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How to avoid website growing pains

By Jennifer Johnson
Posted Friday, October 1, 2004

I remember how proud I was when I designed my first site.

I worked so hard to design the graphics, write the articles, and grow my traffic. It eventually grew to around 100 pages. Not huge by any stretch of the imagination, but a decent size for one with mainly original content.

I also remember very well the day I decided to change the design and add some new sections ... and the days and nights of what seemed like an endless nightmare that followed when I had to manually go in and add the new code for graphics and navigation to all those pages.

You see, being fairly new to site design, I jumped in with both feet and just started building. There was not a lot of real "planning"; my main concern was the here and now - getting the site up and running ASAP.

If you're just starting to build your site, it's worth investing a little time now in planning and discovering a few of the "tricks" and tools that can be employed to save you a lot of hard work (and headaches) later.

Use Templates

Templates are one of the easiest time-saving tools to use. They are simply "patterns" for your site pages.

Several of the popular HTML/WYSIWYG editors allow you to make and save templates. If you write your own code, as I do, simply design and save a document that contains the "skeleton" of your pages so all you have to do when adding new content is type it in, change the page title and the META "description" and "keywords" tags, and you're good to go.

In addition to making your job as a webmaster a heck of a lot easier, templates allow you to maintain a consistent look and feel throughout your site - which is perceived by many visitors as being more user-friendly.

Use SSI

If you ask me, SSI is the best thing since triple chocolate cheesecake.

SSI stands for "Server Side Include", an HTML comment line that contains a command/directive. It allows you to dynamically generate web pages - in other words, your documents are created "on the fly".

There are many uses for SSI. One of them is that it can make maintaining and updating your site's navigation a snap by taking advantage of the "INCLUDE" directive. Basically, this allows you to insert one document inside another.

Let's say you create a file called "navigation.htm" that contains the images and links for your site's navigation. If you add this snip of code

<!--#include file="navigation.htm"-->

to your "index.shtml" document, the contents of "navigation.htm" will be inserted where the include tag line is located within "index.shtml". In this case, when "index.shtml" is generated, it will contain your navigation scheme in the spot you placed the include tag line.

The beauty of this is that when you change your site navigation structure you only have to change *one document* (navigation.htm) as opposed to manually changing *every page* in your site.

For more information on SSI, visit the Web Developer's Virtual Library <http://www.wdvl.com> and consult your hosting provider to find out if SSI is included in your package and how to implement it.

Leave Room For Ads

Even if you're just starting out and don't plan on including advertising on your site, it's wise to design the site in such a way that adding banners, buttons, etc. will be possible should you decide to do so.

If you use fixed widths in your tables - and we don't want to open up the absolute v. relative width debate here - make sure your main section can accommodate a 468x60 banner.

You'll also want to be sure to actually leave a place to put the banners or buttons, whether it be vertically along the left or right side, horizontally across the top or bottom, or some combination of both.

At this point in time, advertising banners may not be a concern. However, if your site grows enough to support paid advertising and/or if you decide to promote affiliate programs using banners or buttons, it's nice if you can implement those options without a lot of hassle.

Always Plan Ahead!

It's easy to get so consumed with finishing your site and going live that you think you don't have time to devote to extensive planning.

If you want to save yourself a lot of time and trouble in the long run, though, it's best to keep the future in mind when developing your site. After all, when you hit it big, you want to be able to sit back for a few moments and enjoy your success - and build on it - rather than stressing out over what you should have done initially and be forced to go back to the drawing board.

About the Author
Jenny is offering banners at $29, both static and animated, and she's very, very good at this kind of thing. She'll be doing more soon enough, so if you need a banner, go for it now while this price is available. (http://jBanner.com/)