Maintaining a Website

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There is little doubt that creating a website opens up doors for any forward-thinking business, whether it be for e-commerce, web based applications or simply for advertising the company’s products. But equally important is the need to dedicate time to maintaining a website and to continually monitor and review the ways in which the website is benefitting the company on an ongoing basis. Successful companies measure the effectiveness of the website against initial objectives and decide how it needs to evolve as the business environment changes.

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Development Platform and Web Server

Once you have made the decision to create a website, it is easy to become confused by the wide choice of development platforms that are available as a base upon which to design and create your site. The development platform that you ultimately choose will not only be determined by cost criteria but will be driven by the degree of sophistication and functionality required of the site. The only fixed prerequisite will be a web server, which can be your own server based at your premises or, more commonly, will be located at a third party web hosting firm. The selection of the right web host is vital in establishing a manageable and cost effective web presence. There are a large number of hosting firms and a bewildering array of features and packages on offer. You need to work with your design agency to ensure the selection of the right host. Factors range from simple issues such as support hours through to complex technical set-up and reputation criteria which may affect the long term success of the site in many ways, including ease and cost of maintenance. A poor host can even create problems in achieving search engine rankings.

Scripting Languages

The most basic websites are written in HTML, a tag based scripting environment that provides for the displays of (largely) static content via a web browser. HTML was the sole basis of many of the very earliest websites from the early 1990s. Although HTML is still an essential part of any site today, demand for dynamic content on websites led to the introduction of a range of dynamic scripting languages. These allow the web server to create the content of a web page “on the fly”, providing browsers with a combination of HTML and in some cases other “client side” scripts such as JavaScript which provide enhanced functionality to the end user. Popular scripting languages now include Microsoft’s Windows Active Server Pages (ASP), latterly in the form of ASP.net which is a web application framework widely used today to create anything from a basic site to a complex web application. Linux sites tend to use PHP scripting to achieve similar results. By dynamically creating pages, often driven by information held and modified in an underlying database, the maintenance burden in keeping your site layouts and content up to date should be dramatically reduced.

Publishing Packages

As websites grew ever more sophisticated and interactive, more and more packages were created to help structure and design websites easily. Microsoft Frontpage was developed around ten years ago as a website administration tool to allow relatively non-technical users to create websites without any knowledge of HTML, aided by a bundled image composer, web templates and a range of built-in automation features. Other popular publishing packages include Macromedia’s Dreamweaver, Coldfusion and various offerings from Adobe and Corel, to name but a few. Once again, an experienced design agency can use or recommend the most appropriate package for your site. Most packages will, again, substantially reduce the costs of ongoing maintenance. However, packages come at a price and this is not just limited to the licensing costs. The code produced by many packages is not necessarily particularly well optimised for performance or for vital search engine indexing. It is well worth seeking advice in these areas.

Content Management Systems

Whatever your business, fresh content is a vital element in search engine optimisation (SEO) helping to secure and preserve visibility in the search engine results for your site. Working with web technologies has now entered a new age with the development of Content Management Systems (CMS) such as Joomla and WordPress. These are software packages that can manage every item of content that makes up your website, including text, photos, videos, frames and interactive applications. Some CMS solutions also include pre-built solutions for blogging, user forums and so forth. Although these systems still utilise traditional coding “under the bonnet”, they are becoming ever more sophisticated and user-friendly, further minimising the technical skills required and reducing the maintenance burden.

The Right Development Partner

Although the temptation may be for businesses to go it alone and attempt to develop and maintain their own website, there are a multitude of dedicated professionals who are well-versed in the technologies that underpin website development. These firms are able to respond to changing business needs and to develop modifications and add-ons to help your internet solution meet your long-term business goals. Never underestimate the importance of discussing your needs at the outset with a reputable web design firm before making any final decisions regarding your website development, its technology and the platform on which it is to be hosted. The right choices made at the outset will significantly impact the cost and time associated with keeping the site abreast with changes in your business.

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