brian beinlich, web designer

Tech talk

Below are articles about questions I hear from my clients.

What's all the buzz about Content Management Systems?

If you've read an online newspaper, participated in an online discussion, or read a friend's blog, then you've already had an encounter with a Content Management System, or "CMS" for short.  These systems allow designated authors to post content to a web site using only their web browser – no special software is needed.  This means that once the site is set up, the webmaster doesn't need to be involved in adding to or updating the site's content.  A CMS can be the perfect setup for bloggers, authors, newspapers, or any other situation where the content is frequently updated.

CMS are available in all price ranges and degrees of complexity.  Three of the big names in CMS are WordPress, Joomla!, and Drupal.  These three systems are popular because they are "open-source" projects, developed by teams of volunteers who release the source code for anyone to use at no charge.  In addition to the basic framework, literally hundreds of themes and modules have been contributed by other developers.  Themes give your site its unique appearance, and modules add specific capabilities to your site, such as a shopping cart or a photo album.

There are pros and cons to this situation.  On the plus side, these themes and modules can be easily added to your site, potentially saving you the time and expense of having a consultant do it for you.  But everything is not always so rosy.  Many of these modules are poorly coded and have vulnerabilities that can be exploited by people who will hack your site. They may be poorly documented or not documented at all.  If the module doesn't work as you expect, is missing a feature you need, or contains a vulnerability, you're stuck.  Sometimes the developer who created the theme or module has moved on to other projects and is not interested or able to work with you.  So you can either look for another module or hire someone to modify or repair the one you're using. Maybe that will cost more than using a different module or implementing your own.

Now if you're doing all this in your "spare" time, and you're not having much fun in the process, then you might want to ask yourself how much your time is worth.  It just might be cheaper to hire an experienced web developer to make the site look exactly the way you want and have it do all the things you want.  Then you can concentrate on what is most important to you: your content or your business!

The thought I'd like to leave you with is this: if you are thinking of using a CMS to save money on web site development, you might be disappointed in the result, especially if you want your site to have a specific look, or if you need some specific functionality.  Selecting the right architecture for your site (CMS or "classic") should be made based on a comprehensive look at your needs – now and in the future.  I would be happy to discuss your project with you and work together to come up with a solution that's right for you.

How do I get my web site to be at the top of the search rankings?

I am asked this question from time to time, and so I'll offer my thoughts. 

The "art" (to use the term loosely) of tweaking your site's content so that it ranks higher in search engines is called Search Engine Optimization, or "SEO" for short.  In my opinion, SEO mostly involves black magic. 

Heres why: The search engine companies such as Google, Yahoo, and Bing! keep their ranking methods a well-guarded secret.  If they didn't, everyone with knowledge of the ranking methods could (and would) use them to their – or their clients' – advantage. 

So it follows that people or companies who claim to be able to boost your site to the top of the search rankings don't have any inside information.  They're just trying to figure out what seems to work... today. 

But... the search companies are constantly on the lookout for people who seem to have figured out how to game the results, at which point they change their methods to push those sites lower in the rankings.  It's a cat-and-mouse game, but the search engines are very large, fast cats.

So what is to be done? 

Well, the search engines actually do publish some guidelines for web developers, and you ignore them at your peril.  They are pretty straightforward: write clean code, follow the standard conventions for defining the sections of your site, have "real" content that is interesting and useful, and don't try to play any funny tricks.  So that's what I try to do.

Are there companies who are successful at SEO?  Probably so.  There sure are a lot of ads out there.  But I have yet to meet anyone who has demonstrated documented results to me.  On the contrary, I have heard several stories about people who paid companies a lot of money but in the end didn't have much to show for it.

SEO is a great topic, and I could go on at length.  If this is a strong requirement of your site, we can discuss it in more detail during our initial consultation.