October 2001 Newsletter

Your Website's 5-Year Plan

*****Quick Picks

Learn from the mistakes of others, and you'll be ahead of the game. This site is actually quite an effective yet entertaining way to see where others have erred.

Click Z:
Developing Your Project Does Not Have to Be Rocket Science

[Link no longer available]
"Memo to Companies: You are Your Website"
Quote: "In a tough economy, you can't afford to replace customers so your service needs to be excellent."

***** The 4specs Perspective

I hope the importance of product websites has become clear. More and more architects and engineers want to rely on your website information for their design work - replacing binders and catalogs. AIA reported that 86% of architects use the Internet for product research. I suspect that the remaining 14% non-users are the same architects doing residential projects and still drawing by hand without using CAD programs.

What is your plan for website development in 2002? For the next 5 years?

Many manufacturers first turned to outside consultants and said - "Do Us a Website!" Or the IT department wanted to do a flashy website so they could play with all the latest web-design toys. Now marketing managers are looking at major expenses for even minor revisions and updating. Several marketing managers have complained to me that it takes months to make minor changes, not even considering the cost.

Here are our three suggestions for your 5- year website development plan:

1. Pull the design and website maintenance into the marketing department away from consultants or the IT department. Use them for technical assistance. The sales and marketing departments are most aware of the information needs of the design professional users. The marketing department has done brochures and binders for years. Combine their marketing talents with the sales and tech support people to develop a useful website.

2. Put all of your available product design information online. Many companies still do not have suggested 3-part CSI-formatted specifications available. Many do not have CAD details online where appropriate.

3. Simplify, simplify, simplify.

Here are our suggested steps:

1. Put on paper the organization of how your information is accessed. Initially budget 20-40% of the total cost of the website redesign for doing the navigation and information flow. You may not need that much, but spend money there. The page coding and images are easy. The overall layout design will take more time than you expect and a superior design will pay out in a better website. The rocket science article above will be useful for starting the project. Consider adopting all or part of the WebFormat document published by the Construction Sciences Research Foundation:
[link no longer available - now on 4specs]

The sample pages can be found in the 4specs manufacturer's area.

2. Make your home page the place to link to specs, CAD details and product data. This is what the design professional is looking for. Make it easy to find! Organization is a problem for companies with products in many different CSI sections. W.R. Meadows has done an effective job listing systems and product specs and information by CSI section:

3. Select a web design tool you can easily use. I have used FrontPage since 1996, after the hand coding of HTML pages became too complex. If your staff can do complex documents in Word or WordPerfect, they will be able to learn FrontPage with classes, consultant's guidance and experimentation. Some web designers bad mouth FrontPage as "unprofessional" and for amateurs. I have found that FrontPage is a very effective tool, and have used FrontPage exclusively to design 4specs for almost 5 years. I have found that GoLive makes the web pages slow, and the website more complex. DreamWeaver was too complex for me to use daily, and did not permit the easy inclusion of modules into other pages. [We started to use Dreamweaver in 2003 after this was written]

4. Be prepared to update the website as new information is available or as time is available - even weekly.

5. Set up website statistics tracking so you know what is going on and who is sending your website people. See the articles on website stats.

6. Think through your page names. Search engines have recorded many of your web pages and send people inside your website. Why lose that traffic after changing the name of the page? This means that your new site should use the same names as the old site. Or at least this time use a logical page naming system. Also, keep track of your page errors. Redirect any important changed pages using a server redirect that provides a 301 status code so the search engines will change the pointer to a new page. Here is an article on this:

7. Avoid databases for product websites. Consultants want to go use a database and create "dynamic and exciting pages." Your user wants design data, not flash. One manufacturer told me of the consultant's suggestion that they use an Oracle database for their 50 product company. Expensive. Stay away from dynamic sites and use straight html pages. One reason for 4specs' speed and few failures is due to the use of straight html pages.

Let's look at several product websites done with FrontPage:
1. Monoglass is a Canadian company I used to represent. They redid their website using FrontPage. Clean, simple and all the data is accessed from the home page. I especially appreciate the link to 4specs:
[page has changed and is not applicable]

2. Presto Products is another FrontPage product website. Very different than Monoglass, and very effective. I sent Presto a draft of this newsletter and they responded with this comment: "... changing over to the FrontPage platform allowed Presto to make changes internally much more quickly and with no outside consultant fees. As specifications change, updates can be posted within minutes live. Managing our own website administration has saved thousands of dollars this past year."
[page has changed and is not applicable]

As usual, your comments, suggestions and criticism are appreciated. Recently one marketing manager told he had handed all of our newsletters to their webdesigner with instructions to incorporate them into their new website. That was great to hear.

Colin Gilboy
Publisher, 4specs.com

Additional Notes:

Some of the tricks to using FrontPage:

1. Design your standard information (such as navigation and footers) in modules and include these modules into the working page seen by the user. When the included page is modified, all of the pages including that page will be updated by FrontPage. Most of the 4specs pages include a header and footer than can be easily modified. Over 400 pages are changed when I modify the included footer.

2. Use a standard server, and not use the FrontPage extensions. 4specs is on a UNIX server, on a $30 per month account. Let someone else be responsible for security and protection from attacks like the ones from Code Red and Nimba.

3. Upload the new and revised pages and images using a smart program. When updating one module that is included in 400 pages, a program like NetLoad is essential. FrontPage has a publishing wizard, but it will read your entire server directory to verify what is online. 4specs has over 2,500 files online (including the discussion forum) and it takes about 10 minutes to read the entire remote directory. 4specs uses NetLoad. NetLoad tracks what is on the server and what is on the design machine and uploads only changed pages.
[Program no longer available - 2013 - 4specs now uses Web Site Publisher ]


Colin Gilboy
Publisher - 4specs
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