college or the Gigs>Computers ads in Craigslist.org as a starting spot.

Your local community college probably has courses or workshops on html design and probably courses in Dreamweaver and Photoshop. They may have a placement office. You can send your staff member to classes at a local community college. Pay an experienced web consultant to help get your staff member over the tough parts of the learning curve and with the basic design decisions.

I did a quick search on Google and looked at the Salt Lake Community College website. I quickly found the Dreamweaver and Photoshop workshops - 2 to 4 days each. They also had a follow-on workshop on CSS (more about that later). The Dreamweaver Courses were $325 and Photoshop was $165 for each of two levels.

There are also video courses and other classes available. The best way is to start with the tools described below and a copy of your website - and just start hacking away to learn, planning to dump all the changes you just made while learning and start over on the final version once you are comfortable with the tools. The next newsletter will provide some ideas on where to start editing your website with Dreamweaver.

Tools

Dreamweaver is by far the best website editing tool available today - about $400 for the new current CS4 version. A website editing tool permits you to change a design-time include (more about these next month) and have it update every page. You can change page file name and the program will change all references to the file name across the site. This is great for making structural changes. A html editing program (such as CoffeeCup) will edit single pages and does not work across a complete site. Dreamweaver has an optional editing tool called Contribute. This allows the master website to be locked and page editing be done by Contribute. This may be an option for less experienced users.

FrontPage was a great tool 10 years ago. 4specs was maintained in FrontPage for many years. Frontpage is now outdated and has been replaced by Microsoft Web Expressions. Dreamweaver tends to be more neutral and Unix friendly while Web Expressions tends to lead towards Microsoft servers and technology. I have a copy of Web Expressions - while it has some advantages over Dreamweaver - especially the on-the-fly spell checking - I will recommend Dreamweaver for ease of design-time includes and better HTML tools.

Photoshop Elements ($99) is a less expensive version of the complete Photoshop CS4 program ($700). I use Photoshop Elements for all the editing of images on 4specs. Works great and has an excellent image compression tool to reduce the time to download images.

Filezilla - is a free FTP program to download files from your server. Dreamweaver has an FTP feature to upload only the changed files and works well for general site development. http://filezilla-project.org/

Site Publisher and Website Publisher are 2 free or low cost programs to easily maintain a website by only uploading the changed files. I use both - one on my main computer and one I use on a portable used to maintain 2 other sites.
http://www.sitepublisher.net/
http://www.cryer.co.uk/downloads/websitepublisher/

Firefox is a free browser - the Firefox browser has some advantages over Internet Explorer for web designers through added plug-in tools. I'll will be discussing the plug-ins as we go along in developing your website. For now download and install Firefox and the HTML Validator tool. You can look over your website and start to understand the code errors in your current website:
http://www.mozilla.org/en-US/firefox/fx/
https://addons.mozilla.org/en-US/firefox/addon/html-validator/

Assumptions

These newsletters will be working towards helping you develop a simple html website with no server-side includes or server-side actions. Most building product manufacturer's websites are 10-100 pages and can be easily handled with Dreamweaver. As an example, 4specs is about 1,000 pages excluding the discussion forum and newsletter areas and is maintained with Dreamweaver.

Websites with 100's or 1,000's of products pages may need to retain their content management system for those pages. I suggest these websites make the top 50-100 pages as flat html for purposes of search engine optimization and simplicity of maintenance.

If you are currently using a content management system you will want to define which pages should be converted to flat html and modify the website accordingly. A program such as HTTrack ( http://www.httrack.com/ - free) will download your complete website to get started on editing.

Questions and comments are always appreciated.

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Colin Gilboy
Publisher - 4specs
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