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A FAT List Of More Web Design Tips For A Student On A Budget

Introduction.

The following are articles I wrote over 10 years ago. The advice is sound, the hyperlinks may not be.

If this page generates interest, I may update it.


Let’s Hear It For Web 0.1!

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A puritan’s guide to web design. Web 2.0 is a black hole for small web businesses.

It’s October 2006. So far the Web 2.0 bubble hasn’t burst. Here’s my attempt to put a pin-prick in it.

Don’t know what Web 2.0 is? It’s the notion that the next phase of web development is based on user-generated content. _You_ don’t have to write it, your visitors will.

  • You get a CMS (a Content Management System, like WordPress).
  • Users write reviews, blogs, forum posts (Webmasterworld.com).
  • Search engines index this stuff (Google.com).
  • Users tell their pals about it (MySpace.Com).
  • You spend a few thousand bucks, or a few million, depending on how good your chief coder is.
  • The thing sells itself (Digg.Com).
  • You add contextual ads (Google Adsense).
  • Fire off a couple of emails a day, and bank your cheques.

For the small-to-medium webmaster, this can be the route to disaster. Here’s my experience.

See, I was in favour of user contribution. Gives people something to _do_ on a site. If it’s any good, they’ll tell their pals. More traffic.

So I have chat rooms, a forum, a MySpace clone, a dating service, contact forms, ebooks, free software, the whole shebang. All humming away, all bringing in links, all keeping my visitors amused and informed.

Only problem is, the set-up time. The maintenance. The customisation. The search engine optimisation. The hacking attempts. The anti-hacking. The bug fixes. The security updates. The swearing filters. The troll kicking. The screeching. The spamming.

More bandwidth, more databases, more time, more money, more worry.

YouTube.com is a good example. Their business model is using pirated content. They have to police users. Bandwidth costs must be huge. Where’s the money going to come from: ads in pirated videos? Gimme a break.

For any web business, the basic questions are:

  • What makes the money?
  • What helps make the money?
  • Where is the net profit coming from?

Could your site be better served by static HTML pages which you update once every six months? If your site is purely informational, it’s worth considering.

My epiphany came when first some Bahraini hackers clobbered a site of mine. I fixed it. Then some Turkish ones had a go. So I changed to a different CMS. So far, so good, until I realised I would have to constantly update this thing. Also, the following would work far better:

  • Type my documents in a text editor like Editpad, then
  • Use a Text to HTML converter, then
  • (Use Macromedia Dreamweaver to add formatting, then)
  • Use a index generator to make a HTML list of those pages, then
  • FTP the lot to the web site.

Simple site, easy to use, easy to maintain.

A CMS has some handy features, but pure HTML lets you sleep easier. Easier to move when the poop hits the air-conditioning, too.

Put it this way: which would you rather own when the Nazis are closing in? Damien Hirst’s ‘Shark In A Tank’ or the Mona Lisa?

I’m starting to think before I put stuff up now. Would simple HTML do just as well? Suppose I have to move web hosts? Will I be able to find one that’ll give me 10 MySQL databases at the same price as my current host? And all the other features I need? (Answer: No, I’ve looked).

The first rule of computing is KISS; Keep It Simple, Stupid. With all the brouhaha about Web 2.0, I say, let’s hear it for Web 0.1!


Do You Want To Save Time With Your Web Design?

Tips on how to save time, money and energy when designing websites.

It starts off simply; a few HTML pages, a few hyperlinks, some affiliate links. Your mother is proud of you.Then you install a forum, some more content, maybe consider using a Content Management System (CMS).

Before you know it, you have a monster on your hands. This monster is eating up your time, 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 sites. 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, consider Unix/Linux. If you want to be a full-time employee, consider 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?

At the time of writing: WordPress or Drupal.

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 buttons 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 buttons 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].

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 addons 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.

WordPress, at least, is free, has lots of support and has umpteen useful plugins which can really make a site sit up and dance.

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 considers 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), but they are duplicate; search engines wont rank you high for their content.

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 sections 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.


How To Set Up A Niche Web Site In A Day

Are you looking for ways to set up web sites more easily? Are you tired of slaving over a hot PC? Here are a few tips on how to set up a niche web site in a day:

1. Register A Domain Name.

Pick one that’s got the main keyword of the niche you’re trying to promote in it. This is great for getting search engine ‘love’.

Look for a reputable registrar, not just a cheap one. At the time of writing, in order of preference:

Namecheap
Godaddy
Moniker
Joker.Com
Networksolutions

2. Use A Popular, Inexpensive Web Host.

Here are a few filtering criteria:

a. Google PageRank of at least 5;
b. Send them an email or two. See how long it takes to get a reply;
c. They should have a forum (another indication of popularity and customer support);
d. Lots of features offered (MySQL databases, Cpanel, Fantastico);
e. Recent positive mentions in webmaster forums;
f. Offers Linux servers (Windows costs more, and offers less).

Cost per month can be as low as $10, and still have all the features above.

At the time of writing, in order of preference:

ASmallOrange.Com
Hostgator.Com
Site5

3. Install A Blogging Software.

WordPress can be installed in minutes from the Fantastico section of Cpanel in your webhosting account. It allows an amateur to put their thoughts on the internet easily. You then install a search engine optimisation plugin for it; this will make Google index it properly. Such softwares are free; you needn’t pay for them.

WordPress plugins.

4. Put Keywords In The Text And Page Titles.

This is a simple way to get hits from search engines. Your pages should be obviously about the product you’re trying to promote. Avoid overdoing this; it should look and read naturally to a human.

