Learn how to make a website for small business success

Learn how to make a website for small business success
As a small business owner or manager, learning how to create a website to promote your business could be the difference between success and failure.

Our goal is to give business professionals a basic understanding of the many issues involved in creating a website.

The success of your website

Too often people focus on what tools to use to make a website, and not spend enough time on developing the message the website delivers.

I have been active in the webmaster community online since the mid 1990s. I also taught numerous webmaster classes at three different community colleges.  The technology has changed over
the years, but the reasons for creating a website have not. The power of the web is not as a new tool in technology, but as a new form of communication.

You can use technology to be creative, but technology does not take the place of creativity. Just like a hammer and saw doesn't make you a carpenter, fancy technology won't make you better
at your job if you don't understand the tools, and especially how to use them.

Let content be the reason that people use your site, and let good design the reason that people keep coming back.

Focus on your message


The concept of the internet being a "technology thing" rather than a communications tool has been a problem that technology professionals have dealt with since the concept of a webmaster
came about in the 1990s.

When you give a young child a pencil, they do not see the tool as a pencil thing, they see it as a tool to communicate.

As our children grow up and start posting to Facebook, posting to a blog, texting, tweeting, they do not think about the technology that powers these tools, they simply use them as forms of communication.

The power of the web is the ability to allow people to publish ideas, broadcast images and philosophies. In its present form, the internet is an interactive magazine splashed with radio.

As bandwidth continues to get better each year, the internet incorporates more elements of television and multimedia.

The power of your website is to get a message out quickly and efficiently, as you can reach hundreds, thousands, even millions of people, in just a matter of seconds.



Common questions and misconceptions

Responses to many common questions and misconceptions from years of reading various blogs and forums, as well as teaching, have been edited down to the small articles presented here at Smart Technology.

Each topic on the site is presented in a concise stand alone article that you choose to read as you find the time.   The topics are set up with multiple pages that flow like a book to cover a topic in depth. When you are reading a page look at the menu along the right side bar to see other pages on similar topics.

For small business owners and managers the ability to separate the technology issues from the marketing issues is essential to the success of your website. In this section we give some
insight into separating technology and marketing as we answer the question, "Who should be the webmaster?"

Here at Smart Technology Info we look at the tools of creating a website from the perspective of small business owner or managers.  Once you have set a goal on how your website will be used, it is very important for the life of your website that that goal is achieved. The role of the website is to deliver your message, promote your business, your group, your organization.

If you need some inspiration on what message to deliver, many of the sections here at Smart Technology Info can help you.

We can not stress enough the power of the website is to deliver your message.


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Who should be the webmaster?

People who were used to designing flyers and brochures were not prepared to become code geeks and server administrators.When the word webmaster started popping up frequently in the mid 1990s it created confusion and controversy.  In larger organizations the technology professionals that made the resources available were not prepared to become copy writers.

In smaller organizations without technology staff, the marketing people who were used to designing flyers and brochures were not prepared to become code geeks and server administrators.

When seeking to turn a group of web pages into a professional website, it important to first start by defining the roles of the web team from a non-technical perspective.

Depending on the size of the organization, some of the duties of a webmaster may be performed by the same person, while others may be dispersed into existing jobs. How a website is structured from one organization to another will depend upon the size and personality of each location, or each department within each location.

Responsibility of the Webmaster

Evolving from the concepts of newspaper or magazine publishing, the webmaster is the web publisher and chief editor of an entire site for the entire organization. Just like any other type of publishing someone needs to define and organize how the enterprise will operate.

The webmaster does not actually need to perform all the tasks needed to build the site and keep it running, they are simply the person who ensures that these tasks get done. Keep in mind the person with the administrative authority to be the master of the web may not be, nor do they need to be the web architect. In simple terms, the webmaster is the person who manages the editorial content, overall development, and operation of website.

Setting up Your Website Team

The web architect or technical manager manages website identity, navigation, information infrastructure, page templates and graphic standards. While it may not be practical for the web architect to also be the web manager, the theme of the website should be a seamless blend of the editorial content presented by web manager, and the sites look and feel as presented by the web architect.

