The Web for You: Year in Review

It’s hard to believe, but The Web for You is already a year old! I know it’s been a very interesting year for me as I tried my hand at blogging for the first time, and I hope that you have found some useful tips, tricks, and ideas along the way. For anyone who might be a new reader, I’d like to take a short moment to review some of the more interesting posts from the past year.

  • Register your domain name for free
    My first significant post highlighted a service then called “Microsoft Office Live” (which was later re-named to Microsoft Office Small Business Live, which I’ve shortened to MOSBL). The free service from Microsoft offered free domain name registration and Web site hosting, which is what initially prompted me to start my Web site and blog (which is not connected to the site). I don’t know of anywhere else that someone can register and host a Web site free of charge!

    Unfortunately, MOSBL was then in beta, and when the final release was launched, Microsoft only offered the free hosting. You could still use the hosting service with your own domain name, but you’d have to pay to register the domain (Which doesn’t cost very much – perhaps $15/year).

    While the free Web site hosting and domain registration were great, users were forced to  use the built-in “Page Designer” tools to design and build their sites. These tools were so restrictive that my frustration with using them prompted most of the ideas I’ve had over the past year. They were ideas I came up with to help me work around the limitations in MOSBL.

    Fortunately, Microsoft no longer requires users to use the built-in “Page Designer” tools (althoutgh they are available for anyone who wants to use them), which frees me up to design my site as I see fit. MOSBL still doesn’t allow ASP or ASP.NET scripting (or any type of server-side scripting), but there are plenty of ways around that.

    For more information, see my blog posts tagged “Microsoft Office Live Basic” and “Content Management.”

  • E-commerce solution
    In searching for ways to make my static, HTML-based Web site look, feel, and perform more like a modern, dynamic Web 2.0 site, I stumbled across Zoho Creator, an extremely powerful, free Web service that allows people to create online applications for managing, manipulating, and delivering data. It occurred to me that this type of application might be a useful way to set up an e-commerce function on any Web site. I decided that PayPal was the best choice for processing the payments. Although most other payment services will work, I focused my examples on PayPal, but they can easily be adapted to fit Google Checkout or many other services.

    Using Zoho Creator’s powerful tools, I was able to create a Web-based set of forms where product details could be added and edited quickly and easily by anone with the appropriate permissions. I extended the idea so that this same database could automatically create (and adjust) the  appropriate PayPal scripts to display on the Web site. My initial experience with PayPal made me quickly realize that, should someone change the price for their product, they would have to change it in 3-4 places to ensure everyone would see the correct price. The price would have to be changed in the main catalog, the “buy now” or “add to cart” button in the main catalog (if used), the product detail page, and the “buy now” or “add to cart” button in the product detail page. This was unacceptable to me, since it leaves so much room for errors. Using a Zoho Creator database and some clever scripting, however, I was able to “automatically” change the price (and any other details) everywhere simultaneously, just by editing the data in my Web form.

    This idea worked out very well, and actually brought a lot of traffic to my fledgling blog and Web site. Several other bloggers even picked up the idea and shared it with their readers.

    In fact, Zoho Creator worked out so well for me, that I used it for a wide variety of other projects as well.

  • Content Management
    After my success with using Zoho Creator as a content management tool for my Web catalog, I embarked on a series of posts about various types of content management tools, many of which made use of Zoho Creator to help store, arrange, and deliver the required contents to my site.

    I discussed several different types of content management tools, including:

    • AjaxIncludes
      This powerful Javascript tool can be used to embed the contents of one file directly into another. I make extensive use of ajaxincludes scripts on my site to provide a consistent shell for every page on the site. All of my navigation menus, page backgrounds, header images, page layouts, and table structures are delivered to every page via ajaxincludes. This makes it a lot easier for me to update page elements site-wide without having to go through and make the same changes over and over again on every page.
    • Zoho Creator
      As I mentioned, my product catalog makes extensive use of Zoho Creator to deliver the right information about my products to both the catalog and product details pages. Similarly, my Recommended Resources pages are built and delivered exclusively by Zoho Creator. These pages, unlike my product catalog, also include the option for visitors to the site to recommend their own resources or links for inclusion in the list, again using Zoho Creator.

      For an overview of how this works, please see my post titled “Content Management Using JSON Feeds.”

    • Texty
      While searching for content management solutions, I came across Texty, which promised to deliver a simple, yet elegant, content management solution free of charge. Simply log in to Texty, write your content, and drop the HTML script they provide into your Web site where you want the content to appear, and you’re done!

      While Texty provides a simple and elegant solution in and of itself, I decided to combine the service with Zoho Creator to see if it would be possible to create an entire Web site (or, in my case, a subsection of a site) with a single page that could be programmed to deliver a wide variety of contents. In Content Management: Building a sitemap for dynamic Texty content, I explained how some pretty advanced scripting would allow you to build a single page that could not only list your available contents, but also display them, depending on “tags” appended to the URL. For example, look at http://lockworldherald.com/Documents/articles.aspx, compared to http://lockworldherald.com/Documents/articles.aspx?article=0711-olpc. Although both pages have the same internal code, the actual contents vary depending on the tags provided.