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.

You can get a freelance to write 500 mediocre words for $10, or 500 words of selling copy for a good deal more.

Freelance sites:

Rentacoder.com
Scriptlance.com
Elance.com.

6. Selling Something Direct? Use A Simple Means Of Purchase.

An intermediary service like PayPal is perfectly good to start with. If you have just a few products, their HTML buttons are a good way to test the waters. When you make over $1000 a month, get your own merchant account.

7. Want To Be An Affiliate? Research First.

There are services which act as intermediaries between you and the companies whose products you’ll be promoting. Research them in webmaster forums and try them out. If they fiddle your payments, drop them immediately.

Long term, you can try to deal direct with companies. If you can offer them good leads rather than worthless clicks, they’ll be interested.

Ebay,
Amazon,
Commission Junction and
Clickbank are popular aggregators of products you can affiliate with.

8. Get Some Backlinks.

Popular forums, directories and blogs are good places to drop links. Search engine bots will find them easily, and thus index your site quickly.

Get submission services to drop links for you. Be careful doing this; you don’t want them to get you a search engine penalty.

Research in:

Wickedfire
Digitalpoint.

9. Niche site done. Now make another one!


Some Super Simple Software For The Busy Webmaster

NOTE: Some of these programs are no longer available direct from their authors or may be so in the future. Search for them using a search engine if this is so.

Here are a few handy programs for the busy webmaster. Most are free, and make getting your pages on the ‘net much easier. If you’re taking a long time to do something computer-related, you’re either doing it wrong, or you don’t have the right tools!

EditPad Classic.

A great little text editor. Not now available from author’s website.

OpenOffice.

A terrific freeware replacement for Microsoft Office. The spreadsheet application is especially useful for ordering lists.

Gimp.

A freeware graphics package.

Easy Text To HTML Converter.

This software can batch convert text files to HTML. A simple way to get your articles ready for the web. See also: dirHtml and Index Generator 2.5.

Another software, WordCleaner, can batch convert Microsoft Word documents to clean HTML.

WinSCP.

This is a very clever piece of FTP software. For newbies, you can drag and drop files as you would in Windows. For the more advanced webmaster, it has an SSH command line option; you can run commands on your server.

Port 2096.

If your have CPanel on your webhost, https://yourdomain.com:2096 is the web address of your email accounts. Just go to it using https://, enter the username and password of one of your email accounts, and you can read your emails online.

GetColor!

This is a small, simple program to find out the colour code of any page or software on your desktop. A must if you want to track down a colour in a CSS file, for example.

Arctan Bulk Replacer.

This is that rare thing, a search and replace program for the Windows desktop. Need to replace a web address in three hundred HTML pages? This is the program to use. See also Text Replacer and Jim Willsher’s Bulk Rename Utility.

1-4a Rename.

A batch file renamer. If you have three hundred files with the wrong extension, this is the program to fix that. Very full-featured and an intuitive interface.

Netscape Communicator 4.8.

This has a very good email client (Netscape Messenger) and a decent WYSIWYG HTML editor (Netscape Composer) in it. The latter is not a patch on Dreamweaver, but it is freeware. Also, good freeware WYSIWYG HTML editors are rare. Worth a look, if you’re doing simple pages.

NVU.

A WYSIWYG HTML editor. A good freeware alternative to Dreamweaver. Only demerit is it uses styles to format HTML.

HTML to Text converters.

HTML As Text,HTML Stripper and Simple HTML To Text Converter.

GetLeft.

A HTTP website downloader utility.

OffByOne Browser.

A small, stand-alone web browser. Useful in emergencies.

Xenu Link Checker.

Checks for 404 and other web errors in a site.

CGI-Telnethttp://www.rohitab.com/cgiscripts/cgitelnet.html

A cgi script that allows you to run commands on your server, even if your web host won’t give you telnet access. Also good for getting at files generated by other scripts that are owned by user ‘nobody’, instead of your username. Ever tried deleting them? Well, now you can.

Swap.pl

A Perl text replacer script. Handy if you’re not familiar with Unix commands. Make sitewide changes in seconds. The original author’s site doesn’t list it any more. Can still be found via a search engine.

AXS Visitor Tracking Systemhttp://www.xav.com/

A very fine hit counter. Fairly simple to set up, if you use footer files on your site. Gives detailed information. Much better than the stats software that came with your web-hosting account.

Putty Telnet/SSH Client http://www.chiark.greenend.org.uk/~sgtatham/putty/

A simple-looking, but sophisticated, freeware telnet and SSH client. Can be run from a floppy disk. Useful for the mobile webmaster.

RFTP 32 Version 0.99

Not currently available from the author’s website. This is a self-contained FTP client that can be, you guessed it, run from a floppy disk. Search around for a file named ‘rftp.exe’.
Note: FTP is no longer a safe protocol; passwords are sent in plain text and can copied by trojans. Use SFTP instead. (See WinSCP above.)

Email Remover 2.4

Not currently available from the author’s website, but can be found by Googling for a file named ‘eremov24.zip’. This is an email account checker. It can be run from a floppy disk and can check multiple email accounts. Allows you to highlight spam and delete it, and download emails if need be. WARNING: It has a bug. Do not change the order of the emails in the software window before deleting; you’ll end up deleting the wrong ones.

7-Zip

A great alternative to Winzip.

With the softwares above you can get a lot more work done, much faster and more easily!