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7 benefits of using an Open Source CMS


16. January 2010 17:19

With both large and small organisations turning to open source content management solutions (CMS) including high profile websites like Whitehouse.gov, we look at the some of the benefits of using an open source CMS.

Floppy disk dismantled

  1. No propriety license fees - More development time and money can go on creating a beautiful website than on the CMS.
  2. High quality and stable software - Many hours of development have gone into building open source software by a community of skilled and dedicated programmers.
  3. Safe and secure - Generally if security holes are discovered software patches for open source software are released very quickly.
  4. Customisable - Because the source code is accessible, there are always plenty of plug-ins contributed by the community to add functionality to open source CMS.
  5. Large communities - Generally open source projects have a large active community who can help you solve problems.
  6. Source code is freely available - Should you ever need to tinker with the core software you have access to the code.
  7. Not locked into a single vendor - Other developers can easily extend or update your website should you ever need to.

Picture used under Creative Commons from Rob Hayes

Basic Guide to Editing your Website


29. December 2009 18:33

CMS content tree

Making changes to your website when you have a Content Management System (CMS) couldn’t be easier!

When your website goes live you will be issued with a unique username and password to access to your control panel.

Once you’ve logged in you’ll see a content tree on the left-hand side that represents the pages and hierarchy of your website.

By right-clicking the Home icon with your mouse you’ll access a menu that will allow you to reorder the pages on your website navigation.

By right-clicking an individual web page underneath the home page you’ll be able to revert any changes you make to that page to a previous version just in case you make a change and then need to undo it.

 

The Web Page Editor

Selecting a page in the tree will allow you to edit that page in the main editor (see below) which is as easy as typing a letter in a word processor like Microsoft® Word.

You’ll be able to modify the text on your web pages, change the style of the text, add and change pictures, insert tables, bullet lists and links etc.

CMS editor

The Editor Toolbar

The editor toolbar is very simple to learn.  Apart from the usual bold, delete, anchor and insert image icons, the three icons on the left are worth explaining further.
The save button Save button saves your changes, but doesn’t update the live site.  The second button Save and publish button saves your changes and publishes your changes to the live website.  The third iconPreview button along previews your changes so you can check them before you publish if you wish.

CMS toolbar

The Media Section

The Media section allows you to manage the files and pictures you upload to use on your website.  You access the Media section via the pane at the bottom left of your CMS window.  These will then be available to add to your web pages via the editor.

Media tree

The Web Development Process


22. August 2009 17:56

From an initial client brief through to site launch the web development process can be divided up into a number of stages.  Here is a quick overview of what is involved in each stage. 

Analysis

The analysis stage involves talking to the client to gather requirements and determining the websites objectives.

The analysis stage will ensure the team understand the client's needs which is vital in ensuring the project delivers a solution that achieves the client's objectives.

Skills and resources required to complete the project will be assessed and a project plan will be put in place to deliver the website in line with the client's requirements.

A cost to deliver the project will be calculated and a proposal sent to the client.

Information Architecture & User Experience Specification

Assuming the client is happy to proceed and a signed proposal and deposit have been received, the specification stage will begin.

This involves defining how the information contained in the website will be presented in the form of a sitemap and set of wire frames diagrams.  These help develop the hierarchy, structure and navigation of the web pages that form the website and how each page will be laid out structurally. 

This stage is important as it will effect how users locate the information on your site they are looking for, a poorly structured site can hinder potential customers, which may mean fewer sales if they can't find what they are looking for quickly enough.

If the website contains interactivity that cannot be captured by a wireframe or sitemap, a functional spec will be written to communicate the intended functionality.

Web Content

Ideally the web copy should be sourced from the client before the web design stage as the content forms a large proportion of the design and the length of the copy on key pages can influence how a page is laid out and designed.

Where possible professionally written web copy is preferred as it will ideally include keywords and phrases to assist the search engine optimisation process.

Once the copy has been written another copywriter should proof-read it for typos, style and inconsistencies.

Web Design

A web designers job will involve taking output from the first three stages of the development process (the client brief, web copy, site map and wireframes) together with any existing corporate branding to produce a design for the website.

Web Development

Following the client approval of the design, the development phase can begin.  This stage will see the design transformed into HTML, CSS and JavaScript.

Depending on the requirements of the client, a content management system may be built onto the website to allow the client to make website amends through an easy to use administration panel.

Once complete, a prototype will be deployed to a test website so the client can submit feedback.

Quality Assurance

The QA testing phase aims to ready the website for launch. 

The website will be tested on a number of popular web browsers and versions (Internet Explorer, Opera, Firefox, Safari, Chrome), platforms (Apple Mac, PC) and monitor sizes.