A local content editor gathers individual content items at each location, and continuously screens new material for proper editorial content. As a website grows, and as the use of the site filters through an organization, you will need more assistance in the day-to-day production of the website. On a local level, each location or department should have at least one local content editor. These people should know the theme of the entire site, or their part of the site, and always be looking for material.

How much style and structure that happens at the local level will vary based on the size of the local website, as well as the expertise of the staff. A larger location or larger department with a proportionally larger website could have a web team which would consist of a group of local content editors and web editors.

The tasks associated with internet marketing may be handled as a function of a sales manager, the public relations department or perhaps even the human resources department.

Most of the general managers of radio stations, TV stations, and similar entities, that I have known over the years were not as much technically oriented people as much as they were sales and marketing people.  While the technology continues to change and advance at a rapid rate, the concept of planning has not really changed all that much over the years. Take a step back and see how the existing members of your organization fit into the tasks of building and maintaining a website.

At Smart Technology we discuss Managing technology from the perspective of a business owner or department manager. This article is written for the small business owner or manager to help them integrate technology into their business. In our companion website ComputerGuru we discuss technology topics. 
 

What web design software should you use to build a website?

Focus not on the tools, but the outcome you desire.Web design software an the tools for building a website have changed over the years. The reasons for building a website have not.

As a community college instructor I focused on teaching people how to build websites, more than how to use software.

Even thought questions on what web development tools are the best to use in building a website are still common, I start with recommending a basic overall understanding of concepts.

I started with teaching basic HTML and other scripting languages such as Javascript, PERL, and PHP. Some people may say that learning the basic fundamentals is more than the average webmaster needs to know, but a basic knowledge of HTML and scripting languages has been useful over the years in troubleshooting web site problems.

After I covered the basic fundamentals concepts, then I moved on to software packages like Dreamweaver and Microsoft Front Page. I have not used desktop based Web site administration tools like these in many years. Currently I focus on the Drupal content management system.

The one constant in building a website over the years is that planning begins with simple tools, like a pencil and a piece of paper, or an outline of ideas and goals in notepad. I taught how to plan a website out on paper with idea maps and story boards before you sat down in front of a computer.

Even with a major evolution in the tools to use, the answer over the years has remained clear, focus not on the tools, but the outcome you desire.

If you were asking someone to build a house, would you ask questions on hammers and saws? Or would you discuss what you wanted the house to look like?

The evolution of website building tools

Let us continue to use the analogy of building a house to put the buzz words of website building into context and help you understand their evolution.

Using HTML is like building a house using a hammer and saw. You manually create the framework. Other scripting languages such as Javascript, PERL, and PHP, helped to add functionality to our house, such as plumbing and electrical systems.

The next generation of tools were website editors like Dreamweaver and Frontpage, which were power tools. Website editors help you to create the framework a lot more quickly, and provide you with a tool kit to make sure all the rooms in your house are created in a consistent manner.

With website editors you installed the software on your local desktop computer and typically built the site on your personal desktop computer and moved the files to the web server once you had your site building done.

The next generation of tools, content management systems, you have a process to mass produce houses. The actual creation of the framework is done more quickly, and you have the ability to replicate anything you create quickly and consistently. I use Drupal as my preferred content management system, others that you may have heard of are WordPress and Joomla.

With a content management system, the software that creates and manages the website is installed on the web server, not on your local desktop. If you do your homework ahead of time, and have some content ready to add to your site, you can have a website up and running in a very short period of time. You can add content quickly and easily from any location having internet access simply by using a web browser.

Technology changes quickly

Website editors and content management system are tools. Don't get hung up thinking too much about the tools. You can quickly get bogged down by the technology that changes often.

Focus on what you want the house to look like and what you want to do with in once you get it built, not the tools you are going to use to build it.
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Want to learn more?

Here at Smart Technology Info we aim to educate people in their roles as business professionals or managers as we try to separate the tasks and tools of technology in this section on managing your website.

