Articles for Webmasters     5 Golden Rules for Creating Easy-Maintenance Websites

Website maintenance is often overlooked in the drive to get a new site up and running. The content has been created, images added, all sorts of bells and whistles installed, and a multitude of pages uploaded to the web server. Now there is nothing to do but relax and watch the money roll in – or is there? Two facts of life mean that work on a website is an on-going process.

  1. If the website relates to any useful aspect of life as we know it, the content will need to be updated as events demand change.
  2. Search engines place a low priority on websites where there is little change, as their relevance is doubtful. To rank highly in search engine results, a website must show evidence of on-going maintenance.
The following website development rules will ensure that the maintenance process is as pain-free and simple as it can be.

Rule 1 – Keep Your Web Page Structure Simple

How often have you visited websites where each web page looks like it was created by a different developer. Colors are not standard, navigation options differ from page to page, fonts differ, and images differ in size and placement. Each page is a design task in its own right. If the maintenance process is to be speeded up, pages must have common layout and design standards that minimise the thinking process. Page width and structure should be tightly defined, for example page width could be 950 pixels, the menu column 200 pixels wide, and the title banner 950 x 150 pixels. The rest of the page can be divided into simple chunks as necessary, but avoid the temptation to create too many controlled spaces. A few well-defined areas in which the content can flow freely are all that is required.

Rule 2 – Use a Style Sheet

If your website has 100 pages and you want to change the font color using HTML, that will have to be done individually on each page. The same is true for any other aspect of the page design that is specified in HTML tags. By using a CSS style sheet however, the style definition can be contained on one page, and a change to a value in the style sheet will be reflected instantaneously on all web pages using it. An important consideration is that when using a style sheet you should use the current industry standard of CSS code. There are obscure options that can be recognized by particular makes and versions of browsers, but if maintenance is to be kept simple you should only use CSS code that can be interpreted by all browsers.

Rule 3 – Use a Simple Site Folder Structure

In an attempt to be highly organized and in control, some website developers create lots of folders and subfolders to hold web pages and other content. Multiple backup copies are created, and before long the developers aren’t sure which version of the site is live and what represents ‘current’ content. The opposite problem can also arise where all files used in a website are uploaded into a single root folder. Finding an individual web page can take ages due to the volume of files. For an easy-maintenance website, keep your web pages in the root folder, images in an ‘images’ folder, and any other documents such as PDFs or spreadsheets in a ‘docs’ folder. This will be sufficient sub-division for all but the largest sites.

Rule 4 – Use Meaningful Data Names

Just because you can give a file or image any name you want, does not mean it is a good idea to do so. There are two reasons for this.

  1. The nature and content of an item will be instantly recognizable if its name reflects its content, for example ‘button-home.jpg’
  2. If the name of files and folders contain words used in search engine queries, the page will be deemed to be more relevant to that query.
The use of images in a web page can be simplified if their size is included in the image name, for example ‘beach300x220.jpg’. Standardizing on image sizes can make life even more simple when using the same images on several pages, or mixing images.

Rule 5 – The Live Website Should Mirror the Development Site

When developers are new to the website development process, or lack confidence in what they do, they tend to keep many versions of web pages and images in a variety of folders. As a result, they often get mixed up when uploading the live version. Even worse, using ‘Save As’ in Dreamweaver to save a web page in a different folder results in references to page components such as images having a directory file path as part of their reference, for example ‘file:///C|/websites/images/title.jpg’. When uploaded to the server, the addresses for images etc. no longer work. To avoid this problem, ensure that the folder and file structure on your development computer is a direct copy of the folder structure on the web server. That way, all relative file references will continue to work.

The overriding principle in creating websites that are easily maintained is that the structure of the site and individual web pages should be simple and consistent. Develop your own familiar standards, and when you have to revisit that site you haven’t seen for five years, you will be able to make amendments quickly and efficiently because now you know how the world works.

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