The website code will be checked for errors and conformity to W3C guidelines for HTML and CSS.  Web accessibility compliance will also be checked.

The site will be inspected for broken links and missing images, and any forms on the site will be rigorously tested.

Deployment

The deployment of the website will differ depending if the site is new or a redesign of an existing website.  It generally involves migrating databases and website files to a live server, pointing domain name(s), setting up mailboxes and generally ensuring the site is running smoothly.

Deploying a website that is replacing an existing website is more involved as it requires special instructions in-place to ensure users who have bookmarked pages of the old site will be redirected to the most appropriate page on the new website.  This also helps search engines update its index.

Website Promotion

This stage is vital to ensure you get visitors and potential customers arriving at your new website. 

Depending on the most appropriate strategy for your website this can include search engine marketing, search engine optimisation techniques and or traditional offline marketing.

Maintenance and Updating

Most websites will require updating every now and then to keep them current, these may be simple content updates made through a content management system or slight changes to the design/navigation which require technical assistance.

Occasionally a bug or error might be discovered with the website and need correcting.

Why do I Need a Website for my Business?


30. May 2009 14:40

Some businesses even today don’t see the value or need for a website.  Here are a number of reasons to help make that decision easier.

Keep up with the competition

More and more businesses have websites compared to a few years ago, so the chances are most of your competition have websites too.  Having a website allows your customers or potential customers to find and browse your products or services at their own leisure, and potentially find out a lot more information than they would through other forms of communication. 

Cost effective advertising

Designing and printing professional-looking catalogues and brochures is an expensive job, and when your products or services change you need to reprint them.  The cost of building and maintaining a website has fallen over the last few years as the industry has started to mature and the competition has grown.
If you opt for a content management system, then you’ll be able to update your website yourself!

Attract new customers

Whether your business sells directly to consumers or to other businesses, the volume of business done over the web continues to climb year upon year.  Many people now use a search engine such as Google to source information, products or services. 

In order to tap into this potential market you first need to have a website from which you can start to build your online presence.

If you are still unsure whether there is money to be made, don’t believe the hype, ask your customers!

Sell your products or services to a larger audience

The web has opened up a whole new market place for many businesses that used to only offer their products and services to customers in their local vicinity.  Many companies now successfully sell their products over the internet to a national or even international audience that just wasn’t possible before.

What’s more, creating an ecommerce website isn’t as complicated or as expensive as it used to be.

Improve your competitive advantage

The web has started to level the playing field.  A well designed and optimised website will allow a small company to compete with much larger companies online.  The web has a much lower cost of entry allowing you more room to shout about your products and compete with the big guys.

Your online presence is always available 24/7

You may not answer the phone or your emails around the clock, but with a website your products or services are online 24 hours a day 7 days a week.  We all lead such busy lives that it is entirely possible that your customers might want to research or purchase your products or services outside your normal opening hours.

Publish an FAQ on your site

How many hours a week do you spend answering the same customer queries by email or telephone?
If you had an FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions) section on your website you could direct your customers to your FAQ page and save yourself a lot of time and effort.


If you’re coming around to the idea of getting a website built for your business, make sure you read this article to help make you aware of the cost of maintaining your website once you’ve had it built.

Determine Your Long-Term Website Total Cost of Ownership


5. May 2009 15:02

Your website is a shop window for your business, which will need to grow and change with your business and be able to inform your customers of your latest products or services, news, awards etc.

A common pitfall sometimes overlooked by new website owners is the on-going cost of ownership. There are very few website owners who will be happy leaving their website unchanged since the day it went live, but they don’t often factor in the cost of maintaining and keeping the website up-to-date. 
Likewise many people forget that a website will not magically sell itself.  Time and money will need to be invested in search engine optimisation (SEO) and search engine marketing (SEM) in order to bring new customers in.  The same can be said for retaining existing customers, where keeping a database of names and addresses can be very beneficial to communicate with your existing client base.

If you are looking to get a website built or re-designed it makes a lot of sense to spend a few minutes thinking about the total cost of ownership (TCO).  How much will your website actually cost beyond the initial design and build stage?

You should consider the following: 

  • Website design & build
  • Search engine optimisation (on-page and off-page) – Off-page SEO is an on-going specialist task which will help your site in Google’s “organic” listings
  • Search engine marketing (SEM) – Pay per click advertising e.g. Google Adwords
  • Website maintenance – Updating the site text, adding new sections etc
  • Content management systems – Enabling you to update the website yourself
  • HTML newsletters design, build and broadcast costs

Some web design companies will offer all of these services, whereas some agencies will specialise in only certain areas. 
It makes sense to look at the track record of companies you hire in order to make sure not only you can work with them, but that they can work with other agencies you hire to deliver the type of service you require, in the time-frames your business demands.