If you want to learn more from the perspective of the technology professional check out the section on Learning how to create a website and web design tools at our companion site Computer Guru.  You may want to check out, What is HTML and What is the Value in Learning It?

What is a Content Management System?

Content ManagementWhat is a CMS?

A Website Content Management System (CMS) is a set of tools designed to allow users with little knowledge of website technology or markup languages to create and manage content quickly and easily.

A Content Management System separates the content of a web site, the user added material such as text and images, from the framework of linking pages together and controlling how the pages appear.

The goal of a Content Management System is to make a site easier to maintain than would be the case if it was built exclusively out of hand coded html pages or just using a simple html editor.

The main features of a Content Management System

While the Content Management System is a power tool in the sense that it allows designers and developers a way to create websites, it is also a powerful tool in that once the modules are installed and the theme is created, someone does not need a lot of technology understanding to update and add content.

Once content is separated from the visual presentation of a site, it usually becomes much easier and quicker to edit and manipulate.  Standard templates can be automatically applied to new and existing content, allowing the appearance of all content to be changed from one central place. If you do your homework ahead of time, and have some content ready to add to your site, you can have a website up and running in a very short period of time.

Scalable feature sets are implemented through plug-ins or modules that are developed independantly of the Content Management System. Additional features can be easily installed to extend functionality of the site without having to do a major rebuild.

With a content management system, the software that creates and manages the website is installed on the web server, not on your local desktop. You can add content quickly and easily from any location having internet access simply by using a web browswer.


The biggest disadvantage of a CMS

Many sites primarily use common templates for design, typically a 2 or 3 column design with boxes placed in various positions to accommodate the content.

While the use of automated templates is listed as a major advantage of CMS, many people argue that being confined to using templates for design limits flexibility and uniqueness of design. This is quite subjective.

How to make a website with Drupal content management system

Installing Drupal Yourself is Easy!Installing Drupal Yourself is Easy!

Drupal is fairly easy to install, and most Linux based web hosting companies offer an easy to run automated installation.

Drupal offers support for Microsoft IIS but it is commonly used on LAMP servers. LAMP is an acronym for Linux Apache MySQL PHP.  Drupal uses the MySQL database to hold the data contained in the website and the site is based on PHP.

You do not need an in-depth knowledge of Linux and LAMP to use Drupal, but if you would like to learn more you can check out  LAMP technologies take websites beyond HTML.

Look around the Drupal community to get an understanding of what you can do to expand your Drupal install beyond the basic package.

Modules are the blocks of code that allow Drupal to perform its tasks.  Basic modules can be activated to use Drupal as an online forum or blog.

Scalable feature sets are implemented through plug-ins or modules that are developed independently of the Content Management System. Additional features can be easily installed to extend functionality of the site without having to do a major rebuild.

Thousands of modules can be downloaded for free from the Drupal website to allow Drupal to do just about anything possible with a website.

Themes are the blocks of code that give Drupal its look and feel.  The basic software comes with a few themes that can be changed to various color schemes. There are hundreds of themes that can be downloaded for free from the Drupal website.'

How much will building a Drupal website cost me?

Drupal is a free open source content management system. There is no cost for the basic software that runs on your server. Because it is open source there is a very active community of programmers and developers that volunteer their time in constantly improving the software and contributing free themes and modules.

Like many open source applications there is a wide variety of resources available such as an online community with numerous free resources. If you want to learn Drupal in depth, it has a professional and helpful support community at Drupal.org where you can find help quickly and easily online.

If you don't want to get too much into the development of Drupal, most web hosting companies have easy to install Drupal scripts available. There are many web hosting companies that specifically offer Drupal hosting, as well as numerous developers and programmers offering their services for a fee, and selling custom themes.

Drupal Gardens is a website where you can test and experiment with Drupal for free.  If decide to expand your play site into a large commercial enterprise, Drupal Gardens allows you to upgrade your free site to various business levels for a reasonable cost.

Drupal is open source software, developed openly by developers, with source code shared on the internet. Drupal Gardens is run by Acquia, a commercial business owned by the creators of Drupal.