  • Search Engine Optimization (SEO)
    All of this work with external content management systems, while very powerful and useful, did result in some problems. Although the methods I used would be ideal for a small community Web site with an existing audience (A personal, school, or church Web site, for example, where the site did not need to rely on traffic originating from Web searches). For small businesses, however, the story is different. These sites rely on traffic driven to their sites by Web search engines. The content management systems I’ve described in my posts tend to scatter the valuable contents of your site across the Web onto other sites, such as http://creator.zoho.com and www.texty.com. Someone searching for something you offer on your site might find the content you’ve created without ever visiting your site to see what else you have to offer.

    To further complicate things, javascript-based content management makes the content you embed in your Web site completely invisible to search engine spiders, who only see the hard-coded (or server-generated) content on your page(s). For a small business struggling to compete with the “Big Dogs” on the Web, this is unacceptable.

    Yet another twist is that, for people who want to embed advertising from programs like Google AdSense, the content delivered to your page(s) via javascript cannot be used to target your ads to your content, which means that if any paid advertisements ever make it to your site, they are unlikely to generate much interest with your audience.

    Of the content management solutions I’ve described, Texty does the best job of maximizing your SEO. Although your content will still show up in the search engines with a texty.com URL, users who click on the link can be re-directed to a page you specify in your Texty’s settings. While not perfect, it is the best of the methods described above.

  • RSS feeds for your site
    My latest efforts have focused around creating RSS feeds for your Web site. RSS is a powerful way to deliver targeted messages to the people who have directly expressed an interest in your site by subscribing to your feed. I’ve described a simple and more complex method of creating an RSS feed for your site, as well as provided the meta tags necessary to enable your feed to be visible to your readers.

What’s next?
Here’s a sneak peek at some of the projects I’m working on, so you will know what to expect during the second year of The Web for You

  • Product Review: Listgarden
    To continue on with my earlier theme of creating an RSS feed for your site, I thought it might be worthwhile to share my favorite RSS creation tool with my readers. Listgarden is a powerful, free program for creating and managing RSS feeds. It works on Windows, Mac, and Linux systems.
  • Web advertising: Is it worth it?
    I realized that before I had my own ad-free site, I hated to see someone else’s advertisements plastered all over my carefully-created Web pages. But once I had my own site, the promise of making money just by displaying ads to my site visitors convinced me to advertise on my Web site once more. I plan to share my thoughts about Web advertising and, hopefully, make a decision once and for all about whether I should continue to advertise on my site and my blog.
  • Use Texty to provide “instant comments” to any Web page
    If nothing else, Texty can easily be used to provide a quick and efficient system of comments to any page on your site. You don’t need to do any fancy scripting or build your own comment-management system.
  • Build your own “TinyURL”
    TinyURL is well known for taking long, complicated URLs and shrinking them down into bite-sized chunks. Although it’s a very powerful tool, it does have its drawbacks. For one thing, many people are hesitant to click on a URL that doesn’t make the domain name clearly visible in the link. Clicking on a TinyURL could bring up anything in the Web browser, so people will naturally be cautious about clicking on one of these links unless they know and trust the sender. Furthermore, TinyURL’s links, though short, are not intuitive. They typically include a random string of numbers and/or letters, making them difficult to  remember.

    With this post, I will show you how you can create your own TinyURL system with your own domain name and more intuitive links. For example, try visiting lockworldherald.com?openCD. This is much shorter and easier to remember than the true URL, which is http://lockworldherald.com/catalog/productDetails/1.aspx. Similarly, lockworldherald.com?olpc is easier to remember than http://lockworldherald.com/Documents/articles.aspx?article=0711-olpc. Not only are these URLs easier to remember, they have the advantage of being identified as belonging to my site, so my readers will know what they’re getting into before they click them.

  • Newsletter application
    I will be detailing how you can use Zoho Creator to build, preview, and deliver e-mail marketing messages or newsletters. Not only can Zoho Creator handle the process of assembling and mailing the messages, it can also give users a convenient way to subscribe to and unsubscribe from your mailing list.
  • Search-Engine friendly content management
    As I mentioned previously, most javascript-powered content management systems utterly destroy your site’s searchability. I have several ideas in the works for building a more localized content management system that will allow you to build your Web pages dynamically without hiding all of the “good stuff” from search engines. The system will combine a more advanced version of ajaxincludes with the ability to read and manipulate data from a spreadsheet created and edited with Microsoft Excel, OpenOffice.org Calc, or other spreadsheet tools. Just a word of caution…this will take a lot of heavy-duty scripting, but the results should be well worth it.
  • And much, much more…
    Of course, there will be other ideas I’ll share with you as I think of them. If you have any ideas or suggestions about what you’d like to see covered, feel free to share them in the comments.


That’s all for today…now get out there and Write the Web!

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