Content Management Systems explained

A different type of content managementYou’ve probably heard the phrase CMS or Content Management System. I’ll explain what it is and some of the benefits.

A CMS is a system which sits behind a website and allows you to edit a website easily. It’s called a content management system because it specifically allows changes to the content of the website – the text, images and links on pages – but not the layout or design, which stays fixed.

The usual method of changing web content is by logging in and gaining access to an admin or control panel. This gives options of creating, editing or deleting pages as well as setting up page order and hierarchy (which pages are sub-options of others).

When it comes to editing pages this is normally done through a visual or WYSIWYG editor, which is short for “What You See Is What You Get” so no knowledge of HTML or web page coding is required. It’s very easy to use, as easy as using Microsoft Word, probably easier. You write your page’s content in a large text area and have buttons to help with formatting – Bold, Italics, Underline, bullets, numbering, text alignment, indent, etc. You may be able to select from a limited range of fonts though this is usually controlled by the design template to ensure a consistent look and feel throughout the site. The best part is, you don’t even have to use the WYSIWYG editor – you can simply paste your content from another application, like Word.

As well as working with text you can insert various media – images, video clips, audio files, Flash.

So, what are the benefits? Well, the main benefit is that anyone can use it which means that your site can be managed by anyone. In a medium or large company that means anyone in a team, not just the IT person or contracted web design company. For a small private site it gives you full freedom to control your content and changes happen instantly – no more waiting for the web designer to make your changes.

If you’re still using a static website and relying on someone else to update it, it’s time to take control and manage your own content.

Web Design for Different Screen Sizes

When you design for print media you work with graphics and text and arrange them in a way that is both pleasing to the eye and conveys your message. With the web you have to do the same but there’s a whole lot more to it.

With print, the publication has a fixed size. With web design, the size of the page can vary. Imagine trying to paint a picture when your canvas keeps changing size. Users view web pages through different devices and different software with different screen resolutions. Most web pages are still viewed on a computer screen but these days can equally be viewed on mobile phones, PDAs, web books, even games consoles. In terms of software, the main web browsers are Microsoft Internet Explorer and Mozilla Firefox but there is a whole host of others. You may have heard of Chrome, Safari, Opera and beyond that mobile devices use their own. Each web browser is a program designed to interpret and display web page code (HTML) but they all interpret it slightly differently so when writing the code you have to be sure it will display as you want it to. As well as conventional web browsers there are also specialised screen readers which read the text on a web page aloud for those with visual impairments. This is where accessible design comes into play. As if that wasn’t enough to contend with, individual users also have different screen resolutions, some viewing the same content on a screen resolution 4 times larger than others.

Areas of the screen can be stretched or squashed to fit with the screen size and, rather than being given fixed heights and widths, are given maximum and minimum dimensions within which they can move.

So, when you look at a web page, you need to realise that what you see will probably not be exactly the same as what others see. The content should be the same but the layout will vary.

As people buy newer computers with larger monitors and higher resolutions websites need to be redesigned. The majority of users in the UK use a Windows PC with Internet Explorer 7 and a screen resolution of 1024×768 pixels. Three years ago the typical UK user would have been using Internet Explorer version 6 with a screen resolution of only 800×600 pixels. If you haven’t redesigned your website in the last 3 years it’s time it was optimised for the new generation of visitors.

Links, link exchanges and strategies

There’s so much written about links, linking strategies, link exchanges and so much conflicting advice out there. How do you know who or what to believe?

Well, it’s actually quite simple. Don’t listen to anyone, not even me. When it comes to links and what you should do let’s see what Google has to say. Google has a Webmasters section of their site which gives clear guidelines of what you should and shouldn’t do. Read it. Do it.

On the subject of links this page is a good place to start: Creating a Google-friendly site: Best practices > Link schemes.

Google’s advice: “some webmasters engage in link exchange schemes and build partner pages exclusively for the sake of cross-linking, disregarding the quality of the links, the sources, and the long-term impact it will have on their sites. This is in violation of Google’s webmaster guidelines and can negatively impact your site’s ranking in search results.”

In summary, links are important but it’s about quality not just quantity.