Drupal Website Building Notes

I began using Drupal with version 6.  The administrative interface was often criticized as not being user friendly, to learn it you need to invest some time.

Drupal version 7 was released in 2011. All my sites developed after 2011 began using version 7. Older sites were all eventually moved from Drupal version 6 to version 7. Drupal version 7 made site management much easier than version 6 with a much cleaner administrative interface and a much improved update process.

Version 8 is currently in development. If Drupal keeps going as it is now it will separate itself from the pack of content management systems.

The website Philosophyguru's Drupal Playground  is my online sandbox to test ideas and make notes on Drupal issues.  The notes on Philosophyguru's Drupal Playground  are not a complete outline of issues, but represent a live notebook of sorts for recording ideas and issues.
 

Why choose Drupal as your content management system?

Why choose Drupal

 

There are just too many content management systems out there for one person to do their own comparisons, but over the years I have done as much as I could to do some testing to make my own personal kick the tires comparisons.

My technology websites were first done in the phpWebSite content management system and later XOOPS, before I eventually built the sites using Drupal.

After many years of website building, and using numerous tools, I have Why choose Drupal as a website building tool

Why Drupal Emerged as the Winner

I have personally tested and used phpWebSite, PostNuke, Xoops, WordPress, Joomla, and Drupal, as well as a few less popular content management systems over the years.

Many of the content management systems has features that I wish the other would have. Some were much easier "out of the box" to customize, some had more intuitive administration.

I got to the point where I had to make a commitment to one, as trying to stay on top of changes on many different systems, and always trying to compare features, was too time consuming.

I focused my effort to select a content management system on the answer to the following two questions.

1) Does the product look like it has been steadily growing and being developed and does it look like it has a clear direction moving forward?

2) Does the product have a professional and helpful support community where I can find help quickly and easily online?

When I focused the stability of the developer and the quality of available support it became clear that Drupal would emerge as the content management system for the Guru 42 family of sites.


Why I choose Drupal

Drupal is my my preferred content management system. I have personally tested and used phpWebSite, PostNuke, Xoops, WordPress, Joomla, and Drupal, as well as a few less popular systems over the years, and I settled on using Drupal.

After testing other content management systems, the decision for me to go with Drupal came down to two issues.

1. The product has been steadily growing and being developed, and it looks like it has a clear direction moving forward.
2. The product has a professional and helpful support community where I can find help quickly and easily online.

Drupal is currently used by many large businesses and universities to build very complex sites. Drupal is also the choice of many small businesses and organizations looking for a quick and easy solution to setting up a website.

What can I do with Drupal?

The good news is that there are Drupal modules that can do just about anything a website can do.

This is one of those questions where the best thing about the product can also be the worst thing about it. The bad news is that there are so many modules developed for Drupal that finding the exact one you need to do a specific task can take some time.

Modules are the blocks of code that allow Drupal to perform its tasks. Basic modules can be activated to use Drupal as an online forum or blog. Thousands of modules can be downloaded for free from the Drupal website to allow Drupal to do just about anything possible with a website.

Themes are the blocks of code that give Drupal its look and feel. The basic software comes with a few themes that can be changed to various color schemes. There are hundreds of themes that can be downloaded for free from the Drupal website.

Is Drupal the right choice for me?

On one hand Drupal offers a sophisticated programming interface for developers.  On the the other hand no programming skills are required for basic website installation and administration and you can have a Drupal website up and running in a very short period of time.

If someone tries to pitch you on a content management system, ask who uses it.  Are there many large companies using it? Are many small companies using it?  If the person pitching it to you were not around, who would support it?

I've seen many debates, and even tried to join in on a few, as to which content management system is the best to use.  Similar to arguments on which brand of computer, or which brand of car to buy, you can use data to narrow it down to a few you feel right for you, but in the end it comes down to making a choice based on what feels right for you.

 If your are not sure if Drupal is the right choice for you, check out Drupal Gardens and the Drupal community at Drupal.org.

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