Work is the refuge of people who have nothing better to do. : Oscar Wilde

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Your Website Needs a Facelift, Right?

Since you're reading this blog you're likely with a non-profit; therefore, the claim made in my title probably applies. Typically non-profits lack the resources needed to keep their web pages as up-to-date and as fresh as they would like. With this in mind I would like to offer a strategy and some tips that might help.

First, the strategy. Many websites are difficult to keep up to date because they are built in such a way that some specialised computer knowledge is required to change menus, add or remove pages, or even just to alter the text or pictures in the pages. The way around this limitation is to have your website built using what is called a content management system (CMS). You might think that this would make your site more costly to build; however, in actual fact, since it can relieve the web developer of the need to make various decisions and accommodations, this need not be the case.

The page displayed in this post was built using the Mambo CMS. Mambo itself is open source and free. Thus, the use of a CMS does not have to add to the cost of a site. There are quite a number of CMS available. Work with your web developer and hosting service to choose one that fits your needs.

Using a CMS can simplify web site design, especially for the simpler sites characteristic of non-profits, because decisions about what pages to include and what the pages are to display can be postponed. In fact, as I have already mentioned, once your website is in operation you will be able to add new pages or slice and dice in quite a number of ways. You will even be able to include content from other sites, and provide other kinds of content—topics beyond the scope of this article.

So then, let's think about how your web pages should look.

In my opinion, it can be difficult to come up with anything really new. That being the case, why not scan some of the hundreds if not thousands of designs vying for your attention on sites like Look for a design that will appeal to your intended audience and that will accommodate most of the kinds of information that you expect to present. I would say, don't worry much about colours or graphics because your web developer will find these easy to alter for you. Think instead about shapes and how your text will fit.

At this point you are in a position to ask a web developer to convert the template chosen from (say) to work with the CMS and to set up the CMS with your initial pages. I believe you will find that this is a big help because once you actually see how your site looks and works you will quickly think of different colours, ways of combining or splitting pages, and so on. Better still, a CMS is intended to be skinnable. That's what the template was all about. Once you have built the initial batch of pages you can try out a different template (again perhaps from, converted for your site, to see how it looks.

Next time your site needs a facelift, choose a new template! Much cheaper will this be because you will not have to re-do the entire site. And remember that any time you need to make changes you can do it yourself: your web developer will show you how to use the CMS to do it.

PS: I'd appreciate knowing how clear (or otherwise) this article is.