Getting links is difficult. If people like your site’s content they will link to it. The more people link to it, the more people see it and so on in a snowball effect. But… how do you get people to like your content when nobody is viewing it because you don’t have enough incoming links – it’s a vicious circle. How do you get your little snowball started down the hill?

Give it a little push. Here are 3 great ways to get going:

1. Add your site to directories, not any directory going but directories where the theme or content is relevant to your site. Try a Google search for your theme or industry plus the word “directory” or “listing” and see if you can add your site. You could also try “add site” or “submit your site” to see where you can get a free link. Before going too mad creating directory links remember it’s about quality as well as quantity – it’s all quite logical – a link from a site where you’re allowed to add your own links isn’t going to be worth as much as a link that someone else has chosen to add.

2. Get involved in forums or online communities. Find sites relevant to your site where you are allowed to contribute and join in. Don’t be obvious and steam in advertising your site but get involved in discussions, try to help people out and, soon enough, if they’re interested in what you’ve got to say they’ll look at your site.

3. Blog. Write articles or posts, just like this one, and post it on your own site or submit it to a blogging or article site. Be sure to include an interesting headline and some links back to your site. Submit this to the right blog search engines (e.g. Technorati, Digg) and it will be read and passed around gaining you not only links but visitors in the process. Pssst – I know a very good blog designer.

What is a website visitor worth?

What are your visitors worth?When looking at investing money in trying to get more visitors to your website you need to first work out what a visitor is worth to you.

So, how do you work it out? Well, to do it at a basic level is very simple. Choose a time period to analyse – the last 12 months, last 3 months, last 30 days, etc. Now, in this period see how much profit you made and how many visitors your website got. If you’re using a web stats package, unique visitors is the figure to use here. Simply divide the number of unique visitors by the profit and this will give you a mean profit per visitor. You can use this as a basis for spending on gaining more visitors.

Whilst more visitors means more profit you shouldn’t just look at boosting traffic but try to actively increase the value of each online visitor. If a visitor becomes more likely to buy from you they become more valuable and investing money in attracting more visitors then gives you better value for money. So, as well as your traffic you also need to try to improve your conversion rate. The conversion rate is simply the proportion of visitors who buy. There are lots of things you can do to boost your conversion rates but that’s for another day…

Google Chrome – first impressions

I thought I’d just give my tuppence worth on Google‘s new BETA browser, Chrome.

When I first heard about Google’s new browser it was with dread. As a web developer an important part of developing any web page or application is testing that it works in the major browsers. Having another browser on the scene, and with a big name like Google behind it you know it’s going to have a lot of users, means more testing and increases my chances of having to recode.

Before downloading it I read Google‘s page on Why We Built A Browser. The page itself is titled “A fresh take on the browser”. On it Google openly admits “We’ve used components from Apple‘s WebKit and Mozilla‘s Firefox“. So, maybe not an entirely fresh take then?

So, on going in, what are my first impressions? Well, first thought, it looks pretty much the same as IE and Firefox. The browsing tabs have been shifted above the address bar, which, as far as I can see, is just a change for change’s sake rather than serving any useful purpose – why make people have to get used to something new when the browers they are used to work just fine? Other than that, without delving too deep, I’m struggling to find anything radically different.

On the plus side, it doesn’t have loads of toolbars, keeping a nice clean, simple appearance – one of the great strengths of Google’s search engine. After using it for a while, I noticed that it remembers the sites you visit and uses this data intelligently to make it quicker to revisit them. It’s fast too, noticeably quicker than IE.

On the negative side, it doesn’t seem to handle RSS feeds and feed reading as well as IE or Firefox (with RSS add-ons) but I’m sure this will come.

Firefox has been the web professional‘s choice for years now and with good reason. So, will Chrome offer us anything new that Firefox can’t? As I see it, the reason for Firefox‘s success hasn’t been about speed or security but freedom. It’s great strength is that it’s so easy to customise and ease of using add-ons make it much more than a tool for reading web content. I’m assuming that, being an open source project, Chrome will follow suit.

It seems a shame to me that all of the excellent developers out there who have been building add-ons for Firefox will now be split between Firefox and Chrome.

I don’t think that Google will better Firefox but they will be able to match it and with their finances and history of buying up big web companies (YouTube, FeedBurner) I wouldn’t be a bit surprised if we saw Google Firefox before too long.

See what you think – Google Chrome